Each partnership that seeks Couples Sexual Recovery therapy has its own unique place of struggle, pain, heartache and wounded-ness. To honor a couple’s unique situation, I do not provide a “cookie cutter” treatment plan that fits every couple. However, I do base each treatment plan on 9 vital and proven foundational pieces that facilitate healing.
As a certified Sex Addiction Recovery Therapist (SRT), credentialed by the American Association for Sex Addiction Treatment (AASAT), I incorporate the AASAT model. Some of its components are:
1. DESIRE TO PRESERVE THE RELATIONSHIP and FAMILY.
Fundamental to recovery is a desire to preserve the relationship, marriage, and family. If this desire is completely dead in either partner, the potential for healing is sharply diminished and perhaps impossible. Motivation for doing the difficult work will be lacking.
Sometimes, one partner feels hopeless that recovery can be real, or can’t imagine being able to conquer the addiction. However, the smallest spark of desire to recover can be enough to start the healing process. I ask couples to “trust the process” and give it a chance to heal their marriage as it has for so many others.
2. SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVE
The AASAT treatment model assumes that God is real and has created us for high and holy purposes. This assumption is essential to the effectiveness of the recovery process. God has not forgotten any of us and He has the power to heal us and help us change. I do not expect or insist that everyone who comes to the recovery process be ready to accept this assumption.
However, clients must strive for a change of heart and soul, or initial behavioral changes will lack the deep roots needed for sustainable change. I start with behavioral changes, but the ultimate goal is for clients to undergo a complete change of heart, ultimately aligning his/her soul with Eternal principles and laws established by God for our greatest happiness.
3. INTENSIVE TREATMENT PROGRAM
The “Gold Standard” for recovery from Sexual Addiction or Intimacy Anorexia (characteristics include withholding of love, appreciation, sex) is a 3- to 5-day Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program. This is the “surgery” that will expose the addiction for what it is, and allow us to understand the level of healing and recovery necessary.
Often, couples come to me after years or decades participating in unsuccessful therapies, reading self-help books and even enrolling in expensive inpatient treatment programs – all without success. Over and over, couples have told me that the Intensive was worth the investment of time and money. I have witnessed remarkable turn-around in couples that immerse themselves in the Intensive program.
In the long run, these couples spend less time and money in treatment, as their recovery process is expedited by participating in the Intensive. To not participate in the Intensive is parallel to treating the symptoms of cancer without knowing the exact location or extent of the illness.
For healing to truly begin, a complete and honest disclosure is essential. For addicts, a pattern of lying and deception is inherent in the relationship, and lying may have developed its own addictive quality. Disclosure is facilitated with the therapist and by participating in a therapeutic polygraph. These polygraphs are clinical in nature, not criminal.
They are covered by the same protections in any therapeutic setting, and are subject to the same legal limitations on confidentiality. Refer to the details on confidentiality and legal limitations. Agreeing to participate in a polygraph provides several benefits to the couple, including:
- Validation of reality and truth for the spouse.
- An opportunity for the addict to “come clean” from the secretive double life he or she has been living.
- An external “proof” that the addict is capable of telling the truth.
- A sense of having a fresh start to begin the healing process Disclosure that happens in a “dribble” – meaning a little of the truth at a time, rather than with a complete and “clean cut” – is more damaging. Any healing and recovery that occurs between dribbles of disclosure is effectively undone. The “dribble effect” adds a new layer of pain, doubt and devastation. The “dribble effect” damage makes healing even more difficult and, sometimes, it is irreparable. A polygraph gives the needed support and motivation to make a clean “surgical cut” into the truth.
An essential part of recovery is to confront harmful ways of thinking and behaving, and replace them with healthier methods. I will recommend reading and DVD resources according to the needs of the couple that will address addict recovery, partner recovery, marital recovery and other issues. These resources help couples to
- Confront denial,
- Minimize damage to each partner and the relationship, and
- Increase empathy for the pain experienced by the other.
If a couple is not continually reading or viewing these materials, the pace of healing and recovery are sharply diminished.
6. COMMUNITY SUPPORT/GROUPS
One of the most vital components of recovery is participation in separate support groups for the addict and the spouse. Addicts attend a Freedom group or other 12-Step Program, or an Intimacy Anorexia Group. Their spouses attend a gender-specific Partner Support Group.
Both partners in the relationship need and deserve healing. Both have arduous and daunting work ahead of them. Even the very best of us will avoid this type of difficult work without the support of others who are walking the same path. A basic, deep human need is to relate to others who have similar pain. People in your lives who don’t struggle with Sexual Addiction or Intimacy Anorexia love you, but cannot understand at the depth needed to validate, sooth and challenge you. Support groups also hold you accountable for your transformation.
One element of the support groups is phone calls to other members of the group. Addicts are asked to call a group member daily. Spouses will make a minimum of 1 call a week, and more as needed. These contacts lead to a strong support system and are the antidote to the isolation of addiction. Groups urge participants to make use of each other as resources in their recovery and transformation.
7. INDIVIDUAL RECOVERY
At times, it is wise for the addict and spouse to participate in individual therapy. This could be to address individually the struggles of the current situation, to explore thoughts and feelings that could be hurtful to share with the partner, or to delve into early life experiences affecting current functioning. In individual therapy, the person can freely express feelings such as anger, devastation, hopelessness, grief and ambivalence.
These private sessions are also helpful to explore past traumas from your individual life history that contribute to the current pain. Sometimes, individual therapy allows you to explore your options, including the pros and cons of staying in the marriage or leaving it.
8. 5 Commandments
In Couples Sexual Recovery therapy, I ask the addict to adhere to the “5 Commandments of Recovery.” These are:
- Morning prayer. If you do not have a strong connection with or belief in God, you can still acknowledge daily the need for a Higher Power to help conquer your addiction.
- Daily reading of recovery literature. You must educate yourself on what you are dealing with. My list of is a good place to start. Take it one at a time. There’s a lot to absorb.
- Group participation. Being involved in a weekly support group will be a grueling process for the addict and the partner, but to expect to recover alone would be unwise. There are recovery groups for intimacy anorexics and sex addicts, and groups that combine the two.
- Phone calls. Calling group members is often the hardest of the 5 commandments. It requires you to confront the shame you’ve been carrying and reach out to others who carry a similar burden of pain and addiction. It’s the beginning of developing healthy relationships with other people based on the truth of who you are, not the image you’ve projected. As you get to know one another, you can expect to be challenged in the behaviors that need to change. As you heal, you will also be asked to hold others accountable.
- Evening prayer. At the end of the day, you will express gratitude for a day of recovery or give an account of relapses. Prayer both morning and night is an act of acknowledging that you need help beyond your own to heal. It is a reaching out to God, activating and acknowledging His assistance. It is also a step towards building or continuing a very real, intimate relationship with your Creator. The first sign of relapse is failing to keep any of these “5 Commandments.”
9. The 3 Dailies
Part of your recovery as a couple will involve participating in the 3 Dailies, which are:
- Share two appreciations and praises about your spouse with your spouse.
- Share two feelings with your spouse.
- Pray aloud with your spouse. Typically, it is the addict’s job to initiate the 3 Dailies for the first 60 to 90 days. Why? So the addict can overcome their passive role in the relationship and replace that behavior with one of pursuing your partner’s heart. Your spouse may be so deeply wounded at first that he/she won’t be able to receive your dailies. Regardless, it is your job to initiate. If your partner doesn’t want to hear your 3 Dailies, then you will write them down to keep for later. Eventually, the goal is that both of you will initiate and participate together in these actions.
As a Certified Gottman Therapist, I am thrilled and fascinated whenever the Gottman and AASAT treatment models overlap. Dr. John Gottman’s methods teach couples to share daily appreciations and affections, and to turn towards one another. These behaviors, he says, are especially critical to repairing and rebuilding a damaged relationship. Some couples try to cobble together a treatment plan of their own – skipping over important pieces, often the most difficult parts, of recovery.
In my experience, many couples eventually accept the tough recommendations given at the start, trust the process that’s been proven through decades of working with the addict population, and join the thousands who are actively in recovery and successfully rebuilding their marriages. Other couples, unfortunately, over a matter of months of trying to follow their own “treatment” plan, become discouraged by the lack of change, progress and healing. These couples often discontinue therapy and are unable to obtain the peace and happiness they desire.
If you are not yet ready for private theray or feel it may not be appropriate for your situation, but would like to improve your relationship with your signficant other, I recommend my couples weekend workshop: The Art and Science of Love, created by the Gottman Institute.