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It only took me a second to realize that I found something he didn't want me to know about. Scrolling down the screen, I had to force myself to accept what I was reading.
They had met online, it seemed, and they were flirting sexually. That would have been more than enough damning evidence, but there were actually several women writing, all responding to his dating site profile. I was devastated. Did I do something to cause this? Was I so blind that I never saw it coming?
Facing the facts was surreal. Had my husband really been meeting up with other women the entire time I had known him? We had met on the same dating site a year earlier, and he had asked me to marry him soon afterward. We were both older and had failed marriages in our pasts. I thought we were a good match and could overcome the problems that had broken our other relationships. We had even agreed not to have intercourse before we were married.
What I saw in his inbox told me he hadn't taken his dating profile down. I had to make a decision: Either pretend I simply read an email wrong, or ask him to explain and face a disturbing truth.
We had been married just a few months, and we were, like most newlyweds, in a bubble of romance, having lots of sex. What would he do if I confronted him? Would he get help? Or would I have to explain to my family why the marriage failed?
Our wedding day flashed in my mind: the two of us standing across from each other in the pastor's office, sharing vows we had written ourselves, promising to encourage each other to be the best we could be. I had made a lifelong commitment to join him in sickness and in health. And now I was face to face with sickness.
I called him at work, my voice quivering. "Is everything all right?" he asked.
"I saw your emails," I blurted out.
"The ones with the women," I said, with as much restraint as I could muster. This was it. I stepped over the line of denial. The honeymoon was over and his cover was blown.
"I'll come home. I can explain," he offered. There was nothing more to say.
I turned back to the computer. I needed to see the emails again to avoid sinking back into denial, where it felt more peaceful. But the messages were gone. While we had been talking on the phone, he had erased them. My head was spinning. What did I see?
Confronting sexual addiction
We lived in a small town in northern Ontario, and at that moment I was grateful for the quiet. I needed to get some fresh air and think about what I would do next. My dog scampered around me, oblivious to what I was going through. I trudged along, tears streaming down my cheeks.
"How could you do this to me?!"
I screamed out to the universe. The walk cleared my head; at least now I could think. I had no good answers though. There were so many changes in my life. I had just started my graduate degree after seeing my youngest son go off to university. It felt incredibly overwhelming.
A few hours later, he sheepishly came through the door with a bouquet of red roses. I was not impressed.
We sat across from each other in the living room, knowing our marriage could potentially be over before it had ever had a chance to begin.
"Nothing happened," he said.
He just liked flirting, and it was harmless, he insisted. He said he only wanted me, and he was sorry to have hurt me. He seemed so sincere when he said that it was a mistake, and that he really, really wanted to be in this marriage. And I wanted that too. But the betrayal was like a searing knife through my heart. From what I could tell, the behaviour seemed compulsive. I knew he had struggled with watching too much pornography before; he had admitted that to me. But this looked more like an addiction out of control.
"You obviously have a problem, and you need help," I announced.
Two weeks later, it was Valentine's Day, our first as a married couple. Over a special dinner at the same Italian restaurant where we had held our wedding reception, he presented me with a card. He watched me as I read his note. It said he wanted to be a better man and a good husband.
I wanted desperately to believe him, so I did.
Each decision would take me further through the maze of the addiction, and that night I followed another path by accepting his words, which would make everything seemingly OK and give the marriage another chance. Isn't that what in sickness and in health meant?
When he left for work the next morning, I realized I had no clue about how to deal with this addiction. Reluctantly, I set out to learn more. I read anything I could get my hands on, and with just a few Google searches, I found a slew of information. There it was, plain and simple: Sex addicts would use phone-sex lines and pornography, and meet in hotel rooms for sex. Without help, they would be at the mercy of the compulsion. They would lie and manipulate to get their forbidden fix.
I can now see how the addiction had a firm hold over him, but at that point, whenever I told him I didn't trust him, he just kept saying he was committed. When he called the therapist on his own, I relaxed, thinking, if he was willing to get some professional help, then at least he wasn't in denial. With it all out on the table and with me doing my best to be an understanding wife, we approached our sex life as if we just had a little problem to work out. But it was futile. His sex drive was insatiable.
My anxiety kept increasing. Any trust I had in him was completely obliterated. I wondered what he was really doing every time he was on the computer or phone or, worse, when he said he was going to work. I was finishing my first semester at graduate school, which required a significant amount of work. I had to withdraw, as I had lost my ability to concentrate.
A lot of the advice I got was repetitive. Much like other serious addictions, you have to start with abstinence. I think that lasted a few weeks. He wanted sex, and I had so much trouble saying no. Now I was discovering how I played into the equation: I was giving in because I think I knew subconsciously that he would be completely out of control if I said no indefinitely. I was standing on the edge, and I had no clue just how horrific it was about to get.
Living with a sex addict
It was the night before I was leaving for a week away. I was already a nervous wreck about leaving him home alone when I received a text from him that referred to a fight we had just had – but that we never had. I knew it was meant for someone else. When I asked him what the text meant, he told me it was intended for his daughter. I asked her, and she backed up the story, but I knew they were both lying.
As I drove away the next morning, I had to force myself not to think about what he might do while I was away. He texted me sweet and affectionate messages all week, but I didn't believe any of them. When I returned, the sheets on the bed had been changed and a bottle of rye was empty. He didn't drink, and he never, ever changed the sheets. I confronted him again. He lied again. He moved to the basement.
He was there barely a week before he professed that he still wanted the marriage. My decision not to run from him was incomprehensible to my friends and family, but I knew this was my fight too. I was deeply enmeshed in the life of a sex addict. And if I looked at my past relationships, he wasn't the first man I'd been with who had been obsessively preoccupied with sex.
We found another therapist, and each week we tried to deal with this insane addiction. The temptation of easy access to porn and free dating sites on the Internet was hard to resist. It all exploded when he came home late one night without an explanation. I sent him to sleep in the guest room, and that was it for him. That was it for us. He wanted me out.
Layered on top of my humiliation and feelings of rejection was the grief of leaving the home I had come to love. I lost my vegetable garden, my solitary walks and my beloved porch.
While I tried to find a place so I could gather my belongings and move out, I was witness to an addiction without restraint. With literally no remorse, he could now let the addiction take an even stronger hold on his life, and it rolled into our home like a wave and swept him away. It was both disturbing and devastating to watch. Porn saved on the PVR. Credit card bills with charges from liquor stores and hotels. My value was insignificant to the array of sexual outlets he could access.
Only a few weeks after he had moved into the guest room – in a moment I will never forget – I walked into a coffee shop to find him there with another woman. With both his wife and his date at the counter, he acknowledged me and proceeded to escort the woman to a table in the corner. I bought my coffee and left. And then I hovered in a state of fear and depression for weeks.
Leaving him and his addiction
It was then I realized that I needed to refrain from judging and dig deep for compassion, not just for him but for me. A friend offered her spare room, so I moved out of the house – with a lot of anxiety and shame – and back into the city. I began to pull my life together. But I knew I needed to focus on my own healing and put the experience behind me.
In my mid-40s, I was finally learning about the impact of growing up in a home with sexaholism, a word I had learned to describe what made my mother's boyfriend sexually molest me as a six-year-old, and how that abuse groomed me to attach myself to men in varying degrees of sex addiction. My self-esteem was battered, and it was going to take having a lot of supportive people around me to regain my confidence.
After a year of grieving and connecting with others in a 12-step program for people with similar experiences, I can finally climb into bed at night and feel an immense sense of gratitude for a healthy life free from active sexaholism. Now my evening prayers are full of thanks for another good day and hope for those still lost in the addiction, that they too may find peace some day.
We have more information about sexual addiction, including what's cybersex.
|This story was originally titled "My Husband is a Sex Addict" in the August 2013 issue. |
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