The Sexually Addicted Couple

When a couple enters therapy and one partner exhibits sexually addictive behaviors the non-addicted partner (co-addict) often asks me to, “Fix my partner!” Both believe that their only problem is how his/her sexual acting out (SAO) impairs their relationship.

With all couples, however, I emphasize shared responsibility. When one partner has an addiction, they are an addicted couple. When the woman is pregnant, they are pregnant. When one has an affair, both share the burden of how it evolved and how to resolve it.

We discuss their identity as a sexually addicted couple, to reinforce their mutual responsibility toward recovering and repairing their relationship. Imago Relationship Therapysupports this mindset by postulating that we tend to seek out— and need—partners with similar wounding, to achieve our own healing.

Through psychotherapy and 12-Step work, partners of sex addicts often discover why their own individual issues drew them to a partner with these issues. One common factor in the co-addict may be childhood sexual abuse, either overt or covert. An overly sexualized child has confused sexual boundaries, leaving them asexual or not allowing for much sexuality at all in their adulthood. They also commonly are drawn to partners with their own sexual problems.

Co-addicts may also feel drawn to those who may betray them. Perhaps while growing up, they experienced lies and witnessed emotional boundary violations in ways that left them traumatized. If these imprints remain unresolved, the co-addict would likely grow up and marry someone “familiar” who violates and betrays them all over again.

Another factor in sexual addiction is enabling and codependency. The co-addict often lets a partner continue his SAO behaviors and not accept the consequences of his/her actions.

Imago Relationship Therapy (hereafter, IRT) advises that the couple, together as a unit, is the client and that they should not be separated during therapy. But early in my IRT work with sexually addicted couples, I decided to go against this model and began seeing the sex addict separately, while also seeing the couple together. The reason for my change in treatment is that sex addicts need a safe place to talk openly about their SAO behaviors, and it’s ideal for the couple’s therapist to hear them firsthand, to understand them more fully and how they impact the relationship. In addition to couple’s therapy with the partner, I place the male sex addict in my Men’s Sexual Addiction Group (, or see him individually. Privately, away from his partner, he often feels free to share details about his SAO without having to edit or censor his comments to avoid his partner’s judgment. Partners often prefer not to hear all of the details, thereby avoiding more pain and feelings of betrayal.

If you are a sexually addicted couple and are on the road to recovery, these are important points to remember:

  • Identify yourself as a sexually addicted couple.
  • As the sex addict and co-addict, accept responsibility for your SAO behaviors.
  • As the co-addicts identify the reasons why they have partnered with a sex addict.
  • See a therapist who is trained in working with both sexual addiction and relationship issues. Ask the therapist what their relationship training is in as well as if they are a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist.
  • Explore each of your histories to assess if sexual abuse exists.
  • Attend 12-step meetings; Sex Addicts Anonymous for the partner who is sexually addicted and COSA for the co-addict.
  • Assess for cross addictions. Many individuals possessing one addiction often are addicted to other behaviors and/or chemicals as well.

©2007 by Joe Kort

Related: Issues, Books

Psychotherapist Joe Kort, MA, MSW, has been in practice since 1985. He specializes in Gay Affirmative Psychotherapy as well as IMAGO Relationship Therapy, which is a specific program involving communication exercises designed for couples to enhance their relationship and for singles to learn relationship skills. He also specializes in sexual addiction, childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse, depression and anxiety. He offers workshops for couples and singles. He runs a gay men's group therapy and a men's sexuality group therapy for straight, bi and gay men who are struggling with specific sexual issues. His therapy services are for gays and lesbians as well as heterosexuals. His articles and columns have appeared in The Detroit Free Press, Between the Lines Newspaper for Gays and Lesbians, The Detroit News, The Oakland Press, The Royal Oak Mirror, and other publications. Besides providing therapy for individuals and couples, he conducts a number of groups and workshops for gay men. Now an adjunct professor teaching Gay and Lesbian Studies at Wayne State University's School of Social Work, he is doing more writing and workshops on a national level. He is the author of 10 Smart Things Gay Men can do to Improve Their Lives. or

* Gaydar (gay'.dahr, n.): (1) The ability that lets gays and lesbians identify one other. (2) This column--where non-gay readers can improve their gaydar, learning more about gay men's psychology and social lives. Also, (3) a regular feature where gay readers can discover the many questions and hassles their straight counterparts--and themselves--must face!

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