When I work with couples facing sexual addiction, they often question how they should address being sexual in their marriage.  Some spouses may want to maintain their marital sex life and others may want to avoid it altogether.  While a healthy sex life is important for any marriage, when recovering from sexual addiction there is much healing needed before the couple can be sexual again.

Misconceptions about the Addiction

Often when a sexual addiction is discovered, couples might believe it is because they were not sexual enough.  This is misguided because most often the real problem has nothing to do with sex.  Couples need to first understand that sex was merely a drug that was used to self-medicate deep emotional wounds, most often from childhood. They need to understand that the addict is not some sick pervert, but a deeply wounded child of God.  They also need to realize how deeply wounded the spouse is and in need of healing.

Healthy Marital Recovery

To begin a healthy healing process, I first have the couple sign a 90-day abstinence contract.  This will give them time to work on sobriety and emotional healing.  Education also plays a big role at this point.  I have couples read books, such as Integrity Restored, Worthy of Her Trust, Shattered Vows and Wired for Intimacy.  This helps them gain a clearer understanding of the addiction, how it develops, how it affects loved ones, and what the recovery process looks like.  This 90-day period also allows me to work with the couple on developing their recovery programs as individuals and as a couple.  This includes individual and marital therapy as well as support groups.

This abstinence period is crucial to achieve sustainable sobriety for the addicted person.  Like all addicts, he must go through a detox period where his brain purges itself of the need for sex and can once again become accustomed to operating at a normal level of neurochemical stimulation.   This can last one to six months.  During the 90-day time of abstinence we work on developing an effective plan to achieve and maintain sobriety.  An addicted person cannot achieve this while he is sexual, even with his wife.

This time of abstinence can be a great relief for the spouse.  First, she might be so traumatized because of the betrayal that there is no way she could possibly be sexual with her husband.  Requiring her to be sexual early in recovery could re-traumatize her.  Some wives become hypersexual with their husbands because they feel responsible for the addiction.  They might also believe they must be hypersexual to prevent their husbands from acting out sexually outside the marriage.  The abstinence period can help a wife feel less responsible for the addiction because she will come to realize that it wasn’t because she wasn’t sexual enough with the addict.

During the abstinence period, I work with the couple on healing their individual and marital wounds.  For many, this means forging a new marital relationship.  While a spouse is never responsible for the addiction, both partners may have entered the marriage with deep wounds that prevented them from having a healthy relationship from the start.  By addressing their individual and marital wounds, they can create a new and healthy relationship.  For the addicted person, restoring trust in the relationship is crucial.  Every day he must prove his trustworthiness by being totally honest and transparent.  This honesty includes a disclosure session where he reveals all of his sexual activity outside the marriage.  While this may be painful, it is necessary for true healing and recovery.

Healthy Sex and Intimacy

A big part of the healing process is teaching the couple about healthy intimacy and God’s plan for sexuality.  Here is where I recommend they read St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body and Love and Responsibility.  Through this process a couple can be ready to be sexual again.  When asked when they can become sexual again, my answer is “when each spouse feels safe enough to resume sex, and when each spouse wants to be sexual.”  It is only when these criteria are met that a couple can safely be sexual again.

As you can see, when faced with sexual addiction, much work is needed before a couple can be sexual again.  They must have a clear understanding of the addiction and the recovery process.  Sustained sobriety must be achieved. They need time to heal from their individual and marital wounds.  They must re-establish trust, understand God’s plan for sexuality, and develop healthy intimacy.  While this may seem like a lot of work, it doesn’t take a lot of time to achieve this.  Once a couple gets to this point in their recovery, they will be able to have a healthy sex life.

Many couples who have achieved this level of healing and recovery tell me their marriages are much more intimate because of the work they’ve done.  They feel they finally have the marriage they’ve always wanted but never knew it!

10 09 2017
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