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?
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.
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.