I am a fixer. When I see a problem I want to correct it. If there is something to do, I attack it. I am also an overachiever and a perfectionist. I want to be the best. I won’t accept less than what I know I am capable of. I strive to stand out from the pack. While these things have led to accomplishments and good outcomes in my life (full college scholarship, 4.0 GPA while maintaining a full-time job, owning a home at 19), they are not healthy traits overall. They can lead to missed opportunities (because if I can’t guarantee success I will most likely not try at all). They can lead to controlling behavior (if you want something done right, just do it yourself). They can lead to frustration, stress, low self-esteem, and a host of other things.
My husband’s sex addiction is the biggest personal test of those traits that I have ever experienced because I can’t fix it. Not being able to control that aspect of our life makes me feel helpless, useless, and deficient in some uncorrectable way. I have to address my “fixer” urge and perfectionism head-on almost every day. Nothing I can do will change or correct my husband’s sex addiction – now, in the future, or in the past. It is his journey.
I am slowly accepting the fact that there are aspects of our marriage recovery that are not in my hands. It is terrifying because the outcome doesn’t solely rely on me. I have to put away the notion that we can have a “perfect” marriage. I also have to challenge the idea that perfection is possible in any other aspect of my life. That is my ongoing battle. It is one of the major contributions I can make to our marriage. Accepting that means I am also accepting that my husband’s sex addiction and his hurtful actions existed outside of me. He isn’t perfect, either. What he did wasn’t about me, I can’t control it, I couldn’t have loved him out of it, and his behavior wasn’t my fault.
That resolve is put to the test every day, though. I often hear people parroting that an affair is just a “symptom” and the real “cause” is a bad marriage. They point the finger back at the betrayed spouse and say that there is something more or better that we should have been doing. They say that we failed in the marriage first by not fulfilling every need our partner had. These people are fond of saying that affairs are wrong, but that they wouldn’t have made the wrong choice if this or that thing was better to begin with. It plays right into my “fixer” complex.
I’m not going to go into the merits of that argument as they apply to standard affairs without a sexual addiction component. I really can’t address that because that’s not what I am dealing with. I do understand that there are always things ANYONE in a marriage can do more of or better. No one is perfect, and that includes me. That admission is a hard one for me to make. As much as I would like to do everything right all of the time, I don’t. Even if I did and had been all along, though, the issues that I am dealing with in my marriage would still be there. Because my husband’s “cause” is deeper than our marriage.
There are other “causes” of affairs than just “my marriage sucked” or any variation thereof (I wasn’t getting enough sex, she didn’t love or cherish me enough, etc.). There are some people who are dealing with a pattern of sexual acting out that is a lifetime behavior not caused by the person they are with. Sometimes affair behavior has nothing to do with their primary relationship at all – and confessed sex addicts will be the first to tell you that – at least my husband would.
Does that mean there is something fundamentally wrong with me that I picked him to marry? Quite possibly. That is part of my journey to healing. I need to figure out why I was attracted to someone who was emotionally unavailable. I can say that sex addicts are masters of covering up their emotions, compartmentalizing, rationalizing and denying. But that doesn’t change the fact that I inadvertently accepted that behavior by allowing him to offer me thin explanations, bad lies, and surface emotions. I let him give me less than I deserved, and I tricked myself into thinking I was getting everything I needed.
I know that this will sound awful, but sometimes I wish that I was just dealing with a garden variety affair. I know that they are painful and difficult to get through. But at least there is a clear path, and it is more of a partnership to find your way out. This? I’m not sure what it is. Any books I read call me codependent if I try to help my husband through it. So I have to just sit back and let him do the work. Sure, I have things that I’m working on as well. But none of those things will matter if he doesn’t unravel his “cause” and break his underlying patterns.
I WISH that I could do something to fix this. I WISH that our cause really was as simple as some fundamental thing being missing from our relationship. It just isn’t. His sex addiction was not caused by me. It was there before me. The primary cause of my husband’s cheating had nothing to do with me. It has to do with his addiction.
That means we are working not just to find the proper footing in our marriage. We are also working to find a way to connect and get to the “real” person underneath the sex addict veneer. I want to know my husband. I want him to share with me. He wants to share with me. But his gut instinct, his default programming, is to lie, hide, and cover his true emotions with acting out behavior like porn, sex chatting, sexting, etc. He isn’t acting out sexually anymore, but he is still lying and hiding things that he could and should be sharing with me. He has to figure out why. He has to get to the root of that programming, undo over 40 years of “faulty wiring,” be okay with being vulnerable, and learn to accept the love that I am offering him.
And I have to learn to let go. I have to learn to let him figure things out. I have to learn to keep offering love and support whether he accepts them or not. I have to keep being vulnerable even when he isn’t. I have to lead by example and put into my marriage what I hope to get out of it. That is the only way that I can “fix” anything – by doing the things that are in my power and being aware of the things that aren’t. What an easy concept that is in theory, but how incredibly difficult it is in practice.
Maybe now you understand me better. Maybe you don’t. I don’t know. I just wanted to point out that not every affair has the same cause. Maybe other perfectionists out there will be able to let go of a little bit of their guilt, feelings of responsibility, and shame regarding their husbands’ affairs. There are more spouses of sex addicts out there than you might think. This is written for them. Hopefully you will be able to identify what things you can change and what things you can’t. Maybe you will start to understand the areas where you have responsibility and the areas that are completely on your spouse. Don’t accept more responsibility than is really yours because it will only lead you to try to change things that aren’t in your power.