I recently found out that the love of my life and father of my child is a sex addict and has been texting, emailing, and hooking up with people for years.
I love this man, he's an excellent husband and father, and he's voluntarily in therapy and going to 12 step meetings. He says sex addiction has made him feel trapped in guilt and shame but that he felt powerless to change it until he was caught. Since then, he says he hasn't engaged in any of the behaviors that were so destructive.
I want to believe him, and he is trying very hard to win back my trust, but now that it's been shattered I find it very difficult to believe that even his recovery isn't a giant staged farce.
Am I crazy for trying to keep our relationship and help him emerge from the other side of this addiction? – Sad and Shattered in San Francisco
Holy crap, SASSF, I am so sorry that you are going through this. I can’t imagine how fucked up it must have been to catch him, and then to find out that he’s been at it for years. It’s awful and I have a lot of compassion for all three of you. And no, you’re not crazy for trying to make things work with the man you love. Brave, but not crazy.
Addiction sucks and being cheated on is the worst, but life is complicated and there’s no wisdom in being rigid in the face of its trials. You don’t need to leave him right away any more than you need to have faith in him right away. The fact is that his actions made it impossible for you to trust him for now, and it’s only through time and hard work that he may be able to win that trust back. If you stay with him, you need to be patient with your process of healing, and wherever that takes you in the end.
Make commitments to yourself about what you’ll do if his lying or various forms of infidelity continue, and then keep your word. The only thing you can control is how you handle yourself, so promise to take care of you, even if he doesn’t.
So try to forgive him, but you must protect yourself. You need some clear boundaries to stick to if the going gets rough(er). I’m not talking about ultimatums for him, but you do need to know what you’re willing to work with and can handle in a healthy way. If you’re still sexually active with him and don’t trust his fidelity, by all means use condoms and make him get regular STD tests. Make commitments to yourself about what you’ll do if his lying or various forms of infidelity continue, and then keep your word. The only thing you can control is how you handle yourself, so promise to take care of you, even if he doesn’t, SASSF.
The thing about addicts is that sometimes they relapse. Sex addiction, like any other addiction, inclines people to compulsively do things that hurt themselves and others. It’s usually not an intentional ploy to harm the people they love, even if that’s exactly what they end up doing. Addiction makes people act in disassociated, selfish, and impulsive ways. If you decide to stand by your partner as he works on his recovery, you need to honor your own needs for recovery too. Make sure you’re putting yourself before him in this, or you may find yourself on a slippery and martyred slope. If you can’t forgive him and find yourself drowning in resentments, then you need to honor that too. His lies changed everything between you, and nothing can undo that. Give yourself a timeframe to work within to heal your marriage, but if you’re miserable and can’t move past this, then you need to leave him. There is no easy choice here, I’m sorry to say.
If you aren’t already, I encourage you to get involved in your own 12 step program (Al-Anon or S-Anon are good places to start) and your own therapy. This is a shitty but real opportunity to learn your limits, have strong boundaries, and learn to let go. Only time will tell what you need to let go of, but whatever you choose, make sure it’s a choice you can live with.
The Mission’s resident advice queen & intuitive counselor gets booked months in advance by San Franciscans seeking help with untangling their personal lives. So we asked Jessica if she’d come on board to do a weekly advice column, Truth Talk, for The Bold Italic. If you have a burning advice question for Truth Talk with Jessica Lanyadoo, you can post your question anonymously here or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and check back on Wednesdays to see if she has an answer for you.