Sociopath or Addict?

When I first caught my husband in his second round of infidelity in the course of our six year marriage, I was convinced he was a sociopath. It wasn’t merely that he was selfish, or that he didn’t love me. I kept asking myself, What kind of person cheats repeatedly on a spouse while simultaneously acting “in love” and professing to be happy in the marriage?

You see, while some sex addicts and their partners have relationships that feel empty and distant, that’s not always the case. In other cases, like mine, the partners might spend time cuddling, having quality conversations, making love, laughing together — seemingly connecting.

It was the idea that all of this interaction had been deception on his part — a long, calculated act — that made me think he was a conscience-less sociopath of some kind. Sociopathy and addiction share common traits, or so it seems to me.

If you’re worried that your partner is a sociopath and waiting around for “recovery” to happen is a waste of your time, which is a totally legitimate possibility, two questions may help you see things clearly:

One: is your partner actually trying to change? After being caught, did he seek help? Did she respond to treatment?

Two: is your partner this self-centered in general?

As always, Dr. Linda Hatch is far more eloquent on this subject: “Why Sex Addicts Seem Sociopathic.”

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 Someone you trusted has been lying to you about everything, and it feels like the man or woman you loved has died and been replaced by a monster.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.

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