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Q. My husband and I waited until we were married to have sex because we believed it was the right thing to do, but we've been married for 4 and a half years and we have had sex 5 times at most -- and not all in the last 3 years. We have been in and out of counseling and he swears he is working on this problem but claims that I "hold him back." I'm not sure what this means. I thought we had a pretty good relationship, with good communication and emotional, if not physical, intimacy. But 18 months ago, I discovered that he was surfing porn sites on the Web. He said he did it because he was depressed and he swore he'd never do it again, but I've since caught him several more times. Now, he claims he's a sex addict. I'd be willing to work out the issues with the porn, but I can't get past the fact that he has lied to me. If he lied about this, he'll lie about anything. How can ever trust him again?
Suki Hanfling, founder and director of the McLean Hospital Human Sexuality Program in Belmont, MA and head of the Institute for Couples and Families, answers:
A. It's extremely painful to discover that someone you love and trust has lied to you. It makes you question the integrity of all aspects of your relationships and worry that you can never trust again. If you decide to stay with your husband, and I'd wait before making such a decision, both you and he need to know that trust will not be there at first -- your husband will have to earn back your trust by being totally honest and forthcoming.
That said, you need to ask yourself a few questions: Has your husband, as far as you know, lied to you about other things? Is he in general someone people trust? One of the symptoms of any addiction involves the tendency of the addicted person to lie to himself about the severity of the problem. People who are addicted to pornography are often ashamed of their behavior and terrified that if a partner finds out, she'll be so disgusted that she'll leave immediately. Therefore, lying and blaming others becomes part of the addiction problem.
Even though you probably bring some of your own issues to the marital problems, you are not the cause of his sexual addiction. And for him to say that you hold him back must be puzzling and upsetting. At some point, it would be useful for the two of you to continue to explore this and other concerns. For now, he must own his problem with pornography and get both professional help and peer support. He should be evaluated by a psychiatrist to see if he needs medication for his depression or to help him control his addiction. There is some evidence that medication can help. He should consult a therapist with an expertise in addiction, as well as seek out support groups such as Sex, Love Anonymous or Sex Addicts Anonymous. You need to learn more about this problem and get support for yourself, too. There are also self-help groups for partners of people with this problem. Once he has addressed this problem, and has maintained what is called "sobriety" for a reasonable period of time, it would be useful to return to couples therapy.
There are an increasing numbers of men and women who have recognized that they are addicted to some form of sex, especially on the Internet, and there's more and more help available. You can locate a support group by checking your local phone books, or searching the web under "sexual addictions."
Problems with your partner? Crises with your kids? Issues with in-laws? Worries about work? Whatever type of relationship problem you have, we're here to help. Margery D. Rosen has been writing Can This Marriage Be Saved? for almost eighteen years. In that time she has developed a network of experts across the country who are available to help untangle myriad dilemmas. If you have a problem, e-mail the Guest Therapist and Margery will do her best to refer the question to the most appropriate person. Because of the volume of mail she receives, Margery cannot answer every question. Those she does investigate will be featured on the site each month so keep writing and keep checking.