Sexual addiction is a very real concern that can cause havoc in relationships.

Life for partners of sex addicts who have been affected by a series of betrayals by the addict can be an emotional roller coaster. The knowledge that stages in the recovery process are natural and normal can be reassuring to the addict’s partner, regardless of whether they choose to stay in the relationship.

There are six identifiable stages of recovery for sex addicts’ partners as defined by the research by Dr. Stefanie Carnes. Let’s take a look at them and what you can expect in helping a sex addict on their road to recovery.

The stages Dr. Carnes has identified ((From Mending a Shattered Heart by Stefanie Carnes, PhD)) are:

  1. Developing/Pre-discovery
  2. Crisis/Decision/Information Gathering
  3. Shock
  4. Grief/Ambivalence
  5. Repair
  6. Growth

Let’s go through them…

The first stage is known as the developing/pre-discovery stage, and it takes place before the partner discovers the addict’s acting-out behaviors. It consists of the partner not knowing about the behavior at all, or having suspicions that things in the relationship are not right. Characteristically, this is the stage where the partner feels the addict’s difficulty in any number of areas in the couple’s life (i.e., finances, parenting, intimacy issues). And when they address their concerns, the addict may deny there is any difficulty, or blame it on the partner.

The crisis stage, stage two, consists of the addict’s partner discovering the addict’s sexual acting-out behavior. The partner may try to micromanage the addict, or attempt any number of strategies in an effort to keep the very real pain of the betrayal at bay. The gift of this stage is that the partner begins gathering resources or attending 12-step groups such as COSA or S-ANON or will seek counsel with an experienced sex addiction therapist.

The third stage is shock. Shock is characterized by periods of numbness and avoidance, and periods of conflict. Very powerful feelings of anger, resentment and hopelessness can arise, as well as feelings of tremendous self-doubt. This is a very normal, yet painful stage to go through, and gathering the support of other partners as well as a therapist can be crucial to help the partner through this difficult time.

The fourth stage is grief and ambivalence. After the emotional upheaval, many partners find themselves focusing less on the addict’s behavior, and looking inward to grieve the losses. Self-care typically increases at this time.

The fifth stage is repair. In this stage, the partner is fully invested in self-care. The grieving process for the relationship as they thought it was has taken place, and partners enter into a sense of emotional stability. Boundaries have been set and kept. If the partner chooses to remain in the relationship, it is because the addict is following a solid program of recovery.

The last stage is growth. This stage is marked by transforming feelings of being victimized into resiliency. Partners in this stage have usually worked their own 12-step programs, and have come out the other side with a solid commitment to healing.

These stages can take months or years to go through, depending on such factors as the couple’s ability to seek and cultivate resources.

Partners of sex addicts can benefit greatly from professional treatment to assist them through the crisis. A solid relationship with a skilled therapist trained in sex addiction can help guide the partner through this process.