Guided conversations to build intimacy between addicts and spouses

CoupleCouples in recovery need to stay connected emotionally, and addicts’ spouses need to get consistent updates about sobriety. People struggling with sexual addiction/dependence often have a hard time with this — they resist the accountability of regular sobriety updates, and they struggle to know how to build emotional intimacy in general. On top of this, most couples – even when addiction is not present – find that in the busyness of a typical week, this emotional connection gets easily lost.

Over time, my colleagues Mark and Debbie Laaser have developed an acronym for couples to use as a guide for regular “check in” conversations. These conversations can be long or short, it’s up to you. We use the acronym FANOS – from the Greek word phainos which means “to bring to light” – to guide the conversation:

  • Feelings – Describe what / how you’re feeling
  • Affirmations – Find one or two things you want to affirm about your spouse. This could be something you want to thank them for, or some kind of praise or affirmation you want to extend.
  • Needs – Something you need today, not necessarily from your spouse. (Hint to the sexually addicted  spouse: saying “my need to today is to have more sex with you” is not recommended.)
  • Own – Something you’ve done or said that you take responsibility or apologize for. This could be something you’ve done wrong, or some way you hurt your spouse, and you need to ask forgiveness. It could also be something you recognize is hard for your spouse, or something you’re doing what – while not wrong – is making things unpleasant (eg. snoring, or being moody, or working late).
  • Sobriety – Give a report on the status of your sobriety.

To go through the conversation, one person goes through all five “questions” or topics in a row. Then it’s the other spouse’s turn. I suppose it’s obvious, but the spouse of the addict does not check in about sobriety. Depending on how much detail you want to go into, the conversation can last 5-10 minutes, or over an hour.

My wife and I have used “FANOS” conversations for over five years. Early on, we tried to do these conversations every day. Now we do them several times a week. We find that when we go through this conversation, if there is time, we wind up asking each other clarifying questions, or thinking of other things to say beyond a strict answer.

Try using this acronym as a guide for a conversation with your spouse every day or every few days. You will be amazed at the sense of ongoing intimacy you experience.

One husband says: “FANOS conversations have been a key part of re-building intimacy and trust in our marriage. Sometimes we go through them quickly, and just give short updates, other times the questions open up issues that we spend more time on. They’ve been really helpful for my recovery, and great for our relationship.”

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