12 Step Meetings for Spouses of Sex Addiction: Harmful of Helpful?

Spouses of Sex Addiction

“My name is Ella and I am a co-sex addict. “ I said it because everyone else did before they shared and I wanted to share too. I needed to share! Only weeks after the discovery of my husband’s sex addiction, I was in quite a fragile state. Nothing could have prepared me for the pain and confusion I was experiencing. You would think as a Licensed Professional Counselor I would be more familiar with sex addiction. But I don’t recall the term ever being mentioned in graduate school, and if it was, it was only briefly touched on. What I knew of sex addiction was based on one instance I had seen on a TV drama series, where a philandering young doctor is convinced to go to a 12 step meeting for sex addicts. He went to one meeting and ended up going home with a woman he met there. I just thought some men were cheaters, lacking self-control and moral character. When my husband told me he was a sex addict, after my discovery of a couple affairs, I didn’t know what to think, and wondered if it was just an excuse. Only the severity and frequency of the acting out behavior he shared with me made me realize this was more than normal self-gratification.

So while I was inclined to believe there was some truth to my husband’s sex addiction claim, I had no clue what I was supposed to do with this devastating information. So there I was sitting in a circle of strangers because the therapist my husband and I were seeing told me to. Normally this was the last place you’d find me. I wasn’t a “support group” kind of person. I preferred to talk to someone one on one and I definitely didn’t need to get help for a problem that wasn’t mine. I said I was a co-sex addict so I could get this horrific story out of me, where it was growing like a cancer. I didn’t know what the term even meant, other than that I was in a relationship with a sex addict. I really didn’t take the time to think about it. I really had lost the capacity to think clearly about anything and most of the time walked around in a fog. I forgot simple tasks, couldn’t focus on a TV show, and the thought of food repulsed me. While I normally am the kind of person who makes up my own mind can be quite opinionated, I was in unchartered territory and I was willing to do whatever I was told if there was even a chance it might ease the pain just a little. So if the expert told me I was a co-sex addict, so be it.

Sharing in the COSA group did not bring the much needed relief I was hoping for. I don’t know if it’s a woman thing, a human nature thing or just a me thing, but I wanted feedback.  Even asympathetic smile or knowing glance would have been nice. But I got nothing. No one even passed me the box of tissue that was out of my reach. Later I learned that even that was a form of cross-talk.

I attended two more COSA meetings. The first two were because they were required for the Couple’s Intensive my husband and I were doing with a well known sex addiction therapist. The Intensive was quite beneficial. The COSA meetings were not. The third COSA meeting was my effort to be compliant and hope that maybe this one would be different. It wasn’t.

By then I was starting to question some things. First of all, the no cross talk meant no relational element to the groups. I believe we were created to be relational people. I stayed late like was suggested and tried talking to some of the women then, but I just didn’t feel like I fit in. It was awkward and I wasn’t in a place where I had the motivation to go up to random people and introduce myself.

By this point I had learned that the term co-sex addict meant that I was the codependent of a sex addict. My initial response to this was to think it was absurd. I am not codependent. But seeing as at this point in my life so much of what I believed to be true had turned out to be a lie, I second guessed most everything.

So I went online and took a self-test that was supposed to tell me if I was codependent.  Some of the “yes” or “no” questions were no brainers for me. Do I feel responsible for the actions of others? No. Do I overcommit myself, only to feel angry about it later? No. Do I obsessively clean the house, cook, or do laundry, only to please someone else? My husband wishes! Do I feel ashamed about my family or other personal relationships? No, but my family could tell you about a few times when I have embarrassed them as I unabashedly regaled others with family stories I thought were hilarious. 

Other questions were not so clear. Do I lose sleep worrying about another person? Sometimes, like when my daughter was very sick. And of course at that time, when I wasn’t oversleeping to escape the newfound misery that had become my life, I was obsessing about my husband’s actions. Was this an abnormal response to my discovery? Do I go to the doctor to get sedatives of tranquilizers? Well, I did then. The panic attacks that came on suddenly when I would imagine the things my husband had done with other women weren’t fun.

I had spent 8 years building a life with this man. I had taken vows before God that I would spend the rest of my life with this person. Doesn’t the bible say that two are to become one in marriage? So doesn’t it make sense that I wouldn’t just take in stride the fact that my husband had broken these vows, over and over? Now that I have counseled many women struggling with this very thing, I don’t think I have met one women who hasn’t been plagued with the very same questions that flooded my mind at that time. Is this my fault? If I was prettier, thinner, kinder, would he still have strayed? Is he going to do this again? And like most of the women I talk to, I snooped to see if I could find more evidence of his behavior. I did things to try to prevent my husband from acting out again. I researched sex addiction treatment and told my husband about what I found.

I cannot tell you how many women have communicated to me their confusion over being told by well-meaning therapists and COSAleaders that they need to stop thinking about their husband and focus on themselves. Um…..seriously?! We find out our husband is addicted to looking at pornography or having sex with others, and the fact that we can’t stop thinking about it is unhealthy?    

Because of the wonderful book, Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, I am not going to specifically go into the trauma model versus the codependency model here. I will just say….read it. It is a critical read for every spouse of a sex addict or anyone who works with spouses of sex addicts or sex addicts who are married. And I cannot express enough appreciation to Marsha Means, co-author of this book, who I met shortly after my discovery of my husband’s addiction. Marsha explained the trauma theory to me before most experts or therapists in the field had heard of it. Armed with this knowledge I was better equipped to navigate my way through my new life as a wife of a sex addict.

Blog post: Cosa Does Help Some