In a recent comment I was asked the following question:
Do you experience true intimacy with your husband Larry now? Has Larry changed? I know you said that healthy sexual intimacy is not programmed into a sex addicts brain, but is it possible to change that? Can the compulsion to have sex slowly dissipate with years of behavioral therapy? Can they be “enlightened” so to speak?
I thought that many of you may be wondering the same thing, so I decided to post my reply here so that you could all see my answer.
A Sex Addict, with determination and motivation, can change the choices that they make. A Sex Addict can learn healthier ways of dealing with emotional pain and stress and they can shed some of their deeply ingrained anger over childhood traumas with intensive therapy. They can recondition themselves to enjoy healthier, although less exciting, forms of sexual expression and they can learn to overcome some of the shame and guilt that they feel about sex.
I know this is possible because my husband Larry has accomplished all of these things. The journey has not been easy for either one of us. I found out about his thousand dollar a month prostitute habit just three and a half months after we were married. We had been together for three years and I knew he had been in chat rooms during our relationship. He started counseling during that time at my insistence and his therapist assured me that there were no underlying problems, just a transient interest in the chat rooms due to stress. At his therapist’s reassurance I agreed to marry Larry, not knowing he had lied to the therapist and was hiding a Sexual Addiction and visiting prostitutes several times a week.
The road to Larry’s recovery was long and difficult. I just couldn’t accept the enormity of his deceit, infidelities and lies and I decided that we needed to live apart for a while to sort things out. We lived in separate states for three and a half years. During that time Larry went through a long period of denial, lying to me, to his counselors and to his 12 step groups. He fluctuated between bouts of sobriety and bouts of acting out. He begged me to come back to him, insisting that he was committed to his recovery.
I maintained that I had not seen the ‘paradigm shift’ in his attitude that I felt was necessary. He didn’t understand what I meant and at times would yell, ‘Just what do you want from me, JoAnn?’ All I could say was ‘I’ll know it when I see it.’
We both underwent weekly counseling and Larry also attended a weekly support group for Sex Addicts as well as several 12 step meetings each week. He struggled and just could not connect with his counselor. Eventually Larry had a breakthrough when his third counselor focused on working through his anger over his childhood abandonment issues of his mother leaving him and his sister when he was very young, and his physical abuse in a foster home. He started taking anti depressants, which helped his morose mood immensely. Another odd event, which we cannot explain but he claims was crucial to his recovery, was the fact that he took the drug Chantix to stop smoking. He claims it not only took away his urge to smoke, but also took away his urge to act out. I have no scientific evidence that this is even a possibility, but I have written several posts on the brain chemistry of Sex Addicts. It may have had an effect or it may just be a coincidence.
After we were separated for over two years and while I was attempting to move on with my life by doing some casual dating, Larry and I came to the conclusion that there were a lot of positive aspects to our relationship and that we had a lot of things in common. Larry was, and still is, deeply in love with me and I had to face the fact that I loved him too. We both have calm, quiet personalities, we like to travel, love animals, love our children and grandchildren (from previous marriages); we are both ambitious, well educated and enjoy the theater, the symphony, great food and a good glass of red wine. We were both able and willing to take early retirement from our jobs and we knew we could be happy together if only he could get his addiction under control and stop his chronic lying (he lied about everything, even things that he didn’t need to lie about).
Larry worked hard on regaining my trust while we were separated as I have outlined in some of my posts. I think the final event that sealed Larry’s recovery was a commitment that I made to him in response to all the commitments and changes that he had made. When we decided that Larry should move back in with me, my commitment that I would never leave him, no matter what, seemed to be the final piece of the puzzle that he needed to feel secure. Remember, he had huge abandonment issues over his mother just walking out on him and his younger sister before he was five years old.
So, how could I make a statement like, ‘I will never leave you’? I made that commitment because I truly meant it. I knew I loved Larry, I knew I wanted to be with him, I knew he had made a firm commitment to never act out again, I knew that I would recognize any ‘pre acting out’ behaviors and we would deal with them immediately. I knew that if he did have a slip that we would be able to work through it and I knew that he had made a tremendous change in the way he communicated. His therapy freed him to talk about his addiction without his previous shame and guilt, and, he had stopped lying.
So, how is our life now? It is extremely stable and calm and we are both very happy. Larry does not struggle with urges to act out, but he is ever vigilant to not stare at or objectify women. Even on our Caribbean Cruise last year he was able to conduct himself admirably around the pool area. He is able to talk about his feelings and continues to go to 12 step meetings twice a week. Sex is not very exciting, but it is satisfying for both of us. He is working on focusing on my pleasure. His drive has diminished considerably, which is normal when Sex Addicts give up their fantasy world. He struggles with associating intimacy with sex as he really doesn’t understand the concept. Sex to a Sex Addict is a medication, a selfish act without love or closeness, with no concern or connection with the objectified person who just happens to serve their purpose. But, we do talk about it a lot and we are both content with allowing time to eventually help him integrate sex with love and intimacy. At this point Larry says sex is simply a release rather than an expression of love and closeness. He says he feels the closest to me when we snuggle, cuddle and talk, which does happen every night.
A relationship with a Sex Addict requires absolute commitment from both parties, and even with that commitment it may not always work. Both Larry and I have met so many Sex Addicts and their wives who are not in a good place in their relationship. Many Sex Addicts attend 12 step meetings for decades yet continue to lie and act out. Many wives cannot overcome the deception and lies and are unable to forgive their husbands even after years of sobriety. Each relationship is so complex and so individual it is impossible to make any predictions about success or failure.
In the end we all make our own choices and we all live with those choices. Choices are much easier if we educate ourselves about Sex Addiction and have the support of others who have similar experiences. That’s what this site and my book are all about. It’s about sharing and caring, support and hope–and courage. We are brave, strong and resilient. And armed with knowledge we can make healthy choices and overcome this crisis with a unique inborn strength that only women share. Love to all.