If It Feels Unfair To Give It Up, Maybe You Should Give It Up

Posted on October 3, 2013

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I have two primary specialties in my practice.  The first is couples counseling.  The second is treating sexual addiction.  Often in working with couples, one partner will protest about something in the other partner’s behavior that he or she feels is an addiction.  This could be any number of things, but frequently it is alcohol.  The common reaction to a suggestion that this is an addiction is, “It is not a problem.  I just use it to unwind, relax, etc.  And it is unfair of you to ask me to give it up.”  Addiction is one of those things that gets in the way of doing good couples work.  It both impacts emotional (and sometimes physical) safety and is a competing attachment.  That is, it is something that competes for the emotional attachment which is due your partner.  Just because your partner suggests that it is an addiction does not necessarily make it so.  However, if one partner thinks it is a problem, why not remove it as an issue?  The more that this seems an unreasonable request, the more likely it is really a problem.

A similar dynamic is present in the case of sexual addiction.  Not everyone who uses pornography and/or masturbates is a sex addict.  The more it would seem like deprivation to do without it, the more you probably should do without it.  For many of the men I work with, their sexual acting out has been a coping strategy.  Since a large percentage of my clients are fellow Christians, the moral implications of pornography often get raised.  I sometimes ask, “If you remove all of the moral issues, was pornography a good thing or a bad thing in your life?”  Moral objections abound, but that is not the primary focus of therapy.  Usually the reason we are meeting is that this has created some problem(s) in your life.  The obvious problems are when it is causing distress in a marriage or causing work problems.  Some more subtle ways are 1) pornography actually causes us to view our partner less favorably; 2) it sets a standard for physical beauty with which few can compete; 3) it is sex without intimacy (you are having sex with a stranger, even though he or she isn’t there); 4) it makes sex about performance rather than connection and mutual pleasure.  The list could go on and on.  My point here is that if giving it up seems like a big loss, you probably need to give it up.

It really would be unreasonable if we took away someone’s means of coping without replacing it with other means of handling life.  In the case of the couples counseling, we are replacing the other coping behavior by creating a secure connection with your partner that can provide comfort and support.  In the case of sexual addiction, together we create a healthy life plan.  Recovery is not just about what you don’t do anymore, it is about creating a healthier life.  Finishing with my starting point: if it feels unfair to give it up, you probably should.

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