Four Circles


Four-Circle Sobriety Plan

         Four concentric circles represent three important lists of behaviors, and one list of warning signs. These lists will be fluid, and you will need to add and subtract new items on a regular basis, at least from the boundaries list and the recovery behaviors below.   Use these lists to structure and summarize your reports to people of how you have been doing, in the order below: red, then green, then yellow, and finally orange. They are often an excellent way to give account of yourself on a regular basis, in your marriage, with your sponsor, me, and with same-sex accountability partners. Each behavior needs to be very specific, to minimize confusion about whether you have done something, and whether it is useful as listed.

Sobriety definition (the red inner circle). Here you describe any behavior that you believe you are called to completely avoid. Examples of behaviors that are often placed on this list for married sex addicts are: adultery, pornography (be very specific), masturbation, and giving or receiving solicitations, money, time, charming talk or touch with an opposite-sex person. Spouses usually need to be told all details here within 24 hours, including your inventory of which of your character defects were involved, who you hurt, amends proposed.

Recovery behaviors (the green outer circle): if you are married, include positive approaches to your mate that you need to make regularly until they have become habits. Include all of your regular recovery behaviors, and state the frequency (say daily, or weekly) you are led to do each one: meetings, devotionals, phone calls, workbook pages, reading certain books, going to church, attending counseling, daily prayers, accountability check-ins with spouse, buddy and/or sponsor, whatever. (Some examples can be found below.) Include other behaviors that are to be done often and whenever appropriate, but not on a daily or weekly schedule (such as making amends and maintaining progress in step work and tasks for recovery). Also include behaviors your spouse wants and needs to see for closeness to occur (e.g., sharing your feelings, calling/texting during the day, coming home on time, spending time with the kids, praying together, sitting together on the couch, gentle touch that is not foreplay, speaking the spouse’s love language, whatever).

Troublesome attitudes (the yellow inner circle):  Between the outer circle and the middle circle, many people are finding it helpful to add a fourth circle as a warning.  Here you can list the mindsets and situations that tend to trigger your slips.  Common ones are: resentment, shame, insecurity, boredom, loneliness, horniness, exhaustion, self-pity, discouragement, failure, success, rejection, entitlement, egomania, etc. Watch for emotions that spike intensely as over-reactions to a situation, and for those that linger after the trigger incident, looking for other situations that justify their existence.  If you call these attitudes instead of triggers, you will take more responsibility for them, and for your choices when you experiencing them.  (Your addiction wants you call them triggers so you can say something just set you off.)  These attitudes will often need to be on your list of character defects when you do/did step 5.  Like dashboard warning lights, they help warn you when to walk out of trouble before you go in too far.

Boundaries list (the orange circle, next to the red, things that would be a slip but not a relapse):  This should include all behaviors that might come before a relapse, and that might incite some temptation to relapse, such as:   lying or covering up, eyeball slips (allowing your eyes to look too long at something), foot slips (allowing yourself to go somewhere unnecessary that is tempting),  fantasy slips (allowing your mind to imagine future misbehaviors),  euphoric recall (dwelling too long on the pleasures of past addictive escapees), online slips (misuse of the internet), argument slips (avoiding or prolonging a conflict which gives you resentment), or flirting slips (any violation of agreed guidelines for contact with the opposite sex (see my list for starters) that would not constitute a relapse.  Spouses usually need to be told about slips more vaguely (like just the number and type of slip), with fewer details and not as quickly (within a week is OK), but your inventory and your proposed amends do need to be included at this time.

Possible Recovery Behaviors

(Use some of this menu of options to customize your own list.)

A 30-second prayer for a day of sobriety in early AM,

and another for thanksgiving at bedtime

A 2-minute meditation on how God might want you to help with your prayers being answered

Initiate successfully live phone call with sponsor, to include 4-circle report, including also:

10+ minutes for you (2+ for slips, temptations, and pressures, 8+ for your recovery)

Initiate phone calls with recovering buddies until you get one live on the phone:

5+ minutes for each of you (1+ for slips, temptations, and pressures, 4+ for your recovery)

20 min. of phone time buddies initiate (or 10 from you leaving two VM’s using format above)

15 min. of Bible study, leaving time to meditate on personal application for your life/recovery

15 min. of recovery reading, highlighting, meditating on personal application for your recovery

Attend a 12-step or recovery meeting

Chart the day’s activities, and on a log, record brief but specific answers to these questions:

Of what I did, what helped the most today, and why? What helped the least, and why?

Read and complete the writing assignments for one chapter per week of Facing the Shadow

(or Faithful and True)

Read and highlight/underline one chapter per week of a recovery-oriented book


Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach you can reach at [email protected], (502) 633-2860.


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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt