Marriage: Should I Stay or Should I Leave?
by Coach Katherine; edited by Marsha Means, M.A., July 2017
No bride ever dreams of divorce on her wedding day. But sadly, for those of us married to sex addicts, it is something many of us eventually consider. I am one of those women.
Recognizing the Inconsistences
As I was married to a sex addict for 34 years. My story can be found on our website by clicking here. A year or two prior to separating, I started to suspect that something wasn’t right with my husband. Because he had been in recovery for several years, and I thought things were getting better, I felt a range of emotions when I considered the inconsistencies in his recovery. If your husband isn’t working a strong recovery program, you may identify with them. These are just a few I recognized:
*Denial that he was choosing his addiction all over again after six years of sobriety.
*Anger that I might have to enforce my consequences. After all, hadn’t I said the marriage would end if he acted out again?
*Questioning God. Because my faith is an important part of my life, I stayed in the marriage because I believed God had asked me to. I did my part, so why was He allowing my husband to go back into his addiction?
When I dared to acknowledge these emotions, it forced me to face hard questions.
Asking Myself The Hard Questions
As I considered my marriage and ability to live on my own, these four questions were among those I asked myself:
*Can I stay in my marriage when it appeared that my husband would probably never choose long term wholeness and healing?
*Was lack of commitment to the hard work of recovery all he was willing to give me?
*Could I accept the pain and loneliness one feels with a sex addict not in recovery for the rest of our married life, knowing how it was affecting me?
*Didn’t I deserve to have a faithful and honest husband who loved me?
It took time to sift through my circumstances and ask myself the hard questions. Each of us must do this in our own way to find our personal answers to the difficult questions we must face, and the inner peace we need to accept what we find there.
Facing My Fears
Contemplating divorce forced me to face my fears and really look at the personal cost of ending my marriage. These are some of the fears I faced:
*Fear of being unable to support myself. I married at 18 and was a stay at home mom who didn’t have to work outside the home. I had only gone back to work four years prior to my separation.
Gratefully my children were grown by the time I separated. But for those who still have children at home, this fear—and reality—can force them to delay the separation until they’ve honed their workplace skills and gained the ability to earn a high enough income to survive.
If you face this challenge, remember: information is power. Most, if not all, cities and large towns have a Crisis Clinic with a huge data bank of resources for anyone in the community facing hard life situations. Start your search for help and answers there. Another great resource can be found at the Women’s Resource Center at a local junior college or other service center in your community. There you can seek aptitude testing, and discuss with counselors fields of study that require shorter periods of prep and education, but also earn sufficient income.
Without workplace-ready job skills, we may have to get creative to build a bridge from where we are to where we want to be. Hold on to the reality that this is a period of transition and not your final destination. If you keep your eyes on the goal of self-sufficiency, you will get there in time.
*My fear of the impact on my children. My children were grown, so they didn’t experience the impact younger children nearly always feel. And my former husband and I are able to be friends, so holidays and special events can still be enjoyed as a family. But I know that’s impossible for many, and children often experience their own trauma when a family struggles with sex addiction. So find an experienced counselor if your children need help processing and adapting to the life changes. If counseling for them is outside your financial capability, school counselors have helped the children of some clients, without the cost of a private therapist.
*Fear of losing my spiritual community. Many churches and religions advise against divorce. So for those of us who are a part of a spiritual community, making a decision aligned with our beliefs and teaching generally requires time, soul searching, and perhaps spiritual counsel. If you fall into this category, I explain how I arrived at a place of peace at the end of this article.
*Fear of splitting our marital assets. Unless your partner is kind and caring, fair and generous, even when he is living in his addiction, seek legal counsel to understand your marital assets and your rights to a percentage of them in the event of a divorce. Learn all you can about what you have to work with so you can fight fear with knowledge. Remember: information is power, so do everything you can to become informed. If you can’t afford legal counsel, every town has a legal clinic where lawyers offer a pro bono session to women in need. There is generally a six week waiting list before you can get an appointment, so if you find you are already asking yourself the hard questions, get on the waiting list. Seeking counsel does not mean your marriage will end. It simply means you are gathering information in case your partner doesn’t fight for sobriety and you eventually have to leave your marriage.
*The fear of being alone. Being single doesn’t mean you have to be alone. I knew the pain of being alone when I was married. I don’t feel that pain anymore as I live on my own. Good friends can help fill that gap. Start exploring new things and discover what brings you joy. Get familiar with what works for you and what doesn’t. I’ve also gained encouragement from starting a joy journal. It gives me a way to track the joys that come into my life and counters letting them pass by unnoticed.
These are just a few of the fears we face. Remember, you can’t go over fear, under fear, or around it. If you are ever to put fear behind you, you must walk straight through it. When you face fear head on and gather needed information, fear loses its crippling power, and increased courage and new growth begin to replace your fears.
Dealing with our fears may be the biggest challenge of divorce. But when we allow fear dominate our thoughts, it can keep us stuck and unable to move forward toward a new chapter in our life. We all suffer from fear of change and fear of the unknown. And we definitely face those fears when sex addiction destroys our marriage.
Take Your Time
Take your time. Don't be afraid to declare a "mourning time" for yourself. Divorce is like a death, so please don’t downplay the deep grief you feel. Many find divorce more painful than the death of their life partner, because an addict makes a choice that doesn’t leave room for his wife in his life, but one who dies didn't choose to leave. Face your losses and grieve them as much as possible prior to leaving. Be proactive. Lay out an exit plan that works for you. Get help from those you trust. Find a therapist or coach who can help you take those steps. If faith is part of your life, trust that God is for you and not against you. Plan ahead so that when you are alone, you've already faced the period of transition that precedes a new life.
I took my time. For me that was key. It helped me make progress when I faced the emotional losses that came with the decision to leave my marriage prior to actually leaving.
A word of caution: If you are being abused, please don't wait to leave. Find help now. Staying in an abusive relationship is not only emotionally crippling, it can be dangerous for you and for your children.
Finally, I came to a place of acceptance of the painful truth that my husband wasn’t choosing recovery. Whether I stayed or divorced, I had no choice but to accept my situation. And as I did, I came to acknowledge the painful reality that my husband was not choosing recovery and life with me over his addictive behavior. That really hurts, but acceptance is the key to our eventual healing.
Two Years Post Divorce
I have been divorced for over two years now. I know the fear of facing life alone; the fear of facing financial worries; and the fear of the impact of divorce on our children. But I have survived, and gone on to thrive.
Divorce is not an event but a process. You grow through it minute by minute, hour by hour, and week by week. Then one day you realize the pain has eased and you feel joy again.
Regrets & Joys
I knew I didn’t want to feel regret, which is why I took my time. But there’s one regret I’ve failed to avoid: I wish I had asked my husband for a full disclosure and polygraph during those years before separation. But because his addiction cost us our home, his career, and virtually everything, the resulting financial burdens put an intensive outside our financial reach. I do regret that we couldn’t do an intensive, but I’ve come to terms with that part of my story.
For the most part, I now have so much more joy in my life. Several years ago I discovered The Life Model and their teaching on the importance and value of creating joy in our lives. I proactively pursued joy from that moment on, and it became a turning point in my healing journey. I found joy so key in my life, I taught classes at my church on the value and practice of joy for those struggling with addictions and those in trauma. And we include it in the groups we offer at A Circle of Joy.
I also added gratefulness and appreciation to my tool box. Joy, appreciation, and gratefulness became focal points as I moved through my losses and trauma. I still pursue these things faithfully. I now have a home that I love; my children and I are close; I love my job, have good friends, and I have a new church that I enjoy.
I am divorced but I don’t suffer from loneliness like I did in my marriage. I truly feel content knowing that God continues to use and grow me. I hold on to this scripture in Isaiah 54:5: For your Maker is your husband; the LORD Almighty is his name. The Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. 6 The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit; a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.
Divorce Recovery Takes Time
I suggest you give yourself at least two years to move through the period of recovery post divorce. Since my divorce, I’m learning to trust God at a deeper level. I’m still a work in progress, trust me, but I’m learning to trust Him in the areas of my finances and my future. I’m learning that I am whole on my own; that I don’t need a husband to make me feel complete. I still pray for my former husband, and I do want him to find healing and peace.
For Those Whose Faith & Beliefs Typically Do Not Leave Room For Divorce
The Bible tells us God hates divorce. Unfortunately, most pastors only know how to play that one string. Most avoid speaking about pornography and infidelity because they’ve not been trained in helping people through the heartache of sex addiction.
However, in the Bible, God does recognize the reality of divorce. I believe He knew divorces were going to occur, so He outlined the proper methods to follow. In Matthew 19, Jesus debates with religious leaders about the grounds on which a divorce could happen. In verse 9 he said that divorce was invalid except for marital unfaithfulness. I believe that. If your husband is unwilling to recover from sex addiction—to work his recovery and rebuild a healthy emotional and sexual relationship with you—Jesus said that you have grounds for divorce.
I know some will disagree with me, but as my husband returned to his addiction, I sat down with my senior pastor and asked him his views on divorce. He shared his perspective on divorce in cases such as mine, and it helped me further accept my reality, and to make a choice that was in line with my beliefs.