How Sex Addiction Affected My Marriage... And How I Healed

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How Sex Addiction Affected My Marriage... And How I Healed

By Jasmine Banks 05/23/18

Did you know that living through the trauma of repeated infidelity poses risks to your emotional and physical health, and being gaslit by someone with sex addiction can result in a PTSD-like trauma?

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Young couple arguing, sitting on edge of bed.
I began to believe I was the problem: I was too demanding, too damaged, and too just not what he needed.

I met him when I was 18. I fell in love with him when I was 18. I was the Spring Break camp director for my local Cherokee girl’s camp and his church youth group was in the area for a volunteer trip. We became fast friends and high school sweethearts. We exchanged emails and phone calls and made plans to visit each other despite living in different states. Later in life there were dynamics that made all of our attraction and connection make sense, but the initial layers of our relationship really were best described as two young people liking each other very much.

As our connection grew we realized the next step was obvious: we needed to deepen our commitment to one another. For two kids highly influenced by midwestern and southern Christianity, that meant marriage. We married two years later and started fumbling our way through what it meant to be husband and wife, to be so young, and to be so inexperienced in relationships. At first I thought all of the disconnection, the emotional abuse, the shady and confusing behavior was just a feature of us still figuring out who we were in the world. As it turns out, most of my ex-husband’s behavior was a result of a severe and unacknowledged sexual compulsion disorder. I learned less than two years into my marriage I had unknowingly married a sex addict.

Sex addiction is not unlike alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling addiction, or food addiction. It is a compulsive drive to act out in an addictive cycle. It involves trauma and shame and is far more stigmatized than other addictions because of the ways in which our society struggles to navigate sexuality without shame or pathology. Sex addiction is best described as a progressive intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts. Like all addictions, its negative impact on the addict and on family members increases as the disorder progresses.

Over time, one usually has to intensify the addictive behavior to achieve the same results and my husband was no exception. I remember him arriving home with a sullen face and I could tell something was wrong with him, but he wasn’t a really emotive person. He was very binary with his emotional engagement: either hyperactive and downright giddy or disconnected and uninterested. On this particular day he looked like he was in deep psychological pain. He came in and sat down across from me while I breastfed our child.

“I got fired from work today and I want to drive my truck into the lake.”

What followed was a story about how he was reported at work for watching porn in his open cubicle and ejaculating on the floor. I later found out he took frequent breaks at work (every couple of hours) to masturbate in the restroom, and two women indicated he’d sexually assaulted them by grabbing their breasts and trying to kiss them without their permission.

The next five years were filled with tapered disclosures, inpatient and outpatient rehab, and thousands of dollars spent on therapy. I got myself into counseling. I learned everything there was to know about people with sex addiction. I tried to steady myself at every turn, every new admission of relapse, and then finally his assertion that he probably didn’t have an addiction after all… it was just his religion. His newfound atheism didn’t offer respite from the cycles either. Despite being monogamous, I found myself getting tested frequently for sexually transmitted diseases and infections-- his lack of transparency resulted in diminished trust around my physical health.

He’d inflicted deep wounds to my dignity and humanity as a result of the constant facade he’d built for me to live inside. I often was unable to determine if the struggles I experienced in other interpersonal relationships were growth areas that needed attention or fatal flaws. My sex addict had taught me that his choices and behavior were a result of me being too demanding, too damaged, and too just not what he needed. There was a duplicity to his behavior that stayed with me even after I distanced myself from him. It took some time to find a space of grace and forgiveness for myself for the ways in which I’d compromised my own ethics and morals in order to try and satiate his appetite.

Often, people with sex addiction aren’t very good about providing emotional and intimacy investment in their partners. They try and normalize their lack of physical and emotional availability in order to avoid the blatant reality that their addiction is driven by a chronic inability to cultivate authentic attachment to others. Did you know that living through the trauma of repeated infidelity poses risks to your emotional and physical health, and being gaslit by someone with sex addiction can result in a PTSD-like trauma? I didn’t either until my psychologist asked me how I was dealing with the reverberations of trauma. I retorted, “what trauma… that was his problem…” but just as those words escaped my mouth I began to realize the ways in which I’d been impacted by my ex-husband’s addiction. It took nearly five years of personal therapeutic work for me to learn new scripts of intimacy in partnership, scripts that were centered on mutual love, unconditional positive regard, and authentic community: everything I realized I was lacking in my marriage.

Sex addiction is like any other addiction and those who love people with this disorder often find themselves traversing the same kind of codependent cycles as other spouses/partners of people with addiction. The condition is progressive and recovery requires a deep commitment to transparency, authenticity, and new daily choices. I wasn’t able to stay married to my ex-husband. Despite my desperate need to love him through addiction, his behavior escalated into sexual assaulting women in his workplace and making our children unsafe. Unless the escalating behavior is addressed, anyone driven by an overwhelming need to act out sexual compulsions will have very little use for consent or boundaries eventually; life ultimately becomes about finding the fix for the addictive drive-- and that is exactly what happened to him.

It is still happening to him, really, and it precludes him from having flourishing relationships with his children, me, and his other family members. What I learned, and what I hope you know if you are partnered with someone with sex addiction is this: You can only control your life. As with any kind of change, no amount of hoping, begging, or emotional coercion will transform their behavior. Sometimes the deepest act of compassion is letting them go and holding them to strong boundaries and consequences, even if you’ve loved them since you were 18 years old.

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Jasmine Banks is a queer Black feminist. She is a licensed therapist, digital organizer, and strong believer in the power of restorative and transformative justice. Jasmine is a recovering codependent, survivor of narcissist spousal abuse, and a maternal mental health advocate. You can read more of her work at JustJasmineBlog.com.

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