When Your Spouse is a Sex Addict

Sexual and pornography addiction can wreck havoc on the life of the addict. But the addict is not the only person affected by their actions. The spouse, or partner, also feels pain. Besides dealing with the emotions of anger or depression that come along with discovering or confronting your partner's sexual addiction, there may be other long reaching consequences, such as financial problems.

As with all addictions, partners often are co-dependents. By turning a blind eye or making excuses for certain behaviors, spouses allow the addiction to grow. In cases of sexual addiction, spouses may take on the added responsibility of "trying to please" their partner, sometimes participating in sexual acts that make them uncomfortable or offend their beliefs. These efforts usually deepen the addiction rather than helping it.

Characteristics of the Spouse or Partner of a Sex or Pornography Addict

In an article, "If You are a Spouse of Partner of a Sex Addict" [1], partners or spouses of sex addicts share some characteristics:

  • The partner or spouse is normally someone who tries to please other people. They automatically consider what their spouse wants and then set out to provide it. The partner hones in on moods and adjusts their actions to fit the mood of the partner.

  • The partner or spouse worries consistently about what the addict thinks of them and tries to become exactly what is wanted, even if actions go against their value and belief system or makes them feel uncomfortable. This includes participating in sexual acts they feel are perverse.

  • The partner or spouse may try to manage the addict's behaviors or begin to check up on them, for example, they may check in pockets or wallets, open mail or listen to voice mail to find signs of unwanted actions. They may ask their children to tell them what their spouse is doing when they are not home or call them numerous times throughout the day to check where the addict is and what they are doing. When incriminating items are found, the spouse or partner might punish by withholding sex or have screaming fights. All attempts do not help the situation.

  • The partner or spouse begins to make excuses for behaviors, either to themselves or to friends and relatives.

Sometimes, however, in the beginning, the partner or spouse may not understand what is happening or not know about the pornography or sexual addiction. They may, however, know that something else, besides their marriage, is consuming the time and energy of the addict. Pornography can be hidden, especially if it is viewed online, for a long period of time. Because pornography has long been considered to be acceptable by many, most men viewing pornography will not see it as a problem and will instead blame their partner for overreacting or may indicate they turned to pornography because the spouse or partner has gained weight, is unattentive or just doesn't understand. This blame plays into the partner's low self-esteem.

How Pornography and Sexual Addiction Impact Relationships

Pornography or sexual addiction follows a progression and can become dangerous, to both the family and to the addict. The addict may begin to act out sexually, placing themselves in situations that are dangerous or in situations where they are more at risk for sexually transmitted diseases or contracting HIV/AIDS.

Financial problems can also become apparent. Pornography can be quite expensive; some people spend thousands of dollars on pornography sites and phone sex. In addition, addicts may lose jobs based on poor job performance, due to the time they view pornography or viewing it during working hours.

Emotionally, addicts begin to distance themselves from loved ones, finding the emotional attachment difficult and instead entering their fantasy world of sexual pleasure. This world becomes real to them, they begin to believe the actors in pornography films feel the pleasure they portray and look for the same in their daily life. Marriages may fail due to one person's sexual addiction.

The Role of the Partner or Spouse

In a relationship where one person is addicted to sex or pornography, both people need to seek help. The addict needs to seek help to free himself or herself from the addiction and to learn constructive and healthy coping strategies. The partner or spouse needs to seek help to learn how to maintain a healthy relationship without falling into the role of co-dependent.

Individual and family therapy are helpful in working through these issues and helping the couple to learn successful and healthy relationship skills. For the partner or spouse, even if they should leave a relationship, it is important for them to seek help to make sure any further relationships do not place them right back into the role of co-dependent.

Twelve step programs, often used for alcohol addictions, have been found to be helpful in sexual or pornography addictions as well.


[1] "If You Are a Spouse or Partner of a Sex Addict", Date Unknown, Author Unknown, SexAddictionHelp.com

"Is My Spouse a Sex Addict", Date Unknown, Dr. Doug Weiss, Heart to Heart Counseling Center

"Frequently Asked Questions", 2008, Sara Brooks and Kendra Shelly, Helping Spouses of Sex Addicts