Sexual addiction is growing rampantly across our nation. Men are viewing po.rn at greater rates than at any other time in history. The effect on our culture because of this growing epidemic of sexual addiction is immeasurable. The silent pain that partners of sex addicts experience day after day because of his addiction has not been unmasked until now.
Sadly, Low self-esteem is an issue for many partners of sex addicts. The clinical community has agonized over this issue for more than a decade. It is common for clinicians to hear statements from partners of sex addicts reflecting their low self-esteem. Some of these statements are:
• Who will love me now?
• I can’t do anything.
• I’m so unattractive.
• I don’t even like me anymore.
• No man would want me now.
The effects of sexual addiction on the self-esteem of a partner are obvious. Some partners had low self-esteem prior to the relationship with an addict. Addicts can easily spot a woman with low self-esteem. This is an easy victim for the sex addict.
In this situation, he lavishes you with praise and tells you how wonderful you are. He says you do everything right and tells you how smart you are. He’ll also say what a good lover you are early in the relationship. This is to shift your self-esteem onto what he thinks about you. This is enjoyable for a while, but often soon after marriage, you quickly find out that he now has your self-esteem in his hands. Now you may not be so wonderful. It feels like you can do little right, and your self-esteem plummets even lower as the addict seeks more control of your thoughts and beliefs about yourself.
Another case in point is where the partner begins with average to high self-esteem. In this case, it often takes the sex addict longer to lower the self-esteem. A change may need to be made in where you live. He may ask you to leave your job, so that he can be at home with you more. He will try other ways to remove you from some of the external stability, where you will become more isolated. Then there are the continual overtones that you are not as sexy as you once were. You are now “gaining a little weight.” He will focus on a body part of yours until you question your value. This can be combined with the nagging to do other types of sexual behaviors, that you are not comfortable with and not acceptable to you. You may be called a prude as the addict tries to engage you in his world and chip away at your self-esteem.
He may now begin looking at other women. Partners tell me every time their addict looks at someone else with “those eyes” they feel less of a woman. Finding po.rnography of unclad models can also contribute to a partner feeling “less than.”
Partners of sex addicts frequently say they don’t feel good about themselves. They experience what clinicians call low self-esteem. This is a feeling that, “I am not as good as, or not equal to other people I know.” In their relationships, these partners feel “less than” or “one down” from the sex addict they are dating or married to.
Often the truth is, people are attracted to partners with self-esteem similar to their own. Sex addicts are usually trying to increase their sense of value through their addiction. At the core of the sex addict is their belief that, “if they really knew me, they wouldn’t love me.”
The feeling of being unworthy of love because of what she does as a partner to a sex addict, instead of who she is, is also part of her low self-esteem. Most significant though, is her belief that her value lies in being “enough” for the sex addict.
We live in a culture where we are encouraged to believe that outer appearances and behaviors determine our value. Partners of sex addicts frequently believe that if they were only more (or in some cases less) attractive, sexy, intelligent, shapely, submissive, or better in bed, they could alter the addict’s behavior. Their self-esteem, which may already have been damaged, falls even lower as they become more and more involved in trying to fill the insatiable needs of the addict by changing themselves.
Society imparts a strong message to women that, if there is something wrong with her relationship, there is something wrong with her. The sex addict is usually only too happy to confirm this belief. In addition, many therapists, not understanding the dynamics of sexual addiction unknowingly reinforce this societal message. One woman sought help from two counselors, who told her to go home and satisfy her husband’s sexual desires, and all her marital problems would disappear. Of course she failed, thereby proving to herself, one more time, that she was not good enough.
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The partner is not only subjected to sexual put-downs, she is also frequently a victim of emotional and verbal abuse from the addict as well. Over time, she will begin to believe what the sex addict tells her about herself is true. Like the addict, she will harbor a secret belief nobody will love her for who she is, but for what she does. Unable to gain a sense of worth by being sexual enough for the addict, the partner can often be found taking care of not only the addict, but the kids, her family of origin, even her neighbors, in a search for worth that she can only experience in a recovery program and by sharing this healing process with other recovering partners.
Low self-esteem is the natural outcome of being a partner of a sex addict. Like many of the characteristics yet to be discussed, it is a core recovery issue for partners of sex addicts.
However, low self-esteem doesn’t always have to be present to be in a relationship with a sex addict. Some sex addicts will pick a partner with high self-esteem. When I first began counseling partners of sex addicts, I was surprised by how healthy some partners were. They knew internally that they had nothing to do with their husband’s sexual addiction. They knew they were attractive, sexually competent, and that for him to get better, it was his responsibility. They had clear boundaries and little tolerance for relapse. These partners do exist, but rarely do they attend ongoing support groups for spouses of sex addicts. Consequently, the recovery community rarely believes they exist.
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In most cases these partners, state very clearly that he gets better, or he leaves. This healthy partner doesn’t fear being alone, taking financial responsibility for herself or her family. Typically this is not the majority of partner’s of sex addicts.
I enjoy seeing partners of sex addicts regain their self-worth and begin to believe in themselves. Partners once again, begin to listen to their intuition and behave in such a way that they give dignity back to themselves. For some partners it is difficult, because it is the first time that they have ever felt worth flow through their blood. Others are going back to the persons they once were, before the residual of addiction infected their values. Either way, it is a great sight to see the confidence they have in themselves as they leave my office, with a great future ahead of them.
As the partner begins to get more value in herself, the addict has to agree with her value and change behaviors, or find someone else to devalue. When she understands this, she will begin to see positive changes in her life and relationships. Go for it!
This article is based on materials provided by Douglas Weiss, Ph.D., a nationally known author, speaker and licensed psychologist. He is the executive director of Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the author of several books including, Partners:Healing from His Addiction You may contact Dr. Weiss via his website, drdougweiss.com, by phone at 719-278-3708 or through email at [email protected]