As a female sex addiction therapist I feel I am at a significant disadvantage. Sex addicts often started out in their addiction with resentment toward women due to childhood occurrences. Then their sexual acting out deepens their lack of respect for women. Further, many have become accustomed to women giving them what they want and telling them what they want to hear.
When a female who is viewed by the addict as an “expert” or “authority” confronts a male sex addict about the manipulation or abusive treatment of his wife, tons of issues surface for him. He may be reminded of how his mother or another female authority figure verbally berated him. For a variety of possible reasons, he often hears the words, “You are a bad person, and everything is your fault,” even when that couldn’t be farther from what the therapist is trying to say.
I don’t treat sex addicts individually, but I treat couples and this just might be a bigger challenge. The old paradigm–the one that tells women they are sick just because they chose to marry a sex addict, even though they didn’t know he was a sex addict–is a lot easier for the guys to take. They hear she is just as sick as him, and then they don’t feel so bad.
But you know what, she is sick, not with co-addiction (regardless of whether codependent symptoms are present), but with PTSD that he caused. An addict has to be able to accept this reality while being able to separate his behavior from who he is.
How Addicts Let Go of Shame
Once an addict recognizes and fully believes that his addiction, and his addictive behavior, does not define him, he will be able to let go of the shame. Let me reiterate. His addiction does not define him. His addictive choices do not define his character.
I know, Scripture tells us, “You will know them by their fruits. Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” First, I think we sometimes misinterpret this because Jesus was speaking of false prophets here. However, I do tell wives that the only way they can know their husband’s heart and if he is truly in recovery is through his actions. But first he must be refined.
Many of these guys were set up to fail from day one (not an excuse for detrimental choices). This is another discussion for another time, but addicts must walk through the fire (hit rock bottom) and then learn, through recovery work, how to be the man God created them to be.
What to Look for in Your Recovering Husband
As a wife, you should look for a desperate willingness from him. You need to see follow through and consistency. While it will take time for him to become that man you need and deserve him to be, there are some things you can and should both expect and demand immediately. Sexual sobriety is first on that list. Recovery activities and patience with you should be near the top as well. Separation may be required if your husband can’t offer these things.
As your husband learns to accept Christ’s forgiveness, his shame will begin to to diminish. Your forgiveness will likely take much longer, and that’s okay. His response to his wife’s cry can now change. Instead of feeling ashamed for being the source of her tears, which often causes him to lash out at her in defensiveness and anger, he can focus on her pain and help her.
I have a unique empathy for sex addiction. I have seen addicts turn their lives around and go on to become amazing men who use their experience to help others. I have seen addicts hold their wives while she cries and listen patiently while she expresses her anger. I have learned from personal and professional experience, and I have seen what works. And it’s not the co-addict stuff. It’s not focusing on “her role” in the addiction. This pushes her away and sets you both up to fail.
What I Teach Addicts About Their Wife’s Recovery
Here is, in a nutshell, what I try to teach addicts. I’ll paraphrase Rob Weiss, since he says it so well:
“Listen and reflect rather than react. Don’t be defensive. Express humility. Don’t assume your partner will see your point and understand. Don’t expect a gold star for meeting minimum relationship requirements. Find recovering people to meet healthy needs and don’t demand them of your spouse. Be reliable and consistent with actions, not just words. Be honest, even when facing disapproval. Be patient and understanding of your partner’s hurt and anger.”
How long should you expect your wife’s “roller coaster,” as Weiss puts it, to continue? Provided an active recovery process happens, 9-18 months. I am referring to the first stage of her healing here. Full healing for wives may take five years or more.
If I didn’t lose him at “patience and humility,” many addicts check out at the 9-18 month time frame. But for the ones who still stay with me at this point, I too often see them forgetting what I said in literally less than one month. I hear statements like:
- “I’ve been doing everything I’m supposed to do. Why does she keep bringing this up?”
- “Why is it that I feel safer and more accepted with a group of strangers (12 step meetings) than with my own wife?”
- “Why can’t she just get over it?” (my personal favorite)
When I point out the error in their thinking, or remind them of what we have discussed about time frames and patience, I officially become the enemy. Add to it the boundaries and personal empowerment wives receive from my support group, and I’ve heard of husband’s blaming me for the poor state of their marriage. If only these husbands knew the time I spend trying to help their wives understand their addiction, confronting them when I think their expectations of their husbands are unrealistic, and trying to give them hope when they feel like he will never get it and things will never change.
You may be wondering why I am expecting so much of the addicts, after the way I validated their struggles in part one of this article. I’ll let Dr. Omar Minwalla, director of the Institute for Sexual Health, explain:
“Research, professional debate and clinical development have been predominantly focused on the nature of sex addiction, how to describe and classify it diagnostically, and how to best treat the addict. In the context of such advancements, there has concurrently been a profound neglect of spouses and partners of sex addicts. Traditional treatment models for sex addiction have systematically excluded partners.”
Wives Need Adequate Support and Understanding
So when I work with a couple, whose side am I on? I am on the side of the couple. But if I seem to advocate for her more than him, that’s because I am!
Resources for sex addicts, especially where I live, are plentiful. Books explaining his addiction are everywhere you turn. Counselors who understand and support him are at every corner. Support groups full of men who will offer them exactly what they need are offered every day, just about any time of day.
But the wives are alone, scared, and afraid. They feel misunderstood and often receive inaccurate information that serves to re-traumatize them. They need someone to stand up for them, someone to speak for them when no one else will. And I will not stop doing that, regardless of the backlash from the few who still don’t get it. But I won’t stop standing up for the marriage either, as long as I see that desperate willingness.
Shame and secrets go hand in hand. Secrets fuel shame, and shame fuels addiction. An addict can’t overcome his addiction without getting out all his secrets and a spouse can’t forgive if she doesn’t know for sure what she has to forgive.
Check out Ella Hutchinson’s website to learn about Three-Day Marriage Intensives that include a full disclosure with polygraph.