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.

As for Michele, she said she knew her husband was a sex addict before she married him.

"But I did not understand addiction," she said. "I was young and overlooked that. In fact, sometimes, I even participated. I would watch porn with him sometimes and actually helped him purchase some items for cross-dressing."

Growing up in a large family with a mother who was ill most of the time, Michele said, "To this day, I struggle with feeling I did not get enough love."

Michele's husband was a "lost child" in the family dynamic who helped care for his siblings and didn't get of his mother's attention.

She later learned in therapy that in marital couples, "healthy attract healthy, and unhealthy attracts unhealthy."

"My self esteem was kaput," she said. "I also got a lot out of the relationship, because we were like ships passing in the night. I was free to be totally unaccountable. I could spend money as much as I wanted and go to parties. I was able to do anything I wanted. It's the bribe."

She finally realized something was wrong when their daughter, then in middle school and looking for printer paper in the family office, found her father's stack of porn magazines.

"That was the breaking point," said Michele. "I confronted him and his response was to get mad at her -- that she shouldn't be looking through the desk."

After other pornography incidents, Michele demanded a separation, but her husband continued to blame her. Eventually, he agreed to try therapy, where he was required he talk to a support counselor, abstain from pornography and take a polygraph test.

"Ultimately, he did all three and he has not had any porn ever since," said Michele. She knows, because he agreed to sign up for Covenant Eyes, a computer program that tracked her husband's every move online.

"He's come a long way to being much more able to be emotionally intimate to understand and care about my needs," she said."Things are better than they have ever been."

He also continues to participate in a support group, and Michele now serves as a group facilitator after completing the 12-step program.

"Many women who come to group need to know that with both partners in recovery the chances for their marriage healing is great," she said. "I love telling the women that come to our group that there is hope. Some can actually make it through this. I did."

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