Smash Talks: Secret Lives

Dear Smashera,

I thought I married a loving, trustworthy, family man. A few months after our wedding we started having issues regarding finances. He was always claiming that he was living paycheck to paycheck and blaming it on me. He never wanted to be home, and when I questioned him he told me that he believed I was mentally ill and just looking for reasons to fight. After a year of marriage I discovered that my husband has a pill addiction, and also has several active profiles on hookup sites. Both the drugs and the sites have been going on for over 10 years.

He agreed to go to rehab when I gave him an ultimatum, and attributes the hookup sites to his drug use, but still attempts to blame some of our marriage issues on me.

My question is – is someone like that really able to change?

– Who the Bleep did I Marry

Dear Who the Bleep,

There’s an episode of The Office where Michael Scott asks Elizabeth, the exotic dancer, if he should tell his girlfriend that he received a dance from her. Elizabeth wisely replies, “Secrets, secrets are no fun, secrets, secrets hurt someone.” I recount this exchange not because I’m just a die-hard Office fan, but because it’s so deeply, profoundly true.

I deal with a lot of secrets in my line of work, so I feel qualified to say that the vast majority of them carry the potential for damage. The only good secrets are planned to be revealed, like a surprise birthday party or waiting to announce a job promotion until a contract is signed. So, by nature, they’re only secretive for a short amount of time and they’re kept with good intentions.

I don’t see a lot of good intentions in what’s been kept from you. While his secret-keeping may have been fueled by shame over malice, there’s a pattern of manipulation that worries me greatly. You don’t mention how long you’ve been in a relationship with him; regardless, 10 years is a long time to juggle two lives.

Your question regarding the possibility for change is difficult to answer due to the variables at play. Hence, my response is more of a flowchart than a pithy yes or no. I believe that people can move away from toxic behaviors with the support of loved ones and strong resolve. However, his manipulative tendencies could indicate a narcissistic or antisocial (sociopathic) streak. I emphasize “could” because I simply cannot diagnose such a pattern with the information I have. I can, however, shed some light on what that means.

Personality disorders are chronic states of being, so treatment is designed to control symptoms as there is no “cure.” For instance, DBT has worked wonders for people who suffer from borderline personality disorder, which is essentially a trauma response. Antisocial personality disorder is a whole different ballpark. A so-called “sociopath” may be able to fake empathy, but they will never actually experience it and they will only change their behaviors if they see it as beneficial to them. They have no moral compass that will urge them to honesty for honesty’s sake. Likewise, a person with a strong narcissistic streak will find it difficult to see others as more than objects to manipulate according to their whims.

But maybe he’s not a sociopath or a narcissist. Addicts often pick up manipulative tactics as a survival technique. Whereas a sociopath will lead a secret life simply because they want to, an addict will do so because it feels necessary. Ten plus years of learning to lie and shirk responsibility will not disintegrate in one conversation. This is a difficult, but not immutable place.

Trust your gut, honor yourself, and be well.

Affairs take many shapes and sizes, from full-blown second relationships to one-night-stands from Craigslist. I don’t know if he acted out in finding sexual partners on hookup sites, but him having those profiles is enough for me to treat this situation as I would any other affair. In which case, healing cannot take place for either of you until he takes responsibility for what he’s done. That being said, both of you will have to modify your behavioral and emotional patterns if you decide to stay in this relationship.

Whether you decide to stay in this marriage or not, it is imperative for you to focus on healing yourself. You are the only person who can decide if there is enough love and hope to begin rebuilding. Trust your gut, honor yourself, and be well.



Related Smash Talks: