The disclosure of your spouse’s sexual betrayal is like a paradox of epic proportions. God flipped on the lights revealing your spouse’s adultery or addiction to pornography. As the betrayed spouse, however, you feel like you’ve been abandoned in a cave. You’re stumbling around in the dark, terrified your next step will send you tumbling into a deeper chasm of shock and pain. It’s paralyzing. The reason you probably feel this way is because, well, you’re lost. You’re quite literally traveling without a map. After I found out about my husband’s serial adultery, I felt like I was groping in the dark, trying to find a piece of solid ground on which I could take my next step. How long did I have to stumble through this thing called recovery? When would I begin to feel “normal” or whole again?  

Mirrored Recovery

The answers came in the form of two texts—the Bible and Don’t Call It Love, Dr. Patrick Carnes exhaustive study on sexual addiction recovery. Based on 20+ years of research, Carnes’ book has way more information about sex addiction than I ever wanted to know (I had to skip whole sections). Carnes book helped me identify clues in my relationship with my husband to determine where he was in the recovery process. I quickly realized my recovery from betrayal trauma or codependency closely mirrored my husband’s recovery from sexual addiction. They were both a form of idolatry (see Using God’s Word for Codependency). I used God’s Word, Carnes’ book, and my research from the lives of others on the recovery journey to create a parallel recovery map for married couples. I also ran it by several psychologists who supported my blueprint.  

Fibonacci’s Spiral & Repentance

Before we get into the various stages of recovery, it’s important to note the process is neither linear nor wholly physical. We don’t go from point A to point B. It is both physical and spiritual, and, more often than not, it resembles the printout of a frenetic EKG machine. God uses the shape of the spiral throughout nature as a perfect example of growth. In her powerful work, Grace Calls, author and speaker Robin Weidner introduces the spiral (instead of the line) as a more authentic metaphor for recovery. In the linear view of recovery, Weidner says, “repentance is an all-or-nothing event” (either you’ve repented or you haven’t). Using the spiral view, disclosure is the starting point where the curve begins its slow, almost imperceptible upward climb. As Weidner states, it’s a “continual progressive turning of focus and of renewing of hope as God reveals, corrects, and shows his unconditional love.” For both sexual addicts and betrayed spouses, the spiral parallels the struggles we visit and revisit along our journey. But with each step, we see them in a new light. We can look back on what has tripped us up in the past and learn from it so we can strengthen our emotional and spirit ual muscles and continue the climb upward. When we choose to view recovery as a spiral, we choose to see ourselves and our spouses as God does—with grace and mercy. Let’s look at the stages of a couple’s recovery from sexual betrayal.
Please Note: The recovery process is NOT a one size fits all. Each person’s recovery journey is as unique as they are. Spouses are often at different stages of the journey as well. Both partners need to be actively engaged in their own individual recovery before they can enter the stage of repair/reconciliation.

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Addict’s Stages of Recovery

DENIAL

Time Frame: Indefinite
  • core wounds (from childhood) can trigger addiction as a means to medicate pain
  • moves repeatedly through the shame cycle
  • often has to increase the intensity of the addictive behavior to reach satisfactory “high”
  • spiritual life (if it existed) decays
  • isolates using passive-aggressive behaviors
  • elevated levels of selfishness, possible narcissism, and/or physical or mental abuse of partner

#1 Pre-Recovery Stage*

Time Frame: About two years
  • addict is powerlessness to say no
  • forced to acknowledge they have a problem, but continues acting out
  • Satan feeds need to medicate then shames them
  • compounded need to isolate
*(Carnes calls this the Developing Stage)

#2 Crisis or Decision Stage

Time Frame: 1 to 90 days
  • results in commitment to change
  • often entered because sin finally catches up to them
  • forced to make a decision by a specific event or person

#3 Shock Stage

Time Frame: About 8 months
  • damage control
  • emotional numbness, living in survival mode
  • times of despair or hopelessness
  • most difficult to stay honest about the scope and magnitude of sin

#4 Grief Stage

Time Frame: 4 to 8 months
  • anguish and guilt over pain they have caused loved ones and self
  • pervasive sadness over loss of the method used (porn or adultery) to medicate core wounds
  • acts out or slip back into sinful patterns in order to medicate grief

#5 Repair Stage

Time Frame: 18 to 36 months
  • marked by sobriety
  • accept they aren’t sin free
  • grow personally and spiritually*
  • new, deep, and healthy relationships are built
  • start to become dependable, take responsibility for themselves, and find balance
(*Carnes says spirituality tends to be the primary factor for change)

#6 Growth Stage

Time Frame: 2 or more years
  • produces depth of intimacy in relationships with spouses, children, and parents
  • improvement in resolving conflict
  • more compassionate for others and for self
  • feel gratitude for the journey they walked
  • see addiction led them to a deeper understanding of God and others

Spouse’s Stages of Recovery

DENIAL

Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Ignores or makes excuses for spouse’s unusual sexual behavior or requests
  • Blames self for unsatisfactory marriage
  • Tendency to resort to codependent behaviors to hide unhealthy marriage
  • Core wounds (from childhood) create insecurity and fear or abuse, abandonment, or rejection

#1 Pre-Disclosure Stage

Time Frame: Indefinite

  • possibly suspicion of spouse’s secretive behavior
  • tends to ignore or excuse gut-feelings
  • can fall into codependent response (compulsive need to discover and/or control partner’s behavior)
  • can resort to secretly tracking spouse’s whereabouts and communication via GPS, texts, calls, emails, credit card, etc.

#2 Disclosure or Discovery Stage

Time Frame: Seconds
  • the moment when “your world as you know it, collapses”, i.e., your “9/11”
  • find evidence to confirm your spouse’s adultery, porn addiction
  • choose to confront them with evidence or choose to isolate and stay silent

#3 Shock Stage

Time Frame: 1 to 60 days
  • feeling of numbness
  • vacillate between anger and grief
  • insomnia and/or nightmares
  • avoidance and unwanted thoughts or hypervigilance
  • anxiety, fear, depression, shame, and isolation

#4 Grief Stage

Time Frame: 4 to 12 months
  • embraces the truth
  • feelings of frustration and helplessness
  • thoughts of “what if”
  • uncharacteristic weeping, depression and/or distractedness
  • vacillates between anger and grief
  • weight gain/loss
  • starts to seek support

#5 Acceptance Stage

Time Frame: 18 to 36 months
  • marked by sobriety
  • accept they aren’t sin free
  • grow personally and spiritually*
  • new, deep, and healthy relationships are built
  • start to become dependable, take responsibility for themselves, and find balance
(*Carnes says spirituality tends to be the primary factor for change)

#6 Repair & Re-Connection Stage

Time Frame: 18 to 36 months
  • new level of communication through the aide of counseling
  • boundaries revised
  • trust is reestablished with spouse as triggers diminish
  • communication deepens as emotional intimacy is rebuilt
  • physical intimacy moves from awkward to mutually satisfying
  • spiritual growth
  • forgiveness is nurtured by repentant addict

#6 Growth Stage

Time Frame: 2 or more years
  • Forgiveness complete
  • Spiritual maturity
  • Emotional and physical intimacy deepened
  • Recycles pain for others’ benefit
  • Personal growth via education, travel, career, etc.

Recovering Without Your Spouse

 

It’s important to note that this spiral is for Couples’ Recovery. However, a betrayed spouse can still process through the stages of recovery without a repentant spouse. However, the Repair & Re-connection and Growth stages of the marriage are impossible if the addicted partner is not in active recovery.

The individual can experience Repair & Re-connection and Growth with God and with other supportive relationships. 

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