Many wives and partners resent 12-step programs because all the help and comfort is directed toward the addict. He is the one who has caused all manner of harm, yet he seems to have all the help. They may also resent that their husband is now speaking openly to strangers she will never meet and often to a therapist that is on “his side.” Meanwhile, he is not speaking to her. She is grieving badly for the marriage she thought she had and has lost, for the trust she had and is gone. Meanwhile, he is rushing into the open arms of his fellowship, leaving her out.
I didn’t prevent my husband attending 12-step meetings or sessions with a therapist who was meant to have experience in treating sex addiction (his first therapist, who was as useless as he was expensive), but I can’t say I greatly supported them either. I was in way too much agony to have sympathy for him, for his condition, or for what may have caused it in his early history.
During the first months after discovering my husband was a sex addict, I resisted the notion that he was really an “addict” at all. I didn’t even understand what addiction was, let alone how it applied in this extraordinary manifestation. Just about the time I began adopting the parlance of “addict” I was asked to think of the addiction as a disease. I really didn’t like it when addicts and therapists called sex addiction a “disease”. I felt like I was being told that I did not have sufficient sympathy for the poor man, who was the real victim in all this.
I had a point. This insistence that the wife or partner be sympathetic at a time when they are being completely knocked to shreds shows disregard for their feelings. When such sentiments come from a therapist or any kind of counsellor it feels like abuse. How many of us would like to be told in a court of law that the perpetrator who killed or raped or maimed us is ill and that we should have sympathy for his condition? That we should step down from our complaint and understand he would never have committed such a crime had he been brought up by loving parents or not been abused himself? Of course, this may be exactly the case—I can’t imagine that many people are born to be violent—and yet nobody in court expects the victim to support the person who has hurt them.
In domestic matters it appears we are meant to absorb as much hurt as can be borne and answer it with our forgiveness. It was taken as a given that I would be supportive of the addict (my husband) at the exact moment I was enduring total devastation by what he had done to me and to our family. I was in a terrible crisis; the only person I knew to turn to in such a crisis was the cause of all my pain. Who was I to trust if not my partner of fifteen years? While I would love to have been able to support him wholly, it required a Buddha nature that I had not yet cultivated, nor would likely to cultivate in this lifetime. Yes, I finally understood that he was an addict. He was an addict, sure, but I was a human being with feelings—why was I being asked to be so much more?
And yet, I can tell you that my husband’s 12-step program was the best thing that happened to him during the worst of his addiction. Had I resented the program so much that I couldn’t tolerate it (and the therapy, phone calls, sponsor obligations, sponsees and “daily actions”) I suspect we’d have never made it through. His program transformed him. He became slowly aware of the depths of the damage he’d caused himself and everyone he loved, as well as the level of commitment he’d need to stop behaving as an addict. In the end, the program informed him of what he needed to do, and it did so with an eloquence that meant I was no longer having to police him or worry about him. He would be okay…as long as he went to often meetings. And I mean often: 2-3 times a week minimum. It didn’t matter of he ran out of SA meetings and went to AA Open meetings (for which those who are not alcoholics can attend). If it was 12-steps, it was good.
If you are the partner of an addict and he or she is completely caught up with a program, try to tolerate it. If you can muster a “oh good, glad you are going!” then even better. You may be glad you did so. However, you don’t have to be his cheerleader and nobody should expect you to be.