Try stumbling on their secret life and discovering your whole marriage is a lie
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 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.
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.
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.
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 from 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.”
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 film of himself MBing 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..."
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.
Armed with this information, I confronted my husband and explained how I was going to take care of myself. "I want a separation for at least one year in which you seek help and I seek help. At the end of a year we will see if we still a marriage worth working on."
As if following a written script, Bob defended himself with every excuse my online support group said he would:
After I refused to buy any of his justifications, Bob broke down, dropped his head in his hands, and whispered, "I knew itwas risky. I don't know why I took such a chance."
Soon, everything was rampages, accusations, criticism, and blame again. We couldn't talk, we couldn't work through anything calmly. I again became THE enemy.
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.