In this post, we interview Sanja, the wife of a recovering sex addict.
Counsellor: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sanja: I’m Sanja, and I have been married to a physician, Charles, for 13 years. My husband is a recovering sex addict. We have triplet daughters, who were conceived through IVF.
Counsellor: How did you discover your husband had a sex addiction?
Sanja: He actually told me he had been using different online sites when the Ashley Maddison scandal first broke. He was afraid I would find out from someone else, or his name would become public.
Counsellor: Was that the full picture – using Ashley Maddison?
Sanja: Unfortunately – no. It wasn’t. At first it sounded like he was only interested in porn, and had only chatted to 3 or 4 women. But I learned, over time, that it was a lot more going on than that. There were years and years of using webcams and chatrooms. Also, he kept the online relationships alive with some of these women for several years.
Also, I only built up a total picture over the course of about 10 months. Can you believe it!! That whole experience was really hard because, ironically, I felt awkward asking him any kind of probing question and, initially, he didn’t volunteer much information. I felt like I was accusing him of things he would never do (but of course had done), and I didn’t want to believe it was true either.
I had never thought my husband would betray me, so it was like meeting a completely new person. A person I never knew. It was all so shocking and distasteful to me.
Counsellor: How did you react?
Sanja: My whole world was blow apart. I was a total mess. I cried all the time. I had anxiety and panic attacks at night. Honestly, I could hardly function. I took care of my kids – and that was about all. I couldn’t do my part-time job anymore. I couldn’t volunteer, or even hang out with family and friends. I just didn’t have the energy and mental head space for it. I was too much of a basket case.
Also, I felt like I could no longer distinguish between truth and lies. I felt like I couldn’t believe a word that came out of my husband’s mouth.
I felt like I was rewriting my whole past. Our whole past.
I didn’t know if I wanted to stay with him. I didn’t know if it was wise to stay with him. I didn’t know if I could ever trust him again. I didn’t know if he would change, and be faithful for a while, and then change back to this person he’d become. Honestly, how can you know something like that?
Counsellor: In retrospect, were there any signs which might have alerted you to what was going on?
Sanja: No. I can honestly say there were none at all. He’s a doctor. He’s an attentive and doting father. He’s a soccer coach. He’s very active in the local community. There was nothing to indicate he was anything other than the person he appeared to be. In fact, he was using an email account for his addiction that I didn’t even know he had. It was a secret account. You know, addicts are extremely skilled at covering their tracks, and being secretive.
Also, what kind of life do you have if you’re always checking up on your spouse, and wondering if they’re really telling you the truth!
Counsellor: You decided to stay with him. What led you to make that decision?
Sanja: Once things were out in the open, he was completely remorseful, and wanted to get help. And he did get help. He was also completely devastated when he observed the impact all of this had had on me. To be fair to him, he always tried to be there for me when I was experiencing the effects of betrayal trauma (even although I hated him, and raged against him at times.)
One thing that was very important was: he honestly tried to uncover the roots of the addiction. Also, he answered every question I had. He saw a counsellor and had an accountability mentor.
In addition, I took over all the computers and set the passwords on his phone, ipad and laptop. He let me check up on him any time I wanted to – which I needed to do for at least two years. He was totally Ok with that.
I didn’t decide whether to stay or go for a year. I didn’t want to have to make any decisions until I was in a better place mentally and emotionally. And he accepted that without ever pressurizing me.
Counsellor: D-day (discovery day) for you was about five years ago. How are you coping with all of this today?
Sanja: I’m in a different place, and my husband is a different person. I believe he no longer lives in a fantasy world, and our relationship feels genuine and honest to me (but how can you ever know for sure!)
As far as my own recovery goes, I have accepted that I’ve been living with betrayal trauma, and I’ve allowed myself to work through the shock and grief as it comes up, in its own way, and in its own time. Will I ever be fully healed? I really don’t know. I’m not even sure it’s possible. I think there will always be some triggers and a degree of sadness, even although it’s muted sadness now.
But a lot of healing has taken place and I’m at a comfortable place in my life. Perhaps better than I ever thought was possible when I first learned about the addiction.