Six Stages of Paving the Way to Healing for the Spouse of a Sex Addict

Six stages of paving  way to healing for the spouse of sex addict

Husbands or wives of sex addicts often ask, “Where should I go from here?” If you are the spouse of a sex addict, this may be the question you are asking yourself right now.


The shock, pain, and betrayal of discovering that your spouse is caught up in the pull of sex addiction may put you in a state of crisis. You feel terribly alone, embarrassed, and even humiliated by the addict’s behavior. Spouses of sex addicts are often unsure of who they can talk to about these extreme circumstances. Most importantly, you are probably wondering how to handle all of the emotions, and if you’ll get through this crisis.


Unfortunately, the situation you find yourself in is not unique. Many have been in your position. Marriage partners of sex addicts have and can open the way toward recovering their wholeness and healing, even in the relationship with their spouse.


Dr. Patrick Carnes, a leading expert on sex addiction, has extensively researched sex addicts and their primary relationships. He found that spouses transitioned through six stages of personal growth:

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

Stage 1, Developing/Pre-Discovery, may find you completely unaware of your spouse’s addictive behavior, or have you maintaining slight suspicions of something being amiss in your marriage and relationship, perhaps at this point even tolerating their unacceptable behavior.


Crisis/Decision/Information Gathering happens in Stage 2 and often overlaps with Stage 3, Shock. Both of these phases may include anger or rage at the discovery of your spouse’s secret life. Your reaction in these phases has much to do with how you have reacted to past trauma in your own life as your widespread pain may be reactive due to a past hurt, causing you to lash out. At this point, it’s best for partners of sex addicts to seek help. Decisions will have to be made in the midst of the shock and feelings of betrayal.


Stage 4, Grief/Ambivalence, is an important station for a spouse of a sex addict as it signals a grieving period, which ultimately allows you to move forward. This stage is where you will process the relational and matrimonial trauma caused by the addict’s compulsions. Stage 4 includes much-guided self-care and introspection that will pave the way for the final two stages, 5 & 6, Repair and Growth.


Though it may not seem likely right now, you can heal this deep wound successfully.

Amanda is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist - Candidate at NOVUS Mindful Life Institute, which helps individuals affected by sex addiction. She completed her Bachelor's of Science degree in Psychology from UCLA and her Master of Science degree in Counseling with an emphasis on Marriage and Family Therapy at California State University, Long Beach.

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