The Good Wife starring Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth has captured the attention of many TV viewers due to both the talent of the actors as well as the content. The writers have captured many of the subtle nuances experienced by both the person who acts out and the partner. Having worked with individuals and couples impacted by sexual duplicity, and writing Deceived specifically for partners, I've been following this show closely.
Today in every neighborhood throughout every community, people are being challenged by the addictive nature of their partner's sexual behavior. For Alicia on The Good Wife, her husband's sexual acting out was made public through the media. While they had been married several years she had not suspected his behavior. For others, it may be a young bride who just discovered her husband was with another woman within days of their wedding. It could be the mother of two young children whose boyfriend has just lost his job due to engaging in Internet sex during work hours, or the partner who has masked her shame and confusion about her husband's chronic pornographic activity, and is now horrified at the thought that her children are going to find out. It may be a man who recently discovered hidden computer files of sexually explicit photos his girlfriend has been emailing to a great number of men. It could be a wife of 40 years, husband soon to retire, who has known about his affairs from the beginning of their marriage; there's nothing particularly different about the current affair that she just discovered; it's just the ‘straw that breaks the camel's back.'
The deception and betrayal women and men experience takes many forms. For some it is pornography or fantasies with faceless names on the Internet with which they cannot compete. For others, it is the other women or men who may be one night stands, a co-worker, a best friend, escorts, or prostitutes. It may involve voyeurism, exhibitionism, bisexual behavior. Often other addictions, depression, and rage issues all serve to complicate matters. No matter their ‘drug' of choice, men and women who act out sexually leave their partners reeling in fear, rage, incredible shame, and isolation.
The pain for those in a relationship with someone acting out sexually is undeniable. They have been betrayed, deceived, and lied to; vows have been violated, again and again. They have been ignored or manipulated emotionally and physically; been asked to engage in sexual practices that they found repulsive and abusive. They may realize he has been in long term relationships that involve financial commitments and possibly even children. They may have been placed at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. These offenses lead to a wide range of thoughts and feelings, from despair, anger, hurt and desperation, to wondering and pleading for answers.
To be in a deceptive relationship, conscious of it or not, frequently results in the following coaddictive traits:
- Feeling crazy
- Lying to self, to others
- Not trusting self
- Emotional outbursts
- Denying suspicions
- Being emotionally numb
- Walking on egg shells
- Defending with busyness, perfectionism
- Burying head in sand
- Ignoring signs
- Health problems
- Feeling inadequate
- Changing to please, accommodate, pacify
- Being obsessive
- Socially withdrawing
- Rageful thoughts and behavior
- Acting out via food, alcohol, drugs, spending, affairs
After several years of working with partners, it is clear to me that the answer to their pain and their impaired relationship is not waiting and hoping for their partner to change. The answer lies in embracing a path where they will find their voice, honor their needs, and in this process let go of their defenses and pretenses. My hope is that they reach out to the many professionals trained in working with compulsive sexual behavior.