In my work as a sex addiction counselor, I am a big believer in individualized attention for both the addict, and the partner. Both have some serious issues they need to work through, and I believe they should both be given the time and space to do that.
When a couple begins seeking treatment to help cope with a sex addiction, I should make it clear that I am not often visited by a couple at first. More often than not, it is the addict’s partner who contacts me because she has recently discovered the extent of her partner’s problem.
In this moment, I am looking at a partner in distress, and an addict in despair. My first order of business is triage. I will talk to the partner, get as much information as I can, and then begin recommending a treatment plan. The most important aspect of this plan is that each partner receive individualized attention.
Yes, eventually our goal will be to have both partners present during the same counseling session, but at first, the needs of the addict and the needs of the betrayed partner are tremendously different. It can actually be counterproductive to get these two people into the same room when tensions and emotions are still running so high.
This is where my work truly begins. I arrange for the partner (a female, in the vast majority of cases I see) to work with a female therapist in our practice. I will keep in continual contact with her therapist, so that the two of us can coordinate treatment and progress with one another.
Meanwhile, I will begin to work with the sex or porn addict personally. I myself am in recovery from sex and porn addiction, and my personal experiences give me a unique opportunity to speak directly to an addict in a language, and on a level that he understands. As stated in the chapter on couples’ therapy in The Routledge International Handbook of Sexual Addiction:
I do individualized work with the sex addict to address his compulsion, using my book Breaking the Cycle: Free Yourself from Sex Addiction, Porn Obsession, and Shame (Collins, G., 2011) as a template for the recovery programme. Compulsion is at the heart of the addiction. The addict feels powerless to stop acting out. He may understand intellectually that his addiction is destructive to himself and everyone around him, yet he continues his behaviour pattern nonetheless. It generally helps him to hear that, although he has displayed behaviour that has been harmful and he must be held accountable for his actions, this doesn’t mean he must be accountable for every bad thing that has happened in his relationship.
Once the addict has entered treatment, I am faced with the prospect of introducing this “regular guy” to some pretty huge concepts that are not always easy to absorb at first. For instance, I borrow from the teachings of Eckhart Tolle to begin convincing the addict that he is not his mind, he is not his story, and he is not his addiction. Yes, sometimes it takes a while for the truth behind these lessons to crystallize for the addict, but once they do, they become the basis for my work, and the scaffolding upon which he can build his own recovery.
To help create that important sense of separation between the addict and his addiction, I ask him to engage in practice called “dialogue.” This activity requires the addict to sit down with a pen and paper, or at their computer with a blank document open, and to actually write out a dialogue between himself and his addict sub-personality. Here is an example of what that might look like:
George: Addict, are you there?
Addict: (no response)
George: Addict, are you there? (This could go on for five or six times, and then finally…)
George: Come on, addict, I need to talk to you!
Addict: Get lost!
George: I need to talk to you about our addiction. I’m going to lose my marriage.
Addict: I like what I’m doing, I don’t want to stop.
George: You might not like my marriage, but I do.
This is a very empowering exercise, because it helps the addict realize that he is in control. He thought that he was at the mercy of his compulsions, but he has the ability to take that control back for himself anytime he wants. I like to use the term “the tail is wagging the dog,” because it helps to illustrate that this small portion of his mind has been allowed to control everything about him. Once he comes to the realization that he is not his addiction, he can regain power over himself. He can begin living the life he actually wants to live.
It is so important that a sex or porn addict be given this individualized attention so that he has the opportunity to sift through these processes and ideas in a safe and understanding environment. If he is ever going to move past his compulsive behaviors, he needs the opportunity to see them for what they are.
For a more complete description of the healing process for both partners, please refer to my chapter in The Routledge International Handbook of Sexual Addiction.
About the author: George Collins
George Collins is the founder and director of Compulsion Solutions, a centre in the San Francisco Bay Area established to treat sex addiction and porn addiction. George earned a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology (with a Transpersonal Specialization) from John F. Kennedy University. He has been a guest on local, national, and international radio and television shows as a recognized expert on sexually compulsive behaviour. Through the process of healing his own sex addition, he developed the methods and techniques for overcoming sexually compulsive behaviour that are used at Compulsion Solutions and presented in his book Breaking the Cycle: Free Yourself From Sex Addiction, Porn Obsession and Shame. He also co-authored A Couple’s Guide to Sexual Addiction: A Step-by-Step Plan to Rebuild Trust & Restore Intimacy.