Addiction is like a tornado that leaves behind a path of destruction. It not only damages our lives as addicts, it also takes a tremendous toll on the people around us. Sex addiction in particular wrecks relationships (especially families). It creates sadness, anger, confusion, and a host of varied reactions from people who care about you.
Friends and family may resent us for the hurt our addiction caused them. Sometimes mixed in with that anger are feelings of sadness and worry that they may have been in some way responsible for our struggles.
Spouses sometimes take on the belief that if they were more attractive, attentive, or … something … that they could have kept us from doing what we did. Sometimes we as addicts believe this too, and this blame-shifting is part of our denial. But the reality is that no spouse is capable of meeting the needs of a sex addict. Even so, sex addiction is unique in the devastation it creates in the marital relationship.
Our friends and family can heal during our recovery. Each person must concentrate on his or her own issues while learning how to detach with love. There are groups that offer support for spouses of sex addicts, and Faithful and True Ministries also offers phone counseling for spouses who are struggling.
What makes sex addiction especially toxic for families is the wall of secrecy that is usually built around the addiction. Since sex is so personal, and fear of other people finding out about our struggles so overwhelming, many couples try to go about recovery while living in a bubble of secrecy and shame. Children, extended family, and friends experience various forms of suffering because of the addiction, and are often left in the dark about what is really going on.
Sometimes it’s necessary to withhold the truth of our addiction from people who were affected by it, because they can’t be trusted to handle the information. Discussions about how far to extend the circle of disclosure are ongoing and complex, especially during the early years of recovery. But even if we decide not to disclose the truth of our addiction to family and friends, we must honest with ourselves about the level of damage we have brought into their lives.
Our addiction touches all the people in our lives, whether we realize it or not. It causes us to neglect people we should be attentive to, to isolate ourselves, to be withdrawn or cranky, and sometimes even to sexualize people and situations that should not be sexualized.
Our awareness of this damage will grow over time, and we must be careful not to drift into shame and self-hatred when it does. Our shame dissipates as we keep working our recovery, and as we make amends to the people we have harmed in whatever ways are appropriate.