sex addiction & infidelity

"When we pretend that we can avoid vulnerability we engage in behaviors that are often inconsistent with who we want to be." ~ Brene Brown

What is Sex Addiction?

Below are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about sexual addiction. Please visit for additional information or visit the resources section of my website for recommended reading.

Sex addiction is defined as any sexually related, compulsive behavior that interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones and one’s work environment.

Sex addiction has been called sexual dependency and sexual compulsivity. By any name, it is a compulsive behavior that completely dominates the addict’s life. Sex addicts make sex a priority more important than family, friends and work and they are willing to sacrifice what they cherish most in order to preserve and continue their unhealthy behavior.

No single behavior pattern defines sex addiction. These behaviors, when they have taken control of addicts’ lives and become unmanageable, compulsive masturbation, anonymous sex, pornography, prostitution, exhibitionism, voyeurism, indecent phone calls, massage parlors, strip clubs and, in the most extreme cases, child molesting, incest, rape and violence.

What behavior patterns may indicate a pattern of sexually addictive behavior?

While an actual diagnosis for sexual addiction should be carried out by a mental health professional, the following behavior patterns may indicate the presence of sexual addiction. Individuals who see any of these patterns in their own life, or in the life of someone they care about, should seek professional help. Please visit to access the sexual addiction screening test (SAST) for help in determining the presence of sexual addiction.

  1. “Acting out” – A pattern of out-of-control sexual behavior
  2. Experiencing severe consequences due to sexual behavior and an inability to stop despite these adverse consequences including loss of partner or spouse, severe marital or relationship problems, loss of career opportunities, unwanted pregnancies, suicide  obsession and/or attempts, exposure to AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and legal risks.
  3. Persistent pursuit of self-destructive behavior
  4. Ongoing desire or effort to limit sexual behavior
  5. Sexual obsession and fantasy as a primary coping strategy
  6. Regularly increasing the amount of sexual experience because the current level of activity is no longer sufficiently satisfying
  7. *Many sex addicts report “bingeing” to the point of emotional exhaustion. The emotional pain of withdrawal for sex addicts can parallel the physical pain experienced by those withdrawing from opiate addiction.
  8. Severe mood changes related to sexual activity
  9. Inordinate amounts of time spent obtaining sex, being sexual, and recovering from sexual experiences
  10. Neglect of important social, occupational, and/or recreational activities because of sexual behavior

Spouses/Partners of Sex Addicts

What sets us apart from other treatment centers and programs is our unique perspective and approach to betrayal trauma on partners and spouses.

One very sad consequence of betrayal, deception and infidelity in a relationship is the traumatic impact of the addiction on the partner or spouse who often requires help and support in order to heal. Research has shown that spouses/partners of sex addicts report the same traumatic symptoms and responses seen in victims of sexual assault and rape. These individuals often present with many of the symptoms of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that impedes their ability to function in every day life. The majority report that even more disturbing and painful than the sexual behavior are the lies, secrets and subsequent broken trust associated with the addiction. In the discovery process, partners learn that the person they trusted most had been living a double life, often for many years. In response, they enter a grieving process similar to those who mourn the death of a loved one, as they recognize the loss of the relationship or marriage they believed they had. They feel as though their inner world has been shattered and experience a loss of existential identity due to contradictions to core values and beliefs; in other words, everything they believed to be true prior to learning about the betrayal is no longer true. This leaves many partners feeling completely disoriented and unable to make sense of the world and unable to trust their partner, the world and, ultimately, themselves.

Spouses/partners frequently feel embarrassed talking to friends or family about the addiction because of fear of being judged or told to leave the relationship. They fear that others might blame them or think them responsible for the addiction in some way. They might believe that the addiction is a reflection of something they did or did not do. They might fear strong opinions from people who don’t believe in sex addiction and label it an excuse for bad behavior. For any one of these reasons, betrayed partners/spouses are often left without the necessary support to cope with their feelings of shock, anger, grief and pain upon discovering the sex addiction or infidelity.

Historically, sex addiction treatment focused exclusively on the sex addict, and little attention was given to the spouse/partner. Over the past few years I have seen a dramatic shift in the field as more and more mental health professionals are beginning to provide services and resources that only a few years ago were scarce and often unavailable. I am thrilled at the growing number of treatment centers and outpatient practices that are now offering programs specifically for partners. This is an exciting evolution in the field of psychotherapy and I am proud to count myself among the early advocates of partner care and treatment.

Working with spouses/partners has been my specialization since 2008. I am a passionate advocate of the Partner Trauma Model and served on the board of The Association of Partners of Sex Addicts (APSATS) from it’s inception in 2012 until June of 2014.

I work from a trauma perspective, focusing first on re-establishing safety after the shock of discovery. I offer individual, couples and group therapy and often work collaboratively with other professionals to coordinate a team approach to treatment when appropriate.

Please visit for additional information or visit the resources section of my website for recommended reading.


"History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. However, if faced with courage, need not be lived again." ~ Maya Angelou

Relational trauma (also referred to as betrayal trauma and attachment trauma) occurs within the context of an intimate relationship where there is an expectation of safety. It is defined as a violation of trust and is also described by mental health professionals as an attachment injury, which occurs when one partner violates the expectation that the other will offer comfort and caring in times of danger or distress.

It makes sense then that sex addiction and infidelity is experienced as an “attachment injury” and creates a profound rupture to the couple-ship. Emotional responses to infidelity mirror those of other traumatic events including shock, repression, denial, intense mood fluctuation, depression, anxiety, and lowered self-esteem. Behaviorally, individuals who have been betrayed demonstrate the need to question the betrayer repeatedly and experience hyper-vigilance, intrusive thoughts about the infidelity and, often, obsessive thoughts of acts of revenge or punishment.

Because trust is the foundation for a healthy relationship, broken trust is the most critical injury for couples recovering from betrayal trauma. Therefore, the primary goal of therapy is to heal relational trauma by restoring trust and intimacy. To neglect relational trauma even in the early stages of treatment is to create further dysregulation and crisis for the couple in later stages of recovery.

Individuals experience excruciating pain when their relationships are in turmoil. Often, relational ruptures result in feelings of hopelessness and despair. However, with professional guidance, skills, resources and tools, the majority of relationships have the capacity to heal.


"Numbing the pain for a while will only make it worse when you finally feel it." ~ Albus Dumbledore

Characteristics of the Love Addict:

  • Love Addicts assign a disproportionate amount of time and attention to the person to whom they are addicted, and this focus often has an obsessive quality about it.
  • Love Addicts have unrealistic expectations for unconditional positive regard from the other person in the relationship.
  • Love Addicts neglect to care for or value themselves while they’re in the relationship.
  • Love Addicts engage in patterns of compulsive, out of control behaviors that, without intervention, they are unable to stop.
  • Love Addicts experience withdrawal and/or intense emotional pain when the person to whom they are addicted leaves.

Love addiction comes in many forms. Some love addicts carry a torch for unavailable people. Some love addicts obsess when they fall in love. Some love addicts get addicted to the euphoric effects of romance. Others cannot let go of a toxic relationship even if they are unhappy, depressed, lonely, neglected or in danger. Some love addicts are codependent and others are narcissistic. Some love addicts use sex to manage feelings; others are sexually anorexic. What all love addicts have in common is an experience of powerlessness over distorted thoughts, feelings and behavior when it comes to love, fantasies and relationships. Feelings of distrust, shame, anger, rejection and abandonment dominate a love addict’s psyche.

Pia Mellody (author, Facing Love Addiction) defines a love addict as someone who is dependent on, enmeshed with and compulsively focused on taking care of another person. She conceptualizes love addiction as an unconscious drive that causes the love addict to look to others to “fix” them and relieve them of intolerable feelings of loneliness and despair. Just as drug addicts and alcoholics use alcohol and drugs to self-soothe and avoid painful feelings, love addicts use romantic and sexual arousalfor emotional regulation and fantasy to medicate their anxiety.

Love addicts are unconsciously motivated by an all-consuming fear of abandonment and will tolerate and do almost anything to avoid being left. The irony is that while love addicts want so desperately to connect with another person, they are often so intense and demanding in their approach to relationships that their partners often describe their experience with the addict as enmeshment, not as healthy intimacy. Because love addicts do not experience enough intimacy in childhood, they never learn how to be intimate in a healthy way and, although they genuinely want to experience love and connection as adults, their paralyzing fear of abandonment makes intimacy impossible. When they reach a certain degree of closeness with a partner, they often panic and do something to create distance between themselves and their partners. These two fears – of abandonment and intimacy – bring up the agonizing and self-defeating dilemma of the love addict. They are most often drawn to love avoidants; consciously wanting intimacy but unable to tolerate healthy closeness, they must unconsciously choose a partner who can’t be intimate in a healthy way.

Answer these 40 questions to help you determine if you are a love addict.

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Characteristics of the Love Avoidant:

  • Love Avoidants evade intensity within the relationship by creating intensity in activities (usually addictions) outside the relationship.
  • Love Avoidants avoid being known in the relationship in order to protect themselves from engulfment and control by the other person.
  • Love Avoidants avoid intimate contact with their partners by distancing themselves behind protective emotional walls.

Enmeshment by one or both parents creates love avoidance. Enmeshment occurs when a parent lacks boundaries, does not set appropriate limits and uses the child to meet his/her own needs. Enmeshed children whose “job” it is to take care of a parent learns that his/her value comes from taking care of needy people. They learn to shut off their inherent sense of spontaneity and focus instead on the needy parent/caregiver and do what makes others happy instead of what makes them happy. In fact, they often never even have a chance to learn what makes them happy. They grow up lost and without a sense of inherent self worth. As an adult, the love avoidant derives self-esteem from caretaking others. They confuse love with obligation or duty and find being relational and vulnerable intolerable. They experience being loved as being smothered and use walls and intensity to avoid intimacy.


"All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming." ~ Helen Keller

In the early stages of a cancer diagnosis, the initial priority is most often focused on medical treatment, leaving other relevant (but not life-threatening) issues like sexuality and intimacy minimized or overlooked entirely. When the focus is on making it through treatment and surviving cancer, there is little or no discussion about the many sexual and emotional challenges you may be facing. Healthcare professionals, friends and family may never address these types of issues and they are often experienced in shame, confusion and silence. The relationship between cancer and sexuality is complex and traumatic. Often times, cancer leaves a woman feeling isolated and/or depressed without anywhere to turn to mend sexual trauma.

These issues may include:

  • Low or no sexual desire
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Vaginal dryness or irritation
  • Infertility
  • Diminished sexual pleasure
  • Fear of touch/not being touched
  • Early onset of menopause
  • Loss of breast sensation
  • Changes in body image and self-esteem due to side effects of surgery and treatment (such as hair loss, scars, lymphedema, removal of  breasts, ovaries, etc.)

If you are experiencing any of these issues, you are not alone. The CSI Program at The Center for Relational Healing is committed to the healing and reclaiming of one’s sexuality and sexual health in the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis. CSI provides specialized services for women with cancer as well as to their partners and spouses. Call us to schedule an assessment and find out how we can help.

Reclaim Your Sense of Wholeness

CSI provides access to a diverse team of nurturing clinicians, skilled educators, support groups and a safe space to connect with others sharing similar experiences. CSI integrates holistic psychotherapeutic approaches, psychological treatment and research based effective mind-body practices to facilitate a compassionate and comprehensive healing process, inspiring a new level of recovery and transformation.

Services Include:

  • Sexual Health assessment
  • Individual and couples psychotherapy
  • Therapeutic groups
  • Psycho-education
  • Sex Therapy
  • Workshops
  • Adjunctive mind-body practices (including meditation, sound healing and breathwork)

Therapeutic Groups & Workshops

Through experiential, psychotherapeutic and psycho-educational groups at CSI, women are provided with the safe, confidential and welcoming space they need in order to openly dialogue about and explore the overwhelming changes in their bodies, sexuality and intimate relationships. Reconnecting to the body, grasping an understanding of the impact of cancer on sexuality and intimacy and connecting with others are vital parts of the healing process.
Therapeutic groups and workshops include:

Cancer, sexuality and Intimacy Group

An ongoing process and psycho-education group for women at any stage of a cancer diagnosis.

It’s over… now what about my sexuality?

Process group for women who have finished treatment and have questions and/or concerns about the impact of cancer and its treatment on sexuality, dating and relationships.

Partners and Spouses Sexuality and Intimacy Group

Group therapy and support for partners and spouses of women diagnosed with cancer

Call 323-860-9999 for more information about groups and upcoming workshops.


"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading." ~ Lao Tzu

Substance abuse touches the lives of not only those who are addicted, but also those who are relationally tied to someone who suffers from addiction. It is a devastating illness that destroys families and shatters lives. While many question the legitimacy of addiction and believe it to simply be a problem of impulse control or lack of will power, the mental health field recognizes addiction as a potentially fatal disease.

When someone is addicted to a mind altering substance (alcohol included) there is more at play that is driving destructive behavior than lack of willpower or self-control. Addiction is a brain disease and thought disorder that significantly affects one’s mind. It is described by the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous as “cunning, baffling and powerful” and manipulates and distorts thoughts to allow addicts to continue destructive behavior despite obviously negative consequences. This is why otherwise intelligent, creative, successful and strong individuals make detrimental decisions that cannot be understood or logically explained while under the influence of mind-altering drugs. Addiction is a mental problem as much as it is a physical craving.

People don’t have to lose everything before getting help. We realize that there are often substantial barriers to getting help for addiction including personal and professional commitments, concern about aking time off from work, parenting, worry about having a chemical dependency diagnosis on your permanent record, custody battles, etc. Our approach at The Center for Relational Healing takes all of these challenges into consideration and we work with you and your family to find a way to get you the help that you need even when the circumstances seem insurmountable.

Relationships suffer at the hands of addiction. At The Center for Relational Healing, we treat the addiction from a relational approach by creating a holistic, individualized plan that takes both the addict and the entire family system into consideration. When indicated, family members are included in the treatment process to whatever degree they wish to be involved. Because addiction affects the whole family system, most often when family members or intimate partners are involved in the recovery process, there is a much greater chance for lasting sobriety as well as relational healing. We are aware that it is not always possible to include others in treatment, yet we have found that even without direct involvement, relational healing is possible. Therapy is crucial for those who not only desire sobriety from alcohol or drugs but who also hope to heal their relationship with family members, intimate partners and, most important, themselves.


"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." ~ Wayne Dyer

Codependency, as defined by Pia Mellody (author, Facing Codependence), is a developmental disorder of immaturity caused by childhood relational trauma and has five primary symptoms; difficulty esteeming oneself from within, difficulty establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries, difficulty owning one’s reality, difficulty accessing and meeting one’s own needs and difficulty expressing oneself appropriately. Childhood trauma and emotional immaturity drive unmanageability, which in turn creates secondary symptoms like addiction, mental health problems and spirituality issues.

Everyone with a trauma history has trauma reactions, which is essentially the foundation of Codependency. Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with enabling those you are in relationship with. Codependency is about your arrested development.

Recovery from codependency is about:

  • Learning to be relational with yourself, an impossible task when you are unable to recognize that you have inherent worth
  • Learning to re-parent yourself
  • Learning functional adult skills
  • Learning to love yourself and esteem from within
  • Learning to establish and maintain healthy boundaries
  • Learning to accept your imperfections and develop self awareness
  • Learning to care for yourself and express in a healthy way your needs and wants
  • Learning how to live in moderation

Recovery does not mean that your trauma history is eradicated. It means that while you will still have trauma reactions, they will be far less frequent and intense. Recovery is ultimately about learning that you have inherent worth and that you are loveable.