Spouses of Sex Addicts

Discovering Sex Addiction in Your Relationship

Perhaps you have a story that goes something like this:
  • Brenda walked in on her husband ‘working’ on the computer and saw him viewing pornography.
  • Celia received an anonymous email with an attachment containing her spouse’s online sexual chats and picture exchanges with random women. The subject line read, “I just thought you should know.”
  • Melanie went to the doctor for her regular annual exam and discovered that she had an STD. She has been monogamous with her husband for 20 years.
  • Vickie noticed that her spouse was staying later at work, was constantly texting and emailing on his blackberry, and was increasingly short-tempered with her and the kids. She began to investigate and found texts and emails full of sexual content from her husband to several different women.
Discovering that you are in relationship with a sex addict is like being picked up by a tornado and dropped in a strange land. You feel lost and overwhelmed. Unfortunately, initiation into the territory of sexual addiction rarely happens gently. For most, it is a rude, violent transition that changes your world forever. Fortunately, others have been here before you and many are here with you now. That in part is what Crossed Hearts Counseling is here to do: to help you know that you do not have to try to survive this on your own. There is a community of support available for you to tap into. Read more to find out how to get support.

The Traumatic Nature of Betrayal

Sexual addiction is different from other addictions because it involves betrayal of such a personal nature. It is difficult to be lied to about a spouse’s drinking, for example. But it is far more hurtful to find out your partner has been going outside the relationship sexually. Sexual betrayal cuts to the very core of a relationship. The sexual relationship between two people is one of the most intimate, vulnerable and personal parts of their partnership. It is sustained by a sense of trust in your partner. When that trust is broken it is a traumatic blow to the relational bond. Relationship experts often refer to this as an ‘attachment injury’ because it harms the deep attachment between two people in a relationship. For partners, this attachment injury is often felt as a traumatic experience. In a study conducted by Barbara Steffens and Rennie Robyn (2006), it was determined that 69% of partners of sex addicts meet the criteria for a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, in the aftermath of discovering the addict’s sexual behavior. At Crossed Hearts Counseling our focus includes support and interventions designed to help them deal with the betrayal trauma they have experienced and its symptoms.

What Spouses Experience After Discovery

For most partners of sex addicts, when they discover the sexually compulsive behaviors they enter a period of crisis. Partners will often experience the following:


Shock is the brain’s effort to protect a person from what seems too overwhelming to deal with. Someone who loses a loved one suddenly will often go into shock. A protective cloud will envelop them, numbing their feelings, holding all the implications of their loved one’s death at bay until they can absorb what has happened.

This type of protective fog lets them get up, shower and get dressed, answer questions about funeral arrangements, attend the funeral and interact with family and friends. It helps them to function when otherwise they might collapse. This same type of protective shock often envelops partners when they initially learn about the addict’s sexual behaviors.


In addition to shock, most partners will also experience some changes in their daily functioning. During this initial stage, whatever you are feeling and experiencing, others have felt the same.

– Forgetting things
– Clumsiness, accident
– Sleeplessness or a desire to sleep all the time
– Difficulty concentrating
– Mixing up your words
– Inability to complete small tasks
– Wanting to isolate
– Anxiety, panic attacks, overwhelming fear
– Unstoppable crying or the inability to cry
– Anger, rage or frustration
– Depression
– Racing thoughts or an inability to ‘turn your mind off’
– Intrusive thoughts of real or imagined scenes of your partner’s sexual behavior
– Twitching eyes, legs, arms
– Loss of appetite or increase in appetite
– Headaches/migraines
– Body aches
– Feeling numb, robotic, or disconnected
– Sour or churning stomach


After discovery, most partners experience a period of emotional variability. During this time, one of the things that can be confusing is how rapidly thinking and emotions change. Partner’s may one moment feel hopeful and that they are doing well. The next minute they feel that their world is ending and they are falling apart. They may call a divorce lawyer in the morning and then in the afternoon find themselves online looking for a couples counselor. The rapid shifts from hope to despair, calm to rage, certainty to confusion, and fear to stability can be crazy.

This is normal. The human brain can only process one emotion at a time. That is why it can seem like feelings change in a split second. This is the brain processing each emotion in turn so that each one can be felt and move through the body.


Discovering sexual betrayal plunges partners into loss and grief. Suddenly the losses are mounting up on all sides. Loss of trust in your partner, loss of trust in yourself, loss of the relationship you thought you had, and loss of your dreams for the future.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneer in the study of grief and loss associated with death and dying, identified five stages of grief. These five stages have become recognized as the stages that people dealing with all types of trauma and significant change go through. The stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are not linear, it is common to move around in them, forward and back sometimes experiencing several simultaneously.

Is It My Fault?

Most partners carry the burden of the same secret fear: that it is some lack in them that has caused the addict to seek sexual experiences outside of the relationship. The fear goes something like this: If I were thinner, was taller, had a prettier face…then he would not be looking at pornography on the Internet. If I were less demanding, more compliant, expected less from him, worked harder to please him and make him happy with me…then he would not be involved in one affair after another. Sexual betrayal often triggers pre-existing doubts and insecurities. Partners can begin to fearfully wonder if perhaps it is their fault that their partner is sexually addicted. It is not your fault. You have not caused the addict’s sexual behavior. Sexual addiction is caused by a complex set of dynamics related to the addict’s past and present and how he or she has and is coping with their life story.

What Spouses Experience After Discovery

Many partners of sex addicts struggle with the question of whether to stay or leave their relationship. Initially, after the discovery of sexual betrayal, it can feel like the right thing to do to save your pride and take yourself out of pain and confusion is to leave the relationship. Often many partners fear that if they don’t leave the addict and end the relationship they will be seen as weak. However, the reality is that most people want their relationships to work. Most are looking for a way to stay together, even in the face of great trauma to the relationship. Most partners find it is wise to put all big decisions on hold for a while as they get educated about sex addiction, begin to get the lay of the land and emotionally catch up to themselves. In the middle of a crisis is not the best time to make big decisions. It can help to think of the relationship between you and the addict at this point as a giant junk heap. It is piled high and who knows what is buried inside. Over the coming weeks you and the addict are going to be sorting through the pile. As you sort through the pile you will eventually begin to get clarity and understanding about what has happened, what it means for you and what the way forward looks like.

Is There Hope?

When your world has been shattered by sex addiction it is difficult to imagine how there could be any hope. Here are the some things that partners of sex addicts have said that they have gained from their journey. These are offered in a spirit of hope and optimism that you might know that new life and healing are truly possible.

  • I am in the present, not fretting about the future and not angry about the past.
  • I can feel.
  • I have gained a loving husband who listens to me and is my caring and attentive life partner.
  • Today I don’t operate from fear.
  • My whole body feels joy, nearly every day.
  • I am able to pass on my gains to others.
  • My husband and I learn and grow together; program work and recovery are a welcome part of our lives.
  • I am much more authentic.
  • I have learned that I deserve better than I have accepted and that I can be happy.
  • I have learned that I am resilient and can cope.
  • I have gained a stronger faith and closeness with God.
  • I finally like myself and believe that with God’s protection and love, I am safe.
  • I learned that I could be a whole person with myself, and not be a “subset” of the addict. He does not define me.
  • My opinions, ideas, feelings, thoughts, and emotions are all valid on their own.
  • I have found my gut and I listen to it.
  • I am able to figure out what I want and I now believe that what I want is important.

Are you ready to get help?

Yes, sexual addiction can be difficult to talk about, which can make it tough to seek treatment but rest assured, at Crossed Hearts Counseling; you are understood. This means that we can also walk you through your discomfort.​ Admitting you need help does not diminish all the good things about you. Sex addiction is a bad disease that happens to good people.