Sanctuary for the Abused
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Sex Addiction & Spousal Abuse
Shelly Marshall thought nothing in the addictions could shock her, until she stumbled on her husband’s secret life.
Patrick Carnes , Ph.D., author of Out of the Shadows, and I have appeared on the same seminar roster more than once. Having faced some controversy in my own work with adolescent addiction, I considered him brave for broaching such a controversial topic as sexual addiction. Yet, while considering Dr. Carnes courageous, I thought sexual addiction was a narrow problem pertaining to a few isolated deviants. I felt sorry for his patients, never entertaining the thought that the problem may some day be mine.
My husband, Bob, and I met in a 12- step recovery program. He was the man of my dreams. No matter what happened, we promised each other, our marriage would be run on the same principles responsible for our recovery—honesty, integrity, and service to others. “I have never been unfaithful to a woman,” Bob assured me, “and I will never be unfaithful to you.” The conviction in his voice warmed my heart and fed my arrogance at marrying such a virtuous man.
I stumbled upon his secret life
Almost to the day of our four year anniversary, I stumbled upon his secret life. Innocently double-clicking a jpeg image on our computer, it revealed my husband having intercourse with a woman on our couch! I gasped. The next double-click revealed a different woman in oral sex with my husband. The third contained a buxom and grinning blond on our yard in a rancorous sexual encounter with Bob.
“I will never be unfaithful to you,” rang through my ears. Because of his moral convictions and our commitment to 12-step principles, this was a crushing blow. What I didn’t know then, but would discover in Out of the Shadows, is that “the addict’s protestations of high sexual morality are like a smoke screen, obscuring the impact of sexual obsession.” Later, I would blame myself for not catching the warning signs during our courtship. Carnes response: “Friends and family tend to reject suspicions of sexual compulsivity because of the addict’s ‘values.’”
My husband changed overnight
From the first day of the honeymoon, my husband changed into a callus, angry stranger. And as a woman in love and a human service professional, I believed I could change him back. It seemed though, the harder I tried to make life good, the more unhappy Bob became. Although he never hit me, his abuse was in the form of constant unrelenting anger and criticism. Worse than my struggle to retain some sense of self-worth under the barrage, was the fact that he didn’t seem to realize I was a person. We did not connect. We were not friends. He made me an enemy.
The crisis that sent us to counseling came after we had spent thousands on keeping his ex-wife from moving his son out of state. Bob screamed at me, “You’re putting too much stress on me. You keep asking me questions and preparing papers and maybe I don’t really want my son living with us.” Since Bob demanded we fight for custody, since he was the one who screamed and threatened his ex-wife, since I was only playing a supportive role in his battle, what was he blaming me for?
In a rare moment of honesty, my husband broke down, sobbing, “If someone else lives with us, it will change things and I won’t be able to be comfortable, like walk around nude and things.” I focused on Bob’s outburst with me when the real red flag was a father not wanting his son because he wouldn’t be able to walk around nude.
In counseling I was told to concentrate on me
In counseling, I was told to concentrate on me and my co-dependency, not my husband. “Stop “fixing” him and take care of myself,” Dr. Beffa instructed. He explained where Bob ended and I began, defined boundaries, and insisted I not accept unacceptable behavior. After blowing up in a session, Bob quit counseling, “because I’m not going to sit there and listen to how everything is my fault.”
As I improved in counseling, refusing to accept his abuse, Bob went downhill emotionally, “Well, I guess you found me out. I’m crazy.”
Strangely, I didn’t catch that he was trying to tell me something. Instead, my efforts centered on not being Miss Co-dependent. “I don’t think you’re crazy but if you do, go to a psychiatrist.” The psychiatrist put him on medicine and our lives changed overnight. The all pervasive anger, criticism, and blame seemed to melt away, making it appear as if our marriage might have a chance after all. Bob began therapy for himself! Had his problem been a brain chemistry imbalance all along?
Just as my husband went on meds, our neighbor, Jean, approached me, “I wouldn’t normally say anything but we all are fed up with your husband running around nude and riding the lawn mower naked. My granddaughter, Amanda, comes over now and asks about ‘that naked man’ next door.”
He denied it, accused them of lying, then claimed, “They just didn’t see my skimpy pants.” And promised to be more careful about something he maintained wasn’t happening.
Even though his anger stopped, we could not connect
Life came to a standstill. While Bob controlled his anger and I worked on me, not him, we still could not connect. My gut told me something was wrong. Was he drinking, smoking pot? Finally, I dropped to my knees, “God, something is wrong with my marriage and I don’t know what. If it be your will, please reveal it.”
The computer screen in front of me answered that prayer. A cursory search revealed, among other things, that my husband had photographed himself nude in our yard, found naked women on the internet, and digitally blended the images into them having sex. I was sick. What did it mean?
As a professional, I consulted other professionals before confronting him. The support groups I found online, the work of Patrick Carnes, the co-sex addict’s literature, and our counselor made the implications clear. My husband showed clear signs of exhibitionism. A form of sex addiction.
I had always thought that sex addicts were people who couldn’t stop having sex—like nymphomaniacs. But sexual addiction (SA) is far more prevalent than I had imagined and many sex addicts are technically faithful to their spouses. Brenda Schaeffer writes on her website of Love Addiction, “Sexual addiction is a sickness involving any type of uncontrollable sexual activity that results in negative consequences.”
Is he really a sex addict?
Not wanting to believe the implications, I asked my support group coach, is he really an addict? Jonathan Marsh, founder of understandingsexualaddiction.org (not up now) responded:
Your situation is actually more clear cut than most. Behaviors like, "...taking pics of himself in our yard in all kinds of positions, cutting and pasting himself in with nudes from the internet!.... Did a film of himself M-Bing in our yard...won't let folks live with us so he can walk around nude... neighbor's 'inadvertently' seeing him in the nude...took a wedding pic of a friend of ours and digitally made her nude --then contacted her when I was on a business trip..."Why didn't I see the warning signs?
These are all classic patterns of sexual addiction. That he justifies his behavior (rather than considering that it might indeed be inappropriate) is yet another sign.
Hold your head up high...ask any and all questions that may help you deal with this situation. You may not find the answers you want, but at least you will have asked the questions openly and courageously.
After the shock, shame set in. I am a professional; why didn’t I see the warning signs? One of the women in my support group wrote, “You will begin to remember numerous behaviors that you will now see as red flags, but what you are not going to do is beat yourself up for not recognizing them.”
During our courtship, I recalled him nude sunbathing below two story townhouses and assuring me, “no one can see.” He seemed especially flattered that his gay neighbor spied on him and gave him a box of Poppycock for Christmas. Bob pressured me to make love in chancy places outdoors or in rooms with no curtains. He took nude snapshots of himself frequently, framed them, made cards and gave them to me. I thought it was a guy thing. Later, I would discover that his “flashing” was the talk of other neighbors in a former town we lived in.
The more insidious red flags are what destroyed our marriage. SAs are overly self-absorbed, objectify their partners, and have trouble achieving intimacy. Many SAs have anger issues and blame their spouses for their unhappiness. I came to understand that all the work we had done in therapy meant little because we never addressed the core problem, his sexual obsessions. My co-dependency only exacerbated the underlying sickness in our marriage.
Accepting the fact that I, an addiction specialist, married an addict without seeing the glaring red flags, has not been easy. Learning to overcome my need to “fix” my spouse and accept the fact that I am powerless in the face of his illness has been harder. Sometimes I think that if I had been just a little more co-dependent, I would still be married. At weak moments, I regret asking all those “courageous questions” that Jonathan Marsh spoke of. When I set my boundary for dealing with this devastating addiction my husband chose divorce, an easier softer path, I suppose. What he said was, “You wouldn’t stand by me.” But the truth is, I stood by myself.
You Are A Target