You might decide you need some therapy, and that is a reasonable assumption. Therapy can be useful if what you are hoping for is to revisit a past trauma and come out of it in a different emotional place, newly empowered by having seen the traumatic event and its aftermath from another angle. It can help you reframe your experience. It can help you move into a realm of resourcefulness from which you can take any number of decisions, rather than remain in a cycle of constant reaction to events over which you have little control. At the very least, it can give you someone to talk to.
But this would be individual therapy, not couple’s therapy. There remained no one who would help me mend my marriage with my husband.
It also assumes the trauma is no longer taking place. I am not sure how much good trauma therapy is for a woman who relives the events of her trauma on a month or bi-monthly basis as her husband continues to act out. If I was to be helped to distance myself from the acting out, to see it all from a more clinical perspective, to be coldly-rational about the likelihood of relapse, the therapist would first have to convince me to stop behaving like a wife to my husband and become more like a housemate or even a therapist. And I didn’t want either of those positions. I felt that if I had to protect myself that much within my marriage that it wasn’t a marriage at all, and I may as well hang it up.
Maybe I was right. Maybe not. I probably ought to have persisted until I found a therapist who could help me, but the process was too exhausting. I like to imagine that a good therapist would have made it easier for me absorb the bare facts of my life. While I understood what had happened in my life intellectually, it was possible I didn’t truly believe what I thought I knew. For example, I did not think I was responsible for my husband’s infidelity or addiction, and yet I felt somewhat responsible. I knew my husband was an adult with free will but I sometimes felt the necessity to save him from his self-destructive actions. Therapy may have shown me the unlikeliness of success in this endeavor while simultaneously pointing out the positive intention demonstrated by my longing to help him. In short, it wasn’t wrong for me to want to help my husband, his moods and addiction. But it may be wrong to imagine that I could.
I give these as examples only, but the point is that the therapist may help a woman see something she hasn’t seen before, or reorganize what she is already aware of in such a manner that she understand it freshly and can cope better. This new awareness may help her make better choices for herself. However, therapy has its limitations. It doesn’t necessarily make you any happier, for example. It might make you more sophisticated in your understanding of why you are not happy; you may tell a more coherent and intelligible story about your life. But this doesn’t mean you will be any happier within it.
Looking For The Delete Key
Anyway, no therapist, however skilled he or she might be, could erase events in my life I wish hadn’t occurred, which was what I really wanted. I had the notion then (and it felt intractable) that unless a therapist could wave a magic wand and undo all the times my husband had been involved with women on chat lines, strippers, pornography and prostitutes, there was no point in me going to therapy. I didn’t want help “accepting” the dreadful things he did because I didn’t want any of it to be true. I didn’t want to “get over” it because I didn’t want any “it” to get over. Life has no delete key and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to erase it all.
A trauma-based therapy may have helped a little, because trauma-based therapy asks the question “What happened to you?” rather than “What is wrong with you?” You take inventory of the injuries done and then set out an action plan to cope with them. However, I couldn’t see how to undergo trauma therapy while still living with the man who was causing the injuries. The only way to stop the cycle of pain that was coming my way was to get out of the way of the vehicle causing it. To my mind, that meant getting away from my husband.
After five years of his attempted recovery from sex addiction, that is exactly what I did. Separating from him served as a kind of stopping. I was no longer daily involved in a relationship that was, to my mind, abusive. I no longer had to worry about his feelings, his temper, his sobriety, his anxiety, his acting out, whatever “circle” his behaviour was on (inner or outer…it’s a twelve step thing), his laptop, his email, his texts or his phone. I was done, or so I believed.
I will spend more time trying to describe what happened, but for now I will say this: For a time he blamed me for everything and acted out as much as he ever had. For a time he blamed me for everything and acted out quite a bit less. He surrounded himself with his twelve step fellows. He often spent lunchtimes and evenings in Twelve Step meetings.
He also dated women off the internet who, after a few dates, he informed that he was a sex addict. I don’t know what happened with those women. I was involved in own life. I saw him through a different lens. What I saw was a struggling addict getting sympathy anywhere he could while internet dating. He looked less enticing than he had at one time. He looked crazy and self-involved, disloyal and selfish. I imagined him n the internet. What a con artist, I thought. Was he going to tell the women that he met he was an addict but “in recovery” and that he was “sober” (at least for the past two weeks). Was he going to tell them his wife was part of his problem, that poor stupid wife who had been me?
I told myself that I had been a good wife, whatever he may say to the members of his 12-step fellowship or those misbegotten women he picked up on the internet. I cherished my kids, spent more time with my work, finishing a book I’d been trying to write for five years and which is now being published with major houses both in the UK and the United States. I embarked on a fitness program and toned up so that I could wear just about anything and look good. I discovered that men liked me, too. And that I was funny and vibrant and that for years I’d been more lonely inside the walls of my husband’s addiction than left alone in a house with no man.
Sometimes I was desperately sad. I told myself to explore my own life, independent of his. Sometimes I was scared about money; I knew I’d be poorer without him. It was unfair that I’d been such a giving, faithful wife and been treated so roughly, but I knew there were people in much worse circumstances all over the world.
Though I did miss my marriage, terribly. I missed the marriage I had before the addiction, or at least before the addiction had grown to such a size that the marriage was eclipsed.
What Is A Marriage Anyway?
The truth was I didn’t want to divorce D—- I couldn’t stop putting him first in my heart. When it came right down to it, I believed that we were meant for each other, as corny as that sounds. Buddhism has a notion of “given karma” versus “acquired karma.” Examples of given karma are your parents, siblings and children. You don’t have any conscious choice when it comes to your family. By contrast, acquired karma consists of all the people who you choose to bring into your life for a period of time, but perhaps not forever. You have friends from college and friends from work and friends you meet through life. At some point during my separation from A—–, I saw that during the decades we were together, he’d become part of my given karma, of who I was. The bond between us felt unbreakable. It was up to us how we wanted to cope with the bond, but it would remain no matter what we did. As the fourteen century Persian poet, Hafiz, put it, “(his) heart and my heart are very old friends.”
I did not go back to him the moment I saw this truth, in part, because I was still too attached to the notion of what my marriage was supposed to be. I was still unable to accept my marriage as it really was. I had to embrace the history of our marriage. I had to acknowledge that other women and pornography had always been present, but hidden, and that any future with my husband meant living with a degree of risk and uncertainty that would make any marriage difficult. In other words, I had to stop looking for that Delete key. My life was my life. There was no need to judge it. The great Zen master Seng-Tsan wrote that “The highest realization is to be without anxiety about imperfection.” My husband wasn’t perfect. My marriage wasn’t perfect. I was not perfect. And we were never going to be. What we could have instead of perfection was a new honesty, and a new path of spiritual growth.
I began to focus on the very special lifelong relationship we had together. Even if he was messed up, even if he’d done terrible things, even if I’d been lied to, the greater truth was that our marriage had endured for decades and I had cherished it. Even with all its defects and failures, it was alive and beautiful in my heart. I was able to love him and live freshly with him without anxiety because I had was learning to trust the process of life that had brought us this far. Remarkably, he was now getting some traction in his recovery. He was still minimizing; he was still self-justifying. He was, and would remain, one of the more fragile individuals I have known. But he seemed finally to be beating this thing and, with that, came an even greater invitation to soften my heart, to invite growth, to become more a couple with this lifelong friend.