Two Questions to Consider
But first, the reason to consider them—Anguish.
It’s not a word we use very often, but it describes what I witness in wives and partners of men called sex addicts. I remember it, too. The anguish we endure with the emerging truths of discovery is indescribable. Then, being treated with arrogant cruelty by treatment industry practitioners compounds the anguish. Finally, trying to reframe reality after ours has been shattered is an anguished task.
Anguish. Anguish is a relentlessly recurring piece of this experience.
For me, the greatest anguish lay in my desperate attempts to hold two contradictory understandings of who my (then) husband was. This is called cognitive dissonance. He was the man I had loved completely for three decades. I trusted him with my life and our children’s lives. I trusted him with the meaning of our lives we were making together. There was nothing within me to imagine his duplicity, contempt, or reckless disregard for us. But the proving facts just kept mounting, and each one sent another piece of our precious lives into a tortured death spiral.
Everything I read or heard for wives and partners glossed right over that anguish, as if a tissue and a few minutes to pull yourself together was enough to let it run its course. And then, you were expected to forget the anguish and the reasons for it. Your job was to roll up your sleeves and then work like hell to keep his pants zipped and your marriage going. And most of us wanted it to be that simple. It’s not that we are stupid. It’s just that the anguish is so bad we are desperate, and go along with anyone who says they know what we need to do. We want there to be some way out of anguish and back to our normal lives where we can believe the men we loved are somehow still the men we loved in spite of their secret lives.
Breaking through that anguish is not easy. A few weeks ago I was talking with my friend Lili Bee, who serves the same constituency as I do from her website www.posarc.com We shared stories of frustration and joy in our common work, and we shared our hopes and dreams for our clients. We were talking about reaching that impasse where women have to decide what reality will be for them going forward and how to help women choose wisely for their own lives. I shared with her two questions I use to help women navigate the impasse. Here they are:
1. Would you ever do any of the things he did to you (and your children) to anyone, never mind your partner in life?
2. If you knew then what you know now about who he is and what his values are, would you have made him your life partner?
Two questions. And for every women to whom I have asked these questions, the answers are “No.” No, they would never treat anyone the way this man treated them. No, if they had known this was who he was, they would never had chosen him as a life partner.
In answering these questions, we come to understand the gap between who we are, and who he is. This is not about one indiscretion, a lapse in judgement carefully contained by context, or a midlife crisis. This is about his capacity to begin and maintain a secret life of deception and harm to you, while hiding behind a pretence of core values that would never allow it. This is something we could never do, but he can. It’s a big difference between us—a core value difference.
This clarity creates the opportunity to recognize, affirm and protect who you really are in the face of who he is turning out to be. Because you are who you have always been at your core. You are the real thing. Core values aren’t aspirational. They aren’t goals or dreams or visions. They explain and reveal who we are right now.
Answering these questions is not about punishing or shaming men called sex addicts. It’s about ending the anguish. A disordered person’s survival strategy becomes clear, and the unfair role you were playing in it. This is about being a good steward of yourself once you know the truth of who he is and who he isn’t. The choices are still yours, but they are real choices.
Work with these two questions yourself, and see what they reveal about you and the man with whom you are in relationship. Contact me if you want to talk about it. And always remember, your story is safe here.