The partner’s journey through sex addiction : Rebuilding your life

Week 3 of our blog series focusses on what partners of sex addicts can do to start rebuilding their life following the discovery of sex addiction and/or porn addiction in their relationship.  Week 1 detailed the different ways that partners can find out about the 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.

You cannot fix the sex addiction

It is common for partners of sex addicts to feel they can ‘make’ their addicted partner recover from the sex addiction.  It is an understandable reaction.  It is a way of feeling in control of the heart-breaking mess that has entered your life.  Partners work very hard in researching help for their addicted partner.  We would like to gently say that only your addicted partner can do the work on his/her recovery from sex addiction or porn addiction.  You can offer support and encouragement, but you can’t ‘do’ the work for them.  Instead your attention can be focussed on taking care of your needs and starting to rebuild your life one brick at a time.  Two of those building blocks are understanding your emotional triggers and setting boundaries.

Building block one : Understanding your emotional triggers

Partners of sex addicts or porn addicts can feel like their emotions have hijacked them.  One moment you are feeling okay, the next moment you are filled with rage, anxiety or deep sadness.  These emotions don’t just happen.  You have been triggered by something or someone.  Triggers can be people, places, events or routines.  You could be walking around a supermarket and see an attractive person.  You could feel instant rage for that person.  Or you are at home, your addicted partner is late home from work, and they have not texted.  You could be filled with anxiety that they are sexually acting out somewhere.  Keeping a journal of these triggers and reactions can help to build a plan in avoiding these triggers.  For example, shop online for the moment, if you know shopping malls are a trigger.  Ask your addicted partner to contact you if they are going to be late home from work.  The more you understand your triggers, the more you will be able to plan and to feel more in control.

Building block two : Setting boundaries

Creating simple and clear boundaries for yourself will enable you to have the thinking and emotional space that you need to recover from the betrayal of the sex addiction.  There are 5 areas in your life that can have boundaries set into them.  These are:

Physical contact

Often partners of sex addicts will ask for some physical space while they work things through.  This could be that the addicted partner sleeps in a different room for a while.  The time frame can be reviewed at regular points.  Don’t feel pressurised by your addicted partner to resume physical and sexual contact.  Both of you need to feel ready to resume physical contact.

Emotional contact

In the early days of sex addiction discovery, it can feel like that all you do is think about the sex addiction or porn addiction.  A good way of controlling the amount of thinking time you spend on the topic, is to set a boundary.  Agree with your addicted partner a date and time that suits both of you and this time can be spent talking about the specifics of recovering from the sex addiction as well as any further questions you may have about the compulsive sexual acting out behaviour.  By setting this time aside to specifically look at your relationship, and the recovery work of the sex addict, you will have the head space to think about other aspects of your life, such as going to work, picking kids up from school, going out with friends etc. 

You may also be on the receiving end of a lot of emotion from the addicted partner.  He or she may want to express their sadness, guilt, remorse and anger with you.  This can feel overwhelming and unfair.  You can request that your addicted partner talk about their feelings to a good friend, at a 12-step group or with a trained therapist in sex addiction counselling.  By removing this pressure to be an emotional support for your addicted partner, you have the space to look at your own feelings of anger, betrayal, hurt and confusion.  Further support for partners can be found in our previous mini blog series which looks at the mindbody and soul betrayal of sex addiction.

Your friends and family

There may be certain friends and family members that you know are not going to be supportive.  It is okay to set a boundary that you don’t see these friends for a while, or request you see the family members at their home, rather than at yours.

Your joint finances

A financial boundary can be built into an accountability contract (more on those in our next blog!).  One such boundary could be a weekly or monthly review of the bank and credit-card statements and that no cash withdrawals are made without your knowledge.

Your home environment

At present, it may feel like that your home has been invaded by the sex addiction and/or porn addiction.  Rebuilding your home into a safe place can take time.  Understanding your triggers will help you to express to your addicted partner what you need to feel safe.  Some ways in doing this is having internet blockers and accountability software installed, setting the internet to be turned off at 10 pm, electronic devices being left out in full view as well as planning what to watch on television so you are not caught by a triggering storyline.  These suggestions can be included in the accountability contract.

We hope this blog has given you a few building blocks to start rebuilding your life.  Week 4 of our blog series will look at the difficult decision of staying in the relationship or deciding if it is time to leave.

Additional book resource for partners of sex addicts: 

Sex Addiction : The Partner’s Perspective (Routledge) by Paula Hall