Can a cheater really change? (Image Credit: Thinkstock)
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to…Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I am a forty-something-year-old successful woman. I’ve been with my husband for twelve years, married for nine. On paper, our life is great. There’s just one problem. I think he’s a sex addict.
He is an alcoholic, in recovery. He’s been sober for eight years (after a relapse). Our marriage made it through that. But, it took time to trust him again.
I always suspected that he cheated on me when he was drinking/using, but never had proof. I decided to let that go after he got sober again, so that we could move forward and rebuild our relationship.
However, about six months ago, I found out he had been cheating on me, with a much younger woman. For some reason, I picked up his phone when he was in the shower and it was all there, staring back at me— the sexts, the “I miss you”s, photos of gifts he’d given her, talk of when they’d had sex, etc.
I was gutted. He begged me for forgiveness, cut off communication with this woman, and swore to me that he had never done this before. (I estimate that the affair had gone on for 2-4 months, based on the texts).
I took him back, we went to counseling, and for the past six weeks I was finally feeling like our life together was back on track. Again, something told me to look at his phone, and in his Instagram direct messages, there it was again- sexual messages with someone. They’ve clearly been together in real life, at least once.
I confronted him. He cried, begged for forgiveness and told me that he thinks he is a sex addict. Now, he’s pledged to attend 12-step meetings to address that too, and get counseling with a therapist who specializes in sex addiction.
My question is, do you think a marriage can really survive this type of repeated betrayal? How can I ever trust him again? And, as I know from his alcoholism, just because he goes to 12-step meetings and sees a therapist doesn’t mean this is done. He could “relapse” with his sex addiction.
What would you do? I’m scared of losing him and being alone again, but I don’t know if we can ever move past this.
Please give me your honest opinion.
- Duped Again
I don’t envy your situation. Because it’s painful, and not so black and white.
While I empathize with anyone struggling with addiction (and I do believe that sexual addiction is a real addiction), you need to make YOURSELF a priority.
This is serious self-care time.
First, he needs help. He needs to access that help of his own volition. If he hasn’t already done so, point him in the direction of SAA. Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy would be a good idea.
You mentioned that he is in recovery. These addictions are completely related, intertwined, and really about the same damn thing. It’s not about the sex, it’s not about the drugs and/or alcohol — it’s about the behavior. And that behavior is all wrapped up in the disease (or dis-ease) of alcoholism.
That being said, his recovery is his and your recovery is yours. And you do need your own recovery. If you are not already attending Al-Anon meetings, now might be a good time to start.
It might be beneficial for you two to separate temporarily, so that you both have the opportunity and space to confront these issues, without trying to fix the relationship simultaneously. I would do this with the help of the therapist you mentioned. You could set something up to meet weekly, together, with the therapist, and the rest of the time you each focus on yourselves.
Now, the tricky part of this is figuring out if he is truly a sex addict, or if he is using that label as an excuse for sh*tty behavior.
I get how hard it is to trust him right now. And the truth is, you may never be able to do so. It’s not something that can be figured out in one day. You will need the time, the guidance of a professional, and perhaps the support of a 12-step group, like Al-Anon.
You may find that the the damage is irreparable. Or you may find that with time, space, and some recovery, you can rebuild a new relationship, a healthier relationship — because the one you’re in now is not healthy.
If you do the work and are honest with yourself about what you want, you will find that you are so much happier, no matter which way this goes.
If you have a question for me about love, sex, parenting, addictions, Fleabag (it’s so funny), the iPhone 7, peach selenite, or anything at all, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. xoxo