Who am I/Who did I marry?: Dysfunctional Board Meeting- Understanding the Sex Addict’s confusing behavior.

Understanding the man who engages in sexually addictive behavior can be difficult and confusing.  It’s made even more difficult, as he doesn’t understand himself.  Once the discovery of illicit sexual behavior is made, the conversation might go something like this:

Imagine this scenario:  A wife, filled with hurt, fear, and anger, reaches out to the husband who she just found out betrayed her.  Her world has just been completely turned upside down.  Many of the things she held to be true were lies.  Those pillars holding up what is left of her world may or may not be true.  It’s almost unbearable living in such a state of uncertainty.  Worst of all, the woman she sees in the mirror was fooled.  Can she even trust herself anymore?  Sitting down with the man she thought she knew, the wife begins the conversation.


Wife- “How long has this been going on?”She needs to assess the damage.  Just how long has she been lied to?  How many memories will have a dark shadow cast over them?  What in her life with him has been real?

Wife- “Why did you do it?”– There must be a reason.  She desperately wants one, but what reason would be good enough?  Still, it’s the question she feels she must ask.

How will he respond?  It depends on who she is speaking to, or more specifically, what part.  Addictive, destructive behavior has hidden repercussions for the individual.  Primary among these is one individual being split or broken apart into numerous pieces.  Picture within the addict a conference room with a large table and chairs for many individuals to come sit at.  Now imagine different individuals filling the seats, each with a different job or role for the man.  The parts have come together to discuss their points of view and what each sees as the best course of action for the man, based on their perspective.  Let’s meet some of these individuals:

  • The Protector
  • The Righteous One
  • The Sexual Deviant
  • The Lonely Child
  • The Good Provider/Father

These are a few common parts or components of sexually addicted males.  While not a comprehensive list, it offers both the addict and the loved one a useful construct for understanding the addiction.  Notice above the term “dysfunctional” being used to describe the meeting.  While each of these parts is at the same meeting, their jobs and desires are in conflict with one another.  Their agenda’s do not work well together and compete, leaving the addict and loved ones with the question “Which one of these is really him/me?”  The answer, “all of them.”  As mentioned above, addiction fosters a destructive pattern of turning not only on others but oneself.

To learn more about each part, keep reading.

The Protector:  As the name suggests, his primary responsibility is safety and protection.  He determines the level of access other individuals have to the addict, based on his risk assessment.  The protector, in a sense, is like the gatekeeper one must go through to actually get to know the person, but he does more than this.  The protector is a trusted advisor, guiding the man on who is to be let in and how far.  Indeed, even the man’s responsiveness to the environment around him is influenced by the protector, who screens and edits his words and display of emotion.  The protector, given the nature of his job, is very risk averse, always encouraging less information and expression.

Wives resent the distance he maintains, blocking an intimate relationship with her husband.  Like a cold administrator, aloof and emotionally detached, the protector enforces the policy of secrecy and emotional detachment, without regard for the hurt his causes loved ones, and, tragically, the man who is desperately lonely and hurting behind the protective walls.

His responses are markedly vague and provide limited insight.  He maintains emotional control as he gives edited “press releases”, carefully choosing his words and phrasing.  Her questions are like those of an inquisitive reporter to him.  Quickly he leaves a wife feeling angry and powerless, aware of just how far away she is from the man she married.  She may rage against him, her words crashing like waves against his battle hardened defenses.  She attempts to get him to lower his walls, but is speaking to him in a language he doesn’t understand.  He is a protector, and protectors faithfully guard those things entrusted to their care.  She likely won’t succeed in breaching his defenses, and even if she does, this will be perceived as a defeat.  It’s a battle lost rather than an accepted invitation to finally be honest.


The Righteous One:  The part maintaining an often ignored moral compass.  Those who love the addict wonder if this part even exists anymore.  Shame and guilt, however, are the hallmarks of his presence, though he may be buried deep inside at times.  He motivates the addict to hide his behavior, as these emotions are extremely painful.

The Righteous One proclaims how the addict should behave and points out his moral failings.  He is quick to point out to the other parts, in moments of despair and failure, that if they simply had listened to him, all would be well.  During times of deep shame, the Righteous One speaks to loved ones, telling them of deep sorrow and a commitment to change.  He asserts that he is who the addict truly is, the other parts are sin which will be disposed of in due time.

Though initially compelling, the Righteous One’s speeches ring hollow over time and even become a source of anger and resentment for loved ones, as he seems to be a messenger of false hope spreading hurtful lies, making promises to be broken.  The seduction of his message is as powerful as it is easy to understand.  The man’s wife is confused, lost, and her fear is overwhelming.  The Righteous One is the part who provides clarity with a message seeming to be truth, but truth is not simply a matter of words, it is a matter of motive flowing from the condition of the heart.  The Righteous One is as much a part of the problem as any other, though he presents as the solution.  He responds with great conviction, even tears.  What the man has done is sin, outside of God’s plan for marriage.  He knows this now and is disgusted with his actions.  Excuses are rejected, he is a sinner in need of forgiveness.  Again, much of this sounds right, and can be part of productive first steps in healing.  Motive, coming out of the condition of the heart, however, will be made clear in time.

In responding to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we repent of our sins and are forgiven.  Christ took the punishment for our sins on the cross and no action on our part is required for our salvation.  However, the work of reconciliation and refinement is often not complete.  In other words, Christ’s death on the cross made the way for salvation in a moment, but sanctification is a process.  This truth is not recognized by the addict.

All too often, The Righteous One facilitates the action of avoidance, central to addictive behavior.  Avoidance is the process by which a person stays away from core hurts or wounds, which are an underlying driver of their destructive behavior.  In other words, if the addict asks others for forgiveness and repents before God, he gets to be done with the problem.  It’s a truly amazing outcome for a man who does not even know what the problem is.

In his mind, the damage is now covered with Christ’s blood, and reconciliation is perceived not as necessary.  Attempts by others, including his spouse to really understand and work through the wounds are seen as condemnation from the enemy.  The Righteous One will use Biblical truth as a tool in the avoidant process. This part contributes to the destructive behavior as much as any other.

The Sexual Deviant:  Here is the part thought to be the real problem.  He is the one the others believe acts-out, creating the messes they must later clean-up.  The sexual deviant looks at pornography, masturbates, meets with escorts, goes cruising and the list goes on and on.  He is the identified cancer in the room, which the other parts believe must be destroyed.  Of course, as in movies, life is easier with a villain, one who causes the pain, can be fought, and eventually defeated.

Most wives will never speak to this part directly or hear from him.  Your husband’s sexual partners/computer have, however.  Sitting in the shadows, The Sexual Deviant holds the memories of excitement and enjoyment stemming from the illicit sinful behavior.  Though other parts come forward to speak disdainfully of what has happened, this part cherishes the experiences.  Vilified and misunderstood, he is the one targeted for exile.  It has the appearance of logic.

Getting rid of him seems like it would end the destruction.  However, as a therapist having worked with many men on sexually addictive issues, I have come to more fully understand his role.  Without solicitation, working with man after man, speaking to this part reveals his true function, as caretaker.  Without hesitation, The Sexual Deviant reveals he is the only one who takes care of the man, ensuring his needs get met.  His role points to the deep loneliness and hurt residing within.

The deviant is like a leg which has been broken.  Its purpose is to aid the person is walking, but fractured, it can no longer do its job well or without great pain.  Broken legs are not amputated, they are casted and healed, allowing them, once again, to do their job well.

The Lonely Child:  Quiet, withdrawn, and often not at the table but in a corner of the room, is the lonely child.  He is guarded vigilantly by The Protector and access to him is rarely, if ever granted.  The child is perceived as defenseless and vulnerable.   Possible harm to the child cannot be risked, so a tragic deal is struck.  The Protector will ensure that no harm occurs, but the child must remain alone, safely locked away.  He cannot be injured directly, but sadly, cannot be cared for by anyone apart from the other broken parts.

Hidden deep inside, The Lonely Child will likely not join into this conversation.  He is ineffectively cared for by The Sexual Deviant.  All the inadequacy, fear, and deep loneliness is soothed with sex or other compulsive behavior.  The child is like an emaciated infant, who is fed infrequently by  an inept caretakers, filling his bottle with what will not satisfy.  The addict is disconnected from this part, not even willing or able to acknowledge his existence.  Doing so would leave the man in need of others, something he is deeply hesitant to do.

The Good Provider/Father:  Kept away from the sexually destructive behaviors, this part is the addict’s anchor or tie to the fantasy reality he has created.  However deprived or selfish his other behaviors and attitudes may be, he is still a good provider/husband/father.  To ensure the harmful behaviors can continue, the addict will over identify with this part, reassuring himself and attempting to correct others in their belief there is a problem.  Believing this part’s argument often leaves others feeling confused and “crazy,” as he tells them not to believe their own eyes.

Justification and minimization of destructive behaviors are the hallmark of his presence.  In other words, he uses perverse reasoning to make his actions seem permissible and attempts to downplay what he has done.


He is the link to a healthier world which the man has left.  The part maintains a residence in “the light” allowing other parts of the man to exist in darkness.  He creates confusion for a wife.  Wasn’t this the man she married, the one who works hard and is committed to his family.  She feels deceived, as this has been a cover, and in a sense, it has.  He may have this “sexual issue”, but he works hard to take care of his wife and children.  When home, he takes time with the children and is involved in their activities.  If they want something, he does everything he can to provide it.  A lot of hard working men indulge at times, and so what if he has.  He is not perfect and his should not expect him to be.  Can’t she be thankful for all she has.

Working with men as a therapist, I have found the entire addictive system begins to come crashing down around the man when these roles of provider or father are violated.  More specifically, when behaviors, the man always pledged to keep away from his children/family/work come into those worlds (ex: children find his pornography in the house or on the computer, the man brings a prostitute into the home, cruising for porn on a work computer, pursuing sexual relationships with co-workers).

Perhaps he is on the verge of losing his job or has spent a great deal of money on sex and his role as provider is in jeopardy.  It is at this point, the man responds like any drowning person.  Things have escalated beyond his control.  He is desperate and broken, having become something he told himself he would never be.

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