Living With a Sex Addict

8: I Am Not A Co-Addict (and you probably aren’t either)

You can’t delve very far into the world of sex addiction without learning of “Anon” groups. “Anon” groups are designed to support the spouses and family of sex addicts and are made up mostly of broken-hearted, baffled wives who arrive with no idea why their husbands can’t stop buying sex or watching pornography. Having been one of those wives, I can assure you there is some relief in finding a group of people who know exactly what you are going through and are familiar with your pain and bewilderment, your confusion and exhaustion.


I’ve met some great people through Anon programs. I’ve learned a lot from them, too. I have seen the closeness and care that develops between members, the extraordinary dedicated women (mostly) who help others in the similar predicament of loving a spouse with sex addiction, and I have been moved by their courage and frank honestly.


Even so, I have a little trouble with Anon groups. While they definitely do help (at least some of the time), they do not necessarily help for the reasons they think. I wish someone had warned me that both COSA (Co-dependents of Sex Addicts) and S-Anon (a sister organization to Sexaholics Anonymous), the two largest 12-Step programs supporting the partners of sex addicts, subscribe to the notion that we partners are “co-addicts” or “codependents.”  The emphasis of their programs is our “recovery” from co-addiction. If you tell them that you are not a co-addict or codependent you are told that this is a typical response from a co-addict, as we are always in denial to begin with. In other words, we have no insight into our behavior and are blind to our illness.


If a sign that you are a co-addict is that you don’t believe you are a co addict, protesting won’t get you very far.  In fact, some recovery centers have you pegged at the door. According to them, the only proof they need that you are a co-addict is that you be married to (or partners with) an addict.That isn’t even a behavior on your part, but the conditions of your life at present. Let me identify the error being made. If it is assumed that a person is a co-addict simply because they are married to an addict, that is called a fallacy of composition. It is akin to saying, “Your husband is weird. Therefore, you are weird, too.”  If it is assumed that a person is a co-addict because they assert that they are not a co-addict, that is “begging the question.” Begging the question is a circular argument based on an assumption that a particular statement is true.


Anyone with a fair grasp of logic naturally dismisses such nonsense. A number of women just don’t go back at all once the program’s insistence on co-addiction is clear to them, or they go very occasionally, like me.


COSA and S-Anon are using an Addiction/disease model common to many recovery centers. If you seek help through counselling or recovery centers you will have to tackle the co-addiction and codependency label. Let me try to explain the assumptions in this model. Groups that subscribe to it (like COSA and S-Anon) agree with the currently popular notion that the wife of a sex addict had a predisposition toward obsessive bonding and co-addiction before meeting the addict. This is due to events in her past. It is no coincidence that she ends up marrying an addict—her own “illness” made such a scenario likely.  So, she is married to an addict because she is a co-addict. Like magnets, the addict and co-addict attract.


Does that sound like more nonsense? It is and it isn’t. I can imagine that if a person were sufficiently traumatized in her life she would make poor choices, including finding a very troubled partner. However, this is by no means always the case. Nobody would have imagined my husband was a sex addict or any kind of addict. Nor was he acting out at the time I met him, nor did he for years. His addiction ignited with the rise of the internet. By then, we were several years and two children into our marriage.


If I somehow managed to find a sex addict among the great masses of non-addicts out there, then why weren’t my previous relationships with addicts? And why wouldn’t he have been practicing sex addiction at the time we met and later married? Did I somehow “just know” he’d become a sex addict or is the far simpler explanation that my husband became an addict because of his own issues that have little or nothing to do with me? I’m willing to bet on the latter.


Some recovery centers tell the wives of sex addicts that their own “disease” contributes to that of their sexually addicted spouse. In other words, if she is focusing on his problems rather than her own life she is making his disease worse. It is beyond my understanding how a program that offers the 12-Steps can at the same time state that a wife is contributing to a husband’s addiction. The first step of the 12-Steps makes it clear that we have absolutely no impact whatsoever on our husbands’ addictions and are “powerless” against them. In fact, that is the entire point of the first step: to convince the spouse that she is powerless against her partner’s addiction. So, if she is powerless, how can she make it any worse or better? She can’t.


Now, I come to this notion that a wife is able to focus on her “own life” instead of that of her addicted spouse.  Many of us have our own jobs and hobbies and responsibilities for children, etc, but if we are married we are intricately involved with the life our partner. Our marriage is part of our “own life”. It is the very core of it for many of us.  What we are really being asked to do is detach from our spouses in order to survive—and here the 12-Step programs like COSA and S-Anon have got it right. We do need to detach somewhat, especially when our partners are in active addiction or early recovery.We may even have to detach altogether—every case is different.  But detaching a little (or a lot) is one of many possible responses to the trauma of our situations not a measure of our improved mental health or “recovery.”


Having said that, we do need to stop personalizing the sex part of this addiction. While it is certainly the case that infidelity goes straight to the heart of a marriage, sex addicts relationship to sex is not about us or about our marriages.  They may as well be taking drugs or drinking—which we imagine would be less personally injurious to us. However, there is a question we need to address here. Even if the addict’s intent to hurt is non-existent, he does hurt us. We are allowed to feel that pain. It is real pain. Whenever my husband has said, “I never meant to hurt you”, I’ve pointed out that he might have driven over me with a truck by accident and not meant to hurt me, but I would be hurt nonetheless.


Looking more closely at the list of symptoms of co-addiction and codependency as defined by COSA I do wonder what they imagine a “healthy” response to discovery your husband is a sex addict might be. Most of what COSA describes as identifying behaviors of codependency seem reasonable responses to living with an addict. For example, the first identifying behavior is “Believe you would be happy if only the sex addict would change.” While it is perhaps unreasonable for a spouse to assume they would be completely happy if their husband changed his addictive acting out and stopped having sex with random other people, it is certainly understandable that they might be happier.


Another defining behavior is “Spend time worrying about where the sex addict is, who they might be with, what they might be doing.” Spending time worrying? How much time? Does it make you are a codependent if you spend any amount of time? A minute a day? A minute a week? I would say that it would be far more indicative of an underlying pathology if you knew your husband was a sex addict and yet you spent no time worrying about where he was or what he was doing. Total indifference should not be a sign of improved mental health.


Another ridiculously attributed “symptom” of codependency is number six on the COSA list. Number six says, “Sometimes feel crazy and have a hard time separating the truth from lies when talking to the sex addict.”

A hard time separating truth from lies? And we are talking about addicts? It is almost impossible to separate truth from lies when talking to an addict.


I cannot stress enough how well sex addicts lie.  My husband lied to a church minister, his own therapists, his sponsors, me, and anyone else who challenged him. Professional counsellors and psychologists cannot discern when people are lying. There is plenty in the literature for professionals working with addicts that indicate this fact. So how on earth are we supposed to separate truth from fiction with our husband when trained counsellors cannot?


I am speculating now, but I believe that one reason they are so good at lying is that addicts don’t always believe they are lying, themselves. One often hears an addict who has been years sober describe how he used to engage in all sorts of wrong thinking. He’ll shake his head and say, “I used to think it was okay to act out because I had an unusually high sex drive”, or “My wife just didn’t want sex enough so I felt justified”, or “I used to pretend I wasn’t really acting out if there wasn’t penetrative sex involved”, and he’ll shake his head at these old, misguided notions. He can hardly understand himself why once he believed what he did. He probably believed the things he said at the time, and when someone believes what they are saying is true it is awfully difficult to discern what is really going on.


As for we wives “feeling crazy”, it is only that we are bombarded with dishonesty and manipulative behaviour on the part of addicts and even those who purport to be helping us. What we feel is uncertain, unsure, insecure, traumatized. And we feel this way not because we are crazy but because we are sane.


Much of what defines a codependent or co-addict (which are labels that do little to elucidate) would also describe a person who is undergoing trauma. While it is very possible that the spouse of a sex addict has a kind of codependency, I don’t think it is necessarily the case and such an assumption undermines the humanity of women seeking help. Ascribing the behavior of a traumatized person to that of a co-addict can cause a great deal of confusion for everyone, especially the one who is traumatized.


This is not to say you can’t be a co-addict or codependent, although neither of these terms is terribly helpful and probably detract from what is really going on). I am pointing out what ought to be obvious to anyone, which is that there has been no established definition of a healthy response to discovering one is married to a sex addict. That being married to an addict does not necessarily make you a “co-addict” and that labels like codependency and co-addiction are unhelpful if only because their use usually obscures what is really going on.


As for me, being married to an addict has influenced my life enormously; it is likely that if you are married to one you are feeling its effects. I think there would be something very wrong with a marriage in which one of the partners is an addict and the other is totally unaffected by his condition. Even before discovering the problem, I experienced and was sympathetic to my husband’s mental absences and anxiety, not because I thought he was an addict but because I thought he was very stressed. I made up for his physical absence by doing more around the house and for the children. I encouraged him when he needed support and helped him when he needed help. Isn’t that what we do for those we love?


However, even if his addiction had not taken him away from his home and occupied so much of his thinking, his very demanding job would have had similar effects. The bottom line was that he had a far more stressful job and he earned more than I did—a lot more—and so I made concessions. Had I been able to distinguish when he was acting out his sex addiction from when he was working hard, I would not have cooperated with the times he was seeking sex as opposed to working. But how was I to make such a distinction when I didn’t even know about the addiction?


It wasn’t as though I was unhappy with my life—I would have liked more input from my husband, yes. But I did all sorts of things: looked after my children, enjoyed my job, laughed with friends, travelled, learned a language, read novels, drank wine, planted m garden. In other words, I lived my life.


Once I knew about the addiction, I had a different feeling about when he was “working late.”  Now I was unwilling to always believe that working late meant he was actually working, or that time on his computer was necessary for completing a job-related project. I was anxious about his email, his phone messages, where he was, who he was with. All these signs that I sought security inside my marriage are understood by places like COSA and S-Anon or any of the 12-step programs for spouses of sex addicts, as signs of my “co-addiction”. For example, if I were to ask my husband how his recovery was going this would be interpreted by the COSA group as a failure to “mind my own business” which is one of the important steps toward my “recovery”. If I asked when he last struggled with acting out or whether he had spoken with his sponsor lately, COSA would also say I was “acting out” my co-addiction.


Anything that belied my interest in my husband’s behavior and how my welfare and that of my children might be affected by it was classified as an sign of my codependence. As far as the 12-Step model was concerned, I was sick.


There is a far more researched and contemporary description of the experience of the partners of sex addicts, which is the trauma model which I will discuss in another section of this website.

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Copyright © 2016 by TheWife. All rights reserved.


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  • Reply
    June 10, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    I am so glad I found your site. I have been through a lot of what you have (from what I have read so far) and have learned so much from you. My husbands recovery will be 2 years this coming September (I stayed) and I still feel that I have such a long way to go in my own recovery still. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

    • Reply
      The Wife
      June 14, 2016 at 9:27 am

      Thank you so much for leaving me this lovely message, Jennie…and I am SO GLAD your husband is doing well! I know how hard it is to cope as a partner but it sounds as though you are doing magnificently. Do please stay in touch. 🙂

  • Reply
    Co-Addict or Trauma Victim? Secondary abuse of spouses and partners of sex addicts
    August 22, 2016 at 4:01 am

    […] Living with a Sex Addict […]

  • Reply
    Amy B. Days
    January 27, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    Wow, I am so, so glad I found your site. Two months after Discovery I am still hanging in and trying to find healing resources for myself. Some of the people at my local COSA and S-Anon meetings are lovely and supportive, but the language of the programs makes me INSANE. Your story sounds much like mine … no signs of addiction when we met and married; it didn’t begin occurring until many years later. I’m still here only because he entered a program immediately and has been successful so far in his recovery. I am not co-dependent or a co-addict. There. I own my truth.

    There are many great tools and helpful things in the 12-step programs … I’m trying to work my way through them without getting caught up in the objectionable stuff but I HATE that in the midst of my pain I have to take this kind of nonsense from some of the few resources that are out there to help me.

    Thank you for your words. I’m so glad this web page is here and excited to read everything you’ve written. You feel to me like a kindred spirit already.

    • Reply
      The Wife
      January 27, 2017 at 11:54 pm

      So glad you wrote to me, Amy! You do, indeed, sound just like me. Have you seen the POSA (Partners of Sex Addicts) site? They do NOT go by the co-addict model. Unfortunately, there aren’t many POSA meeting groups. I keep saying I will start one here in the UK but haven’t done so yet. Soon! It’s on my list… 🙂

  • Reply
    Amy B. Days
    January 28, 2017 at 12:56 am

    I wish there were POSA groups in my area as well! When I have my stuff together, maybe I can come up with a real way to better help POSAs. The only ones available to help are those who’ve been through it themselves, huh?

    • Reply
      The Wife
      January 28, 2017 at 10:29 am

      I don’t know if you have to have been the partner of a sex addict to help. I think there are some good therapists out there…I’ve never found one to work with myself who I could actually afford. The cost for an hour ranged from £100 to £200. It’s an impossible price and even when I paid I didn’t get the help I needed. However, I hear there are some people who can help. I know of a couple therapists in the UK who is very useful. Paula Hall has a good reputation (and I think she does some work with groups of women that are good and affordable for many). I have a blog on therapists here–two in fact. One is the argument for, one the argument against. Bad experiences with a therapist are pretty rotten. Good experiences are transformative, or so I am told. I’ve not had a good experience.

  • Reply
    February 16, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    I find myself in your boat….have been dealing (not dealing) with this for 6 years…..we have been married for 26. I have a question if it isn’t too personal. You say you don’t trust your husband (I don’t trust mine either)… do you protect yourself from STDS when he is acting out?

    • Reply
      The Wife
      February 16, 2017 at 8:32 pm

      Hi Quinn! I don’t trust my husband 100%. How can I? He’s an addict. However, over the years I’ve learned signs of his growing anxiety which is likely to produce acting out, so it would be difficult (though never impossible) for him to fool me. Also, if he were to act out, the likelhood would be pornography, not actual physical contact with another woman. I realise how naive it sounds of me to believe I’d know and that there is no guarantee it would end at pornography if he were to act out. I may ended up in trouble, be so far we’ve been doing great together. He is committed to sobriety and is active in his 12-step programme, attending meetings twice a week. If I were to discover he was acting out, we’d be finished completely, I’m sure. I cannot live with an active addict. However, I don’t think he can live with himself as one either. That doesn’t explain much, but perhaps give you some idea? Yes, there is still a risk. I guess with an addict–even a sober one–there is always a risk.

  • Reply
    March 6, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
    Thank you for validating me and my experiences! Your words resonate with me in every single way possible! Your story is very, very similar to mine. The only groups around my area are S-Anon and I am NOT a codependent nor co-addict! I take tremendous offence with those labels!
    I have been with my husband for 34 years (married 31 years) and NEVER in my life did I ever think what he has done would have been possible. While he is now in recovery (discovery happened in July 2016) he has an addiction to bondage porn, which lead to chat rooms which lead to over 200 online very graffiti affairs, which lead to 4 in person affairs! He did get an STI that is lifelong and gave it to me.
    I’m trying to get through this..but it is hard. I have such a hard time reconciling the person I thought I knew to this man.
    I appreciate the validation. It is desperately needed.

    • Reply
      The Wife
      March 6, 2017 at 6:43 pm

      Sandy, thank you so much for letting me know that the blog is helping you. It means so much to me. Yes, these are going to be very trying times for you. And while I know July seems far away, it isn’t. In my experience, you are going through the worst of it. Once your husband has a long period of recovery under his belt things will begin to get better. It takes a long time.

      I’ve known a few addicts of bondage porn…it seems to be quite common. He may have engaged in acts which were actually quite damaging to him. Sometimes this is due to previous trauma in his early life.

      I really wish you and your husband the very best in coping with this addiction. It isn’t easy. I nearly gave up on my husband as it took him years to really get sober. He isn’t a bad guy…few addicts are. But he was a very sick man and he needed tremendous help in overcoming this addiction. It never really ends but it does get a LOT better!

      Stay in touch. I am grateful for your message.

  • Reply
    March 27, 2017 at 10:54 pm

    What a blessing this post was to me!
    I’m 25, have been married for 2 years, and three weeks ago my husband admitted himself to a treatment facility for sex addiction. I was sent information on COSA and immediately felt myself rejecting the idea of automatic co-addict/dependent. I would be totally open to meeting with a counselor and maybe discovering that on my own, but to be told that I am a co-addict simply because I married a sex addict is absolutely horrifying to me, and I reject that entirely. I just feel so alone and can’t seem to find a group of women who really want health. My family is not supportive (they think I should have divorced him the day I found out about the addiction) and my friends are sweet and great but just have no idea what this is like. I’m trying my best to focus on myself and get strong and healthy on my own, but some days are really hard, especially when I feel alone, and the only women I know to reach out to are certain that I am a co-addict based simply on the premise of who I married.

    • Reply
      The Wife
      March 29, 2017 at 6:32 pm

      Hi, and thanks so much for our comment. I completely agree with everything you say with regard to co-addiction, of course! I wonder if you can find a POSA group? They are in America (I keep saying I will start one here in the UK, and I will soon!). They don’t believe that co-addict stuff. Their website is, which stands for partners of sex addicts resource center.

      Of course, co-addiction is possible. For example, there are people married to alcoholics who really don’t want their spouse to stop drinking because that would mean that they had to stop drinking, too! But most of the women I’ve met are anything but co-addicts. They are terribly hurt, depressed, bewildered and desperate for the pain to subside. They are trying to keep a cool head under pressure.

      Same with the men married to women who are sex addicts. They are doing their best and their best is pretty darned admirable. And they are not co-addicts either.

      So glad you found the site. Do please keep in touch. I have managed to stay married (not that this has to be a goal…at times, it was not!) and my husband is now almost 2 years “sober”. I know that sounds like nothing, but it is perhaps the longest stretch of healthy sexuality he has ever had. And we are very close now. We were not always–in fact,there was a period when I thought divorce was surely our future. But somehow he recovered and I managed to see past our history and into the future.

      Of course, anything can happen so I never get too complacent. 🙂

  • Reply
    March 31, 2017 at 3:04 am

    Oh thank you so much for your transparency and honesty! It’s so encouraging

    I don’t know if you or anyone on here has any advice for this, but my biggest struggle right now may seem strange.

    As I said, I’m 25 and my husband is 32. His issue is with pornography, and then sexual anorexia in our marriage. And by that, I mean we had NO physical relations, at all, and he would act out with pornography.

    When he went to treatment, I learned his counselor was a young, pretty woman. I know it may sound crazy, but I was LIVID. I couldn’t understand what reputable facility would have a young woman treating male sex addicts. I don’t mean to sound sexist or petty, but I was furious. Not simply because she was a woman, but because once again, another woman was getting a part of my husband that even I don’t get. This woman is hearing all of his fears, all of his insecurities, everything. And I don’t get that.

    I just don’t know what to do. She said she would be willing to transfer him, but I decided to trust them. I felt like if they paired him with her, there must be a good reason. But I cannot seem to get over this. As if having a husband in treatment for sex addiction isn’t hard enough, now I have to deal with this NEW issue.

    What would you suggest I do? I can’t seem to get my brain out of this line of thinking!

    • Reply
      The Wife
      April 1, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      Hi and thank you so much for stopping by and for writing to me.

      This is a terrible situation for you. I’d feel EXACTLY the same. In fact, my husband did go to a woman therapist for awhile. I didn’t like it. I thought he charmed her, that’s why. I thought she found him handsome and believable even though he was lying half the time. I was probably inventing all this, but it doesn’t matter. The fact is, I was suffering very badly and I didn’t need to be suffering, at least over that. There were plenty of men for him to see.

      You don’t need to be fretting over this. Ask for the transfer. It is the least your husband can do for you. Your mental health and well-being is paramount in all this. You don’t have to feel ashamed of yourself for asking for this small thing. And it IS a small thing! It isn’t small to you, but it is small to the therapist and to your husband.

      Of course, he will share information with his therapist that he will not necessarily share with you–male or female, they get the goods we wish we had. However, eventually, his recovery will progress to the point at which he is far, far more intimate with you than before. That’s how it worked with my husband, at least.

      Truly, I have seen marriage go to cinders over this addiction even with husbands being willing to do ANYthing to help their wives. The fact that your husband (and his therapist) can do this one small thing to make you feel better is a blessing, in fact. It means there is still something he can do.

      Please stay in touch. And don’t be shy about stating your needs to your husband and his therapist! 🙂

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