PHASES of Recovery for Sex Addicts, their Wives & Marriages

The most important things to understand about the outlines below are:

The phases need to be experienced in order, as each requires things learned in earlier stages. 

None of these phases can be completed without ongoing guidance and support from others.

The marriage cannot recover unless both parties and the marriage itself go through each of these phases.


# Phase of Journey Primary    Need is to Twelve Steps Thirty Tasks Addresses the Question
0 Beginning Start up -- -- Am I addicted? Will I trust Schmidt?
1 Recognition Give up 1 1-4 Will I restore order to marital discussions?
2 Sobriety Give it up 2-3 5-7 Will I get recovery and meetings to get sober?
3 Payback Stand up 4-9 8-19 Will I take my inventory and make amends?
4 Homecoming Join up 10-12 20-30 Am I ready to live the good life 24-7?


PHASE 0                    Deciding whether to learn about addictions and denial

Purpose: To decide whether to start on this journey of recovery with me. Procedures: Talking about what has happened, reviewing the options, easing the current crisis, and learning to trust me.

PHASE 1                    Stabilizing crisis w/ 1st disclosure, communication boundaries

Purpose: To give up illusion of self-control, choose a new life, new communication patterns at home. Procedures:  Understanding how addictions work, committing to seek recovery, accepting time-lined order of events, getting closure on the first round of disclosure: Sometimes done in 40 days

PHASE 2               Joining a recovering community and establishing sobriety

Purpose: To stop the habit, learn to handle stress, and reach out to others for help. Procedures: Limiting the damage, establishing sobriety, guarding physical health, and joining the 12-step community: Sometimes done in 90 days

PHASE 3                  Creating a healthy, balanced heart and lifestyle

Purpose: To start rebuilding your personal life, get over the humps of greatest pain and highest risk for relapse. Procedures: Taking inventory, making amends, examining past trauma, abuse, and neglect to get healing; getting through resentment, fear, shame, grief, despair, and loneliness to find serenity, acceptance, and forgiveness  Usually takes a year or so for sex addicts

PHASE 4                 Restoring broken family relationships

Purpose: To rebuild all your relationships.   Procedures: Admit the truth to spouse/lover, children, and family members (to the extent they need it). Decide who’ll join your new recovering family, and make your peace with them. Sex addicts usually take around two years for this phase.

Paul Schmidt, PhD, CSAT       For Personal and Family Integrity, 502 633 2860





# Phase of the Journey Primary Challenge is to
1 Suspicion/Pre-Discovery Wake up and smell the coffee
2 Crisis/Dialog/Decisions Manage the immediate crisis
3 Emotional Shock Get a grip on your emotions
4 Grief/Ambivalence Grieve the loss of the marriage you thought you had
5 Repair Set healthy boundaries, make a good life with or without spouse
6 Growth/Healing Become a victor not a villain; decide to renew or end marriage

PHASE 1                    Suspicion, Insecurity, and Pre-discovery

Purpose: To confront partner on your concerns about his behavior and your marriage. Procedures: Gather information, document, confirm. Find the courage and wisdom to speak up for yourself, for your marriage, and for the sake of your partner’s health and well-being.

PHASE 2                 Crisis, Dialog, Decisions

Purpose: To get the facts out, manage the emotions, and make a temporary decisions. Procedures: Decide whether to separate, divorce, and get counseling or 12-step support for ourselves and for the marriage. Decide who to tell.

PHASE 3                 Emotional Shock

 Purpose: To work through emotions rotating through intense rage, panic, shame, and lots of numbness. Procedures: Get educated about the dynamics of trauma, addiction, shame, and enabling.

PHASE 4                 Grief/Ambivalence

Purpose: To get your focus off the addict and onto taking care of yourself. Procedures: Decide to take responsibility for your own healing, recovery, and well-being. Cry your tears all the way out as you let go of “Marriage #1” with your spouse, the one he ended when he broke the vows.

PHASE 5                Repair

Purpose: To put your life back in order so that it works with or without the spouse. Procedures: Establish healthy relationships for yourself beyond your spouse. Put old relationships to the test, renew the ones that pass, and replace the others with new support. Establish healthy boundaries.

PHASE 6                 Growth/Healing

Purpose: To solidify and express your new resiliency, to show you are not a victim. Procedures: Decide whether to divorce or to renew the vows and celebrate with a second honeymoon, new bedroom furniture, new wedding bands, new intimate partnership, new love life, etc.

Phases come from the research of Drs. Stefanie and Patrick Carnes. It proves that counseling and 12-step support groups make phases go quicker, and greatly enhance the quality of life for both partners.





PHASE 1                 Honeymoon  of loving and enjoying each other

PHASE 2                 Neglect/Exhaustion/Tension from both partners’ busyness

PHASE 3                 Betrayal/Cover-up by the addict / marriage goes downhill

PHASE 4                 Discovery/Disclosure Crisis

Through frequent Q&A, there is much hell to be paid, many decisions to be made. Highly emotional and mutually upsetting talks occur about what happened, why, and how addict thinks and feels about it. It is too soon to say this a complete or even believable disclosure, or for the addict to say honestly what caused the betrayal. Addict tries to limit or stop his misbehavior to save marriage. Spouse begins to suffer nightmares, daymares, flashbacks and flashups from PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). The couple decides where to live, sleep, who is to be told what, and what sex they will have or avoid. It’s too soon for marriage counseling.


PHASE 5                 Recovery Starts  for one partner, both, or neither


Both decide if they want to start working a program of recovery from SA/PTSD. Without recovery, addict will likely rewind back into Phase 3. Without her own recovery from PTSD, spouse will likely stay stuck in Phase 4. If neither recovers, they will likely go back to Phase 2. If addict does enter recovery, he will start to make weekly or semi-weekly 4-circle accountability reports to his wife, sharing his ongoing inventory of how he’s doing, confessing relapses to her in detail within 24 hours, and giving GENERAL confessions of the types of slips, and proposing amends for slips and relapses.


PHASE 6             Inventory and Amends


This is the time when either partner is working through steps 4 through 9. At the end of this, addict is at last able to make Full Disclosure, identifying his motives for betrayal, and proposing his lifelong amends. Spouse decides whether to forgive. Spouse takes her inventory of whether she can live victoriously with or without the addict, and how to take better care of herself as an amends. She decides whether she has become resilient, or whether she will remain a frightened, embittered victim.


PHASE 7                Blowing Taps or Starting Over


Couple decides to divorce or make a new start together. Their choices are:   7a. Good divorce: they partner in orderly mediation, 7b. Bad Divorce: they fight it out in court (“attorney bonanza” is awful for everyone else), or 7c. Marriage #2 with each other. This may end in a ceremony of renewed vows, a second honeymoon, new wedding bands, new bedroom furniture, or new house to help everyone realize this is a brand-new marriage they are starting.




Paul Schmidt, PhD, CSAT       For Personal and Family Integrity, 502 633 2860

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


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