One of the most painful things that can ever happen to a woman is finding out that her husband has become caught up in compulsive sexual behavior and has transformed their seemingly normal couples' sexual life into a sordid mess full of deception, lies and sometimes danger. It's been quite a couple of weeks, with multiple scandals in the United States and Canada. The comedians on television are having a field day making jokes about Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, Bill Clinton, Mark Sanford and their wives.
I shudder when I hear Jay Leno being such a glib combination of humorous and vicious. Of course, almost everyone else is disgusted, particularly by Weiner, that sometimes I think I am one of the few people in the United States who actually feels sorry for this cast of characters. When the men I treat for sexual addiction hit rock bottom and blow up their entire lives, I feel sad — and I feel sad when these public figures do it too. Good grief, I hope they get really good help from an expert in the field.
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And I feel triply sorry for the wives. As we speak, the web is full of strangers emphatically telling wives such as Huma, Silda and Hillary what they should do or should have done, filled with contempt for the wives who stayed in their marriages. These women are made out to be doormats, brainwashed or staying for political gain. Take, for example, Spitzer's wife, when she was quoted as saying she was partly to blame for his seeking out prostitutes.
Granted, these political wives are much better resourced than ordinary women in some ways. They have enough money and power to have press agents, lawyers, handlers and the ability to fly off somewhere thousands of miles away for a few months until the dust (hopefully) settles. However, being tried in the court of public opinion still looks pretty gruesome to me.
But here's the thing. Given the increasing prevalence of internet porn, anonymous and not so anonymous chats, sexting, sex workers who can be found anywhere and at any time online with smart phone apps, male clientele who review and rate sex providers openly on sites such as The Erotic Review, and affair-promoting sites such as Ashley Madison, more and more ordinary wives are going to find themselves in similar situations.
Will these women get any understanding and sympathy from friends and family? I hope so. The media could be doing a much better job talking about what the process of healing from this kind of out of control behavior looks like for an entire family that has been devastated. Honestly, dealing with this crisis is a lot more complicated than the snippy comments on the internet would lead us to believe.
The internet commentary centers on the politicos' sense of entitlement and narcissism. In the world of ordinary people, in my clinical experience, many of the men who have become addicted to sex have experienced early trauma and neglect.
Many women who find out that their partners are acting out sexually still love them very much. Some of the men decide to go into therapy and begin a process of recovery, which takes years. Even once the decision is made to commit to recovery, the addictive process, by nature, involves some slip-ups. The wives will have to go through a long period of time, figuring out how to set limits and what they will and won't accept in terms of their husbands' behavior. They will have to figure out how to regain trust, to talk to their children, and above all, to get support in their worlds.
Unlike the advice proffered on the internet by anonymous authors, professionals in the field do not advise wives to leave the relationship immediately. In fact, the suggestion is to wait for many months, if not years. But what will bolster the wife during this time?
Ironically, a man in recovery has a whole new social support system in his 12-step groups. Many wives, unfortunately, don't want to join support groups, so at the very time that they need companionship and compassion, they're isolated. If they think they are going to get the same advice as Silda, Huma, and Hillary, they will undoubtedly stay isolated.
So if you're "the wife," know that there is constructive help available to process this crisis and the unbearable sense of fear, anger and betrayal that comes with it. And if you're the friend of the betrayed wife, get educated so that you can truly help her face this devastating situation. This is no laughing matter.
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