To What Extent is the Addict Responsible?
Freud once commented that we are responsible for our dreams because well, who else could be responsible? This is Jewish humor, as I well know. Are we really responsible for our dreams? What actually are we responsible for and why? This is a pressing question for both husband and wife after (typically) the husband’s infidelity of one or more sorts has emerged (I must say many of the men I see have been strikingly lax in trying to cover their tracks). Is the husband bad or sick or both or something else or what?
Before I discuss this I want to comment that it is easy to observe that despite the normative expectation that people who are married should be sexually faithful to each other, pornography is the single biggest use of the internet and the sex business in its various guises is a gigantic industry . We now all live next door to a bakery, a bakery that has implanted a kiosk inside our home. This is bound to affect some people. I won’t call it entrapment, but maybe it’s in the ball park.
It seems that arguing by analogy comes readily to mind when discussing a complex and ambiguous matter. In this spirit I am thinking about obesity. The obese person is responsible for overeating in the obvious sense that she is the one selecting and consuming what she eats (let us assume for the sake of argument that finances do not play any role at all). Let us suppose that sexual abuse growing up is an important contributing factor to her eating habits as an adult (she wants to be physically big as opposed to small and she wants to be sexually unappealing). Sexual abuse growing up is her history, but it is a history she did not choose. Nonetheless it has had an enduring impact on her. We are hopefully not so naive as to think she is able to throw off her history just because she might want to.
As an adult she ruins her body and her health by overeating. Eventually her overeating has medical consequences. Someone has to pay. In this at least her history and her difficulties as an adult have an impact on other people. From this perspective she moves during the course of her life from blameless victim to something else, however non-deliberately.
Shifting back to the topic of sex addiction in the context of marriage, one does not have to make much of a case that the behavior of husband and wife has a very substantial impact on each other, for better or for worse. Once the (typically) husband has been busted and ‘ultimatumed’ into treatment, he there begins to reveal a growing-up background that includes some strikingly unsavory elements. To repeat a theme, he could be considered a blameless victim of the circumstances and conditions that prevailed when he was young, with negative developmental-characterological consequences, but over time he has moved from blameless victim to something else, no longer simply a blameless victim, but also not responsible for the shaping influences of the past. Innocent and guilty at the same time.
I began by observing that the issue of responsibility is a pressing issue for husband and wife post-denouement. Now I have to admit I think there is no simple, yes or no answer to the question responsible or not? I think disease-talk is a way of avoiding the complexities of moral responsibility and the complexities of developmental psychology. I also think disease talk is a way of avoiding frank discussion of how the marriage has disappointed and frustrated both parties. Post-denouement there is a marital crisis. At the same time the veil has lifted. Over time the lifting of the veil might develop into a good thing – more honesty, candor, directness, better communication, etc. Eventually more mutual understanding, empathy, appreciation. It could happen. It’s not likely to happen without assistance, but there are individuals (therapists) and organizations that can provide help. Mature thought recognizes complexities and nuances.