Week 5 of our blog series focusses on how to start rebuilding your life together as a couple following the discovery of sex addiction in your relationship. If you missed the previous blogs in this series, then here is a little recap:
Week 1 looked at the different ways that partners can find out about sex addiction or porn addiction and the initial reactions and feelings that partners can feel.
Week 2 focussed on how partners can look after themselves in the days and weeks following discovery and disclosure.
Week 3 focussed on rebuilding the partner’s life by understanding their emotional triggers and creating clear boundaries.
Week 4 looked at the question “do I stay in the relationship or do I go?”
Please note – this blog is written assuming you have read the previous 4 blogs and have decided to stay in your relationship with your sexually addicted partner.
Maintaining your individual recoveries
Sometimes, in therapy, the analogue of two semi-detached houses is used to describe the work that is required by the couple following the discovery of sex addiction in the relationship. Let me explain……
The sexually addicted partner lives in one of the semi-detached houses and the partner lives in the other. The houses have their own back gardens and there is a low fence separating the two back gardens. The back gardens represent the individual recoveries that the couple need to make following the discovery of sex addiction in their relationship.
The sexually addicted partner’s garden could consist of attending counselling, going to a 12-step support group, learning to play the piano, understanding his or her triggers and communicating a plan to ensure these triggers are avoided or at least managed. The partner’s garden consists of healing from the shock and trauma of discovery and working on self-care (see blog 2 and 3).
The two gardens are separated by a low fence. This allows the couple to look at each other’s gardens and observe how well (or not) the individual recoveries are going. If it looks like the sexually addicted partner’s grass needs a cut, the partner can point this out. But the partner cannot leap over the fence and do the mowing! If both parties are maintaining their individual gardens, then the couple can move onto looking at the garden in front of the semi-detached houses. This garden has no fence in between and is worked on together by the couple.
Growing and healing as a couple
The front garden is the part of the property where the couple work together on their couple recovery. The couple relationship has been severely damaged, and it will take time to repair and recover. The front garden needs to be reviewed by the couple and decide which parts of the garden needs a redesign and which parts of the garden only requires a bit of weeding. Couples can be surprised when they reflect on their relationship prior to the discovery, that there is a lot of ‘good’ in the relationship and the foundations are quite strong (if you want to analyse the strength of your relationship – see our blog on the topic). Following the discovery of sex addiction in the relationship, it can feel like the foundations are no longer strong. Therefore, looking after your individual back gardens will help you have the strength to look at the front garden. Paula Hall in her book “Sex Addiction : a guide for couples” lists 10 principles that couples in recovery act on to help heal and grow the relationship. Living by these 10 principles can help sustain you as you work on the front garden. The principles are:
- They blame the addiction, not each other
- They commit to rebuilding trust and developing deeper intimacy
- They each accept responsibility for how they think, feel and behave
- They each accept responsibility for meeting their own recovery needs and becoming happy and whole
- They have support from others in their individual recovery
- They support each other in their individual recovery
- They empathise with each other
- They respect each other
- They are honest with each other
- They give each other the benefit of the doubt
It will not be easy committing to these 10 principles but if you do, then the couple relationship can grow into a positive, healthy and loving relationship. Please read our other blogs aimed at the couple in recovery, which will help grow and develop your front garden.
Couples blog series – Understanding the importance of disclosure
Couples blog series – Rebuilding trust
However, not all couples decide to stay together. People can rebuild their lives after divorce; families are reshaped and integrated in different ways. If you decide this is the best option for you, then read Paula Hall’s book "How to have a healthy divorce : A Relate Guide".
Our final blog in our partner series will look at personal testimonies from partners who have lived through the journey of discovery and rebuilt their life.
For more information can be found on this topic in: