The Beginning of Something Else

On June 1, 2007 I found out my husband and partner of almost two decades had been unfaithful to me since before our marriage, and had been having intercourse with prostitutes for 3 1/2 years. This is what happened next.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Addicts lie. Now what?

We went to a benefit for Son's school last weekend, and as soon as we got there Husband ordered a double scotch on the rocks.

Okay. It's Saturday, it's a party. You're not an alcoholic in recovery. Fine.

I think Husband drinks too much, and he knows that. The addict / narcissist in him feels justified on some level, and he is annoyed by my (in his words) judgment of his tendency.

A short while later, I decide to have a drink, too, and we head to the bar to get me something. Husband orders another double.

"You're getting another one?" I ask. "That's eight bucks a shot, you know."

"I know," he says with an annoyed look on his face.

"So we paid $150 at the door, and now we've spent $40 on alcohol." Even though we have two incomes now, the financial hole we dug still leaves us essentially paycheck to paycheck. I assumed maybe we'd each have one cocktail, hang out to be supportive of the cause, and get out the door early.

I should have been clear and stated my concern outright, instead of implying it. I should have said, "I don't think we have the budget to buy any more drinks." But I didn't. My bad for passing on direct communication. I don't want to be the parent or police in our relationship. And so often in the moment I'll make my displeasure known, but not make a direct request or set a boundary. I'm getting better at this, but there's still work for me to do.

About an hour later toward the end of the event, I saw Husband with another drink in hand.

"How many of those have you had?"

"Two." he replied.

"This is the same one you had before?" I asked, feeling bad for making the assumption that he'd continued to buy $16 doubles after I'd expressed my concern about it. (A common experience of partners of addicts - that feeling that you've done something wrong by questioning the addict's questionable behavior.)

"Yes," he said. I gave him a hug, and a "good job" for making it last.

But I had a sneaking suspicion just the same. So yesterday I checked the bank account and sure enough, the charge to our card was much more than it should have been had he been telling me the truth.

Last night I asked him about it. He tried to spin it, but finally admitted that he'd deliberately lied to me about how many drinks he'd bought.

"I didn't want to get in trouble," he explained.

He knew as well as I the flaw in that thinking. But I spelled out for him that trust is a large, critical piece of true intimacy, and that the options are that he get help for this fear of getting in trouble, because I won't accept the role of scary mommy in our marriage, or we figure out how to gracefully end our relationship.

I can fake it as part of the work toward making it, but don't want to fake it if the situation feels hopeless because I can't perpetuate that lie to my son. That would be as big a betrayal as my husband's lies to me. I've been willing to work hard while doing my best to keep our grown-up issues between me and Husband, so that Son can feel secure in our family unit. But that's been because I've been working toward authentic intimacy with the feeling that it's possible. If I pretend to my son that we have an Ozzie and Harriet relationship when I feel hopeless and firmly disconnected in the relationship, that's gone from keeping grown-up issues between grown-ups to lying to Son about what healthy relationships are, how they work, and what they look like. I'm not willing to do that.

This lie is a huge setback for the state of our relationship.

Lying about a cocktail is the same as lying about a prostitute. It is a firm indicator that Husband is an unsafe person to be vulnerable with. This does not do much for the intimacy quotient in our marriage.

In addition to the general numbness I'm experiencing, I know I have a lot of feelings.

I feel disrespected. He took the cowardly way out and lied to me because it was better for him. What about for me? What about the trust I've been trying with all my fucking might to develop? Ask me to trust you and then lie to me AGAIN? That's not what I want from a partner, nor will I continue to accept it.

For whatever reason (and I've met his mother so I'm sure he has good ones,) he gives me this power and won't man up and take responsibility for his actions, won't jump into conflict with me. I get that it's difficult because I'm a major conflict avoider, too. But I've been working hard at taking risks and communicating without knowing what the result will be, and without sacrificing saying what needs to be said to avoid negative outcomes.

I feel hurt. Aren't I worthy of basic respect and truthfulness? Don't you value me and our relationship enough to tell me the truth? Because, regardless of whether you lie out of malice or fear, the impact on me is THE SAME! I feel kicked in the stomach, I feel like you don't value me, I feel betrayed by someone I'm trying hard to trust, I feel like it's not safe to love you, I begin to wonder if trusting anyone at all is a joke.

I feel disconnected. Safety mechanism, and I know it. It's also a consequence. Trust is EARNED. So he has work to do if he wants that from me.

I feel sad. This is not what I want. I don't want a relationship that feels 75%. I want trust, intimacy, respect. I'm willing to go through hard stuff. I don't expect him to be perfect. But I do expect him to respect my boundaries. DON'T LIE TO ME is not an unreasonable boundary. If it feels too demanding to him, he's married to the wrong person.

I'm fucking angry. WHY is it easy to lie to me? WHY does he choose to do that? WHY did I end up with a self-righteous asshole with narcissistic tendencies? WHY is he so fucked up? WHY doesn't he treat me like like a valuable gift? WHY is he afraid of me? I have a lot of questions like this that I'm angry about. And I know the answers to many of them. But knowing the answers doesn't help right now. I'm pissed.

The hard thing is that I actually like Husband. There are lots of things I love and value about him. Maybe we should just be good friends. That way we'd have less at stake with each other, I'd have the distance to protect my mental and emotional health from his lying, and he'd probably have no reason to lie to me. I wouldn't have to worry about sex (because frankly, sex with Husband when I can't get to intimacy is fine at best, but often echoes with emptiness which is painful when compared to how I know sex with him used to be.)

So we did talk about all of this last night. And we're going back to therapy. He to his sex-addiction group, and us to couples therapy with a sex-addiction specialist. And he still goes to SA and OA meetings (although many by phone now.)

I'm willing to keep trying because at the bottom of this, Husband is a wonderful person - smart, funny, creative, gentle, compassionate, thoughtful, a fantastic, loving dad. He's fucked up by his fear, and I know it.

But I'm not willing to continue trying if I don't see progress. He needs to become willing to "get in trouble" with me and see where that goes, or I'm going to have to figure out a plan B.

Because this is my promise to myself: I will not stay in a relationship with someone who isn't capable of being truthful.

This is a hard one, since because of our history there is little room in my mind or tolerance in my heart for even little white lies that many couples use to smooth out the sometimes dangerous, frightening and rocky road of a long-term relationship. But complete integrity around truthfulness is what I need to feel safe in this relationship. I don't expect perfect, but expect him to have the courage to choose to respond to his fear differently, and to call himself out when he makes a mistake, rather than to feel relieved that he escaped his mother's wrath, and satisfied by that. Our willingness to have courage in the face of fear will create a path toward restored trust.

I still believe there's hope, because Husband's willing to dive in and work this issue head-on. And I have work to do, too, because right now I can feel that I'm very disengaged.

And I know we can only make progress if we're both willing.

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one's fear. The timid presume it is lack of fear that allows the brave to act when the timid do not. But to take action when one is not afraid is easy. To refrain when afraid is also easy. To take action regardless of fear is brave."
— Ambrose Hollingworth Redmoon, from No Peaceful Warriors!


Still Standing said...

This could not have hit home more for me than it does right now!! There are so many, "yep! I get exactly what you're saying" in this post; I'd write an article to respond! But, I have to say, one thing in particular really stuck - the whole implying instead of being direct about your needs, that hit me me like a punch in the gut!! I don't know why but I do it too - and I'm from NY - I have NO problems being direct, except with him. I treat him with kid gloves sometimes. It's almost like I don't want to mother him or boss him around. I just want to give him that not so gently hint...hope he'll get it and then just end up pissed off when he doesn't. Is it an SA trait that they really have be directed?? I thought that meant we were being to controlling?? Thanks for sharing that today - I needed to know I'm not alone. I hope you know, you're not either.

woman.anonymous7 said...

Still Standing - I've checked out your blog, and I'm sorry to hear that you're going through a journey similar to my own. I wish you peace.

Do SAs need to be directed? I don't believe so. In any case, I don't care to direct any adult, particularly not one I'm in a relationship with.

However, I do think I need to BE direct. Not just with Husband, but with everybody in my life.

Clear self expression of one's opinions and needs is not controlling behavior. Believing you can control someone elses' behavior and acting accordingly is controlling behavior. There is a fine line, and the further I go along this journey the clearer that line becomes.

I think controlling looks like:
- Give me all your passwords and I have control of the bank account, so that way you can't buy sex.

I think direct looks like:
- I need to be with a partner who practices monogamy. If you can't or choose not to practice monogamy, I won't be with you.

Another proficiency I'm developing is how to take care of myself given that I can't control whether or not he lies to me (about his addiction or anything else.) I'm learning how to trust my gut, to investigate what needs to be investigated when things don't seem right to me, and to have boundaries and consequences so that when I find my safety and security compromised I have a clear path to restore that, a path I created when I was not in the middle of a crisis.

Thanks for asking that little question. It made me think a lot, and when I do that I get clarity about things.

Seeing the clouds part in the fog of pain, confusion, anger, disappointment and the rest of it is such an empowering feeling.

Briar said...

I found it interesting that you explored the idea that the "white" lies he told you were something that would be ok in another long-term relationship where such a high level of integrity and transparency wasn't needed.

I'm not sure this is true. I've not witnessed healthy couples lying to each other in even this "small" way. Standing on the outside, it doesn't actually look like a small lie. Maybe a big lie about a small thing, or something else. But he knew this was something you had concerns over both from before and from your questions at the party.

My SA has explained his lies by saying he didn't want to get in trouble, or "deal with my reaction", but the truth is, he knew what he was doing/did was wrong and harmful and he didn't want to deal with my reaction because he didn't want to change or be held accountable.

Forgive me for processing your issue out loud, but I find it gives me a lot of insight to view the issues I'm dealing with from the outside.

Another thing that came up for me in reading this post is how one lie can set everything back so far. I've had trouble from the beginning with the 12-step programs for partners in their assertion that we can "find happiness in spite of the addict not being sober" but I've not witnessed this at all in the rooms or the "virtual" rooms. When the addict acts out, the pain returns no matter how vigilant the partner has been in working their program.

That's not to say the program doesn't help or should be abandoned, just that I think there are some skewed ideas.

What I also see is that your own work in recovery has obviously had an effect because even though there's a return of some of the pain, there isn't a complete return to the crazy-making. You seem to be very clear on your boundaries and why they are necessary. This gives me hope.

Thank you for sharing.