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 infidelity over a long period of time. I felt gutted and trapped. Over the years, I sensed Conner didn't really want to do it. But if you'd asked him why he continued to sexually act out, he might have said that while he hated it—he didn't know how to stop.
If you had asked me how I saw it I would have said, "It felt like he wanted to have his cake and eat it too."
But how could I have let myself be his "cake"? And why was he so compelled to cheat by sneaking sex from other women, even right under my nose?
Occasionally, I'd find a hint or two—a discovery of porn or a strand of long 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. Yet, he'd leave me like a stale and discarded cake crumb, 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, he loves you." I may as well have been told I had four days to live, or that they needed to amputate a limb, or that our house had just burned to the ground. At least those things would have been palpable. But love me? It certainly didn't feel that way. Losing a limb or my home would've been easier to believe.
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 such a possibility. Conner had hidden his sexually compulsive acts for years. I had no clue just 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 say my story was uncommon—but painfully, it's not. It happened to me and tragically, it's happening to many of you, as well. So, why didn't I draw a line in the sand? And 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 on for so long. I'm not talking about Conner's sexual deception. I wasn't responsible for what he had been hiding from me. I'm talking about what I did or didn't do about the sexual betrayals I did discover. To be willing to expose the reasons I would have to wrestle with my shame, denial, and fear.
It's the most obvious concern. What will others think of Conner and me if they know? On whom will they place the blame? On me? The raised eyebrow, that judgy comment. Or that mother who alludes to the noxious notion that "I must not be giving her son what he needs." Well-meaning yet misled clergy who say I need to just forgive and forget. Therapists whose advice is to, find deeper connection, let go of the past, or try to be more physical. How can I do any of that when porn is still what he sees?
How can we grow deeper when we haven't worked through the infidelity first? How can I heal when all that's offered is, "I said I'm sorry, when are you going to stop looking in the rearview mirror?" When he's unwilling to even empathize with how his sexual acts have betrayed me? How can I move forward if he tells our children that the problems in our marriage are my fault?
Denial had become my friend, or so I'd thought. But I, too, was keeping secrets—from myself. As a way of coping with my pain. I didn't want to see what was really going on. 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." 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 trauma-induced protective denial (betrayal blindness), and Conner in his denial of the severity of his addiction. Our denial opened the door for the deception to continue to grow, out of plain sight. Understandably, my not wanting to look and see enabled Conner to keep eating the cake. I hate admitting it, but now I know it's true: denial and enablement have been a part of my story and are why things went unaddressed for so long. And that brings me to the third reason.
I was afraid. Afraid of losing our house and home; afraid of my family finding out; afraid of what friends and neighbors would think; afraid of Conner getting mad and losing it; afraid that Conner was hiding an actual emotional affair; afraid of others seeing the cracks in my mask; afraid of nothing ever changing…
My shame, denial, and fear kept me locked up. It enabled Conner to continue to have his cake and eat it, too. What I didn't know is that I desperately needed help. It was too big of a battle for me to fight alone. But I didn't know where to find support. And I didn't know what I needed to do first. If any of this sounds familiar to you, please know you have arrived at a safe place.
In my book Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal, my mission is to swap out your shame for validation and truth; to exchange your denial by gently opening your eyes to reality so you can get the help you need; and to honor your experience of fear and introduce you to 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 may be happening in your home. You are worthy of respect, honesty, and valor. So, let's get you connected to someone who can show you that you're worth so much more!
Dr. Tim Clinton interviews Dr. Sheri Keffer on the daily broadcast.
On this broadcast, Dr. Tim Clinton talks about the issue of marital unfaithfulness with licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Sheri Keffer. She speaks candidly about how pornography, lust and infidelity wrecked her first marriage. Hear how couples can find healing, and possibly reconciliation, from this emotional pain.
Learn More about the Writer
Dr. Sheri Keffer is a licensed therapist and counselor with over 20 years of practical, hands on experience. Dr. Keffer regularly addresses depression, anxiety, trauma and grief through various tailored treatments. She received both her Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy, and her Master of Arts in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. Dr. Keffer co-hosts the nationally-syndicated radio show New Life Live, which reaches 2 million listeners. In addition to her practice, Dr. Keffer works closely with Amen Clinics in Newport Beach, Virginia treating trauma and PTSD. Dr. Keffer co-produced the Relationship Coaching DVD which was the basis for the PBS Special: The Brain in Love. She also frequently speaks at national conferences, treatment centers and religious gatherings on topics such as brain health and relationship intimacy. Dr. Keffer and her husband, Kyle, reside in Orange County, California.