Last week I introduced the idea that we may wish to take occasional “snapshots” of our husband’s recovery state in order to evaluate if there is forward progress happening. I began by saying that we might start by taking a snapshot of where our husband is with regards to his acting out behavior(s). However, I do recognize that for many women they have no way to know for sure that what their husband is telling them about his acting out behavior is true. When this is the case, it becomes particularly important to evaluate those behaviors we absolutely can observe.
Below is a list of behaviors that, if tracked, will give us a decent idea of whether or not our husband is moving forward in his recovery.
In early recovery many wives of sex addicts ask their husbands for more transparency – especially with regards to those areas of his life that aided and abetted him in lying and hiding his acting out. This might include his communications with others, his technology usage, his whereabouts. Some husbands are only too happy to begin to live more transparently, and others resist it vehemently, standing on “my rights.” Obviously, the latter shows a lack of good recovery/maturity.
As recovery progresses, men don’t even wait to be asked to be transparent: they begin to volunteer information (e.g. check-ins) and ongoing transparency (e.g., internet monitoring, allowing random checks of their technology, installing a tracking app).
How is my husband doing with transparency? The left extreme indicates, "extremely badly, still lies to me and refuses transparency measures." The right extreme indicates there is "extremely good transparency that he cheerfully offers and initiates.”
Self-Awareness and Self-Care
The recovery journey is very much a journey of becoming more familiar with oneself (one 12-step adage is “find yourself, forgive yourself, forget yourself”). Growing self-awareness in recovery will include an understanding of one’s triggers (to acting out and other sinful behaviors), some of the root causes (e.g. trauma, attachment wounds, faulty beliefs) of the addictive behavior, and greater awareness of where growth needs to occur.
Self-care often follows self-awareness. Since it’s a critical part of avoiding relapse, it is actually quite important our husband practices self-care: even if we feel that he’s lead a very self-centered life in the past. Self-care should not look like “self-indulgence,” but rather like setting up good boundaries and routines around his physical, emotional and spiritual health.
How is my husband doing with self-awareness? Self-care? The left extreme indicates, "extremely badly, even when asked." The right extreme indicates there is "extremely good self-care routines in place which he maintains as a high (but not highest) priority.”
Prior to recovery, a sex addict’s priorities might look something like: keep the addiction(s) safe, keep me safe, control others/my environment to try and make myself feel safer, perform well in spheres outside the home so that I’m admired, “have fun,” etc. When he enters fully into recovery, these priorities change. Hopefully they now look something like, “lean into God, stay away from (even flee) temptation, connect with others regularly, do my step/group/recovery work, etc.”
It’s important for those in recovery (and those around them) to be mindful that early recovery is a time when people frequently just swap to a new addiction, rather than enter into true recovery. If another “high-dopamine” substance/experience (e.g., TV, alcohol, high-sugar foods, videogames, extreme sports) begins to become a priority at this time, that is not a good sign. Please note that even “marital sex” can become the new addiction. If your husband is suddenly wanting frequent (e.g., daily) sex with you that leaves you feeling used because there’s no emotional or spiritual connection that goes along with it, he’s quite likely just addiction swapping. Consider consulting with your betrayal trauma/SA professional if this is the case.
How is my husband doing with new recovery-focused priorities? The left extreme indicates: "extremely badly, is addiction swapping or not changing priorities." The right extreme indicates "extremely good.”
Despite the fact that many people begin an addiction to medicate their negative emotions, addicts are notoriously angry, depressed, volatile and anxious people. Remove their “drug of choice” and they will almost always get worse for awhile.
However, continued sobriety, combined with engaging the work of recovery helps those with problematic sexual behaviors learn new skills for dealing with negative emotions. This and the new levels of freedom from shame will often see them coping much better with normal life stressors after a time.
How is my husband doing with his mood? The left extreme indicates, "extremely badly, is frequently stuck in negative emotions, goes into extreme/dangerous levels of negative emotions.” The right extreme indicates "extremely good, is able to cope well with normal life stress and bounces back to peace/joy relatively quickly.”
Over the course of many years working in this field I’ve heard dozens of stories of women who were regularly neglected, dishonored, used and (all too frequently) abused by the man who had vowed to love and cherish them. Often this pattern was repeated with their children.
In recovery there should a move toward patient, caring for, protecting and honoring others: starting with wife, children and others God has most immediately put within their sphere of care.
How is my husband doing with his caring for others? The left extreme indicates, "extremely badly, is abusive or neglects wife/family." The right extreme indicates "extremely good, is actively looking to protect and care for wife/family.”
Addiction’s expert Johann Hari once famously said, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection.” Connection with God, self and others is truly the most powerful weapon against addiction and relapse.
For clarity, connection isn’t just showing up at support group, church and work lunch meetings. It’s showing up in communities and relationships and being authentic, and (where appropriate) known. Some recovering addicts will gravitate to non-confronting relationships, or relationships where they feel in control, simultaneously neglecting their more intimate/emotionally riskier relationships with wife, children, family, etc. This is not a sign of good recovery. Listening, staying present while others talk, regularly initiating conversations on emotional topics (even negative), being able to tolerate (and appreciate) negative feedback, honest and vulnerable sharing, are all signs of good recovery.
How is my husband doing with his connection? The left extreme indicates, "extremely badly, avoids intimate connection." The right extreme indicates "extremely good, is actively looking for vulnerable connection, regularly.”
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8.
So much of what is written above could be summarized as “practice love.” I say to addicts that when their wife feels that she is being approached in love, she will have grace for the recovery process: even with all its bumpy patches.
I hope you find this tool helpful in evaluating whether your husband is on his way to being perfected in love (1 John 4:18)… and thus, in good recovery.
Download a PDF worksheet combining the last two posts here.