There are many different philosophies on this topic. I am guessing that my recommendations will be a great relief to some, and will stimulate a strong negative reaction in many.
Either way, after working very closely with couples in this situation for over a decade now, I am confident that the ideas I share will be the best reaction to finding your spouse has a sexual addiction.
This article will appear to have a bias. That is true.
So, this article will clearly discuss how I recommend a wife respond to a husband’s pornography/sexual addiction. While women can have sexual addictions, it is not the focus of this article.
First, we need to remember that the role a wife plays in these circumstances is different than the role of his parents, siblings, friends, church leaders, clinicians and sponsors.
I would hope that his parents, siblings, friends, church leaders, clinicians and sponsors will all have a patient and compassionate response toward the man with the addiction.
But the wife, primarily, is the only one that is a victim of his misbehaviors and mentalities.
Many try to declare that, “She has nothing to do with the misbehaviors.” Or, “She shouldn’t take it personally.”
I agree that she holds no responsibility for the cause of his misbehaviors (it is not her fault), but in many ways, her life is greatly affected by his misbehaviors.
It is very painful and scary to discover your spouse is drawn to and takes action toward other women…especially when he has a hard time controlling it.
I will address how to respond.
When making recommendations to a woman as to how to react to a man’s misbehavior, imagine your high school aged daughter comes home from school one day and says, “The boy I have been dating keeps looking at other girls without their clothes on. What should I do?”
Notice, first, that your reaction is not, “Well, Sweetie, you just need to be supportive and not take it personally.”
We don’t say, “It’s not a big deal.” Or, “Maybe you should get better at meeting his needs, then he wouldn’t need to do that.”
Notice when the misbehaviors affect our daughters, we have a much different (and more accurate) response to what course of action she should take, than would a traditional clinical approach.
So, the steps below are designed for the spouse, not the parents, siblings, friends, church leaders, clinicians and sponsors. That is a topic for another day.
- Withdraw to a safe distance. Many are disturbed by this suggestion as a first suggestion, but if they truly understand the situation, making sure the victim receives no more injury is the first priority. The “distance” depends on how hurtful his behaviors are. You don’t measure how much something hurts, or whether or not it hurts by asking the one delivering the pain. The one receiving the pain will need to figure out how much distance and what kind of distance is needed. An addict during this stage is often more concerned about his own comfort than he is hers. I do not advocate for divorce unless the individual bringing pain to the relationship continues to do so, and does not consistently invest time and effort into understanding and changing the painful behaviors. If the woman is going to heal and recover from this experience, she will need a safe and secure “incubator” or “greenhouse”.
- Pack your wagon. The wife will need to prepare for the possibility that she has a long journey ahead of her, and there are no guarantees that he will overcome his issues. Addiction can be overcome but it is a lot of hard work, and can take a while; sadly, some men are not willing to do that much work. Healing and recovery are often derailed by impatience. Both parties need to focus primarily on making sure they are emotionally fortified for the work required to heal and recover. Both need to plug into their Divine power for this education and rejuvenation. They should only “work on the marriage” when both can maintain an edifying environment for the other during communication.
- This is not punishment. An addict in the early stages of recovery will often describe step one and step two as punishment. In reality, the steps she needs to take for her own safety will break up his comfort zone, but the comfort zone is often connected to sustaining his addictive behaviors and mentality. For the future to be different, the present needs to be different. Discomfort does not equal punishment. Incidentally, not intentionally, her distance should create some motivation on his part to do the work it takes to reach out to those who can help him recover…parents, siblings, friends, church leaders, clinicians and sponsors.
- Find and plug into healing resources. She will need to find quality people and programs that will feed her with lots of energy and accurate information for healing. The tendency is for her to rely on him to change. “I will feel better when he…” This dependence on him needs to be disconnected.
- Maintain dignity. It is important for a woman’s emotional well-being that she not allow herself to misbehave, just because he misbehaves. In the early stages, it is not uncommon for the addict to blame his behavior on what she does or doesn’t do. These same men will tell their children, “Just because your sister does something wrong doesn’t mean you get to do something wrong too. You can’t blame someone else for your misbehaviors.” The wife needs to watch out for the same pattern in her behavior. Do not let yourself misbehave just because he does. Handle everything as if you are training your daughters to handle the situation if they ever find themselves in the same situation.
- Nurture goodness. If he shows signs of improvement, you are encouraged to say, “Good job”, but nothing more is required of you. Do this because you are a good woman, not because he needs it. His development/improvements should not be dependent upon you. If an addict is going to gain full mastery over his misbehaviors, he will need to have a system that is not dependent on his spouse. He may temporarily rely on others (sponsor, therapist, church leader, coach, etc.), but should not use his wife, the victim of his misbehaviors, as his primary support. I have a great deal of confidence in men and their ability to overcome this addiction and its negative side effects. When we train men, we train them to get their emotional rejuvenation from someone other than the one that has been crushed their misbehaviors.
- Refuse to be abused. Hopefully, his painful behaviors will cease soon, but if the addictive behaviors, or any of its accompanying behaviors (lying, hiding, elusiveness, anger, frustration, etc.) return, then I recommend the wife go back to step 1 of this list.
- Flourish in a safe environment. In my experience, if a man can show consistent improvement, if he can grow in his ability to provide her with emotional safety and security, she will warm up to him with little effort. As I have watch couples recover from extremely painful situations, If the man can provide a greenhouse for an extended period of time (1 month for every year he has had a problem), then the woman almost always responds as any good seed does. In a timely manner she will grow and blossom again. It is a miraculous process to observe. He grows in confidence and a sense of competence. She feels safe and secure. If he does not do the work it takes to provide her with safety and security, she can find sufficient safety and security from her own efforts and the Divine source, and can flourish outside the relationship, again, sadly, leaving him outside the greenhouse.
-by Maurice W. Harker, CMHC, Director of Life Changing Services
For greater understanding on this topic, read Maurice’s book, “I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay, But That’s Okay”.
Maurice’s counseling agency, Life Changing Services, provides remote services for both the women who find themselves in this situation (the free WORTH group) and men who are ready to work hard to recover from the addiction (Men of Moroni). Go to www.LifeChangingServices.org for details.
Email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org