When my husband’s sex addiction nearly ended our marriage, the thing that held us together and eventually got us through the devastation was our friendship. The old adage that friendship is the basis of every lasting relationship sounds almost trite after so many repetitions, but here’s the thing- it’s still true. I chose to stick with my husband through all the ups and downs of this illness because even on our worst day, he actually is my best friend. If you can find that and hold onto it in your own relationship, your chances of making it through this are drastically improved.
As you move forward toward recovery- recovery from your spouse’s addiction, recovery from the pain you now feel, and recovery of your relationship- each of you individually, and the two of you as a couple, will face stress and challenges. You will both have serious work to do, but it is essential to take a step back from the work of rebuilding your relationship and reacquaint yourselves with the things that make your relationship fun. You may find that an afternoon spent playing games together or hiking in a new park together can do more toward repairing your marriage than months of therapy.
It’s also worth remembering that time your spouse spends playing games or taking walks in the park with you is time that he or she is not spending looking at pornography or engaging in other addictive behaviors, which means that time spend doing things together is also time spend actively progressing toward recovery.
Especially if your usual approach to spending time together is based more on watching TV or talking about the kids, you both need to make sure to change up your routine and do more interactive, enjoyable things together. Get off the couch and go have fun!
- Create together. Building or creating something together is fun, but it also reminds both of you what you can accomplish together and gives you a tangible reminder of what great partners you can be. Lego kits are great ways to build something together even if neither of you is inherently creative, and they are surprisingly fun even if you think you’re a grown-up. Coloring together is another silly but fun option. If you want to do something a bit more “mature,” most cities have a business that lets you paint your own pottery or walks you through re-creating an actual painting.
- Explore together. Check out local museums. Go hiking. Explore a nearby city that you’ve never visited. Sharing new experiences can be a great way to bond, and getting out of your usual environment can help remind you both who you are together beyond the addiction and its impact.
- Learn together. Sign up for a class together; pick something fun that you both have an interest in, whether it’s a new language, a new hobby, or a fitness activity. As you share the experience of growing and expanding your horizons, you can also support and encourage each other in learning and improving. This kind of mutual support will bring you closer together, and it will also equip you both well for facing the challenges ahead.
- Play together. It will do you both good to just relax and have some fun together, and it will help you both remember how much you enjoy each other’s company. Board games are a classic example; video games are also great. Games with cooperative modes are especially helpful, because they let you face challenges together and share the excitement of overcoming them (plus, it’s hard to see someone as the enemy when he or she just saved you from being eaten by a dragon).
- Read together. Read to each other, alternating chapters or paragraphs, or just pick up your own copies of the same book and read it together. Make sure you make time to discuss the book. Good conversations and a shared interest are important in any relationship.
At least one of you is probably concerned about regaining the kind of physical intimacy you had before your spouse’s addiction took its toll; as difficult as it might be, try to focus on the non-sexual aspects of your relationship at this point. Emphasize emotional connection, good conversations, companionship, and shared fun. The physical intimacy you want back will return in time as your relationship heals, and it is best and healthiest if it flows naturally from your loving relationship rather than because one or both of you thinks it should be happening.
Take time to rediscover each other and what a great time you can have together. Rebuild your friendship first; everything else will flow from that.