Desperation and Shame

How desperate have you felt since learning of your husband or boyfriend’s secret life? How does that desperation affect you?

For many wives and partners, the quest to try to “get ahead of it” (as Lili Bee of describes it) means a concerted effort to acquire knowledge about men with secret sexual lives, as well as researching resources and programs to quickly put something in place that will help you save him and your marriage.

Most wives and partners are confident, competent and intelligent. We may be desperate but we soon muster our precious cognitive resources to find options for his treatment and develop plans for managing the home-front while he’s “getting better”. We believe we can think our way out of this and emerge in the life we thought we had. So we start thinking. And we are good at it. Then it’s hard to get us out of our heads long enough to pay attention to the harm done to us emotionally, spiritually, and physically and devote some of that cognitive work to our own needs! Our desperation means we overlook ourselves and do our best thinking for him.

Desperation also leads us to liquidate savings and assets in order to fund his stays at shiny recovery resorts and ranches, pay for the equine therapy he’s enjoying, and fly him around the country for special events and consultations. And let’s remember that for many, just the bi-weekly therapist costs are financially crippling. Still women don’t think about our own needs or our own wellbeing. We still believe that those things are tied to his treeatment, and that requires much sacrifice on our part—a sacrifice often propped up by off-center religious values. So at the same time as we are trying to think our way out of this mess, we stop thinking carefully about other things—like ourselves. The money flows out of our hands. And none of it flows into supporting our lives and addressing our trauma.

Then, when we’ve got some treatment practitioners in place and we begin to participate in his recovery as we are instructed, our thinking capacity often shuts down. Perhaps that’s because we’re exhausted and take a step back believing we can now relax because someone is finally looking after us! More likely it’s because as we begin to process the treatment model and the theories behind it, our wonderful cognitive resources start identifying gaping holes in it—finding assumptions with no research underneath them, processes that put us at risk, and recovery trajectories with no statistical support. We may learn that the symptoms he’s exhibiting are actually a part of many personality disorders no one is mentioning, and some of those symptoms aren’t even being identified in this model. And when we ask questions, here’s what women report:

  • The treatment team dismisses you and your questions

  • The therapist acts out his/her “exasperation” with your challenges, and puts you down

  • The counselor answers you with a kind of “threat” about you sabotaging your husband’s recovery

  • You are asked to speak with another member of the team who explains your need to “stay on your side of the street” and stop “trying to control” his recovery.

In whatever manner your questions are set aside, your desperation now leads you to the place of shame. You are shamed for having legitimate questions. You are shamed for not trusting the people you have paid for help. You are shamed for using your cognitive resources to engage the treatment in any way that is analytical. You are shamed for revealing something of your own needs. You are shamed now for the very “thinking” that brought you here. And you will need to stop doing it entirely, or you will experience further therapeutic trauma.

In response to the shaming experience, and as his recovery program unfolds, you will seek to be value-added to it, so that you will not be shamed. You do what you are told, even when you know it doesn’t make sense, even when you are absorbing all the risks, and even when it’s humiliating. So many of my clients tell this very story—how they sucked it up and stayed silent through the program, terrified that if they stood up for themselves they would jeopardize his recovery. And many times that is the exact threat that was levied at them when they slipped and their question or resistance “leaked out” by mistake. Women told themselves that if they could just get out the other side it would be worth it. But it rarely is. Please do not think that you are being shamed here for trying to help him recover in whatever way you have. It’s a natural instinct that express the core values that makes us people who add value to this world. Just pay attention to what it’s doing to you.

Desperation and Shame. They have a strange connection in the experience of wives and partners of men called sex addicts. And, as you might expect, I have a few thoughts about that!

The end result of how our desperation and shame are both triggered and used by men called sex addicts and their treatment industry is that we are taught to walk on eggshells in our own lives, in our primary relationship, and in the treatment program. We must cultivate self-surveillance (as contrasted with self-awareness) so that we not only observe ourselves, but we treat ourselves as “object” and become further removed from our own incarnational integrity and truth. We self-regulate so that we don’t draw attention to ourselves, because we’ve already been taught that no one cares about our experience and no one intends to help or support us in that experience. We are shamed when we step out of the “object” category and speak as “subjects”—as if our thoughts, feelings, reflections, and experience deserve consideration and response. We learn to walk on eggshells, and pretend not only that it is “better”, but that it is also “enough.”

Many clients will speak about how the treatment program and practitioners modelled strategies and gave permission to husbands and boyfriends to use those things against their wives or girlfriends. Women began to hear the same scripts from their men that they had heard from the treatment practitioners—scripts used to shut the women down into compliance through shaming, bullying, and other forms of emotional, spiritual, and mental abuse. Walking on eggshells is normalized.

If you haven’t connected the dots here, allow me to make it clear. Everything I have described are the hallmarks of a woman’s experience of domestic violence. Her abuser and his treatment program ensure she will “walk on eggshells” in order to keep the abuser from “acting out” sexually again, and from treating her in ways that are abusive on every level in every way.

About eight years ago I said on a public forum that his tactics and his treatment group’s tactics were exactly what women were expected to endure decades ago if they tried to get help for domestic violence. We are being pulled back in time by the forces that re-assert misogynist priorities in society. It doesn’t matter how “smart” we are, our desperation and the power of shame land us in that trap where we are being co-opted into staying in relationships that are profoundly damaging. And that co-opting plays right into the truth of what we now know about domestic violence—a woman will likely try seven times to get herself out of harm’s way before she will actually GET OUT. In our case, the treatment industry plays into that truth by selling us a bill of goods that he will recover, without any statistical evidence to back it up. Then, in order to keep the program looking like it’s actually doing something, it edits and silences the woman’s needs, experience, and harm done to her, so that she DOESN’T make the connection between what he is doing to her, and the reality of domestic violence. And they are going to get seven cracks at it before either the money runs out or the woman walks out.

The desperation and shame wives and girlfriends of men called sex addicts experience is the same as women who are victims of domestic violence. In fact, in my experience of ministry over three decades, the way a woman describes what it was like after the first time her husband or boyfriend hit her or pushed her or grabbed her violently is exactly what it is like for women after their first discovery of his secret life. It is even more similar when we add in her description of his behaviour after he realizes she knows something. It’s all right out of the domestic violence playbook. Not one piece of original material. Domestic violence is always about control. And women are beginning to recognize just how much covert control their husband or boyfriend has enjoyed by cultivating and protecting a secret life. They are also recognizing similar control dynamics in the treatment industry.

Readers, we know this stuff already. It has a name. It’s called domestic violence. And as I’ve said before, the industry doesn’t want you to use those words because:

  • there is no money to be made in supporting the victims of domestic violence

  • people who like control over women don’t use words that will challenge their privilege

  • most women resist any idea that they are victims of domestic violence because of—wait for it—shame!

The complex world of perpetrators and victims has enough desperation and enough shame for everyone to be slimed by them both. When we, as women, are so broken by our discovery and the truth of how our husband or boyfriend has treated us, the idea of more shame—and particularly THIS shame—is sometimes too much to bear. Women will choose, instead, to project their shame on other women who are using the correct vocabulary and frame of abuse and domestic violence. You may hear things like “they don’t have enough faith”, “they aren’t strong enough”, “they are too angry”, “they won’t forgive”,  “they are trying to ruin marriages”, “they are jealous because my husband is different,” “they may be victims but I’m not,” etc. I spent eighteen months imagining recovery treatment would change this situation, and another six months getting clear that whether it did or didn’t, I couldn’t walk on eggshells forever. It was two and half years before I was divorced and out of harm’s way. Very few women didn’t invest more years of their lives participating in the process of “recovery” in some form or another before saving herself.

Domestic violence is a hideous thing. Who wants to know about it? No one. But we do know that it affects women of every ethnicity, religion, culture, economic group, race, educational background, and every profession—just like our experience does. The desperation and shame of our experience is already described and understood. In the literature on domestic violence (e.g.

the nature of the abuse is listed as it is used against us by our husband or boyfriend (and often by the treatment industry.) It can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial, spiritual, or mental.

We have known for decades that walking on eggshells does not keep you safe, and it harms those who try to do it. It takes one common symptom of Post-traumatic Stress—hypervigilance—and uses it to keep us there. Stop doing it. Remember, it usually takes seven tries to get out of an abusive relationship. When a husband or boyfriend, or an entire industrial treatment complex, needs you to become even less in order to save him or your marriage, step back for a moment. Are you that desperate? Is this shame really yours?

Stop walking on eggshells.

I understand this may be a scary new lens through which to see your life. I am an advocate for the sacred value of your life and want to encourage you to explore that. If you are afraid of what’s happening in your life, use a discounted trial session and let’s talk it through:  If you have further questions, contact me:

With you


p.s. Thank you for reading my blog, and for letting me know it helps you find your way. You can subscribe here:

Diane Strickland