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.