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The "S" Newsletter


Glenn Hutchinson, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist (Atlanta, GA) and Founder of Psyc.TV

Are the Partners of Sex Addicts Pathological too?

In my work with the partners of sex addicts, I'm frequently asked questions that reveal painful self-doubt. Sometimes the questions are explicit. Other times, the questions are veiled, but the concerns are always clear: What is wrong with me? What did I do that made him have sex with other people? Is it my personality, or perhaps some mental health problem that I have, that caused him to seek other sex partners or at least contributed to it?


Adding insult to the emotional injuries inflicted by sex-addicts, some authors have speculated that women who marry sex addicts have psychological problems that led them to choose sex addicts as spouses (e.g., Wildmon-White & Young, 2002; Carnes, 1991)*. Indeed, in one of his most often-cited books Don't Call It Love, Patrick Carnes describes deep and varied psychopathology among sex addicts and asserts that the

partners "are mirror images of the addicts themselves." Based on a nonscientific survey**, Carnes reported that 83% of the partners have histories of "emotional instability," 87% histories of "hopelessness," and more than half have experienced suicidal thoughts. In Carnes' view the partners of sex addicts are so rife with psychopathology that he claims, "If their relationship was not with one sex addict, it would have been with another."   


Let me pose a couple of questions that you will hear me ask often if you read future issues of The "S" Newsletter: How much bona fide research has looked at this issue, and what does it indicate? Specifically, is there any evidence that the partners of sex addicts are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than are members of the general population? Despite the rampant speculation by some authors, my extensive review of the scientific literature revealed only one study ever published on this topic. The study was conducted in 2011 by Rory Reid, a psychologist at UCLA. Reid gave a well-established measure of personality and psychopathology (MMPI-2-RF) to women who were married to sex addicts and to women who were married to non-sex addicts. Reid also administered a measure of marital satisfaction. Results showed that women who were married to sex addicts were significantly less satisfied with their marriages than other women. Women who were married to sex addicts also scored lower on an MMPI scale that measures positive emotions. There's no surprise in these findings. However, more interesting and relevant to the question at hand, Reid found that the women who were married to sex addicts did not differ from other women on any of the MMPI scales that assess mental health difficulties. These scales included measures of substance abuse, stress/worry, self-doubt, helplessness/hopelessness, and dysfunctional negative emotions. The two groups of women did not even differ on a scale that measures demoralization. So, while women who were married to sex addicts reported lower marital satisfaction and lower positive emotionality than other women, they did not report greater overall distress, hopelessness or other forms of psychopathology.  As Reid has observed, his findings contradict claims that the partners of sex addicts are generally depressed, anxious, and otherwise dysfunctional.


Reid's study was well-designed and well-executed, although it was relatively small (49 women married to sex addicts and 44 married to "normal" men). It's just one study, but it's the only scientific study that has investigated psychopathology in the partners of sex addicts, and it indicates that women who are married to sex addicts do not exhibit more mental health difficulties than other women. Of course, this does not imply that no women who are married to sex addicts have psychiatric problems. Just as some women who are married to "normal" men have personality or psychiatric difficulties, so do some women who are married to sex addicts. It's also worth keeping in mind that some psychologically healthy people who are in relationships with sex addicts may develop psychiatric symptoms (e.g., anxiety and depression) or unhealthy behavior patterns (e.g., attempting to control the addict's behavior) in response to the addicts' behavior.  That is, psychiatric symptoms may result from living with a sex addict as opposed to the notion that the partners' psychological difficulties preceded their relationships and caused these individuals to choose sex addicts as partners. 


Many of you may be wondering about coaddiction or codependence among the partners of sex addicts.  That's a topic that I'll address in a future issue of The "S" Newsletter.


*Presumably, these authors would make the same claims about male partners of sex addicts, but most of their speculation seems to have addressed wives of male sex addicts.


** The survey was not scientific because Carnes did not use a random, representative sample of sex addicts and their partners. Moreover, the response rate to Carnes' survey was less than 20 percent. If you'd like to understand how these factors bias results, watch the video entitled "Does Childhood Sexual Abuse Cause Sex Addiction?" in the 'Important Topics' section on my website:


If there are topics that you would like to see addressed in future issues, feel free to make suggestions via email: glennhutchinson@mindspring.comAlso, please visit where you can watch free videos in the "Important Topics" section as well as access past issues of The "S" Newsletter.

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