My husband the sex addict

I'm a Brit married to an American man with an ex-wife and lots of Internet lovers. Should I stay or go?


Cary Tennis
April 22, 2004 11:19PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am a 33-year-old British woman who married an American citizen in February after a two-year, mainly long-distance romance. Due to Homeland Security reforms, I had great difficulty getting a visa to live in the U.S., but I never once gave up on my dream of being with my significant other. We nurtured each other during our time apart with daily e-mails, letters, care packages and telephone calls. Our friends looked on our relationship with envy as we appeared so wrapped up in each other. When I look back on things, I realize that I gave rather more than I received in this regard, including helping my fiancé out financially by wiring money when I could not really afford it. He is a poor college professor with a demanding ex-wife and two teenage sons to support.

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When the visa finally came through, I gave up a professional job, my ex-husband filed for custody of our daughter and I did not fight this, predicting a future in which she could spend joyful summers in the United States and possibly go to college here. Our wedding day was the culmination of my dreams and I began to settle down in my new community, make friends and seek employment.

Not long after I moved in, my husband told me I was not to answer the phone under any circumstances, unless the caller I.D. showed a name I recognized. As calls from home came up as unrecognized and I was missing out on chats with my family and friends, I challenged this and was met with a frosty response. Intuition led me to start digging through e-mails and saved documents on our computer, and I found that he had slept with almost two dozen women, mainly encountered through the Internet, during our time apart. He also had an active profile on a Web site saying he was divorced and seeking intimate encounters.

When I told him of my discovery, he broke down in tears and begged for my forgiveness, claiming he had been lonely and even vowing to have therapy for his sexual compulsion. We went for one appointment, during which he promised the behavior would stop, but he has been reluctant to attend any more sessions. Our Easter holiday was ruined by persistent phone calls from ex-lovers and he told me that one of them has had a breakdown because he had promised to marry her a few months ago. He appears to be just as distressed by the hurt he has caused this woman as by what I am feeling.

I have struggled to deal with his infidelity in a mature way and have spent days in bed crying, resorting to verbal abuse every time the phone rings or when my husband cannot account for his time. He just keeps saying it will take time to break things off altogether with these women and asking me to show more patience and compassion. He also reminds me that, during our engagement, he talked to me about threesomes and open marriage and I said I was not unwilling to experiment. My recollection of these conversations was that it was fantasy talk, not an invitation for him to cheat.

Should I stay or should I go? I love this man and he is the most wonderful companion on an intellectual and physical level that I could ever wish for.

Sad Brit in the USA

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Dear Sad Brit,

Imagine being a bottle of whisky married to an alcoholic. How long would you last before he tore your top off and sucked you dry? How long could he look at your slender neck before lining you up in the basement with the other empties he takes to the dump because he's ashamed in front of the garbage man?

As much as you love this man and he loves you, if he is indeed what we call a sex addict, you'll never be the heroine in his arms. You'll always be the heroin in his arm, a white powder cooked up in a spoon, the avenue of his high. Until he recovers, how is he supposed to see you as anything else? He may make lofty adoring speeches to you; he may indeed adore you, as a junkie adores his fix. But do you think you can ever be his moral and spiritual equal? Not until he undergoes some change.

And sadly, even if he does go through some kind of recovery, how do you think a bottle of whisky would feel, sitting in the cupboard of a recovered alcoholic? At least a drinker gazes at you with a hunger that feels like love. Once he's in recovery, you'll be the dark temptation he spurns. So as much as you love him, as beautiful as this might have been, your position sounds untenable.

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This is really a tragic tale.

So here is what you do. Admit you made a mistake. Admit the gleaming life you dreamed of turned out to be a fraud. Admit the whole thing blew up in your face. Don't blame yourself. It looked amazingly good from a distance. Consider it your life-changing moment of truth. Go back to England. Take care of your daughter. Resume your life. Wish him well. Hope he finds help.

Just don't hang around hoping he'll change. There's not a bottle of whisky in the world that can cure an alcoholic, and there's not a woman anywhere who can slake this kind of thirst.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read the Since You Asked Directory


Cary Tennis

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