I say this to many clients many times. “Don’t help.” I’ve suggested they write it on the palm of the hand, on a sticker they put on the mirror, their computer and the dashboard of their car, and key it into their phone notes. “Don’t help.”
Wives and partners of men called sex addicts are wired for helping. It’s part of the reason these guys picked them. They like having help—especially when it’s not paid help. Helping keeps wives and partners busy, so they don’t see too much or think too much about their situations. It’s a good avoidance strategy. But mostly it keeps them hooked and invested. As long as wives and partners are still helping, they are still imagining that their man called a sex addict is invested in the same goals and aligned with the same core values that they are. But these men have different goals and different core values.
I have hundreds of stories about wonderful, caring, intelligent, skilled, and passionate women t-boned by trauma from discovery of their husband or boyfriend’s secret life and barely putting a full sentence together for their own lives. Still, they present a long list of tasks they have laid out for themselves—all for his benefit and/or his recovery. Women are using their last light of coherence and their last current of strength in their bodies to help him, not to help themselves. And those women are getting sick, losing the will to live, and adopting his morally bankrupt core values in order to stay alive.
Initiating and protecting a secret life requires skill and determination. Betrayal and deception are not things that “just happen”. There’s careful planning, quick-thinking responses, and strategies involved. It’s a significant choreography of time, finances, work, people, and free time into a dance that must be believable as “all in a day’s work.” Husbands and boyfriends aren’t unable to do the things on the lists their wives and partners made. They simply prefer to allocate their energy to organizing secret sexual and sexualized activities, and let you do these pesky other things. And they still prefer you do that work even when the secret life isn’t a secret anymore. After all, they have a whole new vocabulary and phraseology of recovery to learn from their therapists and 12-step group to convince folks something is actually happening, and to manage you effectively in as demeaning way as possible.
The more you invest in his recovery instead of him investing in it, the more you perpetuate the unknown (to you) pattern of your relationship that gave him the resources to initiate, nurture and protect his secret life. What he needs to be doing is diverting those same resources from his betrayal life, so he can put them to use investing in his recovery for himself, and let you use your resources to recover from the trauma he has brought to your life.
Oh, I know. You are just making one phone call for him about this therapist that might have a spot for him. Or, you are just going make dinner every night even though you work full-time too, just to take some pressure of him. Or, you are just going to pay off this one penis activities-related debt with your inheritance money, so that you two can have a fresh start. Or, you are working on his resume for him since he lost his job because of his secret life that isn’t so secret anymore. He loves it. Just don’t expect to get any credit for it. You haven’t broken the pattern he counts on—you continue to require almost nothing from him, while investing in him with your resources as if he’s the victim, not you. He has you well-groomed. You just don’t realize how well-groomed.
Yes, that’s what I mean. He’s not the victim in this relationship. You are. You are his victim of his heinous con that required lots of his resources to be successful for as long as it was. He has spent your hard-earned money on his penis activities. You have been so careful with the money and worked hard to keep debt down. He has lied about big things and little things. You tried to talk through the questions and conflicts. He was gaslighting, blameshifting, then shamed and criticized you in the course of that con. You gave him the benefit of the doubt. He emotionally and sexually abandoned you. You treated it like a “bad patch” and made no demands. He has humiliated you and demonstrated contempt for you. You forgave him. But he never stopped. These patterns of behaviour are not going to be broken by you helping him even more.
If his carefully crafted and protected secret life is really over, then he now has a lot of extra resources to spend on his recovery and making his betrayal up to you. He doesn’t need your resources. But he’s certainly used to you pouring them into the black hole of his lie, so he’s not going to tell you to help yourself first.
But I’m going to. Help yourself first.
When I was in the early days after discovery and read resources from the prevailing treatment model about all the things I was supposed to do to “help”, it just never passed the stink test for me. First and foremost was that it was not mutual. He was supposed to go to meetings and see a therapist. Meanwhile I was supposed to be creating boundaries (that were already known and articulated in our marriage vows) and become the hall monitor in this pretend adult relationship, have weekly conversations with him about his circles of temptation (because hearing about his penis life apparently wasn’t going to trigger my PTS at all), put up the money for whatever was required, be grateful to be labelled, insulted and pathologized by people who had never met me, keep my husband’s secret for him, blame myself, go to meetings and self-identify as something that I was not then and never had been, pick up the extra household and family jobs while he went to all his meetings and appointments, accept the new abuse learned at group and in his therapist appointments where I was told to “stay on my side of the street” and “own up to my part in ‘this’”—but also do this and this and this and this, etc. And none of it was for helping me manage my PTSD or heal. And none of it’s for yours, either.
Help yourself first.
At some point in there I realized that my own good instinct to help others was how he and the treatment industry were hooking me into investing even more of my life into an agenda that did not love me, honor me, or cherish me. None of this busy-ness was going to generate any fidelity to the promises we had made to each other. It was going to provide more structure for him to not do those things. There was going to be even less positive mutuality in this relationship if I participated in this recovery farce. I don’t want someone as my life partner whose core values contradict mine. Do you? I don’t want someone who lied about who they were in order to get me to marry them. Do you? I don’t want someone who can’t love, honor and cherish me, and be faithful to me alone. Do you?
Help yourself first.
I know how the default priority list goes. Your husband or boyfriend is at the top. Your marriage or relationship is second. The treatment model is third. The therapist’s control is next. And so, it goes. You and your children are way down the list. Stop participating in the patterns of your relationship that washed you up on this gravel beach. Stop participating in the patterns of the treatment industry that want to keep you there. Make your life a top priority. It actually is worth as much as his, and in terms of society’s wellbeing, you are actually worth more right now.
Help yourself first.
If you had done any of the things he has done to you, you would be spending the rest of your life helping him to heal and proving you could be trusted again. You wouldn’t be expecting him to do the research, make the calls to therapist and treatment centers, read all the books and give them to you, pick up the dry-cleaning, take the kids to sports, cook all the meals, keep the house clean, accept therapeutic abuse from your treatment model, pay off your debts incurred in your secret life with his inheritance, and service you sexually according to your recovery agenda. So, if you are doing any of that for him, stop it. Divert your resources into finding safety and healing for yourself. If his core values truly are aligned with yours, then you will end up together where you need to be in recovery.
He’s a big boy. Tell him to put his big boy panties on and do it himself. That’s not being punitive. That’s called adulting. You didn’t create this mess. Stop cleaning it up for him so he doesn’t have to face it. As one wise woman named Bev used to say, “if they can google hooker, they can google help.” Don’t do his work. Do yours.
If you are afraid to stop helping him, and don’t know how to help yourself, your story is safe here. Use a trial session and contact me: email@example.com
p.s. Please subscribe. You can do that on the main blog page and I think this is a shortcut: https://www.yourstoryissafehere.com/blog-updates-signup