First steps after discovering possible sex addiction in a partner

It feels like your whole life is ending, your head is spinning, and your heart is broken. You are so badly shaken that your body may even have gone into a state of shock, your temperature dropping until you shiver no matter how many layers you wear. Someone you trusted has been lying to you about everything, and it feels like the man or woman you loved has died and been replaced by a monster.

If you suspect (or are certain) that your partner is a sex addict, this is what I think you should do. Keep in mind, I’m no expert. Just a person who went through something similar to what you’re facing right now.

First, tell someone. Find someone to confide in, in real life. Choose a person who can be trusted to keep a secret, respect your choices, and who you would not mind knowing about your partner’s sex addiction, whether you stay together or decide to separate. (This probably means that your mother and father need to be off the list.) If you don’t have a close friend or family member you can comfortably share this burden with, get an appointment right away with a therapist. Let them know it’s urgent.

See a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist who treats partners of addicts and follows the trauma model, if possible. If you cannot see a CSAT yourself, try to find a therapist who has experience treating trauma victims.

If your partner is willing, have him get into treatment with a CSAT right away. 12-step groups may be helpful, but a CSAT is crucial for your partner if he is to succeed in freeing himself from this addiction, and seeing any other therapist can be more harm than help. Find one here.

Get STD testing. It doesn’t matter what you know he has done or what he says he has done, even if he swears there was no physical sexual contact. Get tested anyway. You can get medical help or you can get peace of mind or you can end up with both, but you have to find out whether he has risked your health and life.

Learn about sex addiction. I recommend starting with this book — Living With a Sex Addict: The Basics from Crisis to RecoveryThe more I learned about sex addiction, the more I healed. Hopefully you’ll feel the same way.

Be hopeful. Don’t love the addict? Can’t wait to get away? You have a happy life ahead of you. This doesn’t define you.  You do love the addict? You want him to be the person you thought he was? Well, he’s definitely more broken than you knew, but chances are good that he’s broken and not, well, evil. Sex addiction and sociopathy are by no means mutually exclusive, but being a sex addict does not automatically make him a sociopath. Also, recovery is definitely possible. There is a lot of misinformation about recidivism. Addiction is an issue of science, not ethics, and the science of addiction is continually improving. A full recovery is absolutely possible.

Put off permanent decisions. Wait six months to a year before you finalize a divorce, but do talk to an attorney about your options if that’s what you want. Once you tell someone else, you can never take it back, so be careful and consult with a therapist about telling your children and other people who love the addict, no matter how angry you are.

Let yourself grieve. You have suffered a tremendous loss, like a death, yet worse in some ways, because the happy memories you would have treasured if you lost your partner have all been corrupted by his lies and betrayal. Be patient with yourself. You’re allowed to be angry, scared, and hurt. You’re allowed to have days where you feel like it’s not a big deal, and days where you don’t want to get out of bed. You are not crazy, no matter what you’re feeling.

Keep enjoying life. I understand that this is not going to be possible in the beginning, and maybe not for the first several months. You have been dealt cards that no one should ever have to cope with. But do not withdraw from your commitments, your family, your friends. Try to stay as connected as possible with others, and remember that your relationship with your partner, while an extremely important aspect of your life, was only one aspect. He does not define you.

Please write to me if you need someone to talk to.

Sex addiction is rooted in family dysfunction

When my husband and I first started dating, I didn’t notice anything amiss about his parents and sisters, or his relationship with them. He told me they were a very close family. Within months, I discovered that appearances can be deceiving.

From the outside, it might appear strange that my husband ended up a sex addict. He was never sexually abused. His parents would not be considered physically or verbally abusive in a court of law.

But growing up in his family, my husband was forced to emotionally parent his own mother. For example, she frequently ran sobbing from a room, because an opinion expressed by one of her children had hurt her feelings. My mother-in-law is a narcissist, and everything was always about her and her feelings, which were “hurt” quite often, requiring her children to rush to her comfort and protection. Guilt-trips were (are) her primary tool in any relationship.

My husband’s father is a tense person, easily irritated. He started spanking his kids when they were as young as one year old, babies just budding into toddlers. He yelled frequently, lashing out if his kids were too noisy while he tried to drive the car or watch television, the latter being his primary activity while at home.

My husband’s sisters tattled often, and as the only boy and the oldest child, my husband was blamed whenever they were upset. The sisters continued this behavior into adulthood, calling mommy whenever brother was not doing as they thought he should.

And of course, my husband was also bullied in middle school.

This all sounds less than ideal, but you’re probably wondering: Is this really enough to cause someone to grow up to become a sex addict?

Yes, it is enough to cause someone to become a sex addict. But no one “grows up to become” a sex addict. Sex addiction is already firmly rooted long before adulthood. Usually, sex addiction has already begun as the child transitions through puberty and discovers that the new sensations of arousal are a respite from personal unhappiness. Arousal and orgasm are pleasurable. While any adolescent may experiment with his or her body and discover sexual pleasure, for some children and teens, the pleasure of sexual activity — whether with self or others, or both — is the only safe, or comforting, or pleasant part of their lives — or perhaps, the only part of their lives where they feel free to do what they want, instead of having their choices and thoughts dictated for them by an overbearing parent.

Neural pathways forge in the brain at the young age of eleven or twelve, in most cases, as the brain determines that this, this sexual pleasure, is reliable and comforting. Nurturing, even. Life might suck. Maybe no one in the family has cared for this child as he or she deserved. But, the sex addict’s developing brain decides, “sex will always be there for me, to make me feel better.”

Experts have written far more eloquently about the causes of sex addiction than I can. I would like to point you in the direction of some excellent articles.

Linda Hatch, a renowned sex addiction therapist, wrote “The Myth of the ‘Normal Childhood:’ Why are you a Sex Addict?”  Dr. Hatch discusses relational trauma, disengaged family systems, narcissism, enmeshment, role reversal, and emotional dysregulation in parents.

“The bottom line is that childhood trauma of one sort or another is evident in the lives of most sex addicts if we look carefully enough.  Often the addict needs to cut through the fog of childhood and look at their early experiences with new eyes.  Re-interpreting the formative events becomes the key to understanding their power.”

— Dr. Linda Hatch

In her article, “More Underpinnings of Sex Addiction,” licensed clinical social worker Dorothy Hayden asserts that a dysfunctional family or traumatizing experiences with one’s peers can cause sex addiction. In my husband’s childhood, of course, both were present.

 

“…they may use sexual behaviors to achieve a sense of adequacy, competence, safety and power. Consequently, they feel an (illusory) sense of admiration and recognition that was missing from his childhood.”            — Dorothy Hayden

In another article, “Sex Addiction as an Intimacy Disorder,” Dorothy Hayden again goes into detail to explain why a person might become addicted to sex.

“If the child’s need for attention, soothing, stimulation, affection, touch, discipline, validation, and so on goes unmet, or is met with feedback that is punishing, invalidating or rejecting, the consequences are woven into the structure of the developing personality. Such children may turn into themselves and disconnect from others, regulating their emotions through the use of substances or process addiction, like sex.” — Dorothy Hayden

You can find all of Dorothy Hayden’s articles here for further reading.

Our Christian pastor gave sexist, misogynistic advice on sex addiction and infidelity that still has me fuming mad

My first step after I caught my husband sexting with a stranger was to confide in some friends, and I’m so glad I did.

Not only did they enlighten me about sex addiction — I had never heard of it before — but they also gave me other advice. Therapy with professionals was already on my must-do list, but these friends also suggested that husband and I should meet with our pastor as soon as possible.

I figured more helpers couldn’t hurt, so I scheduled the appointment right away. It was a horrible experience, and this week I am putting a letter in the mail to our pastor’s supervisor.

During our meeting with him, the pastor rambled about male sexual needs, told us that “all men masturbate,” that men need to orgasm approximately every 72-hours (yes, that infamous and completely outdated myth), and actually told me that my husband was unfaithful to me because I did not have sex with him often enough.

“Men need sex. Women don’t need sex,” pastor said.

The pastor repeatedly referenced Men Are From Mars; Women Are From Venus —  a pop psychology book from the 1990s, which I certainly don’t think qualifies as an acceptable pastoral guidebook.

It feels like you’re in the twilight zone when your unfaithful, barely-begun-treatment, sex addict husband has to explain to your Christian pastor that this is a load of nonsense.

My sex addict husband told the pastor that he was wrong; that I actually have a higher sex drive than he does and that we had sex plenty, but that this is irrelevant because sex addiction has nothing to do with sex drive; and that he — like other sex addicts — acted out sexually because he wanted to escape depression and self-hatred, and regulate his moods. He explained to the pastor that it wasn’t arousal or libido that would lead to sexual acting out. It was the other-way-round: negative emotional states would cause him to seek out arousal in order to avoid the negative emotional states.

I won’t be turning to this pastor for help, ever again. His victim-blaming and condoning of sexual infidelities could be so harmful to any couple that may come to him in the future for sex addiction or any type of infidelity, that I feel I have to let his supervisor know about this. I choose to forgive him, but I need to do something about this before another woman is hurt. I feel sick every time I see this pastor and have begun attending services on Sundays elsewhere so that I can spend my time at church thinking about God, instead of thinking about how hurtful this man’s words were. (We belong to a large denomination, so it’s easy for us to switch to a location in another town.)

So much harm can come from this type of misogynistic thinking, which is also quite insulting to men, of course, implying that they have no control over themselves while also insisting that women are to blame for men’s every sexual misdeed.

What if I didn’t know better? What if I was inclined to blame myself anyway, and this confirmed guilt and made me feel it was all my fault? What if my husband was emotionally abusing me by placing all the blame on me, and this pastor aided him in doing so? What if I did not have a clear idea of healthy human sexuality, and did not know my value as a person? What if I did not know that I am never a sex object for anyone’s use, including use by a spouse?

Sadly, I am certain that my experience is not an anomaly. I have seen enough so-called “Christian” advice columns and opinions to know that there is a prevailing belief that it is somehow divinely ordained that women exist to fill the sexual needs of men and that a holy marriage is one in which the wife is some sort of domestic servant and sex slave, never permitted to say no and obligated to appeal to the husband at all times in a frantic competition with the lurking dangers to the man, whose male sex drive is supposedly ever-ready to strip him of free will, force him to break his vows, violate his own integrity, and treat other human beings as objects.

I have heard horror stories of counselors, even professional, secular ones, advising women to have sex with their cheating partners more often in an attempt to control the situation.

If you were raised in an atmosphere that embraced this toxicity or a version of it, or if you have been confronted with this as a hurting adult, please, please know that you are a person in your own right. You don’t exist to be used by or to please any other human being. Your needs matter. You were right to say no when you wanted to say no, and to say yes when you wanted to say yes. And there is nothing you could have done differently that would have prevented your partner from being a sex addict. He was a sex addict long before you knew him, regardless of when his addiction escalated. This is not about you. This is not your fault. It’s not even about sex.

Have you had a bad experience with a pastor or other authority figure? If so, did you address it?

Sex addiction disclosure was a positive experience with no surprises

Last night was my husband’s therapeutic sex addiction disclosure. Honestly, it feels like no big deal. I think there are enough horror stories on the internet and from the other people in our support groups about shock and grief, sitting in a therapist’s office finding out that we’ve been exposed to more STDs than we ever thought possible. So I’m sharing this in case there’s someone reading this who has been told as I was, that there’s always more to the story. It doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe your partner’s disclosure, too, can be no big deal.

If the disclosure process was painful for you and you think it might trigger waves of resentment and anger toward your partner to read this, feel free to skip this post, and please know that you have my deepest sympathy.

Brace yourself, friends told me, when I caught my husband sexting with a stranger seven months ago. There’s always more.

So a few days after “D-Day,” I gave my husband an ultimatum. “I know there’s more, and I understand that you’re scared to tell me what it is. But I would rather find out anything than be lied to anymore. I can’t promise I’m going to stay with you or try to save our relationship in any case. But I can promise you that if you continue to lie to me about anything, it’s over. And the truth will eventually come out. Your best bet is to start being honest.”

Of course, my husband was a sex addict. So his response to me was a lie. “I swear, there’s nothing else!”

Bull.

“Don’t answer me right now! I know you’re lying to me,” I told him. “Think very carefully about this. You have two weeks. When you’re ready to be honest, let me know. As long as you make the decision to tell me the truth by the Saturday after next, I’ll listen calmly and keep an open mind. But if I find out there was more after that date, it’s over.”

That Saturday arrived, and when he came home from his second Sexaholics Anonymous meeting, he asked me to sit down. I felt extremely anxious and my hands and knees were shaking, but I just breathed deeply and didn’t say anything, as he told me various things he had done.

From age eleven to the present day: Masturbation, sexting, flirting, phone sex. “Soft porn” from Google images. Calling a prostitute once shortly after college, but cancelling. Going to a strip club once in college, but deciding not to go in. That was it. No in-person, physical sexual acting out that would carry the risk of disease or be an even higher layer of betrayal and infidelity, except for sex one time with a then-girlfriend, years before he met me. Most of his acting out was fantasy-based and took place alone or over the internet. The worst of it, to my mind, were the things he has done while married to me (flirting in a non-sexual way with a woman by facebook messenger; sexting and having phone sex with two women, also over the internet).

And he told me the exact same catalog of offenses last night at the formal therapeutic disclosure. His therapist believes he is being honest.

I’m not minimizing the pain of what he has done, and my reaction will always be anger and disgust that he used other human being as sex objects. But in the greater scheme of things, I guess it could have been worse.

So last night, I met his Certified Sex Addiction Therapist for the first time, and after checking that I was ready to listen, my husband pulled out a piece of paper and read the list above with dates and time periods. It took about two minutes.

I didn’t have any questions really, as I’ve had seven months to process everything already. I’ve asked innumerable questions, usually a few times over. We’ve had so, so many conversations about why he acted out, where all of this came from, and how it makes me feel.

For me, the things he’s done ceased to eat at my peace months ago, as soon as I understood the “why” of it all.

The rest of the forty-five minute session, we talked about the outlook for recovery, how to make sure the cycle doesn’t repeat with our children, how toxic his family of origin is and how they caused his mental health problems, what my husband needs to change to become trustworthy, and steps toward healing our relationship.

It was an overwhelmingly positive experience. The therapist said that especially since my husband hasn’t had trouble maintaining sobriety for the past seven months, he doesn’t anticipate that he will ever act out sexually again. Maybe he says that to everybody, but it was encouraging to hear.

The therapist said that if he continues in therapy and recovery programs, my husband will likely be free of the underlying mental illnesses (depression, self-hatred, suicidal ideation, anxiety) and can be considered fully recovered by about the five-year mark. Again, very encouraging to hear.

I’m left feeling hopeful. Life goes on as usual today. All in all, the disclosure feels like no big deal. I have a therapy appointment for myself tomorrow, but I don’t even expect to talk too much about this, as other things going on in my life right now are on my mind more.

My husband still has a very, very long way to go in becoming healthy. He needs to develop integrity, practice self-care, continue to become assertive, exercise empathy and so on. But as I started to feel a few months ago (not sure when exactly), a sex addiction diagnosis really isn’t the end of the world.

 

Not Really Married

I refer to my husband as my husband on this blog because we are legally married and because I don’t want to use his real name, as this blog must remain anonymous.

But my husband is not really my husband.

wedding dress

You see, in order to marry a person, you need to be able to give informed consent. If that person is deliberately concealing something about himself or herself — perhaps because he or she knows you would not want to marry him or her if you knew  — then no matter how sincere you were when you made your vows, or how in love you felt, you are not really married. Because you did not truly know who you were marrying.

Or, suppose you had the intention of marrying someone who possessed a certain integral quality, and only found out later that all along, your partner actually did not possess that quality. Then you would not be married, because when you made your vows, you intended to promise marriage to a person who was secretly unlike the person actually standing before you.

And of course, if your partner said the words to promise exclusive commitment and lifelong fidelity but either did not really mean it at the time or was not capable of keeping that promise because for some reason, he or she was incapable of fidelity — then those vows would also be null and void.

In my case, my husband did not realize at the time we married that he had an addiction. So he was not deliberately concealing that from me, but he did conceal details of his sexual history and did lie to hide the fact that he masturbated compulsively. He claimed not to have engaged in masturbation for the past several years, whereas in reality, he masturbated all throughout our engagement.

I definitely intended to marry someone who was both honest and sexually “sober;” a non-addict. Had I known the truth about the man I was marrying, I would not have married him. At the very least, I would have insisted on therapy and treatment prior to marrying, which would definitely have involved postponing the wedding, if not outright canceling.

And my husband, although he says he truly intended never to be sexual with anyone besides me ever again, was actually incapable of fidelity at the time he made his vows, because he was a sex addict who was not in treatment. And sex addiction cannot be overcome without professional help.

If I decide to divorce and I apply for an annulment in my church, I will almost definitely be granted one. An annulment means that my marriage does not exist, and never existed. All these years, both my husband and I thought we were married, but I am certain that we were not.

My husband has now been in treatment for about seven months, without a single relapse, according to him, his sponsor, and his CSAT.

His therapist says he does not need to abstain from sex with me. But we have not and will not be having sex anytime soon.

In the beginning, my friends cautioned me to be careful “before you’re intimate again,” and my reaction was: “Are you kidding me? I will definitely get STD testing, but don’t worry — I’m never touching him again!”

As time has gone on and I’ve learned about addiction, about sex addiction, and about who he is as a person, it’s been a tremendous relief to realize that he is not what I originally thought — a bad person, a sociopath, my enemy.

He’s just a broken person addicted to the only means of self-medicating he could find as a young, abused, neglected preteen child.

Dr. Patrick Carnes would no doubt accuse me of “withholding sex” to punish him in an attempt to regain power and control the situation or to bolster my flailing sense of self-worth or some other nonsense. Because that is, definitely, nonsense.

I love my husband. I miss sex with him. But I do not trust him. And one of my personal boundaries is that I only have sex with people I trust.

Actually, I only have sex with the one person I trust and am married to. And there is no such person in my life right now.

That person disappeared as the illusion of normalcy evaporated in a shocking burst seven months ago, the moment I saw a stranger’s name and picture attached to a sexually explicit message arrive in my husband’s cell phone.

My husband has never blamed me, never blamed circumstances, never sought to excuse his behavior, and never stopped apologizing and trying to empathize with my grief and stress. From the moment I told him his behavior and the ways he described his state of mind sounded like something called sex addiction, he’s embraced treatment. So far, I have every reason to believe that he will someday make a full recovery.

I am no longer just counting the months until it is prudent to seek a divorce. But until I can trust him, we’ll continue to live together only as friends and co-parents.

I know that in order to have a valid marriage, all we need to do is make our promises to each other and have sex again now that I know who he really is.

But in order to trust him again, I feel I need two things:

First, I need some kind of proof that he is now telling me the full truth. I still wonder if I’ve learned everything. Are there more behaviors, or more instances of the same behaviors, that I don’t know about yet? While I do get the “gut feeling” that he is telling the truth now, a therapeutic disclosure (coming up in a couple of weeks) and a polygraph test will offer the closest thing to proof of this that has yet been invented.

Secondly, once I know he has been and is being truthful, I’ll need to see him growing in self-control and integrity. And that is going to take time, consistency, and continued openness and vulnerability.

I have a right to feel safe in my primary relationship, this relationship with my supposed husband and the father of my children. A relationship of lies and repeated infidelity is an emotionally abusive relationship. Even if I did not believe my marriage was invalid, I have the right to a separation or a divorce. I am not obligated to stay with this man and try to “fix things.”

And neither are you. No religion or legal system has the right to tell you that you have no choice but to stay. Least of all does this addict to whom you are attached have any right to tell you not to leave. Please don’t let anybody (including Dr. Carnes) convince you that staying is necessarily the “right” thing to do if you don’t want to.

 

 

 

Self-Esteem

In her book, “Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal,”Dr. Barbara Steffens argues that rather than meeting criteria for codependency (more on that in another post), partners of sex addicts frequently exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Dr. Linda Hatch and others agree that sexual betrayal is always traumatic. Steffens writes that the degree a particular partner is traumatized by sex addiction depends on what trauma that person has already experienced in life. The harder life has been for that person, the harder it will be to deal with the trauma of sex addiction.

I think the same thing can be said about self-esteem. I think the more confident and comfortable we are in our own skin, the less the betrayal hurts. The more insecurities we have already, the more it hurts and the harder it may be to recover.

As I wrote about in my post “It’s Not About You,” it’s a normal reaction for any person who has been the victim of infidelity to feel rejected.

On the very first night that I caught my husband sexting with a stranger, I was shocked (Everything seemed fine! I had no idea! We were happy together!), deeply hurt (How could he?), terrified (What else has he done?), angry (Who would do this kind of thing?), and my head was spinning as I held onto his phone and asked him question after question.

In one sense, the timing was terrible. I was only about three months postpartum, having just given birth to our third child.

On the other hand, the timing could not have been better. The “baby blues” were ending and I had not felt any signs of postpartum anxiety or depression yet, unlike after my other two births. And more importantly, the timing was good for me because for the last two to three years, I had been actively working on self-improvement, personal boundaries, and trying to overcome some of the baggage I’d been carrying with me through life with the help of therapy and lots of reading.

If “D-day” (the day I discovered the infidelity) had been a few months sooner, when my youngest was a newborn; or before that, in the middle of a difficult pregnancy while I dealt with antenatal depression; or a few years before that, while I had bad self-esteem and so much anxiety — it would have been even more painful for me. In fact, in 2014 when I caught my husband engaging in non-sexual flirtatious text conversations with an acquaintance — my first “D-day” — that was probably harder for me to heal from — in large part because my self-esteem was so much worse at the time.

I feel lucky this time around. If it had to happen, if he had to “act out,” and betray my trust, I am grateful that it happened when it did. This time, I never believed that it was my fault. I never thought my husband was unfaithful because I was somehow lacking.

The night I caught him, that idea popped into my head for a split-second, and I was able to reject it just as quickly. My head was spinning as I tried to reconcile the man I thought I knew with a man who could do this kind of thing: cheat, sneak, lie. Was this because I had a postpartum belly now? Was this because I am not as physically affectionate as he is? Bull****. I look great. And it’s not about how I act, either. Am I perfect? Nope, but I have tried my best to be a good friend and loving spouse. This is all on him. There is no good reason for him to do this.

I’m certain that having decent self-esteem has allowed me to heal faster. Not that I’m all the way there, yet. But about seven months into it, I feel good almost every single day. Rarely — maybe once every couple of months — am I assailed by the anxious and fearful panic attacks that I lived through daily in the beginning. I would say that the trauma has subsided.

Having decent self-esteem means that I have not tortured myself with jealousy or insecurity about the women he used when he acted out. It means that I haven’t been tormented with feelings of inadequacy, wondering why he didn’t love me enough to be faithful, or why I wasn’t “sexy” enough, or anything like that.

Having decent self-esteem has allowed me to be open-minded and understanding when he’s explained why he acted out. If I were secretly convinced that this was about me and my deficiencies, it might be harder for me to believe him when he told me it was all about his self-hatred, or to feel compassion instead of anger or hatred toward him for all the hurt he has caused me.

And having decent self-esteem also allows me to look honestly at myself and notice that, at least for this household, Dr. Hatch is right when she says that both sex addicts and partners of sex addicts have an intimacy disorder, or they wouldn’t have ended up together. Without feeling overly defensive, I can admit that yes, especially for the first half of this marriage, before I started to work on myself, I contributed to an atmosphere where intimacy could not flourish, because of my narcissistic and critical, unloving behavior, where every disagreement was a fight. (More about that another day.)

I am especially grateful that having decent self-esteem means that when I think about the future, I can admit that I hope my husband is able to recover fully and be a good partner and dad, but I am not afraid to be alone.

On the night I caught him sexting with a stranger, as I took his phone and ran down the hall to see it where the baby would not wake up from the sound of my sobbing, I remember feeling a strange but deep sense of peace. On the most unhappy night of my life, I also felt a calm assurance. This was a living nightmare, but I was going to be OK no matter what.

That peace only lasted about thirty seconds before giving way to surges of cortisol and adrenaline that left me physically shaking and freezing cold, unable to eat without nausea for the next three days. But it has come back with time and healing, and as I wait for my husband to give his disclosure, I feel peaceful again. No matter what he did and no matter how it may affect me, I will be all right.

Dr. Doug Weiss and others have written that self-esteem is a pervasive problem for partners of sex addicts. In some cases, the addict and partner may have chosen each other because they were on a similar plane (i.e., both had bad self-esteem). Additionally, many sex addicts blame their partners for their acting out and reject them openly over a period of years or even decades. This emotional and verbal abuse causes bad self-esteem for the partner of the addict.

In an article titled, “Low Self Esteem in Partners,” Dr. Weiss writes:

“We live in a culture where we are encouraged to believe that outer appearances and behaviors determine our value. Partners of sex addicts frequently believe that if they were only more (or in some cases less) attractive, sexy, intelligent, shapely, submissive, or better in bed, they could alter the addict’s behavior. Their self-esteem, which may already have been damaged, falls even lower as they become more and more involved in trying to fill the insatiable needs of the addict by changing themselves.

Society imparts a strong message to women that, if there is something wrong with her relationship, there is something wrong with her. The sex addict is usually only too happy to confirm this belief.”

I am also lucky because when I caught my husband sexting with a stranger, he did not try to blame me for any of his choices. I would like to think that even if he had, I would have known better and not internalized any of that, but I am sure that my situation is easier than many because he has been willing to accept responsibility for his own problems.

My heart goes out to partners of sex addicts who feel as though it’s their fault in some way, or as though they do not deserve better.

Dr. Weiss continues:

“The partner is not only subjected to sexual put-downs, she is also frequently a victim of emotional and verbal abuse from the addict as well. Over time, she will begin to believe what the sex addict tells her about herself is true. Like the addict, she will harbor a secret belief nobody will love her for who she is, but for what she does. Unable to gain a sense of worth by being sexual enough for the addict, the partner can often be found taking care of not only the addict, but the kids, her family of origin, even her neighbors, in a search for worth that she can only experience in a recovery program and by sharing this healing process with other recovering partners.

Low self-esteem is the natural outcome of being a partner of a sex addict; it is a core recovery issue for partners of sex addicts.”

I feel inestimably lucky that I currently see myself in this description by Dr. Weiss of partners of sex addicts who don’t struggle with their self-worth:

“They knew internally that they had nothing to do with their husband’s sexual addiction. They knew they were attractive, sexually competent, and that for him to get better, it was his responsibility. They had clear boundaries and little tolerance for relapse.”

I’m lucky. Blessed. Because there’s really nothing I did right that anyone else did “wrong” to end up the other way around. It’s not as though I get credit for “achieving” self-esteem. Each person’s life circumstances are unique and self-esteem can depend on our childhoods and the people who surround us. There’s nothing about me that’s better than anyone who doesn’t have good self-esteem. We all have every right to feel peaceful, whole, and entitled to love and to be loved.

This is the reason Dr. Weiss, Dr. Hatch and other experts insist that partners must also be in therapy after discovering sex addiction. Not because you contributed in any way to the problem. Not because you share the burden of “fixing” what the addict has broken. Not because the addiction is a symptom of a broken marriage (it’s the other way around). Simply because you and I deserve happiness and to feel good about ourselves.

How was your self-esteem before you discovered your partner is a sex addict? How has it changed since finding out? Have you tried therapy since your “D-day”? Do you feel it’s helping you to feel better about yourself? Has any book, conversation, or personal realization that you came to on your own helped you to have better self-esteem? Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about your experiences.

 

In His Own Words – Why My Husband Is a Sex Addict

If I had to sum up concisely the reason my husband is a sex addict, I would say it’s because of self-hatred.

Sex addicts aren’t all the same as one another, of course, but experts like Dr. Patrick Carnes, Dr. Linda Hatch, Dorothy Hayden, Ella Hutchinson, Robert Weiss and Dr. Douglas Weiss agree that sex addicts have terrible self-esteem.

Carnes, in his book Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, describes an addict who arrives at the gym to work out and feels that people are looking at him funny. He assumes they’re judging him — thinking that he’s a loser. He leaves the gym and instead of going home, finds a prostitute. In his twisted mind, this addict thinks that he’ll feel better about himself through his sexual “acting out.” (Spoiler: of course it doesn’t work. Every single time a sex addict “acts out,” he or she feels even worse than before.)

Has your sex addict partner admitted to feelings of desperate loneliness, misery, and self-hatred? If not, and you’re on speaking terms, it’s worth asking about. But from what I’ve read, it seems like a lot of men and women who are sex addicts are not usually ready, in the beginning of recovery and certainly if they’re still active in the addiction, to be vulnerable, to admit their insecurities, or be honest at all. That’s why I think it might be helpful for you to read what another sex addict has to say.

I understand that partners in our position are often advised to “focus on our own healing” without worrying about the who, what, why and when of our partners’ addictions. But for me, personally, understanding addiction in general, sexual addiction specifically, and my husband’s state of mind, has been tremendously helpful as one component in my healing process. (I’m the type of person who likes everything to make sense, and fit a logical explanation.)

With my husband’s permission, I’m sharing his own words as he explains his thought processes and why he turned to sexual acting out. Each quoted paragraph is from a separate text message he sent me in the last six months, as I asked him again and again why he did what he did, as part of my efforts to make sense of everything.

***TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains quotes from my husband about his sexual acting out (nothing graphic) and his suicidal ideation. Please do not read this if you think it may negatively impact your mental health. If you or someone you know struggles with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, available 24/7.***

“It was the only way I knew how to numb the pain. I’ve hated myself for as long as I can remember. I tried to escape what I saw in the mirror; I tried joining the military, I earned my degree, I ran for office — anything I could do to try and be someone whose reflection I could stand to look at in the mirror. But that same ugly, fat, weak guy was always there looking back at me. Nothing changed me from being me, no matter how badly I wanted it to. In my head, acting out sexually allowed me to imagine being somebody else, if only for a short time.”

Please note that my husband is not an “ugly, fat, weak” person. But as he’s only recently confided to me, he has thought so since childhood, when he was called those terms and more by his peers at school in a vicious cycle of bullying that lasted a few years. Being bullied does not automatically equate to becoming a sex addict or any kind of addict later in life, but study after study shows that peer abuse, like all other types of abuse, has a negative impact on the developing brain and can lead to many mental health problems.

Another thing to note is that he isn’t being manipulative, making excuses, or trying to evoke pity by telling me how he felt about himself. He is responding to my direct questioning and has always included in his messages and our conversations that there was no excuse for acting out sexually, which violated my trust, his vows, and his personal values.

Why did I turn to this? The only thing I can say as a reason is that lust (arousal and orgasm) seemed to counteract and silence my crippling insecurities. I simultaneously avoid and need people. I see people as people who will be annoyed by me, not really like me, feel disgusted by me, judge me. This taints every relationship. Even our kids, who adore me, I have a nagging doubt that when they’re older, I’ll be an embarrassment to them. Sexual acting out got me in that ‘haze’ you read about, and it felt like the only interactions I had with people where those insecurities were silenced.”

In this quote above, he is alluding to the fact that while “acting out,” he always pretended to be someone else who looked and acted differently than him.

For further reading about the “erotic haze” and how sex addiction functions to temporarily allow the addict to escape unpleasant emotional states like the one my husband described, this article gives a brief explanation:  Dorothy Hayden’s “More Underpinnings of Sex Addiction”.

Self-hatred permeates all of his explanations:

“I’d imagine dying and think that all you would remember me as was the *** clown that never followed through, the guy who never stood up to his parents, the guy who kept looking to you as the manager, the guy who always asked if we were OK, the guy who was weak and couldn’t even express what he wanted half the time. I always loved you, but I felt so afraid you didn’t love me back, not really. I felt so unlovable. I felt all my flaws and didn’t see how you could love me or want me. I felt ugly, wretched, and pathetic. I’m so sorry I dealt with those feelings as I did.”

He has described feeling the same intense anxiety and feelings of inadequacy in every relationship in his life — with his boss, with colleagues, with his parents and siblings, and even with our young children, who adore their very engaged, encouraging, and loving dad. He described his thought process about the kids by typing out a typical train of thought or conversation he’d have with himself:

“They love you because that’s what little kids do! Who are they gonna compare you to? Wait until their eyes are open and they see how screwed they got in the father department. They’re gonna wish they had one of their friends’ dads instead of a pudgy, indecisive little ***** who couldn’t assert himself for ****. You’re their first “man”? What a joke! Who would want you for a father?”

Extremely negative self-talk, like this, would contribute to his near-daily suicidal ideation. And then he’d turn to sexual acting out as a way to escape.

If there had been a way to get dopamine in a needle and shoot it up, I would’ve. I wanted the feeling because it seemed like the only way to shut up the nearly perpetual suicidal/self-hating soundtrack being played inside my head.”

He elaborated on this again:

“I didn’t know any other escape. Things seemed so terrible I believed the best thing I could do for you and the kids was to die and make room for someone better. Those thoughts never went away, not with prayer, not with work. I didn’t have anyone I felt like I could talk to. I felt trapped in my own head. It seemed like the only way to quiet the thoughts. I’m so sorry.”

It only distracted him temporarily — while he was in the middle of doing it. He never once actually felt better about himself because of it, which he could see almost from the moment he was caught.

But it seems as though he was unable to think clearly and rationally until that point. After each time he had “acted out,” he would swear to himself that he’d never do it again — only to realize hours or days later that he had just done it again, and feel sick with guilt and self-disgust all over again.

I know this was a long post, so thank you for reading this far. What has been your experience with your partner? Has he or she been vulnerable and honest about the real reasons for sex addiction? Has what you heard from him or her been similar to what my husband has written?