Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Mid-Life Cheating Crisis

"In 1974, in her best-selling book Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, Gail Sheehy depicted midlife crisis with the example of a 40-year-old man who
'...has reached his professional goal but feels depressed and unappreciated. He blames his job or his wife or his physical surroundings for imprisoning him in this rut. Fantasies of breaking out begin to dominate his thoughts. An interesting woman he has met, another field of work, an Elysian part of the country—any or all of these become magnets for his wishes of deliverance. But once these objects of desire become accessible, the picture often begins to reverse itself. The new situation appears to be the dangerous trap from which he longs to take flight by returning to his old home base and the wife and children whose loss suddenly makes them dear.No wonder many wives stand aghast.'"

This passage was included in a great article about the so-called mid-life crisis, a period during which many men (and women) experience depression, disappointment, a sense that life has passed them by.
I suspect it might also read as an account of events regarding many of our adulterous husbands (and, for the betrayed men among us, wives). 
It speaks to our confusion when our spouse offers up the "I love you but I'm not in love with you" speech. Or our bafflement when our husbands, whom we genuinely thought had it pretty good with us, suddenly find fault with our very existence and seek distraction in the arms of women whose allure is just that they aren't us.
Oh how I wish our culture had a deeper understanding of the drivers of affairs! Instead we deal with the myths – that men are fleeing shrewish wives, that men are seeking mind-blowing sex, that men are simply not monogamous by nature.
Well, maybe not "myths" necessarily. Sometimes those things are very true. Sometimes men are miserable in their marriage and lack the courage to leave until they have someone to leave to. Some men are led around by their penises. And some men don't see the point of monogamy, believing that a variety of sex partners is preferable to a one-partner commitment. And to those men I say...vive la difference. And...stay away from my daughters!
To the rest of us, however, I say that we need a far deeper acknowledgement of how impacted we are by life changes. I also say that our primary relationship, which we've been culturally told should fulfill all our needs, takes the brunt of our disappointment in many other arenas of life. 
How often I've read, on this site, of women who've been cheated on by men dealing with sick or recently deceased parents, a wife's illness, disabled children, job loss, chronic illness, or – how cliché – middle age. 
If our society did better to educate us about what middle age feels like and how to prepare ourselves for the typical angst, we might recognize when we're tempted to flee something good for something...different. 
My father, something of a wise old man, commented recently on a phenomenon he noticed at his newspaper job (which he worked at for close to 50 years): Men, he said, would leave their wives in middle age. And then, he told me, they'd remarry women who were pretty much carbon copies of the wives they left. A few years later, he said, these men would claim to be miserable again.
Perhaps they just married the wrong women (repeatedly) or perhaps, if we isolate the variable, the problem wasn't the women, it was the men.
Then again, given what research is showing about a cross-cultural tendency in middle-age to weigh our lives in the balance and find them wanting, maybe the problem is that so many seek change when wisdom dictates that patience is far more likely to deliver happiness in the form of perspective. And gratitude.
This is not to advocate for doing nothing when doing something is prudent. Sometimes we do need to stir life's pot now and again, to challenge ourselves, to leave unhealthy relationships. But perhaps mid-life isn't a problem to be solved but a stage to be endured. Perhaps it doesn't need to be a crisis...as long as we don't create one by cheating. 


  1. Hi Elle: I found out about my husband's infidelity exactly 7 weeks ago, and your blog has been a lifesaver. So first, I want to thank you. Even though we started couple's counseling right away, I have not found that to be has helpful or healing as reading your blog. My husband and I are childhood sweethearts and met when we were 16 and have been together ever since. We are now 41, so when I first found out, I thought maybe it's a midlife crisis, so this post definitely resonated. We've had a very hard time since the birth of our child 2 1/2 years ago, compounded by the fact that he has special needs. My husband told me the cheating started just before my son's one year old birth day...he's been using a site called Seeking Arrangements where you meet up with sugar babies and pay them as sugar daddies. There were 17 women in the span of this time. Having read your blog, the one thing I took away was that there was always something more to be learned and that what comes out first isn't all of it. I kept imploring my husband to let me know if there's something else because I didn't want to find out later. I couldn't go through all this again. Well two days ago, he told me the rest. He's been cheating on me since before we were married 15 years ago. The first time was with a prostitute when he was out of the country and then with hundreds of escorts ever since throughout the entirety of our marriage until he switched it up to the new women in Seeking Arrangements two years ago. He said he had entirely forgotten about the escorts that in his mind that wasn't even cheating, but after I asked him again for the full truth on Saturday, he woke up in sweats realizing that he had to tell me everything. He is finally acknowledging that he has a sex addiction and will be enrolling in an 2 week intensive recovery institute and beginning counseling.

  2. I should ask that after the initial discovery, I generally felt I did want to work on my marriage. But now I really don't know. I just feel like everything in my life has been a lie and I don't know this person at all. I took off my wedding ring a few weeks ago and was happy to read your post about that. When he disclosed how far back this went, I took down every photo of us in the house (which really upset him). He knows about this blog because there were a number of posts I wanted him to read after D day. So actually one of the first things I said to him after the rest of it came out is: "Well, I know have more in common with Elle than I ever thought." Anyhow Elle, I'd really appreciate any specific guidance about dealing with the sex addiction pieces and the feelings of knowing how far back it's gone.

    1. Let me first say just how sorry I am for everything you're going through. I suspect you're completely in shock -- it took me a while to really absorb what I learned.
      Let me say second that I hope you get yourself a really good therapist -- one that understands sex addiction. You need someplace where you can sift through all this and begin to heal. Having a child with special needs is challenging enough without dealing with the bombshell of your husband's secret life.
      Whether you stay or go will become clearer in time. Right now, my advice is to focus on your own healing and let your husband focus on his recovery. My husband, by the time he told me "everything", was already in treatment for sex addiction. His counsellor kept telling him he had to come clean but my husband was terrified. I forced his hand by insisting...I just had a sense that there was more to his story. Oh yeah...there was more.
      There are a couple of great books that really helped me: Deceived by Claudia Black and Mending a Shattered Heart by Stefanie Carnes (daughter of sex addiction researcher Patrick Carnes).
      What you'll learn is that his sex addiction, bizarrely, had nothing to do with you. He's likely a master compartmentalizer and his "other" life was emotionally separate from you and your child. It's crazy...but addiction is crazy. It doesn't mean that your life was a lie. I know it's really hard to believe that. But I absolutely know it to be true. Everything that I experienced with my husband was "real" even though he had a double life I knew nothing about. Now...there were certainly aspects that were lies. When I thought he was at work, for instance, but he was with someone. And there's a lot of absolutely righteous anger for the danger he put you in, physically and emotionally. And all that needs to be processed whether you stay with him or not.
      But do your best to take it moment by moment. Focus on keeping yourself healthy and sane. Focus on being able to mother your child. Trust that things will unfold and you'll be able to deal with them when they do. Try not to let your mind gallop away on you (bring it back to your breath, over and over and over).
      You will get through this, I promise. If your husband is committed to recovery, then you just might discover a really incredible guy who's capable of a far deeper relationship than he and you ever imagined. Sex addiction is a coping strategy for those who struggle with feelings such as loneliness, insecurity, grief, fear, etc. It becomes a distraction, a way to shift focus. It's rarely about sex per se, but about the distraction that sex offers.
      It truly had nothing to do with you and whether or not he loves you, and everything with himself and the fact that he didn't love himself.

  3. I'd also like to add to Anonymous.

    I am so sorry you are going through this. I'm sure you are feeling shell shocked. This is a huge challenge you have ahead of you. I don't know if I could do it. However I will say there is an excellent book out there called Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. I think you will find this book VERY helpful.

    You husband has a very severe problem and you are not trained to deal with this stuff. Don't even try but what you have to do is take care of yourself and get smart reallllllly fast. There are so many things you can do wrong for both you and him. This is HIS problem not YOURS and he has to deal with it seriously.

    Good luck to you Anon.

  4. Hello Anon..at just 7 weeks out everything is still so raw for you. My story is very similar to yours, teenage sweethearts with the bombshell of uncovering his addiction 31 years later. Elle's advice is wonderful. You didn't cause this and it's his problem to work on. My best advice is to take life hour by hour, find a good therapist you trust, and work on finding what you need.

    I started individual therapy within a few weeks but marriage therapy didn't start for us until after we separated, nearly 2 years later. He was never fully committed to getting help until he realized I had made the decision to divorce. It's been a total of 4 years and has been a tremendous struggle to understand, accept, and try to start a new life together.

    The most difficult thing for me has been to hear him say the sex was secondary. For him it was all about the thrill of the hunt and, even though he was paying for the encounters, hearing the partners tell him he was a fabulous lover gave him a high. Be careful how many details you ask for. Looking back I remember the craving to hear every last detail and now I wish I didn't know most of it. Hearing intimate details about when, where, and how can be soul-crushing.

    I wish I could give you a hug. Please know that there are so many of us out here who have been where you are and understand. Work on yourself and the answers will come.

  5. Thank you ladies for all your advice and words of support. I so appreciate it. If I can ever get past the lies, there is one area that I'm really struggling with that I want to ask you about...especially SusanG0924. My husband is the only person I've ever been with. When I found out about the 17 women of the last few years, it was an overwhelming number but one that I might be able to somehow wrap my head around one day. I could still hold his hand and hug him because I remembered that I used to feel safe in his embrace. There were many years there and we even had a few days of hysterical bonding which was cut short by my getting a UTI (just what I needed).

    But now, that's all a lie. I can't even look at him much less think of ever touching him. And how that it's hundreds of people, it's just not the same. I can't wrap my head around it. What's worse is that these hundreds of escorts were from a site where each encounter was reviewed, blow by blow, with a rating scale and a very vivid description and assessment. Every single aspect of the women's body is dissected and "scored". I read reviews from some other people, and then I had to look at my husband's reviews because I couldn't believe that he could demean and objectify women this way. I've now read about 10 of his reviews, and I know that indeed he can, and while it doesn't cause the hurt and anguish of the betrayal, it produces other feelings of disgust and disappointment.

    I'm not sure this is the kind of man I want around our son. We were actually in the process of IVF to conceive a daughter, and now that's forever on ice because I certainly wouldn't want this kind of father for a daughter.

    Anyhow, my question to you guys, is how did you get beyond the numbers? And what do I do with the fact that I just don't feel that it's right that I remain exclusive to him (though I have 0 interest in cheating). I've been scouring the internet for anything that can give me guidance on these two specific questions, and I can't find anything. I hope you might be able to share from your collective experiences and wisdom. Thanks again.

    1. Anon,
      I had a different reaction when I learned about the many more women than I first realized. It became clear to me that this was never about an actual intimate experience. It was essentially "masturbation with skin on", as I've heard it referred to. So, at first, I felt a weird sort of relief.
      I did go through the disgust stage -- I'm a pretty vocal feminist and to think that my husband (father of two daughters and one son!) objectified and demeaned women repulsed me. It took me some time, as well as seeing my husband work through his own shame and self-disgust at what he'd done. Facing up to sex addiction means taking the mask off and no longer deluding yourself that you're some sort of Don Juan. It means recognizing that you were a sick, sick person involved with sick, sick people. It means admitting just how disgusted you've become with yourself.
      Which is why I take such objection when people, who clearly don't understand sex addiction, suggest that it's a convenient excuse for cheating. Anyone who has seen sex addiction up close knows that it's as messy and shame-filled as any other addiction. There's nothing "sexy" about it.
      I suspect you're getting ahead of yourself. Give yourself time to absorb what's been an absolute shock. Learn what you can. You might decide that you can no longer remain married to this man, which is absolutely your choice. There is no right or wrong in this. But at this point, I would urge you to focus on your own healing and see how he manages his own recovery.

  6. Anon...Elle has hit it right on with her comments. I'm on a trip for the next week and won't have access to my email. I'll comment more when I get back.

    Hang on we're here for you.

  7. Anon,
    I know where you are right now on this path that none of us chose or ever thought we would be stumbling our way on. My discovery came last Nov.when I learned my husband was using Viagra, escorts, prostitutes, massage parlours. Funny, but not, but I was obsessed with counting up the number of Viagra pills he got thru 8 yrs. of cheating because I had a history of prescriptions from the pharmacy! So like you I was initially focused on the numbers of his sexual encounters. I repeated this to him over and over too as if to somehow shame him into being as shocked as I was. I then became obsessed with looking at the escort sites and trying to see if I could somehow find his favorites...I realize now how much this protected me from emotions and feelings. It gave me "projects" that were tangible. I probably wasn't ready to face yet how I felt, as early on I was in a lot of denial and shock. After all, many years of our marriage had been full of lies and my husband was not who I thought he was.
    I want you to know that a year later I am in such a better place and our marriage has survived. In the early months after Dday, I never would have believed I could now be in a place where so much doesn't matter anymore. Those details, like how many times, how many escorts, where, how, etc. have all been hashed over soo many times and in therapy and here alone with my husband, feelings have been dealt with.
    I finally after a year, understand and accept that my husband's sex addiction had nothing to do with me or my sexual ability, attractiveness, etc. I could not understand that in the beginning.
    Please take good care of yourself and have faith during this journey. There is a lot of good support and advice from this site.

  8. Anon,

    I hope you let us know how things are going.

    Elle and J. have said exactly what I was going to say about all the numbers of encounters. At first, there seems to be so many partners you can't even wrap your head around having that many. As the weeks pass, how many becomes less important especially if your husband is actively seeking understanding of the addiction and the issues that caused him to turn down that road.

    You can't hear this message enough...please find an IC you can trust and get started working on your needs right away. I thought I would never be able to understand what I was going through but slowly, I began to heal and understand that HIS choices weren't about me. This won't be a quick fix, I was in therapy for 3 years and still go back sometimes for a "touch-up".

    Take care of yourself, do what you need to do for yourself, try not to think about him for a while. I made lots better progress in therapy once I stopped trying to fix my WH. We didn't start MC for almost 2 years. I thought I needed to get my own head on straight before I tried to unravel the mess of our marriage.

    You can do this, keep reading and let us know how you are.

    1. Susan, I re-read your words often. I would still like to hear more about your story and how it is that you have come to terms with the sexual trauma. I'm really struggling with this. I just switched therapists...have found a trauma specialist that specializes in partners of SAs, but it would mean a lot to hear from you. I don't now what to do with having only had him as a partner and thinking that we were each other's one and only and now finding out that there have been hundreds of others.

      Can you share how you have processed that?

    2. Anonymous,
      I'll be curious to hear what a therapist who deals with trauma related to partners of sex addicts. Please share what you're learning.
      I'll weigh in with what I figured out. I had to simply recognize that my husband's acting out was a matter of triggering certain parts of his brain related to his addiction. In other words, it wasn't unlike my mother's alcoholism, or a friend's shopping addiction. It wasn't the ACT, it was the subsequent feeling -- the temporary relief of anxiety, fear, whatever. I came to understand that sex when you're a sex addict is basically masturbation with another person. They are nothing more than objects. In fact, my husband ended up feeling a lot of shame and guilt at how he objectified these people -- they were barely human to him. They were a means to an end. Twisted and sick. But true.



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