A partner’s choice to stay in a relationship with a sex addict is difficult and usually very scary. Choosing to stay in the relationship is a risk for partners. If you are an addict, doing everything you can towards recovery and struggling to understand why your partner is still afraid, it may help you build empathy and intimacy if you understand what your partner’s core fears are. If you are a partner of a sex addict, you are not alone in your fears.
Addicts have control over taking active steps towards recovery or relapse. Partners don’t; they are not able choose for the addict to be in recovery or not. This lack of control forms the foundation for many other fears.
They have experienced so much pain, loss, anger, and sadness from the acting out of the addicts and the thought of it happening again can be terrifying. Addicts may be doing well in recovery and be confident in their ability to prevent relapse, but partners don’t know what is going on in the hearts and minds of the addicts. They may inquire, but can they trust the answer they are given? Partners are often in fear of the possibility that the addict will act out again and there is nothing that they can do to prevent it.
Trusting an addict in recovery puts a partner at risk of being betrayed again and feels very vulnerable. If a partner decides to trust an addict in recovery, the pain is amplified if acting out occurs again. Partners commonly become angry with themselves or feel naive for trusting again, even if they had good reasons.
Trusting an addict again is scary, but so is the thought of not trusting the addict! Most of us understand that trust is important to keep moving forward in relationships. So naturally, partners seek ways to rebuild safety and trust as they work to heal their relationship. Yet they may feel stuck between wanting to rebuild trust in their relationship and the fear that if they do let down their guard to trust again that they may become exposed, unsafe, and vulnerable to the pain of betrayal again. This can lead to a delicate balance between desiring to rebuild and protection from pain.
Deep down many partners struggle to understand how the addict could be unfaithful to them but still love them. Partners may think, “If you truly love me, you would not choose to engage sexually outside of our relationship.” Therapists, friends, books and the addicts themselves attempt to explain that the sex addiction has nothing to do with the partner and is not their fault but, often the question remains, “Does the addict really love me?”
Some partners believe that if they looked or acted differently the sexual acting out would not have happened. Despite this being a fear for many partners, it is never true. It is helpful for both addicts and partners to understand that the addiction has nothing to do with the partner!
Sex addiction commonly brings up fears for partners. If you are an addict, it helps to be patient with your partner as he or she are navigating fears related to being in relationship with an addict. The best thing you can do to build trust in the relationship is work towards ongoing recovery and provide consistent reassurance to your partner by showing that you are trustworthy in all aspects, big and small. If you are a partner, you are not alone in your fears. Many partners find it helpful to observe the actions of the addict to determine if he or she is taking steps towards recovery (going to meetings, going to therapy, taking care of life responsibilities, engaging in positive coping skills in difficult times, etc.). If your fears are becoming too overwhelming for you, consider seeking support from others (a group, a meeting, friends, a therapist, etc.). Navigating partners’ fears is difficult for both addicts and partners, but we are here to support you as needed.