In recent years, clinicians and rehabs specializing in the treatment of sexual addiction have become more and more aware of what it’s like to be the betrayed partner of a sex addict. Most of this focus has been directed at female partners of male sex addicts. We even have a bit of research on what female betrayed partners of sex addicts experience.
One study, led by Dr. Barbara Steffens, found that women married to sexually addicted men, after learning about the betrayal and the addiction, tend to experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is the same disorder we see with ‘shell-shocked’ soldiers. Some of the more common symptoms identified in the study include:
- Obsessing about the betrayal
- Avoiding thinking about (and talking about) the betrayal
- Flipping back and forth from obsessing about to avoiding thinking about (and talking about) the betrayal
- Inability to trust (not just the cheater, but everyone)
- Hypervigilance (doing detective work to find out the truth)
- Emotional instability
- Inability to focus on day-to-day life
- Anxiety, depression, and similar issues
- Taking on blame for the betrayal
- Using substances or behaviors to escape or numb emotional pain
Another study, led by Dr. Robert Weiss, also looking at female partners of sex addicts, produced similar results. And this was true regardless of whether the betrayal was in-the-flesh or purely online. This study also found that after learning about their male partner’s addiction, the lies, secrets, and loss of trust related to the betrayal were generally more painful to the cheated-on partner than any actual sexual act.
But What About Men?
Though we do not, at this time, have comparable research on male partners of sex addicts, anecdotal evidence suggests they experience most if not all the symptoms experienced by female betrayed partners. And this appears to be true for both straight and gay relationships. Male or female, being cheated on hurts. A lot. And when that cheating is serial in nature, as occurs with sexual addiction, the pain is compounded.
Often, betrayed male partners of sex addicts do not try to seek help for the pain they are feeling. Perhaps this is part of our cultural ethos that seems to think men should be islands, relying on no person but themselves. But this does not mean that betrayed men are not hurting, or that they won’t benefit from support when they finally reach out. Trust us, they are in pain, and they do benefit from support.
Unfortunately, there are very few options for betrayed male partners. Many say they’ve been to COSA meetings and they’re the only male in the room. And even though they identify with the feelings expressed by other group members, they feel out of place. Sometimes they feel as if their masculinity is being questioned. Sometimes they just feel unwelcome in a room full of women.
In large cities, it might be possible to form a ‘stag’ COSA group, but in small cities and rural areas this is unlikely. As COSA membership grows, of course, men-only groups may become more feasible. For now, male betrayed partners are stuck with individual therapy and a couple of online support groups created to specifically meet their needs.
Online support for male betrayed partners can be found at:
- On Monday nights, 6 p.m. Pacific, COSA hosts a men-only telephone meeting. The telephone number is: 712.775.7031. The passcode is: 205319130#. For more information, email MenInCosa@gmail.com.
- On Thursday nights, 6 p.m. Pacific, Sex and Relationship Healing hosts a video discussion group led by Jon Bentley. The link for this group is: Men’s Prodependence: For Male Partners of Addicts.
Sex and Relationship Healing’s Thursday night sessions are open to all male partners of addicts, regardless of the nature of the addiction. As with all Sex and Relationship Healing webinars and discussion groups, there is no charge to participate. If you are the male betrayed partner of an addict, we hope you will take advantage of this useful resource.