Most of us like to believe that we know our spouses well enough to tell when something is amiss, and most of us usually do. Sometimes, when we first discover that our spouses suffer from a sexual addiction and have been engaging in unfaithful and/or inappropriate sexual activities, we are genuinely surprised; often, however, many of us remember subtle cues or warning signs that we noticed along the way, many of which we probably dismissed at the time. That can be a terrible, sickening, painful feeling.
The best way to protect yourself from having to feel that way in the future is to learn not only to avoid dismissing those cues and warning signs, but to actively watch for them. Make note of the things you noticed that suddenly made very painful sense when you learned of your partner’s infidelity. Remember how you reacted to them, and remember how your partner reacted if you mentioned them. Those observations and those reactions should be warning signs to you in the future.
Don’t Let Him/Her Dodge the Question
Your partner may respond to your suspicions dismissively, accuse you of paranoia, or otherwise not react in the way that you feel a need for him or her to react to your concerns.
Sometimes this dismissal can seem reassuring and believable; your partner may give you a comforting smile or hug and tell you that of course everything is fine, and he or she hasn’t had any unhealthy feelings or urges lately; if things are going better in the relationship, your spouse may cite this as evidence that all really is well.
Your partner may be telling the absolute truth when he or she assures you that nothing is wrong; if this is the case, he or she will respond with patience and concern, and offer the transparency you need to see proof that all is well- computer histories, text and call logs, email, Facebook accounts, and other items. A glib assurance that you don’t need to see those things, or an implication that asking for them is proof of mistrust, should be a red flag. Do not ignore it.
Other times the rebuttal can seem angry, accusatory, and hurtful, and you may walk away feeling that the fight was your fault for not trusting your partner or not letting things go; you may question your own rationality and mental health if your spouses accuses you of being paranoid or obsessive. If you think you may be behaving irrationally or developing unhealthy habits or obsessions, talk to your counselor, therapist, clergy member, or other trusted third party. Do not take your addicted partner’s word for it, but do not dismiss all concerns, either.
When presented with your concerns or suspicions about a possible relapse, if your spouse lies about his or her behavior, or responds with anger and accusations, it is important for you to be aware that these reactions usually occur for a couple of reasons.
- Your partner is an addict. Regardless of the specific nature of the addiction, addicts in general tend to try to protect their “fix” and protect themselves from the anger of those around them. This means that when confronted, even constructively, the addict may lie about the behavior to avoid getting caught, or he or she may try to deflect attention to his or her partner by shifting blame (“You drove me to it!”), making counter-accusations (“You were snooping!” or “You don’t trust me!”), or bringing up other faults (“You’re such a terrible housekeeper!” or “You’ve gained weight!”).
- Your partner is genuinely hurt and frustrated. Recovery from any addiction is a challenging and emotionally difficult process. Both of you probably wish your relationship could be repaired more quickly and more easily, and at times both you will be frustrated with how slow the process of reconciliation and rebuilding is. Just as you have a right to express your frustration at the slowness of your spouse’s recovery progress and your hurt over his or her actions, your partner has a right to be frustrated with how difficult and stressful your shared situation is and to feel pain at the state of things. Sometimes this is easiest for people to express as anger.
Ignorance is Not Bliss
There may be moments during the recovery process when you think that you don’t want to know. If everything seems to be going well- your partner is attentive, affectionate, and upbeat; your relationship is beginning to get back on track; and you are having fun together and regaining intimacy- your impulse may be to preserve that. You may remember how painful the discovery of your partner’s infidelity was, and you may want to avoid that even if it means overlooking some things. This may give you a little peace in the short run, but in the long run it is a mistake. It is important to be aware of your partner’s activities, including potential relapses, for two reasons:
- This addiction is unhealthy for your partner too. You cannot take responsibility for his or her actions, but you can help provide a source of loving, compassionate accountability. In order to help your spouse hold him- or herself accountable, you have to be aware. By not providing that accountability, you will allow your partner to continue harming him- or herself; you will also reinforce the idea that it is possible to “get away with” these destructive behaviors.
- You have a need and a right to protect yourself. Your partner’s addictive behavior can put you at risk in many ways. On a purely practical level, sexual addictions can lead to marriage-ending affairs; certain activities on the part of your spouse can put you at risk for a sexually transmitted disease, you should regularly get a herpes 2 blood test; and pornography can run up huge credit card debts and may leave you open to legal difficulties depending on its specific nature. Emotionally, you will be even more devastated in the long run to learn of your partner’s continuing infidelity while you restored intimacy and made yourself vulnerable. Be alert, be aware, and be informed.
Trust Your Instincts
If you think something is amiss in your spouse’s behavior, you are probably correct at least on some level. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Listen to that feeling.
It is important to broach the subject with your partner in a calm and constructive way. It is still fairly likely- especially early on in the recovery process- that you will not get the reaction you are hoping for, but you will have set the stage for progress, held your spouse accountable for his or her actions, and protected yourself from the emotional distress that comes from letting things slide until they can no longer be ignored. If you have trouble getting through to your partner, seek help from a counselor or other trusted mediator.