Typically, learning about your partner’s sexual addiction leaves you in a daze—stunned, hurt, uncertain, and unable to fully assimilate and accept what has happened. Whatever your feelings are, the following list of things to do and not do may be helpful.
- DO get tested for STDs. Sex addicts are careless about sex. As soon as you learn that your partner has been unfaithful (even if you think it’s just online), you should visit a clinic or your primary care physician, explaining the situation and asking for a full STD screen.
- DON’T have unprotected sex with your partner. No matter what a sex addict tells you, you absolutely should not have unprotected sex until you feel confident the addict has had a full (and clean) STD screen and that he or she has been faithful to you since the screening.
- DO investigate your legal rights, even if you plan to stay together. Planning to stay together doesn’t mean you will. You should always find out your rights in a potential separation, including financial concerns, property concerns, and parenting issues if there are children.
- DON’T jump into long-term decisions. Making life-changing decisions when you are at the height of your pain, hurt, and anger is never a good idea. This includes life-changing decisions such as whether to break up, file for divorce, leave with the kids, etc. The general rule of thumb is no major changes in the first six months of the recovery process.
- DO get help for yourself. Dealing with a partner’s sex addiction requires a level of emotional support that is beyond the life experience of most people, and the best way to deal with this is to seek assistance from people who understand what you’re going through—therapists, support groups, family and friends who’ve dealt with similar betrayal, etc.
- DON’T use sex to fix the problem. While sexual intensity may feel good and intimate in the moment, using sex to assuage emotional pain is a form of mutual denial that moves you and your partner away from the process of healing. In relationships, healthy sex is based on trust, and it’s OK to hold off on sex until trust is restored.
- DO learn everything you can about sexual addiction. This educational process helps you to better understand the sex addict, and to make healthier decisions in the future.
- DON’T make threats you don’t intend to carry out. If you tell your partner that any further cheating will cause you to leave, make sure you really intend to do so. Otherwise, you diminish your credibility. (It’s usually best to not make threats at all. Say what you feel, but don’t make threats that you might regret later.)
- DO trust your feelings and observations. If you feel that you’re being lied to or that your partner is still cheating, trust your intuition. If you don’t see your partner getting ongoing help with his or her addiction—attending therapy, participating in 12-step and/or online support groups—then don’t trust that things are getting better.
- DON’T take blame for your partner’s actions. Taking responsibility for your partner’s addiction is not helpful. Nothing that you did or did not do caused the addiction. It doesn’t matter how you’ve aged, how much weight you’ve gained or lost, or how involved you are with the kids and/or work. You are not responsible for your partner’s addiction. That is a decision the addict made on his or her own.
- DO expect to join your partner in therapy if you want to work things out. It is likely that you want a full accounting of your addicted partner’s behavior. This type of disclosure best occurs in the presence of a neutral professional. If there is a therapist present to help you process the disclosure experience, you reduce the risk of further harm to both you and your relationship.
- DON’T stick your head in the sand. If you have an investment in your relationship, you can’t avoid the hard facts of your partner’s ongoing addiction. Pretending the problem will go away on its own is tempting, but ineffective. You need to address the issue head-on.
If you think your significant other or anyone else you care about might be sexually addicted, help is available. Residential treatment for sex addiction is available at Seeking Integrity: Los Angeles, as are online workgroups for male and female sex addicts. Seeking Integrity also offers online workgroups for betrayed partners and couples.