Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: a review

 

A subdivision of sex addiction treatment is a therapeutic effort–a worthy effort–directed at partners of so-called sex addicts. Within the model more or less introduced by Patrick Carnes, and promulgated by his (followers?), a Co-Addict model emerged over the last three decades, which has been written about by the likes of Stephanie Carnes (his daughter) and Claudia Black, author of Deceived. Then, as the Co-Addict model  was being criticized as either ill-conceived or derivative, another model of partner treatment emerged called the Relational Trauma Model, which is somewhat preciously described as “a paradigm shift” by its adherents. One of its notable guidebooks is the Barbara Steffens/Marsha Means penned work, Your Sexually Addicted Spouse. Check out the reviews on Amazon and you’ll find, for the most part, gushing statements of gratitude from its targeted readership: “This book really helped me”, or “Finally, a book that addresses trauma” (actually, innumerable books related to SA address trauma). There are some dissenters, women who bristle at the victim-identification focus; the vague suggestions as to solutions–what to do. I’m a dissenter also, for the following reasons.

Several problems with this book: firstly, it aspires to a gender neutral position, using terms like spouse instead of wives or husbands, but of its two dozen or so testimonials from betrayed partners, not a single account is from a male partner of a woman (or even male) sex addict–a glaring problem in the development of this field, especially if the POV of the gay community is to be known. Secondly, the book goes to great lengths to disparage the so-called ‘Co-Addict’ model of care, hitherto directed at partners of sex addicts. The term Co-Addict, previously espoused by apparently like-minded colleagues such as Claudia Black and Stephanie Carnes, is now “invalidating”, a residue of a pathologizing bias. However, if one reads the recommendations and characterizations in Carnes’ and Black’s work, the reader would find remarkable similarities between their opinions and those of Steffens and Means. The same reactive, as in controlling behaviors of partners are identified (and discouraged) by these supposedly disagreeing authors, and while the ‘Co-Addict’ reactions are deemed ‘normal’ in Steffens’ and Means’ model, the characterization of betrayed response is dubbed ‘natural’ in Carnes’ and Black’s literature.

Hmm? Not exactly a gulf in empathetic reaction. Anyway, trauma is the new word: the more palatable, “evidence-based”, client-friendly word. Trauma is popular amongst readers of self-help literature, more so than ‘Co-Addict’, or ‘personality disorder’, perhaps because trauma connotes victimhood. The intent of RT practitioners is reasonable enough: when they use the word trauma, the accent of approach is upon empathy for suffering, the prospect of survival versus ‘victimhood’; less so upon implied criticism of behaviors (which again is there, but in muted form), or the inference of an underlying disorder with a backstory. However, not only is this position facile, it presents the issue of so-called relational trauma in a confusing way. For example, a passage in Your Sexually Addicted Spouse presents PTSD as a lifelong condition, entailing “coping mechanisms that become ingrained in personality”. Doesn’t that sound like a personality disorder? One gets the sense in books like this that marketing trumps clinical accuracy, and that concepts get conflated, like personality disorder and trauma. But personality disorder is not a nice term. Nor is Co-Addict. Nor is addict, for that matter, but Steffens and Means would have the reader reserve pathology for the people we’re meant to be angry at: the addicts. The men.

What do men think, other than me?

We don’t know. They don’t read books like this, so as far as promoting books like Your Sexually Addicted Spouse is concerned, it doesn’t matter.

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

 

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