After dating him for three years, which I thought was time enough to really know him, I married SAH (Sex Addict Husband) in 1999. It felt like a risk, because I’d been married before to a man who had a secret life, who kept a family only to make himself look good. I’d had three beautiful children with that man, but he didn’t care about any of us.
SAH was fun, sexy, thoughtful, and kind. Six months into dating, he asked if I’d consider having another baby. He had a plan: to get married around 32 and have a family. He took my kids camping and built them a treehouse. He listened when they talked, treated them as though they were valuable, important, something their biological father never did.
I remember there was an old man in his neighborhood who we’d see occasionally. SAH would get this wistful look on his face and say how sorry he felt for the man. “He must not have any family,” he’d say, “He’s going to die all alone.”
Shortly after we married, I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. I was so excited, believing I was in for a wonderful experience, a real partnership full of joy and plans for the future. From the beginning, things were different. He was put off by my being tired, sick, and moody with hormones. He was turned off by my growing body. I was disappointed, but I figured I could live with it, that things would go back to normal after the baby was born.
When my daughter was five months old, in May, I caught SAH having cybersex. At the time, he denied it being a habit or pattern. He claimed it was “just once.” But I saw in the computer history that it had been going on since at least November. I was crushed to discover that while he had been rejecting me, he’d been getting off on faceless, bodiless women.
Quite a blow. He didn’t appear to be very sorry, either, and minimized what happened. It wasn’t so much the cybersex as it was the lying. I’d never thought of him as being capable of such dishonesty. I believe I would have left him then, I was so devastated, but because of the baby and my kids, I felt trapped. I was on my way to a bitter bout with postpartum depression.
I went back into therapy. My therapist, who knew my entire history–my dismal childhood, my sister’s death, the awful marriage– told me, “Just because someone tells one lie, March, it doesn’t mean he’s a liar.”
SAH and I started seeing her together a couple of years later, when stress over the house and kids overwhelmed us. The counseling was a not-so-successful enterprise overall, but positive in one regard: At one point, she suggested that both of us were spending so much time blaming each other, neither of us had bothered to examine our own part in the problems.
I made up my mind, then, to let the past go and do my part to make things better. That was in October of that particular year, and by the following March, I was back to my old self, feeling good about life and my marriage. He started looking for a new job and I helped him with his cover letter and resume. We went suit shopping, shopping for ties. The night before my birthday, on a Sunday, we went to my mother’s for dinner. SAH and I sat on the couch and held hands. I felt happy and at peace for the first time in years.
Later that night, I noticed SAH checking his cellphone and smiling. It didn’t really register at the time, but the next morning, my birthday, while he was in the shower, I had a weird feeling and looked at his emails. I discovered an exchange between him and his assistant at work that would undo and unravel, everything I had worked so hard to regain.
They wrote about how he was going to let her use his credit card to go shopping and how he’d come over and let her try things on for him. That morning, on my way to work, I had to pull over in a church parking lot and cry. Then I went to his office. I needed to see the two of them together. I thought I’d be able to tell if they were having an affair. She made some comment about my coming there being inappropriate. He just stood there like a deer in headlights.
Because his current employer offered him more money to stay, SAH ended up passing up the new job offer. This was difficult for me because it meant he’d continue working with that woman every day. He assured me it had been nothing but a flirtation; that I had nothing to worry about.
Every day he left the house for work, I felt ill. I tried to believe that he hadn’t crossed the line. In my gut, maybe I knew, but I wanted to believe him. Part of me still held out that he wasn’t capable of cheating, but I had constant nightmares and couldn’t let it go.
My questions led to my being subjected to months of verbal abuse and gaslighting; he often resorted to screaming and breaking things. He called me “relentless” for begging him to tell me the truth. He accused me of loving drama. We went for more couples’ counseling, where I was told I was hyper-vigilent, unreasonable. Three therapists later, we were still fighting in the parking lots afterward, he so resented having to go. I just wanted to fix things, wanted everything to be okay.
Mostly, I wanted the truth.
Eventually, I came across a quote on a friend’s Facebook page. It said, “I’d rather be made a fool of than be suspicious all the time.” I did what I’d done before: made a conscious effort to move forward. This time, it took the help of antidepressants. They kept me from obsessing.
The assistant landed in a mental hospital for a while and then moved back to her home state of Michigan. I was glad. I began to “behave.” I was pleasant, more easy-going. I started liking my life again. I looked for ways to connect with my husband, took up mountain biking, played racquet ball.
Meanwhile, he planned wonderful trips for us–cabins in the mountains, camping, vacations at the beach. We took my daughter and her friend to the Apple Festival. We took my daughter and my son to Disney World. I was enjoying my life again.
My husband was home by 5:30 every evening. He coached our daughters’ sports teams. We went to high school football games and watched my son in the drum line. We both loved the smell of the grass on the field and the way it took us back to our own marching band days.
We stopped fighting. We’d have arguments, but we’d somehow turn them into jokes. We could agree to disagree. If I had a question about anything he did, he answered calmly, wasn’t defensive. I kept a blog during these years of rebuilding. It was hilarious. My family and friends looked forward to reading it every day; they got mad if I didn’t post. This was a time of personal growth for me, of processing my past in a new way, of reframing my life story. I was happy again.
Then, one day in early December, 2009, SAH went to an SEC championship football game and I attended a poetry reading at GA Tech. When I returned home that evening, he was already in bed. I climbed the steps up to our room, and about halfway up, detected an odor that turned my stomach, one that reminded me of my first marriage.
It was the unmistakable smell of stale cigarettes and money, the smell of a strip club. “Where have you been?” I asked him, feeling sick. He was half passed out, though, wouldn’t answer clearly. I picked up his cell phone from the bedside table, found text messages between him and that same assistant, who had come back to Atlanta unbeknownst to me. They were chatting about lap dances. I wanted to die.
The next day, SAH admitted he was a sex addict. I learned about this in the parking lot of the local park where I took my daughter to play. Little boys and girls played on the swings, slid down the slide, as I heard about porn and sex chat lines and surfing Craigslist.
It would be nearly a year of incremental disclosures. About chat lines on the way to and from work, all night during business trips, about hooking up with the assistant on his lunch hours. Finally, the biggest blow–that he’d taken the assistant on his most recent business trip. He had been “acting out” for our entire marriage.
Everything changed. My whole life for the past ten years became a lie. It was all taken from me. All that time and effort–all the love I could throw at the problems, for nothing. All of it a sham.
Who was this man? What had I done? What was wrong with me, that God would punish me this way. I’d followed all the rules, kept my promises. I’d endured so much for so long, and for what? I was in shock. For me. For my children. And for my husband, who was so damaged, so sick, and, I hoped, redeemable.
I set my sights on getting through Christmas. First, was my daughter’s birthday. I didn’t want the kids to suffer. All I could do was go to work, come home, and try to stay alive until 8 o’clock, when I’d let myself go to bed.
Sleep was my only relief. My heart raced mercilessly, my skin tingled constantly, I lost weight. I had to go to the doctor and get tested for STDs, HIV. I had to change antidepressants. I still can’t look at family pictures from over the years without thinking about what he was doing during all those times of school plays, and ballgames, and vacations, and Christmases, and birthdays…
He promised to change, promised he’d do whatever it took. It was the first time he’d ever taken responsibility; the first time I’d ever seen him genuinely sorry.
He found a counselor who specialized in sex addiction. He attended SA and worked through the 12 steps. I tried to make it easy for him by letting him stay in the house, keeping the family intact. But living with me wasn’t easy. Not for him and not for me.
Trauma on top of trauma on top of trauma becomes complex PTSD, and therapy, medication, and EMDR can only do so much. What I needed was safety. I needed to know he was safe. And for me to know this, he’d have to talk to me, let me in; let me know his thoughts and who he really is. For a while, there was progress. We’d have interesting discussions about God. I learned the truth about his childhood, that it was not so unlike my own, though he’d always thrown mine in my face. He became humble, reflective. He would think before he spoke. He was slower to anger. He seemed grateful for small things.
But how do you recover from this if you are me? While I was planning a big production with Baton Bob to surprise him with for our anniversary, he was making plans to meet his secretary. While I was making reservations to take him skydiving for his 40th birthday, he was on a plane to Boca Raton to spend the night with her. He was with her in the morning and sex with me the same night.
How does someone reconcile this? I did it by reminding myself how sick he was—by looking at the reams of paper with the call history, by reading every book on the subject I could find. I did it by watching him closely, everything he said and did. I tried everything, but my heart was so broken this time, the ground sinking beneath me, nothing solid I could count on. Everything was up for grabs, nothing was real. Life was a fiction. I was just a bit character in his private story, part of a subplot.
And somewhere along the way, he started doing less. He hated the meetings and didn’t go as often. He cut back on the therapy. This made me nervous. He took a polygraph, though, and passed with no problem. It was a huge relief. But after that, even less walking the walk. There was only talking the talk.
Once a month became not at all. I told him I couldn’t live with a recovering sex addict who didn’t go to meetings or therapy, threatened to leave him if I couldn’t SEE him doing things. I was emphatic that I could no longer simply believe what he said.
I didn’t follow through. I consoled myself that he’d take another polygraph and I’d know then whether it mattered that he went to meetings etc.
Then he failed the second polygraph.
Now I have nothing but my fear and his word. Unfortunately, my fear trumps his word. I don’t have the luxury of believing him anymore. He risked my life, he stole so many years. A man who marries a woman with three kids, has a child with her, and singlehandedly brings his family down this way is capable of anything.
No matter how much I want to believe the best of him, trust that his Better Self has triumphed over the evil, I need more than words to stick it out. If he can’t appreciate this, can’t understand it, doesn’t want to give me what I need, then, no, he doesn’t love me. Or, I don’t feel loved.
I have done and done and done and done. I have endured years of treachery. I asked for something I can see, point to. I asked him to start going to meetings again–and to get back in therapy. Who can blame me for that? Who can fault me for doing the only thing I know to do to protect myself, as small and impotent as that thing might be?
I don’t think my children will. I don’t think God will. But SAH does, and he refused.
So I have filed for divorce.