There is a sad fraction of partners who feel it is their duty to be caretaker for their addict husbands because they consider sex addiction a disease like any other disease. Some of them continue to engage in sexual relationships with their husbands, even though their husbands are having sex outside the marriage. These wives (or partners) rely on condoms so that they don’t have to ask whether or not their husbands have “acted out.”
Asking is not allowed–I know this sounds incredible. However, the idea is that the addiction is a disease and that the symptom (sex outside the marriage) is only a symptom. If you ask about whether your husband is having sex with other partners (often prostitutes) you are “interfering with his recovery.” You are also behaving like a “co-addict”. I agree that sex may be a symptom of an underlying disorder, but not with any of the rest. Let me explain as best I can, however.
In the view of those who subscribe to the co-addiction model, co-addicts are attempting to monitor and control their partner’s sexual behavior. By contrast, a healthy person is one who understands her husband’s behavior has nothing to do with her. She uses condoms to protect herself (or abstains from sex, which may be expected anyway as some addicts reach a place at which they can’t have sex with a human being any more). She says nothing. She keeps her “side of the street clean” and doesn’t get into “his business” with questions about his recovery.
That’s healthy, according to a small, vociferous group of poor advisors, but not according to anyone with any sense. Please don’t feel you have to subscribe to these beliefs or label yourself a “co-addict” when you are doing your best to adapt to an intolerable situation and make the best decisions you can for yourself and your family.
I’ve written about the nonsense some people spout on the subject of co-addiction, which has a place in psychology literature, though a very small one. In short, unless you are encouraging the addiction, you are not a co-addict. However, you may believe you are a co-addict once the COSA people get a hold of you and convince you to join their cult, which is a cosy cult (they are very nice to you!) but one that insists upon compliance to its beliefs about sex addiction and co-addiction.
For most of us, there is no question. If what we expect is a monogamous relationship, we have every right to ensure that is what we are getting. And imagine 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 honoring their marriage with her silence. I resented this speaker, an addict who had once been a doctor. He still tours the world, talking about the addiction that once ruled his life. His wife speaks to the partners. Does she tell them to stay silent? Does she acknowledge how her own husband seems to insist upon her own?
Shame triggers sex addicts—I’ve written about this subject here—and it may be too painful for this doctor to imagine the shadow of his wife’s trauma stretching into her life today, or that there are scars from it, or that she may think occasionally about how things might have been. Perhaps this doctor’s pride in his wife’s silence may mask his need to downplay the impact of his addiction. Or perhaps he wishes to extend a kind of control on all the other wives. He needs the whole world to be quiet about his addiction because, like so many addicts, he insists that others keep his secret.
She never once threw sex addiction in my face, he says, as though behaving this way is a virtue.
There is no dignity in martyrdom here. I speak freely of my situation while, at the same time, trying to protect my family. It’s a difficult line to walk. Some women tell nobody of their husband’s addiction. They are too ashamed or too scared of the consequences. I understand. Maybe such secrecy is a form of self-preservation, though not necessarily an effective one. Maybe it is self-sacifice. Self-sacrifice has its uses but 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. There is no prescription. However, I have heard too many stories of women being coerced by their partners into silence—try to resist being coerced into anything, especially your right to speak.
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.