Don’t be surprised if your spouse either denies having a problem (despite your evidence) or admits having a problem but refuses to take meaningful steps to address it.

"Denial of a problem or not wanting to get help is a symptom of the real problem and if you have to wait for your spouse to say they’re finally ready, they may never get there," says Dr. Harry Schaumburg, a sexual addiction counsellor. Schaumburg believes your approach should be to invite them to help you improve your marriage. You could say: "This whole thing that you’ve been struggling with — without seeing change — has really taken its toll on me. I don’t like how it affects how I feel about you. I want us to restore relationship. I want us to build something. You need to do this, because I’m hurting."

If your spouse will not respond to that Rob Jackson recommends that you follow the model of confrontation laid out in Matthew 18:15-17:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that "every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses" (v. 15-16).

In other words, if confronting one-on-one doesn’t work, confront your spouse with witnesses: business partners, friends, or a pastor (but not your children).

"Love bomb them," says Dr. Jennifer Schneider, a researcher who wrote about her response to an adulterous husband in her book Back from Betrayal. She recommends a format similar to the interventions spouses often use to confront alcoholics.

Rob Jackson recommends that you go into the confrontation with a treatment game plan (a support group, counselling sessions, etc.) already worked out among your witness team. If your spouse still seems reluctant to get help, you will need to say, "Here is what you are doing; here are the directives. I’m willing to get help, too. If you’re not, you are jeopardising the relationship to the point of separation." Rob believes this approach is important because the addict needs to work as a team player and quit trying to be independent of the family. "No one family member is more important than the rest of the family," he says.

When is it appropriate for me to leave?

Christian counsellors generally agree that you should physically separate yourself from your spouse if you or your children are being exploited or victimised or enduring ongoing verbal abuse or emotional cruelty. You should not tolerate an environment where physical, emotional and sexual abuse is occurring. When there is not a direct threat, however, Rob Jackson believes that separation should be the exception rather than the rule. He suggests that some women tend to minimise their husband’s behaviour and not recognise it as abusive. He recommends that those women go with their hearts if they feel that their husband’s actions are not cherishing and have made their home unsafe.

Separation that does occur should be therapeutic, not in anger, Rob says. He compares therapeutic separation to the fire lines that firefighters often set to stop blazes. By intentionally burning a controlled area, they can remove the threat of a disastrous wildfire. Similarly, instead of having a problem flare up and destroy a relationship, a brief therapeutic separation can create an environment for recovery that will hopefully keep the couple from having to go through a permanent separation later.

This process should be mediated by a pastor or counsellor who establishes goals for what the couple will try to achieve during their time apart. The first phase of the separation involves 30 days with no contact between the husband and wife. Any arrangements for finances or care for children should be negotiated up front so that communication can be limited strictly to emergencies. This experience shows couples what divorce feels like. Rob notices that couples going through problems often only have a pseudo-divorce. One of the partners gets kicked out of the house but then the two still have sex occasionally, have long phone calls and other kinds of on-again, off-again contact, making recovery difficult. Total separation, however, forces the spouse with the addiction to see what losing his or her partner completely would be like.

During this time, the husband and wife will spend time working on individual issues with a counsellor. Over the next 30 days, the couple will start including a joint counselling session once a week. They will also add in a date night once a week where they spend time being civil towards each other. By the seventh or eighth week, the couple should start addressing what kind of minimal changes will have to occur for when they come back together — no infidelity, no cybersex, and so forth.

In the last phase, the couple moves back in together, maintaining a period of joint counselling and beginning to tackle long-term issues such as communication and financial management.

From Real Solutions for Overcoming Internet Addictions, published by Servant Publications. Copyright © 2001, Stephen O. Watters. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

Steve Watters

Steve Watters is the vice president of communications at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is also a student. Steve and his wife, Candice, were the founders of Boundless, and Steve served as the director of young adults at Focus on the Family for several years before leaving for seminary.

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