by Dan Drake, MFT, LPCC, CCPS-S, CSAT-S
Today's post by Dan follows on last week's. Together the two were originally posted on the excellent Banyan Therapy website under the title, So He Needs You to be His Mom and then Later Resents You for it: The impossible role some partners of sex addicts find themselves in.
The post is addressed to both betrayed wives (partners of sex addicts) and sex addicts. Even for those in the community who are no longer with the SA, I think many of you will find validation of your past experiences in Dan's words.
More "No-Win" Scenarios
Dan writes to Partners of Sex Addicts (PSAs): you can help your own frustration level by not taking the no-win bait of getting pulled into this [take-care-of-me] pattern. Don’t do for your spouse what he can do for himself. Some examples of this pattern and some responses you can take may include:
- You manage the budget or finances around the house, but then your partner gets on your case because he doesn’t know how much money is in the bank account. Make sure he has access to all the finances – If he asks about the finances, he is more than capable of looking himself.
- You become your partner’s administrative assistant: Supporting her at work and pushing for new heights at the job, but then she resists implementing the good things you’re suggesting because you’re being too “controlling.” You may still be an inspiration and use your skill-set to help, but your partner needs to take ownership of her own life and her own career.
- Let’s take an even simpler one: Your addicted spouse lets you choose the restaurant for dinner but then complains the whole time and puts you down for your choice, saying, “We always go where you want to eat.” Take turns choosing where to go for dinner, or have your spouse come up with a couple of options that sound good to both of you, and then you can choose from those options.
There are many more possible examples, but those are a few for you to think about. Do any of those apply in your relationship? Are there others that you recognize more clearly? Typically they take the form of an expectation for you to step up and help in a certain way, but later on receiving anger, resentment, or the message that you’re being too “controlling.”
Please note that it’s fine to be in a partnership where you have unique giftings that your partner may not (socially, organizationally, financially, emotionally, etc.). Absolutely be a partner to your spouse and help him out – that’s a big part of what relationships are for! Yet if your partner is passively asking you to run the show and then resents you later for it, this will put you in an impossible situation filled with pain, anger and grief for you both long term. Advocate for your partner to state his own needs and make choices. If he isn’t willing or able to state his needs, make sure to remind him that by choosing NOT to act is still making a choice.
I also realize that this overfunctioning / underfuncioning dynamic may bring up a lot of pain for you, so you may need some time to grieve. You’ve had to take on a lot of responsibilities in this relationship, which isn’t fair. But do know that by taking on these responsibilities, you are ultimately put in an exhausting place where your partner still holds the cards. The process of having him learn to take more responsibilities and emotionally maturing in this relationship may take some time, but that’s his work to do.
If you are the partner of a sex addict who takes on this pattern of relating, here are a couple of questions for you to consider:
- What types of responsibilities do you accept begrudgingly?
- What do you imagine it would feel like to say, “No, my plate is full” or “I know you can do it can you please be responsible for that?”
- What might it look like if the roles were more balanced in your relationship?
A Word for the Sex Addict
If you are the person with the addiction reading this, please know that this pattern is one that we see all the time. Yet it can be incredibly destructive to you and to your relationship. You may have learned to cope in life by passively having others help you, but you also need to learn that you give away a lot of your own healthy power when you do so.
The answer? Take responsibility for your own life. After all, you want a partner, not a mom, right? If you abdicate responsibility, you can’t then resent your partner for a role you have given her. Remember, you have choices, and if you choose to give over your agency to your partner, that is still a choice. A better choice is to learn how to take care of your own needs. By taking care of your own needs in a healthy way, and then being there for your partner in a loving, present, and empathetic way you will ultimately empower yourself and your partner.
This cycle may have served you in the past, but you don’t need to continue it – It ultimately doesn’t work out for either of you. Lean on your therapist, sponsor, or support group to help you do the work to move out of this pattern. This support group serves an important function of helping you emotionally mature. You and your partner will have a more satisfying relationship as your relationship balances back out.
If you are the person with the addiction, here are a couple of questions for you to consider:
- Do you take advantage of your wife and get her to do things for you that you know are your responsibility? What are some examples? How does it make you feel?
- How do you imagine you would feel to tell your partner that you want to relieve her of some of the burdensome responsibilities in your relationship by________________. How do you imagine that would feel?
- Are you open to experimenting? Tell your partner that as part of your recovery you want to step it up and relieve her of some of her responsibilities. Notice her response. Notice how you feel.
I have the utmost respect for any couple willing to do the hard work to change ingrained patterns of relating like this one. If you are on the journey of healing from this relational pattern, I honor all the hard work you’re doing to change and grow. I firmly believe that in creating a healthier partnership rather than a one-up, one-down dynamic you and your partner will be much more fulfilled in this relationship, and you’ll get more of what you really want and need: intimate connection with your partner. All the best to you both on this journey.
Many thanks to Dan, who along with some of his colleagues, will be speaking at the Redeeming Sexuality and Intimacy Conference in Houston next month... as well as introducing a soon-to-be released workbook for couples on therapeutic disclosure.