Welcome to the Modern Triad Podcast. There’s no doubt about it, porn and sex addiction are here to stay. But what can we do about it? Where can we go for help? I’m Rodney Collins, and I’ll offer you a starting place, we’ll talk about addiction, struggles and whatever else comes up along the way. The Modern Triad Podcast offers neither medical advice nor psychotherapy and is for informational purposes only. Listeners are advised to seek professional help where appropriate. This podcast may not be suitable for minors.
Hello and welcome back to The Modern Triad: Sex Addiction, Relationships and the BADS. Today, we’re going to pick up with the discussion of the relationship point of the triad. Most of the men that I speak to are in a relationship when they come to see me. A few are fresh out of one. Something has gone wrong along the way, quite often the discovery of sexually acting out behavior outside of the relationship, or within it. There’s also a substantial number who come to me after a lifetime of few relationships of depth or duration, so life has been in part about grappling with a sense of being unwanted and unlovable.
The intersection of sex addiction and relationships brings to the surface a feeling that many sex addicts have felt for quite some time. When they’re in a relationship, they’re feeling overwhelmed and controlled. Communicating how they feel and what they want at any point in time is difficult. So acting out sexually is actually, in part, a way of coping with these feelings of feeling overwhelmed and underskilled. Remember, one of the primary goals of psychotherapy is to get us to begin to speak with words instead of behaviors. Behaviors are much more imprecise and prone to misinterpretation. Words have the potential at least to be much more targeted.
As a result of the feelings of being overwhelmed, sex addicts frequently question whether or not they’d be better off single again. Freedom from the demands of the relationship at times looks extremely appealing. Now, it’s important for us to be realistic though about this because the truth is often different from our feeling at any point in time, however. When the sex addict is not in a relationship things aren’t exactly copacetic either. Loneliness and a sense of isolation set in. There’s also the worry that the next relationship won’t materialize that’s often in the back of one’s mind as a sex addict and when one is alone. A lack of self-worth looms large as a result. So you see, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the pole either.
Life is lived between these two poles - one pole where one is completely in a relationship and overwhelmed and the other where one is isolated and lonely in a single life. Life is usually better lived when in the middle so that when in a relationship one feels secure, loved, with a mutuality that breeds even more security and more love. And when alone, one is grounded in touch with one’s emotions so that decisions of when to enter a relationship are made from a balanced position instead of from a need to extinguish the pain of loneliness. This is very important. It’s very important for us to work from a balanced place instead of from a place of need, that would be emotional need.
Now, it comes as no surprise that porn and sex addictions can wreak havoc on relationships. When your partner isn’t aware of your addiction, the relationship can still be impacted by our behavior. It’s not uncommon for you to arrive late at appointments. Let’s say your appointments are missed altogether. Sex within the relationship can suffer quite a bit because maybe you’ve masturbated too much or maybe you’ve had encounters outside of the relationship that have left you with little sexual interest in your partner. The stress of being found out can also leave you feeling guilty and anxious too, which carries its own set of problems. Lying to your partner to cover your tracks can drive an invisible wedge between the two of you that really only grows with time if it’s not dealt with and you don’t learn a more honest form of communication.
Now, once your partner finds out about your addiction then things become a lot more complex for most people. The usual partner responses include intense anger, as many long held unanswered questions are all of a sudden answered with a pretty damning clarity. It’s understandable why one would be so angry. The shock of finding out that a partner has used porn excessively or let’s say visits to escorts also cause some partners to feel an unfortunate shame that they’re not sufficient to keep their partner’s interest.
Now, there are several things that are important to keep in mind when you’re a sex addict who is in a relationship. Partners who discover your addiction are on a separate timeline from you. Now, you’ve likely had years to think about your problem. Think about it for a second. They’ve had days, weeks or maybe months at the most. It’s important to allow them to catch up. Partners need and deserve their own time and space to process their emotions. Another thing to keep in mind is that partner emotions can also vacillate wildly upon discovering a sex addiction within the relationship. I think it’s most helpful to think of this as a form of post-traumatic stress. Partners can go from feeling angry one moment to feeling quite inconsolably sad and tearful the next. Often the sex addict clients that I treat come to me and say they’ve felt like they were living with two or three people instead of the one person that they lived with previously. Again, your partner must be allowed the space to work through their emotions.
And, that leads me to my third point. If sex addiction is relevant in your relationship, you shouldn’t be afraid to find a therapist near you to help you as a couple. Relationships that are under the strain of sex addiction can be emotionally charged, and it’s also true that offending partners who have been discovered to be acting out sexually lose a great deal of credibility within the relationship. Therefore, an objective, well-trained therapist may be just the ticket. This is someone who doesn’t have a stake in what happens. The therapist’s role is simply to be there with you during this difficult time to help you to determine what happens next.
Relationships are a system, not just two individuals connected by sex, a ceremony or four walls. What affects one member in a relationship affects the other. It’s not always felt in the same way, yet the ripples are still there nonetheless. But the important point here is that what happens to one impacts the other. Sex addicts often live within the fantasy that they can keep their behavior and its impact contained, separate from their partner. Well I’m sorry to tell you that the chances of doing this are slim over the long run, so it’s better to get ahead of the problem. Sort out your behavior now and limit the damage to your relationship that is already taking place.
That reminds me. I think we need to discuss this idea of monogamy versus open relationships and other relationship styles. For non sex addicts, I’m a sexual libertarian who is what is generally termed ‘sex positive’. That is to say that I have no interest in judging or getting non sex addicts to conform to certain forms of sex or to monogamy. As long as the interaction is consensual, controllable and between adults who are willing to take responsibility for their actions, then I wish you all the happiness in the world with your sexual expression and experimentation, and I really mean that. However, if you’re a sex addict or someone who is having difficulty with uncontrollable sexual behavior who’s arguing against monogamy and commitment, well then I’m likely to challenge you a bit.
Sex addicts, by definition, have difficulty dealing with the intimacy necessary within committed relationships. This is why they find themselves at the extreme ends of the loneliness and overwhelmed spectrum that I outlined at the beginning of the podcast. Intimacy is craved when alone and felt as threatening when in a relationship. For the sex addict, an intimate monogamous relationship is really not a choice because of this inability to withstand it. That’s why therapy is needed so that you can get to the point where you can consciously choose whether or not to be in a relationship, instead of your relationship status being determined by your inability to cope. I repeat, if you’re not a sex addict and if you’re able to make choices about monogamy and open relationships with a level head, I say more power to you. Go ahead and be happy.
But, if your ability to choose is compromised by being unable to withstand intimacy due to sex addiction or some other reason, then I think it’s important to learn the necessary skills and to rebuild your emotional network in a way that allows you to enjoy intimacy instead of running from it. Thus giving you the option for monogamy, should you desire it. There are no absolutes here, but it’s important to have the option. As for sexual activity, again I think for the average person sexual variety in terms of activity is truly a wonderful thing. Fetishes, toys, theme play as examples are all fair game. However, for the sex addict these same activities have the potential to be problematic if they move the addict away from intimacy instead of towards intimacy.
That is to say, if you’re a sex addict who’s more interested in what your partner is wearing than your partner him or herself, then there’s probably a problem here somewhere. This is why it’s important for sex addicts to analyze each of the sexual activities in which they engage so that they can determine which support greater intimacy and therefore help to eradicate the addiction, and which lessen intimacy by actually reinforcing it. So, if you’re a sex addict by all means take the time to review your sexual activities. Now there’s a great deal of information about this on the Phocuslife website for people who are members in the form of videos and other supportive content, so I’ll leave it there for now.
Now, safety is another important element to mention with respect to sex addiction and relationships. If you’re a sex addict who’s engaged in sex with other people outside of relationships, it’s very important to protect the health of your partner. In fact, it’s an essential responsibility. The best protection, of course, is to stop the behavior; however, if your addiction won’t allow this for the moment safer sex should be the rule of the day. You should also make regular visits to a sexual health clinic to make sure that you’re not placing your partner’s health at risk. Many clients I’ve worked with abstain from sex with their partner to be totally safe, a strategy which strains the relationship in some ways but which is effective in terms of protecting your partner from disease.
Be aware that many therapists are required by professional ethics and sometimes law to disclose to unwitting partners when their health is at risk. Safety concerns impact the relationships of sex addicts with respect to privacy, as well. When you’re within the throes of addiction your thought processes often work poorly. Therefore, you’re more likely to take risks that you wouldn’t ordinarily take. If you can’t control your use of sex workers at least be careful about taking personal identification, credit and debit cards, and other materials that could land you in trouble if found or taken by unscrupulous sexual partners. In addition, be careful to respect the boundaries of your relationship by not sharing private information with sexual partners outside of the relationship itself that might damage your partner or the relationship in some way.
For example, it’s no sex worker’s business what your partner or you do for a living or where you live. Now to a lot of people this might sound obvious, but I just underscore, when you’re in the throes of addiction what seems very straightforward and obvious often becomes very cloudy. Setting boundaries and planning ahead are crucial to protecting yourself and your relationship if any of this relates to you.
Now, there’s plenty more to say but it looks like we’ve run out of time for this week’s episode. I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about relationships where sex addiction is present. There’s more detailed information on the phocuslife.com website if you want to learn more. Read the blog postings and view videos there and be sure to join me next week when we’ll begin to discuss the emotional life in more detail by introducing the third point of the Modern Triad, the BADS - the acronym for Boredom, Anger, Depression and Stress. Until then, let this be the day that you decide to turn things around. No one’s watching. No one else will know. But, it could make all the difference in the world. Take care.
This was a podcast provided by Rodney Collins of phocuslife.com. For additional information contact the website or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.