Linda Hatch writes: The problem arises when the addict’s “sobriety” was only skin deep. Treatment involves addressing many different issues and neglecting any of them is not an option. Here are some of the reasons sex addiction treatment can fail and recovery can go off the rails.
Incomplete disclosure. Sometimes the addict in treatment “discloses” everything to the partner but holds back something from both the partner and the therapist. This can be subtle such as omitting the fact that the addict had unprotected sex with someone or failing to reveal that the affair was with a friend of the spouse. Or it can be blatant such as the failure to admit to a whole set of behavior like cybersex, gay sex or hiring escorts. Complete disclosure often comes in stages, but if the addict never tells everything he or she is perpetuating the habit of sexual secrecy. Without a commitment to honesty the addict will continue to live with the lies and shame that can ultimately lead back to acting out.
Recovery tourism. Some addicts are recovery tourists. They follow through on a program of sex addiction treatment and even go to 12-step meetings but they do not feel engaged in a genuine way. They sometimes feel they are there to keep their partner happy or to look good in the eyes of others. But they never feel the intrinsic value of recovery for themselves. This limits how much they can really change. Recovery demands deeper change and those in good recovery experience this as truly life-changing.
Seeing the problem as purely a relationship problem. Sometimes addicts never get the right kind of treatment to begin with. It is an easy mistake to think that sexual acting out by one partner is a symptom of something wrong in the relationship. But couple therapy alone cannot address the very powerful habit of using sex a drug any more than couple counseling can cure alcoholism. While it is true that sex addiction usually signals a problem with intimate relating, better relationship skills may not be possible until the addict addresses the addictive behavior. A trained sex addiction therapist will be able to make a plan to treat all aspects of the problem.
Ignoring the deeper issues. On the flip side, it is possible for treatment to address the addict’s problem with using sex as a drug but never deal with the intimacy avoidance that goes along with a sexual double life. Most addicts lack true intimacy skills, the ability to be nurturing and vulnerable, to share power and to communicate their needs and feelings. Unless they gain these skills their relationships will be problematic and inauthentic. This in turn leads back to the addict reaching out for another kind of gratification elsewhere. And the intimacy avoidance can in turn relate to longstanding problems such as childhood attachment issues, abuse and trauma. These must be resolved somewhere along the line for the recovery process to be reliable.
Misdiagnosis. This happens more than I would like. I see couples who have been to therapists for help with one partner’s sexual acting out behavior but have come away with a mistaken understanding of the problem.