Guest Post | Dispelling Myths About How Sex Addiction Impacts the Spouse

Knocking the lid off some dumb ideas that keep hurting spouses!

On January 2, 2013, a four hour conversation with my husband changed my life forever.  I knew within the first 10 minutes that our marriage hung by a thread and whether or not we made it was primarily up to him.  That was the night that it became clear that my husband’s “porn problem” was actually an addiction.

For us, the diagnosis of addiction also brought us direction and resources.  For the first time in our 16 years of marriage, we realized that the years of madness and insanity actually showed cycles and patterns.  In the months that followed, we isolated ourselves in a world of recovery and spent every spare second of our days reading books, blogs and forums.  We found therapists, 12 step groups and group therapies.  We learned that this addiction has very little to do with pornography and everything to do with Internalized Shame.  As my husband dove into his recovery, I dove into my own.  I learned that the wife of a pornography or sex addict, experiences Betrayal Trauma.  Betrayal Trauma is often misdiagnosed as Codependency.  It causes the wife to feel crazy, insane and out of control.  The emotions and symptoms are very similar to PTSD.  The wife of a pornography addict usually feels with the same intensity triggers, fears and trauma, as does a soldier returning home from war.

I realized early on that recovering from this deep and intense trauma was not something I could do alone.  I needed help.  I began to reach out.  I started with a friend.  Then I turned to my sister.  Next was my dad and after that was a woman from one of my support groups.  One by one I built my network of support, always be prayerful and cautious about who could be trusted.  Today my network is extensive and each one plays a vital role in helping me receive what I need to recover.

As I have reached out and depended on the people around me who love me for support, I have come to understand that just as I needed information and education about the nature and effects of this addiction so do they.  The people around me love me and hurt when they see me hurting, but sometimes because they do not understand the delicate nature of the circumstances, the advice they offer can be damaging, harmful and even traumatizing.  Well intentioned clergy, therapists, family and friends, in an effort to help, using their best, but uneducated judgment offered advice that was not in the best interest of my recovery or my husband’s.

Recently, I received some of this bad advice.  Due to the nature of the source and circumstances, it was intensely traumatizing to me.  It sent me into a downward spiral that I had to fight tooth and nail to climb out of.  As I pulled myself out of the Insanity that held me captive, I turned to my support.  As a result of my recovery efforts, my network of other recovering spouses (often termed WoPAs for Wives of Porn Addicts) has become extensive.  Their examples of similar experiences were validating to me, yet at the same time utterly shocking.  I came to realize after surveying these brave women, that we are sometimes taught and advised on the same myths.  Over and over this incorrect and often traumatizing advice was given to us as factual.  You can paint a donkey and present it as a zebra, but it will in fact, always be a donkey.

I would like to dispel some of the most commonly advised myths that are given when sexual/pornography addiction is present.

 1.    You should protect your wife/yourself from the more damaging details and effects of the addiction.

“I’m not sure that she needs to know all of the serious details, it would just hurt her.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t tell her everything.”

“You don’t really want to know all of the details.  It would be too painful.”

Often times the wife is treated with kid gloves and given the impression that she is weak and fragile.  As if too much information may be irreparably damaging to her.  Maybe a wife shouldn’t know every detail, but that is her place to decide that.  Not her clergy, not her family or friends and it is certainly not her husband’s decision.  No one knows her strength and capability better than she does.  Listen to the advice you are given, feel it out in your heart and make the choice that is best for you.  When deciding how much information you need, one therapist recommended asking yourself, “How would knowing this information help me heal?” And if you choose to leave out details or receive less information, which many women do, that does not make you weak or fragile, it makes you self aware.  Self awareness is strength.

 2.    The spouse’s job is to be forgiving and be a support to her husband.

“You need to put this behind you.”

“It is ideal for the wife to be the husband’s main support person.”

“You need to forgive and forget.”

The spouse’s job is to heal from the trauma inflicted upon her first and foremost.  She should never at any time sacrifice her own recovery for the recovery of her husband.  She should not be pushed or pressured into forgiving him too quickly but rather should be open to allowing it to happen as she turns to the Lord to heal her.  Forgiveness is a gift she gives to herself, not her husband and should sometimes be reserved for after some healing has taken place.  There is no ideal or main way to heal, there is only the right way for you.  You should never feel pressured to do anything that doesn’t feel right to you.  If you do not feel like it is in the best interest of your healing to be your husband’s main support person, and many women feel it is not in their best interest, then that is the right answer for you and not a reflection of your lack of recovery.  It is a reflection in the strength of your self awareness.

 3.    You need to keep the secret.

“You shouldn’t tell your friend/clergy/family member.  That would betray your husband’s confidence.”

“It’s his secret, you don’t have the right to share it.”

“Telling people would shame the family.”

“We keep these things ‘in house’”.

When your husband brought addiction into your marriage, he made it your secret too.  And that secret brought pain and trauma into your life.  Trauma that can be healed from.  But, it is a burden so intense and deep that it is usually unmanageable when tried to handle alone.  We don’t have to suffer in silence and isolation.   There are forums and support groups, blogs and group therapies filled with women who are supporting each other as they heal from this trial.  Reach out and allow others to support you and help you heal.  My life is filled with strong, loving, capable people who love me and I would be foolish and judgmental to think that they can’t be trusted with this trial in my life.   That doesn’t mean that I should tell everyone I meet but it does mean that the Lord will place the people in my path that can be the most support to me and He will tell me who they are if I but ask Him.  A safe person is non judgmental, respectful and won’t betray your trust.  Ask the Lord who is safe for you.

 4.    Your response to his addiction is an over reaction.

“All guys do this.”

“Why are you so upset about this?”

“Its just porn (or masturbation or news websites).  It only happens every few months.”

“You are over reacting.”

It doesn’t matter if it was once every few years or every day, the effect is the same- Deep Trauma.  Diagnosable Trauma.  The pain is so intense because when you chose to marry, you were on even playing fields, but the moment he chose to allow addiction into your life and marriage and hide it from you, you lost that even playing field.  He had the upper hand and he hid that upper hand from you.  There is nothing that you can do to even the playing fields.  Nothing.  It is all up to him and whether or not he chooses recovery and that reality is terrifying.  It is traumatizing.  So, the month you spent on the bathroom floor is normal.  The showers you took, fully dressed, so your kids wouldn’t hear you cry?  Normal.  The time you freaked out in the grocery store and had a panic attack because the other women in the aisle was showing major cleavage?  Normal.  Your inability to watch regular TV without crying? Normal.  Obsessively checking computer histories?  Normal.  Crying through church?  Normal.  It is all normal and a result of your Betrayal Trauma.   It is what you actually feel and that is not an over reaction.  One therapist said, “You are not crazy, you were betrayed.  Your feelings are valid.”

 5.    Sex will solve the “problem.”

“You need to have more/better/more intimate sex with your husband so that he doesn’t need to look at porn.”

This was the most commonly advised myth by far.  We are physiologically designed to crave a loving, emotionally, intimate connection but an addict in his addiction doesn’t crave this kind of love or true connection, he craves lust. Advising a wife of a pornography/sex addict to have more sex with their spouse to try to help with his addiction is like advising the wife of an alcoholic to drink more wine with her husband to help him get better.

Some think that porn addictions will just stop with marriage and the ability to have sex, but this is also a myth. Having a pornography addiction has absolutely nothing to do with the frequency or spiciness of sex.  More/better lingerie or creativity in the bedroom won’t work. This addiction will never be solved with lust filled sex, and unfortunately, lust-driven sex is usually all the addict knows.

Sexual addiction is an emotional and intimate connection disorder and throwing more UNHEALTHY sex at it won’t solve anything. Lust is only about physical appetite, where love/true marital intimacy is a whole-self (mental, emotional, spiritual, physical) connection. The addict has to start back at the beginning and learn how to have true connection and emotional intimacy, and then physical intimacy when both partners feel things are healthy and safe.

Telling the wife to have more/better/spicier sex will only put the blame and responsibility on her, which will cause deeper trauma. The wife didn’t cause this problem and she can’t fix it.

Conclusion

If any of these myths sound familiar to you and cause you to recognize that addiction is in your life, I plead with you to reach out.  If you have been given advice that feels off to you, trust yourself.  There is a huge community of women that are healing by learning from and leaning on each other.  You are not alone.  You are SO NOT ALONE.  Come and be a part of us and heal.

And if you are placed in a position where you are the support person to such a tender heart, before you offer advice, please do some research. Pornography addiction is a plague that is sweeping the globe and ripping the hearts and souls out of our marriages and families.  It is unlike anything we have ever seen and will never be solved or fixed by the ways of the world.  Help us heal by learning about the true nature of this addiction and the rippling effects that is causes.  Together we can overcome this.  Together we are strong.

Shay

To read more from Shay go to her blog

Comments

Guest Post | Dispelling Myths About How Sex Addiction Impacts the Spouse — 21 Comments

  1. Great post! the trauma the wife goes through cannot be underestimated. Another common myth the addict believes is that he is only hurting himself. Thanks for giving specific about the wife’s very real pain.

  2. Thank you so much. My marriage is really struggling and that confirmed many thoughts that I have already had. Sometimes it is hard to separate being Christ like and trying to heal.

  3. A Bishop once advised my wife that she should have more sex with me to help with my porn problem (I thought that was a great idea at the time). This was probably the worst thing he could have said as it made her feel culpable for my addiction and made me feel justified in my resentment when my wife didn’t want to have sex with me. Truth was, sometimes within hours of having sex I’d be online surfing for porn. Sex was never enough. Unfortunately, well-meaning bishops are not CSATs (certified sexual addiction therapists) and shouldn’t give addiction advice other than to recommend resources. Fortunately, my last bishop was this way and I found tools for recovery (e.g., Lifestar, CSATs, SA, ARP, etc).

  4. Shay,
    Thank you for such an inspiring article. I can tell you my wife was given all that advice. Some came from me, some from our bishop, and some from other sources. Each one of these negative responses caused damage to her. We have both been through Lifestar, we both attend 12 step groups and we facilitate a combined PASG 12 step group together, and most important we both sought out our own sexual addiction councilor. My wife is an amazing women, she has a gift that allows her to express herself to others and women feel validated by her when they express their frustrations of such advice. She has become a support for so many women who are struggling with this devastating plague on society. Being connected with all these women my wife would be able to write an entire book of bad advice. Your 5 here are only just the beginning. I know you have probable hear just as many and it would be interesting to compare notes. It is so important to educate yourself about the cause and effects of this betrayal trauma. Giving wrong advice is just as harmful as the original betrayal. It is so important to have a strong network of people for both the addict and their spouse.

    • Jeff C, It means doubly as much coming from a man in recovery. We have been reading some of this together and the impact on him is far greater if he hears it from a man . Thank you for sharing your thoughts on how these responses have hurt your wife. We are still in a desperate place and unable to find a counselor who will not in some comment or attitude blame me or give him some out , not helpful to a man not even beginning recovery . Can you suggest any ? Or a network or something to refer to ?

  5. Thank you. Oh goodness, thank you. Especially that first one. I had a counselor tell both of us a few months ago that its best that my husband not tell me ALL the details of an acting out episode. I was in unbelief, and felt so incredibly misunderstood in that moment. For a man who finds every chance to minimize and deceive, that was the worst advice ever to give my husband. Even after making the counselor better explain himself by him stating that ONLY when the addict is in recovery and is honest is that advice helpful, all my husband still heard was “oh, good, so the counselor said i didn’t have to tell my wife everything. The counselor said it, so it MUST be true!”. I agree, it IS our choice on how much info we should or hear.
    This is my 2nd marriage to a sex addict (didn’t know my current husband was an addict, neither did he fully, until 2 years after marriage. Before i married him, i had my counselor screen him, my bishop screen him, and i asked him every question u can think of….sadly it still all went downhill) and people giving well intentioned wrong advice is some of the hardest aspects of going through this. Being a recovering addict myself, and being the SPOUSE of an addict, i can honestly say being the spouse of the addict is so much harder and so much more painful physically and emotionally.
    This time around i have never felt so incredibly alone. I need help. I need a friend. I need love. As silly as i feel for saying that, i just need someone to talk to who understands the addiction and who understands me. None of my family or friends understand, or they are too busy trying to tell me what they feel i SHOULD do. Anyone that helped me through my divorce from 1st hubby are understandably still too worn out from it. I’ve tried meetings but i ended up feeling more alone because they want things to be focused on positivity (which i get, but um….i want to do both?). I tried talking my last counselor but his last suggestion to my husband to try desensitization therapy by LOOKING at woman in bikini’s (um, what? I get that it works great with OCD, but i cant honestly ever imagine a loving Heavenly Father telling us “i can heal you, now go look at the swimsuit magazine”), was the last straw for me and I’m now about to try a new counselor. I tried a sponsor and told her i needed a friend just to validate that I’m not literally insane sometimes and to bounce ideas off of and she was so rigid and way too busy to do anything more then to tell me to read the SA book. I then tried opening up to more woman in my ward (because I’m positive 80% of the woman are going through the same thing) and what i got was feedback about caring, loving, and supporting my husband or the polite fake high pitch “awwwwwwwww I’m sorrrry” and barely pat me on the shoulder as if I’m a diseased cootie.
    Im going to try some different meetings on tues, but I’m starting to feel completely desperate just to feel understood and to talk to someone who understands the addiction. No not starting. I’m freaking desperate. I need a hug 🙁

    • Do you still need a friend? I can sooooo relate to you. No one knows my secret of my spouse except my parents and I intend to keep it that way. I have my reasons. I could def also use a friend who understands this problem.

      • Luckily I found a very private group of woman who have, or have had husbands addicted to pornography. It has been absolutely the most healing thing I could have ever done. It feels wonderful to talk to other woman who completely understand and who automatically love and accept me. Zero judging. My life has dramatically changed since I wrote my previous comment. If you or anyone needs someone to talk to please email me anytime! Makemyburdenlight@gmail.com
        – Kate

    • Kate I would love to find out where we can go for support…crying after the kids go to bed and husband goes to work is exhausting and I’m seeking friendship with other wives who are overcoming..just need to hold on to hope!!!!

  6. I appreciate #5. More sex is not the answer, but I am afraid that I don’t understand if you are advocating a spousal policy of abstinence here or not. I hope not.

    I found after my husband’s forays into porn that **I** needed sex, sometimes more frequently. I needed to feel connected again. I needed that closeness. At first it was very difficult, even repugnant, but as healing came, so did the drive to have sex. Personally, I think resuming sex and its frequency has to be strictly up to the betrayed spouse after a betrayal or relapse. I consider it part of the betrayer’s restitution.

    • If YOU feel the desire to have more sex, then go for it, that is for you to decide. I’m not saying you SHOULDN’T have sex, I’m only saying that more sex will not heal his addiction. Many women feel very unsafe emotionally having sex with an active addict so encouraging them to have sex can be further traumatizing. If you aren’t traumatized by the connection, then by all means, do what is best for you. I think it is the spouse’s decision based on her level of trauma and how safe she feels.

  7. Loved the article and would like connections of support. I certainly feel crazy most of the time and am now getting up the nerve to file papers. It’s the inevitable debt of divorce that scares me.

  8. Thank you. Your insights have been meaningful for me. I am wondering if you are still out there . We have not heard from you for 6 months or so. I get that it must be a bit exhausting keeping this blog up, but I would love to hear what else you have to say on addiction and recovery. I am finding that there is so much more to learn and be said about this.

  9. I just found out 4 weeks ago that my husband is a sex addict and has been his entire life…He is currently active in 12 step program and counseling…but where does that leave me? I have no friends that understand and avoid talking to me. I have lost friends and family because I have chosen to stay with my husband while he himself learns to control and starts recovering..in the mean time where do I go? where do I find support? I’m tired, real tired of people saying YOUR SO STRONG!!!! I’m not..I have just shoved my own pain aside…Need friends who understand and who can support

  10. It is a gift to read your article. The damage and hurt has been greatly multiplied by hearing all of these excuses, and then some. More ammunition for my husband to hide , omit , and most of all refuse to look back long enough to become broken and able to begin empathizing with me . By not revealing to me the details he can continue to view his hidden behavior through rosy colored glasses , and unable to change. I said to him many times in those gruesome , digging , prying , conversations ” what do I gain by just rubbing your face in it all ? How would that benefit me at all ?” I desire to be in a whole marriage with two whole individuals , to see him come CLEAN with me , I feel that helps us both the most for a list of reasons – that more than a few well meaning friends and even counselors do not seem to grasp ( and WHY don’t they I still do not understand ) – first I was not only in complete oblivion to all he was doing , I was also as innocent as a 10 year old with most of the activities he described – so I felt so DUMB , not that I don’t wish to be innocent , just not aware of the depth of darkness he sunk to . Maybe it will help me even feel a measure of sympathy at some point . To have lived so long a double thought life does help me understand the disconnect I felt from him for years. Second , I felt I was being lied to continuously as he used the answer ” I don’t remember . ” to deflect questions. Third , I was tormented with ” was it this behavior , did he act out like so and so in the book we are reading ( about sex addiction), or even the trashy magazine covers were suddenly causing tons of ” did he see that , did he do this ..” I vividly remember freezing the first time I “saw” one of those covers , I was with one of my older children and could hardly speak , went home numb unable to carry on a conversation – serious PTSD – How much better it would have gone had he answered one of my questions and PREPARED me for such an encounter. Fourth : I have realized eventually somewhere, somehow it will be revealed, and how much more healing to our marriage , to me and for him to say to himself ” I was brave enough to spare her more pain – she needed to hear it from me .” When he refuses to tell me , or spins and deflects or avoids ; it all says to my heart ,”” I know I already betrayed you , but your not worth the effort .” In all this pain to hear over and over from ” friends ” unbelievable excuses for his behavior has shut me down. After so many wounds I just quit reaching out . In all the lists of things for spouses to do for their own recovery getting support from others has by far been my biggest hurdle. It has been a very lonely walk. Honestly , there is not one single person I can physically touch to get comfort from . I am eternally grateful for friends here , my 12 step and my one friend who lives in another state who believes what he is and listens to me. To each lonely wife in this hard place I sure hope you all have found comfort and support in this life. To be understood has tremendous strengthening for me , I”m not sure anyone will ever even read this , but somehow I feel better just hearing how alike our responses are. The descriptions of ” normal ” reactions to his addiction , and that Shays therapist called it valid is a big help , no huge. Thank you ! I am so grateful for this blog .

  11. Thank you, Shay, for reaching out to others who have been traumatized. Your blog brought tears to my eyes.

    It has been twenty-three years since my discovery of my ex-husband’s addiction. Sadly, I am still haunted by those feelings today. Counseling has been a saving grace for me, reaching out to a support system has been invaluable, and reading … reading … reading has helped me discover means for healing that I would have not otherwise found.

    For those in the early stages of discovery, my advice is to NOT stuff down those feelings, but let them out, seek support, reach out for hugs and love. Keeping feelings hidden leads to a pain that you will carry for a lifetime, stuffing your feelings inside leads to rare autoimmune disorders (I am living proof), the pain you keep inside manifests into more intense pain and suffering.

    Thanks, again, Shay. I am indebted to Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means and other strong women as yourself. Your work has shined a light for women suffering and presented a hope for recovery in the future.