The Pain of Broken Relationships Caused by Sex Addiction

Couple struggling with Sexual Addiction

There has been a moment in every life where horror, disgust or pain has made you want to look away. From a self-protective stance, this seems rather adaptive though.

Fascinating research on the automatic facial expressions we form in response to stimuli shows that worldwide we are the same. A key example is disgust. Our noses wrinkle, our nostrils pull out, and it effectively stops the airflow into your nose.

Why? To stop the disgusting, noxious or harmful gases (smells) from entering our system. Most people couple this facial reaction with turning away. Coping tools are hard wired into us.

However, we also know from research that once we have endured pain and suffering, one of the most healing and self-regulating experiences we have is to name our feelings, express them with an understanding friend or loved one, and care for ourselves appropriately often by making ourselves safer from future harm.

These ongoing coping tools are key to restoring mental health.

So how can we imagine accepting and tolerating the pain of sexual addiction when it seems to overwhelm our coping tools and split relationships in two? We must consider how our coping tools are overwhelmed, why they seem ineffective to us, and how we can supplement them.

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Building Safety

When we have been overwhelmed by the painful betrayal of sex addiction, the first step towards acceptance and tolerating is to know that the pain isn’t simply going to continue and increase. If it is, why wouldn’t we continue wrinkling our nose up in self-protective disgust?

Having the addict start sexual addiction treatment is paramount, and can be paired with strong, kind boundaries.

Couple struggling with sexual addiction

For example having a time limited separation from the sex addict, the addict forgoing access to technology, and limits set on traumatizing details that you will be exposed to while simultaneously being privy to any information that could compromise your safety such as potential STDs.

Once a stable system of safety is enacted, it is possible to move towards naming your experiencing and receiving care.

An Understanding Other

You will need to have support from someone who understands or is willing to learn about the effects of sex addiction from you! Being in the loving, accepting presence of another who can wait patiently as you wrestle to put words to anger, sadness, fear, horror, confusion, distress, hopelessness, betrayal, abandonment and more is crucial.

Our bodily experience is changed as we communicate and receive empathy. This is vital in overcoming, accepting and honoring what we have been through.

Western individualistic society shuts down and formalizes this process (therapy), but you need it in any form you can find.

Telling Ourselves the Truth

When we are safe, accepted and validated we can dare let ourselves speak and know the truth. It is vital that you name the sex addiction accurately, and truthfully acknowledge the other person’s responsibility.

Often we don’t like this because it can increase emotional pain and feel like we are further out of control. It is your responsibility only to handle your pain and begin to heal not to perform or enforce addiction treatment.

The truth about our role and our limitations are vital as we seek to tolerate what seems so intolerable.

Relaxation Tools

Find ways to calm, care and nurture yourself. For example, breathing techniques can help regulate physical anxiety and stress. Meditation can create space to calm the mind and body.

Physical exercise can release cortisol that results from stress. There are a myriad number of ways you can sustain yourself arts, music, friends, nature, walking, theatre, cooking, etc.

The key is to intentionally engage in specific, healthy behaviors that are experienced as restorative. You can not focus exclusively on the sex addiction or its impact. This will only wear you out.

Finding Community

Find a community of friends and fellows who can empathize, support and have been through the same, or similar, experiences. Isolation is detrimental to coping and tolerating.

Rather, it reinforces denial and a false coping. There are support groups for those who live with sex addicts, and I would highly recommend them.

Understanding Our Coping Legacy

Finally, consider how your family taught you to cope with pain and distress. You will undoubtedly fall back on patterns you saw and learned.

Couple struggling with sexual addictionWhen you stop and consider that “our way” is just one of many ways to navigate life you can begin to see the biases, weaknesses, and strengths in the way you have learned to cope, accept, avoid, tolerate, deny, and more.

Evaluate what is working from your current coping tools, and what isn’t—again, be honest with yourself as this is vital for your healing. Talk about this with trusted friends or a counselor who can help you continue to refine your way of accepting and tolerating so that you can heal and move forwards.

Paul LoosemoreAbout the author: Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC, author of “21 Movements Towards Life” – The step-by-step guide to recovering from sexual addiction or pornography. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—both individuals and couples. He is the founder of Stop Sexual Addiction where you can find his guide, or contact him.


[1]:  Ekman, P., & Rosenberg, E. L. (2005). What the face reveals: basic and applied studies of spontaneous expression using the facial action coding system (FACS). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[2]: I. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, MD | Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review. San Francisco: IDreamBooks Inc.
[3]: Maltz, W., & Maltz, L. (2010). The porn trap: the essential guide to overcoming problems caused by pornography. New York: Harper.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on August 22, 2017
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 22, 2017.
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.