Sex Addiction: Can Trust Be Restored?

It is devastating for a partner to find out that the person they love is battling sex addiction by losing themselves in pornography or, even worse, engaging in multiple affairs. The partner is questioning whether they even want to be in the relationship, let alone rebuild trust. However, if both are willing to do the hard work by taking a look at what each individual needs to labor through and agree to a transparent and consistent plan, trust can be rebuilt and eventually restored.

So what does it take to make restoring trust possible? Here are a few important factors that can help the couple on their journey toward healing:

Understand the difference in forgiveness and trust.

Remember, forgiveness is for the person that has been hurt, not the offender! This releases them from holding the offense over the other person and gives them the chance to start healing. Too often, the sex addict feels that forgiveness equals trust and that can cause frustration for both individuals involved. Trust has to be rebuilt and restored over time where forgiveness is a choice when the time is right. Forgiveness can be a great step but it is only that, a step. If this principle can clearly be grasped, especially by the one battling sex addiction, it can go a long way in alleviating pressure from an already tense situation.

Stop ALL lies…big or small!

No matter if lies are big or what some consider, white lies, they are extremely damaging to a relationship. Lies always come back to harm the relationship because they are either found out or they are kept hidden and it creates a senses of shame and guilt that will show itself in frustration, resentment, and often, anger.  With all that being said, ALL lies MUST stop!  First of all, this will raise your standard of integrity for yourself that will give you confidence in who you are as an individual. Secondly, it will remove a covering of deception that will allow for open, real communication.  Will it always be easy to be completely honest? No, it will be very challenging at times, but the first time you compromise or rationalize, it will lead you right back down the road that brought all the devastation. This step alone will do amazing things for each individual and the relationship because it creates freedom!

Be an open book and have accountability.

Being open creates safety, creates vulnerability, and creates an environment of openness that each partner desires.  Sure, you can talk about having your privacy and setting boundaries and those are important, however, there are areas such as the Internet, social networks, personal email, texting, etc. that should be readily shared and open, especially when there has been betrayal. This is not for one partner to always be “checking up” on the other or to control the other, it is about not having ANYTHING hidden that could break trust or open the door for the appearance of deception. Remember, the idea is to build trust and it will take specific steps that may not always feel good in the moment but will reap a HUGE reward in the long run!

Build consistency!

The behaviors of sex addiction did not happen overnight and the acting out usually took place over years of time. With that being said, it is vitally important that partners are committed to their own program of healing and work that shows consistency, vulnerability, honesty and accountability over time. Because one or both goes through counseling, is in a group or goes to an intensive does not mean that everything is “fixed” and back to normal. The hurt partner is still trying to figure out what was real in the relationship and what was a lie. This is the perfect time to not put pressure on them but to show the commitment to every day being consistent in boundaries, in times of honest communication and to your own hard work.  Once the wounded partner sees consistent change in attitude, actions and choices over a significant amount of time and in many different situations, trust will begin to grow in a new way!

Be patient!

Give each other the time and space each need to grieve, to vent, to begin their healing and to work through very challenging and impactful hurts. By being supportive and patient, it truly demonstrates that you are committed to the relationship through both the good and challenging times. It brings a softer, less threatening approach that creates willingness to engage.

Make no mistake; rebuilding and restoring trust is a process that will take time, energy and a willingness to make changes that are best for the relationship so that there are no secrets, no deception and no surprises! Even though it will take a lot of hard work, the return on investment will pay dividends for the rest of your life and create a bond you have both desired and deserved. Trust CAN be restored and rebuilt but it will take both being extremely intentional about their choices and dedication!

© Copyright 2011 by Janie Lacy, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, NCC, CSAT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 27 comments
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  • Amy

    February 7th, 2011 at 5:32 AM

    I have been through this. I have experienced first hand the devastation that sex addiction by your partner can have on your marriage. For me there has been no forgiveness and certainly no trust.

  • Jake

    February 7th, 2011 at 7:31 AM

    Although cheating is very prevalent,sex addicts usually indulge in pornography and this is what makes it so hard to identify.
    You see,if a person has an affair it can be told without doubt that there is a problem but the problem with pornography is that you wouldn’t know at first if the person’s an addict or not!

  • simone

    February 9th, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    I suppose that trust could be restored in a situation like this but it would be terribly difficult to get that back, something that is so critical for any relationship to be a success. I have known people with other addictions though and how difficult it has been for them to battle these, and these were addictions where the rest of the family could feel free to talk about it. But with sex addiction it must feel different. I know that if my partner had this type of addiction I would not want to talk to anyone about it because I would feel like they would think that something must be wrong with me for my partner to resort to this.

  • Les

    February 11th, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    Pornography isn’t a big deal. Regardless of your stance on it, it’s better for your partner to be masturbating to porn than having an affair. A friend of mine once said 30% of people look at porn, 70% lie. Yes, it objectifies human beings as sex objects, and it’s demeaning to everyone, not just women, but your partner isn’t cheating on you when they look at that.

  • Angela

    June 17th, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    When pornography takes away 3, 5, 7 hours of a day almost every day, then this is time taken away from your life, you family your other interests, you hobbies, your social life. Ask yourself … Is it really normal to wank in front of pornography every day, maybe once a day, maybe 3 times a day, maybe 7 hours a day?
    Do you think after wanking so long or so often you would really feel great in having sex with your partner?
    Checking out pornography is not de facto cheating, but in the case of addicts it takes a lot away in terms of intimacy, of time, neglecting children and family, not being available…. So yes it’s not cheating but it has similar effects.

  • Margie

    November 16th, 2014 at 8:06 PM

    It is so painful. How can a partner be expected to understand this .
    These guys also wank at work or during work hours taking working dollars away from their family.

  • Jessie

    September 27th, 2023 at 12:18 PM

    For many, pornography IS cheating. Your partner is imagining sexual acts with another person visually, and the brain cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality in these situations. They are trying to make their situation as close to possible as them having sexual relations with someone outside of your relationship, and they’re usually experiencing the pleasure of climax and chemically bonding with whom ever they’re viewing and fantasizing about. In effect, they’re cheating by engaging in all of those behaviors that should be reserved only for their partner, while also doing immense damage to themselves, their partner and the entire relationship .

  • Eleanor

    January 20th, 2020 at 11:21 AM

    Dream on. Lusting after other women or other men is always cheating. Watching pornography is creating a crass lowlife social environment that you live down to. There is nothing life-enhancing or spirituality enhancing orlov enhancing in that position

  • Cassie V.

    February 11th, 2011 at 7:08 PM

    It’s hard to trust your husband after they have an affair, but you need to remember that sex isn’t all there is to a marriage. If you’re in a relationship for the sex alone, you’re missing the entire point of having a relationship and not really much better off than you would be by yourself.

  • esther

    February 13th, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    If you make a commitment to stop the lies in the relationship, you need to accept everything they confess to. Everything. They’ve been having sex with your sister? Accept it. They’re actually gay and the reason for marrying you was to hide that? Accept it. It’s not right at all to tell your significant other to stop lying and then lose your temper at all the secrets they tell you.

  • Angela

    June 17th, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    You have the right to your feelings, you have the right not to be deceived from your partner, you have the right to be angry! And, when you get to know the truth you have the right to decide if you want to work on the relationship, if you want to part or if you want to take your time to decide. You can accept the truth, but you shouldn’t accept that the behavior is perpetuated. It a question of choices.

  • anoher

    June 7th, 2012 at 8:28 AM

    Cheating, is being untrue. Any lying creates dishonesty and ruins trust.
    many comments on looking at pornography seem to involve the misconception that if others do it it is therefore ok. So was beating your wife in the 17th century, for the heinous crime of talking.
    Now I am not a one size fits all kinda person. Ladies are hardwired to cheat, we fight the urge. But men are weak? That’s just plain rude.
    Yes we have all seen it, but like a horror film or a chick flick some things are damaging. If something upsets you don’t watch.
    Sex addicts hate themselves and their cycles. So telling them it is ok everyone does it, is just plain cruel. What you think of normal may not be in someone elses world.

  • Brittney M

    June 25th, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    Does anyone still come here and can help me?

  • admin2

    June 25th, 2013 at 5:45 PM

    Hi Brittney,
    Thank you for your comment. We have many resources available and would love to help you in any way we can.
    If this is a crisis situation, please call 911 immediately or the suicide prevention line. You can find additional crisis resources here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html
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    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Maria

    December 5th, 2013 at 8:37 AM

    Brittney -please contact me!

  • B

    September 23rd, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    My husband and I are a Sex Addict success story. Trust is just now being restored (it’s been more than 5 years). Therapy for PTSD was required for me. Group counseling and individual therapy was required for my husband. You can recover as a couple. These are amazing and wonderful tips, almost exactly what my husband did. If you are a sex addict I recommend the film with the older gentleman on iamsecond.com. That’s the video that convinced my husband he was not alone. It’s not a lonely position there are others that suffer from it, too.

  • G.K.

    May 6th, 2015 at 7:52 AM

    What is the name of the man on Iamsecond.com that you were referring to. There are several “older gentlemen” (depending on your age) and I would like to see the one you were referring to. Thank you :)

  • vanya

    August 14th, 2018 at 4:10 AM

    Read your comment and it gives me hope. what is teh film you re talking about and can I call you?

  • sue

    December 3rd, 2014 at 3:27 PM

    my husband had affair 2 yrs ago, we went through alot after this, and i was finally begining to trust again,till this week when i found out he was seeing the same woman as before he is a sex addict but hasnt done anything about it yet, what do i do stick by him and support him or walk away please help me im so upset,angry and esp heartbroken

  • David R

    February 3rd, 2015 at 12:10 PM

    I am the husband of a sex addict, after a five year marriage I discovered text and was told by my wife of four years of infidelity with coworkers and random men off of craigslist. I have been told that my behavior of control and manipulation led her to this and I am having trouble dealing with this. I only treated her that way because I have no self worth and suffer from depression, the thought of her going out without me dressed sexy to go drink late at night scared me because I didn’t want her to leave me for a “bigger better deal” out there so I controlled and manipulated her to have no friends and sheltered her as best I could to avoid her finding the BBD. I never made a conscious choice to do this, I can only now see the pattern of what I was doing. But my question is after my emotional abuse and her physical betrayal is there really any point to trying to fix this? We have two children together and a home, I never thought about life without my wife and family next to me and I don’t know what to do.

  • Stewart M

    December 18th, 2015 at 1:59 PM

    David,
    Just found out my wife of 15 years had an affair in her 12 step program (apparently addictions commonly travel together). She claimed it was recent, only emotional and not sexual (which is worse in my mind), and that it was over and done with. This terrible revelation made me super diligent of everything she did. Cell phone in bathroom for an hour at a time, never letting it out of her sight, putting screen face down. Things I never noticed before. My snooping was a double edged sword though. I soon found out about a second sexual affair and my pain was unbearable. She seemed remorseful and told me it too was recent, short lived, and over. I even found emails and texts that corroborated her story. (She had no idea I jail broke her phone so I think she was truthful (but only when she got caught). We are soulmates and I love her dearly and can’t imagine life without her and our beautiful son. We started to heal and she told me she’d spend the rest of her life making it up to me. Then I found out about the third affair. One that started before we got married. I’m hollow, broken, unmade, and empty. I left her divorce papers to sign and left my wedding band on dresser. I slept in my car in a parking lot. Next day she called balling and begging me not to leave. Says she’ll go to therapy for sex addiction and be accountable for her actions. she’s lied to me for 15 years. How can I ever believe a word that comes out of her mouth? (Long term affair guy, she invited to our wedding). My decision what to do hinges solely on the validly of sex as addiction.

  • Stewart M

    December 18th, 2015 at 2:15 PM

    And David, a word of advice. Please please don’t dig too deeply while collecting the facts. You need some information and you have a right to know if you’re being betrayed but don’t go too far down the rabbit hole. I went overboard spying. It made me feel unclean, guilty (that’s almost funny), and ultimately, getting too many of the gory details eats away your soul. Be careful what you look for. You just might find it.
    Best wishes S

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    December 18th, 2015 at 4:48 PM

    Dear Stewart,

    Thank you for sharing. We appreciate your contribution to the discussion. We are sorry to hear of what you are experiencing. The GoodTherapy.org Team is not a substitute for professional help, but if you would like to talk to someone about your concerns, please know you can locate a therapist in your area through our website.

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    https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html

    We wish you the best of luck.

    Kind regards,

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Jb

    June 7th, 2019 at 11:04 PM

    Go down the rabbit hole. If what you see makes her unbearable, then she’s unbearable. I understand that it can be painful but being in the dark after all the manipulation and lies is not helpful. I’ve been able to piece together maybe half of my husband’s 16 years of affairs and severe pornography use, dating profiles, etc. Seeing his profile pictures and then looking in my digital family album online showed me all the times, the special occasions like when we were at state for my son’s chess team, while family came together and my husband is looking for singles in the zip code we’re in. I think I need to know that. I need to know what kind of person he is and more importantly the person he never will be and the permanent cloud being with him brings. Just waiting for the next slip up, the childish behavior, the lies, he can’t even go to his daughter’s middle school concert because it might trigger him. I need to know this stuff. Cause it’s too much. It’s not a life, not mine. Knowing that he caused me this pain because it made him feel good, how can that be love?

  • Bonnie

    December 5th, 2015 at 8:16 AM

    Is anyone still helping at this site?

  • BeenThere2

    January 26th, 2016 at 6:00 AM

    Engaging in multiple affairs is not worse than sex with women in porn.

  • Phyllis

    March 29th, 2023 at 5:15 PM

    Please let me know if this page is still up. I noticed that there haven’t been any comments since 2016.

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