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Some Things Are Not Always As They Appear: The Sobriety Anniversary

“You can’t depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.”

-Mark Twain


Do you know those foreground / background pictures meant to trick your eye and fool your perception – the ambiguous images with a contrast of dark and light that can be interpreted in more than one way?  One of the most famous foreground -background contrasting pictures is the old woman wearing a cloak or the young woman with the feather in her hat.  Another is the “Rubin vase” where the multiple perceptions are either the vase or the silhouette profile of two people facing each other.


The sobriety date or “sobriety anniversary” in the marriage impacted by sexual addiction can be very similar in that way.  Sobriety dates have measure and meaning for the addict.  The date marks the progress of their recovery and can be a quantifiable measure of their hard work in recovery.  For the spouse, the anniversary date often marks the anniversary of discovery. The date marks the beginning of understanding that all they thought was, really wasn’t as it appears.  The date marks the transition into a phase of trauma, uncertainty, and feelings of a lack of safety.

Often the addict is very proud of their anniversary and does not understand why their spouse can’t share in their joy and observe the date in the same way.  The anniversary is marked with a “chip” or “coin” in 12-step programs.  Chips are handed out with ritual in the fellowship hallways to give their brethren members hope, strength, and sustenance for the long road of recovery.  It is a time of celebration.


Unfortunately for the spouse there is little feeling of congratulations or celebration, especially in the very early years of recovery.  Somewhere down the road when trust is regained, repair to the relationship happens, and sustained recovery is achieved – a spouse might feel differently, but early on it is very difficult to make out that contrasting shape as in the foreground / background pictures.


Another paradox of recovery is that the marriage has taken quite a blow but a couple can’t be each other’s first resource in the pain of early recovery.  Trust is shattered and often one begins to realize that there were strong deficits in the foundation of the marriage.  A couple will often scramble to try and restore trust and intimacy but do not have a set of tools to help rebuild their new marriage in any other way than the way they built their old marriage.  Additionally, while they should turn towards each other in intimacy, they often can’t because reactivity to each other is so high.  This reactivity to each other undermines the shaky foundation even more. The couple need to process their pain but often can’t do it safely for that reactivity and deficit of skills.


Building a therapeutic team (individual therapists for each person with a separate couples therapist) having a support network of recovery peers, complete with a sponsor for each partner, can be the safe sounding boards to process the raw emotions that surface for addict and spouse alike.  Processing the raw emotional feelings with someone who can truly hear without defense helps one calm their brain often firing in flight-fight-freeze mode. In this process of being heard without judgment, one can feel connected to, which helps lower the flight-fight-freeze survival activity in our brain.  Being heard without reactivity or judgment allows one a better chance to get out to the forebrain and think what one needs to do, or ask for. Learning how to process the raw emotions, without reactivity and shape into palatable / functional ways our spouse can hear, can help the couple stay in dialogue to do the repair work in their marriage.   I say often to couples:  “one may not like the things one is talking about in recovery, but often the couple is now learning how to talk about the things they have needed to talk about” (often for years). In reactivity the dialogue stops, avoidance continues and issues remain unresolved.  When the dialogue can continue functionally, and couples can stay turned towards each other and work through resolving the pain in functional packages, spouses can hear each other, which helps get them further down the road of recovery.



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Technology and Signs of the Times:

Have you seen the AT&T commercial about the family that loses their Internet connection?  It is a farcical depiction of what it might be like if your Internet goes down and how AT&T can save you from such horrors.  The wife runs in breathless to her husband and asks, “Is the internet back on yet?”  He answers in a deranged mental state with imaginary typing “Yeah-ssss!”.  The scene flashes to“19 minutes without Internet”.  The husband sits on the couch in almost a despondent and catatonic state while the wife, in hysterics, is trying to communicate a “like” on her friend’s Facebook page, to no avail.  Scene change:  Minute 22 without the Internet.  The husband is lying on the kitchen floor in front of the sink recalling fond memories of internet use.  He is in a sweaty state of Internet Withdrawal as the wife applies cold compresses to his forehead.  She comforts him.  Scene change:  Minute 27.  The husband appears out of the upstairs window while shooting an emergency flare and angrily yelling “We are over here!” to the imagined beings that might help save them and restore internet power.

Farcical commercial?  Or comedy imitates real life?   How internet-dependent have we have become? 

Signs of Internet Addiction

Dr. Kimberly S. Young,a licensed psychologist, founded the Center for Internet Addiction in 1995 and has since been raising awareness and developing treatment interventions for Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD). Dr. Young established a group of criteriato exemplify the presence of Internet addiction. The answers to the following questions may help one to understand if there is a problem:

  • Do you stay online longer than you initially intended?
  • Are you unable to control your online usage and keep urges to stay on longer at bay?
  • Do you feel particularly preoccupied with the activities you perform online and think about those activities continually, even when you are not online?
  • Do you feel the need to spend greater and greater amounts of time online to feel satisfied?
  • Do you find yourself going on the Internet simply to escape life problems or relieve feelings of guilt, helplessness, loneliness, anxiety, or depression?
  • Do you keep going back online, even after spending too much money for fees?
  • Do you feel restless or agitated when you cut down on your online time or when you stop altogether?
  • Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you are not online such as an undesirable mood, an increase in irritability, or depression?
  • Do you lie to your loved ones and try to hide how frequently and how long you spend online?
  • Do you risk losing important relationships, affecting your job performance, or missing an educational or career opportunity due to the excessive amount of time you spend online?

According to Young, if you answered yes to four or more of the above questions then you probably meet the criteria for IAD.

The Internet is not problematic in and of itself, but when it gets in the way of life, impacts our daily living or relationships, or takes the place of interacting with our real life that it can be problematic. 

Additionally, In terms of sex addiction or pornography addiction, Internet use can be “the gateway drug” or set up contribution to cybersex addiction.  The internet created easy access and delivery system to pornographic material that one might never be exposed to otherwise.  Internet pornography addiction has proliferated by what the late researcher Al Cooper, PhD coined as the “The 3 A’s” in reference internet’s easy access, affordability (free in many cases) and one can access it so anonymously. 

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Achieving Recovery Success: Willpower vs. Habit

"Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality."—  Abraham Lincoln

By now the resolutions, that most people had set to enter 2016, have begun to fade.  Goals and New Year’s resolutions are great for vision, but lack the mechanics to get one to successful completion.  

Sustained successful recovery cannot be attained with vision or willpower alone. Willpower is the unwavering strength to carry out one’s wishes. Willpower is instinctual but needs help to be sustained.  This is where mastery of self-control, repeated over time creates sustained successful recovery.  If addiction is “habits to the bad”, successful recovery is “creating habits to the good”.  “Pushing the dark out” is hard.  “Inviting the light in” is so much easier.  

We are social beings innately. If we are not touched, loved, and nurtured we are at risk for dying in a condition known as “failure to thrive”.  Addiction is a disease of isolation.  Connection is the antidote to addiction.  Often at one’s darkest hours in the addictive process one feels completely alone, misunderstood, gripped with fear for being found out for their actions, and afraid if people “knew the real them” they would be rejected.  One knows they cannot continue as they are, but in quandary about how to get out of the disease and never ending cycle of addiction. 

12-Step programs, therapy, therapeutic treatment groups, connection with program and group peers, all help us come out of isolation and gain support for the journey.

Achieving success in recovery is more than self-control. Self-control gets tiring. Self-control is strengthened like a muscle through repeated habits.  Habits help create the innate sense.  Habits help us achieve mastery and override fear. Habits “to the good” help us feel a mastery of control and increased sense of self-esteem.

Additionally, finding others to cheer you on, carry you when you are weak, and cheering others on in a recovery community, help gather sustenance and energy for continued momentum. 

See the vision, have the willpower, do the work to create good habits, and don’t go it alone!


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Make It Stop!! Josh Duggar and Ashley Madison – Will “It” Ever Go Away?

"One's first step in wisdom is to question everything – and one's last is to come to terms with everything."

– Georg Christoph Lichtenberg


For the spouse betrayed by Sexual Addiction, reminders can seem everywhere. These reminders are called triggers. Triggers to  “offensive stimulus” feel like they might not ever go away.  In the recent days of the Ashley Madison Data Breach and Josh Duggar’s sexual secrets revealed, spouses report in my office asking if the reminders of their own life’s betrayals might ever stop.  

Recently clients have said in my office:

·      “Can I ever go out to dinner again and not be reminded of what is going on in my life?” 

·      “Do I have to hear people talking about the news non-stop?”

·      “Movies and television shows make me so angry.  I didn’t realize how commonplace this was until I am agitated every time I see a reminder of what has impacted my life!!”

When a spouse discovers things that were held secret by their spouse, they literally are in a traumatized state.  When something reminds them of the trauma experienced in their relationship, e.g. a movie scene of an affair, this reminder trigger pulls their minds back to the trauma as if they are experiencing the trauma all over again.  The phenomenon is similar to war veterans experiencing PTSD when they come home from battle and hear a car backfire.  The backfiring car reminds the veteran of gunfire experienced on the battle field. 

When a spouse discovers that their life is not all they thought it was to be, thoughts move to fear and safety concerns.  In this fear and in trying to make sense of things, spouses literally question:

·      “Am I safe?” 

·      “How do I know if I am safe?”

Spouses impacted by sex addiction often knew there was something wrong but given that it was so hidden, they thought they were going crazy or something was wrong with them.  Even more than post-traumatic stress, spouses experience what is known as Betrayal Trauma.  Betrayal Trauma cuts even deeper.  If you think about the person on the battlefield who is hurt by the enemy, they didn’t know the offending party before the attack and don’t have a relationship with them after the attack.  In the marriage impacted by Sex Addiction, the offending party not only knew them but they entrusted this person to care for them and “have their back” so to speak.  This fact deepens the effects of the trauma experienced and the fears about a sense of safety in the relationship and overall in one’s life.

Spouses report after discovery:

·      Their life is not as they know it.

·      They feel like there is no one they can talk to about what is going on in their life.

What’s a person to do that realizes their life was not all they thought it to be?  What should you do if you are experiencing post traumatic stress?

No one should go it alone!  There is safety in numbers.  Find people to run with who have experienced similar betrayal.  Individual therapy, marital therapy, family therapy, therapy groups, and support groups can be very helpful.  Finding a therapist that specializes in Trauma or Sex Addiction (Certified Sex Addiction Therapists – CSAT’s) can be extremely helpful.  Support groups like S-Anon, COSA, or Al-Anon can be very helpful.  A trauma resolution technique called EMDR, which was founded to relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress, can be an effective consideration.  Relationship Recovery Center has therapists that are specifically trained to help individual, couples, and families heal in these ways.


For more information, please visit:

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I Believe

Every year in our household growing up I would watch “Miracle on 34th Street” with my father.  My father passed away almost 8 years ago but I still look forward to catching that movie with my own daughter.  One of my favorite scenes is when the little girl, played by Natalie Wood, after trials, tribulations and nay-sayers regarding Kris Kringle, repeated slowly to herself “I believe, I believe….” And she spotted the gift promised to her by Kris Kringle.

Recovery is believing.  When you think you can’t, change your thoughts.  You can.  Find Courage.  When you think you can’t….Believe. The gifts of recovery await.

You don’t have to have a monumental program, just be consistent every day.


I believe, do you?

Merry Christmas!

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What Can the Tour de France Teach Us About Recovery?

"Habit is stronger than reason."– George Santayana

Each year I love to follow the grueling Tour de France (TDF) cycling race.  Besides watching what, in my mind, is the toughest sport with the fittest athletes in the most trying conditions, the race also serves as travelogue for a very beautiful and diverse country.  As I watch this year I couldn’t help but notice the parallel process between the endurance race and the enduring road of recovery.

Some of the many parallel thoughts I observe:


Surround yourself with a strong team.

While there can only be one winner of the race, the winner does not win the race alone!  To the outside observer it looks like it could be a single rider competing for that yellow jersey.  Each TDF team is composed of 10 members that support one another and compete with an overall goal and strategy.  Recovery is not a solo event.  Similarly you are riding for yourself, but those with strong recovery ride with a strong team of peer support surrounding them.  Riding in the peleton can be stressful. When one has a strong team of support surrounding them, anxiety is reduced and safety is increased.

Follow a program and practice daily.

Being the 21-day approximately 3000-mile race that it is, one just doesn’t go out and ride it. Cyclists are riding exhausting 8-hour days. One gains strength to complete the event with consistent effort over time.  Repeated habits build skill that become autonomic responses with strong endurance.  There are many skills to master with varied terrain.  Life is long, varied, and arduous.  A life of recovery is gained by replacing the bad habits of addiction with new habits of recovery learned in a program or 12-step fellowship.  Consistent practice creates seamless habits that allow success.  Successful cyclists and successful people in recovery know the drill, study the terrain, and use the skills they spend time cultivating in the heightened pace of the (rat) race.  Rest days are important.  Cyclists get a rest day from the heavy fast pace once per week over the 21 days of racing.  That, however, does not mean they do not cycle to stay loose.  On rest days TDF racers spend 1-2 hours per rest day on the bike!  Similarly, successful recovery includes doing something for recovery every day.  In recovery one needs respite from stress, but we practice recovery every day.

If you fall, it is important to get up and continue the ride.

Cycling is a dangerous sport.   There are many trials and tribulations along the route.  This year many of the top contenders had very bad wrecks in the early days of the race.  If one hasn’t broken a bone, one can continue to ride.  Many get up battered, bruised and bandaged, but then continue on towards their goal.  Paulo Coehlo noted in his book The Alchemist: It does not matter if you fall, but what truly matters if you fall down 7 times, be sure to get up 8!  Successful recovery will have moments of falter.  Get back up, dust yourself off, and get back to the basic drills that you learned that keep you safe.  Know, observe, and accept your limits, but don’t stop training.

Enjoy the ride

As in difficult rides and a lifetime of recovery, don’t forget to stay present and enjoy the journey.  No matter how hard it is, look around.  Breathe deep. Stay focused. Enjoy the scenery. Life is a matter of perspective.  Have gratitude for the opportunity to be on the ride.

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Beginning Couples Recovery in Sex Addiction Recovery

"Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality."   – Abraham Lincoln

 Couples recovery is difficult in the aftermath of sexual betrayal.  The repair process can be a long and winding road.   Trust is blown in the marriage impacted by addiction. Fear is at an all time high on the part of both parties. What a betrayed spouse thought was about their marriage, isn’t.   Initially repair feels like an insurmountable mountain to climb.  Anger, rage, fear and feelings of grief on the part of the betrayed spouse run high. For the addict’s part, initially, they feel a whole lot of fear and shame. The betrayed spouse tries to get at the truth and is approaching someone who has been hiding the truth of a somewhat secret and hidden life, sometimes for years. The tools to right the sinking ship are lacking in the beginning days.

The ability to live honestly, truthfully, and with integrity is necessary.  How do you get there from here?

Boundaries are a key element to the repair process.  Betrayed spouses are traumatized by their findings.  They have no reason to trust.  In early repair it is helpful to begin a recovery program.  Couples that do best in the long-run engage in a process of repair that would include individual therapy, group therapy, and a 12-step program, for each person.  Therapy is best delivered by therapists uniquely trained with sex addiction credentials (CSAT’s)  Couples therapy might be contraindicated as a main treatment modality in the very early stages.  Sex addiction is an intimacy disorder.  Individuals need core skills initially.  If repair focus is on the couple in the very beginning, it could serve to escalate behaviors when individuals do not have key skills to operate individually and keep themselves physically and psychically safe. 

You know the saying “fences make good neighbors”?  That is true of boundaries in the marital repair process.  Boundaries are fences that one erects to create safety so that paradoxically partners can move towards each other.  The betrayed spouse has learned there has been a lot that has been hidden.  An addict entering recovery will develop a plan of safety with their program and sponsor.  Eventually, it would be helpful for the addict to begin to communicate what they are doing in early recovery as part of their program. Additionally the betrayed spouse will create their boundaries to help facilitate their own “rules of continued engagement” for safety.  An example would be from the addict side of things:  I have severed all relations with former affair partners, I commit to doing 90 meetings in 90 days, I agree to meet with my sponsor weekly, I make two phone calls to program peers to check in daily.  In communicating this to their betrayed spouse, they are in essence communicating what it is their recovery program and what a contract to sobriety looks like.  From the betrayed spouse side of the house boundaries might be to request non-contact with affair partners, no pornography in the house, or require a test for sexually transmitted diseases. They too can communicate things they are willing to do for their own support programs as well.  My experience is early on, depending on the spouse, being part of a 12-step fellowship can be too overwhelming and sometimes further traumatizing.  I encourage people to not “go it alone” but get plugged in to therapy or a supportive community as soon as possible.   These suggestions are only meant to be examples.  Depending on the acting out behaviors, one’s own need for safety, and the input of a recovery team, each person’s initial boundary plan and boundary needs will look differently.

As clinicians we do not recommend spouses police their addict spouses behaviors, but they can only trust what they do see.  If they see them working the program as promised, it can be huge for trust building behaviors.  I often say you can’t trust what you don’t see, but you can begin trusting by what you do see.  Do you see your partner (addict or spouse alike) follow through on their actions promised?  (I am not suggesting a disregard suspicious behavior. Policing and obsession of an addict’s behaviors are very different from holding accountability and maintaining safety.)

In early recovery there are a lot of emotions that run high.  The paradox is there is much to be said, but in the raw emotional form, it cannot be heard.  Therapists, sponsors, treatment group peers and 12-step peers (for spouses and addicts alike) can be great initial sounding boards to begin to package “data” and emotions that need to be heard.  Repair happens when spouses can step into one another’s pain appropriately and empathize with their partner.  It is a tall order very early on.

Honesty, heartfelt meaningful communication, and struggle in the human condition with a commitment to a process to strive for the best with others can be very healing.  It is a risky proposition, but relationships of true connection, with struggle, to be open with others – warts and all, are the most meaningful things that life really has to offer. It can feel risky and vulnerable.  Treatment groups and 12-step meetings are a safe place to begin that process before taking it back to our primary relationships. 

Words need to be made into consistent action for trust to be regained. Connection, intimacy, and fidelity to a healing process (with love) really can conquer all. 

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This Just In: Verizon Defends Decision to Offer Incest and Child-Themed Porn on Video-On-Demand

I was alerted this afternoon by a friend about a Fox News Story reporting Morality in Media's Dirty Dozen list and Verizon’s decision to offer incest and child-themed pornography on Video-on-Demand.  I will refrain from listing titles here for risk of triggering those who read this blog. 

In 20 years of practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist, 15 years with advanced clinical chemical addiction credentials, and 5 years specializing in sex addiction, I have gleaned a lot of clinical wisdom.    No matter how unbiased I may try to be, biases inherently creep into my work as a clinician. We all have our blind sides.  Clinicians and those in recovery live in consultation to have them in check. 

I rarely have hard-lined “moral” opinions about what people report to me. I believe all behaviors are facilitative, and when they become problematic in one’s life, we have to find out what that behavior is facilitating and try to redirect it appropriately. I have strong reaction and opinion to Verizon’s decision reported in this article.  I believe in freedom of speech, however, I do not believe in an industry that gains profits at the expense of the vulnerable.  Freedom of speech at the exploitation of the innocent is horrifying.

I have lived on two different continents practicing as a marriage and family therapist and addiction therapist.  Living on two different continents has taught me demand for substances is a function of distribution channels, and a function of supply and demand.  While working in Germany we did not have a cocaine problem.  We did have an ecstasy problem with 90% of the world’s Ecstasy being produced in the Netherlands and Belgium at that time.  In the area where I moved back stateside, we did not have an Ecstasy problem by the numbers, but we did have a Crystal Meth Problem.  Crystal Meth in our area is a function of the pipeline that is open from Mexico and a combination of the back woods areas that used to distill moonshine.  When we shut the pipeline down supply, demand goes away.  Is freedom of speech worth the expense of the innocent?  I believe as Ari Zoldan, CEO of Quantum Networks was quoted as saying in the article:

as Americans we believe in freedom of speech, but we also believe in protection of our children’s welfare and well-being first and foremost. 

To offer supply, or create demand, for child pornography in the name of corporate profits is disturbing.  

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Sex Addiction and Addiction Interaction

Remember the carnival game “Whac-a-Mole”?  Moles would pop up through a hole and the object of the game was to force individual moles back into their hole with a mallet.  The goal is to make them disappear as fast as possible when they rear their heads.  Addiction interaction is like the “Whac-a-mole” game. 

I had my chemical addiction credentials for over a decade before receiving my Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) credentials.  For years I noticed the phenomenon as one would get sober from alcohol or drugs, other behaviors might begin to creep in as problematic or new focus in an unhealthy, unbalanced, way. I would see clients cease drinking and begin shopping to excess, or beyond one’s means. Men would stop drinking, but with new renewed clarity and focus, begin work to excess. This work drive would become a detriment to family obligations and life balance.  Even more, I would notice within marriages where addiction had been present, one spouse would shop to excess and the other spouse would feel like they were obligated to keep up with the debt forcing unhealthy work escalations in response.

  Sometimes comfort eating would replace the numbing of alcohol.  Often with sex addiction sobriety, we see this interaction begin to take place.  Often, increased food or sugar consumption begins in an attempt to mood regulate.  Food companies have long known about the “trifecta sweet spot” of the right amounts of sugar, salt, and fat to release optimal dopamine hits in the brain. 

In August 2012 the American for Society for Addiction Medicine released a new document defining addiction from a 4-year study involving more than 80 experts in neurology and addiction. They defined addictions as a chronic neurological disorder involving many brain functions most notably an imbalance in the so-called reward circuitry.  This fundamental impairment in the experience of pleasure literally compels the addict to chase the chemical highs produced by substances like drugs and alcohol and obsessive behaviors like sex, food and gambling.  The new definition leaves no doubt that all addictions whether to alcohol, heroin or sex are fundamentally the same. 

So what does this mean for the addict and treatment?  Sometimes people have more than one active addiction.  Sometimes they stop one behavior and another problematic behavior does surface in a compulsive way.  Effective treatment must include assessment and treatment for all active addictions and one must be vigilant for other addictive risks.

CSAT’s are uniquely trained to understand, assess and treat the addiction interaction.  Addiction interaction is like switching tracks, so to speak, to continue to avoid uncomfortable feelings.   These addictive risks include, alcohol, drugs, spending, debting, sex, shopping, e-trading, video gaming, gambling, impression management, even problematic feelings, and codependent relationships. 

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The Case of Anthony Wiener (Part 2): Why Does His Wife Stay?

As I listened to CNN cover the aspects of the Anthony Wiener story, two questions stuck with me from the various reports:

1.    Is Sexting Cheating?

2.    Why does his wife stay?

This post will explore the second question: “Why does his wife stay?”

(See the previous post: The Case of Anthony Wiener – Part 1 for “Is Sexting Cheating?”)

Anthony Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, has come out in public statements maintaining that she forgives her husband and chooses to stay by his side.  csmonitorThere is much discussion about the shocking reports that he is doing his sexting thing ….AGAIN. There are questions about why his wife would stay.  She is an intelligent woman who has gone on record to say she forgives him and he is a good man.

Why does she stay?  While I can only speculate about the Weiner-Abedin marriage, or go on reports in the press which report that she forgives him and can’t leave because of their 19-month old child, I can make comment on the couples I see in my practice. 

Why would a woman want to stay with a man who betrays in this way?  Should someone stay in a marriage when this type of betrayal is involved?  There are no easy answers, especially when a child is involved. 

I think of three different cases for consideration.


When people exhibit type of behavior exhibited by Mr. Weiner, there are negative consequences, and when it is repeated, we must consider the possibility of addiction.  If this is the case, healing is possible for people who struggle in this way.  Properly diagnosed and treated, people can change, and change can be sustained.  One of the hallmarks of living a changed life is humility.  Addictive behavior is a very selfish act.  Those acting in humility have the capacity to understand their that actions have an effect and impact on others around them. They show remorse.  If there is addiction, there is a recovery plan.  While there are no guarantees, when one is working a recovery plan there is hope for sustained long-term change.


What if the offending spouse begins a recovery plan and the person has trouble sustaining that recovery process?  This presents a dilemma for the other spouse to consider.  At first, recovery can be a shaky proposition.  “Slips” require an increase in treatment plan and / or the recovery process to create a sustained recovery.  Should a spouse stay now?  The health of a marital system is sustained by the ability to hold healthy boundaries.  If one’s boundaries continue to be crossed, we have to begin to question, Why would one stay?  Only the person whose boundaries are continued to be crossed can make a determination of when enough is enough! By setting boundaries we teach others how to treat us. 

The following are examples of boundaries a spouse might choose to set with their spouse who is struggling with addiction:

·        “After the infidelity in our marriage, if I find out about the betrayal of infidelity again, I may be forced to file for divorce”. 

·        “I will not live in a marriage impacted by addiction without a commitment to therapy and an ongoing recovery process.”

·        “If you continue the offensive behavior without being accountable to your recovery plan, I may be forced to leave.” 

Boundaries are not set to control another – they are set to teach others how we will, or will not tolerate being treated. 


This leads us to a third consideration.  What If one stays in a relationship where there are repeated boundary violations?   If an offending spouse is not working a recovery process when working a recovery process is a condition of the marital contract to continue, and the spouse stays in the relationship, the spouse is in essence saying:   “it is o.k. for you to cross my boundaries.  You can continue your offending behavior and I will stay regardless.” In essence: “I do not mean what I say”.  Often the spouse hangs in hoping that change will happen.  They stay focused on the hope of change rather than the reality of what is. They might believe the relationship will change when it actually is not changing as evidenced by the repeated boundary violations in this way.  A spouse who is betrayed has to be prepared to follow through with the boundaries they set. 

If there are repeated boundary violations in a marriage, I would wonder why one stays.  Sometimes this willingness to tolerate intolerable treatment is a result of a condition called Trauma Bonding. Trauma Bonding, a term developed by Patrick Carnes, is the misuse of fear, excitement, sexual feelings, and sexual physiology to entangle another person. Trauma bonding is an unhealthy emotional attachment.  People who stay in troubled relationships often were in emotionally or physically abusive relationships growing up.  It was their early experience of love growing up.  In Al-Anon this is what is referred to “as the comfortable slipper”.  It feels familiar, even if it is unhealthy and it was our primary experience of love. 

If you find yourself unable to leave a troubled relationship and are trauma bonded, there is help.   You don’t have to tolerate intolerable behaviors, you can learn healthy relationship behaviors, you can attempt to make change in your relationship, or if need be, you can learn how to get strong enough to leave.