For years I have treated sex addicts and their spouses. During this time I have observed a tension in the treatment world. The model I was taught was to treat the addict first and encourage the spouse to put her needs and feelings aside to support him. The popular idea was that if you treat the relationship you will cause more problems. I struggled. I knew the addict needed help and support to live in recovery and dive deep into the pain that causes the issues. I also knew the spouse needed to have support with the grief, loss, and trauma in order to move toward healing. But, what about this thing called marriage? Did it not need attention? Did it not need healing? Did it not need hope?
As I have struggled and prayed, I gained wisdom from God. Yes, he truly wants me to help the addict because he is a child of God, “chosen before the creation of the world.” He wants me to help the spouse as well, also a child of God, brokenhearted and needing healing through comfort and assurance. I was reminded by God that in marriage two become one flesh. The Bible compares this to the union between Christ and the Church and says, “What God has joined together let no one separate.” Wow. It was revealed to me that I must honor what God honors. Marriage. This has helped me break the tension in how to proceed in the treatment of sexual addiction. I can help the addict, I can support the spouse, and I can tend to the marriage relationship.
How do I apply this in my daily practice? My approach is to meet with the addict, start recovery work, providing the necessary ingredients to help him walk in recovery. I also quickly meet with the spouse to hear her story and encourage her by confirming her trauma and loss. I help get her the support she needs ASAP. In addition, I let her know the treatment plan for the addict. As I continue to work with the addict, I make it clear that the spouse is welcome to come in anytime to the sessions to share what she is seeing at home, confront any issues that may have arisen, and see the progress the addict is making. We also work quickly toward full therapeutic disclosure to help all three entities to heal: addict, spouse, and relationship.
As we continue in our work, we move toward what I call “couple repair work,” not marriage counseling. The goal of this counseling is to stay focused on the recovery/ healing process. This helps the spouse to feel safe and not obligated to focus on issues typically addressed in marriage counseling. To the spouse, the idea of traditional marriage work can, if started too early, feel like we’re minimizing the more immediate issues, and giving a free pass to the addict. I help the addict to understand the value of “couple repair work” over marriage counseling. He has to learn to respect his spouse as a person before he can have the privilege to be with her as his wife. Through this process we are holding a delicate balance between all three, and yet we are giving high honor and respect to what God respects.