This week we continue with more questions that those still in relationship with their sexually addicted husband often want answered soon after disclosure. Many thanks to Dr Barbara Steffens of APSATS who originally answered our last question today as part of our Ask the Experts series last year.
If my husband has a sex addiction, why is it he never wants to have sex with me?
It is so common for porn/sex addicts to avoid intimacy that the addiction is frequently referred to as an “intimacy disorder.” As the highest form of intimacy we can experience with another person this side of heaven, sexual intimacy (as opposed to sex addiction’s exploitation of another) can feel extremely threatening to him. You may have noticed that your husband avoids other types of intimacy with you (and possibly others) as well—e.g., emotional, spiritual, recreational. Some key drivers of this problem are shame, past negative experiences with being vulnerable, and poor self-esteem. These are issues God wants to heal in your husband. In the meantime, it’s recommended you seek help for the pain his rejection is causing you, and to consider what boundaries you might put in place to protect your heart until such a time as your husband finds healing.
Actually my husband wants to have sex regularly/frequently, but has trouble with it (i.e., getting/maintaining an erection, having an orgasm)… what should I do?
Porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED) is a complex phenomenon with porn/sex addiction at its core. Many women have assumed that the issue is “them,” and that if they just did things more “his” way—like what he’s viewing in porn— or looked more like a porn star, then the issue would resolve. After years of moving into more and more perverse behaviors (i.e., sex acts that are more emotionally isolating and/or physically painful) while his sexual issues continued to worsen, they realized that this problem was outside their control. However, the problem is absolutely within the husband’s control. Giving up the sexual acting out has been shown in studies to reverse the physical symptoms associated with porn-induced erectile dysfunction. You are a daughter of the Most High God. Becoming part of your husband’s sexual acting out harms both you and him and you would be well advised to begin using boundaries to protect yourself and help him. I recommend seeking support if you need help with setting those boundaries.
How do I know if my husband is doing enough in recovery?
While I don't think a partner can ever fully know everything in the heart of the loved one who is in recovery, she surely can be alert to signs of good recovery work. A partner can also request (and I believe expect) openness on the part of the person in recovery as to what they are doing in their recovery work. Books like Stop Sex Addiction (Lisa adds: and video series such as Kitchen Convos) provide a thorough description of what active recovery requires in terms of effort, healing, and support. Watch for your loved one to initiate telling you about their recovery work and what they are learning. Listen for vulnerability (a “soft” heart) and a desire to be who he was created to be. Notice if he is coming “alive” and enjoying his new-found freedom.
Recovery requires a life change, a heart change, and a direction change. You should start to see the person in recovery committed to therapy, to group or meetings, to reading, and to a life of integrity. These commitments often do not come immediately but there should be movement in those directions. Watch a trend line (there will be ups and downs) with steady (albeit slow) progress. A person in solid recovery is growing and moving forward because they want to heal—they don’t want to relapse. They desire integrity in their lives. You’ll find yourself trusting their heart—and trusting that THEY don’t want to relapse.
I want to encourage partners to also spend the needed time on their own healing; allow the wounds of betrayal to be attended to and healed through support and care from others. Look to areas in your life where you want to gain confidence and strength. Strengthen your roots! This helps you to heal, AND helps you get strong enough so that, even if there is a relapse, you will have strengthened your reserves and firmed up your resolve to be a survivor and a warrior to fight for yourself and your welfare.
For some relationships it may be (or feel) too late. For many, there is still a chance to turn things around. Whichever the case, it's never too late for us (or even our spouse with the addiction) to get healing for ourselves.