Wives of Sex Addicts Seek Support After Suffering in Silence

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Michele, a 57-year-old marketing professional from Colorado, suffered for years in silence and humiliation as her husband's sex addiction extended to pornography, cross-dressing and emotional affairs with other women.

Though it seems counterintuitive, her husband of 36 years was an intimacy anorexic, withholding from her both physical sex and emotional affection.

"We were like roommates," said Michele who did not want to use her real name. "Sex was very mechanical, unemotional and infrequent. We lived totally separate lives in the same house."

"Until I knew better, I thought it was me -- I wasn't pretty enough or my boobs were not big enough or I was too fat or too skinny," she said. "My self-esteem was gone and I thought I was responsible."

Wives of sex addicts are a lonely and neglected group, according to Doug Weiss, a psychologist and executive director of the Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

In his latest book, the second edition of "Partners: Healing from His Addiction," Weiss studied more than 100 partners who, like Michele, struggle with their self-esteem and sexuality.

He found that 82 percent experienced depression, 62 percent dealt with an eating disorder and 39 percent were, as a result of their husband's intimacy anorexia, also withholding of love and affection.

"Many of these women have had partners who have been cheating for 15 to 20 years," said Weiss, whose clinic provides intensive therapy, 12-step support groups and counseling both face-to-face and by telephone.

Up to 80 percent of the men who are sex addicts have been abused as children.

"They go into the world broken and their marriages are broken," said Weiss. More than a third "can't do intimacy." They control with silence and shame to intentionally isolate themselves.

But their wives also have emotional issues that need to be addressed, according to Weiss. "There are three recoveries: his, hers and the marriage," he said.

Kerry, now a 36-year-old mother of four from Nebraska, discovered seven years ago that her husband had been carrying on flirtatious affairs with other women.

"I think he had tried to tell me, but I was never getting it," said Kerry, who did not want to disclose her last name. Her husband, who worked as a counselor, was spending more time away from the home.

"He exhibited all the criteria of addicts -- to withhold love, praise and appreciation from a partner, to control with silence and anger and ongoing and ungrounded criticism," she said. "He withheld sex and feelings and was so busy there was no relational time."

But one night, after having a dream and being aroused about a woman he fantasized about, her husband confessed.

"The dream scared him and he didn't want to lose me," said Kerry. "But it opened up a can of worms telling me how much time he had spent with this woman."

Both did the 12-step program with Weiss, who jump starts the process requiring the sex addict to take a lie detector test and reveal everything to his wife.

In therapy, Kerry's husband revealed a dysfunctional relationship with his mother, playing a surrogate husband as a child after his parents divorced.

"I found as much in my past as he did in his," said Kerry, who had been date raped as a college student. "I had things to work on, too."

Now, things are "oh so much better," said Kerry, whose husband is now working at Heart to Heart as part of the counseling team. "Our relationship is more open with more communication and intimacy. It's improved emotionally and physically."

Weiss said that when men agree to the polygraph and "stay clean," most wives tend to stay in the marriage. But when partners refuse treatment, the wives are more apt to leave them.

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