This should be the final post in the relapse series. If you want to catch up or review, the previous three posts have been:
- Married to a Sex Addict: Relapse
- Married to a Sex Addict: Watching the Spiral
- Married to a Sex Addict: Confrontation, Denial, and Deflection
Following a successful confrontation or intervention, some addicts may go through a kind of “breakdown” phase when forced to face what they have done and the harm they have caused. Acceptance of the problem, and the realization that he or she is solely responsible for those actions, can often bring feelings of guilt, shame, failure, and worthlessness. These feelings may result in an alarming emotional collapse.
The severity of the reaction will vary based on the severity of the slip or relapse and the addict’s pre-existing emotional state. Those who already suffer from depression or bipolar disorder (both of which are frequently co-morbid with addictions) are especially vulnerable at this point. Be alert for signs of serious depression, and encourage your partner to seek counseling or therapy for help in dealing constructively with these feelings.
Dealing with this emotional reaction is crucial, because those negative feelings can feed right back into the addiction cycle. Unfortunately, there is no way for a spouse to guarantee that this will not happen; ultimately, only the addict himself or herself can choose how to move forward from this point. The best thing a partner can do is provide support, accountability, and encouragement.
If the addict expresses feelings of failure, guilt, or self-loathing, try to steer the conversation in a productive direction.
- Ask your spouse if he or she feels this way because of the pornography or other addictive sexual behavior (if he or she has not already said so).
- If your partner feels guilty, ashamed, or worthless because of his or actions, ask something like “If doing these things makes you feel bad about yourself, do you want to stop?” Your spouse may express uncertainty, say yes, or indicate that he/she wants to stop but doubts that he/she can.
- Point out that help is available, and that you have confidence in your partner’s ability to get this behavior under control if he or she sincerely takes the right steps. Try to engage your partner in a discussion about stopping; suggest counseling or therapy, and a 12-step or other treatment program. Be positive and supportive.
This phase can be extremely frustrating for you as the addict’s partner, because the addict’s emotional needs may draw attention away from the pain, betrayal, and anger that you are probably feeling as a result of his or her actions. You may feel that your spouse is being emotionally demanding, selfish, or trying to get attention. You are certainly justified in feeling that it is extremely difficult to be an emotionally supportive, attentive, encouraging partner, given the pain your own partner has just inflicted on you through his or her actions. Having been through this myself, I strongly encourage you to
- Be honest with your spouse- but not cruel- about what you are going through. Let him or her know what you’re feeling and what your emotional needs are, and make sure that you hold your partner responsible for stepping up the plate and meeting those needs;
- Take care of yourself. Seek counseling or therapy to help you deal with your feelings and learn ways to cope, heal, and move forward.
If your partner responds to the situation appropriately, this low point can be the point from which recovery begins. However, it is very important to remember that both of you are recovering in your own ways. If you are both committed to each other and to repairing your relationship, work together to be sure that you are taking care of yourselves and each other.