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Sex Addiction - Couples

Jory Wilson, SA Specialist

The hidden world of pornography has reshaped how recent generations view sex and sexuality.  What God created as a gift has been distorted into an all consuming black hole that entraps even the most committed followers of Jesus.  What men and women often hear from the pulpit is to simply stop participating in compulsive sexual behavior.  When an individual is unable to stop despite every effort and intention, they are likely left living in the deep shame of a secret life. 


Like other addictions, sex addiction takes those trapped in its web further than they intended to go and keeps them there longer than they intended to stay.  It also fractures marriages in ways other addictions do not.  Make no mistake about it. 


There is hope!  

John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The man or woman caught in the web of sex addiction feels like they are drowning and they’re pulling their spouse down with them.  However, there are men and women all across the globe who have discovered the life raft of hope when there seems like there is none. 


Healing is possible. 


Reconciliation of a fractured marriage IS possible. 


I am one of many hands reaching out from the life raft telling you it is possible to breathe free air again.  It is as true for you now as it was for me several years ago.


Through an intensive program of therapy, primarily based on the work of Patrick Carnes, PhD, a leading expert on sex addiction, the following treatment steps take place in couples therapy:

7 Stages

  1. Crisis Management: create safety 

  2. Honesty: break free from secrets

  3. Insight: understand the “why” of the addiction

  4. Empathy: process the impact of betrayed partner’s feelings

  5. Restitution: create a long term recovery and couples plan

  6. Decision: recommit to the marriage and the recovery

  7. Rebirth: experience a new relationship




The fallout from sex addiction is different than a one-time affair. The betrayed partner often bears the brunt of the initial trauma and will experience traumatic symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, hyper-vigilance, an inability to sleep and other emotional discomfort. The couple usually is engulfed in overwhelming emotions of betrayal, shame and loss.

Our first step in couples therapy is to manage the current crisis. Our work starts immediately with a step-by-step process to build some stability in the midst of chaos.

The crisis management steps include:

  • Communication: Introducing an approach to basic communication where each person can be heard without interruption.

  • Trauma: Learning couples coping skills for trauma, anger and anxiety (including PTSD-like symptoms such as flashbacks). Different coping skills: deep breathing, mindfulness, tapping, grounding using our senses, healthy physical and emotional outlets and others.

  • Narrative: Reframe the narrative for the betrayed partner: "This is not about you!"; “You did not cause it, you cannot control it, and you cannot cure it.” 

  • Breaks: Learn how to negotiate “time-outs” or “space” when needed. Set time limits on discussions.

  • Boundaries for the Couple: Negotiating clear boundaries for physical touch, money, living arrangements and information sharing.

  • Transparency: Installing transparency around communication and actions.

  • Boundaries with 3rd Parties: Assessing whether the acting-out behaviors have stopped, and if not, what steps must be taken to begin our couple work. Plan steps to take if unexpected or uninvited contact.

  • Safety: Reviewing safety from multiple perspectives, including health, work ramifications, and domestic violence.




A full therapeutic disclosure (FTD) process will be planned out so the couple can set a new foundation of honesty. A comprehensive description of the acting out behaviors will be shared. The FTD should be built on an understanding of the vulnerability of the betrayed partner so wise decisions can be made about what should and should not be shared.

The FTD will usually be prepared in conjunction with individual therapy by the acting out partner and then shared in couples therapy. Being able to have a productive conversation about WHAT happened can allow the couple to face the reality of their situation. Only after taking this step can they begin to have the confidence to ask the hard questions of WHY they are struggling with the current crisis.


Once the FTD step is complete, the couple will begin the deep work to understand the reasons WHY the acting-out partner chose the harmful behaviors in the first place. These are first uncovered in individual therapy by the acting-out partner but then processed as a couple in couples therapy.

The non-acting out partner usually comes to understand that acting-out behaviors were not designed to intentionally hurt the other partner; rather, the acting-out behavior is a sign of emptiness, deep pain, and the need for a numbing mechanism. Understanding the underlying cause and healing it, will ultimately take the power out of the addiction.


Both partners must understand how trauma may be impacting both partners. In couples therapy, we will learn how to create a safe place for pain to be expressed without blame and attack.


An Impact Letter will be prepared which captures the depth of the pain experienced by the betrayed partner. We will learn how to comfort the pain so that discussing the betrayal will become a bonding opportunity. Every session, we will have opportunities to practice empathy in the safety of the therapy setting.



The couple will build a plan together to assure that the behavior will not occur again. The couple’s plan has two parts:

Own It: The acting out partner will be specific about actions that caused pain, without minimizing. Full responsibility is taken for all behaviors. The word “but” is eliminated.

This is also an opportunity for the acting-out partner to fully and deeply express understanding and empathy for the depth of the betrayal trauma.

Restitution: The acting out partner sets forth concrete steps to address his or her coping mechanism. It will also include an understanding how intimacy has been blocked in the acting-out partner’s life and new ways of providing healthy connection. The couple’s plan ultimately represents a combination of the offending partner’s recovery plan plus any changes the couple needs to make given all that they have learned. All of this work will be captured in a Restitution Letter. The acting-out partner’s commitment to the plan can represent restitution for the deep wounds inflicted prior to recovery.


One of the biggest triggers for a men in this recovery is hearing their partners say “We never had a real marriage.  Our marriage is dead.”  Moreover, even after all the recovery work and restitution work the betrayed partner may struggle to fully commit to this new marriage. 


This is an incredibly vulnerable moment for the both of you.  On the addicts side, it can be vulnerable to feel in a one down position for a long period and to imagine the rest of your life and relationship being that way.  On the betrayed partner’s side, she never wants to feel betrayed again and can’t imagine going through the experience again.


By working through the earlier stages of recovery, the couple will get to a fork in the road where they can make a conscious choice to lead a different life based on a different foundation. 


A decision to recommit is a real crucible for the relationship.  Both partners will probably go back and forth in this decision process for some time before you feel settled and ready for your second marriage to be born.




A rebirth of the relationship means an active striving towards forgiveness and reconciliation has occurred. Reconciliation is the agreement that a new relationship is now being formed built on honesty and trust to achieve a relationship with healthy emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy. Forgiveness means not holding past hurts against the other and understanding that past history is not forgotten; however, an active choice to move through the hard moments together because there is enough trust rebuilt. 

When and if a couple has recommitted to the relationship, foundational couples therapy will begin. This work allows the couple to focus on intimacy (first emotional and when and if ready sexual) in their relationship. The restoration of intimacy in the couple’s relationship can be a critical part in the addict’s healing journey.

With dedication to this process and an experienced therapy support team, the cycle of sexual addiction can be broken and a journey of healing for the couple can gradually take place.

If you are reading this at the beginning of the journey and you are in crisis this may seem completely miraculous and unbelievable. That’s ok. Just trust us that these sorts of miracles are possible and made ever more possible if you follow the above stages with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength. 

Read More?

Learn more about Jory.

Learn about Sex Addiction and Individuals.

SA & Couple
7 Stages
2. Honesty
1. Crisis
3. Insight
4. Empathy
5. Plan
6. Decision
7. Rebirth
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