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Have Your Cake & Eat It Too

Conner loved me.

Yet Conner sexually acted out with other women too.

He had affairs, regularly used porn, and even engaged with prostitutes. His struggle wasn’t a one-time event. It was a lifestyle of secret keeping. When I say lifestyle, I mean it was a day-in- and-day-out problem of sexual infidelities over a long period of time. I felt gutted and trapped. Over the years I sensed Conner didn’t really want to do it. And if you asked him why he continued to sexually act out he might tell you that he hated it – yet didn’t know how to stop.

 

Most days if you asked me how I saw it I’d say, “It felt like he wanted to have his cake and eat it too.”

How could I be the cake? And why was he so compelled to cheat by sneaking sex from other women? Even more painful, being unfaithful right under my nose? Occasionally I’d find a crumb or two – a discovery of porn or a strand of long black hair where it didn’t belong. These women he pursued seemed delicious to him – like the kind of icing he couldn’t get enough of. He’d leave me like stale and discarded cake – unwanted on the plate. I wasn’t of interest to him. Why wasn’t I enough?

I was absolutely shocked when Conner’s therapist told me, “Sheri, Conner loves you.” The therapist might as well have told me I had 4 days to live, or that they needed to amputate a limb, or even that our house had just burned to the ground. At least those three things could have been palpable. But love me? It clearly didn’t feel that way.

Losing a limb or my home would’ve been easier to believe.

But the idea that Conner loved me amidst sexually acting out with other women, levelled me. Nothing about that statement felt true. In fact, I felt enraged and confused at the possibility.

Conner had hidden his sexually compulsive acts for years. I had no clue how deep he’d gone down this dark abyss. I just knew these sex acts were like cancer, eating our relationship from the inside out. I wish I could tell you my story was uncommon – but painfully, it’s not. It happened to me, and it’s happening to many of you.

So why didn’t I draw a line in the sand? Why did I wait so long before reaching out for help? As I think about it, there may have been several reasons I allowed things to continue for so long. I’m not talking about Conner’s sexual deception. I wasn’t responsible for what he was hiding. I’m talking about what I did or didn’t do with the sexual betrayals I had discovered. To be willing to look at these reasons has invited me into a type of honestly that’s incredibly brave. It’s admitting what I didn’t do – and then working to sort out the why? Ultimately, I was wrestling with shame, denial, and fear.

SHAME:  The simple answer is, shame. What will others think about Conner and I if they knew? Even more frightening was the fear that others would make it about me. That raised eyebrow or splintering comment. They were the answers I didn’t want to hear. It happens to us, right? Our husband’s mothers elude to the fact that we’re not giving their sons “what they need.” Well-meaning yet misled clergy tell us we need to forgive them for looking at porn or pay better attention to them by getting another piece of lingerie. Therapists tell us to admire them, connect better, let go of the past, or touch their bodies more. How can I do that when his porn is still in the way? How can I grow deeper when we haven’t worked through the infidelity first? How can I heal when he says “I said I’m sorry, when are you going to stop looking in the rearview mirror?” When he’s not willing to empathize with how his sexual acts have hurt me? How can I forget how he told our children that the problems in our marriage were about me?

DENIAL: Denial had become my friend, or so I thought. I too was keeping secrets; I was keeping a secret from myself. As a way of coping with my pain, I didn’t want to see what was real. I had a case of what Drs. Freyd and Birrell call betrayal blindness. In their book Blind to Betrayal: Why We Fool Ourselves We Aren’t Being Fooled, they state, “The best way to keep a secret is not to know it in the first place; unawareness is a powerful survival technique when information is too dangerous to know. We remain blind to betrayal in order to protect ourselves. We fear risking the status quo, and thus our security, by actually knowing too much.”1

It was too painful to look. There was too much at stake. Both Conner and I were in a type of denial, me in my traumatically induced protective denial, betrayal blindness, and Conner in his denial of the severity of his addiction. Denial quietly opened the door for the sexual deception to continue to grow, underground.

Understandably, my not wanting to look enabled Conner to keep eating the cake. I hate admitting it – but painfully I know it’s true. It’s been a part of my story and what kept things unaddressed for so long. And that brings me to the third reason, fear.

FEAR: I was afraid. Afraid of losing our home if the other pastors found out, afraid of my family finding out, afraid of what people would think, afraid of Conner getting mad, afraid of it being my fault, afraid of discovering that Conner was hiding an affair, afraid of opening the mail because I didn’t want to see any more 900 number (sex chatline) calls, afraid of setting boundaries, afraid of someone seeing the cracks in my mask if I got too tired of faking it, afraid of confronting, afraid of confronting again after I found another discovery, afraid of it not changing, afraid of being judged, and afraid this would always be my life.

My shame, denial, and fear kept me behind bars. It enabled Conner to continue to have his cake and eat it too. What I didn’t know – is I needed help. It was too big of a battle for me to fight alone. I didn’t know there was support. I didn’t know what I needed to do. If any of this makes sense to you please know you’re in the best of company. These three reasons might be holding you captive too. In my book Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal my aim is to care for your heart.

  • My desire is to swap out your shame for validation and truth.
  • To exchange your denial by lovingly helping open your eyes to reality, so you can get help.
  • To honor your experience of fear and connect you with other brave women who are growing in their courage as well.

There’s too much deceptive cake eating these days. I say, enough is enough. It’s time to draw a line in the sand. We need to address what’s holding us back. Please don’t wait any longer. You don’t have to enable what’s happening in your home. You’re worthy of respect, honesty, and valor. Get connected to someone who can show you that you’re worth so much more (APSATS.org or IITAP.com).

Brave On!

Dr. Sheri

 

  1. Jennifer J. Freyd and Pamela Birrell, Blind to Betrayal: Why We Fool Ourselves We Aren’t Being Fooled (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2013), x.

 

This Post Has 13 Comments
  1. Thank you for all you shared, Sheri. How you described SHAME, DENIAL and FEAR was very helpful!! I could relate to so much of it myself.

    I didn’t get help until I’d been in my difficult (2nd) marriage for 33 years. I was busy raising kids into becoming adults. I was 66 at the time that I realized I needed help!! I wasn’t aware there was help or even where to go to get help since I didn’t really know what I needed. I had lost myself in my marriage and I didn’t like me anymore!!

    In my healing process over the past 11 1/2 years, I’ve learned I’m an ACoA, codependent, I have abandonment issues, I’ve been traumatized by betrayal, and I have huge trust issues. I also was enabling my husband without realizing I was. I didn’t like how my husband was around other women, but until I got into Celebrate Recovery, I didn’t realize he was a sex addict.

    Fortunately I’ve learned how to set boundaries, speak my truths, share what I need from my husband and continue in my own recovery journey. NOW I like me again. Becoming AWARE has been HUGE for me!! I’ve gone to over 35 different classes, some of them were New Life Workshops, How We Love Workshops, Karla Downing’s classes, Healing Hearts and many others over the past 11 1/2 years as I’ve become aware of them.

    I’ve had some victory over ACoA, codependency and abandonment issues, I still struggle with betrayal trauma and trust issues. In a couple of months I plan on leading a support group in my CR for women who have been betrayed. Instead of calling it COSA, we’re going to call it Betrayal Trauma.

    1. Thanks Pat. I deeply respect both your tenacity and how you’ve invested in your healing. I wasn’t aware of what I needed to do either until I became aware. And then, once I began to move into healthier ways of being I couldn’t “un-know” what I was learning. I’m so thankful for all those that invested in my recovery. The bravest part of healing is applying what we learn. It takes guts! I’m excited you’re giving back by helping others move forward. Let us know when you’re starting your Betrayal Trauma recovery group. Brave On!

  2. SHAME, DENIAL, FEAR…..YES!…These are the chains that have bound me in my marriage for 21 years! NOT ANYMORE! Thank you Dr. Sheri for empowering me thru your book “Intimate Deception” to get help and healing for myself first! Thank you Jesus for blessing me throughout this suffering! If it weren’t for You bringing me to my knees in total surrender, I wouldn’t be as close to You as I am now!

    1. Thanks KC. I’m so glad you’re on a different path, one aimed at wholeness and freedom. Crazy how what I learned through my story of pain could be used to help you and others grow forward!

  3. Thank you for writing this! I actually just forward it to my husband, we are going through a divorce. It’s been two years and this is so much of my story, although he’s not a pastor but has been highly regarded in our community. We’ve known each other since the third grade and we’ve been together since we were 16. We are both going to be 53 in a hot second and have been married for 30 years. I left last April because I could not handle the girlfriend being in my home and in all the beds that my children have grown out of and moved on with their own lives. Pretty sure now she was also in my bed. Thank you.

    1. Oh Fiona, the absolutely first thing I felt was, “Is nothing sacred?” You’ve known each other since third grade, been together since 16, married for 30, and shared children together. How in the world could anyone with all these sacred parings invite a women into your home to sleep in your children’s beds? Unbelievable. Every women reading this deeply groans with you. He’s deeply embedded in this dark sludge of sexual acting out, entitlement, and anger. The problem is, he doesn’t see it. Why? He’s in denial and has moved far away from his integrity. It’s the only explanation. It must be hard to know he’s respected in your community. The community doesn’t know what’s happened…integrity is who we really are when no one’s looking. Integrity is who we are when we have nothing to hide. We see you and are heartbroken over your pain. I want you to see yourself, honor yourself, and step into your own healing…for your sake. You are sacredly created for truth, life, and love. Grieve what you thought was true. Save what memories you can, and leave the rest. I’m in your corner.

  4. I have been married for 42 years and just found out that my husband has been having an affair with the same woman for 30 years of our marriage to say the least I’m devastated. I’m seeing a therapist to try to wrap my head around all of this horrible pain and trauma. I thought for all these years that our marriage was so great but boy have I been deceived. The only thing that I have to hold onto now is I have three grown children and two beautiful grandchildren and that is where I get some normalcy in my life right now. I truly can’t believe how painful this all is for me and my children 💔😢💔😢💔

    1. Linda,

      My heart is grieved for you. It’s incredibly difficult to look back at the experiences you’ve had over the past 3 decades, now knowing he has been with her all along. What you believed was faithful exclusivity is actually deceptive duplicity – and clearly sexual betrayal. It causes something I’ve named as Intimate Deception Betrayal Trauma (IDBT). It hurts us to the core.

      You remind me of a woman named Janice who said, “I was married twenty-two years and didn’t see a thing.’ Some women turn on the computer screen of their mind and just see black. Like a hit-and-run accident, they are broadsided. They saw no signs and had no suspicions. It takes a lot of energy to cover up that sort of insidious deception. Lying not only erodes our ability to trust others, it damages our ability to trust ourselves. The phrase “addicts lie—they lie a lot” is not to be taken lightly. For every act of sexual deception there is a lie that damages a woman on the other side.”
      -Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal, page 56

      I’m sorry about your shock and mind numbing pain and am so glad you have the safety of a counselor to sort this all out.

  5. This article really hit home. My husband has been seeing prostitutes for our entire married life(25 years) and I only found out 2 months ago when he admitted to a 7 month affair he was having with a woman. I was completely devastated and my children too, who only know about the affair. I told him to leave as he wouldn’t get help and give up this woman. We are now separated but I don’t know how to handle the future. He is still seeing this other woman and has turned his back on God. I am seeing a therapist which is helping, but I still have contact with my husband for the children’s sake(and mine if I’m honest.) I don’t want to give up on my marriage but am I in denial that it can be restored? Please help.

    1. Hi Mac,

      You’re incredibly BRAVE. Brave for drawing a line in the sand to require that he leave the other women. You can’t maintain a marriage with a revolving door. It sounds like he has chosen the other woman. A denial statement sounds like, “I bet he’ll come home soon,” or “If I don’t get mad and give him time, I can get him to come back to me.” Both of these statements aren’t in REALITY. Reality hurts, that why it’s hard to look at. He’s been betraying you a long time. Co-parenting together is important. I imagine your children are hurt and confused. They know what’s true, and don’t understand why their daddy’s with someone else. Stay with your therapist, please have a good medical/OBGYN check up, and take care of yourself. You are absolutely worth being FAITHFUL too.

      Warmly,
      Dr. Sheri

  6. I am so thankful to find you finally. What do you do when you know in your gut and by lies and certain actions but yet cannot prove the acting out and he continues to deny even after I found the worst hard core hurting women kind of porn? He says everything that has quoted in every one of your blogs. So many ways to hide it! How do you get him to tell the truth? to admit it?

    1. we have been together 32 years. I am so terrified of knowing and not knowing! And now he has had prostate cancer. Had it removed can still have sex but needs meds for it most of the time.

      1. Hi Roo,

        Thank you so much for reaching out. You ask a reeaallly great question. Deception is so slippery. When someone is sexually acting out they typically are hoping for 2 things. #1 We won’t discover what they’re hiding and #2 if we do find something, we’ll go into denial around it. In light of that, you painfully have found evidence of hard core porn. I’m so sorry about that. It’s hard to see it. Many times, they don’t want to admit it. If they admit it, they have to deal with it. In my work I find that starting with you as the betrayed partner first may be a step in the right direction. Eventually we invite your husband to come in to do the work. They’re normally scared. Often if there are boundaries set that may include loosing you or some other consequence, they become motivated. Not every time, but many times. You may want check out my blog called “What’s a Therapeutic Full Disclosure?” and take a peek at the book “Boundaries” by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

        Hope that helps.

        Warmly,
        Dr. Sheri

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