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.
Copyright © 2016 by TheWife. All rights reserved.