If you’re like most partners, you want the addict in your life to get sober and embrace recovery. The thought of jeopardizing or sabotaging the addict’s recovery may seem unthinkable to you.
Unfortunately, many partners do sabotage the addict’s recovery — usually without realizing it.
To be clear, you are not responsible for the addict’s recovery. He (or she) is 100% responsible for his behavior and actions.
However, what you do — or don’t do — has an impact on the addict and may influence the quality, depth, or progress of his recovery.
How partners sabotage recovery:
One of the most common ways partners unknowingly discourage the addict’s recovery is by complaining, or even requesting, that the addict limit recovery activities.
It’s not uncommon in early recovery for addicts to be urged by a therapist or sponsor to attend multiple 12-step meetings a week. The practice of “90 in 90” — attending 90 12-step meetings meetings in 90 days — is a typical assignment.
Partners can feel angry or even abandoned when the addict spends many hours away from home attending meetings, going to therapy, meeting with a sponsor, or fellowship.
It’s important to keep in mind that this early phase of intensive recovery activities is temporary. In the long term, the addict (and your relationship) will benefit from committing wholeheartedly to the recovery process from the very beginning.
When you’re dealing with addiction, half-measures never work.
Another way partners can unwittingly sabotage the addict’s recovery is by attempting to persuade him to engage in activities in his inner circle (see SAA’s Three Circle Plan for more information).
The inner circle of a sex addict’s recovery plan are the behaviors and activities he’s committed not to do. These include not only the most destructive acting out behaviors, but may also include behaviors that have a very high likelihood of causing slips or relapses. If the addict engages in an inner circle behavior, he must reset his sobriety date.
Many addicts practice a period of celibacy (typically 90 days) at the beginning of recovery as part of a recovery plan. Partners sometimes either discourage the addict from committing to a period of celibacy, or once the addict commits, the partner approaches the addict for sex.
When this happens, partners need to ask themselves why they aren’t willing to accept the boundary of celibacy. Partners may have gotten their own esteem needs met through having the addict’s sexual attention in the past, or they may have sexual issues that haven’t been addressed.
Sometimes it’s simply a matter of the partner being more sexually attracted to the addict because he’s committed to and is sticking with his celibacy contract. After all — accountability is sexy!
Other examples of a partner encouraging the addict to break his sobriety plan include trying to get the addict to join the partner in the use of alcohol, drugs, or other activities in the addict’s inner circle or that put the addict at risk for a slip or relapse.
In my post are you asking for too much . . . or too little? I talked about the two extremes partners can take when it comes to how they approach the addict’s recovery.
The two extremes are the ostrich in the sand approach, or turning the couples’ relationship into a kind of sex addiction police state. Neither of these extremes are relational, and they both have a negative impact on the addict’s recovery and the coupleship.
Finally, partners sometimes shame the addict out of their own fear, insecurity, or inability to communicate clearly and cleanly. For example, a partner may notice that the addict is using a recovery tool such as leaving the room when a sexually suggestive scene appears in a movie or TV program, or by choosing to sit facing the wall in a restaurant to avoid scanning the room.
Rather than appreciate the addict’s use of tools, the tool becomes a trigger to the partner. If she gets triggered, she may make indirect or even blatantly shaming comments to the addict about his behavior.
For example, if the addict chooses to sit facing the wall when they go to a restaurant together, the partner may say, “You mean you can’t even go to a restaurant without objectifying someone? What’s wrong with you?”
If the partner is aware of her thoughts and feelings in the moment and able to express them cleanly she might say, “When I see you choosing to sit facing the wall, I worry that you objectify women when we’re together and I feel fearful and embarrassed about that.” The partner could even acknowledge or appreciate that the addict is using recovery tools.
It takes a lot more vulnerability and courage to say what you’re thinking and feeling, than it does to displace your fear and shame onto the addict.
Take a moment to explore your own attitudes toward the addict and his recovery plan and activities. Does your level of acceptance and support of the addict match your desire for his sobriety? Are there ways in which you directly or indirectly discourage the addict’s recovery? If so, what do you need to do to change your mindset? If you’ve got resentments or other issues standing in the way of your full support for recovery, process those with a friend, mentor, sponsor, or therapist.
You can’t cause the addict to slip or relapse. But you you do have an impact on the addict’s recovery.
If you’re a partner, I invite you to share in the comment section below your experience, strength, and hope about sabotage and support on the recovery path.*
© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2015)
*All submitted comments are subject to editing to protect confidentiality and maintain anonymity.
I am struggling with sharing my thoughts and feelings with him without shaming him. I am so resentful of him and what he did that I don’t know if I can ever respect him. I am working on this with my therapist but don’t feel like I’m getting very far. Any specific suggestions?
Vicki Tidwell Palmer says
Hi Teri, this is such a great question, and a common problem. What I love is that you are striving to share your truth and your feelings in a way that is respectful.
Here is some quick, laser feedback: I teach all of my clients and the partners I work with in my online community to use the Talking Format (developed by Pia Mellody) when they have something difficult or important to share. If you have a copy of my book, Moving Beyond Betrayal, you can find an example of how to use it at the bottom of page 130. There is also a copy of the Talking Format in the Appendix. It is not only a great tool for sharing difficult information with another person in a respectful way, but also will help you sort through situations, your thoughts, and emotions as they happen, and give you a framework for making requests.
Hope this helps.
Mandy C says
I feel that I’m doing pretty well in supporting all these areas of my husband’s recovery. I understand that he was exposed to porn at such a young age that he didn’t have a choice about an addiction taking root. Granted we had a no porn agreement when we got married, and he choose to secretly break that promise, causing great damage to our relationship. We both now understand the true nature of his addiction and any and all measures that he takes to fight back and recover are definitely good for both of us, even if it takes up more of his time or requires change that might feel uncomfortable or upsetting at times. My husband and I are on a 90 day abstinence path right now, which includes all porn or sexually arrousing imagery- including people from real life, and all sexual activity, with the hope of this helping to reset his brain pathways linked to his addiction. I would like to know tho if during these 90 days he should also be working to avoid sexual fantasies in his head? He claims that he only fantasizes about me, but does so multiple times per day. He feels this is the only way he has been able to abstain from everything else for the last 60 days. I thought perhaps that fantasizing, even about me, would interfere with the goal of the 90 days, but I’m hard pressed to find any info that actually provides any clarification. Could you please help me to understand what are the guidelines in this area?
Vicki Tidwell Palmer says
Hi Mandy, this is such a painful experience for betrayed partners and I can understand why you are feeling distress about it.
I wrote an article about this very issue and you can find it here: Sharing Thought & Fantasies.