Susan is married to Bill, a sex addict who was having multiple affairs. Bill put Susan through countless lies, deceit, and a series of betrayals the last several years of their marriage. He came alone to one of our three-day intensives. For Susan, it was one last shred of hope that Bill would change, and whatever happened to the marriage, she knew that she needed help, too.
With roughly 12 million people suffering from sexual addiction in the United States according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the impact of sexual addiction is a very real problem that is chaotic and destructive to marriages and families. The extent to which someone like Susan, the spouse of an addict, is impacted depends on a number of variables, such as how long the addiction has been present, whether it has progressed to more blatant and potentially serious behavior, whether there are children in the family, or if there are other addictions present.
We offered Susan therapy using GoToMeeting for confidentiality and explained the six stages of recovery to her. She found it helpful to learn that the stages are normal and expected in the recovery process for the addict’s partner.
Let’s take a look at the six stages of recovery as defined by Dr. Carnes, how we used them to help Susan, and what you can expect on your road to recovery.
The developing/pre-discovery stage is first, and it takes place before the partner learns about the addict’s acting-out behaviors. At this stage, the partner is likely to have suspicions that something is not right. For some time, Susan had suspected something wasn’t right with Bill. He was frequently defensive and angry, and often stayed late at work for unknown reasons. He also had very little interest in being intimate with her.
The crisis stage, stage two, involves the partner discovering the addict’s sexual acting-out behavior. For Susan, it started in the early days of their marriage. One day she inadvertently stumbled upon a computer file with pornographic pictures. When she confronted Bill, he promised that it would never happen again. In the last several years, there were fewer and fewer times of accountability. Then, she overheard a phone call and questioned Bill, who denied the allegations of what Susan says she heard. It was only when she called the number that a woman answered and revealed Bill’s sexual relationship with his co-worker.
Bill was very controlling and manipulative during this time. At times, Susan thought that she was losing her mind. She couldn’t stand the anxiety and stress anymore. That’s when she called our office and asked for help. Good things can come from this stage if the partner begins gathering resources or seeks professional help.
The third stage is shock. For Susan, this involved a period of numbness and forestalling, and times of conflict. She felt overwhelming feelings of anger, resentment, hopelessness, and feelings of great confusion and self-doubt. This is a very normal, but painful stage to experience.
The fourth stage is grief and ambivalence. There came a day not long before Susan called us that she shifted her focus away from Bill and more toward her well-being. She started to look inward and to grieve the losses. She started to discover a new honesty. Further, she was willing to face what was salvageable and worth saving in her marital relationship. More importantly, she started to look at the issue of her own health and self-care.
The fifth stage is repair. In this stage, the partner is deeply engaged in self-care. For Susan, this meant entering into a therapeutic separation. She needed some time to focus on her needs. The separation would provide an opportunity for Bill to decide whether he wanted to really be free from his addiction and remain married. It was liberating for Susan to hold her mate accountable without getting pulled into his drama and deceptive games. She set healthy boundaries and maintained them. While she focused on her needs for getting well, she waited to see if Bill would engage in a trustworthy program of recovery.
The final stage is described as growth. In Susan’s case, this was marked by a transformation in her feelings of no longer being a victim but an overcomer. There is often growth in the relationship as the couple relates on a new and healthier level. Bill worked hard on his recovery during their five-month separation. He had maintained his sobriety for more than 90 days. He went to his support group each week and contacted his accountability partners each day. He also visited his pastor weekly for spiritual support. Susan and Bill also saw a therapist and began to work on honest and caring communication.
It can be devastating to find that one’s partner is involved with porn, adultery, or other sexual acting-out behavior. These six stages of recovery can take months or years to go through, the stages are not always in sequence, and at times, they can overlap.
Fortunately for Susan and Bill, they worked hard and came out the other side with a solid commitment to healing. If you find yourself trapped in the cycle of sexual addiction like Bill, or if you are like Susan, the spouse of a sexual addict, there is hope and freedom and healing to be found. Contact us today to begin the road to recovery.
Three-Day Intensives held at Wings of Grace Counseling Services in Colorado Springs, Colorado, are available Friday through Sunday. Call to schedule your Intensive at (719) 644-5557.