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I really need some advice. I am 40 and the girl I have been dating for 1 year is 41. We have known each other for ten years and had dated many years ago- but after I found out about some of her promiscuous behavior with guys who played on our ball team, I distanced myself from her although we still remained in contact. I ended up moving away and she ended up getting married. Her marriage was not good, she ended up divorcing her husband, and she and I eventually began dating again.
I found that out that she was cheating on her husband almost from the beginning. She was seeing an ex-boyfriend (her first love) for "walks and kisses" during her lunch hours. Then she met another guy who works in her building. They would go for coffee and essentially flirt and talk about sex during their coffee breaks. She accepted this guy's advances and had him over to her place while her husband was out of town and her 9 year old son was upstairs sleeping. She was honest about this with me which I guess was a good thing. However, she had originally told me she had no feelings for this guy, but when I pushed her on this she said she had wanted more with him and would have left her husband if he also wanted more.
My concerns came after we were dating for almost 10 months and I discovered that she was texting this same guy and sending him naked pictures of herself. These were pics she had also sent me and that I thought were something special between us. She saw him for coffee as well. I broke up with her over this and she begged me for forgiveness and another chance and because I have strong feelings for her, I gave her that chance. I asked her never to see this guy again, to go to counseling and to stop getting in contact with her ex-boyfriends and she has done all this. Still, I am just not so sure I can ever get over this infidelity. To complicate matters further, I have discovered that she was sexually abused as a child. I have read a lot about how abused individuals can "sexualize their identity". She has slept with many men and has always been involved with guys who were bad for her. She says she has no secrets from me anymore and that I am the man she has always dreamed of being with.
I know this situation is a mess and I am fighting an uphill battle. I would really appreciate your thoughts and any advice you can offer. --Infidelity Challenged
I'm sorry- it's tough to fall hard for someone who carries so much emotional baggage. Let me say upfront that you are wise to tune into your instincts and not continue down a road filled with endless cycles of breaking up and making up. You are right that childhood sexual abuse can leave some serious wounds in its wake if the victim has not worked on their issues and turned themselves into a survivor. From what you share, your girlfriend is acting out sexually in the classic ways we see with victims of past abuse. The important thing for you to focus on upfront is that YOU cannot save her--she has to learn how to do that for herself, and it begins with asking for professional help and then doing the work that is necessary for true healing and recovery. It sounds as though she knows instinctively that you are a good guy who would be a great partner. Unfortunately, she may have cast you in the role of rescuer, and many males find women who need rescuing to be very attractive. Are you one of these? If so, you may need to do some work on yourself as well.
This is not about forgiveness, it is about survival, yours, hers and you collectively as a couple. When one or both persons in a relationship have unresolved traumas, they often behave in ways that are destructive to themselves, the other person and the relationship. This appears to be the case here. Therefore, if you continue this relationship without any interventions being utilized, the likelihood of your girlfriend changing her behavior so that she is able to maintain healthy commitment is very low. The bottom line here is that she is not capable of controlling those impulses without professional help and intervention. You could offer support by encouraging her to seek this help, agreeing to go along to the sessions if/when asked, and offering her support as she faces the demons of her past.
Sit her down for a heart to heart talk. Tell her you care about her but that as things stand now, you can't be in a relationship with her. Before you do this, you could investigate some resources for her so that you could offer her some information about what help may be available to her, depending upon where you live and what her resources are for securing these. If your heart is in it, reassure her that you will be in the background offering support and waiting for when she is ready to take those first few steps towards a healthy relationship.
If your heart isn't really with her anymore, offer support to get her to counseling and to offer input if the therapist requests it. You don't need to share too much about your thoughts regarding a future relationship, or not. She will need to take this step by step. Enabling her to jump too far ahead will only help to either set her back or keep her stuck in her role of damsel in distress.
(from October 2010)
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
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