Question

My husband and I seem to keep having the same conversation on repeat and I’m at a loss for what more I can do. He tells me that he doesn’t feel wanted. He says that it’s not about sex (and for that matter he’s said it even within days of us doing so). I ask for clarification on his expectations and needs and he says that he is looking for reassurance that he is wanted. He feels like I could take him or leave him. I don’t know what is missing because it feels like I might think things are fine and he clearly doesn’t. So, I ask what that looks like and am told I don’t sleep as close to him and cuddle as much (I have a physical problem that makes this increasingly uncomfortable and even painful over time, which he knows and says he understands). We have been married for 20 years, and I have stayed by his side through his sex addiction and the associated betrayals and disclosure. We go on weekly dates, regular trips with just us, and talk frequently. I don’t know what way I could more clearly say or show that I have chosen him or want him. I’m trying hard not to just see this as a sexual thing because it feels like I am blind to what else there could be more of to be enough for him. I’d appreciate any help in getting out of this cycle and helping both of us see our blind spots.

Answer

I see how hard you’re working to reassure your husband that he’s important to you. It’s remarkable that you have not only survived serious betrayals from your husband, but also feel safe enough to provide support and reassurance to him. However, I hear your frustration that nothing you’re doing seems to help him feel better. There are a few areas of consideration I encourage you to explore with him as you work to strengthen your relationship.

You mentioned that your husband has struggled to overcome a sexual addiction. I commend him for his hard work in overcoming this difficult challenge. I’ve worked with good men and women for over 24 years who work hard to overcome their sexual compulsions. In my experience, most of those who battle these compulsions have experienced some type of attachment wounding from a parent, family member, peer, or other important person in their life. In other words, they’ve experienced rejection, loneliness, abuse, enmeshment, or other attachment-related challenges.

While this isn’t the only path to sexually compulsive behaviors, it’s a common one. One of the many purposes of healthy sexual expression is to provide comfort. Anyone who has experienced an attachment rupture is going to constantly scan for any predicable form of comfort. When you understand it this way, the logic of addictive patterns starts to make more sense. Even the most conscientious and attentive humans aren’t as predictable as an addiction.

I share this because so many individuals who have stopped turning to their addiction for comfort eventually find themselves in attachment distress. There can be an assumption that once they stop the problematic behaviors, they’ll heal their relationships. It’s true that stopping harmful behaviors will build a nice foundation for relationship work, but the relationships still have to be built. And, this starts with understanding how you show up in relationships.

If your husband experienced attachment wounding, then this unresolved pain is going to put him on high alert for any signs of rejection, especially from you. It wouldn’t matter how available you made yourself to him physically, emotionally, or sexually. He has a responsibility to understand if his nervous system is still sending signals about potential rejection.

Further complicating this dynamic could be the possibility that his insecurity will feel like accusations that you’re not doing enough, which will keep you both stuck in a negative cycle. You’ll feel frustrated and resentful that he’s not appreciative of your efforts and he’ll pick up on your irritation and never feel accepted.

Just remember that it’s common for those healing from sexually compulsive patterns to outsource all their validation needs to their partner. Once the dependence on the harmful behaviors has stopped, the attachment longing driving the behaviors need to be addressed and can form an unhealthy dependence. Trauma therapy can help reduce the attachment distress and heal his wounds.

There’s nothing wrong with being dependent on another person. This is why we make covenants with God and our spouse. It’s not good for us to be alone. However, too much independence and too much dependence will keep us in the extremes and make healthy attachment more difficult. The goal is interdependence, which is a balance of independence and dependence where we are separate but connected.

Please remember that you’re one of three people in that marriage covenant. The real healing for him will come as he gets a clear answer from God about his worth and value. When we get a clear answer that we’re beloved by God, it provides security no other human can provide for us. You can certainly reassure him and stay close, but he has an individual responsibility to know he’ll be okay.

Invite him to explore these possibilities and see if he’s willing to move his healing forward by addressing any attachment wounds so you don’t have to carry all of the pressure to be his only source of comfort. It’s exhausting to be your spouse’s only form of emotional life support. Healing his nervous system through trauma work, turning to God for deep reassurance, and working to see how committed you are to him will require ongoing and committed efforts on his part.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]  

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About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.