Low self-esteem is an issue for many partners of sex addicts. The clinical community has agonized over this issue for more than a decade. It is common for clinicians to hear statements from partners of sex addicts reflecting their low self-esteem. Some of these statements are printed below.
• Who will love me now?
• I can’t do anything.
• I’m so unattractive.
• I don’t even like me anymore.
• No man would want me now.
Partners of sex addicts frequently say they don’t feel good about themselves. They experience what clinicians call low self-esteem. This is a feeling that, “I am not as good as, or not equal to other people I know.” In their relationships, these partners feel “less than” or “one down” from the sex addict they are dating or married to.
Often the truth is, people are attracted to partners with self-esteem similar to their own. Sex addicts are usually trying to increase their sense of value through their addiction. At the core of the sex addict is their belief that, “if they really knew me, they wouldn’t love me.”
The feeling of being unworthy of love because of what she does as a partner to a sex addict, instead of who she is, is also part of her low self-esteem. Most significant though, is her belief that her value lies in being “enough” for the sex addict.
We live in a culture where we are encouraged to believe that outer appearances and behaviors determine our value. Partners of sex addicts frequently believe that if they were only more (or in some cases less) attractive, sexy, intelligent, shapely, submissive, or better in bed, they could alter the addict’s behavior. Their self-esteem, which may already have been damaged, falls even lower as they become more and more involved in trying to fill the insatiable needs of the addict by changing themselves.
Society imparts a strong message to women that, if there is something wrong with her relationship, there is something wrong with her. The sex addict is usually only too happy to confirm this belief. In addition, many therapists, not understanding the dynamics of sexual addiction unknowingly reinforce this societal message. One woman sought help from two counselors, who told her to go home and satisfy her husband’s sexual desires, and all her marital problems would disappear. Of course she failed, thereby proving to herself, one more time, that she was not good enough.
The partner is not only subjected to sexual put-downs, she is also frequently a victim of emotional and verbal abuse from the addict as well. Over time, she will begin to believe what the sex addict tells her about herself is true. Like the addict, she will harbor a secret belief nobody will love her for who she is, but for what she does. Unable to gain a sense of worth by being sexual enough for the addict, the partner can often be found taking care of not only the addict, but the kids, her family of origin, even her neighbors, in a search for worth that she can only experience in a recovery program and by sharing this healing process with other recovering partners.
Low self-esteem is the natural outcome of being a partner of a sex addict, it is a core recovery issue for partners of sex addicts.
However, low self-esteem doesn’t always have to be present to be in a relationship with a sex addict. Some sex addicts will pick a partner with high self-esteem. When I first began counseling partners of sex addicts, I was surprised by how healthy some partners were. They knew internally that they had nothing to do with their husband’s sexual addiction. They knew they were attractive, sexually competent, and that for him to get better, it was his responsibility. They had clear boundaries and little tolerance for relapse. These partners do exist, but rarely do they attend ongoing support groups for spouses of sex addicts. Consequently, the recovery community rarely believes they exist.
In most cases these partners, state very clearly that he gets better, or he leaves. This healthy partner doesn’t fear being alone, taking financial responsibility for herself or her family.
Typically this is not the majority of partner’s of sex addicts.
As the partner begins to get more value in herself, the addict has to agree with her value and change behaviors, or find someone else to devalue. When she understands this, she will begin to see positive changes in her life and relationships. Go for it!
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