Partner's Workshop: Stage One; Lesson Five
Understanding your Partner's Addiction
Some of the most common thoughts from people struggling to understand sexually and/or romantically compulsive behavior are associated with trying to understand why. They ask things like, "How could he do what he did? Was anything in our marriage real? Am I a part of his addiction? Why would he be looking at homosexual porn images? Does he compare me to the images of those models he looks at? How many affairs did he really have? What causes a man to prefer jerking off to making love to a willing, desirable wife? Was he sexually abused as a child? Was he born this way?" There is a predominate feeling that there must be answers. That there must be some reason he is the way that he is — beyond simply being self-centered and immature.
And for the most part, there is a reason they are the way they are. There is a reason why they chose strip clubs over the Internet. Why they choose affairs rather than prostitutes. Why they become sexually aroused by animals, but not children. Feces, but not feet. There is a reason why they may fantasize about other men — even meet them for anonymous sexual encounters — although at their core, they are not homosexual. There are reasons for it all. In fact, there are many reasons and they all fall within two categories: practical reasons and personal reasons.
The practical reasons involve the role that compulsive rituals play in their life. The personal reasons involve an understanding of how past experiences/traumas have affected their evolving value system. As a general rule, understanding the practical reasons for their addiction is what is required for a transition to living a healthy life. Understanding the personal reasons is required for healing.
Later in the workshop, we will explore the practical reasons in great detail. You will be shown a model of compulsive sexual behavior that will allow them to break down their sexual/romantic rituals into measurable, understandable parts. As they gain a more functional awareness of compulsive behavior, they will begin to see the true nature of their addiction. You will be able to isolate the addiction from their identity. You will clearly see that sexual addiction did not just happen through fate and/or genetics, but that it developed quite naturally and quite logically through their partner's own lack of effective life management skills.
Developing versus Maintaining a Compulsive Behavior
The first thing to do in understanding sexually and/or romantically compulsive behavior is to make the distinction between the reasons they began engaging in a particular compulsive behavior and why they have continued. Such reasons are rarely the same. Let's begin with the reasons why such behavior develops.
In order for an individual to become addicted to sex, they must first have been introduced to it. The same goes for love. Nobody is born a sex addict. Nobody is born a love addict. Certainly, genetic forces may increase the likelihood of such patterns developing, but they are not the cause of sexual addiction. They are not the cause of love addiction. If they believe otherwise, then they will most likely continue to struggle with these destructive patterns for the remainder of their life.
With the introduction to their sexuality came the development of emotions and values that were naturally associated with that sexuality. Or for love addiction, the introduction of the parental relationship began the development of associated emotions/values through bonding, abandonment, etc. With sexual values, such an introduction could have been forced — as in rape or molestation; it could have been consensual — as in the natural progression of intimate relationships; or it could have been random — as in exploratory masturbation, accidental voyeuring (like looking out their bedroom window to see their neighbor undressing) or a Playboy magazine discovered in a dumpster. In every case, their introduction produced a change in their existing value system. At best, this change was a pleasurable and exciting one — capable of eliciting both physical and emotional relief. When this is the case, such pleasurable emotions are automatically prioritized among their existing values — and usually done so at the expense of other less stimulating behaviors. This is not a bad thing, as such prioritization is necessary for the full development of a healthy, balanced value system. At worst, the initial sexual experience was repulsive and degrading, causing an immediate and often destructive effect on their existing value system.
In general, the earlier and more traumatic the introduction, the more significant the disruption to their values. In the extreme, a traumatic introduction will trigger one of several responses. 1) the person will completely withdraw from the emotions that such sexual behavior produces (e.g. through self-mutilation, sexual anorexia, disassociation, etc.); and 2), the person attempts to alter the negative emotions that were initially associated with the sexual acts. In such cases, an individual might try to recreate sexual experiences under "emotionally safe" conditions. This latter response is often found at the core of love addiction and parental abuse/abandonment/neglect.
This begs the question, "Have all sexual addicts been sexually traumatized? Or, "Have all love addicts been emotionally traumatized?"
The answer is no.
While it is true that those who have been molested, raped or otherwise sexually traumatized frequently experience significant consequences in relation to the development of healthy sexual/romantic behavior, it is also true that many people develop such sexual dysfunction without ever having been physically traumatized. Many love addicts were raised in intact, nurturing families. How is this possible? It is possible because there are all sorts of variables that must be considered in the development of a healthy value system. For some, the emotional trauma of having a dominating, controlling parent; or having been raised in a strictly religious environment where natural sexuality (like masturbation or lust) was associated with evil and hell can also trigger such behaviors.
In rare cases, a person can develop sexually destructive patterns not by trauma, but by a progressive pleasure/pleasure pattern where both the introduction to sex, as well as the natural ongoing development of sexual values produce positive emotional fulfillment. In such instances, additional behaviors are added to the sexual repertoire to further expand this pleasure. Much like the altering of ingredients when baking a cookie — more on this later. Eventually, while only pleasurable sexual experiences have been accumulated, there comes a time when NOT engaging in sex becomes emotionally uncomfortable. Or when other stressors develop that far exceed the ability of that person to manage them through other values. This then requires that sexual activity be engaged in to escape from the stress and regain the feelings of comfort and stability. Again, this is rare. The vast majority of people suffering from sexually compulsive behavior have indeed been traumatized in some way — either emotionally or physically — and this trauma is usually sexual. That should never be used as an excuse for such behavior, only as a fact in understanding it. It is also important to note that while this traumatic introduction to sex is common in the vast majority of sexual deviants — it is most commonly found in those who have learned to associate their sexual behavior with values such as intimacy and love. When deviant behavior is associated with values such as power and control (e.g. violent rapists, sexual mutilators, etc.), an entirely different developmental foundation must be examined...and one that is not addressed in the scope of this workshop.
Those suffering from compulsive romantic behavior or love addictions tend to have similar backgrounds, with a few notable differences. First, the "introduction" to love comes from the bond developed through the parents. Whereas traumatic behavior in sexual addiction can stem from rape, molestation, etc., traumatic behavior associated with love comes almost exclusively from a lack of parental nurturing from one or both parents; a significant event that threatens an existing bond (like the death of a parent, or divorce); or a violation of trust and safety (like that which occurs through incest or molestation). Such is the overwhelming background of most people suffering from romantically compulsive behavior. Additional causes, though rare, include the pleasure/pleasure role discussed earlier, except in the case of love addiction, it would be a series of relationships that provided emotional relief and pleasure — and a person's overuse of those feelings to manage their emotions. In its extreme, the establishing of these mind-altering relationships can progress to the point where an actual relationship doesn't even need to exist. The person's mind will actually create the relationship and act as though it is already established. This is a frequent occurrence in many of the romantically-delusional stalking that take place to celebrities and strangers. Though there is no actual relationship, the love addict becomes so intoxicated with the pursuit of the target's love and affection — that he/she no longer processes reality. Everything about the relationship becomes a fixation that continues to feed the fantasy that is causing so much emotional pleasure.
Whether your partner struggles with compulsive behavior associated with sexual rituals, romantic rituals or both, take some time to think of how these behaviors were introduced into their life. Think of how they developed into destructive (or potentially destructive) behaviors. What were some of the key "introductions" of new values that they associated with this behavior? Things like significant relationships, traumatic events, personal insights that effected the development (for the good or the bad) of their values.
Why Compulsive Behavior Continues
We began this section by stating that there needs to be a distinction made between how someone initiates a particular behavior and why that behavior continues. The reason they started is directly related to the way that the behavior was introduced to them (or, reintroduced through a traumatic event) and the emotions/values elicited through that behavior. Why the behavior continues is likely the same reason why all compulsive behavior continues: because it has become a reliable, efficient way to manage their emotions.
It no longer matters what behavior is placed within their ritualistic patterns...once the pattern of using compulsive behavior is established, the behavior itself becomes irrelevant — from an understanding addiction point of view. Not from a consequential stand point, mind you, but from a "Why do they keep acting this way?" point of view. As you begin to understand more and more about addiction over the course of this workshop, this should become clear.
Each of us have our own innate desire to maintain a feeling of emotional comfort. We have each developed, quite naturally, our own ways of balancing whatever threatens or disrupts that feeling of comfort. In other words, each of us have developed our own ways of balancing stress. In a theoretical state of perfect emotional balance, our emotional scale would look as follows:
There are several things to recognize: first, note the absence of stress. In reality, such a state can never be reached as stress is a constant in our lives. If we do not create it by our action (or inaction), others will provide an ample supply from their's. Even if we maintain a completely isolated existence, away from all external sources of stress — which is also an impossibility — we still must acknowledge the effects of physics — gravity, environmental stressors, physiology (aging, hunger, disease). Not to mention the effects of change in any form — be it positive or negative change. Stress, therefore, is a constant. Second, realize that each bar on the graph represents a separate value (like family, sexuality or self-respect). When we begin adding stressors to this scale, realize also that each bar on the Stress side of the scale will represent a separate stressor in that person's life. Finally, note the numerical values assigned to the set of values. These numbers represent the ongoing amount of stimulation that is provided to an individual when such values are fulfilled. The number "150" is arbitrary, but represents a perfect state of emotional well being.
"How can the scale be balanced, when there is nothing on one side, and something on the other?"
Everyone requires some sort of stimulation to be emotionally satisfied. To attempt to manage your life with no stress and no values (and thus producing a visually "balanced" scale) is to lack a practical understanding of stimulation.
Because stress cannot be avoided and so, people must manage that stress in order to maintain a state of emotional well being, the following scale is more reflective of a healthy reality:
Note that the total stimulation provided by this person's values is "180". The total amount of Stress (or negative stimulation) is "30". Subtracting the negative stimulation from the positive leaves the person with a total emotional score of "150" — the level needed for emotional satisfaction. Let's take a look at a scale of someone who is experiencing mild stress:
See that the total amount of stress ("80"), when subtracted from the overall stimulation provided from their values ("160"), creates an overall emotional score of "80". This is not enough to achieve absolute emotional comfort, and so the person would be classified as mildly stressed. Review the following table for a complete understanding of the score interpretations.
Interpreting Emotional Scores
|Emotional Score||Emotional Comfort Level|
|150 and above||Actualization (complete emotional fulfillment)|
|0 and below||Severely Stressed|
As you can see, the greater the discrepancy between a person's values and their stress, the greater the need for compulsive behavior to assist in managing that stress. Because there are not adequate life skills developed (e.g. personal values) to balance this stress, the person must then turn to artificial sources. But because such artificial means are temporary, as their effects subside, the addict finds himself even more out of balance — a direct result of the additional time spent neglecting the very values which are already lacking.
Take a look at the following scales of someone who is Severely Stressed:
Notice how the amount of negative stimulation ("210") cannot be managed with the significantly deteriorated values that they posses ("50"). This equals an emotional score of "-160", which represents a Severely Stressed person.
In each of the above examples, we viewed how a relatively healthy individual attempts to balance stress with a foundation of values. Now let's look at a typical scale from someone relying on compulsive behavior to manage their stress. The green represents the amount of further stimulation needed in order to obtain emotional comfort (e.g. to achieve a level of at least "150"). Because these people have no other values to provide this stimulation, they are forced to produce the stimulation through artificial means. That could mean through, among other things: alcohol, drugs, eating, gambling or sex.
When a person achieves emotional satisfaction through such artificial means, they have achieved what is known as "Delusional Actualization". In Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs, at the top is self-actualization — the feeling of complete self-awareness and control. Compulsive behavior allows an individual to temporarily believe that they are approaching such actualization. Of course, this is a false belief, which triggers the need for the term "delusional" in this concept. Delusional Actualization occurs when a person uses artificial stimulation to produce a feeling of emotional perfection. No matter how threatened/deteriorated their values become, their compulsive behavior will always provide they with the temporary feeling of comfort — with the temporary feeling that their life is in a perfect state of emotional balance (delusional actualization).The following is an example of a scale involving such a state:
Note how the person's values cannot possibly balance the stress that they are experiencing. The only way of achieving emotional balance is to produce it through other means...like sexually compulsive rituals. But what happens when a person's values have become completely eroded? The scale would look as follows:
In such a state, the person's addictions/compulsive behavior will have actually replaced their values. When this happens, their identity will have fused with their addiction...and they will believe that they are indeed powerless to control their behavior. They will believe that these compulsions are a natural part of who they are. They will believe that they cannot exist without these behaviors in their life. Such is the case with extreme addictions.
To summarize, your partner's values are the ideal tool for healthy life management. Unfortunately, they lack the maturity, insight and guidance to use those values in productive ways and so, over time, they have replaced this necessary life management function with a much easier to manage, but much more volatile strategy: balancing their emotional state through artificial sexual rituals.
Later in the Workshop
Much later in the workshop, you will have the opportunity to examine addiction and recovery in much more depth. This will be optional, but highly encouraged for anyone still struggling to understand the 'why' of their partner's addiction.
Addiction is a rational way to manage life using irrational behavior. Meaning, there is a very logical purpose for the existence of addiction in a person's life. Though to all, the actions/choices associated with that addiction are often completely irrational.
A. How do you manage your stress? What would it take for you to become so emotionally overwhelmed that you would turn to irrational behavior to produce enough intensity to escape from that stress? Can you think of a time in your life that you have turned to such a measure?
B. Consider a compulsive behavior that you have engaged in. Break it down thoroughly. Get a sense for the anxiety that you experienced prior to engaging in the act. Imagine the continued anxiety that you would have experienced had you not engaged in the act. Describe that anxiety in your own words.
C. In contemplating the role that addiction has played in your partner's life, imagine what his/her life would be like without this life management skill in place. To be clear, the task here is not to imagine his life without the consequences of the addiction, but to imagine how he would manage his emotions without having the compulsive act to engage in. How would he stimulate himself emotionally? What would he use to regulate his stress? Not how should he, mind you, but how would he?