The role of your spouse in recovery from sexual addiction

bigstock_Thoughtful_Woman_386151If you are married, your spouse can help or hinder your recovery, but they can’t make or break it. They can make your recovery easier or harder … but no matter how helpful they are, you still have to do the work yourself. Conversely, no matter how difficult, dysfunctional, or stuck in anger your spouse is, you can still move toward health and recovery … if you really want to.

You can’t move forward in your recovery if you’re holding your spouse responsible for it. Some sexual strugglers think their problem would be solved if only their spouse was more sexually available or responsive. Others think their recovery is on hold because their spouse is angry about their sexual behavior and isn’t supportive enough of the efforts they’re making in recovery.

The list of ways that addicts turn the keys of their recovery over to their spouses is endless … and sad. It’s time to take the keys back, and keep the responsibility for recovery on our own shoulders.

In other posts on this website, we have made the point that the first step in the 12 Steps is to recognize our powerlessness over our addictive behavior … that we can’t control our sexual compulsion without outside help. But let’s be clear: that outside help comes from God first, other recovering strugglers second, and our spouse (if we’re married) a very distant third.

Our spouses are the beneficiaries of our recovery, not the facilitators of it.

Many people struggle not only in recovery, but also in life, because they rely almost exclusively on their spouses for emotional support. Not having other friends that they relate to on a deep level, they are only able to share about emotional things with their spouse. As a result, they become too dependent (codependent) on their spouse’s emotional support. So if their spouse is happy, they are happy. If their spouse is sad or angry, they feel sad or guilty.

Instead of being a person we relate to on an intimate level, our spouse becomes our emotional thermostat. Our emotional “temperature” rises or falls based on what our spouse’s dial reads.

Spouses respond in many various ways to addicts’ sexual struggles. Some are supportive and forgiving … others are extremely sad, angry, and/or judgmental. It might surprise you to realize that in some ways, the angry, sad, or judgmental spouse might be more helpful for an addicts’ recovery than the supportive and forgiving one. A spouse who is understanding and doesn’t express hurt or anger may enable an addict to continue his or her destructive behavior, because the addict doesn’t experience any negative consequences.

The role of your spouse in recovery from addiction is simple: your spouse can support you to look honestly at your behaviors, and encourage you to do the work of recovery. But the work is yours to do.

 

This post has been an excerpt from our Recovery Journey program- a 90-day, home-study course that assists people in the process of recovery from sexual addiction.

 

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9 thoughts on “The role of your spouse in recovery from sexual addiction”

  1. This piece is key-if I am dependent on my spouse for my emotional well-being, then I am vulnerable. If my emotions rise and fall on how she is feeling, I can easily be thrown off my “recovery zone” and triggered by the negative feelings into old coping mechanisms.

    1. I am not sure how a spouse can be supportive to someone who is lying and lusting after other women actively. I think it shows little understanding about how it feels to live with someone like this to accuse them of being judgmental.

      1. Sandy,

        Thanks for your comment. I would agree that it doesn’t work for a spouse to be supporting to “someone who is lying and lusting after other women actively.” There are many different kinds of relationships, and people are at varying places in their recovery or maybe still active in addiction. When a spouse is active in their addiction, of course it’s super painful and destructive — being supportive of that would be inappropriate. What I was referring to in the article is the situation where someone is on a good track and is active in their recovery and their spouse is still stuck in anger, resentment, and criticism. The reality is there are many different situations and dynamics with couples I work with. Just take what applies to your situation, and know that some things are meant for other situations. Blessings to you … and I hope your situation gets better.

  2. My husband and I have been going through this hell for just shy of a year now. Throughout the last year his problems have been uncovered, culminating in his attending a 35 day in-treatment recovery program for sex addiction and alcohol abuse. Although I sometimes had nagging feelings that things were off, I had no idea infidelity was a part of our marriage for the past four years (after an affair I discovered and forgave him for) much less the entirety of our 18 years together. He is now very committed to his recovery, as far as I can tell, and to our spiritual and emotional growth as a couple and family. But the resentment, anger, and absolute brokenheartedness are so much to bear. I find myself doubting whether we should even be trying to move on as a couple, with so much in the way. At times I have breakdowns which I know bring him down, but knowing our life has been in many ways a lie…linking precious memories to his acting out, dealing with sexual baggage, and fearing a relapse…it’s a lot. I am definitely seeking out self care through therapy, meditation, writing, groups, etc. but I am not the spouse who hides her feelings or experiences. Still I worry that my struggles take the wind out of his sails. I know he is responsible for that. I wish there were more success stories out there because sometimes I feel like this is impossible. And like we are crazy for even attempting to remain together.

    1. Artemisia,

      Thanks for writing. I’m very sorry to hear your story. You are right that there is a lot of hurt and mistrust to work through. For what it’s worth, I do know of couples who have worked through sex addiction struggles and found recovery and restoration, even when the addiction manifested itself with multiple affairs. It requires intense work of recovery for the addict (and pristine sobriety), intense work for the spouse, and intense work as a couple on rebuilding the relationship. Some couples — after a period of recovery — get “remarried” as a way of starting over. I would encourage you to get in touch with Debbie Laaser at faithfulandtrue.com. She works with women in situations like yours, and has a story similar to yours in terms of what she needed to work through. Blessings.

  3. This website has given me strength and comfort
    I have been living with the destruction that porn addiction brings for 13 years ! My husband has been in and out of recovery groups because he just won’t stay long enough His anger is out of control in hour home and now his job memory and everything is falling apart we have been seperated for 6 mos and I finally brought everything to our church pastoral care team and have found support he is going to another recovery group starting next week because I told him I will not tolerate this impact anymore not for myself or for him I am praying that this time he listens !

    1. Thanks for writing Asy. I’m sorry to hear about your story, and especially to hear about your husband’s anger being out of control in your home. Do whatever you need to do for your own safety and well-being — as well as your children, if you have children. Please be sure to see that there is a track record of ongoing recovery work before you take him back into the house. Nevermind what he says … pay attention to what he does over time.

  4. Hi Mark , I appreciate many of the points you have made in this article , but I need to comment on your thoughts that the wife be a very distant third after other ” recovering strugglers second ” . After doing many years of my own recovery work with counselors and support groups I have observed that to be NOT true based on first hand testimonies and a few professionals counsel as well . One example in particular is fairly reflective of what can and often does occur ; the husband has fine tuned his deceptions over the years and has the counsel and support system convinced he is doing terrific and his wife is stuck in anger and unforgiveness . In spite of her bringing poor recovery character to the counselor, that she was very concerned about , she is viewed as angry , paranoid and suspicious ….then come to discover he had been acting out for months or years ‘undercover’ as before , only wiser to all the right words to say . One professional in this addiction for many years said , ” I have found if a couple is failing to move forward after getting help , someone is not being honest . ” Of course it can be the spouse , although the addict has had an addiction to protect for many years and is probably a lot better at it . My ‘ laymans’ opinion on this is just that , my opinion . I have had hundreds of hours of counsel from a wide variety of professionals and ministry , in my search for help . One professional is Earl Wilson and his wife Sandy , of Tuff Stuff Ministries in Oregon . He writes in his book ” Steering Clear ” of the highly valuable role of his wife and how his own counselor held her input as vital to Earls recovery . I share all this in hope of helping others avoid many more years trapped in deception and pain . Telling addicts that a spouses role is third , below other recovering addicts , may easily be just another excuse an addict is looking for to shove the spouse out of the picture and have her ‘ voice’ even more silenced . Her thoughts and feelings have usually been ignored for many years prior to discovery already , this can be a huge mistake . I do hope you will revisit your thoughts on this .

    1. Thanks for writing Allie. You might be hearing me say in the article that the spouse’s role in the addict’s recovery is not important. That’s NOT what I’m trying to say. The spouse’s role IS important. But my concern is that, all too often, the addict relies TOO MUCH on the spouse, without the other things being in place. He or she does not do their own difficult spiritual work, and they do not develop supportive relationships with others in recovery … and then they over-rely on their spouse to be their support network, sponsor, etc. If the addict is trying to ignore or “shove the spouse out of the picture” or silence the spouse’s voice … other people in that person’s recovery group — especially the addict’s sponsor — should be calling him or her out on that behavior.

      You point out that sometimes an addict is living in deception, continuing to act out, and the spouse can be helpful in pointing out behaviors that are antithetical to solid recovery. Of course that’s true, and super important. But in those situations, I would ask, “Okay, but in a situation like that … what is the quality of the addict’s spiritual path in their recovery work? Are they working through the 12 steps? What is happening with his or her connections with a recovery group? Are they going to meetings? Do they have friends who are recovering, and are they learning from each other? Where is his or her sponsor, and what is the sponsor saying and doing?”

      All too often, the spouse’s role in the addict’s recovery becomes so central to the recovery path BECAUSE THESE OTHER IMPORTANT FACTORS ARE LACKING. The best path — which I hope you and agree on — is that the addict is working a strong program of their own recovery, doing the hard spiritual work of looking inside (generally through working the steps), and he or she is also deeply committed to attending a support group, has a sponsor who is involved in that person’s life, may well be seeing a counselor … AND has a spouse who is active and supportive in the recovery process.

      Too often what I observe — and what I’m trying to point out in the article — is the danger of trying to “do recovery” without the first parts of that equation being functional and strong. Because then what usually happens then is that the addict struggles, (and then usually lies about it), and the spouse gets more and more frustrated.

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