Saturday, July 05, 2008

Dismaying Story #124: Sexual Obsession

Dear Andrew,

I discovered over the summer that my husband is suffering from "Sexual Addiction." It's been the most painful and gut churning experience of my life. He is in therapy now, but that doesn't really help ME deal with it. As I look back over our years together, I am faced with re-framing everything, because it all feels like one big lie now.

As more and more details come out, I feel more and more discouraged. His "acting out" behaviors ran/run the gammut from compulsive use of porn (for hours at a time while I was at work supporting him through school), suspected acts of voyeurism (it seems to me that not even our friends or family members were spared), obsession and fantasies about almost any female acquaintance I have ever had, and "sexual anorexia." Not to mention all the times I caught him, only to be talked out of what I saw. He was so very intent on NOT being discovered that my sanity and peace of mind were of no consequence at all. He became very talented at lying to my face, and then becoming enraged and verbally abusive if I didn't accept his explanations. Boy, do I feel stupid now.

I stayed with him. I am not sure why, but I keep hoping that the man I thought I married will come back. I miss my best friend. How strange to learn that my entire marriage was a fabrication. Now I have to try to put the family back together with a man I really do not know.

If you have any resources for me (education, encouragement....just whatever...) I would sure appreciate it.

Signed, Trying to Put it Back Together

Dear Trying,

I am so sorry to hear of your troubles. That must have been a terrible shock, and obviously is still a minefield of emotions and challenges to battle your way through.

My first thought is that you are most definitely not stupid. Trusting, loving, caring, maybe ... all the things a spouse is supposed to be. And now add "hurting" to the list.

Your marriage can only ever regain happiness if he truly changes. It sounds like he has been defining himself for some time by his compulsions. This is big part of how he defines himself, which means he has an enormous mountain to climb if he wants to truly change. This is not just ditching some habits -- it is a makeover of his complete self image. This is not easy and not everyone can do it.

You need to protect yourself. That can be tough to do while also trying to rebuild the relationship. The protection involves building protective barriers, while the rebuilding requires opening yourself up, being "out there" and emotionally vulnerable. I'd say protect yourself in the beginning and put yourself "out there" for him only to the extent that he proves himself, that he proves he has made true progress in changing.

In some of my earlier posts I talk about losing fear in relationships. It goes something like this: Imagine that he is unable to change. Imagine that you are eventually forced to live a life without him. Now build a picture of how that could be okay, or even way better than okay. See yourself in a nice home, with friends to spend time with ... whatever would be a pleasant existence without a significant other. See yourself being content, filling your life with plenty of positive experiences.

If you can succeed at that exercise, then you will realize your life will not be ruined if this relationship doesn't work out, or even if no relationship ever works out. Then you can relax. Sure, you still want to make it work, but you are not so panicked about the possibility that it might not.

And it might not. Like I said before, changing his entire self image will be truly difficult.

Strangely enough, by deciding that you would be okay without the relationship, you are actually increasing the chances that it might work out, or at least the part that depends on you. By relaxing, you will contribute more positive energy to the relationship, and maybe a little less stress.

But honestly, he is the one who has caused the problems, not you. The burden of change falls upon him. If he is as obsessive as you describe, then he is unlikely to be able to accomplish the change alone – he will likely need professional help, which he probably won’t get without sufficient motivation. That could be your contribution, motivating him with the promise to leave if he doesn’t change.

But don’t make that promise unless you are willing to back it up. If he doesn't change and you stay with him, then you have become part of the support system for his problem.

I truly hope you can find a happy ending. My thoughts and prayers will be with you. Good luck!!

All the best,


  1. Dear Trying,
    Get out of the relationship and save your self-esteem and sanity.

    The man you thought you knew does not exist. Who DOES exist is a liar and a manipulator who thinks of himself and only his pleasures way before he has concern for anyone else.

    He will in all likelihood not change at all, except maybe superfically for a breif amount of time, to placate you or lull you back into a false sense of security.

    He doesn't think what he does is a problem or he would have stopped his behavior a long time ago instead of going to such great lengths to hide it and being verbally abusive when confronted about it.

    It is probably very hard to give up on the dreams you had, and even harder to feel so shattered and deceived and lost and shocked - while trying to see the situation accurately, and not take it personally.

    His problems are about him, and in no way a reflection of you, or your desirability or lovability.

    If you want to feel good about yourself, if your self-respect is important to you and you have healthy boundaries about what you'll put up with and what you won't, if you want a mate whose word you can trust, if you want a marriage where porn and voyeurism of friends and family isn't part of it, LEAVE HIM.

    I do not mean this to be harsh, but know no genlt way to sugar coat it - thinking he is your best friend is an illusion based on your own hopes and decency and perspective. I would bet you don't really know him or his dark side at all.
    He is not separate from his behavior.
    Staying will just prolong your pain... It may seem like you couldn't get hurt worse, but the likelihood is that you can and you will if you don't leave. He could even bring home a disease if you find out that his behavior has gone from watching to acting out.
    Most addicts never recover - and he is an addict, plain and simple.
    Pity him but don't enable him by cooperating in trying to 'fix' him.

  2. Reading this post was like being hit in the chest with a train. This was where I was at about 20 years ago. What Trying describes was "us" almost to the letter.

    I discovered this after I had given up a good government job, my home, my family in another state, uprooted the two younger children, and moved across the country so my husband could attend Bible college to "become a Pastor." It all came out after he began Bible college.

    I was devastated, my children were devastated. Signs were there and as the addiction progressed were more obvious, but I always chose to believe the lies. But we are supposed to believe our spouses, right?

    I know what "Trying" is going through. It is horrible to have your whole life, as you thought it was, disappear.

    I immediately left him through his tears, threats of suicide, manipulation, more lies. Our church stepped in - but mostly we could find no help for this type of problem anywhere. I think more is out there now.

    I went back to him. I shouldn't have. Now I realize even having to go to a shelter and seeking community help, etc., would have saved many years of hell. In staying, I have accepted a relationship built on lies with a foundation as slippery as sand. I never know when my world will come crashing down. I've had to build my own world and strength and accept the consequences and extreme stress of staying with a liar. Hope of change will keep a person year after year after year - know when to go!

    Of course, initially, I was made to feel that his problem was all my fault. I now know addicts will not accept responsibility for their problem. My self esteem was totally trampled. I had to let go of getting any of that from him, which was one of his initial hooks in our relationship, too many compliments on my looks, not on my character.

    If Trying's husband will accept the responsibility of his actions as HIS, then there may be a chance of his healing. If not, I would say to Trying, save yourself and children, if any, years of heartache, leave, get therapy for yourself and them, and start over.

    Also, do NOT feel this has ANYTHING to do with you. I beat myself up for years for not being thin enough, busty enough, sexy enough, blond enough, every thing enough, to meet up to his expectations of his air-brushed fantasies. All his women friends were soooooo much more understanding than me. So he said.

    The deal is, the addict is terrified of real intimacy - sex is his substitute and protection from intimacy.

    Sex addicts also see women as objects, not real people. You are a woman and are included in that. That is the hard and tough truth.

    I will say it will take years and years for him to recover, if he does. No guarantee. He will need to make himself accountable to someone besides you. He was probably sexually abused as a child. He needs therapy. But that is not a fix-all for him. There is a tiny glimmer of hope IF he will be open and honest with you, if he won't begin to practice that, RUN!

    You need therapy/support to help you find your way out of this nightmare, whether you go or whether you stay. I was so ashamed and embarrassed when I figured it all out, I wanted to die. Fight that part. Fight it hard, this "stuff" is not YOUR actions.

    Next, in regard to children, my children were profoundly affected. His staunch, legalistic cover-up religious addiction (yeh, there are probably multiple addictions going on) coupled with what really was going on damaged us all. No, devastated is a better word. He still lies even when he doesn't have to. My girls have gone through a period of seeing themselves as sex objects and acting out, although I'm sure there was no abuse there, kids are not dumb, they noticed what it took to catch their Dad's eye. It makes no sense to me.

    The addict seems to live in his own world, not knowing and not caring to know that his actions deeply affect others. My husband's first words when I found out - "I never told YOU, because I knew how YOU would react." So wrong - I loved him, we would have worked on it together IF there would have been honesty - but he wasn't capable of honesty.

    I will say there is some improvement, I have no respect for him, there is no communication, he still has control issues, still lies, still has "straying eyes." I will not go anywhere with him.

    So, those are some of the things I can almost guarantee you are or will be looking at.

    I do know of two couples out of about seven that went through something like this that seemed to have worked through this together and overcome. These two are in the ministry - one a pastor, and one whose ministry is specifically to men caught up in this.

    My heart goes out to you, Trying, and I think you are a courageous woman. Just remember - this wasn't about you, your husband is sick. It is his choice whether he will get well or not. A diabetic who will not take medicine or help themselves will die. This is the same.

    Andrew, what a wonderful answer - it helped me too - I still often beat myself up for being so stupid and buying into all the lies, manipulations, blame, and hurt for so many years. In fact, after all this time, I'm sitting here crying. I have coped, healed mostly but will never be healed completely, moved on emotionally, and determined to have a good life, no matter what.

  3. I like your advice to picture yourself in a life without the troubled partner. I think most women hang onto impossible situations out of fear of being alone. There are worse things than being alone.

  4. At least this guy IS in therapy now. A small step forward. I'd still worry though, that even if this particular addiction is controlled, another, just as difficult to deal with, could surface in time. An addictive personality is inbuilt, hard-wired (in my own opinion).

    Andrew's advice is wise and balanced. The warning given in his penultimate paragraph, about the danger of becoming part of a support system is very important.

  5. I'm sorry that you are going through this.

    I heard from a radioshow about a caller who has uncontrollable sexual addiction.

    I think it was on Dr. Laura who asked him if he has a job. The answer was yes. She then asked him if, on the job, 8+ hours of it, did he surf the net for porn, or feed his 'sexual addiction'. He said no, he would get fired.

    She said that it wasn't an addiction if he can choose when to indulge his behavior. I am not sure I agree, but maybe she has a point.

    It must be very painful to find out, and I hope you find a way to deal with him to your satisfaction.

  6. Anonymous7:44 PM

    Dear Friends - This is "Trying". I am the woman who wrote to Andrew almost a year ago. He dropped me a note to inform me that he had posted my story on his blog. First, I want to thank each of you for your words of wisdom - I take them to heart. Loving Annie - I am hearing you. I am still in the marriage, and am amazed at the progress I have seen as my husband continues in therapy - but my fear is always there. Gardenia, I wish I could hug you! I can truely say that we share a bond that few woman can understand - this pain, according to my family counselor, is actually worse than if our husbands had died! The shame we take on ourselves, the shock, the "not knowing" who you can trust to talk to about has been the hardest ordeal of my life..and why? Because I trusted and loved someone!
    BUT - I have to say, Andrew's advice was such a comfort to me - because that is exactly what I did! I began to remodel my career to position myself for a promotion - and though I have yet to reached that goal, I know that soon I will be able to provide amply for myself and my children (so, that's ONE fear taken care of by ME) and, I began in earnest to re-establish my friendships - the ones I had allowed to grow distant so that I could "serve" my controlling husband. That was hard to do - to let go, and trust that I am not being selfish to develop outside interests and friendships - that is, quite simply, what I need to do to survive. And last, as several of you have mentioned,I let go of the notion that this was my doing, or my responsibility! I stating plainly to my husband that I will NEVER cover up for him! If I catch him acting out, I will turn him in (to whomever would be appropriate!). Also, I have stopped checking up on him. That was the hardest thing for me. I decided that I do not care to babysit him anymore. I simply stated that I now KNOW that my instincts were right all the times I caught him in compromising situations - and THAT (my instinct) is all the proof I need! So, if he does anything to make me even suspect he is back at acting out - he's out! So far, he seems to be taking it all very seriously - and even so, I AM aware that the odds are stacked against the possibility of this ending well...

    (((hugs))) to you all, and thank you

    Still "Trying"

  7. This man is really going to want to change. Protect yourself. Some times say good bye is the best thing to do.

  8. Anonymous10:33 PM

    If I could add one last comment regarding Shoshana's post - I hear you. I thought the same thing until I was made aware of just how many alcoholics "wait" to get drunk until after work! My husband has shared, and I have heard from others as well, that the urge for a "fix" (in this case, the endorphin rush of sexual release - instead of alcohol, or other drugs) does indeed strike at embarrassing and inappropriate times, especially when under stress...and yes, even at work - which further erodes his already cripled self esteem.
    I found a website that has been very helpful to me as the spouse of a sex addict:

    Still "Trying"

  9. Andrew, what wonderful advice to visualize yourself in an alternate reality! I believe I used this technique without realizing it to get myself through a tough period with my husband and a very different type of addiction.

    I not only visualized myself in this parallel universe, but also took steps toward going there: I researched lower cost living accommodations, utility deposits, arranged to have a small savings account in my name only, and began building my credit.

    Long story short, becoming more confident of my own abilities gave me the strength I needed to work though the rough patch with my husband as he recovered from his active addiction. Now, I KNOW that if he relapses and is unable to maintain his sobriety, I don't have to go with him down that road.

    My prayers go with you, Trying to Put it Back Together. I've been there.

  10. The hardest actions we've taken it seems as I read these comments is stopping our co-dependency, stopping (not responding to) the control, and re-establishing our lives whether or not the addict chooses to work at recovering, and always working on ourselves to become strong, independent and happy women, whether we go or whether we stay.

    We must decide at what point, if the addict doesn't/can't/won't function in an acceptable manner, are we going to leave. Recovery for the addict is a life long process which must be worked constantly.

    It takes a while to figure out we're not crazy, doesn't it? To see something and be told that we are so wrong and so crazy to think something like that. Interestingly enough, that is a tactic used by child sexual abusers. That also is abuse we have suffered. Our own recovery takes time as well.

    Our society contributes a lot to these addictions. Personally I would like to see some restrictions on the internet! I would like to walk into a convenience store without having my grandson confronted with suggestive porn materials by the front door (I don't return to those places after the first time! And I tell the manager and my grandson why). I don't like my granddaughter exposed to the "Cosmo" type magazines at the checkout counters in the grocery store, or certain TV programs that objectify and depict violence toward women. Porn is violence as far as I'm concerned. It causes horrific damage.

    I would like to see stronger laws protecting the abuse, sexual or otherwise, of children. Most perps are punished mildly and released to continue their path of destruction. Children are not a throw-away commodity or objects for twisted pleasure - they become damaged adults. Perpetrators should be jailed (for life, I think) and their property, and labor while in prison proceeds should be confiscated for restitution and counseling for the children they've hurt.

    Boys may not even know they were sexually abused, thinking that their "encounter(s)" were sex when in actuality, they were raped, whether by well planned seduction or violence.

    Sexual addiction remains "underground," and under-treated, as it wrecks lives just as surely as gambling or substance addictions.

    Anyway, be strong, we need to take care of ourselves. Most of these guys are too into their addictive behavior to care for anyone.

  11. Well, WELCOME BACK Andrew! I really must apologize! You DID stop by before and I MEANT to stop by and then totally forgot! I won't make excuses - I'm sure sOMething came up - but the point is I forgot! I am sorry. I am adding you back to my Google Reader now! It is GREAT to see you back! :)