Is Pornography Addiction Just An Excuse For Awful, Abusive Behavior?

Is Pornography Addiction Just An Excuse For Awful, Abusive Behavior?

Is Sex Addiction Just Another Excuse?

While this seems like a logical question, it’s really not an either-or situation. This question implies that either a) sex addiction is real or b) people engaged in hurtful, sexual behaviors outside their primary relationships are using it as an excuse.

In my opinion, both of these can be true, but let me say straight away – it’s not a good excuse. It’s a reason, but not an excuse. Sex addiction no more justifies the addict’s behavior than alcoholism justifies crashing your vehicle head on into another, destroying the lives inside. I imagine that there are individuals who claim, and truly believe, “I can’t help it, I’m an addict.” However this is very faulty thinking. And I want to offer this to the partners of addicts, in hopes of empowering you in a difficult situation… you can accept that there is such a thing as sex addiction without accepting sex addiction as something to tolerate. 

Pornography Addiction Is A Reason For Cheating, But Not An Excuse

Sex addiction may explain why our partners do what they do, but it does not excuse continuing to do what they do. Any addict who says “I can’t help it, I’m an addict” is shirking responsibility for his behaviors. He may actually have tried to give it up and failed. He may truly believe he can’t quit. I would tell him, you haven’t found the right help, or at some point, you quit doing what you needed to do to beat it.

Yes, an addiction is going to make quitting harder, but it does not make it impossible. And to partners who are hearing this statement, I would encourage you not to accept it. Addicts, like all of us, are 100% responsible for their choices, actions, behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, and when those things aren’t working for him, only he can change it. They are responsible to live a mature life, despite what happened in their past. 

When Your Husband Blames His Infidelity On Pornography Addiction Or Sex Addiction

When an addict blames his family of origin, his wife, the stressors of the job, etc. for his addictive behaviors, what he’s really saying is “it’s hard to stop,” or “I don’t know how to stop,” or “I don’t want to work that hard.” This is where we partners need to have a clear understanding of our values, our boundaries, and a plan of action for what we are going to do when our boundaries are violated. The feedback loop of addiction took years, sometimes decades, to develop into the addictive cycle that it is, and the good news is, that that same neuroplasticity that allowed to brain to be rewired for addiction, will also allow change for its recovery.

However, that addiction, as we said, took years or decades to become the ingrained pattern that it is. Wives and partners don’t have decades, or certainly we don’t want to wait decades, for that brain to rewire itself again. And we shouldn’t have to. And we don’t have to. And so the addict has a choice; he can enter a recovery process or continue in his addiction and suffer the consequences. 

Wives Have Choices Concerning Their Husband’s Pornography Addiction

Partners have a choice as well. In his workbook Partner’s Recovery Guide: 100 empowering Exercises, Doug Weiss lists 6 options for the partner who is sexually betrayed:

  • Stay and continue being abused
  • Stay and be uninvolved
  • Stay and be overinvolved
  • Stay and both recover
  • Stay conditionally
  • Divorce

I might further divide divorce into two categories – divorce with and without a healing program for myself.

These choices include some that for some people are acceptable and some that are not. We are all different. We all have different, but equally valid ideals we are trying to live out. Someone might ask why in the world would someone stay in a relationship and let the addict stay as he is. But there are some women because of age, education, or financial position, who truly do not feel they have the choice to leave, and who do not want to fight this battle.

And they may come to the conclusion that I’m going to stay in this relationship and I’m going to be happy, whichever way I can. And some people can do that. Some people can make the best of a really good situation, they can live separate lives in the same house, and pursue their own interests, and do the things that they want to do. Others would have a very difficult time with them this. And they might choose, if they have the means, to separate or divorce.

In my work with wives, most have chosen to stay, at least for awhile, and work on their marriage. And I have seen great success among these women. Sometimes their husbands get into recovery and their marriages make it, sometimes they don’t. But in nearly every case, what I find are strong women who learn to intentionally live out their values, who develop and enforce healthy boundaries to protect those values, and to learn to navigate the very muddy waters of healing with or without their husbands. 

Some of these women have husbands who are trying and succeeding. Some have husbands who are trying and struggling. Some have husbands who are trying and failing. And some have husbands who are not trying. It is not for me or anyone to tell any partner what choice she should make for herself or what decision suits her life best. We are all experts in our own lives, as to what’s best for us.

But in this situation, it is very easy to become overwhelmed, to not have a clear direction of which way to go, to have some real difficulty in making decisions. And there are many things that complicate that. Is it the things I said before like finances and conflicting values. Is it having children and wanting to do what’s best for them? These are all things that could play into our decisions. It’s not something that’s easy to go through, and I don’t recommend any woman going through this alone.

APSATS Professionals Can Help You Deal With Your Husband’s Pornography Addiction

There are professionals with excellent training to help partners of sex addicts. The Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists (APSATS) provides thorough training for professionals who wish to walk with partners through this process. APSATS trained coaches and counselors recognize the experience of partners as betrayal trauma. Not co-dependence, not co-addiction, but relational trauma.

This support can come in the form of individual coaching, face-to-face and online support groups, where you process what you’re going through and receive validation, be heard and find understanding. There are face-to-face and online work groups, that lead partners through a workbook which is helpful in addressing all the overlapping layers of healing and processing that partners deal with – while providing the strengths of a group and the guidance of a trained coach. There are even Facebook groups where you can do the same healing work without the constraints of time and location. 

What I have found over and over again, in the women that I work with, is that they are amazingly strong. They are strong already. It takes a lot of strength to pick yourself up from a situation you didn’t cause, you didn’t contribute to, and may not even have been aware of, and go get help for yourself. It is so much easier to say “He’s got the problem, why do I need to do the work?” but I like to compare this to a person who’s been injured in an accident. If you’re in a car accident, and it’s not your fault, you can shake your fist and get angry and yell it’s not my fault, but that’s not going to make you heal. It’s very unfair, but when we are hurt physically or emotionally, the person who hurt us can’t heal us. Especially when they are themselves ill-equipped to cope with their own problems in life, much less ours.

And so we we have a choice to help ourselves, or to leave things as they are. And most women I know don’t have the time or energy for that. We are careers to succeed at, children to love and raise, friendships to enjoy. And while this all may seem in limbo, we want those things back, and we want to embrace them fully, and bring our best to those situations. When a betrayed partner walks into my office – and they may be crying, they may be cursing, they may feel lost or just completely overwhelmed; the three things I want them to know, on that day, are 1. this is not because of you, 2. you have the strength it takes to get through this, and 3. you are not alone in the battle. It takes strength to walk in my office. These women have all said “I’m not living this life. I don’t know how to change it, but with help, I’m going to.” And I’m really proud of them.

I want to encourage any woman who is in this position to really take stock of what’s happening in her life, and make the decision for herself. Do you want to stay this way, or do you want to change it for you? Because no one else is guaranteed to change it for you. And I can speak from personal experience, that this process, as grueling as it is, as unfair as it is as, as angry, sad, and frustrated as we are in the beginning, will end well if we choose to make it so. It may not end in a specific way we’re hoping for, but we can get through it and thrive in spite of it.

I can honestly say 100% of the women that I worked with they have come out stronger, better, happier, and more empowered. I won’t say that 100% of them are grateful for this experience, and I would venture to guess that 0% of them would want to go through it again, but many of them, myself included, recognize that this trial as the reason they are stronger today and are living a very intentional life around the things that are important to them. 

If you are the wife or girlfriend of someone who has repeatedly betrayed you, and you find yourself struggling, please reach out to the excellent trained coaches at BTR.org. All of their coaches are APSATS trained. Individual coaching, group coaching and Facebook support is available to get you the support you need as you navigate your healing.

To schedule a support call with Coach Laura, click here.

Why Do Sex Addicts Do What They Do? | Betrayal Trauma

Why Do Sex Addicts Do What They Do? | Betrayal Trauma

As I work with betrayed women, they often ask, “Why do sex addicts do what they do?” This question is often asked out of anger or fear. And so I explore a little more deeply, and what I find is that they are usually struggling with fear, sadness, and overwhelm around the following…


Can My Husband Really Be Addicted To Sex?

The meaning of their partner’s behavior. They may be asking…

  • Can a person really be addicted to sex?
  • Why my partner, why this addiction?
  • Isn’t this just an excuse for their bad behavior?

The reality of their relationship.

  • Was any of it real?
  • Does he love me?
  • Is there any hope?

Feelings of self worth.

  • Is this my fault?
  • What does this say about me?
  • Aren’t I enough?
  • Can I fix it?

The scope of this article addresses the first of these issues – the questions around their partner’s behavior. I want to address each of these points separately. And in the answers, I hope that I can alleviate some of the pain and hurt that partners experience. 

Sexual Activity Outside Of What Is Supposed To Be A Committed Relationship Is Wrong, & It Has Nothing To Do With You

I want to encourage any reader who has been betrayed by their partner to understand this – addiction or not – sexual activity outside of a what is supposed to be a committed monogamous relationship is wrong. And painful. And not your fault. If you’ve been betrayed, the one who betrayed you is 100% responsible for his actions, his lies, and the damage he has caused, and the presence of an addiction does not change that. There is evidence that sex addiction exists, but betrayal is betrayal. And if you do not want or are not ready to hear about the addiction part yet, stay tuned until next week when I address, Is Sex Addiction Just Another Excuse?

Some partners accept the term sex addiction, but want to understand how it happened. Some don’t accept the term and believe that becoming addicted to sex just isn’t possible. Let me address this question first.

Sex Addiction Is Real

The current research shows that sex addiction does exist, and we know this by looking at the diagnostic criteria considered to identify addictions in general. Depending on whose research you read or what diagnostic criteria treatment facilities consider, there are anywhere between 7 and 15 criteria used to identify addiction. All seem to include the following 7, (and only 3-5 are needed by some to make a diagnosis)

The seven are are:

  • Concept of “tolerance” which states that the amount of a substance or behavior needed to achieve the same desired effect increases over time (or there is a decrease in the effect of the substance/behavior if if the amount does not increase over time).
  • Withdrawal phenomenon – when the substance or behavior is taken away, definite withdrawal symptoms occur.
  • Time lost to the behavior increases – time spent engaging in the behavior itself, time spent in the cycle of behaviors (time engaged in the behavior, time recovering, and time thinking about the next opportunity) occupies an increasing amount of the person’s day, and spending more time than intended
  • There is a persistent desire or compulsion to engage in the behavior
  • There is a reduction in healthy or socially accepted behaviors, roles etc. (such as time spent engaged in hobbies, household chores, family time, etc).
  • Use continues despite severe negative consequences (loss of job, arrests, physical effects)
  • Repeated unsuccessful efforts to stop

While not everyone who engages in harmful, extra-relational sex is an addict, many men and women who are seeking (or avoiding) treatment, exhibit these characteristics.

Masturbation Creates A Chemical Feedback Loop

Of course, this still leaves the question of how this these characteristics develop in the first place. And the answer to that lies in understanding the feedback loop associated with addiction development. With any addiction, be it to food, sex, gambling, or substances, neuroplastic changes begin to occur in the brain because of repeated use. While sexual activity does not involve ingesting or inhaling a substance, there is a chemical component to pornography exposure and sexual activity that acts like a drug on the brain.

Any time an individual engages in something that feels good, makes us excited, happy or proud, dopamine is released as a reward. The release of dopamine increases the “feel good” experience, and strengthens the neural connections that exist between the behavior and this “feel good” result. This connection causes us to seek out the same dopamine increasing behaviors again in the future, each time reinforcing the positive feelings that come with them, creating a feedback loop that becomes harder and harder to break. Over time, the brain is rewired to seek out these behaviors in a compulsive manner. And while pornography and sex are not “substances,” they can result in a “chemical dependency” because of the dopamine that is released.

A Husband’s Pornography Addiction Equals Abuse & Neglect For Wives

Now we are left with the question of why addiction develops. And this has more to do with the environment in which the addict exists (and has existed in the past) than with the physiology of addiction development. Many people go through similar circumstances; yet why does one person develop an addiction and the other does not? And I think what partners want to know is, why this? Why sex addiction? And this really does come from a place of pain, because of all the addictions, this one feels so personal.

And this is completely understandable, because a long-standing sex addiction usually ends in abuse and neglect of the partner, in it’s various forms… This can be in the form of physical abuse, verbal abuse, blame-shifting, gaslighting, manipulation, lies, etc. Trust and intimacy in the primary relationship is virtually destroyed by the presence of ongoing pornography use and sex addiction. 

What Causes Pornography Addiction?

But let me address the question of why sex addiction? Why my partner? And why me?
Doug Weiss states that there are six types of sex addicts. They are:

  • biological
  • trauma
  • psychological
  • intimacy anorexia
  • sex addiction with mood disorder
  • spiritual

Within these types, lies often, the reason addiction takes hold. With trauma and psychological sex addictions, for example, early experiences, family of origin, childhood events, may all play a role in the development of sex addiction. Any addiction is a sign of emotional immaturity, because once sexual behaviors reach the level of addiction, they are then being used as a coping mechanism. The level of emotional maturity that an addict has, is usually no greater than the level that he was at it when the addiction took hold. In other words, if a young boy is exposed to pornography at the age of 10, and at the age of 12 begins to use it as an escape from stressful life circumstances, then that is when he stops developing emotionally. He now has his “go to” coping tool for dealing with life’s problems. Had it been alcohol that had been readily available to him during this period of his life, chances are he would have used that instead. 

Sex Addiction Is At It’s Core, Emotional Immaturity

So, in a nutshell, addicts are exposed, typically at a younger age, to whatever their ultimate “drug of choice” is going to be. They may use it infrequently at first, or out of curiosity or boredom, but with prolonged exposure, it becomes their coping tool. And once that occurs they are now caught up in the feedback loop earlier described, and the addiction takes hold. That explains, very simply, why this, why him? But why me?? When answering this question, I always recall a line in one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption (has nothing to do with addiction…)… “Bad luck, I guess. It floats around. It has to land on somebody. I was in the path of the tornado.”

There are some in this field, I’m sorry to say, that will tell you that you knew on a subconscious level, that your partner was “broken,” and that you’re broken, too. And that the broken you was drawn to the broken him. But when you consider how successful the addict is at hiding his secrets and living a life of duplicity, I find this hard to accept. The characteristics observed in partners that some say are signs of brokenness and codependency, are also known to be symptoms of trauma.

To schedule a support call with Coach Laura, click here.

How My BTR Coach Saved My Life

How My BTR Coach Saved My Life

Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery. Today Coach Laura is here with her client, Claire. We’re going to talk about some of the challenges and struggles that wives of pornography addicts or sexual addicts go through, why they seek out a coach, and some of the things they have accomplished by working with our betrayal trauma recovery coaches. Welcome, Coach Laura and Claire!

The Biggest Challenges Of Being Married To A Sex Addict

Claire: The biggest challenge was just the feeling of betrayal and not knowing when I’m living in truth and reality vs. living in a lie. My experience was over a course of seven years of discovering addiction–probably three years in was when I realized it was an addiction–and then coping with how to handle the pain. I didn’t know if I was living in a reality where my husband was lying to me about doing it again or going to group; or if he was late to work was he really late from work; trying to work on the marriage I felt stuck and really needed someone to talk to. My husband was in recovery for probably two-three years ago and I didn’t have any help until about a year ago when I began seeing Coach Laura.

Coach Laura: This is such a common sentiment. Many of the women have been struggling alone, some for decades. I think it is for a couple of reasons. Some women believe that as long as their partner or husband is working on recovery and in a good recovery, their issues will disappear. We know this is not true since this is a form of trauma. It can have some lingering affects.

The other reason I think this happens is there really isn’t enough qualified help out there. I hear a lot of people saying they have talked to a counselor but they just didn’t get it. This is why I am really grateful for my APSATS training. It provides a specific framework to address the trauma these partners go through. To have someone who has walked that journey themselves, who is sensitive to what is really going on with them, and who has the skills and tools that they need to cope with this is really valuable.

BTR: This is why it is so important to me to provide qualified coaching – so it’s a wonderful experience from the beginning with someone who understands them and who has the APSATS framework to help instead of stumbling through trauma and sometimes suffering with treatment-induced trauma if the therapist doesn’t know what they are doing.

Claire: I felt like there wasn’t anyone who understood so I had church counselors, a few good friends, but I did not have another woman who had been through what I had been through who I could talk to to help validate some of my feelings. I felt really confused about what I was going through and what I was feeling, some of my fears. So it was really helpful to me for Coach Laura to still be married. She was the first person I talked to who had actually gone through this and was still married and in a good recovery. It gave me a lot of hope.

BTR: For our listeners, what has your experience been? Please comment below. You can comment anonymously. We would love to hear what your experience has been with therapists or church leaders or friends. Have they understood, have they been able to walk with you? Have they been able to hold your pain?

What Did You Accomplish As A Result Of Working With An APSATS Coach?

Claire: probably the most valuable thing I’ve been able to do was to set some really practical yet powerful boundaries. She helped me realize that I have a right to feel safe and to communicate when I need to feel safe in my home. Boundaries were a huge thing for me.

Coach Laura: Yes, this is so crucial to our healing. There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding around boundaries. I think a lot of wives have a difficult time naming their boundaries and enforcing them because:

1. We weren’t raised to know that we would have to deal with this particular issue. We never really had any preparation for it. We didn’t know ahead of time; we didn’t grow up thinking we would face this type of thing and how would we deal with it if we did.

2. The other thing about boundaries is that if you don’t have appropriate consequences or effective consequences, they are useless. We are prone to think of consequences as punishment. It’s also difficult to think how to consequence my husband who is an adult; you don’t punish an adult (some may try but it doesn’t work!) Also, they don’t always play along. We have to have consequences to our boundaries that we can enforce whether they are agreeable or not. It’s about protecting us.

I spend a lot of time trying to help my clients understand that boundaries are for their protection and to help them come up with things they can do in various situations that doesn’t rely on their husbands agreeing with them or playing along, especially in the beginning we want to establish boundaries for physical and emotional safety.

As a coach, this is my number one initial priority with my clients–to make sure they have established safety in their home, both physically and emotionally, and it is done through the setting and enforcement of those healthy boundaries.

BTR: Absolutely. Sometimes it takes time and so having a coach be there for you as this process evolves and develops is really important because it’s not just one session and suddenly we can say, “I’ve got boundaries! I understand this. I’m done.” It doesn’t work this way. Hahahaha.

Coach Laura: Right. Knowing what we are prepared to actually follow through with is important. I remember early on setting some boundaries and thinking I had consequences but when it came time to enforce them, I really wasn’t prepared for that consequence myself. So it takes some time to get it right. There is some trial and error. But this is the wonderful thing. Other people want to give us second chances. We can give ourselves a second chance and say, “Ok. I messed it up this time but there is always next time and here is what I am going to do next time.”

How To Achieve Emotional Safety

Claire: The coaching process for me involved meeting with Laura one-on-one for a couple of months, prior to joining the support group which was another help and add on to the individual one-on-one sessions. She gave me several resources and helped me realize the importance of my own recovery. I would read and work in the workbook she suggested and I began to discover how this experience of my husband’s addiction brought trauma.

I really realized how much work I needed to do to heal from the trauma. We worked on defining my values and making value-based decisions. She helped me learn to trust my own intuition again, which was huge, in both the one-on-one coaching and in the support group we talked about finding triggers and how to deal with them through grounding techniques and self-care.

Everything from value and boundaries work to coping mechanisms–I had the tools to use to really cope. I remember once when I was leaving out of town and I was able to have a one-on-one with Coach Laura because I was going to a friend’s wedding. It was her second marriage; her first marriage fell apart due to sexual addiction. I knew this would be very hard for me. She helped me come up with a list of what those triggers were and some grounding techniques I could do during that time which really helped me to heal and move forward in a healthier way.

Coach Laura: Claire did a really good job of talking about a lot of the different things I work with my clients in my coaching, both in the group and in one-on-one settings. All of them are really of equal importance. If I could I would like to expand on the idea of the values. The work we do in values is really important in the carrying out our day-to-day lives and living the life we want to live and knowing at the end of the day that we have made the right decisions for ourselves.

I think this addiction, more than anything else, destroys our values. If you think about if from a wife’s perspective – the things we say we value. We value honesty and here we’ve been lied to. We value monogamy and we’ve been cheated on. We value safety and all semblance of that is gone. One of my biggest values is my family and here I’m faced with the possibility of divorce and single parenting…and all of this is on the line.

The biggest thing I think is having confidence with ourselves, having peace with ourselves, and intuition that Claire talked about. Now we are in a position where we have been made to feel–if not flat out told–that we aren’t pretty enough, not good enough. I know, and hopefully those listening to this know–that those things are not true but they are feelings we deal wth. I really try to encourage my clients to explore their values, to put time into thinking through this.

If we know what our values are and practice making decisions based on them, then it’s much easier–although this is difficult no matter what. But if we know what is important to us, at the end of the day we can say we addressed the right things. I think it helps us prioritize and helps us make decisions. These are the kind of things we set boundaries around too. These are my values and I want to protect them. I wanted to pull this out of what Claire said because it is a huge part of the work that I do with my clients.

BTR: I think that so many times wives of sexual addicts are thinking about values in a different way. They’re thinking, “I want a peaceful home. I want a peaceful marriage.” And the way to do this is to talk to their spouse. It isn’t usually boundary-based. It’s more “How can I work harder to make this happen?”

Claire: One of the things I was thinking about when we were talking about that is that one of my boundaries was that I was no longer going to coerce my husband to do recovery or be honest. It was a huge part of my recovery to remove that part of what I was doing–that coercing him, trying to convince him that what he was doing was destroying the family…I know he wants to change…why can’t he change. This kind of convincing was not healthy for me because it was anxiety-building, it caused lot of issues for me so I knew I had to remove this.

The Most Important Benefit You’ll Receive From Working With An APSATS Coach

Claire: Really just finding hope and healing through her story and the stories of the other ladies in the support group. It is really as simple as knowing I am not alone in my struggle. This has made the biggest difference.

Coach Laura: I really appreciate you saying that. It means a lot because honestly, this is why I decided to become a coach. I remember early on meeting with my church’s pastor who was also a friend. I remember sitting with him, crying–I was lost and totally overwhelmed because this addiction brings so many layers of hurt and betrayal. It felt to me like a formidable task. It was something I could not imagine getting beyond.

I remember him asking me, very gently, “What is it specifically that you want from me?” I said, “Hope.” I wasn’t expecting cures…I didn’t know what to expect at this point but I just wanted hope.

We know this is not by any means an easy process. There is very little joy in it, at least in the beginning. I feel very lucky that my story ended well. My husband is in a healthy recovery but I so remember the period of feeling lost. It lasted a long time.

This has been my main passion–to be able to sit with my clients in their pain and to provide them with some hope if nothing else. I can’t make their husbands get into a healthy recovery any more than they can. To be able to say to them that I understand, I’ve been there, you’re going to be okay–it doesn’t feel like it now–but no matter what he does, we can put things into place to let you be okay. This is my goal. I just want to give people hope because without this first step, the rest seems impossible.

BTR: It is. I think with coaching and with help, regardless of what your spouse chooses, you can have a happy ending. In both of your cases, your husbands chose a healthy recovery and are now emotionally safe to be around. This is a happy ending! In my case, my husband decided not to work recovery and not to try to become safe to return to his family. Now I am on my way to a healthy life and happiness with my children – also a happy ending!

Just being on the path to recovery and knowing that our lives can be healthy and happy and productive in spite of the pain we go through to get to that point – there were many times when I thought my life was over and that I couldn’t handle this. I am really grateful to work with the amazing betrayal trauma recovery coaches who walk women through this process every day from darkness and sorrow and hopelessness at times to hope that can then evolve into peace and safety.

Coach Laura: I’m glad you pointed out joy and peace again because I tend to tell people that they are going to be ok no matter what . . . but who wants to just be ok? I feel like our lives can be really rich and fulfilling regardless of the stuff around us. It can be challenging, obviously, but it’s important to know that with just the right tools and practice, we can live the life we value.

BTR: thank you so much Claire and Coach Laura for being with us today. If you are wondering if coaching would be right for you, schedule an appointment with Coach Laura or click here to see the coaching schedule.

Again, we appreciate your comments and suggestions. Please comment or email directly at anne@btr.org or to Coach Laura at laura@btr.org.

Until next week, be safe out there!

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