This week, Dr. Barbara Steffens, president of APSATS, wraps up our first "Ask the Experts" series. This week's question: how do I know if he's doing enough not to relapse.
Thank you to all the community members who sent in questions. Richard and Barb will be answering the remaining questions in the New Year... so stay tuned.
Is He Doing Enough?
Again, thanks for this question. Partners who have “survived” the initial discovery and subsequent disclosures of hidden sexual secrets and deceit have incredible fear and concern around a loved one relapsing. For a partner, the fear of “relapse” is kind of like anticipating a wrecking ball swinging into a brand new but fragile building—the concrete hasn’t quite hardened yet and the paint isn’t dry—leaving only a rubble of unrecognizable remnants of all the hard work. So it makes sense that a partner needs to know everything is being done to prevent such an event. Partners fear they wouldn’t survive yet another blow.
While I don't think a partner can ever fully know everything in the heart of the loved one who is in recovery, she surely can be alert to signs of good recovery work. A partner can also request (and I believe expect) openness on the part of the person in recovery as to what they are doing in their recovery work. Books like Stop Sex Addiction (Milton Magness) provide a thorough description of what active recovery requires in terms of effort, healing, and support. Watch for your loved one to initiate telling you about their recovery work and what they are learning. Listen for vulnerability (a “soft” heart) and a desire to be who he was created to be. Notice if he is coming “alive” and enjoying his new-found freedom. I remember the day a friend of mine (who did not know anything about what was happening in my life) said, “What is with your husband? He has really changed—in a good way!” This helped me know that what I was seeing was evident to others.
Committed to Change
Recovery requires a life change, a heart change, and a direction change. You should start to see the person in recovery committed to therapy, to group or meetings, to reading, and to a life of integrity. These commitments often do not come immediately but there should be movement in those directions. Watch a trend line (there will be ups and downs) with steady (albeit slow) progress. A person in solid recovery is growing and moving forward because they want to heal—they don’t want to relapse. They desire integrity in their lives. You’ll find yourself trusting their heart—and trusting that THEY don’t want to relapse.
I want to encourage partners to also spend the needed time on their own healing; allow the wounds of betrayal to be attended to and healed through support and care from others. Look to areas in your life where you want to gain confidence and strength. Strengthen your roots! This helps you to heal, AND helps you get strong enough so that, even if there is a relapse, you will have strengthened your reserves and firmed up your resolve to be a survivor and a warrior to fight for yourself and your welfare.
Psalm 1:3 “[S]he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season.”
That’s what recovery looks like for both of you.