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What is the role of a partner in recovery?


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Yesterday was a bad day.  My partner slipped, not in a major baby and bathwater out the window kind of way, but he broke one of his bottom lines.  I know that this will happen, and while it's not great, we have talked in advance about all the tools he has at his disposal from his therapy and SLAA, which he attends regularly.  One of these pre-prepared plans is to talk to me about it.  Did he use any of his tools or follow his post-slip plan?  Of course not!  

He assures me that his addiction is nothing to do with me and pre-dates our relationship; all of which I know.  I know it's not my addiction and as they say in alanon,  I didn't cause it, nor can I control it, nor can I cure it.  All of that I whole-heartedly accept.  I don't expect, nor would want to do any of those things.  (Well, I'd love someone to find a cure for addiction!) But I am his partner, and to me, that means giving and receiving support.  He is happy to come home and tell me about his day at work, with no expectation on either side that I would cause, control or cure any of the office politics, etc.  Similarly, he shares with me the nightmare of trying to co-parent with his ex.  And I do the same in return re my life.  However, when it comes to his recovery, it is his  recovery, and he is as guarded about this as he was about his acting out.  

I have asked very explicitly, both in and out of our therapy sessions, that he shares with me his thoughts and feelings about recovery, about his slips, and about the impact of addiction and recovery on our relationship.  In the non-crisis moments, he fully agrees with all of this, but when it comes to the slips, not only does he not talk to me, but he doesn't do any of the things in his plan.  Making an outreach call to a fellow recovering addict is part of his post-slip plan, but yesterday, he decided that only one person could be his outreach buddy, and it just so happened that this person was busy with his family.  I see the phone ping all day with requests from other men for outreach calls, so I know that there are many other men he could connect with.  

I'm interested in how those of you who have chosen to support your addicted partner/husband see your role in his recovery.  How do you respect his privacy, yet be his support?  Similarly, how do your partners support you when you are reeling from a slip?  It's probably unrealistic for me to expect him to support me when I am angry and hurt, but it is natural to want to pull together at difficult times; isn't that the point of being in a relationship, so that you don't have to do life on your own? And while he has the fellowship of other SLAA members, I have those of you who are reading this.  Some of my friends know about what we are going through, but none of them lives with a sex addict. 

We are just over a year post-discovery.  We have just started couples therapy, in addition to his individual therapy, and I know there is much ground to cover.  After wanting to throw him out immediately when I discovered what he had been doing, I chose to be guided by the love I feel for the non-addict part of him, and by compassion for the addict part.  I have been patient and supportive, and I am proud of the work he has done over the last year; but the last year has been all about him, not us, and certainly not about me.  To those of you who are further down the line than I am, is it unrealistic to expect the narcissism and secrecy of addiction to be replaced with the honesty, openness and willingness that he espouses twice a week at his meetings?  I'd really value your thoughts on this.  Ann x

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Hi Ann,

I’m 3 months post latest discovery. This time seems different; to summarise (17 years together 2 children) first incident was 2017, second 2018, Paula hall course 2018, I thought recovery 2018-present but latest Incident was 3 months ago (sex worker) and he admitted he never recovered from the porn following the course in 2018.

My husband insisted in 2018 that he wasn’t to share his recovery with me. On reflection he told me this was a huge burden for him, that whilst the lies were to protect hurting me, he was also falling further and further into disconnection and he felt so ashamed being with me because of keeping his lies to himself. 1 lie turned into another. I know that it is suggested not to share recovery with your partner, but if you’re like me, have decided to support/forgive/intellectualise that it’s not to do with “us” then it could work?

this time we are doing the following: a whatsapp group for us which is called accountability. Daily video posts here, notification of urges, anxiety triggers and flags, daily check in, communicating all planned free time, phone and screen detox (gives to me when home) etc, going to bed together. It’s a huge commitment from him but feel it’s on the scale with my commitment to support him through addiction. Without this, I think the relationship would be over and out 3 and 7 year old would be devastated.  I’ve made the boundaries clear. Physical cheating = it’s over, porn relapse = has to be disclosed within 10 minutes. If continually not disclosed = will also be over. 
not sure if any of this helps at all. X

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Thank you Feeling Fragile, that’s really helpful. I like the very concrete nature of your plan. You sound much more organised and clearer in your thinking than I was at 3 months. 
It’s so bloody hard isn’t it?!  I don’t want to be his mother or his jailer or his therapist; I want us to tackle this together, drawing on each other for support, as we do for the rest of life. 
Thank you for helping; I’m so grateful for this forum where we can be open without the pitying or horrified looks that come from friends.  Ann x

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I read your posts with admiration. 

My position, as you know is different. We have had to live and deal separately with outcome of this addiction of his.  I really don’t know how we would have dealt with this whilst living a ‘normal’ life together. I hope I would have been as strong and compassionate  as you are. Only you know what you is right for you and your families. 
Xx

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm 3 months post latest discovery. I believe there should be minimal privacy. That right was lost when he abused it. I need to know you're working on growing, changing, developing or I'm out. After all that's been done to me, I believe I fully deserve that. It takes time, but it's now a non negotiable. There are some things that are his, but most of his 'stuff' I expect to be shared. We are now doing a weekly catch up, I mostly share a d ask questions, he mostly listens because he is shit at communicating without my prompting. I don't think he fully understands himself or the addiction yet, but we still talk. 

You need something. It's not fair to be kept in the dark x

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Yes, KayKay, the whole thing is so unfair.  We have similar one-sided conversations; or at least, we do when he isn’t working the programme. When he’s on the wagon, he’s open and reflective and engaged. He thinks he can hide when he’s fallen off the wagon, but it is the feeling of disconnection that I pick up on. 
It is hard work. I keep reminding myself to do nice things for me. Keep your head up sister!  Ann x

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ann,

I think you are right in the above - looking after yourself and putting yourself as number one is crucial. Your original point is not unreasonable - eg to expect that there is pulling together at difficult times/ consideration about you when a slip occurs from the very person you are supporting rather than having to turn inwards to your own inner resources or to your friends. I also think the suggested plan with daily checkin or accountability methods may work but it needs both parties to be equally invested all the time to work. In my case I have only told one friend and at present she is too wrapped up in her own stuff to be a shoulder for me - hence i have turned to this! When i asked my husband why when he felt himself slipping he couldn't just talk to be he answered that he finds it so hard to express or show vulnerability!  ( so that's when acting out replaces rational thinking- the addiction ruins / destroys everything he says! 

Clear boundaries are essential and following through - two sometimes conflicting things in my book.

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Ann- CHEERS, I already feel welcome into the club that you describe brilliantly- never thought this would be my lot- but here i am and we are..at least we all know the true extent of the feelings and changing emotional states and what we are expected to take on board. I too in the past have been horrified that my husband can be almost Jekyll and hyde in how he  appears to our friends and what he asks of his acting out situations.

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  • 1 month later...

Very soon after discovery I suggested to my husband that I put child locks to the internet on his phone and password protect our only laptop. I could see this wasn’t easy for him to do but he then actually asked me to do it. It made me feel like I was a parent and controlling  but he said it was a weight off his shoulders. I still check his phone regularly even though I know he cannot get access to the internet. I would get a notification if he tried to change anything. Is this something your husband would allow you to do? Or at least put a porn blocker on his phone and computer. If he says he’s committed to recovery then there shouldn’t be a problem in my opinion. Even if it’s just for 6 to 12 months. I have told my husband it will be very hard to give solo internet access back to him. I’d say we were early days but it’s about the early days of the 5th time. This time getting professional help so it’s the last chance saloon! 

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Thank you Knowledge, I appreciate your thoughts and know how hard it is to know what the right thing to do is in this bizarre situation. I have considered this approach and my partner and I have talked about it. I had a gut instinct not to go down that path. My partner, along with many addicts I know, is reluctant to take responsibility. He has blamed variously: his boarding school life, his bullying brother, his bullying ex-wife, his rigid father and even his premature birth and rhesus  incompatibility with his mother.  All of those things may have made life difficult for him, but there is nothing he can do to change the past. The way forward lies in him taking responsibility for each choice he makes. I have told him that I will support him in making those choices, and in getting over bad choices if he will own up to them, but I won’t be the porn (or alcohol) police. He has asked me to check his phone, and occasionally I do, not so much for him, but to let me know how he is exercising this responsibility for himself and his actions. I then have to decide what my options are and which I am prepared to act on, if I find something unacceptable.  It’s hard enough for me to be an adult and make all the responsible decisions that come with being a grown up, I can’t do it for him too. I know if I took responsibility for his access to the internet, he would blame me if he acted out again. 
This is the decision that works for me (and him too, I hope).  Each couple has to do what works best for them.  I also think it is important to remember that we can change our approach if circumstances change. I wish you, and all of us trying to support our addict partners, love, courage and clarity. I’m so glad we have this place to support each other. Ann. X

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