Marriage Counseling...is it the Right Choice

Updated: Mar 6


Well meaning friends and family want to help. They don’t know how or even what to say, so they make suggestions.

  • See your pastor for counseling.

  • Go to a marriage conference.

  • Get a marriage counselor.

  • Give him more sex.

  • Communicate more.

  • Have a date night.

And so on.


You get the idea.


If you have ever been in a relationship with someone who has sexual integrity issues, you already know that this doesn’t work.


Why?


Because it’s not a marriage problem. It’s an addiction problem. It’s a woundedness problem. It’s a problem inside of the person who has the addiction. And until he or she does the work of recovery, nothing can be done for the marriage.


Please hear me. Nothing can be done to heal the marriage until the one with the addiction has faced their addiction and works on a prescribed recovery plan. And it won’t be fast.


This can sound discouraging. It isn’t meant to be but it’s reality. This is not against anyone with an addiction, but the truth of it is that no one, including their spouse, can do anything to make the marriage better until they are willing to do the work. Period.


Often going to counseling or to a pastor as a couple, it goes something like this….


Husband and wife go. They’ve been taught that it’s 50/50. It takes two to tango. No one person is at fault. So here’s what we recommend. Here’s work for the wife. Here’s work for the husband. Implement these things and come back to see me.

Wife goes home and dives in. She does the work 150% because she desires her marriage to work and to heal and to find out what the problem is. She takes it all in and owns her own stuff. She reads the books, does the marriage studies. She goes above and beyond. Not perfectly but she’s committed.

Husband goes home and puts forth a little effort. Maybe even 90% the first day or two, but often it’s honestly less. He tires or doesn’t see immediate results, so he gives up.

They go back to counseling together. She tells of all she did and feels he isn’t all in. He’s not really putting forth the effort or he gives up too easily. He admits that and says she expects too much from him. He can’t be perfect.

Counselor tells her to give him more grace. He works hard to support the family and needs a break. Make him a special dinner. Wear a sexy neglige. Have more sex. And of course, pray for him more.

This goes on and on. She takes ownership of the marriage and can’t figure out why her efforts are not making a difference. Maybe she is expecting too much. Maybe this is just life. Nothing deep. No conversation. No connection. No empathy. Aloneness.

(adapted from Bob Hamp, Understanding Abuse)


Is this what marriage is about?


No.


Marriage isn’t perfect. People aren’t perfect. But marriage should be a place where two people are 'all in', fully committed to the coupleship, maybe at different times, but ultimately that's their focus. They work together wanting to build the best marriage possible. They want what is best for their spouse because it’s ultimately best for them both. They don’t work independently because they are no longer just in it for themselves.


In marriage with an addict, it does not look this way. That’s why marriage counseling or spiritual counseling doesn’t work. It’s not a couple problem. The partner will do, and already has been doing, work on the marriage and themselves. The addict must do his/her own work for the marriage to survive.


It’s hard.


It’s long.


And it can be done.


So what DO we do, you might ask.


Someone with a sexual integrity issue has not lived a life of transparency. In order to keep their life going, they have to compartmentalize. They have to lie and keep secrets. Their heart and mind are divided.


The reason for this is because they never learned to deal with their pain. They have turned to an addiction-whether it be porn, sex, prostitutes, voyuerism, exhibitionism, the list goes on. Each hit gives them a rush of dopamine and they can’t wait for the next one. So they do it again and again because it makes them feel good, but only for a moment. Then comes the shame. They know it’s wrong but they can’t stop.


That’s when you know it’s an addiction. In spite of the consequences, they continue.


Is it is spouse problem? No. He or she wasn’t around when the original hurt transpired. The partner may have added to the addicts hurt, but it doesn’t make her the cause or the cure. It’s not her fault. More sex won’t cure him any more than more drugs or alcohol would cure a drug or alcohol addict.


So what is the answer?


The partner needs to work her own recovery. She needs to seek out a partner sensitive coach or counselor that understands this dynamic. One who won’t get stuck in the label of ‘codependent’ when her actions really come from a place of trauma. She has learned that what she thought her marriage was, isn’t that at all. It’s been a lie and there’s nothing that she can count on as truth. The gifts. The cards. The ‘I love you’s’….were they real or were they a way of covering up his acting out? Who knows. And that’s where she realizes that she doesn’t know this person at all. She’s been betrayed. And it's a very real trauma.


For him it means REAL recovery. Real recovery means working with a Certified Sex Addiction Counselor, or CSAT, who is also partner sensitive, meaning they will know it is not their partner who caused this addiction and can’t make it go away by anything she does or says. It means that he will put forth the very-hard effort to heal himself because he’s tired of living in shame and he wants better for himself, his wife, his family and his marriage. He knows that it will hurt, it’s expensive and he’s willing to do that because he realizes how destructive his actions have been. He, and his partner, will learn new ways to communicate and will set boundaries that aren’t to punish each other but are meant for safety for them both.


You’ll know that he’s doing the work, that is honestly life long, when you see him own the hurt he’s caused. When he stops blaming her for his actions. When he stops making excuses when she calls him out on something. When he stops getting angry when she expresses how she feels hurt by his choices. When he learns to hold space for her anger knowing that his actions have brought her to a place of so much distrust. When he stops expecting her to, ‘just trust him’, when he hasn’t shown himself to be trustworthy over time. And of course, when he is showing empathy.


That’s what real recovery looks like.


Is it possible?


Yes it is. It’s hard. And it can be done. But not without the work.


It’s been proven that sex addiction is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, addictions to overcome. It takes 3-5 years of consistent recovery efforts. That means weekly groups, reading books, accountability partners, filtering apps on all devices, seeing a CSAT weekly, giving your wife full access to your devices and passwords, just to name a few.


Again, it’s hard. And you can feel like it’s unfair. But as Jake Porter has pointed out, it will be unfair. The addict has been the one who has known the full picture all along and his partner has lived their marriage ‘all in’ with a souse who wasn’t. There will be a time when there is more effort being put forth by the addict. That’s just the way it will be until some trust has been regained because the addict has consistently proven himself trustworthy, among other consistent recovery actions.


Can it be done?


Yes it can. I’ve seen it and it’s the most encouraging thing I’ve ever seen. I wish my story turned out differently.


For those who don’t know me, I’m not a man hater and I’m not for divorce. I’m for a healthy and safe marriage that is working towards healing-really doing the work, not just making a show of it.


And one day I want that. A healthy marriage.


Until then, my hope and heart is to identify with partners everywhere and to help men know that there’s hope for them and their marriage as they do the work of recovery.


I’m willing to help whoever is looking for it and work towards what they want together.

Is that you?


This blog assumes that the partner is the wife and the addict is the husband because that is my story. I use 'he' and 'she' in that context only, not that that is true in every circumstance.

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