As you begin the recovery process together, both partners in the marriage have a lot of work to do. Spouses, these are things you should ask from your recovering partner to demonstrate good faith and repair the damage done by his or her addiction. Recovering addicts, these are things you should willingly do for your spouses, for your marriage, and for yourself.
- Exchange passwords. As a couple, you should exchange passwords for email accounts, instant-messaging services, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, photo-sharing services like Flickr and Photobucket, blogs, forums, and any other online profiles or services. Why? Some porn sites require email registration; also, some cases of sex addiction can lead to behaviors like cyber-sex, or even online affairs or offline hookups. This makes password-sharing an important tool for transparency. Sharing and transparency shouldn’t be one-sided, though; neither partner needs to feel like the other has control over the relationship.
- Agree on access to browser histories, computer files, and cell phones. This is another important transparency tool. Most modern cell phones also come with an internet browser, a camera, and messaging capabilities, any of which could facilitate a relapse. When I looked at the files on my husband’s computer in the days after a major relapse, I was shocked by how many hundreds of pornographic images I found. Recovering addicts, your spouse needs the peace of mind that comes with being able to see that your computer is porn-free, and you need the support of someone who will hold you accountable. It is important to agree on rules and permission in advance. Neither partner should ever just snoop in the other’s belongings without asking, because such behavior is disrespectful and controlling. However, both partners should know that if they ask, they will be willingly given access.
- Use accountability software. Emails, instant messages, and browser histories can be deleted. Accountability software emails information about the user’s online activities directly to his or her partner, ensuring honesty and transparency for the spouse and accountability support for the recovering addict. Some software also comes with an internet filter to block pornographic or sexual content; these filters are also available separately.
- Seek counseling and a diagnosis. A professional psychologist can formally diagnose you with sex addiction if your situation fits the criteria; this may make you feel more comfortable with seeking help, and it may make it easier for family members to accept that you have a real, valid illness. Counseling and talk therapy can also help you identify underlying problems – childhood events, misconceptions, or other factors in your addiction – and deal with them in healthy ways. If you suffer from another mental illness, such as depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or anxiety disorder, a trained professional can help identify that problem and offer treatment, which will help with your own well-being, improve your quality of life, and aid in your addiction recovery.
- Enter a 12-Step or other treatment program. The structured nature of the program, combined with group support and accountability, is a vital resource. There are a lot of programs available; for instance, Sex Addicts Anonymous is specifically for sex addicts, COSA is designed for family members of addicts; and Recovering Couples Anonymous is for addicts and their partners together. If you’re hesitant about participating in a group, most of these programs offer phone meetings, too.
- Utilize the Free Recovery Course on this site. Alex has put together a great set of materials to help you understand how addiction works, how to break the cycle, how to move forward, and how to prevent and handle relapses. Education is very important in approaching this disease, especially since it is misunderstood by so many people. The Free Recovery Course is a great tool with a lot of really useful information for both addicts and family members.
- Attend couples’ counseling together. Your marriage has probably been seriously damaged by your addiction. Couples’ counseling will help you move forward together in healthy ways. Your counselor can act as a mediator in difficult discussions, help you understand each other’s perspectives, and teach you both healthy ways to address your feelings and resolve conflicts.
- Start a Recovery Journal. It is often useful to write down your feelings and experiences as you deal with sex addiction. A recovery journal can give you a safe, private place to express your feelings, your fears, and your strugges; it can also help you, over time, to identify your triggers and patterns in your addictive behavior. Keeping a journal can also be an encouraging record of your progress. You can keep your journal the old-fashioned way using a notebook, you can write it in a public or a private blog entry, or you can post all or part of it in the forums here, to utilize the support and insight of our community.