After counseling recovering sex and porn addicts, partners of sex addicts, and couples trying to rebuild trust in the wake of betrayal for many years, I have come to the conclusion that knowledge about intimacy anorexia is the missing ingredient in sex addiction recovery and relational healing. Yet most recovering sex addicts and their partners have never heard of this term, which describes a predominant pattern of the withholding of emotional, spiritual, and/or sexual intimacy from the primary relationship partner.
If you are a partner of a sex addict, you may have assumed that the intimacy deprivation you have experienced in your marriage was just part of your spouse’s sexual addiction struggles – that once he sustained a significant period of sobriety in his acting out behaviors, he would finally be able to really connect with your heart. You waited patiently, or as patiently as you could, until he was at a better place in his recovery, until you saw signs he was developing compassion and connection with his recovery buddies, and then, finally, you could see the signs your emotional starvation would eventually end. If this is your experience as a partner of a sex addict, I’m happy for you and the renewed hope you now have.
However, for some of you that was not the case. Instead, your husband’s sex addiction recovery success signaled the painful realization that the deprivation in your marriage is not just because he is unable to connect with you, but because he is unwilling to share his heart with you. It is painful to know he is a hero in his 12 Step groups, Johnny on the Spot for the members of your religious community, Mr. Nice Guy at work but Mr. Not Going to Be There for you.
This was when you finally got it, when you recognized that the withholding is mostly just with you. This was when you recognized that you have been receiving emotional crumbs from your spouse. This is when you realized that slowly and insidiously over time you may have come to a place where not only have you been living off crumbs, but are living a life of waiting hungrily for every little bit. This was when some of you may grasped that the young, hopeful girl you once were slowly lowered her expectations for being cherished and became habituated to a state of intimacy deprivation. If you have been living off crumbs for many years, you have likely shut down. You have lost yourself.
So what is the answer? Take a good hard look at the intimacy-deprived life you have been living. If this is no longer something you can tolerate, then educate yourself on the dynamics of intimacy anorexia. Prepare yourself for the tightrope act of seeking alternative nurturing sources of support to end your deprivation while simultaneously holding your intimacy anorexic accountable for making deposits in the intimacy bank on a regular basis.
A Married & Alone Group for dealing with intimacy anorexia is a great start for connecting with supportive women who understand how the deprivation has impacted you and who will empower you to make necessary boundary changes with your spouse. Also, be aware that if intimacy anorexia is the enemy in your relationship, standard marriage counseling will not work. Traditional marriage counseling is based on the premise that both partners want to connect, not that the anorexic partner wants to maintain a degree of distance from his partner. Few counselors, including sex addiction specialists, are trained to identify intimacy anorexia. You will need to seek a counselor with specific training in treating both sex addiction and intimacy anorexia. Contact the American Association of Sex Addiction Therapy to find professionals trained in intimacy anorexia.
Dr. Janice Caudill is the founder and Clinical Director of McKinney Counseling & Recovery. MCR offers individual, couples, group therapy and multi-day intensives for partners of sex addicts and wounded hearts struggling with sex addiction, infidelity, love addiction or love avoidance, intimacy anorexia, or relational trauma in the McKinney, Plano, Allen, Richardson, Frisco, Carrollton, Lewisville, Dallas and surrounding areas.
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