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?

So Why Sex Addiction?

I already wrote a post on how sex addiction has  nothing to do with us, the partners, and another post about sex addiction is actually not about sex, either. Of course, if you’ve read anything else about sex addiction, you’ve probably heard that your partner was simply looking for a fix, and at some point in his life, started to abuse sex, either with himself or others, as a means of regulating emotions.

For my husband, this was around age eleven, when like many other non-addict boys and girls, he began to experiment with masturbation. But it quickly became something unlike healthy, happy preteens, teens, and adults experience. My husband comes from an abusive family. He had very bad self-esteem, even as a child, because of how he was treated by his parents. As a middle-schooler, he was bullied severely by his peers at school. And masturbating became his coping mechanism — at times, the only moments in his day or week where he felt good about himself, because of the rush of positive hormones that are released when through arousal and orgasm. By the time he was a college student, he had already been told by a mentor to whom he confided that he had a “compulsion.”

Dorothy Hayden, in her “Overview of Sexual Addiction,” on PsychCentral, writes:

Sex addiction, of course, has nothing to do with sex. Any sexual act or apparent “perversion” has no meaning outside of its psychological, unconscious context. What sets sex addiction apart from other addictions and makes it so persistent is that the subject of sex touches on our innermost unconscious wishes and fears, our sense of self, our very identity.

Every expert on sex addiction that I’ve come across agrees that sex addicts are deeply fearful, extremely insecure individuals. And this rings true from my own personal experience of sex addiction — limited though it may be — from learning about my husband.

Since discovering his infidelity and finding out he’s an addict, my husband and I have talked a lot about why he did this, and I am glad to say that he has been pretty humble and agreed to answer all of my questions.

He’s opened up about much that he was hiding before this. I knew he had bad self-esteem, and I knew he struggled with depression and anxiety. But until lately, I had no idea the absolutely abysmal level of worth he attributed to himself.

With his permission, in one of my next posts, I’m going to share in his own words how he felt about himself and why, in his twisted and sick, addicted mind, acting out sexually seemed to him at the time to be the way to “restore his equilibrium” and “feel normal,” which of course, never worked.

Waiting for disclosure

My husband has been “sober” for the past five months, and is finally starting to prepare with his therapist for a disclosure. That’s when the sex addict sits down with his partner and tells everything: all the sexual acting out, all the lies to cover it up. He has to do this without making an excuses, without explaining mitigating circumstances, in front of one or both therapists, by reading a formal statement. And I am supposed to sit there, listen, and ask clarifying questions at the end.

In the very beginning, when I first caught my husband and, about a week later, learned of sex addiction for the first time, I read everything I could get my hands on. I heard about the disclosure process and found numerous warnings to partners from certified sex addiction therapists and other partners who had traveled this road before. Sure, I might think I already knew everything my husband had done. I might think he had told me the full truth. But chances were good, they wrote, that there was still more, perhaps worse things, he had done, that I did not know about and that would shake me all over again.

Thanks a lot, guys. So I sat my husband down and told him that I refuse to be lied to anymore. I told him I was sure he was still lying to me, and that I understood how scary it must be for him, that I empathized with his fear of losing his family and needing to move out, of never being loved or accepted if he was known in entirety — but that I refused to accept being lied to.

I picked a day two weeks from then and told him that he needed to tell me EVERYTHING by that afternoon. When that Saturday came, he got home from his 12-step meeting and asked if we could talk. And he did tell me about several other instances of acting out that I had not known about before. Then he swore that he had told me the full truth.

But none of the things he told me involved what, in my mind, would be the most devastating. He said he had never been sexual with any other person for real, physical, in-person intercourse, and that everything had been sex with himself (masturbation), or over the internet (and that there had been no video- or image-sharing, either). Well, this seemed, and still seems, a bit “too good to be true.” From what I had read about the tendency of sex addiction to be ever-escalating, it seemed unlikely that a man in his mid-thirties would not have acted out more than he was claiming.

As the months have passed since that day, I have to admit that I do “get the feeling” that he is telling the truth about this. It isn’t so much that I trust him, but more so that I trust my own intuition and “gut feeling” about his honesty. In the past, when he was lying, I had a bad feeling that something was not quite right, and told him so. This time, I am convinced that, at the very least, he believes what he is saying is true.

So the nauseating anxiety I felt in the past about he disclosure is gone. I feel nervous, but also peaceful. I have firm boundaries and although I dread certain outcomes because of how painful they will be to me, and more especially, how they could devastate my children, I feel prepared. I will write again as the disclosure approaches some time in the next month or two, and I promise to update afterward and let you know the outcome. My husband will also be taking a polygraph so that I can have some peace of mind.

If you went through the disclosure process, how did it go for you? How did you feel about it afterward?

UPDATE: Sex addiction disclosure was a positive experience with no surprises

It’s Not About Sex, Either

As I wrote recently, sex addiction is not about the partner. I’m a very imperfect person, sure, but my husband’s sexual acting out had nothing to do with me. He would have done it with or without me in his life — in fact, there’s reason to believe his addiction would have escalated faster without a wife and kids in his life, but that’s beside the point.

Not only is sex addiction not about me or you, it’s also not about sex. I know, that sounds contradictory. But hear me out. Sex addicts don’t even enjoy the sex.

“The Wife” at LivingWithaSexAddict.com, in her post, “The Life You have Been Living,” writes:

“Before I understood much about sex addiction, I believed it grew out of what could be called “ordinary cheating.”  That is, I thought my husband had enjoyed casual sex so much he repeated the action until it became a habit he found difficult to stop. I used to point this out to my husband, telling him that he didn’t start out as an addict, but as a regular guy who cheated on me for years before the behavior became an addiction.”

Thankfully, this is decidedly not true, but I do understand thinking that way. When I first discovered my husband’s multiple online adulteries, I thought he was a sociopath. I wonder sometimes, whether I could forgive him and how different my life would be now, if that were the case. But while some sex addicts are sociopaths, and the two categories are not mutually exclusive, it so happens that my husband is not a sociopath, and your sex addict partner probably is not either (more about that in a later post).

“The Wife” continues:

“This thought kept me miserable for a long time. Only recently have psychologists established that it wouldn’t have been like that at all. He didn’t make a practice of cheating and then turn into an addict. He was an addict looking for a fix, and eventually alighted upon sex. He found the fix and settled on sex addiction as opposed to some other addiction. Sex was simply the drug of choice.”

Sex addicts, as this writer goes on to point out, have usually suffered a childhood trauma of some kind. As the pioneer in the field of sex addiction, Dr. Patrick Carnes, states in his book Out of the Shadows, sex addicts were usually either abused or neglected as children, whether sexually, physically, verbally, or emotionally. In some cases, peer abuse also plays a role. Exposure to pornography, as “The Wife” quoted above mentions in her article, can create in a child a neurological reaction similar to having been sexually abused.

If you are still going through the shock and anger of discovering your partner’s betrayals of you, you may not want to hear about this. It might seem like I’m asking you to feel sorry for him or her, instead of for yourself — as though you don’t have a right to be angry. Please know that is not what my point is at all. You do have every right to be angry! Anger is an important emotion and your anger is so justified. You have been treated poorly. Lying to a partner habitually, and breaking promises, and being sexual with others, exposing you to diseases — all of that means that you have been the victim of emotional abuse in your relationship. Anger is certainly an appropriate response.

But my hope is that in learning how and why your partner’s addiction developed, you may find it easier to empathize, which in turn, makes it easier for you to feel all right again, while also taking the necessary steps to protect yourself.

It’s Not About You

Sex addiction is absolutely never about the partner of the addict.

“I never felt a desire to get away from you, only myself. I was flabby, ugly, insecure, weak-willed and pathetic… I didn’t feel worthy of attraction or respect.” — my husband

I think we often have an assumption or attitude, perhaps without realizing it, that blames the victim of infidelity. There’s an idea that when a person “cheats” on his or her partner, then maybe the cheater’s needs just weren’t being met by the partner. And this is total BS even with — what should we call it? — “regular” (non-addiction?) infidelity. Even if the unfaithful person is married or in a relationship with someone who is unloving, distant, or even outright abusive, infidelity is always the choice of the person who does it.

Maybe the unfaithful partner didn’t feel “in love” anymore. Maybe she was intoxicated and acted irresponsibly. Maybe he was tired of being threatened with the kitchen knife. Maybe she was heartbroken over being criticized daily. We may shake our heads sternly or sadly. But we tend to see these incidents as a rejection of the partner, for reasons we can empathize with a little or not at all. And when cheated on, we perceive it as a rejection.

Of course, in any case, no one “makes” someone break their promises. Unhappy in a marriage? You could ask for a couples counseling or pursue a divorce or separation without compromising your integrity. There are numerous options for dealing with unhappiness in a relationship. Lying and breaking promises is a black mark on the person who does it and not the fault of the partner. And so we tell the betrayed partner that even though the offending partner may very well have meant it as a rejection of him or her, the adultery is still “not about you” in the sense that it’s not your fault. You may have been rejected, but it’s not your fault your partner doesn’t love you anymore. It’s not your fault he or she preferred the company, or the sex, or the affection, or whatever, of someone else.

But sex addiction is different. When experts tell you that “it’s not about you,” they actually mean something beyond what that phrase means when we’re talking about infidelity in any other context. Because even though we, the betrayed partners, initially perceive it emotionally in exactly the same way as infidelity for any other reason — it IS infidelity, after all — it’s actually totally, completely, not about us. It feels like a rejection. In some sense, it is a rejection — after all, time and attention was spent on something rather than the relationship with you — but it was most likely an unwilling, unwelcome rejection on the part of the addict.

sexaddictionisnotaboutyou

In most cases, the sex addict partner DID still feel “in love” with you. The sex addict may even have tried desperately to stop acting out sexually, because he was terrified of losing you. The sex addict may have only loved you, may have told you this often in words or gifts or quality time, and may have meant this sincerely, and made many other loving choices that prove her love was more than a mere feeling of affection.

It does not matter whether the sex addict who brought you to this web page is ready to be honest and admit not only the addiction but also the reasons for the addiction, or he is currently blaming you. Perhaps, cruelly, he is telling you that you weren’t “something enough.” You weren’t affectionate enough, you weren’t available enough, you weren’t sexy enough, you weren’t pretty enough, you weren’t young enough, or you were too critical, too distant, too stressful, too stressed, too overweight, too old, too boring, too whatever. LIES. That’s all lies. One thing that all sex addiction experts agree on and that you need to remember even if you remember nothing else about this post is that sex addicts lie.

Sex addicts lie to hide their addiction, and they also lie to hide the reason for the addiction. The one thing that sex addiction is all about: their deep, crippling insecurities. Their emotional instability. Their desperation for love, affection, and approval. The emptiness that they’re running from. Sex addiction is not about you. No matter who the sex addict married or lived with or dated, he would still be a sex addict. She would have acted out in all the same ways, or maybe worse ways, if not partnered with you. It has nothing to do with you. Nothing. It is not your fault. You could not have prevented it (and you cannot fix it.)

Maybe your sex addicted partner is not blaming you. Maybe you have not yet talked to him or her about this aspect. Maybe you are blaming yourself, comparing and contrasting yourself to people in magazines or on the beach, or simply people in your own imagination. I read an article on Ella Hutchinson’s blog recently, and scrolled through the comments underneath it. One person wrote that her husband had been addicted to pornography for years, and that she knew why. It was, she insisted, because she had been “born ugly.” A cousin teased her about her spider veins at age 12, and her self-esteem was forever damaged. Moreover, she was no longer young. She was convinced that her husband preferred looking at pornography because men prefer young, flawless female bodies to ogle.

NO. No, no, no. Men and women with a pornography addiction look at pornography for a host of reasons and NONE of them have to do with their partner being less than perfect. And what is perfect? Edited images of very young women, barely over the age of consent, engaging in sexual acts in return for money? No. And honestly, I think non-porn users tend to romanticize it. That’s frequently not what pornography is.

Without being too graphic, it’s important that you realize that pornography is ugly.  Your partner might not have been viewing a single whole body, at all. I understand not wanting to know the details, but if you think knowing the details might alleviate fears, consider discussing with your therapist the pros and cons of asking exactly what the addiction entailed.

You’re not competing with anything. Pornography, especially internet pornography, is specially engineered to appeal to a very base part of the human brain in an overpowering way, but the growing numbers of men and women who are addicted to pornography don’t actually like it. Addicts who stare at it for hours a day don’t enjoy it. No joy, no enjoyment, and no real, genuine preference for it. Just an addiction. Even if your partner spurned every attempt you made at sexual intimacy and “preferred” to spend hours in front of the computer, that choice was about his own insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, and a process addiction he could not overcome without professional help. It had nothing to do with you. It does not mean that you aren’t totally lovable and desirable. It means that he has a serious problem.

People addicted to pornography or any other type of sexual acting out feel pathetic. He or she may not be ready to admit it yet, because that involves being vulnerable, and fear of vulnerability is likely one of the reasons that he or she is a sex addict!

I recommend checking out some articles by Dorothy Hayden on this topic. This may be a good one to start with: Internet Porn Makes You Stupid!

Please remember — it’s not you. You’re not lacking in any way that could ever cause someone to become a sex addict or cause the addiction to escalate.

I plan to write more very soon to allow my husband’s own words to explain why the sex addiction began, persisted, and escalated. No individual’s story is the same as any other’s, but it is my hope that by hearing his story, you may find a path to empathy and forgiveness — not for the addict’s sake, but for yours. I hope it may help you find freedom from your insecurities and help lift some of the pain of this betrayal.

Betrayal and Grief

I caught my husband sexting with a stranger. This was the second time, to my knowledge, he had been unfaithful, as four years prior I had caught him flirting in a non-sexual way with a childhood acquaintance of his. That first incident hadn’t shocked me, although I was definitely angry and it took about a year of therapy and effort from him before I trusted him again. But it hadn’t been as shocking, because it wasn’t sexual, and our marriage was going poorly at the time. I knew he was unhappy. I was unhappy.

But this time was completely different. We had just had our third child. We were happy — I thought. We spent time every day just cuddling and talking about our days. He was telling me how much he loved me — how happy he was.

I had never seen this coming.

And I had never heard of sex addiction. So what kind of man is unfaithful to his wife while at the same time acting like he’s happy and he loves her? He must be a sociopath, someone completely devoid of empathy, an opportunistic pig.

Moreover, he had used people. I thought of him as a predator, someone who had found women with poor self-esteem and used them for his own pleasure and ego-trip.

And he had done the one thing I felt certain I could never, ever forgive. He had sacrificed our children’s well-being and happiness, their ability to grow up in a loving, intact family.

I didn’t know him. The man I was married to was kind, loving, hard-working, a wonderful, attentive and engaged father who would sacrifice anything for his children. He was deeply concerned with human rights, frequently volunteering for various good causes. He was well-educated, witty, and fun. He was my best friend. He was absolutely nothing like the man I saw standing in front of me, telling me all the horrible things he had done.

My husband was dead, and in his place, all I could see was a monster.

It felt as serious a loss as if he had really died. Perhaps worse, because all of my happy memories had been turned into lies. I sobbed daily for weeks, burst into tears when I saw our wedding pictures or remembered activities we had done together only a few days before, when the whole world was a far different place. I read that it was important to grieve the loss, so I let myself cry as much as I needed to, and I wrote letters to the man I loved, the man who was, as far as I could tell, non-existent. Maybe you can relate. Maybe not. It’s still painful to remember how it felt to live through the first day, the first week, the first month.

If you’re still going through the devastation of discovery, you’re not alone. It can get better, although I know that sounds impossible. Getting “better” doesn’t mean that it will stop hurting or that your relationship will ever heal or go back to the way it used to be. But you can be happy. This does not define you.

How to Survive Sexual Betrayal