The partner’s journey through sex addiction : Do I stay, or do I go?

Week 4 of our blog series focusses on the difficult question that partners of sex addicts ask us at the Laurel Centre – should I stay in the relationship or should I go?

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. 

Give yourself time

We recommend that you give yourself time before deciding to stay or to leave the relationship.  Many partners of sex addicts are in long term relationships.  They have many shared memories, possibly a shared mortgage, have children together and generally enjoyed a good relationship before the discovery of sex addiction.  Giving space to contemplate all parts of your relationship (not just the sex addiction and/or porn addiction) will help you decide on whether to stay in the relationship.

Time is also needed to heal from the trauma of discovery and to see the start of evidence of recovery from your addicted partner.

Living with a recovering sex addict or porn addict

If your addicted partner is committed to recovering from his or her sex addiction or porn addiction, then there will be some key signs that you can look out for.  Recovery is a long process.  We have seen at the Laurel Centre through our couple therapy and the Couples Weekend Intensive course, that couples that commit to working together in recovery generally stay together.  Key elements of recovery for the sex addict or porn addict are:

  • Understanding his or her triggers for the compulsive sexual behaviour
  • Creating a plan to manage those triggers
  • Sticking to an accountability contract
  • Seeking support either through personal therapy, 12 step programme or groupwork
  • Understanding the root of the sex addiction and/or porn addiction
  • Communicating clearly their physical and emotional needs
  • Understanding the hurt they have caused to their partner and the subsequent healing required    

You may have read the above list and thought ‘well I am not seeing any of these signs of recovery’.  If that is the case, then talk through with your addicted partner what actions you need to see to start rebuilding trust in the relationship.  These actions generally form into an accountability contract.

Creating an accountability contract

An accountability contract provides a boundary for the couple.  The addicted partner thinks through what actions need to happen to ensure they stay in recovery and not sexually act out.  The addicted partner needs to know their triggers to be able to build in safety blocks to help them not act out.  A typical contract might look like this:-

My commitments

  • I will not delete history on any internet device or keep them password protected
  • I will not travel away overnight on business for at least the next 6 months
  • I will not use any internet device within the home unless in full view of you
  • I will always leave my mobile accessible and on ring
  • I will continue to attend therapy and regular support groups
  • I will use a mutually accessible online diary for all work and social appointments
  • I will make no purchase over £30 without mutual consent
  • I will not make any kind of contact with any previous acting out partners
  • I will tell you immediately if any previous acting out partners contact me
  • I will notify you immediately if I am going to be any more than 10 minutes late

Reasons to leave

If it is clear to you that your addicted partner cannot accept responsibility for his / her sexually compulsive behaviour and not willing to work at finding out the cause of their addiction, then it may be time to consider leaving the relationship.  Other questions to consider in your decision process is the following:

  • Do you still love one another?
  • Do you still enjoy each other’s company?
  • Do you share the same goals for the future?
  • Do you know why you want to leave?
  • Is there violence or domestic abuse in the relationship?
  • Was the relationship difficult before the disclosure?
  • Do you want to be able to forgive your partner?
  • Can they forgive themselves?
  • Do you respect your partner?
  • Do they respect you?
  • Are you afraid of being on your own?
  • Are you waiting for someone better to come along?

Again, give yourself time to think through these questions before deciding if leaving is the best option.  Our blog ‘Analysing the strength of your relationship’ may also help in your decision process.  We hope this blog has given you some guidance on what questions to think when considering staying in the relationship or to leave.  Our next blog will focus on how couples can start to rebuild their relationship.

For more information can be found on this topic in:

Sex Addiction: The Partner’s Perspective

Sex Addiction : A guide for couples