Determining the right time to initiate couples therapy, for those couples who are open to it, is part of an ongoing assessment process. While some treaters may dictate that couples therapy should wait until there is sufficient individual therapy for both the sex addicted person and the partner, we prefer a less rigid approach – looking at the particular people involved and the current state of the relationship to decide, in collaboration with the clients, when couples therapy is indicated. (Typically, in order to maintain clear roles and therapeutic boundaries, the couple’s therapist is not also an individual therapist working with one of the partners. An exception is sometimes made, if it is in the best interests of the clients, where the therapist who is initially working with the partner, transitions to a couples therapist role.)
Couples work as part of an overall treatment approach, can in the beginning phases:
- Help stabilize a relationship that may be spiraling out of control with emotional volatility and conflict by providing a safe place to begin to open up and process the intense emotions, as well as develop strategies to contain conflict at home.
- Help the partner who has been caught up a sex addiction pattern respond empathetically to their partner’s pain, instead of getting defensive and combative.
- Help both partners understand the meaning of the sex addiction patterns – in particular the underlying coping function that usually has little or nothing to do with real sexual needs. While it is usual for partners to be skeptical of that idea, over time, due to the addict’s deeper understanding and shared insights, the truth of that concept can become much clearer and facilitate the couple’s recovery process.
- Help the addicted partner clarify and articulate a concrete, action oriented recovery plan – typically developed in individual therapy - to move away from and stop addictive behaviors; while at the same time defining and moving towards a healthier way of being that includes responsivity to the partner’s needs. This is part of a critical ongoing effort to rebuild trust – to reassure the partner and reduce the partner’s fear that the pattern will continue or reoccur sometime in the future.
As the therapy progresses and deepens, couples can experience:
- The person in recovery for addiction effectively reassure the partner about their behavior and recovery process as needed. Regular "check-ins" can be part of the relationship building process.
- An increased sense of openness and emotional vulnerability, as both partners learn how to express themselves more fully while remaining respectful and empathetic. This leads to a more responsive and satisfying relationship.
- An ability to trust and feel secure.
- The return of good feelings as part of an intimate relationship.
While we are not suggesting this is an easy undertaking – it is challenging - in the end many couples who persist find a deeper sense of connection, intimacy, and rekindled love.