How do I explain to my children that their father (my ex) was a sex addict?
I am a frum woman and my situation is as follows. Two and a half years ago I left my sex addict (now ex-) husband. He is a charismatic, fun-loving man, as I like to say, "the nicest man you will ever meet." His interests were porn and voyeurism. He was extremely devoted to these things when left to his own devices (looking at porn in view of others at work or at a public library, and looking into neighbors' windows). He was willing to go through the motions of a minimal recovery during the 3 years we stayed married following discovery - but he remained dishonest and acting out until the end.
My older children are having a difficult time, as they feel I left a perfect marriage - they never saw any fighting (there wasn't any), and they do not know that their father is a sex addict (nor are they mature enough to know yet).
I recently married an emotionally healthy man with whom I have a bH healthy and close relationship. My children are having a hard time adjusting, as they still can't understand why I left. The children who are having the difficulty are 12- and 14-year-old girls. On the one hand, it is not right to withhold pertinent information that is keeping them from understanding and accepting their parents' divorce; on the other hand, they are not mature enough to understand the full information.
I would try to have a heart-to-heart talk with your children and tell them something like this:
"I understand that you love your father and that he is good to you, but there are certain things about marriage that you won't be able to understand until you are older. While I can't explain everything to you now, I can give you a little bit of an understanding of what I mean. When Hashem gives us a child, we didn't choose that child. And therefore, we love our children no matter what. But with marriage, it's different. Two strangers come together to build a home. And what keeps them together is honesty, sharing, and openness between the couple. The trust between two people is what keeps a couple together more than anything else. And if that's missing, the marriage falls apart. Unfortunately, your father had a problem with honesty. He was doing things that he knew that I wouldn't like, and he would hide them from me and not tell me what he was doing. This went on for a long time, and he wasn't able to change this particular midah no matter what I said or did. Without this trust, I couldn't stay with him. When you get older you will understand how important this is to a marriage, but for now, I ask you to trust that I had no choice but to leave him."
Dov adds to GYE's response:
The focus on the honesty factor is a great idea in general, and I agree that marriage is a little different then children, in that a marriage is chosen by two adults, so it's important for my children to know that I will never and can never, ever leave them - unlike the marriage. But I am not sure what effect a message of uncorroborated dishonesty will have on the children. I think it will be very confusing for them and they will probably wonder what all the other adults in their lives are doing that they are not being told about. While understanding that reality is healthy in the long run, I think, I don't know how safe it is to tell this to teenagers. Incidentally, I think that death is a reality about life too, but I don't think that discussing it at depth with teenagers is necessarily a good practice.
I strongly feel this is a matter for a professional to answer, not for a team of well-meaning, deeply concerned, and good people like us. And I think that it is the job of GYE to make that very point absolutely clear to every spouse or parent involved in such a situation, r"l. I sincerely hope that she will go about deciding what to do here by using 1- professionals, 2- who actually know her children to some degree, and 3- are experienced in family dynamics.