By Floyd Godfrey, LPC, CSAT candidate
I remember a married couple that entered into my office for therapy. He was a sex addict and she was crumbling emotionally. They had been visiting a 12-Step group that was suggested by their church. They appeared to be profiting from the spiritual growth. However, considering that he hadn't stopped using pornography, the group recommended that she kick him out of the house. They were told that in this manner he would really feel sorrow for his behavior. So he hesitantly moved out and set up a counseling session with me. Now they both sat in my office asking what to do next.
I was a bit saddened since I would not have actually recommended the splitting up. Occasionally a therapeutic separation can be extremely valuable, but not under the premise that the couple explained. A therapeutic separation has to be planned out with certain goals that assist in the healing process. These goals must address needs for safety and self-care. Other objectives that revolve around control or manipulation will be short-lived. In some cases the separation can make things worse.
Keep in mind that a therapeutic separation is different from a legal separation. It is something monitored by the couple’s therapist with specific objectives related to healing outcomes. Additionally, both husband and wife should have a counselor they see to work on individual issues that arise. Couples should consider a therapeutic separation when living together produces so much stress or trauma that one or the other cannot function. Another reason may be that the safety and security of the partner or the children has actually been comprised somehow.
There will be many benefits from a therapeutic separation that is well prepared. Don’t rush into this decision. Below are listed some of the positive aspects of a properly planned separation:
1. It produces physical space from one another. This helps the emotional chaos to settle down. It is often overwhelming to function on a daily basis when emotional states are constantly running high. Living together can keep the chaos going.
2. It allows for the establishment of healthy boundaries.
3. It can foster a “de-enmeshment.” In other words, a spouse begins to better recognize his or her own feelings without getting caught up in their partner's emotional states.
4. It gives both emotional and physical space for a wife who has constant trauma response memories or symptoms that emerge from living with the addict.
5. It offers safety for the partner. Also for the children if they were ever endangered in any way.
If you decide that a therapeutic separation would be helpful, make sure to plan it out. Don’t rush into it. As you prepare I would suggest you consider the following important points:
1. Establish the length of separation. Be specific with time (e.g., 3 months).
2. Take any type of threats off the table throughout the separation. It's a time to get grounded, not to manipulate each other.
3. If you're the wife, draw up your plan for healing. Think of just what you will require in order to really feel safe once again. This includes your self-care regardless of whether or not he remains in recovery.
4. Re-evaluate your plan throughout the separation with both your therapist and your support team. See to it everyone understands the objective toward healing versus consequential control.
4. If you're the addict, draw up a strategy for recovery during the separation. Determine a solid plan for incorporating recovery habits on a daily basis. Review your strategy with both your therapist and also your team. Concentrate on your own recovery as opposed to fretting about whether your partner might divorce you. Additionally, ask your spouse what efforts you can make to assist her in feeling safe again with you. You may discover that her needs for safety resemble things you would certainly do anyway. For example, attending groups, going to therapy, taking a polygraph, or getting tested for STDS.
I have worked with hundreds of couples whose marriages are falling apart as a result of sexual addiction. Many times the emotional chaos could have been prevented if a clear plan had actually been developed before the therapeutic separation occurred. Careful planning is critical. If the objectives of any therapeutic separation do not revolve around safety and self-care, then you may diminish its effectiveness.
We have a team of experts who deal with sexual addiction recovery in Mesa Arizona. Call us if you’d like a free 15-minute consultation about your situation. (480) 668-8301.