When a woman is first faced with the realization her husband is a sex-addict, many things run through her mind. One of the largest stopping points in the mind-maze is control. All the sudden, life as she knew it is gone — spiraling beyond her control. In that moment, what she thought was her life has become a lie, and the natural desire is, “Make it stop.” It's hard for a woman to separate her happiness from her husband's addiction recovery.
The problem is you can’t control your spouse’s addiction. You can’t make him stop.
It's not your fault
A common misconception of sex-addiction is that it happened because of you, the spouse-victim. You might be tempted to think if you somehow played a contributing role to the behavior, you can make it stop. But, you didn’t cause his addiction. Most likely, the addiction was formed long before you met, and his addictive habits were ingrained long before he ever thought of you.
If the addiction did start after marriage, there are likely many contributing factors completely unrelated to you. He may make you a scapegoat, but his acting out in addiction is not your fault. There are other things going on that he is probably not talking about. The bottom line is this: His acting out in your marriage is not because you are not pretty enough. It’s not because you aren’t sexy or available enough. It’s not because of anything you have done. It’s because of a choice he made and that choice has nothing to do with you.
You can't control it
In an effort to make it stop, wives of sex-addicts may try to exert control over their sex-addicted spouse. That control is manifested in many ways: constantly checking Internet history, tracking his cell phone to see where he is, deciding what movies or TV shows he can or cannot watch and more. You may become bitter and angry, or impatient and severe, with the hope that your actions might threaten and make him stop out of fear. You may try to become sexier and change your looks or habits to become more desirable and the sole object of his affections. You may do this because life is spinning out of control, and all you want is for it to just stop.
This addiction is his. You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. You can’t do anything about his choices — they are his. You can’t force him to only watch TV shows or movies that you approve of and expect that to fix him. You can’t force him to only view websites you approve of (he will find ways around the blocks and passwords). And you certainly can’t force him into recovery.
Any step your addicted spouse takes into sobriety and recovery will only be effective if it came from him. He may fake recovery, or he may make good choices to please you, but it won’t be a lasting or complete recovery unless it is a decision that came from his heart. If it is forced, he will likely fall into more lies and deception. A forced recovery will only lead to more heartache down the road.
One of the most important things you can do is love yourself. It’s only natural to go through a period of negative self-talk and depression when your spouse is cheating on you in his mind. Know that you are important and worthy of love. If you don’t know that, discover it. Whatever you do, do not lose yourself because of the addiction. Make a self-soothing box so you can grab it and go in times of need. If you paint, paint. If you like to read, read. If you pray, pray. Do what you need to do to heal.
Part of loving yourself is setting boundaries. Boundaries will help keep you emotionally and, if necessary, physically safe. That means you decide what you can or can’t live with and set measurable consequences for the spouse’s actions. An example of a boundary would be, “If you pressure me to have sex, you will sleep in the guest bedroom for one week.”
This can seem confusing because when setting boundaries, you exert control. However, there is a fine line between setting boundaries and trying to control the addiction. The difference is the motivation behind the action. Boundaries are intended not for controlling, but for safety purposes.
The spouse of an addict has the right to set any boundary she feels is necessary to her well-being. With the motivation being security for herself and her children, she can compassionately enforce her boundaries. It’s likely that the addict will feel controlled, but boundaries are for a purpose. As they are set, remember boundaries will not forcibly stop the addiction. Only he has the power to overcome the addiction on his own.
Share your burden
Another thing you can do to take care of yourself is turn this situation over to a higher power. In 12-step recovery programs, the first few steps are generally something along the lines of admitting powerlessness over the situation, believing a higher power can restore you to complete wellness, and then turning your will over to that higher power. When you take the power out of your hands, it relieves a lot of stress and pressure. You really cannot control his actions, so when you realize that and act on it, you can develop more hope for your own healing and resiliency.
Admitting that you can’t control his addiction is scary and hard, but admitting it and letting go will be one of the bravest things you could do as a spouse of a sex-addict. When you take care of yourself and your healing, when you set boundaries and when you act in faith and hope for a better future, you will find healing.
Ben lives with his wife, Kilee, and dog, Paisley, in Arkansas. He has a passion for personal finance, sports, and learning. Ben recently started a blog at www.wealthgospel.com where you can find more of his opinions on personal finance. His life goals are to write about personal finance all day and start a non-profit organization to help others become self-reliant and to find their true potential. On any given day, you could find him eating homemade salsa, picking blackberries, or staying up until 3 a.m. to finish a book.