I’ve gotten a little behind on posting in the Q&A section of ‘Ask JoAnn’, so I thought I would put some of the questions, along with my answers, here so that each of you could respond if you wish. Here is a question from a reader called Rosy:

Subject: when an addict relapses in recovery

Message: My husband is a SA I decided to support him through his recovery (12 step)because despite his addiction i know he is a good person. he was doing really well until recently. I had one boundary and that was if he acted out i would leave. Yesterday i asked if he has acted out and he admitted that he has had 2 slips one a couple of weeks ago and the other last weekend. I know that if i had never asked the question he would not have admitted it to me. My heart is breaking because now i feel as though i have to leave as i can’t see any other way to stay. Have i got setting boundaries so wrong? How did you make it work for you? Surely every addict in recovery relapses I don’t know if i should stay or leave?


Hi Rosy,

I’m so sorry your husband is having difficulty with his recovery as I know how much it hurts when they continue to act out.

One of the difficulties with setting boundaries is that often we set boundaries that we know we cannot enforce. Then, the addict quickly gets the message that there are no consequences at all for his actions.

At this point I would sit down and talk with him about his recovery plan. What are his triggers? What is he doing to avoid these triggers? Does he have a sponsor? Has he committed to calling his sponsor when he feels like acting out? What is his bottom line? What are ‘yellow light’ behaviors that he needs to avoid? What promises has he made to you concerning his recovery?

No, relapses do not have to be part of recovery. Sometimes they do happen, but if they do, they have to be used as lessons on how to avoid acting out in the future, not simply accepted as a way of life–that is no recovery at all. Has he analyzed and discussed with you why he acted out?

It seems as though he is not totally committed to recovery and he certainly is not committed to complete honesty–which is vital to the relationship.

So, he needs a written recovery plan and you need to set reasonable boundaries, as I state in my ‘Boundaries’ eBook, which you can order on the website here.


Often you need to have escalating boundaries, such as ‘the first time you act out -depending on what his bottom line is, you could say that a monitor will be put on the computer, or he will not be allowed to carry any cash, the second time he will have to attend thirty 12 step meetings in thirty days and not have access to the computer at all’. Each boundary is individualized, but has consequences that can be enforced. If you are looking at a deal breaker, such as having sex with someone else, or whatever your deal breaker is, then you can say you will separate if that happens, and have the preparations in place for you to do that.

Recovery is such a complex and lifelong process it’s difficult to predict how each couple will react. But, if the Sex Addict is not completely committed to Recovery, which means NEVER acting out again, and committed to learning why he acts out, avoiding the triggers that cause him to act out and learning what caused his addiction in the first place, there is no real recovery happening.

It’s never too late to sit down and discuss boundaries that aren’t working, or recovery plans that aren’t working and reset them.

I feel that at least two boundaries must be in place for any relationship with a Sex Addict to have a chance, and each should have reasonable and escalating consequences. One–the acting out has to stop–period, and two–there must be complete honesty and transparency–no evasiveness, no denial, no half truths, so “well, you didn’t ask me THAT’, no defensiveness; just complete openness and honesty. Of course you can add whatever other things you like. Also, he needs to get to work on a written recovery plan that both of you and his sponsor and counselor can agree upon. If he is not in counseling he needs to start.

If he is agreeable to the new rules and consequences then there is hope. If he refuses then you have no other choice but to leave.

My Boundaries eBook has a sample Relationship Contract as well as practice worksheets for arriving at healthy boundaries.

Good luck Rosy, and  please keep in touch and let me know how you are doing.  If you have any other questions don’t hesitate to ask. I am here for you.

Take care,


Hi JoAnn,

Thank you for your speedy reply.

My husband has a Sponsor who he calls daily he also has a number of people from his fellowship that he calls everyday, He is at step six and his excuse was that he “Just got fed up fighting the urge to act out” and he felt as though his “higher power had abandoned him” His acting out is pornography, prostitutes and intriguing ( Not quite sure what that is as he always seems to brush over that – or tells me it’s when you fantasize).

He has been acting out for 30 years – We have been together for 18 married for 6. I first found out 10 years ago when i returned home from work to find  “good- bye” letters he had written to me and his family. At that time i  truly believed he had committed suicide until he rang later that evening and told me he had a problem!!.  i guess i was just so relived that he was alive nothing else mattered.

I naively believed it was my  fault and i could fix him (Classic denial) he joined SLAA and his pattern changed i really believed he was in recovery so much so that i agreed to marry him in 2004.

To this day i would have maintained that – until i caught him out in Aug 2009. It has been a very different me this time (Thanks to you and everyone on your site for the information, honesty and support)

Honesty is all i have ever asked from him and feel doubly betrayed because yet again!!! i had to confront him for the truth.

I feel everything in my life right now is such a mess and the thought of going it on my own scares me to death – I am unable to go to family as my father has terminal cancer and the family are still coming to terms with that, (we have no friends). Thankfully, we don’t have children.But i guess in order to find me again i need to find a way through the fear and panic to go it on my own.

I think you are right that if he can’t be honest then he isn’t as committed to his recovery as i thought and until he can be no matter how many boundaries i put in place i would only be living from this slip till the next slip – and  I know that right now he would agree to any demands i made but i also know this is just a temp promise he would make. for my own sanity i can’t be in that situation.

He has ripped out my heart and shredded it and i wish i could hate him but i don’t. I know he is a good person the few months prior to his slip have  proven that and that’s what makes thing even harder now.

Thank you for your kindness & support.

Take care,

Visits: 1

6 Responses

  1. Rosy,

    Have you sought out your own counselor? You don’t need to go it all alone– ever.

    Is it possible for someone who lies, cheats, deceives to also be a “good person”?

    He may be good at pretending to be a good and kind and loving person– but based on what you’ve said, it is not real– at this point in time. He is still quite ill.

    Truly good and loving people do not go around hurting their loved ones and “ripping out their hearts and then shredding them.”

    I know this is very devastating and very difficult to hear because we so want to believe that they are not this “other” character that seems to have invaded the body and soul of the one we hold dear.

    And it is even more difficult when we are in the middle of it all– to see– to understand.

    True love feels warm and comforting and does not evoke fear, anxiety and pain of what the future has in store.

    Please seek out your own counselor and continue to understand that his actions are not about you and beyond your control.

    Much strength and support,


  2. Hi

    I say sod the triggers, sod the boundaries. I’m sorry. But just leave. It’s like someone said in another post: “we don’t have the power to change someone else but we do have the power (and the insight) to change ourselves”. I have never in my life experienced anything like I did the day I found out about my ex sex addict. I spent 3 weeks coming to terms with it myself before I confronted him. I didn’t like his response – I knew it wasn’t good for me, I wanted to stay and hug him and tell him I was there but I didn’t. I was devastated, distraught and I couldn’t breath. I left. I spent approximately 6 months feeling agonised and despaired both over my decision and over what I had lost. The next 4 months were nearly as traumatic, lots of crying, it was like a deep wound and he reached out but not in the way I needed – I was desperate to go to him and hold him but I didn’t, I loved him, I hated him, I was confused by him – his clinical observations, his coldness, his love, his agony his confusion, his lack of understanding, his warm heart – how confusing. I couldn’t go to him – because I withheld my conviction that if he could hurt me that much he was NOT good for me. It killed me not to respond, and I did in the end but only to say that I wished him well and to please leave me alone. Nearly 12 months on I’m feeling much better. It’s not long in the grand scale of things. I’ve had a lot of troubles through my life including in childhood but I’ve learned how to love myself and living with someone like that isn’t doing that if you’re hurting that much. I won’t be posting on this site or reading it again because I need to leave this behind now and move on. This chapter in my life is over although I will carry it with me always, including the love I had for this man – who believed in me and listened, who loved me – for me, who was my friend and lover and who deceived me and let me down so badly. I wish you all the very best of luck and happiness, contentment and love. xx

  3. Hi Seren,
    I guess you might not read this, but that’s okay. Thanks for being around and sharing snapshots of your journey to this moment. Sometimes things do crystallize and show us what we must do in order to save ourselves. And there is nothing wrong with saving yourself from a dangerous relationship!!!

    I think all of us, no matter whether we stay or leave must find some way to carry this chapter in our lives. For me, this site has been crucial piece of learning to see my story through my own confusion and his behaviour. As others have noted, the similarity of our experiences even though we are from different religions, countries, lifestyles, education, etc. has been sanity making even thought it’s been depressing sometimes.

    But also, reaching out with support to someone whose hurt I know like the back of my hand has also been an important building block for putting myself back together as a human being. Also, having someone reach out to me the same way has made the difference some days. And that’s not about my husband. it’s about me–being able to be a good mother, to go to work, be in the public eye, continue my therapeutic goals like taking better care of myself, discovering the Barbara Steffens work and the trauma model for my experience, and yes, laugh more.

    This past week i also took two major steps. I told a couple whose friendship with us has spanned 25 years. I know I can trust their confidentiality and I needed to widen the circle of my own support. I also am meeting another former wife of an SA (connected through our therapists) for coffee. She is further along the journey and has reached out to me. Big risk for me here in this city. I’ve already figured out a connection we have through some of my clients, but it’s about establishing a safe circle for my own care. Without this site and everything I’ve learned here and in therapy, I wouldn’t have done these things. But I know now that part of how I will carry this in my life includes opening up and letting others know I am struggling and I need their help.

    Whether or not my future has my husband by my side–I don’t know. But I am becoming someone new–familiar, but new. So, “moving on” is happening for all of us in different ways. What I know from my “day job” (this journey has become my “all day job” as opposed to my “day job”), is that people do better in life when “moving on” includes an intentional way to carry the losses we have in life.

    For example, I have used simple rituals to express rage and make loss real. I threw out my wedding dress-but I kept the lace because it allowed me to keep the hope that was true and good. In the company of a friend I burned two gifts from my horrible mother-in-law (whose abuse started this mess) in the fireplace of the house we had to sell. I didn’t take anything from her into my new place. I am taking a fabric arts course to create a set of beautifl fabric “doors” behind which my new life waits. I have a special box for things that hurt to look at—things from my husband that speak of the love that was/is real, but was betrayed. Maybe I will get them back out of the box, maybe I won’t. But the special box will also say how much they mattered.

    Anyway, I just thought some of you would like to hear some ways we can intentionally carry this experience through our lives, without just pretending it didn’t happen, or by locking it up somewhere like the crazy uncle in the attic, or by–well you finish the sentence!

    Seren–Godspeed and thank you so much for your good company. You will never know how much you helped people here to face their lives.
    lots of love,

  4. Seren,

    This will be such a bittersweet good bye. I feel as though I have known you forever, but, like a child who has grown into a beautiful, independent adult, there is a time to let go.

    I totally understand how you must leave all this behind. How healthy you have become. I know what a difficult time this has been, but now, it is time to spread your wings and soar, feel joy and happiness once again.

    All my best to you. I will never forget you, and you and your story will always be in my heart.

    Love and hugs,


  5. Seren & Diane,

    I want you to know that I have copied your comments to a file on my computer. I named that file “People who have made it through” so I can pull it up and remind myself.

    There are alot of parts that I know intellectually, the emotional part hasn’t quite caught up yet. Sexual Addiction affects the core of intimacy and I think the violation of that is why it is hard to deal with.

    Once the divorce is completed things will move forward. I just hope financially I get what I deserve and can feel safe. In the marriage, I was good spouse and realize that because of his fraud, from the beginning I never really had a chance for this marriage to be successful. It doesn’t matter what I did and how many hoops i jumped through. Sad but true.

  6. Jeanette,
    You hit the nail on the head when you stated you never stood a chance for your marriage to be successful. It takes two, and one was never really there.
    The deep sadness, that hollow feeling, will lessen once settlements are reached and you begin a new life. Many of the worries, the disappointments, fade too as you make new dreams and meet new people. I thought I would waste away from a broken heart and the shock, but I didn’t.
    What still clings to me three years later is not really trusting people as I once did, which can be a good thing. I have grown stronger and more cynical, in a good way, and am very clear about what I will and will not put up with….because the worse has already happened and I am not going to allow that nonsense in my life again. We have had the ultimate sledgehammer hit our lives, it happened, it is what it is, there was nothing we did to cause it, nothing we could have done to prevent it, and nothing we could do to heal it.
    Know this….and it is what means everything, YOU were true, you loved, you cared, you were an incredible wife, a treasure, the one that should have been held dear and cherished, respected, appreciated. You did it right.

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