I recently discovered that my husband of 22 years is a sex addict. It started with his “out of the blue” request for a divorce in Feb. of this year (unbenownst to me, he was in the middle of an acting out binge at the time). After picking myself off the floor, I literarily flipped cartwheels to save our marriage as he is/was the love of my life. I lost 35 pounds (not difficult to do because I couldn’t eat), became a doting, attentive wife – and turned into a sex kitten. For two months, he vacillated between wanting to work on the marriage and not (while I held onto my seat on the roller coaster)- but then a month in, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, which seemed to wake him up.
We both worked hard on our marriage with a marriage therapist and we reconnected like never before (in spite of the sex addiction lurking in the background). We have four children (within 20 months of each other) so intimacy took a back seat over the years. During the course of our reconnecting, however, unbeknowst to me, there was a rotten onion, whose layers were slowly being peeled off.
First, the day of the divorce request, he revealed that he had an “older woman friend” who was like a free therapist to him and helped him with his decision that he needed to “find his light”. After my breast cancer diagnosis, he told me that he was cutting things off with her, especially since she started to stalk me at the local coffee shop and listening to my conversations. Then – the next onion layer: my husband revealed the fact that he visited prostitutes for many years but had stopped that a year ago because he wasn’t get a lot out of it. Then, another onion layer….(sigh), I discovered a old Craigslist ad on his computer where he was looking for an “inquisitive older woman for adventure”, and then….(another sigh), a late night text on his phone revealed yet another active affair that was in the works (again – framed as “just a friend”). Shockingly, during the course of this, our marriage therapist didn’t “connect the dots” and when I inquired what this all meant, our marriage therapist actually said that it’s common for men to go to prostitutes (sigh). It was only when I read a book about the high incidence of sex addiction among covert incest survivors (my husband is a survivor) and sex addiction (“Silently Seduced”) – that the last puzzle piece fell into place. Thank you Dr. Adams.
Besides the pain of the staggered disclosures and discoveries over the past year, I think the worst part has been the past 2 months of his denial, rationalization (“I was lonely”), minimization (“it was only 1 year of prostitutes vs. his originally disclosed 5 years), blaming (“if you had been a better wife it wouldn’t have happened”) and “gaslighting” (“you are crazy and making a mountain out of a molehill”) – all while our marriage therapist watched and facilitated. It was unbearable and despite my best efforts at detaching, it took a huge toll on me. I finally decided to leave the marriage (or take a well deserved break) a few weeks ago – and lo and behold, by my detaching and being prepared to exit, he started going to 12 step meetings for sex addicts once a week. I’m still a bit skeptical because I know how addicts’ brains work….but somewhat encouraged.
Here’s how I got through the traumatic time right after the puzzle piece fell into place: I went to COSA and S-Anon meetings – got support from others in the same boat and my mantras became: “Trust yourself and your reality”, “Your feelings identify your needs” and “Love Yourself”. I read lots of books on the topic, including Carnes. (my favorite for the partner is Barbara Steffens, “Your Sexually Addicted Spouse”) and I made taking care of myself a priority (rather than focusing on the hurricane that swept through our house).
I realize that I experienced much trauma over the past year (in addition to the sex addiction storm, I also went through breast cancer surgery and radiation – yup – it’s a miracle I’m still standing)…. I’m living the motto: that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.
So – here’s what I’m doing to help myself get out of the haze going forward and get on with my life: I’m planning to go to a Trauma 6 day intensive workshop at the Institute of Sexual Health in LA – and require that my husband go to an intensive in or outpatient sex addiction treatment, including a full disclosure to me with polygraph. I’ve come to realize that this is what will make me feel safe given the established and escalation nature of his disease over the years (his addiction began in childhood with masturbation and escalated to prostitutes and serial affairs with older women, representing his mother). Both of us need individual therapy and then once the addiction therapy and my trauma work is underway, then marriage therapy to rebuild trust and intimacy, along with 12 step programs and groups.
I’m hoping that our marriage can be saved – but I know that addiction can be a difficult road, and lots of hard work will be necessary from both of us to fight this insidious disease and the after shocks. Thank you for letting me share my story. I hope that we all can heal and help our “sisters” (and “brothers”) get through this.