If you are reading this article, you are most likely a concerned person who cares about a sex addict and wants what is best for them. I applaud you. You are a caring and giving person who has the best interest of the sex addict in mind. You have empathy or the ability to feel and understand what another human being is going through. I challenge you to use these qualities to care for yourself as much as you care for your loved one. Why? Because the road to sobriety is hilly and there are a lot of bumps and turns along the way.
Sex addiction is different from other addictions because it is easier to hide. It is obvious when someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol because they put you in an altered state. Gambling and shopping addictions lead to a loss of money in your bank account or a ton of new clothes in the closet. Food addiction shows up on your hips.
But sex addiction can be washed away with no immediate evidence. Pornography can be viewed daily on a smartphone. Hookup apps can be downloaded and deleted in seconds, which is just enough time to find and meet with a hookup 600 feet away. The list is endless.
But an addict is an addict no matter what their drug of choice is. Sex addiction thrives in a secret world, which is why it is so controversial. Those partaking in sex addiction behaviors do not want their secret to get out.
So what does sobriety and recovery look like for a sex addict? I’m going to give you a list of signs to look for, which is adapted from the work of Patrick Carnes research from surveying successfully recovered sex addicts. These are the things that sex addicts are striving for and that are attainable. They are what each sex addict is ultimately working towards. Now the path to get there will be rocky for sure, which means that those who that love them will have a rocky path too.
14 signs a sex addict is in good sobriety and recovery. He or she:
- Respects your boundaries even if they don’t agree with them.
- Accepts responsibility for actions by doing what they say they are going to do and making it right if actions don’t match up with their words. The goal is to have their words and actions match.
- Apologizes when making a mistake or offending someone.
- Does not blame anyone else or become defensive; the addict has learned to accept responsibility and refrain from attacking others when feeling vulnerable and weak.
- Is able to identify and share feelings (beyond just feeling mad, sad, or glad) by digging deeper into themselves to find out what is really inside and what makes them tick. He or she can then share what is inside themselves with others.
- Is open and doesn’t try to hide anything. All phone, social media, bank accounts, etc. are available for loved ones to see. There should be no secret accounts of any kind.
- Can negotiate difficult situations and not take things personally. He or she has learned how to handle difficult situations in a healthy way and to listen to others point of view and understand them before solving the problem.
- Is open to learning non-sexual intimacy behaviors and has learned how to connect with other people in an emotional way that is non-sexual.
- Doesn’t get angry when you are not in the mood for sexual intimacy.
- Attends 12 step meetings weekly for support and community
- Has a 12 step sponsor for accountability and support
- Has a community of support
- Has worked with a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist for 3-5 years
- Has attended a therapist led sex addiction group for 3-5 years
When sex addicts decide for themselves that they need to recover, then their chance of success is higher than if someone else forced them in to recovery. What this means for you as a loved one of a sex addict is that you must care for yourself and set safety boundaries. For example, you may decide sex is off limits if he has been unfaithful, due to possible exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. These boundaries are not there to punish the sex addict; that only sets up a power struggle and you don’t want that. You set up boundaries you can live with that protect you from the sex addict’s behaviors that hurt you. A sex addict that is sober and in good recovery will respect your boundaries — however extreme they believe them to be.
A sex addict who claims they are in recovery but is not really succeeding will respond by getting mad and defensive at your boundaries. Now, there are times that a sex addict in recovery may initially respond by getting angry only to apologize later. He or she could be in the early phases of recovery and you need to watch to see if he or she is making progress over time. Real recovery is when he or she is calm and accepts your boundaries even if he/she doesn’t like them. That is called respect.
I often find partners and loved ones of sex addicts spend most of their time trying to figure out how to talk sense into the sex addict, or looking to find evidence of cheating or acting out. All their energy is spent on the addict. They are exhausted, anxiety-ridden, and angry. When I ask them how much time they have spent on themselves, it is usually very little. They have been so caught up in figuring out what the sex addict is doing that they literally have forgotten about themselves. So we begin the journey to self and self-care.
As a loved one of a sex addict, your energy is best spent on taking care of your own mental, physical and spiritual health. You can’t make anyone else take care of him or herself. You only have control over how you care for yourself. May you care generously with wholehearted abandon, and be free to love yourself unconditionally.