“She had a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach, like when you’re swimming and you want to put your feet down on something solid, but the water’s deeper than you think and there’s nothing there”
― Julia Gregson, East of the Sun
As I went through discovery ten years ago, even Tiger Woods, who would make “sex addict” a household word, had not yet been outed. Back then, we spouses were marginalized, labeled co-addicts, treated as if we were to blame, and taught to focus on the addict’s recovery needs – a model of treatment now known to further intensify and increase the trauma already heaped upon us. Not only did it not help, it was like handing a drowning man a life vest made of lead.
In keeping with this flawed model, within a few weeks of my husband’s very limited disclosure I was packed off to a weekend intensive group for partners of sex addicts (get this, it was run by a sex addict!) There, the moderators focused like laser beams on our faults and shortcomings, teaching us how we could and should support the addict and understand his pain.
Support him? I wanted to scream “He’s had a lifetime to get used to the idea of his secret little world and focus solely on his own needs. To hell with him and his needs! Somebody please look at me and see that I am drowning! Help ME!”
That weekend, we walking dead were actually taught that we should check our husband’s sheets and underwear every day for evidence of wet dreams, as that was a good indicator that he was no longer “acting out”. While I refused, many other wives seemed to think that was a valid suggestion.
To this day, it makes me sick for all of us. A sex addict promoting such advice to a defenseless and broken spouse at their most vulnerable time in life is unconscionable.
Please don’t misunderstand this as judgement. I made many, many other grave mistakes, but checking his underwear just didn’t happen to be one of mine. I have my share of shortcomings and faults (you know, because I’m a human) – the type of faults these men are all too willing to point out so the focus never lands on them.
I’ve since learned that my faults had nothing to do with his hidden addiction. His deviancy began in childhood, and was well into it’s maturity long before I met him. Unbeknownst to me, I just happened to be the unlucky one he thought could rescue him out of his sickness.
Some might say he preyed upon my naiveté. In my defense, it must be said that many sex addicts are personality disordered, gifted at deception and manipulation. They tend to focus like a laser beam on capable, competent, loyal, empathetic, trusting women. Apparently we’re magnets for liars.
Thanks to the groundbreaking work of Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means in their book “”Your Sexually Addicted Spouse – How Partners Can Cope and Heal”, we now know that the discovery of a partner’s sex addiction causes deep trauma that needs immediate, appropriate treatment. If you don’t already have a copy of this book, I suggest you get a copy, read it, and make certain that any counselor you choose is familiar with the sex-addiction induced trauma model.
It could mean the difference between truly moving on and being stuck for years as your mental and physical health decline. The deep trauma caused by a sex addicted spouse is nothing to ignore, as the human body can tolerate only a limited amount of stress before it is forced to protect itself by shutting down functions.