“I’m Married To A Sex Addict!”
It challenged — and strengthened — one woman’s marriage, but her route was anything but traditional.
As Told To Anna Davies
Courtesy of Showtime
I’d never been a relationship girl, so I was shocked when, at age 20, I was swept off my feet by a smart, spiky-haired musician boy. We got engaged within weeks, and married when I was 22, and he was 21. On the surface, everything seemed perfect: We were young, we were in love, and we had amazing chemistry.
However, that didn’t mean things were easy. His porn collection made me uncomfortable, but I brushed it off as a guy thing. A year into our marriage, I found out he’d been engaging in sexually-charged online chats with strangers. He promised it would never happen again, and after a lot of arguing, I believed him.
Then, four years later, everything shattered. I was at a family party at his parents’ place when I needed to make a call. Rather than hunt for my phone, I grabbed my husband’s — when a text from my best friend flashed up on the screen. It was immediately clear that they were having an affair.
I ran down the street, screaming and threatening to hurt myself. His family didn’t know what to do. And when I finally calmed down, I learned that this affair was the least of it. My husband had been having sex with men, women, prostitutes, and people he met while traveling. This was clearly an addiction.
He knew he had a problem, and he wanted to fix it, so he entered a 90-day inpatient treatment program. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to stay married — and neither was I. We cut off all communication. I was still in love, but I was devastated and afraid of what was happening and how our lives had spun out of control. Deep down,I was able to understand his behavior as a compulsion and a sign of something bigger — not that he wasn’t in love with me. But that didn’t mean that it could work.
I didn’t tell anyone what was reallygoing on with our marriage. Instead, I claimed we were having a quarter-life crisis, quit my job, cashed out my 401(k), and moved across the country in an attempt to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I prayed, I went to yoga, I read books on addiction, and I began seeing a therapist. I had a lot of my own baggage — disordered eating, codependency issues, and unresolved sexual trauma — that I hadn’t told my husband about. As a result, I too had said and done things that were dysfunctional and hurtful. I’m in no way saying that my issues contributed to his behavior, but I knew that to be a healthy, whole person — whether or not he and I stayed together — I needed to work on myself. Did I want my marriage to work? Yes, but at that time, I wasn’t sure how it could.
When my husband returned from rehab, we decided we did want to try and salvage our relationship. So we decided to move back in together — but did it under some weird rules. We would pretend we were roommates, meaning sleeping in separate rooms, maintaining separate schedules, and not having sex — we wouldn’t even kiss. We ultimately didn’t have sex for seven months. Our conversations revolved around movies, TV, and current events, not the situation we were dealing with. We weren’t in denial — it was just that we were both so fragile and had so many emotions to untangle that it was too hard to bring them up. For the first few weeks, I was obsessive about where he went and who he talked to. I took charge of the credit cards and checked his phone whenever I got the chance. But the more I did this, the more I realized it was hurting me. I couldn’t control him, and I didn’t want to be constantly suspicious, spying, and nervous about what I would find. If he wanted to have sex with strangers, nothing I could do would stop him.
And it didn’t. He relapsed. In two years, he relapsed four times. Each time, we would separate, and we weren’t sure whether or not we’d come back together. When he came out of rehab for the fourth time, we knew something had shifted.
The last rehab focused a lot on co-dependency and trauma, and how they played out in our relationship. For the first time, I went to therapy sessions with my husband, and together, we learned skills for handling the bumps in the road that were sure to come up in our relationship. Recovering from sex addiction is not just about quitting unhealthy sexual behaviours — the quitting is important, but once an addict is sober, he needs to understand the core issues. Otherwise, it’s the equivalent of being a dry drunk. Because of how much work my husband, and I had done on ourselves, we were able to really concentrate our focus on the co-dependency issue, which seemed to be one of the main triggers that could sabotage our connection. I used to think my husband had to be “my all,” “my everything”, “my other half.” That puts an incredible amount of pressure and unrealistic expectations on a relationship. So now, instead of expecting my husband to complete me, I work to make sure my life is full and that when I participate in this relationship, it is by choice, not by necessity. When I’m craving attention, my husband sometimes meets my needs, but if he is in a bad mood or has had a bad day, instead of getting bitter and resentful, I practice self-care, turn to my friends, and do my own thing.
We now jokingly say we’re in our second marriage, but there’s a lot of truth to the statement. Our first marriage was dead in the water the second I picked up his phone and found those texts. The years of back-and-forth rehab were an in-between state, when both of us were trying to figure out who we were and how we were going to move forward, since one thing we learned in treatment was that sex addiction would always be part of our lives. It will never go away, and it will always be in the background. We finally got to the point at which we’re all right knowing it’s a part of our shared history.
In honor of our second marriage, we bought a new bed, which was incredibly symbolic for both of us. He’d had sex with so many people in the old one that there was no way I wanted it in my house. It’s been five years since his last relapse, and we’re happier than we’ve ever been. But my husband is still a sex addict. He knows that, I know that, and I don’t trust him 100 percent. I never will.
But for me, that’s not a bad thing. I think it’s unrealistic to trust anyone completely — even your spouse. We’re all human, so we all make mistakes. That conviction makes our marriage different than many, as does having our own bedrooms and spending a week apart every month. We’re not romantically involved with other people, but it gives us a chance to focus on our individual needs in our own spaces. Then, when we reconnect, we feel like we’re making the choice to be with each other.
Staying with a sex addict isn’t for everyone. When my husband and I first separated, I honestly wasn’t sure if we’d ever see each other again. But deep down, I felt our marriage was going to survive. I wasn’t sure how, or when, and I knew it would be an uphill battle, but my gut told me we could make it, if we both truly wanted it. Ultimately, I think what did it was my husband’s decision to go to rehab for himself and for himself alone. In my experience and research, I’ve found that men who go to treatment for their partners or to save a relationship generally don’t fare as well.
The one thing I can say for sure? As we both battled sex addiction, we learned a ton about ourselves. I may not be an addict, but talking about my relationship with my husband brought up my own issues. Getting to know myself so well has been incredibly painful at times.
And I am able to enjoy sex again. For the longest time, all I could think of when we were in bed was where his penis had been. I tried to forgive and forget, but all I could think about were his other partners, and it made it impossible for me to enjoy sex. But that feeling does go away.
I wouldn’t wish sex addiction on anyone, and we went through a few years of hell, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and we made it there together.