A Wife’s Perspective on the Addict Label – Part 1

label of addiction

Last week we discussed a frequently asked question in addiction recovery groups:

Am I an addict for the rest of my life?

It was an interesting discussion and one that caused me to think a lot about my own recovery and what I’m doing (or need to do) in order to be “in recovery” as opposed to thinking “I’m recovered.”

The SAL women’s discussion group* wrote a great post about the topic too.

For me, being willing to listen to how my wife feels due to my terrible choices does a couple things for me:

1. It helps me practice not getting defensive – an addict behavior.

2. It helps me see her perspective & attempt to empathize with her, a character trait that I’ve realized is nonexistent as an addict.

As I went through her article to pick some of the things that stuck out most, I realized really quickly that it’s ALL relevant.

So, instead of completely dissecting it, I just broke it into pieces and then added my thoughts.

How can you use this?

For me, reading through the words of the wife of an addict can really help me see things I don’t see as an addict.

For me, if I want to fight back on her perspective, this is a great indicator that I am in addict behavior mode and need to surrender something to my sponsor and others.

How does it help you?

The wife’s perspective is italicized.

The Word Addiction is a Scary Word

Addiction can be a scary word.  It conjures up images of people passed out on the floor or hanging their head in the corner of a jail cell.

The term “Addict” feels like a label and sounds like a life sentence.

And it is a life sentence.

But it doesn’t have to be a bad one.  In fact, accepting that your loved one is an addict can be the cheat sheet that both of you need to finally understand one another and free yourself from the behaviors that are bringing so much pain, misery, and chaos into your lives.

I tried for 12 years of my married life to understand my husband and his behavior without seriously considering that I was dealing with addiction.

An Addicts Thoughts

Why is it that people and organizations don’t want to call this problem what it is – an addiction? Why do we resort to phrases like “bad habit” or “small problem” or “a little sin that needs fixed or repented of?”

Why is the term avoided or minimized or justified?

Do people that deal with alcoholism or drug addiction try this tactic?

I really like the concept that accepting this for what it is can be a “cheat sheet” to help both the addict and those affected by the addiction work through the behaviors that lead to the painful actions.

Does a Wife Need Recovery from Her Husbands Addiction?

Even when he suggested he might be addicted to pornography I didn’t get it.  Although I supported him in going to 12 Step meetings, it never even occurred to me to find recovery for myself or educate myself on the problem.

I thought he was over-reacting, was being too hard on himself, was naive, or that he didn’t understand normal sexual feelings or reactions.  And I certainly didn’t consider that his day-to-day attitudes and moods had anything to do with his pornography problem.  I guess you could say I didn’t really believe that sexual addiction really existed unless it was some creeper guy who got sent to prison for the really twisted, abusive stuff you see on the news.

An Addicts Thoughts

This is a touchy topic – especially for an addict to bring up to his wife. “Honey, I know I’m the addict here, I’m the one that’s caused all this chaos in our lives, but now I think YOU need to go to meetings and work your own recovery…”

When I work with new sponsees who’s wives or significant others aren’t working their own recovery, I give them an assignment to have their wife call the wife of someone who IS working recovery from betrayal trauma.

Let the wives talk together and leave it at that.

Life Before the Addict Label

So for 12 years I grew more and more frustrated as I tried to continue living a “perfect life,” understanding my husband and his behaviors through the lens of my own experience and my best intentions.

This is what I got from that:

  • I grew increasingly resentful at his self-centered and hypocritical behavior
  • I was baffled at his complete lack of accountability in many areas of his life
  • I was confused at why he was so angry almost all of the time
  • I felt responsible to fix his mood swings and did everything I possibly could to avoid setting him off
  • I felt exhausted and overwhelmed from the burden of carrying the weight of our family and our relationship single-handedly
  • I gave hours and hours of well-thought-out lectures highlighting to him the incongruency of his behaviors with his professed ideals
  • I justified many of his behaviors as “normal” and would tell myself “nobody’s perfect” and try to improve my own attitude
  • My husband’s addiction continued to progress, between years or months of white-knuckle sobriety, during which I would conveniently forget that the problem had ever even existed
  •  I started to hate him

When my husband’s acting out behaviors progressed beyond what I could tell myself was “normal,” and I hit a rock bottom of despair that I never imagined was possible, I really had no choice but to seek my own recovery.  It was find recovery, or die.  Really.  It was pretty much that bad.

And then my husband and I started learning about addiction.

And suddenly the past 12 years of my life began to make sense.

For my husband, calling himself an addict wasn’t about giving himself a label or shaming him into making a change.

It was about finally understanding what had been happening his whole life and why he always ended up in the same place.

An Addicts Thoughts

Does this sound familiar?

– Wife’s increased resentment at my self-centered and hypocritical behavior
– Lack of accountability in many areas of my life
– I was angry most of the time
– Wife feels responsible to fix my mood swings and does whatever she can not to set me off
– Wife feels exhausted and overwhelmed due to carry the burdens of the family and our relationship all by herself
– Wife gives hours and hours of well-thought-out lectures to try to help me see more clearly
– Wife tries to justify my behaviors as “normal”and then tries to improve her own attitudes
– My addiction continues to progress through all this and wife tries to forget any of it happened
– Wife starts to hate me…

This is my story.

This was my life.

And this could be my life pretty quickly again if I’m not working my recovery.

What’s even cooler?

As my wife started working her own recovery from the trauma I’d caused, a whole new language started between us. We could talk about negative emotions that lead to triggers. We could talk about the 12 Steps and how they applied to raising our children. I could share my vulnerabilities and she knew where I was coming from.

Calling myself an addict hasn’t been shaming at all – instead, it’s been liberating. Finally, for the first time in my entire life, I’m able to be 100% honest with those I love most.

What a relief!

Understanding My Husbands Addictive Behavior

Trying to understand his behavior without understanding addiction was like medieval doctors trying to bleed people to cure them of epilepsy. Although they may have had the best of intentions, the treatment they prescribed did more harm than good, and had absolutely nothing to do with the actual problem.

Before understanding addiction, my husband’s understanding of his behavior was that he kept doing things he “shouldn’t” do, and if he just followed a few checkmark boxes, talked to the right ecclesiastical leaders, and never talked about it again, he should be all cleaned up.

But the problem is that sticking band-aids on the problem never did anything to actually clean out the wound, and he always ended up back to the doctor with a deeper wound the next time.  Always being prescribed the same treatment.  Always ending up back in the office with a deeper cut.  Maybe it would take days to get back there.  Maybe months. Sometimes years.  But always back.  Will-power, “Shouldn’t’s” and Sweeping under the rug were just bleeding him out.

An Addicts Thoughts

Sounds insane, doesn’t it?

Continuing to try the same remedies over and over again and expect a different result…

This also reminds me of when a non-addict tries to give advice or direction on how to “overcome” this “bad habit.” Although the friend or family member or church leader may have the best intentions, they are doing just what the medieval doctors did – trying to cure me of my disease by bleeding me out.

Calling my problem a bad habit or telling me I shouldn’t call this little problem what it is – an addiction – is doing me more harm than good.

My addictive cycle was this:

– Never going to do that again >
– Fairly clean for a while >
– Still lusting like a gentlemen (ie. checking women out, thoughts coming out of nowhere, browsing through TV channels, surfing the internet/social media) >
– Stresses from work or family or whatever >
– Staying up later to “get things done” >
– Feeling overwhelmed with all the stress >
– “Medicating” by browsing more and more online >
– Pushing the limits and justifying that I wasn’t looking at “porn” (completely nude images) >
– Addictive behaviors kicked in – quick to anger, passing blame, defensiveness, manipulating, minimizing, justifying, rationalizing >
– The limits were pushed more and more until I crossed a line >
– Acting out occurred >
– This may go on for a while or may just be a one time occurrence >
– Went to an ecclesiastical leader to “repent” >
– Told him what I felt was necessary, never going over the entire past >
– Felt better (sort of) >
– May (or may not) tell my wife what had happened in a minimized way >
– The cycle would start again… >

Why does this matter?

Because it’s probably pretty similar to your cycle as well. I’ve heard a lot of 1st Step and 4th Step inventories; I’ve read in the White Book and other recovery literature. Scarily, most of our stories sound way too close to the same…

What’s the answer then?

Keep reading…

Living with the Addict Label

Now that we understand my husband is and always will be an addict, we enjoy the light of truth and understanding that gives us:

A Shared Vocabulary

We both understand what it means to be triggered, what it means to have God at our center, what a slip or a relapse is.

We understand the importance of reaching out and being in touch with our sponsor on a regular basis.

We understand surrenderisolation, shame, vulnerability, submission, boundaries,and the drama triangle.  Now we have words to talk about things that were always happening right under our noses but we were completely unconscious of.

I can say, “Honey, I feel unsafe with the way you reacted to our son today” and my husband will know exactly what I am trying to say and won’t look at me like I’m crazy or react defensively like I just accused him of dropping the atomic bomb on Japan.

We have words to express our experience.  We can finally communicate. These are all terms and concepts that were brought into our awareness by educating ourselves on addiction.

An Addicts Thoughts

We talked about this earlier, but let me reiterate: when we are both working our own recovery, our chance of emotional connection increases dramatically.


Because we’re finally speaking the same language – the language of recovery and healing!

I can’t force this on my wife: after all, it’s MY FAULT that we’re in this mess.

But as I work my recovery, really work it, she will hopefully be able to start seeing small changes in how I handle situations which, in the past, would set me off on an addictive behavior and addictive action tangent.

Today, the language of recovery is what my wife and I talk about most, and it’s so rewarding and healing.

An Early Warning System Against Addiction

Understanding addiction has meant understanding my husband’s addict cycle.  This looks different for each person, and is often filled with all sorts of “normal behavior.”

Once my husband understood he was an addict, he was able to identify an “addict cycle,” with routines and rituals that inevitably lead down the same well-worn route to acting out.  Now actions or patterns of behavior that we both would have justified as “normal” in the past can give us an early warning sign that something is off, and I can trust my gut and approach my husband:

“Honey, I’ve noticed that you have been on ESPN.com a lot over the past few days.  I know that browsing sports online has been a way for you to check out and has fed into your addictive cycle in the past.  Is everything alright with you?”

Often, my awareness is the first warning sign for my husband that something is off for him, and sparks him to work his own recovery with emotions that need to be examined and surrendered.

Before understanding addiction, these “normal” parts of my husband’s addict cycle would never have been identified and would have carefully led him down the same path he had always taken.  Indeed, this is the path that has been burned into his neural pathways, and the paths that he will be susceptible to his whole life.

This is why my husband and I will gladly accept our life sentence, knowing that understanding the path that addiction has burned into his brain will always be there, and certain boundaries must always be in place to avoid going back there again.

An Addicts Thoughts

Amen to this. I don’t expect my wife to be micro-managing me or to fix me from my problems. It’s not her job to be monitoring my phone usage or looking over my shoulder all the time.

But if she can see that things seem to be off, that I’m getting angry at the kids quickly, that I’m blaming others for my own issues, these are all red-flags to her and she can ask me what’s off.

If I get angry at her, justify, or fight back – HUGE RED FLAG!

If I am able to listen to her perspective, self-assess and then reach out to a sponsor to talk things through and surrender what I may be feeling, this is a good sign.

The addiction has burned a pathway in my brain that will always be there. I can create boundaries that will re-direct my thoughts and actions down better more healthy routes of recovery.


This is part one of a two part breakdown of a wife’s perspective on the Addict Label.

I realize today that there isn’t a “right answer” for how this can be handled or labeled or worded.

All of this information is only one couple’s perspective and may or may not apply to your situation.

I am, however, grateful for those who have gone before who laid out a path that I can follow if I choose.

And, as one of my favorite quotes states:

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” (The Big Book, p. 58)

I look forward to your perspective.

* SAL women’s discussion group: for women who are suffering from betrayal trauma due to the choices of their husbands, fathers or children

8 thoughts on “A Wife’s Perspective on the Addict Label – Part 1”

  1. I agree with most of these comments…though many do not match my experience with my wife at all. I have tried to be there for Amy time after time after time to let her yell and scream and be mad at me…accepting the responsibility of what I have done, using this as energy to work my recovery. The crazy thing is that instead of feeling better she seems to be feeling worse. It seems that she has magnified her anger/bitterness/hatred/shaming toward me 1000 times, with allegations/accusations of masturbation several times per day, looking at pornography several times a day, adultery, child abuse, online dating, online hookup sites. I have literally begged her to sign me up for another polygraph test. Her response: “you’ll just beat the test again.” UNBELIEVABLE !!! Since that discussion in January, Amy moved out of our room in late February, verbally and physically assaulted me in front of our children in late March (charged with domestic violence and child endangerment), and she has continued to accuse me of all of the terrible things above. I’m not doing any of those things…the only things I am guilty of are masturbation and viewing porn…but she is totally unwilling to accept that.

    Right now we have little to no conversation. I do my best to not engage her due to her regular verbal assaults on me…in front of the kids, I might add. Today marks 114 days since I last acted out sexually with masturbation and porn. I am making progress in my recovery…but we are on the verge of total melt down. What is wrong with this picture? Amy believes she is working her recovery by going to ARP Anon meetings and SA Lifeline meetings and reading all sorts of books on betrayal trauma, personality disorders, and the like. She has established a pattern of verbally assaulting me directly before and after her meetings and whenever else she feels like it. Most of the time I am able to walk away. There are times, however, that I lash back at her calling her a “da*# bi*#$” and telling her to go to hell. (Sorry for the expletives…I am trying to be 100% honest here) I know this is not appropriate behavior from me. I am getting better at keeping my emotional sobriety though.

    She treats me like an escaped convict, questioning everything I say or do with the kids, whether it be casual conversation or disciplining them or even having fun with them. She believes all of the phone calls I make for work throughout the day are to prostitutes. (She asked the phone company to show all of my calls on her phone…which also makes all of her calls visible on my phone.) She spends hours engaging in policing activities… she is totally crazy. Every minute I spend at home while she is at home I am fearing that she will verbally assault me with her false accusations at any given moment…by the way, I have tried every suggested way to accept my responsibility and validate her feelings, with the hope that it will diffuse the situation to no avail. That is why I have resorted to avoiding any conflict with her by avoiding any conversation at all. I have verbalized my concerns to her and let her know that one of my boundaries is to not let others berate me and in turn I will not berate others. She does not honor my boundaries…but I will continue to honor them–they keep me safe.

    Over a year into this, and three therapist later, I simply do not know what to do to repair things with my wife. I feel like we are doomed to destruction. And that is a terrible thought knowing that together we have brought eight children into this world. Any thoughts? Suggestions?

    1. B, thanks for your comment.

      First off, I’m not a therapist, I’m not a marriage counselor, I’m not an attorney, and I make no claim to know all there is to know about how to handle YOUR situation (or my own for that matter). So keep that in mind.

      I do, however, relate in some ways to what you’re going through. Your experiences sound familiar.

      A few things came to mind as I read your response:

      1. You are a “pre-mi” when it comes to recovery work. Maybe you’ve been working at this for over a year, but with 114 days since you last acted out, that’s nowhere close to being at a place where all should be well. I don’t know you and don’t know all that goes on within the walls of your home, but when I was 114 sober, that was NOT recovery for me at all. In fact, for me, sobriety and recovery are COMPLETELY different things – one can’t start without the other. I don’t feel I started really recovering at my core until about 2 1/2 years into sobriety. I know there’s not a generic timetable we can all use to assess our own situation, but recovery takes TIME, lots of it.

      So, if you’re looking for suggestions, I’d say SLOW DOWN and take things one day at a time. Whether or not things work out with you and your wife and family will depend a lot on whether or not you can deal with the trauma you’ve caused in your wife in a sober and healthy way.

      2. What do you expect to happen? Expectations breed resentment. If, as an addict, I expect ANYTHING from my wife, I’m off. Period! I’ve betrayed her. I’ve cheated on her over and over again every time I acted out. I’ve lost her trust. I’ve completely destroyed how she views herself because of MY choices. She didn’t sign up for this. This isn’t at all her fault. I was an addict long before she even came into the picture. It’s not fair to her.

      The fact that she’s pissed, angry, rageful, not willing to trust you – all of these are actually GOOD signs. In the DVD “Helping Her Heal,” the presenter says something like “Anger is your friend. Be grateful she’s mad.” Because if she’s mad, that means deep down, she still loves you and wants to make this work. It may be really deep down, but the feelings are still there somewhere, buried under all the CRAP you’ve dumped on her.

      If she’s apathetic and doesn’t give a damn, then you might as well prepare for divorce or at least it’s more likely.

      3. Just because you’re not acting out doesn’t mean you’re helping her feel safe. If you’re arguing, getting defensive, blaming, shaming, pushing back, or displaying similar attitudes that you’ve had in your acting out moments, YOU’RE. STILL. AN. ADDICT.

      It’s called addictive behavior and, for me, it ALWAYS proceeds acting out. Granted, I may not act out today or tomorrow or for a month or even a year or more. But if my attitude is pissy, defensive, easy to anger, fighting back, not willing to listen or hear her perspective, not willing to let her get out all the junk in her heart and mind due to my terrible choices, I’m still not a safe place for her.

      So, those are my thoughts on this topic. They may not be what you were expecting to hear, but they are my reality and my situation based on my own experience.

      Every day, every moment, is a choice. I can choose to practice recovery, or I can go back to addict. But it’s my choice.

      Hope this helps you see from different lenses.

  2. I don’t know that I agree with all that was posted. I’ve put a lot of thought into how I look at myself, this thought included much prayer and asking the God I believe in what matters most. I’ve heard many terms “once an addict always an addict.” I’ve also heard God heals.

    I’ve also read many posts on here do or do not there is no try…and many others. So my question is if I truly believe in God and what he is actually capable of why then do i hear once an addict always an addict? Can God heal the whole man or just certain parts? When he healed Mary of Magdalene or a leper, or a cripple did he say things such as “I will heal only a portion of you but I am going to leave this little leper spot to remind you that first and foremost you are a leper.?”

    Do I believe step 2,3 or 6? Or do I believe I simply cannot find healing? What kind of God do I believe in? If Jesus were to introduce me to God would he stand six feet away and point a finger at me and say here is bob, he is an addict, a liar, simply an evil man, yea he worked recovery and made changes but this is really who he is. Or do I believe in the Jesus who would put his arm around me and say here is your son, here are the many great things he did, yes mistakes were made and he truly sought repentance and that is what I am for as his brother.

    Yes I have unwanted behaviors, yes I have addiction tendencies and struggles. I have asked God what matters most in my life and the answer I keep getting for me is I want you to be confident in who I really am, confident in who you really are, and it won’t matter what other people think. So I would suggest the question be taken to God.

    I have read studies on how we view and address ourselves and have conducted my own study for a project. It makes a difference in how we introduce or think about ourselves. I believe it matters, I believe much is attacks on identity and who I really am. I am a son of the living God, I am created in His image and I have inherited characteristics from Him. I may have participated in addictive behaviors, made mistakes done horrible things, those behaviors are not who I am, they do not define me! God defines me!

    1. Our apologies for the slow approval of your comment. Sometimes it takes us a little while to do so. Thank you for adding to the conversation. Your feelings regarding your identity as a son of God are commendable. It is vital that we include the God of our understanding in our recovery journey and seek His direction and support.

      The concern you pose regarding identifying as an addict is one we hear frequently. We understand the challenges associated with this disease and for some, labeling themselves as an addict feels counterproductive. But we also have many years of experience working with hundreds of individuals who suffer from unwanted sexual behaviors. Certainly, if we struggle with addiction, that is not fundamentally who we are, but it is a part of our reality and will keep us from being who we really want to be. If you struggle with the idea of identifying as an addict, we might ask you this question – Are you finding long-term positive sobriety in your current state of mind and with your current recovery actions? If so, that is wonderful! If not, we might suggest that a change in paradigm is necessary. Properly diagnosing a disease is critical to getting the correct treatment. A cancer patient cannot receive the proper treatment if they insist they are a diabetic. Sexual addiction, like other diseases, requires a specific treatment plan. In our experience, recovery starts when one is humble enough to admit to themselves and others they are an addict; this helps motivate them to do the sometimes very hard things long-term recovery requires. Once some solid recovery has been achieved, whether we always need to identify as an addict is a personal choice. But just like an alcoholic or drug addict knows they will remain susceptible to their drug of choice, for a sex addict – lust will remain toxic and one must be ever vigilant in abstaining from it, regardless of the number of years of sobriety. So again, we appreciate your perspective. Yet we speak from our own experience that calling it what it is – an addiction – and identifying as an addict has been critical for those in our community who are in long-term recovery.

      If you would like to read more about this topic, this is an excellent blog post. The comments are helpful as well. https://salifeline.org/call-it-sexual-addiction/

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