The Silent Suffering of Spouses Dealing with Sexual Addiction in Marriage
Something isn’t right–at least, that is what your heart is telling you. But there seems to be no evidence to support your feeling. “He’s a great guy,” you remind yourself. “He’s just working hard to provide for our family. He’s stressed and he’s tired, and that’s all it is.” Could it be Sex Addiction in Marriage?
So, you shake off your nagging doubts, tell yourself that you are imagining things, and try a little harder to feel connected in your marriage.
The Recurring Cycles of Addiction
For many of us married to men who struggle with sexual addiction, this is the first suffering we endure—recurring cycles of fear, frustration, and self-doubt. We feel crazy because our hearts are telling us one thing while our husbands are busy convincing us that nothing is wrong.
Chronic self-doubt eats away at our confidence and self-esteem, making us either anxious or irritable. We become vulnerable to stress-related illnesses, depression, and unhealthy coping strategies. And we get really tired. It takes a lot of energy to manage conflicted emotions.
Validation in a Diagnosis of Sex Addiction in Marriage
When the truth about our husbands’ sexual behavior is eventually revealed, many of us feel a strange sense of relief mixed in with the gut-wrenching grief over his betrayal. “How could he hurt me this way?!” is followed swiftly by the thought, “I knew something was wrong! At least I’m not crazy.”
While the validation that you were right is somewhat comforting, it is in the aftermath of disclosure that suffering of sex addiction in marriage intensifies dramatically.
Addiction Still Feels Like Betrayal
Whether you never saw this coming or your husband is just one more man in a long line of men to hurt you in some way, your grief over his broken promises is agonizing. Many of us have said it would have been easier if he had died.
And it doesn’t matter if he is addicted to porn or prostitutes or anonymous sexual encounters with men in restrooms, sexual betrayal strips a woman naked and mocks her in front of everyone.
- “You aren’t beautiful enough
- You aren’t thin enough
- You aren’t sexual enough
- You are not desirable or valuable
- You are not wanted
- You are inadequate
- You are a failure as a wife
- You are not cherished
- You are not loved.”
Of course, none of these messages are true, but every woman who experiences the betrayal of sex addiction in marriage hears them resounding through the corridors of her heart. Some of us choose to put on war paint and drown out the accusations with our own screams of rage and resentment.
Others of us curl up into a ball with our hands over our ears wishing we could just disappear from life. Many of us vacillate between the two—furious one moment and weeping bitterly the next.
When Reality Sets In Any Way
And then reality sets in. This is an addiction. My husband is an addict. If I stay in my marriage, I could experience this pain over and over again. This realization is enough to make even the most committed and compassionate woman hesitate.
Those of us who have already endured much wounding cannot imagine ever feeling safe in the relationship again. Leaving the marriage becomes the only option we can bear.
Others of us choose to stay in the marriage, sometimes because of our children and sometimes because of our faith. Either choice presents its own path of painful challenges.
As a spouse who has chosen to remain in my marriage, I can truthfully say that I do not regret my choice to join my husband on a journey of recovery. However, it has not been an easy journey, and at times the pain I have experienced along the way has been excruciating.
Secondary Consequences to the Addiction
Because of the nature of mine and my husband’s work, his sexual acting out not only resulted in the loss of his career but mine as well. I learned that there was the possibility we had both been exposed to HIV because of his acting out in high-risk populations.
At the time I had just given birth and was breastfeeding our newborn son. My husband entered residential treatment, and I was left to pack up our things and say goodbye to friends and colleagues with whom we had worked for almost seven years. Then we had to tell our families. There were so many losses to grieve.
Counseling was painful too. Not only was there hurt caused by my husband’s unfaithfulness, there was also great hurt caused by his anger and criticism throughout our marriage. His sexual acting out had included affairs with three women I called friends. I felt betrayed by them too. There were so many wounds to heal.
Learning to Communicate Each Others’ Feelings
Negative relational patterns that had defined our marriage had to be replaced with honest communication and healthy limits.
My husband had to learn to cope with negative emotions and legitimate needs in healthy, non-sexual ways.
I had to reconnect with my emotions again and learn to express anger appropriately.
He had to learn to be trustworthy, and somehow, someway, I had to learn to trust him again.
There was so much work to do.
Remembering Our Own Worth
If I could choose one word to describe that initial year of recovery it would be overwhelming. There were days both of us wanted to give up. Frankly, had it not been for our faith and for others who had walked the path of recovery before us, I don’t think we would have made it. The good news is…we did, and we still are fifteen years later.
For those of us who are married to sex addicts, it can be tempting at times to define ourselves by our husbands’ struggle and the suffering it brings into our lives. While our suffering is real, so is our choice to remember that we are women of great worth and value, capable of changing the world for good in spite of our pain.