Most crises encourage support.
Take accidents — whether it’s auto, train or airplane — there’s a rush of concern and plenty of understanding for various kinds of absences. Or in the case of a medical emergency, communities and churches rally around the family with an outpouring of offers to help.
Awkwardness of Diseases of Addiction
But when the crisis is the result of an addiction, it’s often met with an uncomfortable silence or the conversation is redirected into safer topics, after a moment of awkwardness.
“It’s a family disease,” we think. Or we assume they must have contributed to the situation somehow, maybe at the very least as codependents.
Wall of Silence Surrounding Sex Addiction
The absence of support is even worse when it’s due to sexual addiction.
It doesn’t help that there’s still a widely held belief that the condition doesn’t exist. It’s a made-up syndrome created by a few uptight mental health clinicians who just want to spoil the fun of others.
Or it can be really that bad? After all, men will be men. Maybe the partners are prudish individuals. You know, the kind who don’t enjoy sex. Maybe if she behaved differently in the bedroom, he wouldn’t have to look outside the home.
But if the crisis is due to an occurrence outside the norm, such as related to prostitution, sex clubs, or some type of illegality, then the accompanying shame bleeds to such an extent that everyone close to that individual is tainted — including family members. Partners become guilty by association.
His Shame is not my Shame
I found out two months into my marriage my husband had been cheating. On the last morning of our honeymoon I awoke at 4:00 am to find I had received a Facebook message from a stranger. And with that note my world began to spin and until it finally crashed two years later.
For a long time, I couldn’t speak of it. Like a marionette I went through my day with a smile plastered on my face. To the watching world I looked fine.
On the inside, however, it was a different story. I had been stunned into wordlessness. I couldn’t begin to describe the agony I was in. The world as I had known it had collided into the world as it really was, destroying all my familiar landmarks. I was in unfamiliar territory and my husband had become a stranger.
I thought the pain of betrayal, rage, and grief would obliterate me. For a long time, I felt stretched so thin that it was as if I’d become a paper doll. And, any strong gust of wind threatened to blow me away. I was only able to breath as I went through the motions of life on autopilot.
The level of trauma had shut me down. Completely.
The rare occurrences I found the strength to talk about what had happened were met with stony stares. “You’re better off without him!” they’d said. Or, “He doesn’t deserve someone as good as you!” And with those few unhelpful words, the conversation ended as if the subject was closed.
If I dared to bring up my latest challenges staying married to a sex addict or my husband’s latest escapade, I would be asked, “Why are you still with him?” instead of receiving words of comfort.
Time for a Different Response
What makes it so hard to be supportive of partners and family members of sex addicts? Why does their disease become a reflection of our failure? When did making a careful decision to stay with someone who’s fighting an illness become a badge of disgrace rather than one of honor?
I don’t have any clear answers to these questions.
However, the crisis continues. Sexual addiction is on the rise and reaching epidemic proportions. Although this growing concern has gone largely unrecognized for a myriad of complicated reasons, one could be the societal pressure on partners and family members to maintain the wall of silence.
Isn’t it time we break this taboo? Isn’t it time to reclaim our right as partners of sex addicts to speak the truth?
The shame resulting from the addict’s choices is not my shame. My commitment to my marriage remained unwavering up to the very end. My only error was to have loved a broken human being.
We, as a society, need to quit blaming the victim. We need to stop being so prudish about sex, especially in regard to things we don’t understand, that we marginalize our most vulnerable members. It’s time for another disenfranchised group of people to step out of the proverbial closet.
This post was previously published on From Shadow to Light and is republished here with permission from the author.
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