Research Paper: Marriage Couple and Family Counseling

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Sexual Addiction and Counseling

There is an assortment of well-researched treatments for sexual addicts and their partners. The facts are that, like all other addictions, the sexual addiction is rooted in a complex web of family and marital relationships. The prospects for the addict, his or her partner, and the family are at best difficult. Recovery is complicated and the work that must be done is not easy. This paper explores some treatments and their ramifications.

Sexual Addition and Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling

Sexual Addition

Patrick Carnes (2001) defines sexual addiction as any sexually-related, compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one's work environment.

Sexual addiction is a compulsive behavior that completely dominates the addict's life. Sexual addicts make sex more important than family, friends, and work. Sex becomes the organizing principle of addict's lives and they are willing to sacrifice what they cherish most in order to preserve and continue their unhealthy behavior.

Sexual addiction is defined by no single pattern of behavior. Compulsive masturbation, compulsive heterosexual and homosexual relationships, pornography, prostitution, exhibitionism, voyeurism, indecent phone calls, child molesting, incest, rape and violence can all be manifestations of sexual addition. The healthiest forms of human sexual expression can turn into self-defeating behaviors.

It is estimated there are now between one-half and two million sex addicts (Bird, July, 2006). According to Carnes (2001), sexual addiction is rooted in a complex web of family and marital relationships. Sex addicts can rationalize their behavior, believing it does not adversely affect other relationships, especially a marriage. A common justification for a married addict is, "I do it in order to stay in the marriage." In truth the marriage is often beset with a lack of intimacy, sensitivity, and sexuality. Many sex addicts also believe the family does not know about their secret sexual life. But at some level family members, even children, are always aware that something is amiss.

Carnes (2001) explains the addictive experience for the sexual addict is a four step cycle that intensifies with each reoccurrence. The first step is preoccupation where the addict becomes totally engrossed with sexual thoughts. This state of mind induces an obsessive search for sexual stimulation. The next step is ritualization where the addict performs his own special routines that intensify the preoccupation increasing arousal and excitement. The third step is the manifestation of the compulsive sexual behavior; this is the culmination of preoccupation and the ritualization. Sexual addicts do not have the capability to control or stop this behavior. The final step is despair where the sexual addict experiences profound hopelessness about their actions and their inability to control their behavior.

Typically it takes a major crisis where the consequences are so great, or the pain is so bad, that an addict must come to terms with his or her addiction. Carnes (1983) lists some of these events: when the squad car pulls into the driveway and you know why they've come, when you break off yet another relationship you never wanted to be in, when your spouse announces the end of your marriage because of the latest discovery, when your daughter's friend sees your photo in the mug shots at the police station and no one in your family knew, when the school councilor calls to inform you that your daughter does not want to come home because, after eight years, she no longer wants to be sexual, and you are being reported to child protection, when you have a car accident while exposing yourself. The consequences for the addict his or her spouse, and his family are devastating.


Bird (July, 2006) acknowledges there are differences in the experiences of the sexual addict across gender and sexual orientation, yet, by and large, the addictive experience appears far more similar than different. Addicts continue to engage in sexual behaviors despite negative consequences to their personal life and relationships. Even though addicts experienced shame and isolation as a result of their behavior they were unable to cease them. In order to avoid further negative consequences, sexual addicts endeavor to hide their behavior from their spouses.

Partners report a feeling that something is wrong generally and feeling of distance in their relationship with their addicted partner, but are unable to identify what is causing those feelings. Eventually they begin employing detective behaviors until they uncover their partner's addictive behaviors.

Bird (July, 2006) discusses four stages of recovery for the spouse of a sexually addicted person, pre-recovery, crisis, shock and grief. In the pre-recovery stage woman deny there intuition that something is wrong, begin detective behaviors, and eventually confront their husbands. Spouses try to reduce the probability of their partner's acting out through bargaining, increased sexual activity, lingerie and makeovers. In the crisis stage feelings of sadness, depression, shame, isolation, and confusion as about continuing in the relationship, and low self-esteem manifest themselves. Sometimes spouses reported feeling guilt about not being good enough even though they knew it was their partner's choice to engage in the inappropriate behavior. At this point many spouses let go of the detective behaviors and begin focusing on themselves. During the shock stage numbness and a tentative feeling of optimism occur as the addict shows commitment to recovery. Many couples begin therapy or couples counseling. The last stage, grief, leads to growth through exploration of feelings of loss and gain insight from the past.

Bird (July, 2006) reports that the discovery of sexual addiction is similar to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The process of discovery, acting out, promises to do better, broken promises, rediscovery, and broken boundaries that often occur indicate the initial focus should be on treating this trauma to aid the spouse on regaining control over herself. It is recommended that marital therapy should assist the spouse to differentiate from the addict. On the other hand, commitment to her own recovery is tied to the hope of rebuilding the relationship thus the addict should be learning new coping skills during the initial stages of couple therapy.

During therapy therapists need to be aware of symptoms that may indicate that sexual behaviors are negatively affecting the individual, partner or couple. When a spouse expresses concern over their partner's sexual behavior it is important for the therapist to probe further in order to avoid discounting the partner's concerns and making them feel further isolated.

Marriage Couples and Family Counseling

Doss, Thum, Sevier, Atkins & Christensen (2005) did a study comparing traditional behavioral couple therapy (TBCT) with integrative behavioral couple therapy (IBCT). They reported that approximately one third of the couples who enter therapy fail to improve by post treatment. Furthermore, 38% of couples who enter TBCT are divorced after four years. The findings indicated that TBCT creates a more significant change in targeted relationship-related behaviors early in the therapeutic process while IBCT led to acceptance of targeted behavior both early and late in the relationship.

The researchers note that as therapists consider the two findings from this research they may conclude that treatments should begin with TBCT and end with IBCT. However, they point out "a focus on acceptance might not follow easily from an emphasis on making change -- if change is successful, why focus on acceptance? If change is unsuccessful, then acceptance comes on the heels of failure," (Doss, Thum, Sevier, Atkins & Christensen, 2005). The implications for modifying treatment are unclear.

It is not surprising that children are alert to their parent's marital tension. Balswick & Balswick (2006) report martial conflict increased the risk of children developing a variety of difficulties. Children are not only negatively impacted by the frequency and duration of their parents' conflicts, they are acutely aware of, and stressed by, conflict between their parents. Research shows that a highly conflicted marriage is not a good environment for children. Chronic unresolved conflict between spouses leaves children feeling insecure, unable to regulate their emotions and hypersensitive. Hostility and anger between parents is associated with withdrawal and avoidance in children. Children can become emotionally invested in parent's unresolved conflicts and tend to blame themselves for the problems between parents.

The wisdom of conflictive couples staying together for the sake of the children has been debated for years. Balswick & Balswick (2006), report that the dissolution of low-conflict marriages appears to have negative effects on children's lives, while the dissolution of high-conflict marriages appears to have beneficial effects. It is important for couples to take seriously their responsibility to deal with their conflicts, not only for the sake of their marriage, but also for the well-being of the children.

Laaser (2006) advocates working with couples from a spiritual perspective. He asserts that when a sex addict commits a violation of the vows he or she made to a partner, the violation is spiritual, and the pain of it is experienced on a deep emotional level. It is necessary for the therapist to be willing to understand and treat the spiritual beliefs of both partners.

According to Laaser… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Marriage Couple and Family Counseling.  (2010, June 24).  Retrieved October 16, 2019, from

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"Marriage Couple and Family Counseling."  June 24, 2010.  Accessed October 16, 2019.