My partner has been wrestling with alcohol and sexual shame for a long time. This week, he confided in me that he wants to seek help based upon a boundary I set for myself, that he does not want to live like this anymore. I don't want to "over-help" or engage in any co-dependent behavior and I want to be a loving partner in this. But I also need to protect myself and our kids. What can I do or what should I avoid? Specifics inside.
My partner is a gentle, kind, successful and funny person who struggles with anxiety and who had a messed up childhood that included a lot of anxiety and shame over sexuality. Think of a culture that valued suppressing emotion; forbade against any sexual relations prior to marriage; valued "purity" as equal to celibacy; engaged in subtle public shaming and gossip; etc.
After we had married, I stumbled upon his use of rather benign, vanilla porn for masturbation and it horrified him that I found out. I didn't see the porn or the masturbation as a problem. My issue was with his hiding it from me or not having more conversations with me about our own sex life related to his needs. I explained this to him as gently as I could and he was relieved and, I think, a bit surprised by my lack of anger or any disgust that he perceived I might have. He felt better, I felt better, we went on.
I had noticed over the years that when he was going through intense time because of work and couldn't sleep, that he would get up and go downstairs to watch a movie or play a video game to relax. This turned into occasional drinking binges. I would only discover this when I would wake up at 4 am and notice he wasn't in bed with me, and came upon the empty bottle, the passed out partner, etc. We'd discuss his anxiety and his use of alcohol as self-medication. But I know that as much as I wanted him to get help, he wasn't going to get better or manage his anxiety in a more healthy/less risky way until he wanted to.
Then we had kids. And our careers got more successful. But at the same time, more stressful. And what was once an occasional thing began to become more frequent. One night (maybe 10-11 years after that previous porn blow up), I came downstairs to find him passed out after watching webcam girls. And where I used to have a banging bod, I'm now in my mid-40's and not so hot and I'm exhausted from the kids (one of whom has major health issues that require us to get up a lot during the night) and these nubile webcam girls in their 20's...yeah. I felt crummy and depressed and somewhat betrayed. He had promised me that he would include me in any adventures in porn so that we kept those lines of communication open, and here he was hiding things again. And had gone from static to interactive in a way with live cams vs. scripted videos/photos, which sounds like an odd distinction to make, and I'm still questioning myself about that. I expressed that my anger about his lack of communication, the breach of trust, my own insecurities, etc. I also had the added fear that one of our young kids, especially the night walker, would find him passed out with his laptop on and his pants off. I was worried that he was using his work laptop (incognito browser isn't fail proof) and blow up his career. And I was worried about his health...the drinking and sitting is not good for his health, he's still relatively young (younger than I am by a few years). We talked about this. He told me that part of the thrill IS the shame, the adrenaline from that fear and shame. And it creates a lot of self-loathing, which pained me to see, because he doesn't internalize the amazing things that I and others see in him. We talked about his job and lots of strategies to ratchet down the stress. We live a very humble lifestyle compared to our earnings, and I'm all for his taking a less stressful job even if it means a cut in pay. Getting to the gym together, etc. He wanted to muscle through and just make himself change through force of will. I'm a big believer in therapy and self-care, but at the same time, I could not make him go. He had to want to go. So I explained my boundaries on engaging in interactive porn...please let me know about it, please keep talking about it, it isn't shameful, I'll do it with him, etc. And don't cheat on me with someone else...even a stranger, because I was cheated on once in a previous relationship and I know myself and I won't be able to come back from that. That was 2 years ago.
Three weeks ago, the drink > go online > pass out cycle began again. Now with Omegle. Now with chat. And video. And risky behavior masturbating on camera and online. And I calmly reminded him of the line. I explained that it might be better if we separate for a bit and we both could figure things out. I didn't scream or freak out. I'm actually blown away by how calm I felt (and still feel). He came to me the next morning and told me that he was ready. That he has researched AA meetings in the area. That he has started reading the Big Book. That he is so full of self-loathing and now knows he cannot do this himself; that he has to let other people know about this and help; that part of his addiction to this type of release is the adrenaline coupled with the alcohol and the cycle of shame > lack of inhibition > shame.
I'm wary and self-protective. I curbed the impulse to immediately begin researching rehab centers (do they have those for shame-based sexual behavior?) or therapists. Just taking it day-by-day to see if he follows through. And I'm tired, so tired. Because of a lot of different things, our lives are a ball of stress right now, this is a pretty peak stress time for both of us. I'm trying to stay open, and present, and calm. And it's hard to know how to do this type of thing.
I thought of a few things to work on myself and not to take him on as a project. To get a therapist for myself. To look up a list of ACOA or Al Anon meetings for family members. To secure a new babysitter for date nights. And...I'm clueless. I'm trying to think of other things to do to navigate this because this is uncharted territory, and to anticipate how to explain things to our kids in various scenarios as this plays out. I'm sad for my partner at the same time I've relieved to see him begin to open up about these secrets that are hurting him. I'm sad for myself and lost time in our relationship.
Looking for those "5 things to do, 5 things not to do when your partner is struggling with shame and addiction"...and if it is specific to alcohol and/or addiction to shame-based adrenaline, even better. Thanks.
tl;dr Partner who is engaging in shame-based, secretive sex stuff on line and abusing alcohol; I want some tips and advice on how to navigate this part of the process where he is initiating seeking help. We also have young kids.