Telling and hearing the truth

I was talking to my friend Lisa – the one with the husband who keeps getting caught with emails and texts from some woman he has been in some way involved with for maybe a few years.  All we know is what she has found – graphic photos and highly sexual texts and emails between her husband and another woman who he knows from work.  Her husband has never come clean with any information about the relationship.  Every time Lisa finds an email or text chain he says things like this:

“That was the last time I texted her.  I called and ended if right after sending that one”

“I never have touched her – it’s only emails”

“I swear it’s over and will never talk to her again”

You get the drift.  You probably won’t be surprised to know that he has never kept his word to end it.

When Lisa found the latest slew of intense emails, I suggested that the first thing she should do is have him get a full STD check.  It’s easy to do in big cities, it can be done anonymously, but she will be putting her needs first by protecting her own health and also making him have a consequence to his actions.  It’s not therapy, it’s not divorce, it’s not a decision about anything other than making herself a priority.  Her response is that she really believes he hasn’t ever been with this woman!!

Listen…I get wanting to trust the man she is married to.  But if he has never – not once – come clean about ANYTHING – or provided a detail that she didn’t know about BY CHOICE then I really think that she needs to do a reality check.  She can’t believe a single word from him as it relates to this other woman.

It’s hard to tell the truth.  It’s also hard to hear it.  All of it raises fears.  But if a relationship is going to work, then both parties need to start coming clean about their actions and feelings – and both parties need to know it’s safe to do so.  Being honest and telling the truth are skills that need to be learned – especially after a relationship has been upended by betrayal and infidelity.  It’s not easy – but it’s doable.  And until your partner can  be honest – you best do all you can to protect yourself.

How you handle difficult times is what sets you apart

Infidelity in a marriage isn’t easy on anyone.  It hurts, it triggers fears, it ruins the status quo, it just totally and completely sucks. Once it enters your world you will never be the same.

I wonder then why some people are able to move beyond a betrayal to rebuild a stronger relationship or to at least improve their own character – and others never do.   Some women just get stuck.

I read some blogs recently that were posted on a ‘divorced moms’ site.  I think what struck me most is the self-righteousness of the author and the anger that lurked behind every word.  One blog in particular was fueled by a belief that simply by kicking her husband to the curb that she had somehow become a stronger, better person.  I’m not saying that it doesn’t take a degree of strength to kick your spouse out of your life – but in the case of this particular woman that act alone didn’t seem to change her.  Years after the divorce she was still experiencing the same degree of hate and anger – but now she was doing it alone.  The hatred that seeped into her words were heartbreaking.  Hatred for her husband, for men in general, for women who sleep with married men…it was pretty upsetting.  This woman has children with her ex – I can’t help but wonder how much of that hate is felt by those kids – and what happens when one day those children are old enough to read their mom’s blog.  Ugh.

I do understand when women decide to divorce their husband because of infidelity.  As much as I’m a believer in staying, I do think there absolutely are cases when leaving is the best thing to do.  But it doesn’t negate the need for those women to try to move beyond the anger, to deal with the pain, to forgive rather than hate, to own up to their own patterns and to open their hearts.  These things that need to be done whether you stay or you go.  There is no sense in dwelling in the pain.  It’s needless suffering.  Holding onto that hatred and all the feelings that go with it can never benefit anyone and won’t prepare you for the possibility of a healthy future relationship.

If you are struggling with the idea of forgiving an ex or a current partner who betrayed you – maybe you can start by praying for that person.  Perhaps that can be the first step down a lighter more positive path.  A path that is lit by empathy, caring and love.

Meetings of Two – rebuilding after an affair.

My husband and I have a weekend ritual when we sit down for a ‘check up’ with one another.  During this time we talk about how we are feeling about our relationship and ourselves.  We tell one another if we have struggled with trust, anger or resentment.  We announce the thing we did during that week that most improved our relationship and on the flip side the one thing we each did that hurt our relationship.  Sometimes the conversations are stimulating and go on forever – other times they are a little lackluster and neither of us have much to talk about.   I never know where these meetings will take us.

We like to go to our favorite coffee shop for these weekly discussions – it makes it feel more like an event or a date.  Since we had brunch plans with friends later this morning we decided to hold this weeks meeting at home, giving us the perfect opportunity to watch Esther Perel’s TED talk entitled “Rethinking Infidelity” about why people cheat.  This talk was such a great catalyst to conversation.  Both my husband and I found so much of what she said to be of interest.  It raised incredibly interesting points and questions and led to another very honest discussion about my husbands addiction-related infidelities as well as my own affair and what the two had in common.   We talked about how we felt during and after our trysts, we talked about the fantasy aspect of our actions, we talked about the power of our disclosures, we talked about anxiety and longing and desire and regret and sex.

Seeking out sources of smart, insightful information is so important when confronted with an issue such as marital infidelity.  I have gotten a lot of help from books and therapists in the past – but somehow, Eshter Perel can cut to the quick in a riveting 20 minute video.  If you haven’t already seen it, and are in a relationship, it’s worth watching.  I highly recommend watching with your spouse and see where the conversation takes you.

Picking a therapist

I’ve been in either individual or couples therapy with 8 different therapists since my husband’s addiction and cheating almost destroyed our marriage.  And I can tell you definitively that all therapists are absolutely not created equal.  Considering that your emotional life – and possibly the future of your family as you know it – is in their hands, it’s vital to select a therapist who is professional, attentive and empathetic.

If I am going to take the time and money to hire someone for ANY job I expect a certain level of professionalism…but when it’s my mind, heart and gut involved that my requirements have hit a whole new level.  In hindsight I wish I had learned this earlier, but better late than never.

To some degree, it’s true that you will get out what you put in.  Regardless of how good your therapist is, if you are resistant to the process it will be a very difficult road.  However, if you can walk into your therapists office each week with true willingness then you should see obvious results.

Here is a brief synopsis of some of the therapists I have seen – they range from complete incompetence to positively life changing.

# 1.  Male “counselor” without a degree who hangs out his counselor shingle for people in his 12 step program.  He was primarily my husbands therapist when he first entered SAA, but saw us as a couple as well. After 2 years I learned that he occasionally encouraged my husband to lie to me since that was the easiest solution.  He cloaked it in “you don’t want to cause her additional pain”.  Of course, when the truth came to light it was the pain of the lie which hurt most of all.  In one particularly memorable session, I was convinced my husband had reached out to an affair partner – it was my gut screaming that it was true – the counselor and my husband both sat there and lied to my face saying it was just my imagination.  Alas, it wasn’t.

# 2.  Older psychiatrist with a long history with couples.  My husband and I saw him for a couple years.  The sessions were fascinating on an intellectual level however there was never any emotional growth.  The experience was purely mental which in the end wasn’t what we needed.  I think we stayed with him longer than we should because we found the sessions to be stimulating and evoked a nice level of communication, even if they weren’t particularly effective for us.

# 3.  I started seeing an MFT by myself.  Sessions with Michelle felt very comfortable and casual.  In the moment I felt like I was chatting with a good friend.  But in the days following sessions her words would start to resonate with me. It was an impressive dynamic.  I started my affair with my ex boyfriend while I was seeing her.  She is the one who encouraged me to seek couples therapy with my husband so I could express my resentments over his cheating.  It took her 2 months to convince me that it was OK to tell him how I feel.  She said that his behavior caused me to develop muscles I didn’t have before and now it’s his turn.  She assured me that he would be strong enough to handle hearing my feelings.  She changed my life by teaching me this.

# 4.  My husband was seeing a sex addiction specialist.  After Michelle’s suggestion that I tell my husband my feelings, we started seeing her as a couple.  It was difficult for me to tell him that I was angry, resentful and was no longer in love – but Michelle had given me the strength to do so.  I cried in every session for the first month as I spoke my truth.  After that we continued to see her as a couples therapist for about 2 more years.  There were no more emotional sessions after that first month.  She phoned it in and we allowed that.  In our final session last year I said that I still feared my husband was lying.  She laughed at me.  No lie.  She insulted my instincts and said that if he were lying that SHE WOULD KNOW and that he would be incredibly sick.  Such betrayal from a therapist could be considered malpractice.  2 months later I discovered I was right and that he had been lying for the past 6 years.  She never checked in with me after that.  She still sees my husband and takes credit for his now being honest.  Her ego can’t see it any other way.

# 5.  I tried seeing another therapist who worked at the same clinic as therapist # 4.  This one was supposed to be an expert in sex addiction as well but held such anger toward my husband it was shocking.  Here I was a woman who still deeply loved and understood her husband and this woman would refer to him as a “dude” and kept suggesting that I wouldn’t stay in the marriage once I got some therapy under my belt.  It didn’t feel like a safe place for me to talk through my feelings…not when the response was so very one sided.

# 6.  I found a therapist who only deals with partners of sex addicts.  She is fair, warm, intelligent & understanding.  But she pushes me so hard to look at my role, my family of origin, my “addictions”.  I cry in most sessions (and I am not a cryer).  I have seen unprecedented growth with her.  Yes, part of it is my willingness – but she takes if from there.  When I am uncomfortable she allows me to hesitate but never lets me off the hook.  Never allows me to change the subject.

Therapy is important business.  It’s so vital to find the right match.  It’s not easy and can take years.  If your therapist has an attitude or an ego you aren’t going to get the attention you need.  If they don’t know how to push you to very uncomfortable places then you won’t have growth. During the therapy process you will often times go to scary and sad places and need someone who is going to know when you have gone far enough – and someone who can sympathize.

Your therapist should never shame or embarrass you.  If you can’t tell them the darkest secret you hold then find someone else.  If you don’t leave most sessions with a clearer understanding of why you are/react/feel/think the way you do, then find someone else.  If you feel you are at a comfortable plateau, find someone else.

They are tough shoes to fill but there are amazing therapists in the world and if you find the right one they can change your life.

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries…oh, and consequences

I was reading some posts from one of my followers today.  From what she says, it sounds as if her husband is extremely dismissive of her feelings  and doesn’t show her the respect that she deserves.  It makes me sad, because I remember so clearly how that feels.

I can’t stress enough how valuable it is – in any relationship, but especially those with a history of wrongdoing – to have a comprehensive, written list of boundaries and consequences.   It’s not an easy list to create, it takes a bit of time and editing to come up with something that both you and your spouse can abide by, and that makes you feel protected.

At the time I created my list, I didn’t realize how comforting it would be to pre-plan my reaction if there are any slips on his part in the future.  It takes away an unknown and is a sign of respect to myself to put my needs first in a time of fear or crisis.

This is my list with some explanations:

– Computers at home and work must have internet filters which allow me access to accountability reports.  (we have installed filters and he likes not having the option to look at porn, etc.  we have also disabled safari on his iPhone)

– You must allow me access to check emails, credit card statements, phone records anytime at my request (he has given me all passwords to do this as he says he has nothing to hide anymore)

– No contact of any kind – including emails, texts, phone calls – with any acting out partners without my prior approval (I added ‘without my approval’ as it seems more fair – I can’t imagine a reason why he would need contact with them, but I am reasonable enough to know that it could be necessary in which case I would insist on being a part of the conversation, or cc’d on an email or whatever)

– Must attend an intensive retreat once a year, either solo or couples (this is a good habit for any couple – especially one who has been through the wringer.)

– Take part in yearly disclosure/polygraph for the next 3 years and thereafter when requested by me. (It sounds horrible but I see it as the equivalent of having a drug addict pee in a cup once in a while – just to be sure.  After all, the number one common trait in addicts of any sort is the impressive ability to lie)

– Inform me immediately if any acting out partners attempt to contact you (for obvious reasons)

– No social activities (lunch, drinks, etc) with female friends or colleagues without my prior consent. (My husbands job requires lots of contact with lots of people including very attractive women in his business.  They constantly as for lunch meetings – but that’s breeding ground for flirting & thus, trouble.  He just needs to ask me if it’s OK, we will discuss and make a decision together.  If he needs to see someone for business then I can suggest he bring his assistant along, or they go to a restaurant where we know people so it’s not romantic, etc)

If any of those above things fall by the wayside DUE TO HIS UNWILLINGNESS we will take a therapeutic separation during which time there will be no contact with me and I will decide how to proceed.

– If you ever lie, omit or deceive me about any inner circle activities you must apologize and confess the truth within 24 hours.  I will take a therapeutic separation long enough for me to assess the situation and will decide how to proceed.

– If I find out that you have lied about inner circle activities and didn’t confess within 24 hours we will immediately separate and you will go to rehab.  There will be no contact with me until I decide how to proceed.

–  If you take part in any physical sexual activity behind my back I will divorce you.  This includes sex, erotic massage or other physical activities with both anonymous and known partners.

– If you have any contact whatsoever including email, text, phone, IM or in person meeting with “skank who you cheated on me with” I will immediately file for divorce, even if the contact isn’t sexual.

This list changed a lot from the original version which basically had him walking around with a male chastity belt.  But I realized that we still need to live in the real world.  It’s unrealistic to say  “if you ever lie, even for a second, about anything in the world, I will leave you”.  That’s crazy.  His learned behavior from his crappy childhood is to lie when under pressure.  He has been dealing with this a lot and has made progress but lying is an easy thing to resort to.  That’s why he has 24 hours to come clean.  That gives him time to call brothers from SAA, talk to his sponsor or therapist, etc.   It’s fair.  That’s what marriage is about.

I also find that the concept of a therapeutic separation is vital.  It gives me time to sort out my feelings and discuss my options with my therapist if something goes awry.  There is no time limit on this separation, but when the shit hits the fan it’s important to have a plan in place.  I have a specific plan in place – where I go for the separation, etc – so in the case of an emergency, I won’t have to worry about where I will go.

I am very lucky that my husband is so tired of living a double life and so very much wants to be “normal”.  He is willing to agree to my boundaries.  We discussed them thoroughly and he had a few minor issues but they were sorted out between he, I and my therapist who specializes in working with partners of sex addicts.  It’s a list all 3 of us can live with.

And by the way, this isn’t a one way street.  His behavior caused me to do my own shameful things.  He is working up his list of boundaries as well and will present it to me when he is done.

I’m sure we will amend and adjust our lists over time, but a starting place is really important.  I urge everyone in a relationship that has been fraught with secrets, lies, affairs, etc to create a list and stick with it.  If your list is fair and your husband won’t agree to it then it might be time to consider further your reasons for being in the relationship.  This is why the consequence portion of this list is so very important.

In a million years I never dreamed my marriage would end up with such a list attached to it.  But that’s life – and in this life us women sometimes need to put our needs first in order to thrive.

A Momentary Loss Of Control

It’s Friday at 6:30 PM and my husband is working late.  Not significantly late.  Just a few minutes past his normal quitting time – maybe 45 minutes – but later than usual.  My logical brain understands why he needs to stay.  But the irrational part of my imagination starts rippling and then, like a tidal wave it crashes onto me with overwhelming power.
This big wave of memories brings back all of those horrible thoughts about the not so distant past and my mind immediately tries to convince me he is lying again.  Is he on the internet cruising adult friend finder?  Is he creating a false email account?  Instant messaging with one of his old acting out partners?  His computer has parental controls on it, but his employees computers don’t.  If they left and he stayed then he has access to an unprotected computer.  Maybe he isn’t on the computer at all for fear of it showing up in someone’s history.  Maybe he had an “in call” gal come by or went to the bar nearby for a drink with someone with loose boundaries.  From here I spiral into where he was yesterday morning.  I forgot to check the GPS/find my iPhone to make sure he went to work when he said he did.  He mentioned that he had gone to the hardware store on the way in – I didn’t know that because I wasn’t paying close attention.  I think about the dinner I had with 2 of my friends the other night – what was to stop him from going to the strip club that is literally 5 minutes away from our house while I was out?  He says that the risk of running into a guy from his SAA meetings is the deterrent to walking into a strip club.  I’d like to believe that protecting our marriage would be all he needs to stay out of those clubs – but apparently the risk of losing me takes a back seat to that of being found out by someone in his program.  Reality check.
All of these scenario’s are possible, which is what makes it so incredibly scary.  It’s not just a case of an imagination gone wild –  all of these things HAVE happened before.  So how do I refocus and trust that it isn’t happening today.  Truth be told, it could be, but program says “I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it and I can’t control it”.  So what would my therapist tell me to do in this situation?  Self Care, Self Care, Self Care.  I never really knew what that was before, or at least I didn’t have any concrete way to practice it.  But now I do.  Now I write down these sometimes crazy thoughts and feelings and allow the process to ground me. This blog is such a safe and calming place to “go” in these moments.  In writing this I am not alone while I wait for him to get home, I am part of something much bigger than my fear fueled imagination.

Hi, I’m married to an addict….this is my story

It’s impossible to know where to start something like this – something as complex and confusing as being in love with a sex addict.  There is no way to pin down a theme in my day to day emotions in order to devise a simple introduction to you about who, why, what, where, and how I ended up here, on this blog, writing to you.  All I can do is put pen to paper and watch where it goes.  I know it will help me and I very desperately hope it can help you.  None of us are alone on this windy path of recovery.  We may feel alone and isolated temporarily, but I have found that if I keep moving forward that I end up side by side with someone else who understands.  I don’t want to alienate any men who are struggling with sex addiction in their partner – but I suspect that most people who find themselves on this page will be women.  That being said, I have to recognize that the unbelievable power of our shared sisterhood can take on an entirely new meaning when we are brought together through this heartbreaking addiction.  I started this blog because I want to reach out to other women who are in pain – especially those who have just discovered a betrayal.  But sadly, since this is a pain that we tend to keep secret from those around us, I don’t know who you are.  So I will pretend that you are the co-worker sitting in the office next to me.  I will imagine you are my neighbor who walks her dog late at night.  I will consider that you might be a family member who has never had the courage to tell the rest of us about your daily pain.  I so want to know who you are.  I so want my experience, story and friendship to reach you.

Where do I begin to tell my story so you can know me?  What should be the my first words?  Perhaps this should start with the words I said to my husband when I learned about his relapse.  As far as I knew, he had been sober for 5 1/2 years.  All signs made me believe it.  Or did they?  I was home on a sunny June afternoon this past summer and had a sudden and overwhelming feeling that I should place an ad on a popular adult site just to see what happens.  I followed my instinct and placed an ad as a woman named ‘Tammy’ and said that I was looking for an NSA affair.  I placed the ad almost without thinking….it was out of the blue and robotic.  Within moments of placing the ad the replies started pouring it.  It disgusted me to see all of the men who wanted what Tammy was offering.  I was moments away from pulling down the ad when I opened an email from my husband, photo and all, asking to meet “Tammy”.  I was shocked and numb.  I returned to the email a dozen times to double check that the photo was really him – each time foolishly thinking the photo would change to a stranger.   My “Tammy” persona emailed back and forth with him a couple times.  I was sick to my stomach as I wrote words to entice him to the next step.  I was shaking uncontrollably but managed not to cry.  Somehow, I managed to hide my feelings when my husband got home from work.  While I sat a few feet away from him on the sofa he wrote to
“Tammy” and asked for a meeting for the following day.  As Tammy, I replied and accepted the offer.  When he left for work in the morning I called his therapist and told her what was happening.  I said that I set up a meeting time and I intended to go meet him.  Then I called his sponsor and asked him to go to the meeting with me.   All day long, my husband was needy and missing me.  He wrote to me at one point saying he wished we could just ‘run away’.  I could feel that he was lost and I comforted myself by thinking that explained some of what he was doing with his on line activities.  I tried repeatedly to convince him to come home to me – but the pull of an anonymous woman waiting at a bar at 4 in the afternoon was too strong.  When the time of the meeting rolled around his sponsor and I drove into the bar parking lot.  I prayed the entire way that my husband wouldn’t be there – but as we entered the driveway I saw my prayers weren’t answered this time.  My husband was sitting in his car waiting for “Tammy” to show up.  We pulled up next to him and shame overtook his face.  I let his sponsor get out of my car to speak with him first.  I couldn’t wait very long to join them, so after about 5 minutes I got out of the car – walked toward my husband’s open window – gently touched his arm and said “I’m Sorry”.

No one, including myself, expected these to be my first words.  I was sorry that I had to catch him the way I did.  I was sorry that his addiction was so strong that he was sitting in a parking lot on Sunset Boulevard at 4 PM on Wednesday waiting to meet a figment of his imagination.  I was sorry for anything I did that enabled him to be there.  I was sorry that I was in pain.  I was sorry for all of it.  And I am sorry that you have gone through a similar pain to mine.