I’m pleased to share with you an article written by a colleague of mine from the Houston TX area: Ella Hutchinson. Ella provides counseling services specializing in helping partners from a trauma perspective. Ella has some important things to say about partner-sensitive treatment for sex addiction! I hope this two-part post will be enlightening and encouraging. Barbara Steffens
My husband and I bought a new car recently. Since my credit was apparently slightly better than his, in order to get a lower interest rate, they made me the primary signer and him the co-signer (the way it was worded on the paperwork). I had to sign my name a lot more often and my name always came first. I was more important. The primary focus was on me. My husband played the supporting role. He wasn’t crazy about it.
I enjoy watching re-runs of the sitcom Scrubs. On one episode two of the main characters, JD and Elliot, tie in their run for chief resident. As a joke, the janitor, who is the arch nemesis of JD, changes the sign outside the door of the office the two chief residents share so that next to Ellott’s name it says chief resident and next to JD’s name it says co-chief resident. The Janitor is able to get everyone in the hospital to start referring to JD as co-chief resident and JD is furious about it. Soon, the other residents and interns begin to look to Elliott as the head honcho and give her much more respect. In one scene an intern comes up to both JD and Elliott and asks a question. JD starts to answer, but the intern stops him and says, “Oh, I was talking to her (referring to Elliott)”. When Elliott responds the intern says, “See, that’s why she’s the chief resident and you’re the co-chief resident”.
Both of these examples are similar to the way sex addiction has been treated for years. The addict gets most of the attention and the “co-sex addict” (a term that tastes like vinegar as it comes out of my mouth), just needs to lovingly, patiently support him. This needs to change and there are people who are trying to change it. For multiple reasons, some of which are beyond my understanding, it isn’t catching on as fast as it should. It doesn’t feel good to be a “co” anything.
I am currently counseling a couple who came to me after he stayed for two months at an inpatient facility for his sex addiction, where she also received some counseling. After that they began couple’s and individual counseling with a well-known Certified Sex Addiction Therapist. They came to see me after they had received seven months of treatment and therapy. In spite of her husband’s sobriety and dedication to recovery, the wife was still unhappy. In fact, she was just about at her wit’s end. She was tired of feeling unappreciated, tired of picking up the slack so her husband could participate in recovery activities, and she was even enjoying some attention she was receiving from a male colleague. This particularly upset her, because she said she was not the kind of person who would ever have entertained thoughts like this before.
After a couple of sessions I made what I thought was a simple comment about how it was okay for her to express her needs to her husband. Her reaction stunned me, although it shouldn’t have, because I hear this kind of this all the time. She was shocked. She said in all this time no one had told her that. She had in fact been told the opposite. She had specifically been told that it would be at least a year before she could expect anything from her husband in the way of her needs getting met, and that now he just needed to focus on his recovery.
Does what Ella wrote sound familiar to you? Has that been your experience if you are a partner; or if you are a therapist, do you recognize this standard position in treatment? In her next post, Ella will discuss new solutions for sex addiction treatment that is partner-sensitive and which ultimately helps all involved!