01/06/2012 06:40 pm ET Updated Mar 07, 2012

Paranoia Or Instinct? How To Tell If Your Partner Is A Secret Sex Addict

How is it possible to feel right in a relationship ... when nothing feels right? The slightest emotional chill of disconnection can provoke suspicion; this seed takes root in the mind. No matter how strongly one discounts lingering doubts about a partner, that unsettling seed thought of 'something's not right' starts to sprout. "Is it me? Is it them? Am I so broken, I'll find fault with every relationship? Or is there really something wrong in this relationship?"

Pretty soon your love is teeming with fear, confusion, anxiety and mistrust -- utter sexual disorientation. How do you even broach this subject with your partner? If there's no reason for doubt, then you're being unreasonable by creating conflict. If there is cause for distrust, then you can't really trust anything your partner says, can you? Where do you place your faith?

The worst-case scenario is when your loved one is leading the double life of a sex addict. The potential heartbreak's made more intimidating by the fact that ... we've seen how it plays out in the media. Who hasn't heard a scandalous tale, or two, or twenty, where one lover betrays and blindsides the other? Maybe they're having an affair, or many affairs; they're sexting with strangers, trading explicit photos of themselves, watching illegal porn -- who knows what's possible when it comes to sexual feelings and secret behaviors? Social media provides a mine-field of opportunity for the casually wandering eye. Usually the wronged lover never has a clue, until they do.

What are the clues that your partner is being untrue? In the fifties, women were told to look out for lipstick on the collar, lingerie in the glove box and long nights at work with attractive secretaries. Wives, it seems, didn't dare cheat, or just never got caught. Today partners often discover indiscretions through following shady email trails or mysterious texts. By then, certain lines have been crossed -- in the name of love, of course -- such as a partner's right to privacy. But there are subtler signs to observe before suspicion propels you to commit interfering acts that compromise your personal integrity.

The first sign that something's not right in any relationship is usually that something doesn't feel right in the relationship.

Intuition is the art of knowing a particular truth without knowing the particular facts, although these facts are almost always clearly written into the fabric of one's life. If it's true that up to 65 percent of communication is nonverbal, then the majority of information that we receive has nothing to do with words and everything to do with body language.

Lies and cover-ups occur in real-time, in real life. When someone is engaged in any deception, it is often literally 'written on their face.'

So how do we lose our ability to read people? Have you ever heard of 'gaslighting'? This is a term taken from a 1938 stage play and subsequent film adaptations in which a husband attempts to drive his wife to insanity. He has married her to get at a fortune hidden in her attic, and his search causes the house gas lights to dim. The wife accurately notices this, but he insists it's in her imagination. According to Wikipedia, "gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception."

There's a line from Shakespeare that evokes this concept of gaslighting quite wonderfully:

"Doubt thou the stars are fire,

Doubt that the sun doth move,

Doubt Truth to be a liar,

But never doubt I love."

This is one of those fantastically irrational statements (so common with sex addicts) which have the effect, whether intended or not, to throw off all sense. The very structure of the sentiment, progressing as it does from the macrocosm of stars and suns to the microcosm of you and I, induces an emotional implosion. "Wow, whenever you speak I feel dizzy and disorientated -- this must be love!" In the third line, the authenticity of Truth itself is called into question, which begs the question -- if truth is a lie, then doesn't that make the truth that you love ... a lie?

It does sound very pretty. I'm sure Ophelia could have been easily placated by this admonition of Hamlet's affection ... before she went insane and drowned. (For the record, I have no idea regarding the nature of Hamlet's love for Ophelia, and I'm certainly not saying that Hamlet was a sex addict.)

These fantastically irrational statements that sound so pretty but feel so confusing, these practiced deceptions that deny truth have a noticeable effect -- the feeling that something's not right. It's this very feeling of paranoia itself that doesn't feel right, and if you tap into this feeling you will find it is not the first time you've felt this way. Very likely, we all know what it's like both to tell a lie and be told a lie.

If you are experiencing doubt and suspicion in a romantic relationship, it ultimately doesn't matter what the circumstances. The fact is that doubt itself reveals a pattern of personal behavior that deprives one of security and serenity, a pattern that is almost always based on previous experiences with deception that provoked some level of trauma, recognized or repressed. Doubt recurs, it's a pattern that repeats, and it can takes us out of our well-being; it's really a painful state -- suspended, frozen and paralyzed with questions. Unknowingly, we are propelled into relationships that will repeat our past patterns with the misguided hope to resolve them.

The solution is the same, whether your partner is cheating or it's all in your head. You reach out for help either to professionals or support groups. Personally, I don't know another way around this. Research shows that most partners preferred way of dealing with betrayal trauma is through isolation. Usually partners don't want to go to family or friends if they suspect a mate of being unfaithful, because it can upset the balance of all these personal relationships and generate or amplify bias. Sure, you can simply sit with the dread and despair, and hope that your doubt goes away like the flu, until it returns, of course, starting this process all over. Or you can get help. A simple internet search for sex addiction, intimacy therapy, partner's counseling or free support groups (such as COSA, CoDA and Al-Anon) will turn up wonders. The good news is that any time and energy you devote to resolving these kinds of emotional issues will create intimacy in all your relationships, without any doubt.