6 minute read

How to Tell If Your Husband Is Really in Recovery

Last Updated: March 20, 2023

Ella Hutchinson
Ella Hutchinson

Ella Hutchinson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) who is passionate about advocating for partners of sex addicts by helping them to find their voice. She served for three years as a founding board member of the Association for Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists (APSATS). Today, she proudly serves on the board of directors for the organization, Certified Sex Addiction Specialists-International (CSASI). Ella and her husband, Jeff, work together helping couples whose marriages have been invaded by sexual addiction.

When a women discovers she is married to a sex addict, all trust is lost. She feels she doesn’t even know the man who shares her bed. Her entire marriage may feel like a lie. If her husband is getting help for his addiction, and if she decides to stay in the marriage, her mind is plagued with questions. As if she just discovered werewolves and the tooth fairy are real, she begins to question everything she believed to be true. A couple of the most common questions I hear are, “How can I trust him?” and “How do I know if he has really changed?”

Trust takes a long time to be rebuilt after it’s been broken. And after such a deep betrayal, trust will never look the same as it once did.

In the early months after discovering my husband’s sexual addiction, I clung to the words of Debbie Laaser in her book Shattered Vows, “Can you trust the intent of his heart?” I understood that long before I could say, “I trust my husband,” I might be able to say, “I trust the intent of his heart.” I felt significant relief when I got to a place where I knew I trusted my husband’s heart. When I knew in my heart that Jeff passionately wanted recovery, healing, and sexual purity, I could feel hope–even though I didn’t know if he would succeed or if I’d ever stop hurting.

I was once told, by a male sex addiction therapist in recovery himself, if I spent five minutes inside a man’s head I’d be screaming to get out. We can’t know every thought our husband has and we probably don’t really want to know. I couldn’t read Jeff’s mind and I had no crystal ball. So I watched his actions. Here are twelve ways to tell if your husband is really in recovery.

1. He is attending sex addiction 12-step meetings without you having to remind him. For those who live in areas without support groups for sex addicts, online options are available. Our recommendation is at least twice a week unless he is also involved in another recovery group, such as a therapist-led group, men’s church group, or Celebrate Recovery. At least one weekly meeting should be face-to-face if it is an option in your area.

2. He has a sponsor and accountability partners. Some men see meetings as a way to check a box to say they are doing what they are supposed to, or to appease you. An addict who is doing real recovery will actively seek out a sponsor and accountability partners who he will communicate with regularly. In our experience, finding a sponsor usually shouldn’t take longer than one or two months. He should be communicating with his sponsor and accountability partners throughout the week.

3. He is “working the program.” This means he is actively working the steps with his sponsor. He should be willing to share with you, in general terms, what step he is on and how it is going. Twelve-steppers like to say, “Come early and stay late.” The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It is connection. An important part of recovery is learning to connect with others in healthy ways.

4. He is working with a sex addiction counselor, finances permitting. Recovery can be done without counseling, but it will be much more difficult. If the money is truly not there, an extra weekly group or meeting can be a substitute. But if he is using money as an excuse not to go to counseling, but plays golf every weekend, he’s not taking recovery seriously.

5. He is gradually becoming more patient and empathetic with you. You should also be seeing increasing patience with the kids and others.

6. He is making you a priority over others, such as his parents, colleagues, or peers. This means defending you and choosing you first whenever it’s realistic.

7. He is taking steps to help you feel safe. Examples of this are giving you free access to his phone, all passwords, social media, and bank accounts, as well as keeping his phone location services turned on.

8. He is gradually becoming more open, honest, and vulnerable with you and in all areas of his life. He is no longer purposely manipulating or gaslighting. Living a life of authenticity can take time for someone who doesn’t even know what this looks like.

9. He is learning how to set boundaries. This includes boundaries for himself such as not going out to lunch or being alone with other women. Additionally, boundaries with his parents and family of origin should be set so that they do not play a larger role in his recovery and your marriage than you both are comfortable with. Also, he should be learning to gently set boundaries with you about his need for sleep, breaks, time-outs, and downtime so he can be in the best possible place to succeed in recovery.

10. He is willing to read the article “What Every Wife of a Sex Addict Has the Right to Know” with an open mind.

11. He is willing to do a therapeutic disclosure with polygraph. Secrets fuel shame and shame fuels addiction. Working with qualified sex addiction counselors who will guide you both in this clinical process helps remove the secrets from your marriage. This allows for the development of trust, intimacy, and forgiveness over time.

12. Finally, he encourages you, without pressuring, to find support, regardless of the cost or inconvenience to him. He is willing to watch the kids and care for the home in order for you to attend counseling, support groups, and do other good self-care activities. An example of good self-care is this upcoming retreat for wives of sex addicts, led by counselors who are both partners of sex addicts themselves and who are extensively trained in treating partners of sex addicts.

A popular expression in the 12-step community is “progress not perfection.” Your husband will still make mistakes as he tries to make the biggest changes he’s ever made in his life. Many of these things do not come naturally to addicts and he will need a learning curve. He will become defensive at times and get frustrated. But you can expect faithfulness (no more porn or inappropriate interactions with others), serious motivation for recovery, and to be treated with respect. If you aren’t seeing this, it is okay for you to set a boundary that you need to see this happening in order to stay in the relationship. Be ready to follow through with an in or out of house separation if he refuses.

Visit www.comfortchristiancounseling.com for information about an intensive couple’s program that includes a therapeutic disclosure with polygraph, that will help your husband understand how to succeed in recovery and how to support you as you heal from the trauma of his addiction.


  • Comments on: How to Tell If Your Husband Is Really in Recovery
    1. When I first came into recovery 4-1/2 years ago, great content on the internet was difficult to find. This is FABULOUS! If you’re looking for recovering sex addicts to write or speak publicly on the matter of recovery or porn/sex addiction awareness, contact me.

      • Martin

        I am a 60 year old male who was molested at a young age introduced to porn at 5 , and my way of seeing woman has been absolutely distorted, I have been married for 27 years and I have completely destroyed myself and my wife and family. My wife has now moved away and I am struggling to keep my head above water . I have and accountability partner, Covenant’s eyes on my stuff. And I am doing the 40 day challenge, I am also seeing a therapist tomorrow and entering into a program tomorrow. I also lost my job , all this in last two weeks . I will do what I need to regain the trust of my wife.

      • Evelyn

        Hey Joe, I understand the addiction has to do with the need for more dopamine once you get in this cycle of addiction. For that I see my husband as a sick person instead someone betraying his family just because he is a immoral guy.
        He is the type who do not need sex. He can spend months without look for it. Now, how can I approach him to understand that his addiction has no place in our family anymore? I have been ignorant about this situation for years but this week I watched a “Red Table Talk” show in Facebook about sex addiction and only then I understood that all the weird things about my husband is sex addiction.
        I connected points when he said once “every guy watches porn”. I got him few times look pictures but I thought that was “normal” too. I do not have access to his PayPal but he is having a lot of payments he claims are related to his shoes club.
        So please tell me how to get to him without shame and blame so he can feel safe to come out and possibly change this situation for better?
        When I know he will not be willing to change? I do not want to spend too much of my time and energy if he does not want help.
        We have a good “fake” life. We never fight. He comes home only weekend because of work. He makes a lot of money so our family has good life. So here I am with 2 young kids who are in risk to have a broken family and damage emotional life because the father is addicted to sex.
        What to do?
        Fight for him for how long?
        If he doesn’t want to change, should I leave him and allow his addiction to destroy our family?

      • UseSelfControl

        To Martin,
        Your comment:

        “…. I will do what I need to regain the trust of my wife.”

        Your main priority is to gain trust rather than stop hurting your wife or rather than “…to never watch porn again” OR “..to quit porn for good”

        Your desired goal is not to STOP but rather “gain trust”…I would never take you back! You’ve had FAR TOO MANY CHANCES & every time you chose porn. Only now that your jobless & could possibly be homeless are you FINALLY CARING.

        That’s because it is NOW YOU who is hurting / suffering from your actions rather than everyone else. I’d be willing to bet you, if it was YOU who continued to enjoy the benefits
        ( cheating – Sex with someone else in your mind, heart & soul ) while masturbating to porn with zero consequences to yourself. You would still be doing g the same thing you’ve been doing all along over & over again.
        I truly hope your wife never takes you back because the moment she trusts you again, you’ll use that trust to your benefit and betray her again. You want the trust back so your no longer under the scrutiny.

    2. I’m curious as to why his relationship with Jesus/God is not mentioned here at all…

      • B Bond

        Because a lot of addicts use their “relationship with the Lord” to minimize and continue gaslighting. These 12 things will only happen when a man is fully devoted to doing things God’s way anyways.

      • UseSelfControl

        Because his only relationship is with himself and his hand.

    3. Trust is shattered! It is that simply! Having counseled sex addicts for over 30 years, I wouldn’t make it so complicated. A man who has truly changed is a different man, and that shows up almost immediately. The opposite of mistrust isn’t trust. Ultimately you can’t fully trust a sinner, especially a sexual sinner. Given what’s at stake, the opposite of mistrust is caring!

      • Tricia Parker

        I agree wholeheartedly. I think what we’re discussing here is one of the myriad of ways a person sins, however, this sin is by far the most damaging. Reading the proverbs and revelations and many places throughout the Bible with close examination on the devastating affects of sexual sin is the compass and adjustment few sinners want to look in the mirror and see. It is plain to see for me as the wife of an SA. The scripture pops off the pages when I am not searching for the nuggets of truth. A real convert of the faith, the remnant, loves God and obeys His word quickly, not perfectly. I can’t understand the “slow” process of conversion modern day American Christianity bows down to. This lie is a trap to any who want to be set free when the thought lingers in their minds that it’s a slow process and therefore the language is I will obey tomorrow, I want to obey, and citing Romans 6. There is no straddling the fence with God, no Lukewarmness, no jumping in and our of the pit of hell like a bean. I believe its a matter of real conversion. We’re not talking about a minor sin, look and the devastation it causes. We’re talking about expecting unconverted nice guys who have always been in the church guys, the better than the average murderer, heinous wicked cruel Jesus denouncers by comparison. Everybody loves my little lamb SA who got caught in the thicket. In my bold opinion, this is the yeast of the Pharisees, the insidious, pernicious evil Jesus was indignant about…masking deception, appearing as an angel of light, deceiving even the elect.

    4. Sheila

      10 years ago, I found out my husband was a porn addict. We had been married 25 yrs, and he promised me that he would quit. 6 years later, I realized he had never quit. My heart was broken. I had always trusted my husband so much, that I wanted to believe him, so I did. When I found out that he had lied to me, I actually became physically ill and nearly died. I was in a coma, on life support for 4 days, and the doctor told my husband that my chances were 50/50. I lived through that illness, but I never got over the pain of his betrayal. It has been 4 more yrs now, and he claims to have quit again since the last time that I discovered that he betrayed me. Whether he really quit or not, I may never know. I now have terminal cancer, and I will die sad and depressed, not knowing if he ever really loved me. I am taking this horrific pain to my grave. And the truth is, I loved him with all of my heart, and never thought of another man. All of my fantasies were about my husband, while all of his fantasies were about every women but me. The thought of that is too much for me to bear. I do feel as though our whole marriage was a lie, or a cruel joke played on me. If any men out there truly care about their wives, they need to know that putting her through this kind of pain, can cost your wife her life. Is that what porn is worth to you….worth losing your wife over??

      • Gina

        I am praying for you Sheila – SO much pain caused from all of this

      • Jerdie R Curry

        Sheila i feel your pain..when i was going through my chemo an radiation treatments my husband took matters into his own hands not saying a word to me an by the time i got done it was to late i could tell things have changed big time..no more hugs no more kisses nothing unless i asked..30 years ive lived with this man an my heart is crushed because we now have our first granddaughter witch makes things even harder..but because what he has done i no longer want to keep track of myself..its harsh but its how i feel..i get alot of flash backs on somethings that ill never forget…i hope things turn better for you..ill pray for your change!!

      • UseSelfControl

        I feel for you and at the same time I envy you. Being in the same situation, I have great difficulty believing I am loved. Instead, I believe I was his best option since his true desire in the bedroom is not me it is instead, an early twenty something with a 23″ waist, large breasts & acts like a circus animal with no morals in the bedroom. Unfortunately for him, such woman does not exist and if she did, she would not pick him! Men like this are shallow. They cannot be with the beautiful, super model looking female they truly desire so they settle for what they can get. it’s either that or be alone.

        If he truly loved me, he would respect me enough & would put my feelings first and he would either leave me or stop the cheating, not keep doing it! I could never continue to behave hurtfully toward my partner, could you? What does that tell you? I believe most men take the best they can get because what they want is not attainable. So instead, they fantasize, it’s the closest They can get… They supplement their desires with masturbating to other more attractive and desirable women. They are self centered, perverts. This problem is not a “disease” like cancer that can’t be stopped or cured. It is merely a self control issue. A self gratification comes first issue, a lack of caring issue. I myself prefer not to be here & wish I was in your shoes. Because of men & their cold hearts. They lie.

      • Anna

        I cried Reading your story! I know what you’re going through I’ve been married for 12 years and I just found out that my husband been doing porn ever since I know And even before me! My whole body hurt for two weeks!The Trauma The pain I don’t think ever anyone would understand ! If not my three kids a don’t know what will happen to me! I’m explaining this to me !to myself that because I’m so hurt in this world that the second world and God is waiting for me!And I wish you all the best you’re not alone !!!

      • Susan Salzer

        Thank you for sharing this. I just found out my husband’s sex addiction. I am feel the same way! You have saved my life! This is my third husband. I’ve been hurt by every man I truly loved. I’m searching and reading everything I can find to get through this. Susan.

      • Ivory

        Leave him. I pray you are still alive. It is not
        Christlike for women to allow themselves to be disrespected. Leave him before you die. Maybe then he will change. Take care

    5. wren

      Dr. Ella,
      Thank you for this article. In the last 5 years I still find MOST therapist/counselors are not addressing the Porn/Adultery FIRST before any other minor problems in the marriage. Instead they start with communication, inlaws, kids, etc. while the wife has been deeply wounded & is hurting & the husband is still sexually sinning. Why the don’t address the Major Sin first either they are not trained or have other motives. But either way I find way too many couples are walking away from therapy without getting the help they need & paid for. Often the marriage will not survive.

      Dr. David Clarke is one of the few marriage counselors that when doing an intensive with a couple does address the Porn/Adultery first.

      Thank you that you also are addressing the Porn/Adultery first with couples. I only hope that more therapist/counselors & Pastors will begin to realize the old approaches are not working. Following Matt.18 the major sin should be addressed first allowing the husband to give full disclosure & start his own recovery while allowing the wife to vent all her anger to her husband & ask all the questions she needs. Wound thoroughly cleaned out , then hopefully healing can begin.

      • Kay Bruner

        Yes, porn addiction is NOT a marriage problem, it’s a personal problem that impacts the marriage deeply. Porn must be dealt with first, before any marriage work can be successful. Thanks for pointing that out!

    6. Anonymous

      What would define sex addict?

    7. Interesting! Heart change boiled down to a list of 12 things to do? I think not! That would be behavior managaement. Having counseled 1000s of couples from across the U.S., with countless marriages healed after discovery of serious sexual sin (A.K.A. Addiction), I would say that in heart change, you know that your husband is a very different man, and you take great comfort in his spiritual, relational, and sexual maturity; his strength! Simple put, you know, because you know him. You care!

      • Unfortunately, Dr. Schaumburg, partners of sex addicts do not feel they know their husband and no longer trust their own intuition. They thought they knew their husband before and learned they were wrong. While your sentiment sounds nice, it is unrealistic and partners need concrete steps to watch for.

    8. Roger

      I watched porn for over 20 years. I quit and marrige is hopless as far as i can see. I am too selfish. I was honest from the begining but had trouvle quitting. Thank you for letting me vent.

      • UseSelfControl

        At least your honest in this comment.
        I can’t imagine choosing a life of having sex with myself, my hand and my made up fantasies if being with a person on an image who if you took home in 10 minutes would not even resemble the “hot chick” which you see her as…how stupid can you be? No women finds gargling semen, having her and stretched to a size of a bowling ball or 99% of anything done in these gross videos satisfying, appealing, desirable or anything remotely close to wanted. It’s sick, distorted, twisted, evil that those women DO NOT WANT OR DO IN REAL LIFE. So good luck with your partner ( your hand, yourself ) and have fun being alone because no women wants a man who masturbates to other women as no man would want the same either!

        If more me. Would stop and think for once how it would feel if your wife was secretly masturbating and orgasming to sexy, fit GQ type, 6 packed abs men – a sex life all her own that doesn’t include you but includes hotter, richer, better men than you! How would you feel as a husband, a man, a loved one? Try imagining that. But no, you don’t care it’s all about you you you. Ok. then take that legacy with you to your grave! Be known and remembered for your twisted secret masturbation / lack of self control issue. I for one have made it known to all around what my exes choices are. His hobby. I am not obligated to protect his feelings, he walked all over mine. I’m no longer able to feel that concern it has been killed. By him. Sorry. Our Father knows this. It is not women’s jobs to absorb the pain of men. They’re not babies, the want to be men? Strong and tough? Then stop expecting women to protect you, your serving secrets. If you don’t want anyone know g then maybe you should stop doing it because I can guarantee you if it was made public knowledge you whack off to other women behind your wife’s back, you would STOP.

    9. Z.Q.

      I wish I could see the change. Someone in an article said that an addict in recovery should be sharing his place in recovery with her and should be able to trust in his intent. It’s not happening. He is still gaslighting, hiding things, downloading fake or deceitful apps and has never gotten rid of hidden photos or external storage on private servers from his electronics. I have been suffering without support for our whole 21 years together. I am exhausted. He has been going to s.a.a for 3 years but continues to lie to his group and to me, and yes his group is saying that all my pain is my problem and I am put on my own side of the street repetitively. I have no career or income but if God were to drop a lottery on me I’d be gone.

      • Chris McKenna

        Hi, when your husband has a pattern of untrustworthy behavior, of course you don’t trust him. Trust is earned. And it’s earned by trustworthy behavior over time. If he’s not trustworthy, it’s foolish to trust him. And if he’s continuing to be untrustworthy, then you are faced with the very difficult question of what your boundaries will be. Here, here, and here are some articles about boundaries that might be helpful as you think things through. I’d encourage you to find support through a counselor for yourself, a group just for you, maybe an online resource like Bloom. You’ve got hard things to face, so find some companionship on that road. Peace, Chris

      • Sarah Shaver

        I’m living the exact same life. My husband lies to his group, lies to me, and probably lies to our dogs as well. There is a HUGE problem with these guys lying to their groups. They are receiving affirmations for hard work they’re not doing. It empowers them, recharging their ability to gaslight and deflect. My husband came home a few months ago from his group and said to me, “I dont feel I can stay ‘sober’ living here (with his wife & kids).” I will never forget that. His group must’ve told him that based on the fictional him–the self-motivated model student who never ‘relapses’ and is quick to throw out biblical scriptures of God’s love. +$!Barf Barf$!€

        After my initial sadness, I said to myself, this dude is not getting away with this shit. He May have a group of men all forced to attend thus group, but I have the army of God (or worldly good, karma–whatever floats your boat).

        I sent an email to the leader of the group twice. The first time the leader’s response was, “ok, plz dont contact me. We have to allow Joe (name changed for anonymity) to come clean on his own.

        After my initial embarrassment I thought….my gosh! These guys have no accountability layer other than what they admit yet they’re all pathological narccissist liars!!!! And the wives, the victims, can’t know anything about these groups due to the hiding of them. Last I checked, AA meetings for alcoholics are wide open to whoever. If a spouse walked in wanting to tattle, she’d be offered a cup of coffee and a Big Book.

        I am a recovering alcoholic of 6 years sobriety now. These sex addicts groups clearly do not have the ‘sobriety’ an AA meeting has. A sponsor should at least have 5 yrs sober. The leader of each meeting usually has at least 10 yrs sober but usually more. The structure of the Big Book is tried & true. The main theme in AA is accepting while actively drinking, we alcoholics are the most selfish bastards ever to live and people actually DON’T want to hear my opinion 6 times in one night. In other words, humility.

        Most of what I’ve seen in my husband’s 7 Pillars book would be appropriate for someone who crashed their car into a strip club while checking out a prostitute walking by.

      • Kay Bruner

        Thanks, Sarah. It’s so important for women to be wise about what’s really going on, and to be empowered with healthy boundaries for themselves. Here, here, and here are some good articles on boundaries. For me personally, the biggest sign of recovery is not a behavior-based heavy-duty bunkered program that protects the addict, but rather the level of emotional trustand “turning toward” that you experience in the relationship. I wrote about that a while back and it still holds true years later. Peace Kay

      • UseSelfControl

        You are capable of working and supporting yourself. You don’t need that pathetic baby who’s in love with his private parts in your life. He’s brainwashed and does not want to stop.

    10. Leslie Ann Hoyt

      #13 He stops looking for porn

    11. Shannon Brown

      My husband has been hooked on p*** since he was five, he is now 56. We have been married 38 years and I’ve had to deal with this since I found out 11 years ago. He won’t stop and makes excuses for everything , he’s cheated on me numerous times , he controls the money , the finances and make sure all the cars are in his name , he even took over our company. He lies continuously and controls everything. He constantly tells me there’s not a problem him and God talk but then I find disgusting videos and various things constantly, I am stuck, I’m in my middle 50s and I feel like my world is falling apart.

      • Kay Bruner

        Shannon, I am so, so sorry. It sounds like his porn use is only one small part of his abusive patterns. Financial abuse, gaslighting, blaming, lying and cheating–that’s a lot. And I’m sure you’ve only mentioned part of what you’re really dealing with. Here, here, and here are some articles on boundaries that might be helpful to you. I would also suggest that you find a counselor just for yourself, and access the online resources at Bloom for Women. You might want to find a domestic abuse shelter in your area and access the resources that you’ll find there: legal aid, etc. You are not required to be abused, ever, in any way. Whatever he chooses, you can choose to be healthy and whole. Peace to you, Kay

      • UseSelfControl

        He’s using you. He’s disgusting. Don’t give your life to this pig. You deserve to live a happy life and be loved. He does not deserve you or anyone.

    12. Laurie

      Many of these men are honestly just lost and want to change but feel helpless. Others are truly compulsively selfish, maybe even narcissistic, and they will talk the talk, and even walk the walk for a while, until it all comes crashing down. It’s the abuse cycle: They get caught, show “remorse”, try to “be good” , but then when things get hard, and they are expected to actually step up and care for their wives more than themselves, they slip back into lying, yelling, and acting out with porn. Then they get caught, show “remorse”…it’s a never ending cycle, and the more the wife loves her husband and wants to give him her support, the more she will be crushed by this cycle. “Counselors” need to be aware of the signs, and not push wives into “forgiveness” (which usually means forget about it all and make a fresh start). We know when we are being invalidated and our concerns minimized. If you are a wife in this situation, find help to navigate. Covenant eyes, you guys need to step up your game at supporting the wives who are in truly destructive relationships.

      • Kay Bruner

        Thank you, Laurie. I think the way a man treats his wife is absolutely the best indicator of his progress in recovery. Changed behavior is good, but growing emotional intimacy, and especially the ability to turn toward a hurting wife is really the key. I wrote about that a while back. You might appreciate this article as well. Every wife should always know that she has the best insight into her situation, she is the expert, and should always be supported in the boundaries that she chooses, including separation and divorce when the situation warrants.

      • Sharon

        Amen to that! I don’t know how to even begin to trust after so many years of this behavior! I find myself caught up in the cycle of trying to trust, begging for validation and love! I am worth more than that! I am in a group of sexually betrayed women and I feel pathetic that I am even trying to trust again! I look at all of these women in pain and I know that THIS IS THEIR LIFE!!! They get glimpses of hope as the pain starts to subside, just a little. Then they wait until it happens again…and again…and again.

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