Discovering that your partner has been unfaithful or hiding sexual behavior (such as corresponding with people online about sex, seeing prostitutes or going to massage parlors, or having serial affairs) is devastating for most people. Intimate relationships are supposed to be the one place where we can feel safe and cared for in our deepest vulnerability, so the shock of discovering a partner's deception is among the deepest betrayals of trust a person can experience. The betrayed partner generally experiences symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, such as shock, helplessness, shame, guilt and self-blame, a sense of utter aloneness, weight loss or gain, insomnia, aversion to touch, recurrent dreams or flashbacks, obsessive rumination, and so forth. The world as they knew it has been completely turned upside down. Nothing feels safe or certain anymore.
Whether - and how successfully - a couple recovers from infidelity and sexual secrets, depends in part on whether the explanation for the betrayal behavior is about attempting to cope with personal or relationship issues, or whether it is a compulsive behavior rooted in addiction. When it is the latter, simply addressing personal and relationship issues will be ineffective in the long run.
Often when the hurt partner is asked about other times when they have felt concerned, confused or uncertain about their partner's sexual behavior, they recall times when credit card charges or hotel receipts were "explained" in a way that did not feel satisfying, or they felt their partner was secretive about email, texts or online viewing behavior and the like. A betrayal can also take the form of focusing a great deal of attention, time and energy on something other than one's partner or family, such as compulsively masturbating to pornography for hours. An active sexual relationship or lack thereof is NOT an indicator of whether or not sexual addiction is present, since sex addicts can have either a great deal of interest in sex or become "sexually anorexic" with their committed partners. Sex addiction typically occurs alongside other addictions such as alcoholism, compulsive spending or gambling, overeating or workaholism. It is also almost always connected to childhood trauma, which could be as obvious as physical abuse and abandonment, or more subtle as in emotional neglect and disregard for a child's feelings.
The most definitive way to determine whether a person suffers from Sexual Addiction (which was formally recognized in 2011 as a brain disease by the American Society of Addiction) is to have an evaluation performed by a Certified Sex Addictions Therapist (CSAT).Answering a few questions can help determine if having an evaluation is in order. Generally, sex addiction is characterized by:
1. A preoccupation with sexual thoughts
2. Hiding sexual behavior from others
3. Behaving sexually in a way that has been emotionally hurtful to others
4. Feeling controlled by your own sexual desires
5. Feeling depressed after having sex
If three or more of these symptoms is present, then sexual addiction is a possible diagnosis and a professional evaluation should be performed.
Regardless of the reason, sexual or emotional betrayal deeply affects the betrayed partner and threatens the stability of the coupleship itself. Seeking professional help from a compassionate and experienced couples therapist and working to repair the broken couples bond of trust is essential for recovery.
*PATHOS screening method, developed by P. Carnes, Green, Merlo, Polles, S. Carnes & Gold, Journal of Addiction Medicine, 2011.