Three Ways to Cope with a Parter’s Sex Addiction Relapse

Distant couple on couchDo you know the difference between a relapse and a onetime occurrence of making a poor choice? In asking that question, let me first say that it is important to not excuse a slip up or any patterns of making healthy behavioral choices followed by re-engaging in old patterns, even one time. Yes, there can be times where the one struggling with sexual addiction has a prolonged period of sobriety, they let their boundary down briefly and then get back on track with honesty and help.  A relapse is more than one slip up. It is opening you back up to the addictive behaviors, choices and patterns that were so destructive in one’s life. Let’s take a look at three ways that an individual who suffers from sexual addiction can deal with relapse and then three ways their spouse can walk through this as well.

Relapse Steps for the One Struggling with Sexual Addiction:
1. Own it with no excuses: At this point, integrity and trust have been broken again. The wounds have been re-opened and most likely, there has been a pattern of dishonesty. If you make excuses, it is saying that there will always be a reason to relapse and to act out in an unhealthy way sexually or in addictive choices. By owning it and not making excuses, it can set up a scenario where communication can be real, true events and choices can be dealt with and one can start shedding the secrecy and shame that is trying to overtake them. There is freedom in being honest!

2. Figure out the trigger: This may be difficult for the one struggling with sexual addiction to do on their own so this might be better served to do with your counselor, therapist, support group or accountability partner. Very often, you can identify what was going on emotionally, relationally, physically, spiritually, etc. that brought back those old feelings of pain and being wounded. Was it being overwhelmed at work? Did boundaries get changed to open connections with unhealthy relationships? Was there a traumatic event? Were there a number of things that caused feelings of rejection or isolation? Again, this is not to excuse the behavior but to identify what triggered the feelings and then find healthy ways to deal with these situations and feelings going forward.

3. Re-engage your recovery plan: More often than not, part of the recovery plan and/or boundaries were dropped or loosened when relapse occurs. Now is the time to re-establish that plan, share it with your accountability team and step up your recovery through counseling and support groups. Isolation at this point is very dangerous and can lead to going deeper back into the addictive cycle. It was not the plan that failed; it was going away from the plan! It is much safer to be humble and work the recovery plan than to fight it and go back to a life of shame, pain and destructive choices.

Relapse Steps for the Spouse of One Struggling with Sexual Addiction:
1. Establish boundaries: Again, it is most important that you take care of YOURSELF! NO, this is NOT selfish, but rather being healthy. It will keep you from co-dependency types of choices and focus you on creating a safe environment for yourself. This is not the time to try to “fix” the one suffering the relapse or to lash out in anger, but to state clearly and directly, possibly in writing, what your boundaries are. This can be different for each situation and can include separate rooms, separate living situation, taking control of your own finances, protecting the computer in your home and whatever you need as healthy until you see whether the one struggling with sexual addiction is willing to get the help they need.

2. Acknowledge your feelings: There will be feelings hitting from all different angles, old wounds will be scrapped open and hurt will be felt in a new way. Don’t expect the one that has relapsed to be able to hear your hurt or feelings, this can lead to even more disconnect for both parties. Connect with your counselor, support group and trusted friends to share what you are experiencing and going through. Allow them to be honest with you, to hear you and be there for you. Now is the time for to surround yourself with a safe community to walk with you through this.

3. Focus on your plan: Again, this is NOT being selfish! You can only control yourself and you can either get caught up in the craziness of the situation, especially if the one that has relapsed is not willing to work on themselves, or you can use your energy for YOU! Do what you need to do to stay strong, healthy and healing physically, emotionally and spiritually. This may mean an extra appointment with your counselor, connecting more with those that support you and also just having time to rest, do things you enjoy and that bring you focus and clarity.

Relapse does not have to bring an end to one’s recovery or their relationships. It does, however, have to be taken extremely seriously and faced head-on. It cannot be excused away or belittled by either the one relapsing or their spouse; otherwise, it will not be given the attention that is needed to get back on the journey of recovery and healing. If you or someone you know finds themselves facing relapse, do everything you can to work these steps to decrease the length of the relapse and return to the choice of living free of shame, lies and destructive choices.

© Copyright 2011 by Janie Lacy, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, NCC, CSAT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Harriet

    June 7th, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    Most of us,when somebody slips into a relapse,tend to become stricter and question the person why he did so.We do this instead of trying to find out what could have been the cause and thinking if the technique followed was an inefficient one.The tightening of screws after a relapse can in fact trouble the person and make him feel bad about the recovery.

  • Miss Vickie

    June 8th, 2011 at 4:39 AM

    I think that this is a pretty good plan for anyone with an addiction problem and who has the misfortune of falling off the wagon so to speak.

  • NassauGuidance

    June 8th, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    Holding oneself responsible after a relapse is important to owning their actions and making a recovery. However, so is self-forgiveness. Being harsh or self-critical can set you up for self-sabotage. When you engage in excessive self-criticism, you can trigger low feelings of self worth that can exacerbate the addictive behavior. Introspection, forgiveness, and owning responsibility are the answer – not putting yourself down for your perceived failure. Great tips, great articles.

  • fisher

    June 8th, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    @harriet:you are right. hold some sand in your hand and it wil stay. hold it too tight in order to exert control and it will just slip away. not only sex addiction but this approach holds good for everything.

  • Zac

    June 9th, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    If you see that someone(a sex addict or someone else) does not own up to his mistakes or accepts them easily then you need to watch out because the person may repeat it. Not even a relapse is required but he could just repeat it voluntarily because such a response shows that he does not think of it as something bad and will therefore have lesser inhibitions repeating the same.

  • carroll

    June 10th, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    I have been through this. I was the wronged partner. And no relapse is a good thing. It brings back the hurt all over again. I cannot say that I dealt with it very well the first time around, but it was probably even harder the 2nd time it happened because I thought that he would not ever do that to me again. Guess I was wrong. If we survive this I still don’t know that I will ever be able to trust him again, and what kind of a basis for a good relationship is that?

  • Caleb A.

    June 13th, 2011 at 1:22 AM

    I’m honestly beginning to think that this “sex addiction” is completely made up. Isn’t it being used as an excuse by a spouse who wants the sexual freedom and choice of partner a single person has but doesn’t have the guts to end their marriage?

    I have plenty of words for a wife or husband who has sex with anything that moves and “addict” isn’t one of them.

  • Dustin K.

    February 3rd, 2014 at 7:22 AM

    Calor A.

    You really need to be more open and become educated on the topic of sexual addiction. The effect of what happens in the brain during orgasm is the same at that of a crack addict. It is very real. Very serious and can have lasting effects. How we get there is however quite quick compared to how long recovery is for this type of addiction. From the response you gave you are the victim of a sexual addict. Women and men alike suffer from this very real and very painful disease. The partner of the addict also suffers. We all suffer because of this disease. When we are involved in sexual addiction everyone right down to the kids are affected. It is real and growing worse in America than ever before.

  • Jakes

    July 14th, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    Caleb it’s an addiction. Addiction to the rush of lust and fantasy. It has all the earmarks of addiction. May I refer you to Patrick Carnes.

  • dollyswain

    June 13th, 2011 at 1:54 AM

    @Caleb-Experts are actually divided on what it is. My understanding is that some think that it’s a form of OCD and others think that it’s a conditioned response where the wrong kinds of people feel that they are pressured into sex. The DSM however doesn’t list it as a mental disorder anymore I believe, although there are those who want it to be returned to the list.

  • H. Halverson

    June 13th, 2011 at 9:26 PM

    @Caleb A. : Sexual addiction is a genuine disorder and those affected, as strange as it may sound to your non-professional ears, have very real symptoms. For example, having little self-control when it comes to sex, having difficulty reaching orgasm due to being pretty much desensitized to sex, and even getting anxious and violent in extreme cases.

    Please don’t simply disregard a condition’s authenticity because you’re personally unaffected by it.

  • Dean P.

    June 14th, 2011 at 10:21 PM

    That sounds exactly like an addiction to me, especially on the part where they need more to be satiated. Put an experienced drug user in the same room as a guy or girl who has never touched drugs in his life, you’ll see exactly how quickly the newbie goes down from just a few smokes of weed.

  • Spencer G. Clements

    June 14th, 2011 at 10:50 PM

    I can see from the above comments that how sex addiction is viewed is very scattered and runs off in several directions. We need to do more research into it and see if sex addiction is a genuine disorder or if they are just filled with lust and have a high sex drive.

  • Marianne Barry

    June 16th, 2011 at 8:14 PM

    @Spencer G. Clements: No matter how much research goes into it, that bias will always be there. Can you imagine a woman saying she’s addicted to sex without a smartypants muttering “Slut” or yelling “I got what you need!” at her in jest and mockery?

    I’m having a hard time with that mental image.

  • Gerry K. Stone

    June 18th, 2011 at 8:50 PM

    There will always be prejudice towards any mental condition that stems from ignorance. All autistics are reclusive shut-ins, OCDs are neat-freaks who will freak the hell out if their pencils aren’t lined up to the millimeter, schizophrenics are deluded psychopaths blah blah blah. None of those are true. All of them are heavily exaggerated and distorted forms of the truth.

  • Jakes

    July 15th, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    My husband apparently has not been sober all along these past three years we e both been in the recovery process. I have been much more devastated by the bold face lying on his part. It’s not mine, I don’t know how it got on there..this is a 60 year old man, lust addicted since the age of 11. Yeah there’s hope….sure. I was preparing for a risky surgery when I found out and he started heaping the lies on top of me. He allowed me to enter this surgery with the addictive behavior wound ripped open. It’s been a nightmare. And somehow this SA thinks it earns points to finally come to me and confess the truth.

  • Brandi

    March 21st, 2015 at 12:15 PM

    I understand as well my partner left me and my newborn at the hospital and said he wanted to take a shower “at home” …. I had packed everything he needed, little did I know he was meeting up with a craigslist applicant

  • Denise

    August 24th, 2014 at 2:16 PM

    I am in so much pain. Hurt. I found out about my husband 4 months ago. Relapsed to porn and excessive masturbation. Lies kill me. So he says he could not pass on sex with strangers…. if opportunity is there. How do I stay with this man. I love him so much. I can’t move forward without him. I can’t function.

  • Brandi

    March 21st, 2015 at 12:12 PM

    I know exactly how you feel. I have fought him in the 4th relapse. But he won’t come clean. It is affecting my health, I cannot function and the fact I am bipolar makes a huge impact

  • Angela

    September 5th, 2014 at 6:57 AM

    Hindsight is 20/20..I married an addict and didnt reaize it. The trespasses against me are to numerous to count. The “next” time is a when not if. He asked me why it bothers me so much last night and I was forced to summarize it in one sentence. My answer was because it devalues me as his wife. It does even as a woman too. It crosses all of my boundaries. It permeated every facet of our life together. My 12 year old son is already a porn addict because of his father and my three year old daughter chronically masturbates. Run dont walk from this living nightmare.

  • ***john

    December 25th, 2015 at 9:56 AM

    all of you people demonizing the addict have not a single clue the hellish world they occupy,sure you are hurt by the lies and manipulation..but they are an addict..they do love oyu,they want to stop but are powerless to do so and live each day with constant regret,shame,guilt and suicidal depression from hurting their loved ones…i’m sick of seeing people refer to sex and porn addicts as the scum of the earth you are doing absolutely nothing to contribute to the dialogue of the disease

  • Nellie

    July 15th, 2017 at 6:14 AM

    Thank u John. People simply don’t understand. Being a porn addict is a big joke. There’s nothing funny about this hideous disease.

  • Dee

    February 3rd, 2018 at 11:42 PM

    My Addict was active for 4yrs till I found out and realized how he was affecting me for years where my health and mind deteriorated. He loves me for sure but he could not stop. 6 months into recovery led to 2nd discovery that the last 4 months he was an active addict and that explains our weekly roller coaster fights and the endless addict partner dance. I spent more time trying to understand him and I could clearly see that he has demons haunting him. (The demons is my choice of description for uncontrollable mind invasion). He Internet searched weird and whacky things unrelated to his addiction but sexual in nature in some small way. It was his demons making him look at those. But since last 3months with active group (SLAA) sessions 3 times a week and 1 counsellor session s week, he says he never acted out on his addiction. After some validation (Invetsigation checks) I decided to believe him. And since then it’s been a better relationship. We both new people. Still have painful arguments which remind us our communication still needs to improve. But I’m pleased he’s clean. I’m not silly. I still need to work on my recovery and prep cos he may relapse one day. His demons could win one day. And so we both need to work extra hard on recovery and not get complacent.

  • Christopher

    July 18th, 2019 at 3:50 PM

    I’ve been (WAS) sober over 4 years. My addiction to porn at a young age, led to chronic masturbation, then later to both, that later lead to acting out in relationships to those unhealthy things I was visually exposed to, to make up my sexual identity. And girls who validated me made me feel great about my self-worth. Ultimately, this led to years of using sex as a soothing mechanism until I hit rock bottom and found myself in a ditch sleeping with online prostitutes, and anyone who was a willing participant with no exception to the rule. I didn’t discriminate. Eventually I was able to get over 4 years sobriety – after 30+ years of addiction to compulsive sexual behavior. That means no infidelity, no porn for 3.5 years, and no masturbation for over 3 years, but my wife was still a mess, and despite my effort to work my program, the pain she caused me was unsurmountable and I found myself slowly going back to old habits, and ultimately acting out again. Feeling shame and guilt right after, but going right back to life like a sociopath as if nothing happened. I wish my wife would understand that all the pain you cause addicts makes us feel rejected, isolated and unwanted which pushes us off the cliff. Why do you do this to us!? Shame on every single wife who lacks empathy to understand that this isn’t just a choice. It’s PAIN, caused when we were children, and we go to a place we find comfort and soothing, but it wears off and leaves us in pain, shame and guilt so the cycle repeats itself. If you’re a wife, and your husband cheats on you, or relapses, YOU ARE PARTIALLY PART OF THE PROBLEM! Treat people the way you want to be treated. We know we caused harm, and we genuinely are trying to make it right. Now I have to take this to the grave with me. So sad. It’s all her fault. This would have never happened had she not constantly emasculated me and treated me so cold heartedly. An emotionally absent wife is like a wife who is on life support and you’re just waiting for her to die. Thank you wife!

  • Vickie

    July 29th, 2019 at 8:37 PM

    No. If you think your wife/partner is the problem, leave her. She did not cause your illness and she cannot cure it.

  • Lark

    October 15th, 2019 at 6:57 AM

    It’s likely your wife was traumatized because of your behaviors. Perhaps feeling some empathy for her would help you instead of expecting her to just feel empathy for you. If you wanted a better relationship with your wife you could have worked in that, with counseling if you needed to. She didn’t make you relapse.

  • Christopher

    October 15th, 2019 at 9:20 AM

    Nonsense. She’s been traumatized with all sorts of stuff since she was young like many of us. However, she is cold and callous, and refuses to show any affection in our relationship. Our relationship has been starved of physical and emotional affection and love by her because of her family of origin. If she had been kind, I know I wouldn’t have sought validation and affirmation from my acting out. It’s like beating a dog in the head and expecting it not to cower and be afraid of it’s owner. You people who side with the “victims” of the addict in the relationship need to open your eyes. Go see the TED talk on addiction and addicts and understand how you have a HAND in this. YOU DO! Compassion and empathy goes a long way, and all I can say to the mean, callous hearted closed up women who read this in here, you deserve the life you lead because you reap what you sow. Be kind and set your pride and selfish ways aside and see how things will change. It won’t with every addict, but with me, I know it would. My wife is a miserable, mean, vicious woman who will never change.

  • Rob

    September 4th, 2019 at 8:46 PM

    Wow that was a lot to chew through my wife (recently Separated) ask me to read the 3 step guide and I ended up reading all the comments. My story mirrors Christophers apart from the blame on wife thing you got going (seriously address that mate) my wife found out about me 3years ago she discovered I was bi and that I had been sleeping around I had crushed her and our marriage. At the time we had a kid about to do gcses and my wife despite everything still loved me. And so she forgave me and wanted to make it work I was overjoyed she told me that being bi did not bother her 1 bit but the lying and cheating that was the real hurt for her. But hey my marriage is bomb proof I don’t need councilling she can deal with all this or better still sweep it under the carpet it’s a family thing lol, 3 years later and thanks to my ignorance our marriage has ended I am writing this from a bedroom I’m renting away from my home of 20 years, but my wife has helped me and continues to do so I love her with all my heart truly my best freind and soul mate whether we together or not

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