Several of you have asked about my statements concerning the negative effects of nurturing a Sex Addict. This is a huge subject and even the definition of ‘nurturing’ can be ambiguous, especially when used in reference to a relationship with a Sex Addict. But, the conclusions of the research are quite significant as to predictability of outcomes based on certain behaviors.
The paper I will try to summarize here is an article from the Journal of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. To access articles from this Journal you must be a subscriber, which is very expensive, or be an educational or medical professional with a subscription service that includes this journal–even more expensive. I am fortunate to have access to these Journals.
I would be violating copyright laws to reprint this article, so I will paraphrase as best I can. I just wanted to reassure you that this article is genuine and involved as well as referenced large, properly conducted research that cites many references.
This particular research, conducted at the University of Arizona looked at the strategies employed by partners of Sex Addicts in response to the crisis of discovery. The article states that the partner can respond in one of two ways. One, in a nurturing manner out of ignorance, denial or in the hope that their patience, understanding and willingness to please will motivate the Sex Addict to quit the behaviors. Or they can respond in a negative or punishing manner in hopes that it will produce enough discomfort in the addict to make him quit.
The nurturing usually starts early after the discovery, and frequently continues and alternates with punishing and negative behaviors. Nurturing can include all types of efforts by the partner such as providing financial support, offering alibis to friends, family or employers, wearing sexy lingerie, increasing sexual activity or attempting new activity similar to pornographic models, agreeing to sexual activity when there is no desire just to please the addict, undergoing makeovers or plastic surgery or simply turning a blind eye to the addictive activities.
Nurturing can also occur when a partner readily accepts and believes their partners flimsy explanations, denials and promises by ignoring their own concerns or blaming themselves for the relationship problems.
The second way a partner can respond to discovery is that they can withdraw nurturing and offer punishing responses. Often a partner will withdraw support and implement punishing behaviors by removing her rings, denying sex, moving to a separate bedroom, throwing the addict out or confronting and threatening to leave the relationship.
Studies have shown that most partners will nurture, through positive and negative reinforcement and ultimately settle into a cyclical pattern of nurturing and punishing strategies.
Now, if you know anything about conditioning and behavior modification, you know that intermittent punishment causes intermittent reinforcement. So, nurturing, and then the withdrawal of nurturing and then nurturing again is simply reinforcing the addictive behaviors.
‘Most studies show that a partner will act with hurt, sadness and anger over each recurring incident of betrayal, but then accept promise after promise by their partner without setting any firm boundaries or limits.’
This inconsistent nurturing and punishing is unsuccessful in getting the addict to change his ways.
The final word? The only responses from partners that even seemed to have a positive effect (and this is prefaced with caveat that there is no guarantee that it will produce a positive outcome) toward helping the Sex Addict decrease his addictive behaviors was for the partner to consistently punish negative behaviors and encourage only those behaviors that lead toward recovery, such as attending counseling, 12 steps, working with a sponsor, etc. Partners should also establish clear expectations with firm consequences.
Repeatedly falling for the same drama of sorrow and remorse, protests of innocence, words of undying love, promises that it will never happen again and begging for forgiveness or proclamations that they have ‘seen the light’ and have witnessed an epiphany will always result in negative reinforcement. We are teaching them how to fool us. If we haven’t learned after two or three times that their words are simply hollow promises, then we need our heads examined.
One other very important point was mentioned. ‘Punishment responses that create a parent-child dynamic between the partner and the Sex Addict (such as controlling access to the computer, demanding that the addict report any lustful thoughts about other people and spying on the addict) are counterproductive as the partner eventually resents having to police their partner and the addicts resent being treated like children. The result is often that the addicts simply become more secretive and deceitful.’ (Schneider 2000)
It is vital that we understand that nothing that partners do or don’t do will guarantee that the Sex Addict will stop their destructive behaviors. We can only learn from research, and from our own mistakes. We cannot change them with kindness and love. They will only change when they want to but we are not doing them any good, and, in fact we are nurturing the very behaviors that we despise when we are much too understanding of their abuse and too quick to forgive. What that tells them is that their horrible, abusive behavior toward us has no consequences, so, why should they stop?
Get with the tough love sisters! Being their ever lovin’, all forgiving ‘mommy’ just won’t work.