I grew up with two emotionally distant parents, and I didn’t understand how to set boundaries and form healthy, supportive relationships with friends and family.
All I knew was I wanted to do better than my family, but I didn’t have the tools necessary
to do this. When I started dating my ex, he was sweet and attentive, but that didn’t last long. At first, he couldn’t do enough for me. I felt like he was really safe, that he was someone
who would always take care of me and never cheat on me. He seemed to be thrilled that I would return his feelings. After we got married, I suddenly became invisible to him. He didn’t talk to me, didn’t ask my thoughts or opinions or even
what I had been up to during the day. He would reject me when I initiated sex, and he would
initiate sex only in the middle of the night after I was sound asleep.
After less than a year of marriage, the discoveries started and continued every few years for the next 21 years. Porn, a pair of women’s underwear, condoms, a Valentine not for me, etc. He made excuses and accused me of overreacting. I was confused about whether to believe his explanations and afraid of what would happen to me and my children if I left. We had moved every few years for medical school, residency, fellowship, and finally joining a medical practice, so I didn’t have much of a support system. My family was thousands of miles away. We were in marriage counseling with various therapists over the years, and they all seemed to accept his explanations without question, so I felt like I really must be overreacting.Finally, after 15 years, he was identified as a sex addict. He started a 12 Step Program.
We went to more marriage counseling, and things got worse. The therapist told him that he needed to be more assertive and that no one could deny his
reality. As a result, he would not back down from his cognitive distortions. It seemed every move I made or comment I uttered could somehow be twisted to show I was trying to hurt him or that I was to blame for a problem.For example, one time the therapist assigned us reading. The book explained the difference between complaints and criticisms. A complaint is about a specific
thing someone does; a criticism attacks someone’s character. One day I had a complaint. He had stayed home to take care of our son while I was sick, except he left our son with me and disappeared for hours. I tried calling for him, but he didn’t answer. I asked my son to find Daddy, but he couldn’t find him. Finally, around lunchtime,
my ex popped into the bedroom. Remembering the lesson from the book, I said, “I feel disappointed that you left our son in here all morning when I
asked you to stay home and take care of him.” His reaction was shocking. He yelled at me
in front of our son for criticizing him, telling me that nothing he did ever made me happy,
I could never be happy, he didn’t deserve to be treated like this, etc. he grabbed the book and showed him how I had used the exact wording for
a complaint, not a criticism. His reply? “The book is wrong! Anyone in the world could see that the book is wrong!” I apologized for upsetting him, telling him that I didn’t intend to hurt him. He elled back at me that I had to admit that I criticized him intentionally or he would not accept my apology. How could I admit to something I didn’t do? He continued to yell at me off and on for three days, even after I crawled up the stairs to our guest room and locked the door, begging him to leave me alone.
Whenever I tried to set a boundary, he would escalate the stakes so that he knew I would back down. He said he was just setting his own boundaries with consequences.
It’s not just the sexual acting out that was painful. He has willing to hurt me-- to
lie, blame, gaslight, etc. -- in all aspects of our relationship. Too often I took his bait and tried to defend myself or reason with him when I should have just not responded.
Luckily, throughout the years of marriage counseling, I worked really hard on myself
and my other relationships. I learned how to establish healthy boundaries with my friends and family and to reach out to people who were good for me. When I finally discovered that he was out of control with his sex addiction, I had developed the tools and support system that I needed to finally set a boundary and have him leave. He had no interest in seeking the kind of treatment I thought he needed, so I filed for divorce. Because of the hard work I did in therapy, I am learning that I can trust my own instincts and can rely on the support of my
friends and family.
The most valuable things I have learned being married to a sex addict is to attend to your own needs to keep yourself strong. Trust your gut. Be very careful about marriage counseling-- traditional marriage counseling won’t work unless
both partners have done their own work. Most marriage counselors do not understand SA.
Find your own therapist who can help you grow regardless of what happens and is familiar and uses the multidimentional trauma model. Make sure they understand the trauma of being married to an SA.
Do not let anyone call you a co-addict. The shame and humiliation is his, not yours. Get
support-- tell your trusted friends and family or find a support group that will help meet
your needs. It’s tough to make decisions with your head, when your heart is hurting so badly. A supportive community can help you keep your head on straight while supporting you emotionally. You don’t have to be alone in this experience.
This is not about you, this is not about you, this is not about you!