Couples can get through the crisis of sex addiction and recovery and they very often do so, more often in fact than you would think given how traumatic the disclosure of sex addiction is to a relationship.

Part of the reason that couples can get through the upheaval of sex addiction and recovery I think is that the addiction is really not a problem that is a product of the relationship or marriage.  Sex addiction has roots that go way back into childhood attachment issues and involve patterns of coping behavior that existed well before the marriage.

The following are six basic things that couples need to know and do in order to have the best chance of having a good relationship in the future.

  1. Do the work.  Most sex addicts find it impossible to quit on their own.  I have seen couples go for years without confronting the problem and their relationship just continues to deteriorate.  Partners are often the ones who have to provide the motivation for the addict to seek treatment.  Many addicts will only get help after their partner lowers the boom.  Partners must also be in therapy.  Partners are not the cause of the problem but they need a great deal of help and support if the couple is going to make it.
  1. Get some separation from each other in the beginning of treatment.  Many couples make the mistake of trying to confront sex addiction as a couple.  Sex addiction is not that kind of problem.  Couples may have many problems as a couple in terms of openness, communication, and so on, but they can only deal with those after the sex addiction has been treated for a while.  It is actually a good idea to live separately for a while without making a decision about divorce.
  1. Abstain from sex for 6 months.  Abstaining from all sex will likely be a part of the sex addict’s program in the beginning of treatment.  (The reasons for this are described in my Pushing the Pause Button blog.)  This period of abstaining includes abstaining from sex with spouses and partners of the addict.  This may be difficult or easy, or it may seem counter-intuitive but it is part of the process.
  1. Get “pre-marital” counseling later on.  Each person gets help with their own therapist and their own 12-step support group prior to coming together to work on “the relationship.”  In other words, both people are going to undergo a lot of changes in the course of getting healthier through treatment.  In some ways each partner will not be the same person they were before.  It remains to be seen whether these two “new” people want to be together or not.
  1. Be more honest than you ever thought of being.  A healthy intimate relationship demands a level of honesty, commitment and a willingness to share all parts of yourself with your partner.  It also involves letting go of competitiveness and truly being there for your spouse or partner, not only in terms of what they ask of you but in your ability to respond to and support who they are.
  1. Be prepared to continue to work on your relationship.  It is easy to backslide and become complacent.  Old patterns and ways of behaving can creep back in (also see my blog on how sex addiction can resurface in subtle ways.)  Some couples go to couple retreats periodically or go to couple intensive workshops to give themselves a booster shot.  And be supportive of each other’s continued work in individual recovery.

Sex addiction recovery takes a long time; three to five years for substantial recovery to be achieved.  Couples who decide to stick it out together need to take a very long view.  Both addicts and partners tend to panic in the early phase of discovery and often overreact one way or the other.  But keeping a level head and reminding yourselves that it is a long process and that you can get through it will be an invaluable tool.

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  1. This is very sad reading and I hope anyone in recovery reading this will take heed. Follow these steps if you want to restore your marriage, end it or plan on a lifetime of misery.

    I couldn’t believe when I first got into recovery that healing of a marriage could take 3-5 years, it seemed like such an incredibly long time. Unfortunately I am coming up on 5 years of sobriety and personal recovery but my marriage is a very sad situation with little hope for change. I accepted my responsibility from the beginning and know that I alone am responsible for the choices I made and man I was.

    While we tried various counselors/pastors/prayer/books we have never been able to move past the pain that I’ve caused and into healing. If anything remotely was brought up about our marriage or wife the counseling session would be ending soon. We’ve never been able to process some of our core couple issues. I feel that without this we will always be in a cycle of denial. I don’t know any way to get us into couples recovery but with what I’ve done I don’t feel I have a right to move on. I’ll continue my individual work and pray for a change of heart.

    Take heed,

    • Gene, my husband sounds much like you. He has accepted this as all him but we do not understand what you are saying when you state’ if anything is brought up about marriage or wife the session would be ending soon’ and also you say you are not able to get past core couple issues?

    • Process your ‘core couple issues’? You may think your doing it all right but but the waking up to your not being exclusive is an issue that stands like a sandblaster against any ability to ‘deal with other issues’. For a woman it takes three years to believe what has happened and to begin to wish she simply didnt die instead. A beginning happens if your willing to internalize not being special, entitled or deserving your not there yet. On the trauma scale sexual betrayal ranks higher that being caught in a hurricane, assaulted during a stranger robbery or being caught in a fire..all things people are generally grateful to survive. Surviving your spouses sexual betrayal leaves a person with less. Youve destroyed a persons core trust. Five years out you may be still dealing with her damage because your not rid of your fundamental entitlement issue. Go to The Meadows for a month. Be honest. Get rid of every bit of ‘but she..our issues..her issues’. Thats all bullshit. Your ‘cycle of denial’ bullshit..stop it. Got to a hard core recovery program and get over your fantasy that she isnt moving along to healthy fast enough.

      • My husband and I struggled with his sex addiction when it was diagnosed during counseling – and after 39 years together, it was a rude awakening for me to discover my husband had struggled with the problem for most of our married life.

        Sex addiction typically begins for men at an early age triggered by pornography. It literally rewires the brain patterns as the addiction morphs into full blown control. It is difficult to reverse, but it is possible. There is no greater mental anguish – for both parties, but with sincere commitment, dedication, and support on both sides, reconciliation and true recovery are possible.

        Addicts in the grip of the affliction do not want to be there! But he or she often struggles in an invisible prison seemingly inescapable. It is a revolving door – like a hamster on the spinning wheel that just won’t stop without help.

        The first step is to confront the years of denial and shame, take accountability for the behavior, find a support group, be completely honest, make amends, and don’t stop until you find the peace waiting on the other side – separate or together.

        We did go through counseling, and it did help us take some forward steps, but the program that really set us both on the road to reconciliation and recovery was a local Celebrate Recovery (CR) group sponsored by a local church.

        I can’t recommend CR highly enough for anyone struggling with any type of addiction – sexual or otherwise. There are THOUSANDS of Celebrate Recovery groups meeting every week around the world – search your community or surrounding neighborhood for a group meeting near you, and take advantage of a wonderful opportunity to find healing for both the addict and partner. I also recommend the book “Out of the Shadows” by Patrick J Carnes for the partner of a sex addict. It helped me to understand the struggles my husband battled. It won’t absolve the behavior, but it will bring some understanding to a mind searching for answers.

        Both parties are wounded by addiction, and both deserve a chance to evaluate, self explore, take a pause, heal, and in many cases find new beginnings – together.

        • Thank you Janet. Five weeks in to finding out my husband has had a sex addiction and has acted out physically most of our marriage of 18 years has been crippling.
          We are both seeking treatment from sec addiction councillors. We are both following the Carnes workbooks.
          I feel very broken-but I love him and our 4 boys.
          I am so sad and heartbroken…but I still have hope. He is relieved to be revealed and very ready to put his addiction behind him with as much therapy as it takes.
          Fingers crossed-I’m taking a huge leap of faith.

          • Hi Sue, like you, I am a
            So five weeks into discovering my husbands sex addiction for the last five years. We have been married 30 years and I am total and utterly devastated at his betrayal. There are days I don’t know how to function.

            However, he is also committed to staying in the marriage and I want to give it a try too. It is not easy.

            I am battling to find a good therapist for myself but we have an excellent one we see together.

            I know this is a long journey and hope I have the strength to see it through.

            Your message made me realize I am not on my own.
            Thank you.


          • I am three weeks into finding out my husband of 18 years has a sex addiction. It progressed from cybersex to multiple real life sexual encounters, all the while he engaged in these behaviors he pulled away from me sexually. He told me he had a low libido. Now he tells me he couldn’t face what he was doing and be intimate with me at the same time.

            I’m beyond devastated We are in marriage counseling now. I don’t know what to do. He wants the marriage at any cost but I’m so lost right now.

      • Maria of the cat falls, are you still Online to see this message? I’d like to talk if you are.

    • Sadly as I read your story I don’t see that you’ve done the work. Maybe you’re in process. But the fact that you’re out on the internet saying anything negative in ANY way about someone you hurt is the same selfish behavior that got you here in the first place. Empathy and understanding and owning what you did should never entail complaining on your part. YOU chose to do this to her. She did not CHOOSE to have this done to her. If she’s worth it you’ll just take it and work on beinga better man.

  2. I found out about my husband’s addiction 8 months ago. Since then I have been a train wreak and diagnosed with PTSD. I am a take charge woman and don’t usually sit and wait for things. During this process my husband has only admitted to viewing porno, but there is obvious things that show he is in chatting to and meeting women but it is not him he says. I have done so much to give him the benefit of doubt. But facts are facts . He is in CR and doing step study there has been some change but still not rigorous honesty. He says he has not done anything since I found out and he has not talked to anyone online for sex purpose or never had sex with someone else. But lie detector and apps show different. I feel inside I may have to let him go. But I have been with him for 26 years and the thought of him not there kill me Just as bad as all the lies. Is it time for tough love?

    • I am in the same predicament. I have been married 17 years and dated 7 years prior. It is hard to live without him but it is just as painful to live with him not knowing if he is deceiving me. I don’t know what to do.

      • My world collapsed in April of 2016. This April I will be 2 years completely sober from pornography, masturbation, and massages. I also gave up alcohol a year ago and it has been a HUGE help.
        Coming to terms with my addiction was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. That said, it saved my life. I am a better father, friend, and husband as a result of the therapy, group sessions and LIFE Recovery group I joined. I have found less destructive ways to deal with stress and anxiety… (lots of sugar and believe it or not- TALKING to my wife about my feelings).
        I am certain my wife has not yet forgiven me. All I can do is work on “my side of the street”. What’s super odd is that I feel closer to my wife now than ever before. I tell her everything. I live a very transparent life. I take responsibility for bad choices and I don’t get defensive as often as I used to. Most of all I stop “justifying” or telling myself I’m “entilteled” to act anything out of the ordinary. I read the responses above and I can’t believe how far I have come. It takes so much work. I pray one day my wife will feel close to me again. servimg others is fulfilling and it’s insane how great life is when you are present with your family and friends. Isolation is a mans worst enemy. I hope this blurb gives others hope. Don’t give up.

    • I know this situation all to well. I have a wife of 23 years 18 married and have a 4 year old
      He was putting on a show to give you a little and keep the addiction going. 5 times all triggered by depression or anxiety. Usually would take about 3 months to catch her in the act.
      Totally justified in his head. 10 years this has been going on for us. Everyday at some point I feel betrayed by her acts and immediately talk to her about it honestly and openly. She also tells me when she hears the voice that encourages her to act out and exactly what it was pushing her to do. I hope you have made progress. But either help or get out. You can’t be half way or you will only drive yourself crazy.

  3. Obviously you have never been a partner of a sex addict. The marriage is already starved of any physical contact. Perhaps for years. “Abstain from sex for 6 months.” They have probably been non-sexual for years.

  4. I am still in the hoping to die stage. It has been 3 years since I started finding out. Almost a year since I caught the last lie. He is a model for recovery accept he kept lying time after time re shattering my heart over and over. I can not believe his sincere claims because he had tge tears and was so sincere but still lying. Recently a couples friends died and before I could feel sad I thought why could that not have been me.and how lucky they were. I have been thinking of all the ways a person could die. I cannot be sexual with him as he shared that part of his life with others. The sanon group that was here made me want to kill myself and it dissolved so there are no groups here.

    • Carol- I just got the bomb dropped on me 2 weeks ago. I am a practicing Christian who JUsT finishes 20 weeks of biblical counseling training when he decided to confess. and my husband attended church but was not “all in” for God. He says he wants to be now. He is telling me all the details as I ask and I have so many questions I don’t think will be answered for a long time until he figures out the deep psychological reasons he needed to live in shame and turn to porn and other women. 1 of 4 marriages have some form of adultery. Even in the church. This is a damaging disease and devastates a marriage. You are in a place of deep fear. My heart goes out to u. God loves you intensely Carol. If you are not a believer I encourage you to seek Him. Read the gospel of John. There are thousands of promises in the Bible u can stand on. Psalm 23 for one. I just read “Love must be tough” by Charles Dobson. If your husband is still lying you have to separate from him physically to show him you mean business. If he promises to change say “good. I love u but I won’t tolerate you lying anymore. In 3 months give him a lie detector test (this can be done). Tell him if he passes you will come back. If you stay you are enabling him. I told my husband that along with biblical counseling and Celebrate Recovery and taking other steps to recover ..reading and studying the Bible, putting Covenant Eyes on all his devices where he watched porn, quitting his job ( one woman was at work)..and anything else he can do to start building trust…that he needs to make big life changes and I will leave for good if he cheats again.
      I pray God pulls you out of the slimy pit of anguish and hopelessness and sets you upon a high rock of safety and hope.

  5. This syndrome is misdiagnosed as an addiction. It is abuse pure and simple and committed by people who feel entitled. It needs to be treated as an abusuve issue and the spouses as having an extreme stress response to having been abused, raped by deception and betrayed by a trusted spouse. Our paradigm is wrong and that is why there is no progress only bs.

    • Agreed the spouse needs help. What do you think the betrayer needs if anything? Maybe just the usual consequences of his or her actions i.e. divorce, loss of jobs, careers, sometimes incarceration. Is that enough or do you just not have an opinion on that part?

      • I don’t believe in the cheater getting a free ride because he is a “victim”. That is how I read your response, Linda. My husband is a well respected business owner and has received nothing but “poor you. You are a great man and have our support. You are a great friend and good person”.

    • Amen, Ann.

  6. Sounds daunting. I thought by mid 60’s (age-wise) we would be all through this mess.

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