Relapses: A Time for Grace?

According to the 2014/2015 survey of wives of sex addicts, many women struggle with following through with consequences. I’m talking about the consequences that go with the healthy, protective boundaries we set around ourselves while we try to live with a sex addict.

I suspect many, many of us have said at one time: “If you do that again, I’m outta here!” However, according to the survey, only 15% of respondents always follow through with consequences.

There are two major reasons why we might not follow through with a consequence:
1. Enabling: could take the form of spiritualizing, ignoring the breach, or excusing it due to fear
2. Grace

The Relapse

I recently read a post from a wife in the JHJ forum. She said that her husband had another relapse, but then… all sex addicts do.

This is an incorrect assumption taught by many 12-step based recovery groups. In fact, not all husbands relapse into the addictive behaviour. Most will continue struggling with related issues such as lusting, being sexually triggered by images/people, lying, minimizing, narcisstic behaviour, etc. However, many will not fall back in to an affair, go to a strip club or use porn again once they start recovery.

Seriously.

But many will. Some will even fall into a “worse” (i.e. more advanced) form of the addiction (e.g. moving from porn to prostitute use). I suspect this is more common when the addiction treatment model is focused solely on behaviour modification with little attention given to treating the underlying causes of the addiction. It may also be more common when “solo” work is being emphasised over restoration of the marriage relationship. (More on this in my book Beyond Betrayal coming out in 2016.)

Extending Grace

There are women I respect who have seen their husband relapse and then extended grace. They could have chosen to follow through on stated consequences, but instead readjusted the boundaries to stronger ones that would help make her safer and avoid the likelihood of her husband relapsing yet again.

In one recent example I felt grace was probably the right choice. Why?

  • The general trend in the husband was toward recovery: he supported it, and did his work.
  • Though the husband did not like one of the new boundaries she put in place following the relapse (it meant some serious loss of freedom for him – but then he’d used that same freedom to betray her) he ultimately accepted it. Without much kicking and screaming either.
  • The husband was actively seeking out other boundaries that would protect himself from relapse and make his wife feel safer.

Other factors that would cause me to consider extending grace (things I'd be bringing up in a discussion with Jesus anyway):

  • Confession of the relapse before being caught
  • A show of true contritution and a desire to make restitution
  • General improvement in underlying causes (e.g. spiritual maturation, more transparency, more selflessness, more honesty)

Enacting Consequences

Of course there are instances where the husband is calling for grace and consequences are what are actually warranted.

Take the case of G, who lived through decades of her husband’s affairs, porn use, violence and emotional abuse. In the midst of all this were faked recoveries, spiritualizing, and boatloads of lies. After going through a period of such extreme heartbreak she turned to self-harm, G finally left. As is often the case, her personal healing soared once she was free of the crazymaking. She's been on her own for six months now.

However, a couple weeks ago G got a call. Apparently her husband now “gets it” and wants to reconcile. He’s even checked himself into an intensive counselling program with one of the more renowned personnages in the field.

Is grace warranted here?

G remains wary: as well she should. My prayer for her — and for all in similar situations — is for discernment and the strength to do what God would have her do.

Whether that ends up being the extension of grace or staying the course with consequences, neither will be easy. Both cost us dearly — and cost Jesus even more.