A Personal Update

It’s been about two years since I discovered everything. The devastation I initially felt has completely dissipated as life has gone on. Looking back, I can say that I already felt a lot better after three months had gone by, compared to the initial trauma. Nine months out, I was still worried that there might be more to find out — waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. One year out, my therapist told me I didn’t need to see her regularly anymore, because she felt I was in a comfortable place. Hearing her reassure me that I was handling things well and hadn’t internalized anything from his adultery made me feel strong.

Now, about two years after everything happened, I can admit that I rarely think about it anymore. The betrayal I once thought would haunt me for the rest of my life barely figures in my consciousness in the day-to-day. (My husband’s betrayal was small compared to what many partners face, and so the timeline for your recovery into peace of mind may take longer than mine has, and there’s absolutely no shame in that.) I was so worried about my kids going through a divorce. I was ashamed to tell family and friends what had happened. Today, I’m confident that my husband actually is the person I thought he was when I married him. He had serious, serious issues that should have been dealt with decades ago; he lied to me and absolutely, I am angry about that; he hurt me more than any person ever has. I’m not “over it” in the sense that it doesn’t matter anymore. But it’s true what they say — time heals all.

My husband, on the other hand, thinks about what he did every day. He still fights not to drown in unproductive shame, which only contributes to the self-loathing that caused him to act out in the first place. If he “acts out” again, I’ll deal with it when it happens. It doesn’t scare me like it used to, because no matter what, my life will go on and I’ll be happy. But it terrifies him. He is frequently triggered by a name, a date, a place — to remember what he did and feel crushing guilt. The idea of even masturbating again fills him with dread.

I recently raised my eyebrows at him for mentioning to a cashier that he was in a career that is considered prestigious. Privately I asked him whether he felt he needed to mention that to get an ego-boost, since he was having a bad day. He promptly misunderstood me. The cashier had been a young woman, so he protested repeatedly that he hadn’t meant to be flirtatious, which was not a concern of mine. (We did talk about whether he would have had the same interaction if it had been an older woman or a man, and he said he wasn’t sure.) I feel this incident shows how much sex addiction is always on his mind, even though it’s not something I worry about or think much about.

We are still working on a healthy relationship. We need to share more, and more consistently, with each other about how we’re feeling. I get frustrated with him when he holds things in, and he still feels scared to talk to me because of how I may react. He has the same insecurities he had before, but I see improvement every week in his openness and his confidence. He continues to go to therapy twice a week, but currently isn’t attending 12-step meetings, and I respect his preference not to, as they aren’t research-based and seem fixated on symptoms instead of root causes.

We are back to living like a married couple. We sleep in the same bed. We have sex when we want to and can get some privacy — probably about as frequently as the average couple with young children — once or twice a week. In the first several months after discovery, I worried that I would think about his lewd phone calls, the explicit sexting conversations, while trying to have sex with him. But that has never once happened. I am glad we waited as long as we did — about a year and a half — before resuming marriage, because I think waiting helped ensure I was comfortable and in a healthy frame of mind.

Now I know that for someone who is going through the initial trauma of finding out your partner is a sex addict, reading this would be so much more reassuring if I was saying: “It’s been 50 years since I found out my husband was a sex addict, and he was never unfaithful again for the rest of his life. I buried him yesterday and he never once acted out again or caused me pain. The story is over, and I can say with certainty that after that low-point, everything was a happy love story.”

I remember wanting to know if it was even possible for a person to be “cured” of sex addiction for the rest of their life. I scoured the internet and found depressing pseudo-statistics about relapse. I devoured blogs written by people whose sex-addict-partners were staying healthy, and panicked when I realized that after a period of time, the blog was never updated — what could that mean?

I understand how badly you may want to know that your partner is never going to do this again, and I wish I could tell you he or she won’t. I can’t, of course, but I can tell you that there is every rational reason to hope that he or she won’t. It is possible to get healthy. It is possible to stay healthy. If the sex addict wants to change, he can. She can. In the last two decades, understanding of sex addiction has advanced and treatment plans are more on-the-money. There’s more awareness and more resources available.

Two years isn’t that long, and I have no way of knowing what could happen in the future. But what I see right now is that the man I’m living with is a man who no longer wants to “act out” in any way, and who is working hard to take care of his mental health and be a good husband and dad. And so far, he’s succeeding. The best friend who I thought was as good as dead is still here with me.

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.