On any given day, a well-stocked newsstand is likely to have one or two magazines with a teaser that reads something like this: “Is he cheating? How you can know for sure.” The signs of adultery are usually the same and include a sudden interest in personal grooming and fitness, late nights at the office, a new password on the cellphone, and changes in the frequency of your sex life.
But unfaithfulness doesn’t necessarily mean the cheating partner is a sex addict. While the warning signs of an affair can signal an addiction to sex, these twelve signs can indicate that an affair is merely a part of the bigger problem of sex addiction.
- A crossover to other addictions. Because addiction is a physiological dependence on the brain chemicals stimulated by the addictive drugs or behavior, the body reacts to drugs, alcohol, or sex in much the same way. And because an effective way to stop an addictive behavior is to replace it with something else, addicts frequently cross over from one addiction to the other. So if a person who has had an affair suddenly develops a dependence on alcohol, it could very well be a replacement of one addiction for the other.
- Lying. Yes, cheaters lie to cover their affairs. But addicts take the lying to new levels. If a spouse claims to have ended an affair but is still secretive and shady and unwilling to be completely transparent with a partner, it might be time to suspect an addiction.
- Chaos. Step One of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps is realizing that life has become unmanageable. A person who loses his wallet every third day, whose car has as much trash as Yankee Stadium after a double header, and who can’t seem to pay the water bill might be battling an addiction.
- Inexplicable rage. A husband who flies off the handle because his wife forgot to pick up his dry cleaning and fails to get dinner on the table promptly might be feeling guilty about his plans to meet his lover later that night. Or he might be angry at being unable to get his fix. Anger is a legitimate emotion, and happily married couples will argue and fight. But over-the-top rage that seems to come out of nowhere is often a signal of a guilty conscience.
- Absence. Simply put, a spouse who doesn’t see the need to be with the family is probably seeing the need to be with someone else. And the absence doesn’t have to be purely physical. A spouse who is emotionally withdrawn is, most likely, invested elsewhere.
- A willingness to lose everything. A cheater wants to have his cake and lick the frosting, too. An addict, however, can get so lost in the addiction that he seems willing to give up everything he loves for one more high. Of course, even an addict will claim to dearly love the spouse and to want the marriage to work. The tricky part is in looking past the lips and seeing what’s really in the heart. Rilke said, “A person isn’t who they are during the last conversation you had with them. They’re who they’ve been throughout your whole relationship.”
- Sexual neglect. I probably looked like Charlie Brown – sagging shoulders, beating my head against a wall – when my husband said this to me: “You’ve got to give me credit for one thing: I stopped having sex with you when the affair started.” Enough said.
- Blame. Addicts refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Interestingly, the blame is also what perpetuates the addiction because we can’t fix a situation we’re not responsible for.
- Suspicion. Remember the old playground taunt: “He who smelt it dealt it”? Or “it takes one to know one”? It’s the same with guilt. Because we see through the lens of what we are, addicts are often suspicious of others.
- Multiple affairs. One affair doesn’t necessarily mean a marriage is doomed. We all screw up sometimes. But a second, third, and fourth affair? Serial cheating is an almost certain sign of sex addiction.
- Escalation. The nature of addiction is that it requires bigger hits for the same high. If the bad behavior is getting more and more bizarre, sex addiction is a very real possibility.
- Obsession. Obsession and compulsivity are trademarks of an addictive personality. Someone who seems to be overly obsessed with an idea or activity one day and the next day has jumped to a completely different object of interest might have a proclivity toward addiction.
Of course, these signs can’t be used to professionally diagnose sex addiction. But being aware of them, especially in conjunction with marital turmoil, can help distinguish between an affair and sex addiction.