One of the members of my Partner’s Healing & Empowerment Online Community recently asked a great question that I think many partners would like to know the answer to, so I decided to answer—and expand on the topic—here on the blog.
The essence of the question was:
When doing a weekly couples recovery check-in,
what sobriety date is the addict reporting in the check-in?
First, it’s important to talk about the difference between abstinence and sobriety:
the fact or practice of restraining oneself from indulging in something, typically alcohol.
the state of being sober. (Sober: not affected by alcohol; not drunk. Synonyms: restrain or control)
When talking about “S” recovery (recovery from compulsive sexual behavior or sex and love addiction), I prefer the term sobriety because abstinence often implies that the abstinent person is refraining from all sexual activity—which is definitely not the goal in recovery from out-of-control sexual behavior.
Just like a person recovering from an eating disorder wants to learn and practice how to eat in a healthy way, in sex addiction recovery the goal is for the person with compulsive sexual behavior to discover what defines healthy sex for him/her, and to cultivate healthy sexual expression in alignment with their desires and values.
One of the first tasks in “S” recovery is what is commonly called a sex plan or a Three Circle Plan.
As the Three Circle Plan name implies, there are 3 circles: Inner, Middle, and Outer. The Inner Circle contains behaviors that the recovering person is committed to stop doing. These could include sexual contact outside one’s committed relationship, use of pornography, or hiring prostitutes, for example. It’s important to keep in mind that the Inner Circle can—and does—change over time.
The Middle Circle contains behaviors that could lead—or tempt—the addict to engage in Inner Circle behaviors. Common items in an “S” recovery Middle Circle are: being on the computer, driving past places where he/she used to engage in Inner Circle behaviors, unstructured alone time, or unavoidable contact with a former acting out partner.
Finally, the Outer Circle contains any healthy activities or behaviors that the recovering person wants and needs to cultivate and/or increase. These include: exercise, going to 12-step meetings, reading recovery literature, spending time with family/friends, therapy, or getting proper sleep or nutrition.
The ultimate goal is for the activities in the Outer Circle to replace the behaviors in the Inner Circle the addict used to engage in. The colors red, yellow, and green (like a traffic light) are sometimes used to represent each circle. Red (stop/no) for the Inner Circle behaviors, yellow (caution) for the Middle Circle, and green (go) for Outer Circle activities.
Once the addict creates a circle plan and/or commits to the behaviors he will include in the Inner Circle, these Inner Circle behaviors define how he will measure his sobriety.
For example, if an addict puts pornography, sex outside a committed relationship, and frequenting sexually oriented businesses in his Inner Circle on May 1, and has refrained from each of these behaviors continuously starting on that day, his sobriety date is May 1. If he engages in any of the Inner Circle behaviors any time after May 1, his sobriety date is reset, and begins again on the first date he refrains from engaging in all Inner Circle behaviors.
Once an addict—preferably with the help of a sponsor or therapist—has defined his Inner Circle, he/she should share his Inner Circle with his partner. However, if the couple hasn’t yet completed a formal therapeutic disclosure session and the partner isn’t aware of all of the addict’s behaviors, the Inner Circle is not shared until the disclosure session. The reason for this is to avoid additional “mini-disclosures” prior to the formal disclosure that are so painful and traumatizing to partners.
The couple should have an agreement that any slips or relapses be shared with the partner within 24-48 hours.
This time frame gives the addict an opportunity to talk to his/her support system (sponsor, therapist, or mentor) to process what happened and to get guidance about how to share the information with his partner in a way that is simple, clean, transparent, and doesn’t come across as minimizing, rationalizing, or defensive. Having this additional time to talk to his/her support system also offers the recovering person an opportunity to prepare to answer questions and validate any feelings that come up for the partner.
Some couples do a weekly recovery check-in where the addict shares—among other things—his sobriety date. The sobriety date for the check-in is the date immediately following the last date the addict engaged in any Inner Circle behaviors.
I don’t recommend that couples wait until a weekly check-in for the addict to disclose recent Inner Circle behaviors he/she engaged in since the last check-in unless both members of the couple agree to this practice. Most partners prefer to get information about Inner Circle activities as soon as possible.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2016)
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