How to help your partner through your sex or porn addiction recovery

Discovering a partner has a sex or porn addiction is a devastating and traumatic experience. It is important to understand the impact of this and support them. So how can you help your partner through your addiction recovery journey?

When a person discovers that their partner has a sex or porn addiction, it can be a devastating blow – regardless of whether they “found out” or the addicted partner volunteered the information. They will be feeling a world of emotions as they process the discovery, and it is important for us to understand and respond in the most helpful and supportive way. Here we’ll take a brief look at our 6 steps to helping your partner through this painful process.

  1. Understand the impact on your partner

How a partner will react to the news of sex or porn addiction will completely vary and depend on their individual circumstances. These include their background, their perception of the relationship before the discovery, the level of deceit involved and how they feel about the sexual behaviour. For example, with the latter, a partner may feel positive about pornography and enjoy it themselves, whereas another person may disapprove. What is important to remember is that discovery of porn or sex addiction is a form of trauma and like all trauma, the resulting emotions will not always be rational. They may swing from feeling positive and able to cope, to feelings of despair and anger.

  1. Manage the fall-out

The emotional rollercoaster a partner goes on post-discovery is not unlike the cycle of addiction. There will be unpredictable triggers that change their mindset. One day they may feel more intimacy and trust in the relationship whilst the next day, they may doubt they can ever forgive their partner. This is normal, their feelings are valid, and we need to be prepared to ride the waves of the rollercoaster. At this point, it is important to listen with empathy and avoid being defensive.

  1. Improve communication

Like all problems in relationships, communication is key. So first and foremost, we need to ensure we make time for those conversations to happen in the right environment. For example, we may want to avoid times after stressful work events or when children are close by. We also need to ensure there are boundaries in place to avoid conflict where possible and make a commitment to be honest with each other. To communicate effectively, we need to listen, reflect with empathy, and ask if and how we can help. And remember, it’s ok to not know the answer to every question, particularly around reasons why. Sometimes all we can do is reassure our partner that we’re doing the work to find out the answers to those questions.

  1. Rebuild trust

Trust is a two-way street and no matter what we do, we cannot force someone to trust us again. Sometimes, all we can do is work on improving ourselves and become the trustworthy and reliable person we want to be. In sex and porn addiction, this obviously means stopping the unwanted behaviours but it’s also much bigger than that. We need to understand why we developed them in the first place, otherwise, the chances are it will happen again. To rebuild trust, it’s important to be accountable and ensure we are making every effort to change. For example, we could commit to attending therapy sessions, join a group support network or take up recovery programmes, like Pivotal Recovery. We can also demonstrate our trustworthiness by becoming reliable and responsible in all areas of our lives, such as at work and with friends.

  1. Develop ruthless honesty

Essential to both communication and rebuilding trust is creating an environment where partners can be honest with each other and themselves. Whilst it’s important for the addicted partner to be upfront about their behaviour and voice their feelings, it’s also essential that the non-addicted partner feels safe enough to voice their feelings too. Understandably, there will be difficult questions and partners need to feel confident asking them, trusting that they’ll receive an honest and authentic response.

  1. Next steps

The course of action after discovery will depend on the circumstances of each relationship. For example, some couples feel they may benefit from a trial separation with set objectives, whereas this can be more complicated for couples with children or limited financial flexibility. What is nearly always certain is that the process of helping your partner through your sex or porn addiction recovery is not quick or simple. Regrettably, there are no quick fixes, and we cannot turn back time and be exactly as we used to be. The relationship will have changed immutably, and it will take time to rebuild and create a new space where the relationship can survive and grow again.

If you are worried about the discovery of sex or porn addiction in your relationship and the impact it’s had on your partner, take a look at our “Helping Your Partner” course which can be undertaken alongside the main recovery course. In this programme, we dive deeper into these steps and provide practical guidance on how to support your partner throughout your recovery journey.

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