My husband lies to me!

He's an addict in recovery, and he just can't tell the truth!

Published May 29, 2013 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

A few days ago, I learned that my husband had been lying to me. It was about something small. Actually, it was a series of lies -- a few to cover up an original omission of the truth. I had watched our children under the pretense that he would be somewhere, which he wasn't. He stated that his reason for lying was fear, and he was trying to avoid a conversation and criticism. As a result, I feel hurt. I feel used. I feel angry. I also feel that he may have a point.

We've been together 10 years. We have two children, and as long as I can remember, he's been lying. Most were small, but some were very big.

He's a recovering addict working a 12-step program, and he's been sober for just over a year. I've been patient. I stayed through the demon days when I didn't know what the hell was going on during his bottom-out. I stood by when he went to rehab after he told me what he was involved in. I've been far from perfect myself. There are times that I've been loving and kind. There are times when I've expressed anger and frustration in a tone I'm not proud of, recounting to him all of his wrongs. I've been seeing a therapist, and attending Al-Anon. There were years in which I felt truly victimized before he got sober. He took money I made, used my credit without my permission, got emails from women that he forgot to tell me about, sent texts to women that were unacceptable, and played while I paid the bills. This past year of his sobriety has been far from perfect, but these damaging behaviors were largely absent. I felt grateful, like the program was really working.

After all that we've been through, this latest series of small lies feels devastating. I don't know if it's a matter of him having a lot of growing up to do and I just can't suffer alongside anymore, or if a breakthrough is just around the corner to reward  perseverance. He's got amazing, sensitive, redeemable qualities like changing people's tire when they are stranded on the side of the road and making my coffee each morning. He's smart and attractive, and there have been countless nights when he was up with sick children while I slept. But, I'm tired of feeling hurt, manipulated, and as if a basic need of mine is just maybe beyond his capability at the moment. It just is not acceptable to treat me this way. I have told him this. And yet, I'm doing nothing about that.

I believe that our children would be irreparably damaged in the event of divorce or separation. They love him fiercely, and for good reason. Also, because I love him, I have wanted to work through things. In some twisted way, I feel protected. I experienced horrors as a child, and somewhere in my conscious mind, I know that these damages will not happen to our children as long as he is present. He's got just the right amount of crazy in him to ward off predators. I truly believe that he is greater than the sum of his parts. I'm also terrified of him relapsing if we were to become separated. I have fearful images of him with a needle stuck in his arm in some gas station bathroom. Some might think that's overly dramatic, but unfortunately I have come to learn that was the reality he lived.

I'm terrified. I don't want to make a mistake and hurt my children in the process. I also don't want to continue accepting this. I have absolutely no interest in dating. My therapist says that I'm a smart, beautiful, athletic woman who struggles with self-confidence. I am finishing up a second bachelors degree and moving into a lucrative, high-demand career. I came from a chaotic upbringing permeated with abuse, abandonment, alcoholism and drug use. I was the first person in my family to earn a degree, and I did so on an athletic scholarship. So, why ... after all that I have accomplished, is it so hard for me to honor my boundaries and refuse to be manipulated?

I want my marriage to work. I want to be treated with respect, honesty and fidelity. I want my husband to be financially secure, and to pay for the debts he incurred in my name. I want to be able to trust. I don't feel like I'm asking for too much, but I also feel like he's either incapable or unwilling to give me these things. I would have hoped that at this stage of his 12-step program, he would have had the ability to tell me the truth. He was given the name and number of a marriage therapist three months ago, and only last week he finally set up the appointment. I had asked him several times if he was going to set up the appointment. I felt that he finally did so to reduce my nagging.

When is it enough? I feel like the vow I took would say, "never," but I'm now not so sure. I want insight that isn't my therapist. If you would be willing to share your thoughts, I would be thankful. Just reading this over, I feel so whiney. I feel like I've got a lot to be thankful for, and yet I'm still hurting, afraid and confused.

Still Hurting

Dear Still Hurting,

One of the things that will probably come up in your meetings with the marriage therapist is how you feel about the pace of your husband's change, and how hard it is for you to accept his continuing habit of dishonesty.

Your husband's habit of withholding information and hiding things can change. But it will take time. Perhaps the therapist can help the two of you with that. Perhaps there are ways you can get on a timetable where at least you see progress.

After all, I detect progress. He indulged in an old habit but then he came to you and admitted it. Before, he used to hide things and never tell you. Now he hides them but eventually tells you. That's progress. It's not perfection, but it's progress.

One achievable goal would be to shorten the lag time between when he tells a little lie or hides something from you and when he tells you about it. Ideally, he will practice the 10th step daily, which says, "Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it." Perhaps you could agree upon this as a goal in your marriage. He might eventually find that he can stop himself before he lies. He might start to tell you a lie, as his old habit indicates, but then stop and say, No, I'm going to tell you the absolute truth.

Of course, there will be times when you do not want the absolute truth. It will take time to find a happy medium, and to begin to observe decorum while also being honest.

By the way, it's great that you are going to Al-Anon. When an addict recovers, it affects the whole family.

Speaking of family, you say, "So, why ... after all that I have accomplished, is it so hard for me to honor my boundaries and refuse to be manipulated?" If it helps any, I would like to suggest that one's life accomplishments do not change one's fundamental orientation toward the world. If we grow up in households that condition us in certain ways, that conditioning persists. It can be changed, through conscious work in therapy and in groups. But it takes time to change. It is embedded deeply in us. And no matter how well we do in other spheres of life, we retain our conditioning.

Like they say, "sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly." That's how it works.

By Cary Tennis

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