What’s wrong with these guys?
In the midst of keeping your own head above water after discovery and keeping your family operations running, you will inevitably turn your thoughts to trying to figure him out. I don’t recommend you spend much time there, but it’s pretty hard not to wonder “What happened?”—especially if you’ve been together for a while. We all wonder “What did I miss?”
First thing to realize is that he didn’t just fool you. He fooled friends and family and co-workers and neighbours and faith communities and clients and customers. He fooled them all—which accounts for resistance to accepting anything you might try to disclose to those groups of people. It’s not just you he fooled. He fooled them all. You, however, are the only one dealing with that breakthrough of reality. The rest don’t have to and likely won’t until absolutely necessary—and that may be never.
Second thing to realize is how incredibly good he is at conning people, mimicking acceptable behaviors and scripts, and hiding himself. Chances are he’s been doing this for most of his life. You will never be as good at figuring out his deception as he will be at deception and hiding himself. I’ve seen way too many wives and partners think they will get ahead of him. You might manage it once or twice, but you are just not as practised at uncovering deception as he is at deceiving. Don’t kid yourself.
Third thing to consider is his age. I still hold open the possibility of a “turn around” for young adult men if they choose to heal and choose not to hurt those whose only crime is to love them, accept them, include them, and/or befriend them. Middle age men seem to think it’s just easier to find another woman they can fool, and start over. Getting better is just way too much work if the con still has some years left in it with a fresh target. But for those men who’ve been living this way for three or more decades of their lives, it’s hard to imagine they will be able to undo firmly entrenched patterns of lying and deception. Indeed, many women talk about how the lying begins to include low value things like whether there was milk left in the fridge or not. It’s like older men can no longer spend the energy on figuring out whether or not they “need” to lie, so they just lie all the time about anything—in case it might matter. Add in the simple truths of aging like forgetting, lowering of filters, the beginnings of dementia, and increased self-absorption, and the senior version of these men becomes unstoppable and increasingly unable to self-regulate sexual and sexualized activities. In my own life, the prospect of waking up in the middle of the night and finding a 75 year old man in a trance with his nose pressed up against a computer screen full of porn just settled it for me. Those were not going to be my golden years.
Fourth thing to understand is that there is most likely a serious trauma or many traumas underneath his behaviours. Many sex addiction professionals think “sexual sobriety” means success—which is why these men are set up to regularly and often perpetually fall off the sobriety wagon in the prevailing treatment approach. Their therapists are not qualified to assess, diagnose or treat the kind of damage these men have. Personality disorder(s) is often indicated and no 12 step group in the world is going to touch that. A frequent trauma uncovered with these men is covert incest (sometimes called emotional incest). This is when a parent uses a child as an emotional surrogate spouse. Over time, inappropriate emotional intimacy leads to the sexualisation of the relationship. Even if intercourse does not happen, the child may be groomed to undo his mother’s bra every night, wash her back in the tub, kiss her on the lips, etc. This leaves lasting damage and the man grows up incapable of having intimacy with his wife or partner, and pursues a hidden sexual life. Any wife or partner also is the target of the parent’s jealousy and resentment. Obviously there’s more to that, but it’s the damage that I inherited in my marriage and one I often encounter with clients. I’m writing about it because while my first priority is for the safety and healing of wives and partners, I have compassion for men who endured this and other kinds of abuse and/or trauma. The prevailing treatment model does not train practitioners or offer programs that deal with these truths. And that’s because the model doesn’t acknowledge what these men do later to their wives and partners as abuse.
Okay, that’s a first brush with that nagging question for all wives and partners. Yes, there is something wrong with these guys. And only when women stop participating in the useless treatment programs and stop paying for them will the industry have to do real research and real training to treat “what’s wrong with these guys.” Meanwhile, make yourself and your children the top priority for safety and healing.
And remember, if you need to talk with someone, your story is safe here.