For weeks after I told him to leave, I cried myself to sleep. For months I wondered if I’d done the wrong thing. But he didn’t really argue. He left so easily it was as though he wanted me to throw him out. And while he would insist that he missed me, he did not promise any change in his behaviour. He wouldn’t say that things could be different or that we had a future. He claimed he could make promises “just for today.” Just for today, he’d say, before I interrupted him.
Marriage are not made on promises ‘just for today’, was my reply.
He’d complain about our separation but bring nothing new to the table about how to remedy it. What he wanted, if he dared to admit it aloud, was for me to accept his occasional “slip” into pornography or massage parlours and meanwhile remain his faithful, loving wife. Such conditions were untenable, even cruel. Why did he expect this? Because he is an addict, as he so often reminded me. That was why.
It was his excuse for everything. I’m an addict, he’d shout during an argument, as though this accounted for all his unreasonable expectations and behaviours. I didn’t know (and still can’t decide) how much this simple explanation summed up all the reasons for the things he did. Perhaps being an addict explained everything wrong in his life and in our marriage.
But I will admit to this: I didn’t want to accept that he was truly an addict. I resisted the notion that this situation was a permanent, insurmountable truth. I fought against it, and in doing so I fought with him.
I can’t even remember what else he said during the months he was away. He had little regard for my feelings. I don’t think he had any room for them at all, really. Everything was about him–his recovery, his state of mind, his anxiety, his job. Such self-focus is consistent with the behaviour you’d expect from an addict. It is also the behaviour you see in people who are married to addicts. Those of us with husbands or wives with sex addiction don’t talk about ourselves but about the addicts to whom we are married. All the damned time.
I sensed from him that sometime during the months, then years during which he failed to stay sober, he had grown to resent me. My very existence served as a reminder to him of all his failed attempts at recovery. That I was so upset only drove him deeper into his shame, and he hated feeling shame. Shame triggered him to act out and so my feelings were not acceptable to him. Oh, he wouldn’t stop me explaining how I felt, not directly that is. He’d just put his hand through a wall or explode a water glass on his head. That usually stopped me talking.
He controlled the scene, that was for sure.
I saw that he resented that I did not support his recovery in the way he imagined I ought to. I got out of his way when it came to things like attending meetings and his daily spiritual practices (like reading the Big Book for example) but he had expected more cheerleading than I was willing to give. And he had expected me to endure his slips—pornography or live women, it made no difference. I was supposed to accept whatever came as he worked toward recovery. This I could not do.
I’m your wife, not your therapist, I’d tell him. How can I not care if you act out?
By the end of the summer he was still out of the house and now he was on Tinder, the hook-up phone app for those who want to meet with people in their area. The lengths I went to in order to find out this information was a good indication of how much I still cared. I was devastated he was on Tinder but it only confirmed to me that I’d done the right thing.
No sex addict, even one who has years of recovery, should be on internet dating websites. Why? Because searching the internet for anything, especially for attractiveness in a potential lover, is going to result in a dopamine rush to the brain, just as it did when he was searching for pornography. Looking for someone he wants to meet in real life, clicking through to page after page of women, will produce the same bio-chemical response as finding a hooker or strip bar or massage parlour he wants to visit.
The conditions mimic acting out in other ways, too, even after the sex addict contacts the person on the dating website. Interacting through a website message system with a new woman, a stranger, in the closed and secret cyber-land of virtual dating, is exactly what an addict used to do when he was into webcam sex, phone sex, and “dating” sites with whores. Admittedly, you wouldn’t talk dirty to a stranger on an internet website (I hope) but the rush received into neural pathways just from talking normally to a stranger on a dating website may amount to the same biochemical experience for the addict.
The point is this: He’s on the hunt, his blood is pulsing through him at a rate of knots, his focus entire. I don’t care if he’s been sober for years or not sober at all (like my husband)—he is certainly in trouble if he’s on Tinder. And let’s face it, if he’s on Tinder he’s not sober.
As for my situation, I despaired. The man was an active addict. He was hopeless in my view. Now that he was free of his wife he was on a phone app website. Of course he was. He’d already been through two sponsors and three therapists. Should I be surprised that he was burning through one wife? He appeared to be one of those few people who could not recover no matter who they see in therapy or how hard they “work the program.”
I’d grown used to being disappointed, which was a good thing because I was about to have quite a bit more disappointment. It turned out he wasn’t just on Tinder. He was on plenty of other dating websites, too. Of course, he was. What kind of addict who has just been thrown out of the house by his wife of twenty two years, is living alone in a flat and visiting his children on Saturdays, has never been sober for more more than a few months and lies more than he tells the truth, decides the best course of action after separating is to date other women? An active, unremitting addict whose purpose in attending a recovery program is more about feeling better about being an addict than curtailing his addictive behaviours.
When I saw what he was doing on-line, I started to hate him a little. I’d supported his career; he’d done nothing for mine. I’d been as close to a single parent as you can get while still living with the children’s father. I’d single handedly managed and paid for a team of teachers for our son with special needs, learning how to teach him myself for the days when, inevitably, I would run out of money. I continued to bring an income into the household, looked after the house, the pets, the cars and the garden. I did everything (like most co-addicts, I hear some of you saying!) and he was doing what exactly? Oh yeah, “working his recovery” through Tinder.
I felt rejected, which is silly because he’d spent over a decade on the internet looking at women so that was nothing new. But It felt different. Now he was looking for women to replace me. Apparently, he thought he could do better with someone else. Did he think that a stranger would accept his sex addiction better or be more patient with him than I had? She might if she knew nothing about sex addiction and imagined, as some do, that it is simply the result of a sexless marriage, or a boring marriage.
While the few close friends I talked to all told me I was better off without him, I wasn’t so sure. There was no triumph in this separation, no relief. I was like a fish on a line that had fought and fought, and was finally reeled in exhausted and defeated. I hoped I would feel excited about a new life without sex addiction, but did not. I tried to close my heart just a little in order to protect myself.
I think I loved him the entire fifteen months of separation, though I would never admit to him as much. However, I loathed myself for loving him. I tried to find something else to distract me, something preferably in the shape of the opposite sex.
I met a man who thought the world of me and I began dating him. This was a bizarre and interesting time in my life. He was very nice. Educated, articulate, easy to be with. He regularly told me how loving my husband for as long as I had, and to the extent I still did, was a sign of wrong thinking on my part. It wasn’t that unusual a thing for me to hear; many people said the same. I shouldn’t have kept loving a man who cheated on me, who lied to me. There was no such thing as a sexual addiction, the boyfriend said. It was just weak will, an excuse. Couldn’t I see that? he asked me. How could I be so smart and not see that?
I don’t think this man meant any harm—he was trying to give me courage to let go of someone who had hurt me. Also, he was trying to move my allegiance to him. It was noble of him, really, to try to talk me out of so complicated a marriage, so doomed and misbegotten, except there was an aspect of it that he failed to see and I failed to explain properly: how many times in life do you love a person so much that nothing they do can really shake that love? For me, there was that one man for whom I (apparently) needed very little back in order to love. It drove my boyfriend nuts. He deserved my full attention and he never really had it.
However, there were good things, very good things about dating him. For one thing, I no longer associated sex with hookers and pornography. I wasn’t afraid of his phone. I didn’t check his messages because I didn’t need to check his messages. He was single-minded, focussed only on me.
I learned that most men can be faithful to a woman. It really isn’t that unusual. Also, being with one man isn’t entirely different to being with another. That is, there is some common ground in all loving relationships so even a new one has a kind of familiarity to it.
I learned uncomfortable things, too. Even without sex addiction there is so much sizing up and comparing of women by men. At times, it is enough to make you want to be celibate.
This nice boyfriend wasn’t always so squeaky clean—not that he was a sex addict or a pornography-watcher. But he was forgiving toward men who hurt women, who use them for their pleasure. I had been forgiving the one man, my husband, for the very same thing, of course. I loved him no matter what. I loved him even though…and I have never been entirely sure if this ought to have been the case.