Sex addiction and relationships – surviving celebrations and anniversaries

This month we have celebrated Valentine’s day and for many couples recovering from sex addiction or porn addiction, it will have been an awkward, and possibly heart breaking. For some, it will have been the first Valentine’s day since they discovered sex addiction or the first since compulsive sexual behaviours were disclosed.  While others spent the day enjoying an excuse to be romantic, couples recovering from sex addiction will probably have gritted their teeth and lied. 

One of the ironies for couples recovering from sex addiction or porn addiction is that at the very same time that they’re trying to build honesty and openness between them, they often feel forced to lie to family and friends. For the addicted partner who is trying to escape the shadows of deceit, this can seriously challenge their fledgling commitment to honesty at all costs. And for a partner who’s never felt they had anything to hide, they now find themselves forced into a pretence in order to protect themselves, and others, from the fallout of their partners double life.

Why couples in recovery feel forced to lie

Sex addiction and porn addiction, or compulsive sexual behaviour disorder (CSBD), or whatever you want to call it, is undoubtedly the most stigmatised of all the addictions. Whilst it’s not easy to confess that you, or your loved one, is struggling with alcohol or drugs or compulsive gambling, it’s still easier than admitting to sex and porn where misunderstandings and misconceptions are rife. When I’m giving talks on sex addiction or porn addiction to counsellors or therapists or the general public, I often begin by asking them to call out what words come to mind when I say ‘sex addiction’ or ‘porn addict’, it’s common to hear answers such as sleazy, dangerous, manipulator, just an excuse, weak, paedo, liar and cheat. This is a mental health disorder where compassion is still hard to find and that’s why it’s so often kept hidden. The lies couples tell protect themselves, and their families, from judgement and condemnation.

Keeping the problem hidden is especially difficult during times of celebration. Whether that’s Valentine’s day or birthdays or a significant anniversary. These are the times when loved ones ask ‘What are your plans for the day?’, or ‘How did you celebrate?’ or ‘Did you have a great time?’. Well intended questions, but ones that almost certainly will result in a lie. The truth may be that ‘we did nothing, we pretended it was an ordinary day’. Or ‘we made an effort for the children’s sake, but it was hell’, or ‘It was agony because it reminded me of all the things I’ve lost, or the things I may still yet lose’.  

To complicate matters further, couples often experience the day quite differently from each other. While the addicted partner may want to embrace the event by being fully present and see it as a welcomed opportunity to make amends, the partner is left triggered into remembering all the previous celebrations that had not been as they thought.  Furthermore, for the addicted partner, each anniversary may be seen as an important milestone in their recovery and be delighted that they can leave the past behind, while the partner counts the many years that were lost to the addiction and wonders if they can ever truly trust that this celebration is different.  

How to survive anniversaries and celebrations

In my experience the biggest mistake that couples make is to ignore these events and hope they’ll just slip by unnoticed. The difficult conversations are always the ones that we most need to have!  Below are some suggestions for making it easier:-

  • Plan ahead as soon as you’re aware the event is coming up. You can always change your mind nearer the time, but don’t leave it as something unspoken that you’re worrying about. 
  • Share your feelings openly, acknowledging and respecting that you will be in different places. It’s essential to be honest with each other, so if you don’t want gifts, be explicit about this and honour this. 
  • Do something different to minimise triggers. For example, if you’d normally celebrate at home, go away somewhere different (Covid willing). If you would normally buy individual presents, agree to buy something joint instead or give the money to charity. If it’s a birthday, agree to spend it with a friend and make any joint celebration low key.  
  • Agree what you’ll say. Consider the people who might also share the day with you as well as people who may ask about it before or after the event. Agree not just what you will say, but also how you will say it.
  • Acknowledge the pain of lying and also recognise that you are doing this to protect yourselves and the people you love from societies misunderstandings. 
  • Remember it will get easier. As each year passes, it will be easier, so hold on to the fact that this is not something you’ll always have to manage.
  • Don’t do it alone.  This is perhaps the most important thing you can do. If you’re not already part of a support group for addicts and partners, join one. Others have walked this path before and they will also have advice and suggestions. Most importantly, they’ll be able to comfort you that you’re not alone and encourage you that it does get easier.  

For more information on our support groups for partners please look here

For our programmes for people with addiction, please click here.