Pornography and sexual addiction are serious issues that often begin long before the wedding day (and in many cases the courtship period). While the reasons people become addicted to porn can be complicated, the results are shockingly simple: these addictions harm everyone involved. As you begin to deal with your spouse’s addiction, you may find yourself asking “how do I live with an addict?”
To help you answer that question, here are 11 important tips when married to a sex addict that may help you stabilize your relationship as you both move forward toward healing and recovery:
1. Don’t Isolate
No one goes into marriage with the idea of hurting the other person; however, sometimes circumstances arise that we never intended. After you learn of your spouse’s addiction, it’s natural to feel betrayed and deceived, and that your spouse caused you emotional harm on purpose. Or, conversely, you may feel that you’re responsible, and that their behavior is somehow your fault.
You may have either feeling, or both, but the effect is usually the same: the pain pushes you into isolation. Wanting to shut people out (especially your spouse) and isolate yourself is natural, but it’s important to resist the urge to withdraw. No matter how hard it is, now is not the time to shut people out of your life.
Build a support group around you, and find your tribe where you can talk openly and share how you’re feeling. The fact is, regardless of how unplanned or unintentional, your spouse’s actions have caused you pain that can leave you questioning not only your relationship, but your self-worth. You deserve, and will benefit from, help on the road to recovery. A therapist, close friend, support group, or spiritual leader are just a few of the great resources you can turn to as you begin the healing process.
2. Learn More About Addiction
In many cases, spouses of addicts find themselves asking why they weren’t good enough, sexy enough, smart enough, thin enough—the list is endless—and many come to believe that their apparent “failings” drove their spouse towards pornography. This fallacy is a normal emotional response, and one that can be remedied in part by educating yourself about addictions.
The answer to those questions: no, it wasn’t you. Addiction affects basic brain chemistry, hijacking normal functions and imprisoning the user in a cycle of shame they can’t break. What began as a few poor decisions or minor mistakes has become a debilitating problem they can’t solve on their own. Many addicts want to change, and may even have tried, but don’t know how to do so successfully.
The more you can learn about addiction—how your spouse has become trapped, how it alters their brain functions, and how they will need help to heal—the more peace you will find. By understanding their addiction has nothing to do with you, you’ll begin to free yourself from the shackles of betrayal trauma, and reclaim your hope for the future.
3. Understand the Trauma Symptoms
After learning of your spouse’s betrayal, you may experience betrayal trauma. This is one of the hardest traumas to endure because it shatters your internal world, and leaves you questioning who you can trust. While you’re dealing with betrayal trauma, it’s easy to find yourself in a cycle of fear, obsession, and control-seeking behavior.
You may experience some of the following reactions while in the fear cycle: unhealthy eating, monitoring your spouse’s behavior, insatiable suspicion, self-harm, and isolation. If you’ve found yourself turning towards unhealthy behaviors, now is the time to turn to your therapist, support group, or close friend to open up about how you’re feeling. This is also a good time to create your own recovery plan and move forward in practicing self-care.
4. Create Your Own Recovery Plan
For those who are struggling with addiction, we recommend creating a Plan of Recovery. This is equally important for spouses to help them set goals and work through their own healing. Take time to set your boundaries, practice positive self-talk, write in a journal, pick up a hobby or learn a new skill; whatever brings you joy and allows you to take some time for yourself. This means putting yourself first—at least for a few minutes each day.
As you move through the healing process, remember to be compassionate with yourself. You are dealing with your own emotions and sense of betrayal, and need time to heal.
5. Find Your Own Support Group and Marriage Counselor
Sexual addiction counseling is important, even for those struggling to cope with the pornography and sexual addiction of a loved one. During this time, spouses of addicts are dealing with their own emotions of denial, hurt, anger, and guilt.
While working through this difficult time, there are two important factors to keep in mind: you did not cause this problem, and recovery is possible (for both of you). Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone, and there are people out there who understand what you’re going through. Take steps today to find help and move forward inyour own recovery.
6. Practice Self-Care
While you’re moving through the path of recovery, taking time to practice self-care is critical to your healing. This can be particularly hard for women, who tend to have a difficult time putting themselves first. However taking even five minutes daily to focus on yourself can do a lot to boost your recovery.
If you’re still struggling with the idea of practicing self-care, consider the words of inspirational coach, Eleanor Brownn: “Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” By taking time to indulge in doing something for yourself—reading, writing in a journal, spending time on a hobby—you’re allowing yourself permission to recharge, and in the end you will be better able to take care of those in your life.
7. Practice Positive Self-Talk
During this difficult time, you may find your thoughts turning negative and filling with self-blame. This can be devastating to your own recovery and further destroy your sense of self-worth. Replace those spontaneous negative thoughts with positive self-talk and compassion towards yourself. Try, for instance, coming up with some personal affirmations and practicing them, both each morning when you get up, and each night before you go to sleep.
It is also recommended you practice your affirmations in front of a mirror. Louise Hay has a lot of wonderful affirmations you can use to help you in your healing. To get you started, here are a few example affirmations:
8. Set Your Boundaries
Setting boundaries is an important skill to have for building well-rounded relationships and knowing yourself better. It will also help protect yourself from further emotional harm, while still supporting your spouse’s efforts to recover from the addiction.
This is not an excuse to set rules for your spouse, and to punish them when they don’t meet expectations on schedule. Instead, this is an opportunity to explain clearly what actions they take that cause you pain, and what steps you will take to protect yourself if problematic behavior continues.
Create a list of things that make you uncomfortable or stressed in all areas of your life—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Then, for each action, determine an appropriate reaction that can help you protect yourself. Don’t be vindictive, just determine what you can do to protect yourself in the event of a slip or relapse.
As you begin to set your boundaries, also include the things you’re willing to compromise on and those you’re not. Then communicate this list clearly to your spouse, and follow through. It may be hard, but stand by your boundaries, and take action when one of them is violated. Showing respect to yourself this way will clearly teach them your expectations.
9. Connect with community
Sometimes, when you’re feeling lost and have no control of a situation, the best thing you can do is to step away from your problems and help someone else (at least for a little while). Take some time each week or month to go out and volunteer at your local library, shelter, or community center. If you’re unsure where to volunteer, checkopportunities around your area. Or, just lend a hand to a neighbor in need. Getting outside yourself will help put your problems in perspective, and the joy of helping others will be a welcome respite from your turmoil.
10. Practice Open Communication
Throughout your healing, communication between you and your spouse is essential. Practice open communication in a non-aggressive way by saying, “This happened and the way it made me feel was…” While you’re having these deeper conversations with your spouse, it’s also equally important for both of you to listen to what the other person is saying. If you’re both fighting to be heard, but not listening to the other, very few problems will be resolved.
Try to hold back your anger or resentment, be genuinely understanding, and require the same of your spouse. The better you can understand each other, the better you can sympathize with each others’ pain, and lend support in recovery.
11. Be Supportive of Your Spouse
This will take time, but try to be as supportive of your spouse as you can. Remember that they are also healing from pornography and sexual addiction. Recovery is an ongoing process, and rebuilding trust takes time. During this time, practice being present and not dwelling in the past. Instead focus on what is happening now, and enjoy the time you’re spending with your spouse, family, and friends.
12. Don’t Enable
There’s a big difference between supporting your spouse and enabling your spouse to continue their addiction. Voice your unconditional love for your spouse, but also create healthy habits together that set your spouse up for success in beating their addiction.
For example, while it’s important to forgive and avoid judgment if your partner has a relapse, you should not try to cover up their mistakes and help them avoid the consequences of their actions. This will only make it harder for them to quit the behavior.
13. Ask Your Spouse How You Can Help
Not sure how to help your spouse? Just ask! Sometimes the only person who really knows what can improve the relationship is the addict themselves. Of course you want to be careful to avoid behaviors, but otherwise, your spouse may be able to enlighten you with great ideas on how you can show your love and support during this difficult time.
Once you’ve asked your spouse how you can help them, show your appreciation by following through with their suggestions. This will create a positive cycle of open communication between you and your spouse.
14. Don’t Blame Yourself
Avoid thoughts like “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not sexy enough,” or “If only I hadn’t made my spouse mad.” Blaming yourself for your spouse’s addiction will only put you in a position where you’re less able to support and love your spouse. It may be hard to do, but try to remind yourself that you are not responsible for the actions of anyone but yourself.
15. Don’t Try To Fix Your Spouse
As we mentioned in the last point, you are only responsible for your own actions. Likewise, you can’t control the actions of your spouse—so don’t even try! You cannot fix your spouse, no matter how much effort you put into the cause. Only your spouse can ultimately change their behaviors and kick the habit.
16. Be Honest With Yourself
When you have a spouse who is in sex addiction recovery, you may be prone to thinking they’re the one living a life of secrecy. But in reality, you may be lying to yourself, too. Be honest with yourself about what is going on, how it’s affecting you, and whether or not your relationship is in a healthy place. You’ll only be able to improve the relationship once you’re both honest and vulnerable with one another.
How Do You Build a Healthy Relationship?
Building a healthy relationship takes dedication and commitment from both partners. A healthy relationship needs to be continually fostered and attended to. Create a thriving relationship by practicing intimacy and respect, and showing trust in one another. Seek understanding of your partner and treat them with equality and unconditional love.
5 Most Important Things in a Relationship
Whether you’re married to a sex addict or not, it’s important to always be striving to improve your relationship. There are many elements of a healthy relationship, but here are 5 of the most important relationship tips:
First and foremost, you must accept your spouse as they are. Seeing your spouse as a fix-up project will only build resentment in your relationship because you will never truly be able to change the person.
2. Unconditional Love
Likewise, unconditional love is a necessary ingredient in a healthy relationship. Unconditional love means that you never remove your love, no matter how many obstacles your relationship faces. You don’t say, “I’ll love you as long as you …,” or “I’ll love you forever, unless you ….”
Mistrust will breed all kinds of problems in your relationship. Trust should always be your default with your spouse, and if trust is broken, you should do everything you can to rebuild that trust. Give your spouse opportunities to show they deserve your trust, and they will do the same for you.
Every relationship is nurtured with acts of service. Find ways to care for each other and surprise each other on a daily basis. These actions do not need to be large declarations of love, but rather little things like leaving a love note, cleaning up the kitchen, or putting gas in the car. Your love will also grow by finding opportunities to serve together.
No matter what you’re going through, remember to have patience with your spouse. Surely you want your spouse to have patience with you, so demonstrate the same kindness in return. Patience means giving your spouse time to correct wrongdoings and change bad habits like addiction, but it also means showing love and kindness in everyday activities.
What Is a Healthy Relationship Like?
A healthy relationship is when two people are able to communicate openly and have a balance of give and take. Healthy couples serve each other and make each other’s lives better. They feel safe to be themselves, give each other privacy and space, express their true thoughts, and show respect even in disagreements. Healthy relationships include boundaries, communication, trust, and consent.
How Do You Keep a Relationship Strong?
Keeping a relationship strong involves practicing the elements of a healthy relationship, including open communication with a balance of give and take and serving each other so each can make the other’s life better. Accepting and trusting each other, respecting boundaries, and seeking and giving consent will help keep a relationship strong. As will exercising patience—and more patience.
How Can I Save My Relationship (after Addiction)?
Are you thinking, “My partner is a sex addict—there is no hope for our relationship.” If so, you’re setting your relationship up for failure. Whether you’re dating or married, it’s possible to save your relationship after addiction—divorce is not inevitable. When two people are committed to repairing the relationship, they can find a healthy and stable place over time. Here are the steps on how to fix a broken relationship:
- Have a loving relationship with yourself.
- Seek counseling.
- Start courting each other again.
- Communicate openly.
- Be honest with each other.
- Practice patience and forgiveness.
How Do You Rebuild Trust in a Relationship?
If you’re seeking to rebuild trust in a relationship with a sex addict, it’s important to know that it is possible. Many couples have overcome mistrust in many forms, from addiction to other forms of betrayal. Here are some healthy relationship tips on rebuilding trust:
- Let go of the past.
- Identify the underlying issues in your relationship.
- Be committed to long-term improvement.
- Set goals together.
- Be honest about your worries.
- Nurture your relationship in other ways.
Can Counseling Help a Relationship?
Counseling is an excellent way to help any relationship. Talking to an expert can help you learn more about yourself and your relationship, heal wounds, and stay on track with your recovery goals. LifeStar Therapy offers counseling for sex addicts and their spouses throughout the recovery process. Learn more here.
What Are the Signs of a Broken Relationship?
A broken relationship often starts out slowly and gets worse over time. Once both spouses realize the problem, they can start making positive changes. Here are some signs of a broken relationship:
- You don’t trust your spouse.
- You aren’t attracted to each other.
- You aren’t communicating.
- You don’t nourish the relationship (dates, physical affection, service).
- You are full of resentment.
- You fight and hold grudges.
Being married to a sex addict isn’t easy. Pornography and sexual addiction hurts everyone involved and can leave everyone involved numb and unsure where to begin to heal. The key is to take it one day at a time. Spouses of sexually addicted men will quickly find that recovery is a long and difficult process, and each day will require you and your spouse to make the choice to continue in your recovery. Healing is possible, however, and peace is found by those who persevere.
Learn more about the recovery process and steps you can take by downloading our free ebook, The First Step: Taking the First Step Toward Recovery.
This piece was reviewed by LifeStar Therapist Dan Gray.