Sex addiction is big news these days. Chris Lee of the Daily Beast wrote The Sex Addiction Epidemic on November 25 which Newsweek featured. Whereas Lee's story followed a female sex addict, the new movie Shame follows a male sex addict. In my blog on Oct 7 2009, What Drives a Sex, I wrote about the inner world of the sex addict.
But, what about the partners of sex addicts? How are they affected?
Meet Arlene, a lovely 61 year old mother and grandmother, who is the wife of a sex addict.
Slouching with tears streaming down her cheeks, Arlene managed to mutter, "I am so depressed. I just found out that I've been married to a sex addict for 41 years."
"How is he a sex addict?" I asked.
Arlene's downward facing eyes continued to weep." He's been having sex with dirty, filthy street walkers. I still can't believe I was so stupid, so naïve, so unaware of what he was doing."
I asked, "How often did he do this?"
"At least once a day, since he's 16 and now he's sixty-four. He says it's a compulsion, that he tried to stop it but couldn't and that it's not an addiction. It's a shocker. Mark is so clean, so controlled, such a do-gooder, a perfect gentleman, a perfectionist to the point of OCD. He thought if I didn't know about it, he was not doing anything wrong. Can you believe it?" Rage filled her body and face.
"It sounds like there were two sides to him. He either takes the high road or the low road." I interpreted.
Arlene associated to my interpretation. "It's like two different people. But I saw only the good side and he treated me like a lady. He was good company, a good father, and he valued my role a good mother."
I continued, "He also viewed women in two distinct ways; they were either a Madonna or a Whore."
"I was a virgin, pure like a Madonna, when I married him. He told me that married people didn't have sex after the children and so we didn't have sex for years." She said
"Did you miss sex?" I asked.
" Absolutely. I cried my eyes out. I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was not appealing enough. I tried to dress up, to look sexy, but nothing did it."
"Your self-esteem took a dive. How, then did you find out about it?" I wondered.
Arlene explained, "Last week, I found some Viagra on his dresser and that didn't add up because like I said, we weren't having sex. Finally, I confronted him."
"Why do you say finally?" I asked.
Shame registered in every fiber as Arlene said, "In the past I'd been treated twice for STD's, once for Clamidia and once for HPV. But I didn't say anything. I figured he was having an affair with a co-worker, maybe a high priced call girl, anyone other than who he was having sex with. These were dirty, cheap street walkers, filthy, diseased, drug addicted whores that he had sex with on the way home from work."
"How do you feel?" I encouraged the full expression of her emotions.
Anger and tears mixed as Arlene clenched her fist and shouted, "I feel angry, sad, depressed, and ashamed of myself. I think he's repulsive and he exposed me to such harm. I hate him and I hate myself. I realize that I denied a lot."
"Perhaps you didn't want to face the truth. Any idea of why?"
"I have this fear of abandonment and I had three children, no job, nowhere to go so I kept quiet." Arlene said.
I asked "How did you feel when you did not have sex?"
"I cried a lot, thought there was something wrong with me, that I was not appealing enough, not good enough. I tried to dress up, to look sexy, but nothing did it. I felt low most of the time when he was home. The only joy I had was my children or if we were out." Arlene said.
"He eroded your self esteem so that you felt powerless to confront him." I empathized with Arlene.
"Yeah, and I'm torn now. Although he's in therapy to figure himself out and he's remorseful, feels really guilty, I still think he's repulsive. I wish I could understand what went on in his mind, in his childhood to do something so dirty. I don't know if I should end this marriage or not."
"I think it best not to try to understand him but to focus on rebuilding your self esteem. When you feel empowered you can decide if you want to forgive him or leave him." I suggested.
Arlene, like many people married to sex addicts, are left traumatized, devastated, diseased, often, with HIV or other STDs and most of all still connected to the sex addict. If you are one of these hapless people, you are not helpless. You can empower yourself, heal from the trauma and move on to a full rich life.
In my book, The New Science of Love: How Understanding the Brain's Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship (Sourcebooks, Casablanca, 2011) you will learn ways to recreate and reconnect to your strengths, forgive yourself for not moving on sooner. The fact that the brain is plastic provides you with hope, that, with work, you can change how you feel about yourself and your partner. At that point, you will be in better place to make the decision as to whether or not to end the relationship. After three months in therapy, Arlene has not made her decision yet.