Living With a Sex Addict

START HERE 1: My World Is Your World

 

The purpose of this site is to talk to you in the manner in which I wish someone had spoken to me many years ago when I first discovered my husband was a sex addict. At that time I was a crying, tortured mess. I couldn’t imagine being happy again or even staying married. I needed help but just couldn’t find it. The articles on this site are all part of my forthcoming book, Living With Sex Addiction by The Wife, but it might be just as useful if you are the husband. Or if you are the addict, for that matter.

 

Of course, I am not the wife, but a wife. I can only relate my own story, one of thousands of similar stories from people all over the world who have discovered that their partners are sex addicts. I can talk about what it was like to find out, the grief and bewilderment we have all experienced, the question of whether there really is such a thing as sex addiction. I can help you imagine a future that includes your husband, if that is what you wish, one in which sex addiction no longer has to be the focal point of daily living.

 

Mostly, I hope I can convince you that sex addiction is not the unresolvable disaster it first appears. Right now, you may feel isolated, confused, incredibly hurt, even abandoned by your partner. You may have isolated yourself because you are just so ashamed. I know how you feel. I had few friends I could talk to about my situation. The ones I did speak to were mostly so shocked by the nutty, injurious behaviour of my husband they had little more to say than don’t put up with it. Some said to leave him.

 

I was fully aware of how awful it was, did not want to “put up with it” but also didn’t want to leave him. You may have heard the Dalai Lama’s quote, “When we run into real tragedy we can react in two ways—either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.” I wanted to do the latter, but my husband’s declaration that he was a “sex addict,” a term that wasn’t quite as well known then, threw me. He insisted that what was wrong was an “illness”. I had no idea what he meant. All I knew was that everything about my marriage and my life seemed counterfeit. I didn’t know what to believe. I couldn’t trust the man I loved and if not him, then who?

 

On those few occasions I spoke to other women with husbands who were sex addicts (and what was a sex addict again exactly?), I got some warm empathy and understanding that served to make me feel less alienated and singularly cursed. However, I often heard all about their troubles with their own addict husbands and how impossible their situations were—or how disappointing and constricted their marriages had become over years, or how they’d finally left the marriage.

 

One woman told me she could not go shopping with her husband because the billboard advertisements were “triggers” for him. All she could think about as they walked down Oxford Street was what images were plastered on posters and storefronts. Another had no intimate life with her husband whatsoever because she didn’t trust him not to give her a sexually transmitted disease and had been told by her support group not to ask if he’d been with other partners. Asking him whether he was “acting out” his sex addiction (that is, engaging in sex or cybersex outside the marriage) was a sign of her own “codependence,” or “coaddiction”, an illness that she’d been told needed careful control. Many felt stuck in their marriages, either due to children or for financial reasons or because they believed that somewhere in the tangled mess of addiction was the man they married, and who they had always loved and loved now.

 

I was in the third group.

 

There was also a small sad fraction of partners who seemed to feel it was their duty to be caretaker for their addict husbands because they considered sex addiction a disease like any other disease. Some of them continued to engage in sexual relationships with their husbands, even though their husbands were having sex outside their marriage, relying on condoms so that they didn’t have to ask whether or not he’d acted out. Imagining using condoms with your husband just in case he’d been with someone else. Imagine fidelity being too far a reach for a married man. Those of us who are the wives of sex addicts live extraordinary lives.

 

I remember hearing a well known speaker on the subject of sex addiction boast to his audience that his wife had “never thrown sex addiction in my face,” as though she was honouring his sickness with her silence. I resented this speaker, an addict who tours the world talking about the addiction that once ruled his life. But I see now that his need to diminish the impact of his addiction may have been because it was otherwise too great a burden to him to know with real clarity the degree of pain he caused his family. It may be too painful for him to imagine a shadow of his wife’s trauma stretching into her life today, or that there are scars from it, or that she thinks about how things might have been.

 

There is no dignity in martyrdom here. And while self-sacrifice has its uses, one can eventually run out of self to sacrifice and start on others. It is difficult to know what to do in such trying circumstances and I shouldn’t have been so hard on any of the women (and men) who I watched endure the trials of early recovery by their spouse’s side. After all, I was doing the same.

 

I went to therapy. The word “therapy” sounds a little like an emotional spa for the mind. I thought I’d feel better from therapy and maybe I did—a little. Therapy is good if what you need is someone to listen to the uncensored truth of your life, which in the early stages is very important. Many partners of sex addicts are too ashamed to talk to anyone who isn’t bound by professional silence and they feel socially alienated. They’d like another person to think about the situation with them without judging them, and a therapist will do just that. In my case, I didn’t have too much trouble talking about sex addiction, or reading about it or asking questions about it. I was already able to articulate the problem, to reframe the problem, to describe and analyze and discuss the problem. I just wasn’t able to cure the problem. Because it was his problem.

 

However, I wanted to stop the ache I felt imagining him sizing up women on porn sites or groping for women he’d paid to have sex with him. I wanted to stop thoughts that my life—and every decision I’d made within it—had been grossly misdirected by an addiction about which I’d been unaware. Therapy could help a little with these issues, but not even “trauma therapy” (which is perhaps a good idea for many wives of sex addicts) could make any great impact. It is difficult to get over trauma as it is continuing and, like many addicts, my husband was “acting out” his sex addiction even after he’d been discovered and went “into recovery” as it is called. That is, he’d begun seeing a therapist and attending Sex Addicts Anonymous’s 12-Step program.

 

The first two therapists I went to told me to leave my husband. He’d had affairs, been with whores, run up insanely high bills watching internet porn or hanging out on sex chat lines. While all of these behaviours were in a gradual decline, it was taking an awfully long time for him to stop them altogether. Anyway, this was some years ago and these therapists didn’t believe sex addiction was a true addiction. To them, sex addiction was an expression that attempted to medicalize a set of unhealthy, selfish patterns of social behaviour. It was a no-brainer. Leave him. When I stammered out a pathetic,“But I love him” they said, “Is that a good idea?”

 

I don’t blame them. In their position, I might have said the same.

 

There was one therapist who didn’t immediately tell me to leave him. Her world was one in which we narrate our troubles, working on understanding their origins and then, through this understanding, reduce them to intellectual pills that are a little easier to swallow. She was one of those people who thinks all forms of sex are wonderful and acceptable and beyond any definition of “normal”, changing with the vicissitudes of life. She was also my husband’s therapist. She’d make reasonable remarks like, “Can you separate the man from the addiction?” and I would think, I ought to separate the man from the addiction. She would say, “But in most respects you have a solid marriage, it would seem you could work from there” and I would think, I ought to work from there. I would run her comments by a few friends and they’d say something along the lines of “Tell her to go separate her own husband from his infidelity and see how it feels!” They’d say “How can you have a solid marriage if it has been steeped in lies?”

 

Or maybe it was me who was saying that.

 

Sometimes I’d try on my friends’ righteousness as one might try on another person’s shoes and I’d grow angry with indignation. Other times, I’d try to enlarge my detachment, focussing on the intellectual and psychodynamics of the situation to see if that helped. It helped get me through the day but only as a zombie gets through the day. Mindfulness? Well…yes, though I’d be standing in the kitchen with a mantra that went, “Here I am in the moment wiping down countertops and not thinking about my sex addict husband.” I didn’t achieve quite what I hoped with this either. Then someone would quote me an unassailable truth like, Anger cannot be overcome by anger… and I’d fly into a private rage.

 

Every time I talked about what was happening or had happened, I felt worse.

 

There was the “Anon” group. I will write much about Anon groups, but for now let me explain what they are. Anon groups are for people who are affected by an addict’s behaviour. Sex addiction “anon” groups are filled mostly with wives and girlfriends, though you will see men, too. I went to the Sex Anonymous Anon group and the people there were very nice to me. We sat around in a circle hugging our takeaway coffee cups and “Thought For Today” books, waiting for the next person to start crying. It wasn’t group therapy but the room was saturated with emotional need and terrible psychological scarring. I’d feel the collective pain of disappointment over who we’d become in the great trauma of our marriages and I’d think, oh my God, can we just leave all this shit behind? It was as though we carried suitcases of the worst sewage of our personal histories wherever we went. Couldn’t we leave it all outside and be ourselves?

 

No, we could not. And the impulse to suggest as much (had I dared) would have been most unwelcome. The Anon format, which is similar to that of Coaddicts Of Sex Addiction (COSA), was full of ritualized readings that included a part in which I was meant to state aloud that the problem was inside me— that I had a “very serious illness” simply because I loved a man who was a sex addict.

 

Going to the “anon” meetings didn’t help and not going didn’t help. Going to a therapist didn’t help and going to a second therapist didn’t help. Going to his therapist didn’t help. Nothing helped. I ended up thinking nothing could help. And I suffered, sometimes mildly, sometimes very badly. I’d read websites that told me that because I still allowed the man to live at home with me I was an “enabler.” I was a co-addict by virtue of his being an addict. I was codependent because my moods varied with the cycle of his addiction. I was condemned by the very people who claimed to be in the “helping professions.” And I was sad. There were times when just getting through the school run without tearing up was a trial.

 

The advice, such that it existed at all, was infuriating, degrading and depressing. It was also largely untrue.

 

Back then, I would have liked a site like this one. The blog isn’t perfect—I suspect I will be adding to and revising it for years to come, and that when I finally collect it into a book I’ll continue to revise it. One of the few luxuries of excluding my regular publishers (by profession, I am a writer) from its publication, is that updates are easy. I hope what I write reflects something of what it is like to cope when your partner is a sex addict. I hope it demonstrates some of the common feelings we wives and partners feel and may help you envisage a positive future, with or without your husband.

 

When a trauma of this magnitude hits, it is possible to live inside its aftermath so fully that life, itself, feels stolen away. It doesn’t have to be like that. But it’s hard at first to identify what “help” looks like. Is help a divorce lawyer or a family therapist or a sex therapist or a rehab center? Is help a 12-step group or a 12-step Anon group or a bunch of good friends or a new lover? It’s difficult to see how you might be able to feel better—and easy to get desperate in your attempts to do so. But things will get better. Whatever your husband may have done, and now regrets doing, will stop playing so heavily in your mind. Eventually, as he recovers from the addiction (a process you can do almost nothing to speed up or slow down) the past will become merely a source of information and not the terrible weight it feels now. You can be happy again—I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. It wasn’t easy or comfortable or quick, but it happened.

 

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Copyright © 2016 by TheWife. All rights reserved.

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Elize
    September 26, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Love love love this article!!! I can so relate to every word and confusion you went through, the turmoil, the anger, the frustration, the “I don’t know who to turn or talk to”. You sit with your own thoughts all day long and all night long, you desperately try to separate the man from his addiction but it is so incredibly difficult. I am a christian woman so I battle to NOT separate the man from his actions, I know I must stand by him and be his anchor and soundboard…..if only he would start talking to me about it, but there is nothing!!! We cannot talk about this, it always ends up in a huge fight and denial from his side. I am hoping and praying that this will end one day. Your article and blog gives hope to me and I am sure so many out there! Thank you!

    • Reply
      The Wife
      September 26, 2016 at 10:05 pm

      I know how you feel, Elize. Does he talk to anyone about it? Is he totally in denial? Obviously, he’s never going to get any help if he doesn’t confront the problem, but we (the wives) cannot really get them to confront it if they don’t want to. Stay in touch with me, okay? I’m not far away, really. I will check my messages more often. 🙂

  • Reply
    Maggie
    January 17, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Dear Wife, I have just discovered your blog and I love it. I have read all the entries and will go back and reread. Approximately one year ago, I discovered my husband had been visiting prostitutes for the entire 27 years of our marriage. In fact, he had been doing this years before we met. Prior to that, I thought I had a happy marriage. I considered my husband my “rock” and my soulmate. I was devastated to learn this. I found out by accidentally reading a text message on his phone (I thought it was my phone) from a whore. When I confronted him, he confessed everything and said he thought he was a six addict. I am an attorney and immediately went to an attorney friend who is a divorce attorney. She suggested that while I could start the process for a legal separation, she wanted to talk to my husband about getting in recovery. One year later, my husband has been attending twelve step meetings every week day, has a sponsor and is working the steps. He also has a therapist. I have my own therapist and attend s-anon. However, the “slips” continue. My husband would tell you he has been sober because he has not had sex with anyone but me in that year. But he has been on chat lines, x-dating websites and approached a woman at the gym for a date. Each time one of these slips is discovered, he is remorseful, redoubles his commitment to me and recovery. Recently, he had a slip that shook me to my core. I discovered that he had put an ad on Craigslist Casual Encounters. In the ad he stated his sexual preferences and that he was married and couldn’t host. He had used his professional headshot picture! He also used his professional email. He had an email exchange going with a woman to meet that was very flirty and humorous. He wanted to spend the night at her place as it was a night I would be out of town for my work. All this with someone he had never even met! And after a year in “recovery.” I am shocked at the level of delusion. We had an agreement that anymore “slips” and he would have to leave the house for the night. Which he did. He met with his sponsor and came back the next day. Very remorseful, begging for another chance, etc. I feel I am at a point where I can only save myself. Clearly his program isn’t working. After a year of this, I am exhausted and ready to quit.

    • Reply
      The Wife
      January 18, 2017 at 9:06 pm

      Hi, and thank you for sharing your story. It is one very familiar to me, and to many wives of sex addicts. One thing I can tell you is that until your husband understands that anything like a chat line or x-dating websites is DEFINITELY acting out, he’s not really embracing recovery in a way that is going to make a difference. I can’t possibly comment on his program or how he is managing it, but I can say that he hasn’t totally understood what he’s supposed to be doing. That, or he is in denial and really thinks underneath it all that he can manage this condition on his own. He can’t. You already know that. It may take him any number of years to “get” what he need to do to control his addiction (and I have no doubt it is an addiction). For my husband it took about 5 years before he even began to understand what it would require. He kept having “slips” as he called them and they were serious and ongoing ever three months or so as if on a cycle. I thought I’d die. Eventually, I made the decision to throw him out and he hollered a lot and cried a lot and begged a lot, but I’d been through it for so many years I thought I was now enabling him. He sobered up…eventually. It took him about another year. In the end, we repaired the marriage. He doesn’t “slip” any longer. He goes to meetings twice a week, has a sponsor, is a sponsor. He’s a wonderful husband–now. However, I remember exactly what it felt like to be you. If your husband can make a more sincere commitment to recovery you might stand a chance. I’m talking a meeting every night if that is what it takes! As it is, the he’s not really “working the program” as they say. By the way, I really don’t understand why the 12-step program works, but it does. I’m willing to call it the placebo effect, but the thing has results. You can choose to do whatever works for YOU. As for your husband, he needs this program desperately and I really hope he gives it his all.

      Please keep in touch. I am delighted the blog helps you. x

  • Reply
    Maggie
    January 19, 2017 at 3:04 am

    Thanks for your reply. I know that he has not really been working the program but sort of putting on a show. His slips or acting outs are in a cycle, about every 2 months. At least the ones I learn about. I had an addict who is in recovery recently tell me that “there’s always more with an addict.” My situation is complicated by the fact that he is 70 yrs old and has cancer. I truly feel so much compassion for him and I love him. And I do believe this is an addiction. Once you live with it, you know it is an addiction I don’t care what the experts say. We all agree with that in my s-anon group. But I can’t live this way another year. I feel I’m at a point where I have to save myself. Thanks for listening.

    • Reply
      The Wife
      January 19, 2017 at 12:48 pm

      I absolutely understand, Maggie. What is that good advice the airlines give? Always apply your own oxygen mask before assisting others? You can’t stop him from acting out and your friend (the addict) is right that addicts have amazing work-arounds and cunning fall-back positions. The trust is almost never recovered in a relationship with an addict. I should write more about this: how I live with a man whose addiction means that I never 100% trust him. It’s a difficult one.

      Even if you leave (and I fully support your decision in either direction!) you will need to give yourself time to heal. It’s painful, all of it. The addiction, the finding out, the trying this and that, the giving up the marriage or not giving up the marriage, the walking away or not walking away. If there were an easy solution, this sort of website wouldn’t exist.

  • Reply
    Maggie
    January 19, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    Thanks. It helps so much that someone recognizes the difficulty. My best friend can’t understand why I don’t just kick him out. She keeps saying “His life hasn’t changed” and until the pain of acting out is more than that of being sober he will act out. As if once he was kicked out he would suddenly say “Gee, this is no fun. I miss my wife and family. ” and get sober. I guess I just don’t buy that logic. But again, thanks for your understanding.

    • Reply
      The Wife
      January 21, 2017 at 9:44 am

      Hi Maggie, This is the “consequence” argument. If you don’t give him consequences he will repeat his behaviour. There is some merit to the argument, I suspect, as often addicts (drugs, alcohol, sex…) don’t “get sober” until they lose everything and I do mean everything. However, there are many addicts I’ve known personally who DO get sober without having lost their jobs, families, etc. So, really, there is no data to prove or disprove the consequence argument. Anyway, you can’t leave (or stay) in order to help another person with an addiction. You have to leave or stay because it is what you feel most comfortable with. Notice I didn’t say “happy with”. Because happiness is right out of the equation for now. However, I have seen many couples whose marriages have survived addiction and recovery. I know of many whose marriages did not. The key is recovery. That’s a must. And it’s him, not you, who is in control of that. You know all this–I can tell by how you communicate. You could probably be typing these very words! Thinking of you this frosty Saturday morning and hope you are okay wherever you are.

  • Reply
    Maggie
    January 23, 2017 at 12:48 am

    Thank you. I can’t make separation a game, so to speak. If I decide to separate it will be for myself, not to make my husband come to his senses so to speak. My CSAT therapist has suggested that my husband take a lie detector test every six months. I’m giving it serious consideration. My husband is willing. One thing about sex addiction, it’s never dull.

    • Reply
      The Wife
      January 23, 2017 at 11:27 am

      “One thing about sex addiction, it’s never dull.” LOL!!!! 🙂

      Sadly, this is true….

  • Reply
    Tamara Burdeny
    March 9, 2017 at 1:13 am

    Coming across this makes me feel like I am not alone with having my boyfriend struggle with sex addiction. I am stuck with how to keep his electronics at a minimum with him being in school getting his masters.. he needs his laptop for studying. I’ve put porn blockers on his laptop but he can still google images…. Any suggestions on how to further this blocking???? There are always loopholes and I HATE how his stupid laptop is setting him back. I can’t take it away from him until he is done school 🙁

    • Reply
      The Wife
      March 9, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      Tamara, thank you so much for stopping by the website. You are FAR from alone. Sex addiction is incredibly common, especially among those who have grown up with porn-on-demand through their electronic devices.

      Truly, you can’t stop your BF doing whatever he is going to do. I know that is really hard to believe. I also know you are going to try anyway (I did!). Eventually, you’ll get tired and he will (or won’t) seek some serious help.

      It’s difficult, maybe even impossible, for a real addict to recover without a support group. I’d recommend he try going to Sex Addicts Anonymous, a 12step program that will address some of his needs.

      As for you, you may find http://www.posarc.com helpful. If you are anywhere near a POSA meeting, try to get to meet some of the other women who are facing or have faced the same situation.

      Stay safe physically! And stay in touch, okay?

  • Reply
    Meg
    July 19, 2017 at 2:03 am

    Hi, how do I speak to you privately via email? I’m in need of your help.

  • Reply
    Cheryl
    August 21, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    This article inspires me so much! Thank you. Last October, I found out my husband of 20 years has been using backpage to meet up with girls. He was searching every week for at least 2 years. I am devastated. He is an amazing husband in so many other ways. I do not know what to do. He is remorseful. He wants to save the marriage. Unfortunately all that is on hold right now because he is in jail. The last time he tried to meet up with a hooker, it was a sting operation and he was arrested. He will be in jail for 4.5 months, until late November. Everything you have written in this article rings true for me. I have been to therapy too (and I am a counselor myself). It helped at first, but I don’t think it is doing much good anymore. I feel lost daily.
    I will continue to read your blog. I wish I could meet you in person

    • Reply
      The Wife
      August 21, 2017 at 3:58 pm

      Hi, I am so sorry to hear about your husband. The pain of his infidelity is terrible, I know. Even though his actions are driven by addiction, they are still actions that hurt the same. And now he’s in…jail! Well, I can tell you the only reason my husband isn’t in jail is because he was lucky, not because he was any “better.” Like your husband, he was always so lovely in so many other ways. I am so sorry for you both. This must be unbelievably stressful for you.

      What country are you in? I hope to start a support group near me (in London) and would be only too delighted to meet you!

      • Reply
        Cheryl
        August 25, 2017 at 3:26 pm

        Thank you for your reply. Sometimes I feel so alone. Unfortunately I live in the US. I was also thinking of starting a support group, not sure tho. I am certainly qualified as I have a Master’s degree in Counseling. I just don’t have much experience in group work. I think it might be beneficial for me to work through my stuff first, before trying to help others.
        Yes, I am very stressed. I don’t feel like I can make any decisions until he is out of jail and I can see if he truly wants help and is willing to change. I will keep you posted. Thank you!

        • Reply
          The Wife
          August 26, 2017 at 9:57 pm

          Hi again. One day soon — even now — you will be hugely important and helpful for people in your position. I’m sure I’ve mentioned posarc.com before…see if they have some materials that may help you. Have you read Barbara Steffan’s book? I am excited that you want to help others. I am so, so sorry that your husband is in jail right now. That’s just awful and could easily have happened to any of us whose husbands are sexy addicts.

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