M.P.J. in Upstate New York

I trust

My husband, Mark, is a sex addict. Four years ago, before he came clean about his sex addiction and started his recovery, I would have told you that he never lied. I lied, but he didn't. I'd call in sick to work when I wasn't really sick (I called those "mental health days"). I'd say the baby was ill when I didn't want to go out to some event. I'd say the gifts under the tree were from Santa. I'd say "I'll be right home" and stop on the way. I'd say "you look lovely" and "your baby is adorable" when I didn't mean it. Mark didn't. He hated lying; he hated when I lied. He would honor his commitments and not lie to get out of them. We didn't do Santa because he didn't want to deceive the kids. He always called before he came home and was always home when he said he would be, to the minute. If he didn't have something nice to say, he didn't say anything at all. So, when I found a receipt for drinks for two in his pocket one day while doing the laundry, I thought it was odd that he hadn't mentioned being out with anyone, but I knew he would tell me the truth when I asked about it. I trusted him, absolutely. "That's a mistake," he said, "I wasn't there with anyone. I ordered two drinks myself." Well, that seemed odd. But who am I going to believe, the man who won't ever lie or the fingers of a busy waiter, who could have miskeyed the order? Still, the doubt stayed there, irritating me, like (to quote The Matrix ) a splinter in my mind.

There were more of these little moments, these little discrepancies, and they accumulated until I had to bring the pile of them and lay them at his feet. Something wasn't right, and the way that I looked at the world wouldn't let me understand what that was. It seems easy now: change the assumption that he must be telling the truth, assume instead that he is lying, and everything falls into place. But I couldn't conceive of that; I would just as soon have believed that the Earth was flat and I was about to fall off the edge.

When I brought my pile of tiny doubts to Mark one night, something finally broke, and he came clean, to me and to himself, about all the years of lying and cheating, about all the other women, about all of the affairs and pornography and crazy perversity that gave him the highs he craved. The only thing that kept me from walking out the door that night was the thought of my son, who loved his Daddy so much, sleeping in the next room.

I knew that addicts often slipped; I knew that rarely, if ever, did they admit to a problem and then stay sober from that moment on, for the rest of their lives. But I was so wounded, so reeling and blinded by pain, that a mental defense mechanism kicked in; the only thing that kept me functioning was believing that Mark would be different, believing that he was somehow stronger and smarter than other people. I had to believe that now that he knew what was wrong and had a way to treat it, he would be healed and all the lies and the fear would end. I couldn't trust him anymore, but I had to trust that he would get better.

We worked and went to 12-step meetings and therapy, got scared and angry and hurt, and talked and shared and listened for years. And I began to understand and accept what I couldn't at first: my husband is a sex addict, and for the rest of our lives, we'll live with the real potential for slipping back into fantasy and lies.

About a year ago, things were tense, Mark was losing his job, and he slipped and acted out. Yet when he told me, I found in myself not anger but acceptance and a new kind of trust. I don't -- never can again -- trust him not to cheat or lie or do things that are going to hurt me, himself, us. But I do trust that when he does those things, they are not what he wants to do or who he wants to be. I trust that he is using these experiences to learn and grow stronger. I trust that he is trying to be honest with himself and with me. I trust that he will share with me when he feels ready. All of those things I can trust, and upon that trust, rebuild my marriage.


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