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Setting Boundaries in a Relationship With a Sex Addict

Couple with relationship problems sitting separately on couch ignoring each other

Are you in a relationship with someone who is experiencing sex addiction? Have you felt hurt, betrayed, or distressed by their harmful behavior? You’re not alone. Sex addiction doesn’t just affect the person going through it. It impacts the relationships around them.

When your partner’s behavior hurts you, it’s important to communicate your feelings. When you start setting boundaries in a relationship, it protects you, prevents you from enabling your partner, and allows you to be open and honest with them. So, how do you set boundaries in a relationship?

Understanding Sex Addiction

Sex addiction is a compulsive behavior disorder. It makes it difficult to control thoughts, feelings, or actions about sex. This can include fantasies, urges, or engaging in sexual activity. The person experiencing it tries to stop the behavior, but they can’t. They often need sex addiction treatment to stop the cycle.

For someone with a sex addiction, sex becomes a strategy for tackling the emotional ramifications of trauma. When the person has adverse experiences, particularly in childhood, and uses sex as a coping mechanism, it has negative consequences long-term. 

Sex addiction can stem from responses to a variety of traumatic happenings, including: 

  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Neglect
  • Witnessing domestic violence
  • Serious or chronic illness
  • Experiencing a car accident
  • Racism or other discrimination
  • Witnessing or experiencing a crime or death
  • Military and combat experience
  • Experiencing a natural disaster
  • Losing a close family member or loved one

How Sex Addiction Impacts Relationships

The effects of sex addiction extend beyond the individual. It impacts the relationships around them, creating barriers between them and the people in their lives. Someone with a sex addiction will probably struggle to form or maintain close, meaningful relationships with others. The fear of abandonment or rejection keeps them from being vulnerable in intimate settings. 

People experiencing sex addiction tend to feel isolated and lonely. They don’t feel like they can be fully honest with others — like they need to conceal a part of themself. The shame and guilt of their actions outrank their desire to connect. This dishonesty can make their partner feel rejected, unloved, and confused. 

Likely, your partner doesn’t intend to make you feel this way. It’s a byproduct of the addiction. But it can cause long-lasting damage to your relationship and your personal well-being. If your partner’s behavior is hurting you, it’s time to set some boundaries. 

Why You Need to Set Boundaries

When your partner has a sex addiction, you experience betrayal. Your relationship and a person you trust deeply aren’t what you thought. This can result in a form of emotional trauma called betrayal trauma

Whether you’re experiencing betrayal trauma or not, being let down by someone you trust deeply is difficult to process. Boundaries can help you protect yourself and your emotional well-being while reestablishing control over yourself and your situation. 

Boundaries can feel like something divisive. But, actually, communicating your boundaries can bring you closer to your partner. Boundaries define what’s acceptable or not in a relationship. It’s the map you and your partner follow that makes you feel safe, comfortable, and cared for. 

Setting boundaries is a skill that requires practice in assertive and vulnerable behavior. It’s a form of self-care that protects your physical and emotional well-being. The relationship can be more meaningful and enjoyable when you’re fully honest with your partner about your wants and needs. 

Boundaries do not have to be permanent. They can change and evolve based on your comfort levels. Remember to always communicate these changes and keep your partner in the loop. Working with boundaries requires mutual respect.

How to Set Boundaries in a Relationship

When determining your boundaries, set expectations on how you want to be treated. After all, you are responsible for your own health and well-being beyond anyone else’s, including your partner’s. It’s acceptable to tell them what you’d like for them to do, such as seek treatment, but your ultimate responsibility is determining what you are (and aren’t) willing to do, regardless of whether they get the help they need and deserve.

Steps for setting boundaries include:

  1. Determine Your Needs. What do you want out of the relationship? What actions hurt you? Think about the negative behaviors that affect your life. You can’t expect your partner to meet your needs if you’re unsure what they are.
  2. Communicate Your Boundaries. When you introduce a conversation about boundaries, it helps if you and your partner are relaxed and ready to communicate openly and honestly. Setting boundaries can feel uncomfortable, but it’s an important and necessary step in your relationship. Prepare your thoughts ahead of time. Use “I” statements to communicate how you’ve felt instead of “you.” Be clear and specific. Rather than only saying, “I feel hurt by your sex addiction,” you can say: “I feel disrespected and insecure when you choose to watch porn over spending time with me.”
  3. Keep an Open Dialogue. Your partner may have questions, need clarification, or want to communicate their own boundaries. This is healthy and necessary. Remember that you aren’t obligated to justify your needs. But it can help your partner better understand your perspective.
  4. Take Action. Be clear with your partner about the action you’ll take if they cross a boundary. 
  5. Advocate for Yourself. If your boundaries are violated, speak up. Communicate with your partner about how crossing that boundary made you feel, then take the action you said you would.

Remember that boundaries are not a punishment. They provide structure and accountability for your partner’s recovery journey. 

How to Maintain Your Boundaries

Sometimes, it can feel easier to set boundaries than to actually follow through on them. However, you must maintain your boundaries, or they’re meaningless, and your circumstances won’t change. Remember that boundaries are good for your partner, too.

Don’t take on the consequences of your partner’s actions. They need to learn from their behavior in order to heal. Enabling your partner’s negative behavior by not setting boundaries slows their journey to recovery. 

Maintaining boundaries is rooted in having love and respect for each other. Check in with your partner throughout their recovery journey. Offer praise and positive reinforcement. 

When you love someone, it can be difficult to say no to them or take action when they violate your boundaries. It’s helpful to have someone to guide you through the process. At Begin Again Institute, we offer a Partner Support Program, a specialized virtual support program exclusively for those whose partners are undergoing treatment for sexual addiction. We recognize that sex addiction hurts not just the person experiencing the addiction, but their loved ones as well. Our program allows you to process complicated emotions, learn healthy techniques for dealing with the trauma you’re experiencing, and share with others who are experiencing the same things.

Even if your partner isn’t willing to undergo treatment, you deserve healing. Begin Again Institute’s 5-Day Partner Intensive can help you make sense of your situation and heal from the trauma of betrayal.

Addressing Violations of Boundaries

If your partner has crossed a boundary, it’s time to employ some tough love. Don’t make excuses for them. Communicate openly and honestly about how breaking the boundary made you feel and what consequences will happen. Follow through with the established action. If you don’t, your partner may break the boundary again. Remember, boundaries are not to control your partner, but to protect your emotional and physical well-being and aid in their healing journey. 

You don’t have to shoulder the burden alone. Speak with a mental health professional who can guide you through this tough spot. 

Working through addiction is challenging for a couple. But you can come out the other side stronger. It requires patience, discipline, and mutual respect from each person. Setting, maintaining, and following boundaries is an important part of the healing process. 

Healing and Learning How to Set Boundaries in a Relationship

If you’ve felt hurt by your partner’s actions, it’s time to make an intentional change. Establishing clear and honest boundaries protects your emotional health and promotes a more honest and fulfilling relationship.

At Begin Again Institute, we understand that navigating a partner’s sex addiction is never easy. That’s why we offer sex addiction treatment and our corresponding partner programs. After all, it’s a partnership. You each deserve the opportunity to heal. 

We want to be your source of support during this difficult time. With compassion and understanding, we offer a safe space for partners to process their feelings and find healing. If you’re ready to take that step, give us a call today.

  • Category: Relationships
  • By Begin Again Institute
  • June 7, 2024

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