The one thing keeping an addict from getting into recovery is DENIAL. Denial starts with the declaration, “I don’t have a problem!” This is usually followed by, “You’re the problem!” Or some variation. And then the trauma begins. The more emphatic the denial by the addict, the deeper the trauma to the wife. I can only describe it as “crazymaking,” because that is what it is. The addict will go to great lengths to deny he is an addict and it will literally drive you to distraction if you don’t recognize it and learn how to deal with it. He will twist and tie every piece of “proof” you have of his addiction into knots, doing the most astounding mental and emotional gymnastics you have EVER been privileged to witness, until you will almost believe it yourself. Or you might just give in because the barrage of verbal warfare is relentless. Trying to argue or reason with an addict is futile. It’s a waste of time, energy and breathe. Which is one reason I kept a journal and kept records of all the proof I had of his encounters with other women. I have electronic and hard copies. So whenever I would start to fall prey to his “crazymaking” I could go back and look at the evidence and read my journal and remember what really happened. I’m not the crazy one. He is.
It took me a long time to come to this realization because my husband was one of the most reasonable and logical people I knew. It’s quite a role reversal when I am the more reasonable and logical person in the relationship. So it was extremely difficult to wrap my brain around this new warped person standing in front of me. Any encounters with him sent me running for cover in self-defense. I literally felt like I was under gun and mortar fire all.the.time. I could hardly tolerate the constant lies and accusations. He almost had ME convinced that his addiction was MY FAULT and that he was the victim.
I am not the only one to experience this. Soon after I went “no contact” with him, he started doing the same thing with my kids. It’s one thing for him to drag me through the warped and sicko maze of the bizarre “fun house” of his mind, but it is quite another thing to watch him do it to my kids! They are adults so I couldn’t do anything about it except sit by and watch him do the same thing to them that he had done to me. This was and is just one more layer to the trauma he has put our family through.
If you have ever been around an addict then you know exactly what I am talking about. If not, let me take you through a few of the denial tactics, along with some personal examples to show you what each tactic of denial looks like. If you are in a relationship with an addict then you will recognize most, if not all of them. Understanding the role of denial in sex addiction with help you know where you are in your relationship with the addict and what needs to happen next.
- Lying – Addicts lie about everything, even stuff they don’t need to lie about. They cannot seem to tell the truth…at all. They will say anything, do anything to protect their secret world from being discovered. The problem is that the lying is pretty obvious because the damage done to the brain by the addiction makes it nearly impossible for them to keep track of all the lies. If your husband spends a great amount of time lying and covering his tracks he is in denial. Honesty is a hallmark of a healthy relationship. If your husband is lying to you then something is wrong.
- She said: My ex-husband was frequently “let go” or “changed” jobs unexpectedly. When I would hear him interviewing on the phone, I would catch him telling potential employers numerous lies, small lies, but lies nevertheless. So I would ask him, “why did you lie about…?”
- He said: “Well, everyone lies when they are being interviewed, it’s how the game is played.”
- Other examples: Often they cannot account for where they have been. Coming home late from work. Suddenly getting lots of calls from “wrong numbers” and not being able to explain them away. Clicking out of apps or computer pages when you walk in the room and then lying about it.
- Playing the Victim – This is the one denial tactic that hurt me more than all the others, except for the gaslighting. I had a terrible time understand how he could act like he was the one who was the victim? I didn’t really want the victim role, I have never been fond of using it, but it was insulting that he acted like I was the one who hurt him!
- He said: “I just don’t understand why you are not more supportive of me? You left me, I didn’t leave you! So you are the one who just doesn’t love me anymore. If you loved me you would have stayed with me and worked with me.”
- She said: Wow! This was a tough pill to swallow when he would blast me with this one, which he did nearly every time we talked. The worst part of this one is that I think he really believes himself when he says it! I moved out to get myself to a safe place because he refused to come clean from the very beginning and he continued to lie and cover up his affairs. If at any point he would have stopped the affairs, gotten into recovery and provide me with safety, I would have moved back in with him and “worked with him,” but he was unable or unwilling to do these bare minimum steps. So I couldn’t come back. It wasn’t ever safe enough to do so, no matter how much I wanted to do it. The truth is that when he started having affairs with other women, he left me first. This seems lost on him.
- Other examples: “I just can’t help it.” “You won’t work with me.” “You just don’t love me anymore.” “I will never be able to repent from this because you will never forgive me.” If you were more supportive of me then I could overcome this.”
- Entitlement – This is used by the addict when he feels he has the right to behave a certain way. He will somehow feel he is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. Entitlement is often behind the addicts belief that he is SPECIAL, that he doesn’t have an addiction. Those addicts who feel they are entitled believe they are the exception and not the rule.
- He said: “After all I have done for you over the years you owe it to me to give me the benefit of the doubt.”
- She said: He is not entitled to cash checks in the trust account after infidelity. Trust is something that is earned, he is not entitled to it, and especially not after having online affairs, unchecked, for a year.
- Other examples: “I am different, I am not a full-blown addict like the other guys in my group.” “I work hard to support my wife and kids, and I’m productive at my job. I think that I deserve a little reward. I mean it can’t be all work and no play, right? So if I go online for a little while here and there to look at porn, nobody should complain, because I deserve this little escape.”
- Blame – Essentially, addicts see themselves at being at the mercy of the words or actions of other people. They are assigning their responsibility for a fault or a wrong doing to others, usually their wife and family members. Often an addict will not accept responsibility for acting out even when he is caught. With the addict, it is usually someone else’s fault. Sometimes the addict will take partial responsibility, but them blame his wife for the rest. This is recognized when the addict says, “Yes, this is my fault, BUT…” There should be no “BUT” when an addict takes real responsibility! The addicts blaming can be devastating to the betrayed wife! It is appalling to have your husband blame you for their wrong choices. This often leaves the wife wondering if there might be some truth to his twisted thinking.
- He said: “If you would have stayed with me then I wouldn’t keep cheating on you. You left me all alone so of course I kept cheating. If you had been with me I wouldn’t have any reason to be with other women.”
- She said: “So you do not have enough self-control to keep your core principles without me around to make sure you don’t cheat?” This is blaming at it’s finest! With this sort of logic it is totally my fault he was unfaithful! Not! This is a core issue with addicts, they seem to lack agency or accountability. This is another way you can tell if your husband is serious about recovery, HE WILL BE ACCOUNTABLE for his own actions!
- Other examples: “My wife is such a nag.” “She constantly criticizes everything I do.” “She’s boring in bed. She never wants to try anything new, and she doesn’t care if I’m enjoying things or not.” The other women I meet on Ashley Madison are totally different. They like me the way I am, and they’re willing to let me do what I want.”
These next three are very similar and are often used by the addict together in the same sentence.
- Justification – is when an addict tries to show their actions are right or reasonable. Often you can recognize a justification by the use of the word JUST. “I was just doing…”, “It was just a little….”, “You just don’t understand…”.
- He said: “I only acted out sexually with other women a few times online. After that we were just talking. Don’t you understand? I was just talking to them.”
- She said: Even if he had not ever acted out online sexually and had only been talking to other women in chatroom, this is still cheating in most women’s eyes. Anytime your husband turns he attention to another women that is time he should have been investing in you! That is cheating you out of your relationship with him! As far as the sexual piece goes, the number of times doesn’t matter to a wife. One time is too many! There is no JUST when we are talking about cheating!
- Other examples:“Everyone is doing it.” “We were separated so I just didn’t think it mattered.” “All you do is criticize me.” “I was just flirting, it’s no big deal.”
- Minimization – This is trying to reduce the seriousness of the addicts behaviors to the smallest possible amount or degree. To the wife, minimizing her feelings of betrayal signal that her husband is unsafe because he really doesn’t “get it” or understand what he has really done to her. Minimizing is a sure sign that the wife is not safe to trust her husband.
- She said: Often I would have the feeling that my Ex was still cheating on me, even when he said he wasn’t. I would confront him with the feeling and he would tell me he wasn’t (lying). Later on, I would find out he was “chatting” with some woman online. When I confronted him with the evidence…
- He said: “Yes, I was chatting with so and so online, but it wasn’t anything. We were just talking. I didn’t tell you because I knew you wouldn’t understand. But it was nothing.” If it was really nothing, he wouldn’t have hidden it.
- Other examples: “I’m not hurting anyone, and I’m not putting myself in any danger. I mean everyone knows that it’s just a one-time thing and we’re not going to fall in love. And I can tell right away when someone is into drugs or weird stuff, just from what they write or text me, so I don’t get into dicey situations. This just isn’t a big deal.” “This website isn’t that bad, we mostly just hang out in chatrooms and talk. It’s the way I relax at the end of a stressful day. It isn’t any different from you being on Facebook.”
- Rationalization – Is making excuses to justify an unwanted behavior. Often a rationalization will appear to be logical and well thought out, but the underlying purpose of it is to avoid the true explanation. They are false and often inconsistent excuses for specific behaviors.
- She said: “Why did you just go and make this worse by acting out with women in person?”
- He said: “After I was excommunicated I figured it didn’t matter anymore so if I was being accused of cheating I decided I might as well go off and have sex with a real person. I mean, really, how could that be any worse?”
- Other examples: “I’m not having affairs like a lot of other people I know. All I’m doing is looking at porn, playing a few virtual reality sex games and occasionally getting off on a webcam. I don’t even know anybody’s real name. So this isn’t cheating. And if my partner thinks it is, that’s his problem, not mine.”
- Turning the Tables – Also know as manipulation, is a tactic used by the addict to change the situation or focus so that he has changed positions with his spouse. This often happens when a wife confronts the addict about a specific behavior. The addict will find a way to turn the tables to make it about his wife’s perceived problem so the focus is taken off of his problem.
- She said: “I really wish you wouldn’t ignore me, if we are going to repair our relationship then we need to work on improving our connection.”
- He said: “Well, if you hadn’t moved out and left me then we would be living in the same house and we could connect everyday! If we are not connecting then it’s probably because you do not live in the same house as me.”
- Other examples: How to spot manipulation.
- Gaslighting – manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. It is a form of psychological abuse used by narcissists in order to instill anxiety and confusion in their victim’s.
- She said: “I just really feel like you are still cheating on me.” I would say this after going through a period of time where he would distance himself from me, not call or text and then completely ignore me. This happened over and over. So I would ask him about what is going on with.
- He said: “I can’t believe you don’t trust me, I have given you no reason not to trust me and here you are again, accusing me of things I did not do! How can we ever get back together if you are constantly questioning everything I do? I go to counseling with you. I attended the recovery program with you, like you wanted me to, what more do you want from me? Nothing I do is ever enough for you! You will never forgive me!
- Other examples: Read more about gaslighting here, here, and here.
All the above tactics were used on me quite extensively. This is why I had to go NO CONTACT with my Ex and it will probably stay that way until he comes out of denial on his own. An addict in denial is dangerous to your mental and emotional health. That isn’t an exaggeration either. I ended up being suicidal because my husband was in absolute denial. He even went so far as to claim the mental health professionals working with him said he was not suffering from an addiction, but something else. The problem is that he would never define what that “something else” was. Later, when I talked to his counselors and church leaders about what I was experiencing on the other end of his “problem” they each agreed that his was deep in addiction, and that he had been less than honest with them about the extent of his problems. This is a huge issue with denial because if they cannot be honest with themselves about what they have done then they cannot be honest with their counselors either. In this state there is no moving forward. The addict is stuck. And so is his family. A problem cannot be addressed or fixed if the person with the problem can’t even see that they have a problem! This leaves the family no other choice than to stand by and helplessly watch as their loved one spirals out of control. There is NOTHING anyone can do until the addict hits the bottom. Here is an article you may find useful on the stages of denial.
The longer the addict stays in denial the more grim the chances are of repairing your relationship. My husband’s addiction went on unchecked and untreated, in any significant way, for 3 solid years. That is plenty long for him to have developed a full-blown addiction.
So how do you know if your man is in denial about his sex addiction? As you can see from some of the above examples, usually, it’s pretty easy to tell. This list is a pretty good place to start. Almost everyone can tell except the addict. It is also really easy to tell if they are in recovery or not by the frequency in which they still engage in denial behaviors. If your husband is still lying, minimizing, justifying, blaming, acting the victim or entitled, if he rationalizing, turning the tables on you or gaslighting you then you can be pretty certain that he is still involved in acting out on his addictive behaviors! Red flags should go up immediately. At this point, an honest and open Q&A should happen between you about your concerns. If he is still in recovery then he will welcome your questions and do his best to answer honestly and work to relieve any of your fears or concerns. Any stonewalling is a red flag that something is going on.
As much as I hate the denial tactics that my husband put me through, they were the barometer that I was able to use to determine if he was serious about fighting for me or not. Ultimately, it was the deciding factor in determining to divorce him. He just would not come out of denial. It seems he still won’t.
That’s the bad news. There is some good news. You do have some choices you can make to empower yourself against the “denial effect.” This amounts to the things you must do to work on your own recovery from the trauma caused by the addict.
So what can you do to protect yourself from the “denial effect?” Plenty. This is will be the subject of my next blog post…
Note: Denial is not just engaged in by addicts. In fact, family members are often as deeply in denial as the addict. And because of this they tend to either enable or ignore the addiction and its consequences. This is another blog post that will be forthcoming.
Regardless of whether denial is engaged in by the addict or his/her loved ones, it exacerbates the addict’s desire to escape from life. This is because denial is a complex series of lies, secrets and deceptions that expands and takes on a life of its own as the addiction escalates. And the larger and more complicated this web of deceit becomes, the harder it is to maintain. Over time, the stress of sustaining this façade of normalcy becomes overwhelming. And of course the anxiety and fear this produces nearly always triggers a further desire to “numb out” via the addiction. In this way, the addict’s and/or the family’s system of denial directly feeds the cycle of addiction. This is why it is imperative that the whole family go to counseling, 12-steps and addiction recovery for spouses and families. See my page on Programs for suggestions on where to start.
Be Strong, Stay Sweet!