If your spouse has just come forward with a sexual addiction, he or she has a long and difficult journey ahead. As a loving, compassionate partner, there are a few things you can do to provide support and encouragement during this process.
- Understand your limits. While there are things you can do to support your spouse’s recovery, it is important to understand that ultimately, you are not responsible for his or her behavior or decisions. Try to be a positive influence and a source of encouragement and accountability, but do not place the entire burden of your partner’s recovery on your own shoulders, and do not blame yourself for relapses or failures.
- Educate yourself. As with any chronic illness affecting a family members, you should try to develop a working understanding of your spouse’s illness and its treatment options. This will help you be a more knowledgeable, savvy source of support and give you some basis for evaluating what your partner tells you. Understanding how addiction works may also help you in processing your own feelings about your spouse’s actions. Learning about the implications of this disease can also empower you to make informed decisions about your own well-being if necessary.
- Stay involved. Talk to your spouse about his or her progress; ask what he or she is struggling with lately and how he or she is feeling. This is a good way to show your concern for your partner in the process of staying aware. You should also talk with your spouse’s therapist or counselor periodically; it isn’t a good idea to attend every session, but you should check in once in a while, with your partner’s consent, to stay updated on progress, challenges, and concerns.
- Hold your partner accountable. Accountability helps reinforce the behavioral changes your spouse is trying to make. Exchange email, social networking, instant messaging, and other passwords with your partner so that you can see he or she is not visiting inappropriate sites- and so that your spouse knows that there are no more places for addictive behavior to hide. You should also encourage your spouse to seek a trustworthy same-gender accountability partner who can provide extra help.
- Express yourself constructively. You will need to express a lot of emotion during this process as you recover and heal, especially if your spouse relapses. Try to do so calmly and constructively. Ask yourself whether your goal is to vent your anger or to actually help your partner understand your feelings, persuade him or her to do something, or elicit a productive reaction. Approach the conversation accordingly; yelling is a practical way to vent, but it seldom achieves anything else.
- Don’t forget the positive. If your partner has been “clean” for a period of time, progressed in his or her treatment program, or made another positive change, make a special effort to express that you notice and appreciate the progress. Tell your spouse that you are proud of him or her. During the recovery process, there will be more than enough negative things to express, and both you and your partner can be overwhelmed by that; take time to point out something positive. It will encourage your spouse and help remind you that he or she is working hard and improving.
- Get help for yourself. Remember that your spouse is not the only person who has a process of recovery ahead. You have been hurt badly, and you may be dealing with acute depression or anxiety; a professional counselor or therapist can help you cope with these feelings, process and express your anger in healthy ways, and repair the damage to your self-esteem. You will not be much help to your partner if you are not relatively stable yourself.
- Seek counseling together. There are really three entities which have been harmed by your partner’s addiction: your spouse, yourself, and the two of you as a couple. A professional counselor or therapist can act as a mediator, sounding board, and source of advice as you move forward. He or she can help prevent your discussions from turning into arguments, offer strategies for restoring trust, affection and intimacy, and hold you both accountable for your actions. This is much more effective than trying to flounder through this process without help.