The difference between an affair and an addiction

I was just over at Cheater Fantasy’s Blog commenting on her post: ‘Sex and Love Addiction’. At the end of the post she poses the following question: “How does a sex addict differ from a person who has an affair?”

I have thought a great deal about this question over the months, especially as I read other betrayed spouse’s blogs. I read about spouses who clearly seem remorseful and want to fix their marriage. I also read about spouses who want to blame, and gaslight and make excuses, which does not bode well for a healthy relationship or a healthy spouse. I have also heard the quote many times now (because, hello, all of a sudden I am surrounded by 12 step) “12 step is for addicts and assholes.” I am just not sure I really get that quote. My husband is remorseful, was confused about his own behavior, and he is an addict, and he does belong in 12 step. Figuring out whether you are an addict or not, if you are open and honest about your behavior, just doesn’t seem that difficult to diagnose. Assholes are also pretty easy to spot, in my opinion. But I don’t really think assholes have the capacity to admit there is something about them that could benefit from 12 step. So, I guess they are saying 12 step is for people who are addicts but act like assholes? I don’t know. I am going to leave that one alone.

I think there are four kinds of cheater stories, and I am really simplifying here and there is overlap all over the place with these examples, but generally speaking, here goes: 1) remorseful people who have serious underlying FOO or childhood wound issues and who act out because they are addicts (whether they acknowledge it or not) and sex is their drug. Their acting out might not even be with other people, but in the form of porn addiction, voyeurism, etc… but they are willing to work on themselves once they are diagnosed 2) people who made a huge mistake and abandoned everything they knew to be right and good in order to feed a temporary emptiness in themselves. They are remorseful and want to be the person their spouse thought they were all along. They are not addicts. 3) people who cheated because they were too weak to tell their spouse they had fallen out of love with them or didn’t want to be married to them, or whatever and instead of getting a divorce and moving forward, they cheated, maybe multiple times, which expedited what they theoretically wanted in the first place. They want to be free of the marriage, but they may not even know why. They are often selfish, immature, and narcissistic, and potentially addicts, and finally, 4) the unrepentant cheater who does not want out of their marriage, but is unwilling or unable to accept the fact that they did something bad purely of their own volition and that it is not a reflection on the spouse or their marriage. They are deflectors and blamers and potentially narcissists and potentially addicts. In my opinion, the people who cannot look within themselves to the answers for their own bad behavior, are the scariest kind of people.

So, here was my comment to CF regarding addicts vs. cheaters:

Hey, CF. Not sure if your question at the end was rhetorical, or if you are still trying to answer it? I guess at this point my opinion (you know I always have one 🙂 ) would be that it doesn’t really matter how they differ, but in fact that they are changing and attempting to be better people in the process of realizing the horrible mistakes they made, for whatever reason. Blue Eyes is often convinced that many cheaters are in fact addicts to a certain degree, especially if they struggle with drinking and other such co-addictions. I think it is not because he wants to label people, but that he knows a person can carve out a true path to recovery with the resources afforded addicts. As you are realizing, sex addiction IS real. However, I do think there are a lot of people that are not addicts, they just made a huge mistake. They did something they thought they would probably never ever do, but because of their own weaknesses, that they were unwilling to acknowledge until it was too late, they let another human being into their life in hopes that it would make them feel better about themselves. They took the ego stroking and they thought it made them better until they realized it didn’t because the problem was inside them, not in their partner or their marriage. I also believe this is why a lot of guys don’t get help and marriages fail, because they refuse to acknowledge their own complete culpability and get help for what was broken in them. Although their behavior sounds a lot like sex addiction, I don’t believe it is, at all. I think many of them suffered a temporary break in what they really wanted and who they wanted to be. I do believe they can theoretically heal from the isolated incident of their betrayal. An addict, on the other hand, cannot heal without rigorous daily recovery, meaning daily replacing the bad thoughts and habits with good thoughts and habits. With addicts, the sickness goes way back, their habits were formed a long time ago. Their brains have been altered to receive stimuli. They feed off it. They have felt so bad about themselves for such a long time, they don’t even realize how much control the addiction has over their behavior. They don’t realize how much they are compartmentalizing and rationalizing to keep all those balls in the air. One woman or a one time fling is never enough. With BE, even though he had the one woman for years for that aspect of his drug, he was always grooming and he also did have the porn/masturbation element. It was how he coped with his life. And that is it, if they feel like they cannot “do” life without their drug, whatever it may be, that is addiction. I have heard a lot of cheater stories, especially at the seminar I went to… there were 25 of us and 25 different stories. Even at just nine months into BE’s diagnosis, I could tell the wives that were married to sex addicts and the ones that were not (in my opinion). There were definitely four of us of the 25 that were married to addicts. One guy had been with over 100 prostitutes and it wasn’t because he was a creep. He is a good guy with a bad addiction. After hearing the stories, there were a few guys that left the wives for what they thought would be greener pastures with a younger woman. Because HELLO, marriage is hard, guys!!! Only one of those guys is still with the OW and it has still not even been a year, so that relationship will probably fail. Call it mid-life crisis, call it temporary insanity, call it weak, call it whatever, but if the cheater is really trying to work on themselves and really wants the marriage to work and the partner is understanding and forgiving, it can work. With a sex addict it is not that easy. Spouses of sex addicts know the behavior is chronic and you cannot just say, “I will never do that again.” It doesn’t work that way. That is what makes it so scary. But being scared is okay… if they slack off on recovery, chances are high they will relapse. They have to be in recovery until they have changed their addictive habits. I guess what I am trying to say is, you no longer need to worry about how your husband compares to other guys, other cheaters, or even other sex addicts. All that matters is that he knows he is on the path to being the person he wants to be. And it certainly sounds like he is! Many many hugs to you both. ❤

9 thoughts on “The difference between an affair and an addiction

    • I’m pretty sure we have all learned the keen art of being able to read straight through the typos. I cringe when I go back and read my comments on others blogs that have typos because I am obsessive compulsive and I can never go back and fix them, ha!!!

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Yeah my ex was just an asshole LOL. Mine was somewhere on the spectrum between #3 and #4 (but actually he was a real number 2 — lol I kill me!!!). I think you described the difference between cheaters and addicts perfectly right.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I hear (and say) the “addicts or assholes” all the time. Did you get that from me? (ha!)

    I think my point in saying that is that I do think it’s possible to recover from an addiction and not actually believe you’re an addict. Step work is step work in my opinion. The Player can call himself whatever the hell he wants to if he does the work.

    As you know, I still struggle with the addict label vs. asshole/no character labels. You are largely a reason I believe that sex addiction is a thing because you share your story and are so very articulate — and because a lot of your thoughts are my own. I still believe that 12 step isn’t for everyone, having been raised in a home of successfully sober alcoholics and seeing people come in and out of their/our lives who were trying to or getting sober. I believe there are more ways to become the moral, good, human you were meant to be.

    Does it work best for some to do 12 step – undoubtedly. Could it work for someone in therapy dealing with all the things that one has to delve into about themselves? Yes, I believe so. I’m actually okay if The Player had wanted to create his own “program” with the help of skilled people who would lead him into his issues that created this horrible insecurity.

    And yes, you’re right, this is very scary and it’s okay to be it and say it. Being the spouse of an addict (or asshole) isn’t for the weak, that is for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, I heard it from my husband first, and he just said it again two days ago. But yes, I also read it on your blog a while back. 🙂 . I guess I have just never heard of anyone who is in 12 step that considers themselves an asshole. Usually asshole is a moniker someone gives to someone else, not to themselves. I guess that is where my confusion lies. I have never heard of someone being in a 12 step program who did not think they were an addict, and yes, I believe people can carve out their own path to enlightenment, whether they are an addict or not. We just know how low those true recovery numbers are (if you believe the very unreliable and inconsistent statistics), and those are mostly related to guys in 12 step programs. Can you imagine how low the success rate is outside a 12 step program?

      I agree that there are many ways for all of us to be better people, but addiction and 12 step go hand in hand and many addicts have recovered that way. I did not grow up with addicts (other than my uncle and I was never involved in his recovery. He never recovered), but we have had many friends over the years who have been involved in 12 step programs. I never paid much attention, but I sure do now. Obviously from everything I have written I believe in my husband’s diagnosis and in his recovery path. I believe that the more people that support him, the more likely he is to stay true to his path and honestly be able to feel good about himself and about his life decisions.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You may have heard of a fairly recent therapy EMDR which helps uncover repressed memories. The idea is that something so traumatic that it cannot be tolerated is encapsulated. Often an action, or reaction, is hard to understand because the underlying cause is so deeply buried. I hope your husband is doing well. This is just a suggestion but I understand it is now being used to treat PTSD.

    Liked by 1 person

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