Marie Woods, LMFT, CSAT
Primary Therapist, Gentle Path at the Meadows

One of the biggest questions families ask when their loved one is seeking recovery from sex addiction is, “How do I help?” The answer depends on where the person is in their process of understanding and coming to terms with their addiction. But, there are a few general answers that can help guide families in the right direction.

Stop Enabling

One of the most important things that a friend or family member can do is stop enabling the addict. First, if he (or she) is in active addiction, and is not seeking treatment, then it is important for you to think about the ways you might be unintentionally supporting their unhealthy behaviors. Maybe you are condoning some of their actions, making excuses for them, giving them money, or not giving them honest feedback. Perhaps you need to set a boundary with them about whether or not your relationship with them can continue if they do not seek appropriate treatment. Enabling an only allows them to continue to find ways to act out.

Trust The Process And Let It Work

> If the addict is already in treatment, then you may think there is not really anything you can do to support them. The truth is, however, there are some things that friends and family can do to help the addict make the most of their treatment process. First and foremost, encourage them to follow the directions of their treatment providers. These are trained professionals, often experts in the field, who they are paying for their guidance. Directives given in therapy are often challenging, and in difficult moments the addict may look to their close friends and family members to collude with their old way of thinking rather than developing new thought processes and making better choices. Avoid being triangulated and manipulated by their addictive thinking, and instead, encourage them to proceed with their treatment.

Educate Yourself

Additionally, while they are in treatment, don’t hesitate to educate yourself on the nature of sex addiction. It can be helpful to attend your own 12 step meetings for partners such as Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous (CODA), and Co-Sex Addicts (COSA). Educating yourself by reading books on recovery can also be a way to support the recovering addict. For sex addiction, Out of the Shadows by Dr. Patrick Carnes, Mending a Shattered Heart by Dr. Stefanie Carnes, and Deceived by Dr. Claudia Black are great places to start. Additionally, Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody helps shed light on how family of origin issues, trauma, and abuse contribute to problems with relationships and intimacy.

Attend Family Week

Lastly, if you have the opportunity, one of the best ways you can support the addict in treatment is to attend Family Week. For various reasons, this is not an option for all family members. But, if you can go, it will provide a solid foundation of psycho-education and therapeutic work to help improve family relationships. It will also provide you with a clearer picture of what the addict’s struggle is like, and gives them the opportunity to share what they think might be helpful in their relationship with you moving forward. If you are not able to attend a Family Week, it might be a good idea to make yourself available to attend family therapy with the addict at the appropriate time.

Follow Up

One of the best predictors of patient outcome is a solid aftercare plan and a commitment to follow through. Support both yourself and the addict in following the recommendations that were given to them for continued care.

For the supportive family member, this may mean being willing to pursue ongoing couples and/or family therapy as needed. It also means following up on the skills learned in Family Week or other forms of education. This includes maintaining boundaries that have been set and not allowing the old pattern of enabling to creep back in.

Most importantly, develop a routine (daily or weekly) of checking in with each other. This would look like hearing each others’ feelings, personal challenges/goals, and progress in the relationships thus far in an effort to foster trust and ongoing intimacy. The bottom line here is keep going. Continue the personal growth and development that has gained momentum, and refrain from stopping just because the crisis is over. After all, a desire for a closer relationship and better connection was likely one of your reasons for encouraging your family member to get help. Your healing and recovery are directly correlated with your follow up, so do not give up after putting in all of the hard work!