Monday, May 25, 2009


I used to believe that snooping was one of the things that doomed a relationship, and I refused to do it. I've never been a jealous person by nature, and I just couldn't bring myself to "snoop" to find things out about my partner. The first time in my life that I ever felt compelled to snoop in my partner's business was at the end of my first marriage. Our marriage was ending suddenly and mysteriously. He told me a few blunt things that I felt were designed to get me to end the relationship. I didn't really know what was going on in his life. I now believe that he was a sex addict, given his obsession with porn, his low interest in sex with actual people--namely, me--and his difficulty with personal intimacy. We shared a computer, so I knew about the porn and I didn't think it was a problem at the time. (This was 1999, so hiding a browser history wasn't such common knowledge, and it was something we talked about anyway.) One day, at the height of my confusion and pain, I clicked into the email server that we shared on our computer and looked at his email. Immediately I saw that he was in contact with another woman online, and it was not platonic. I confronted him about it, he insisted it only happened after we decided to separate, and we argued about the snooping. Nothing changed in our relationship--I was already moving out, and our divorce was final that fall--except that now I had some more possible reasons as to why our relationship suddenly ended. It has only been in the last few months that things there have started to make more sense.

This is a pattern that I see often in advice columns. A person (usually a woman, but not always) writes in (or calls in, as to my favorite podcast, Dan Savage's Savage Lovecast) to say that s/he suspected something was up, snooped in the computer and found out that their instincts were correct, and now couldn't decide how to confront their partner and deal with the fact that they also snooped. The advice usually is divided into two: first, the advice-seeker has to deal with what they know, and second, get their hand slapped for snooping. And invariably, when you confront your partner with information you found out this way, the snooping becomes an easy red herring to argue over rather than the original issue. The snooping happened because someone's Spidey-senses were tingling. There was some instictive knowledge that something was going on.

My instincts about my (current) husband were not alerted until last fall. We lived apart, not out of choice but rather of necessity, and it was easy for him to hide what was going on, and easy for me to live in denial. Sometimes I berate myself for this, but once I became instinctively aware that something was amiss, I did act on it. I didn't snoop, though. I gathered information from our cell phone bills, arranged it analytically so I could make my case, and confronted him. Then I demanded that he unlock his computer so he could prove that he was telling me the truth, that the relationship that was obviously happening was a friendship. He refused. When I told him that I refused to hack his computer, that it was his chance to prove that he was telling the truth by us both going through it together, and he refused, I knew that he was lying about the relationship. I also knew that I wasn't ever going to get the truth from him, and that it would have to find me some other way. It took 2 more months, but the truth did find me.

Now when I look at our societal messages about "snooping", I have a different take. I still believe that this kind of suspicious behavior is harmful to the relationship, and more harmful to the snooper than anything or anyone else. But it's not really the snooping, it's the thing that initiates the snooping. Some people live with that kind of paranoia in all of their relationships all the time. I think that speaks much more about the snooper than about the snoopee. But for most of us, we get that urge because our instinct is telling us that we are being lied to. If our health and our lives weren't at stake, I would not think that snooping could ever be excused. And if I had never been in that position before, I would probably recommend just getting out of a relationship that one felt compelled to do this kind of detective work on. But I have been in that position, and I know that is not realistic. Denial is something that needs to be broken somehow.

Research is indicating that sex addiction is likely to be much more prevalent than we are able to measure, and its incidence is growing rapidly, thanks to the abundence and availability of sexually explicit content on the internet and in the media. In fact, prominent experts in the field are saying that an epidemic is coming. Given that much of the acting-out happens on the computer, snooping through the PC can potentially yield a lot of information if you know what you are looking for and how to find it. I still can't say that I strongly feel that one should do it if they are suspicious. But I no longer feel that it is always the wrong thing to do. Our society tends to support the notion that the snooper is always wrong, at least a little wrong, no matter what they discover. But more and more people's health and lives are at stake. If your partner is having unprotected sex that you do not know about, and you are having unprotected sex on the assumption that s/he is honoring your agreement about monogamy, you are at risk of contracting an STD that can negatively impact your life or even kill you. How can we not have the right to find this information out if we suspect it might be true, and our partner is not forthcoming with the truth? Sex addiction, perhaps more than other addictions, usually involves deception and lies in order to allow the addiction to continue. The addict usually will not yield the truth about his/her behavior unless he is ready to or forced to.

Now that discovery has happened, and the truth is out, my husband keeps his computer unlocked for me to check at any time. I almost never do. I hate the icky feeling of looking around on his computer, and I fear discovering something more, even though I trust that he has revealed everything and is not acting out any longer. I wonder if this reluctance to poke around there speaks more about my own state of denial than anything else.

I do think that one has the right to privacy. I do think that the very fact that a person believes their partner is concealing important information about their behavior is damaging to the person who feels compelled to snoop. But I can't say that the right to privacy always outweighs the right to find out if you are being placed at risk by your partner's behavior. Many, many partners of sex addicts have only found out the truth of their partner's behavior by either accidently discovering information on the computer, or actively snooping. This is a very touchy subject, I know: what do you all think?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Recovery: You're Doing It Wrong

I haven't posted in a long time for a few reasons. For one, my schedule has changed and I have been in something of a flurry of activity for the last several weeks. For another, I haven't really had any thoughts worth blogging about regarding recovery.

I feel like a recovery loser right now for some reason. I feel like I should be spending more time reading all my recovery books and working on writing my first step, which I started a month or so ago. I ought to be working harder to find a S Anon sponsor, and generally making more active steps in my recovery. But I honestly haven't been able to. I'm in a very intense educational program right now--something along the lines of medical school, but not--and all my time that I have for reading has to be spent on my studies. At this point in my education it is non-negotiable, if I want to finish the program. (As many thousands of dollars as I am in debt now for it, I WILL finish!) So I realize that I have to do things at the pace I can do them, but the perfectionistic and high-achiever (and guilt-ridden) part of me feels that I'm not doing it "right."

Trying to complete my schooling and everything that entails, plus beginning this recovery journey, is a lot to chew on right now. But I'm taking comfort from the readings and the people who repeatedly say that just coming to the meetings and participating is the place to start. Things start to sink in. My distorted thinking IS changing, slowly but surely. I know that I will make more progress in changing the things about myself that need to be changed when I am at a place where I can focus on my steps and getting a sponsor and working my program, but for now it isn't possible, if I want to honor all the other committments in my life as well.

These endeavors--school, recovery--are leading me to a better way of living, and I am grateful that I have these opportunities. I do realize that life will always be busy, and if I get in a habit of making recovery wait until I have "time" for it, I will never make myself a priority. But I graduate in 12 months. Even before that, I should have enough of the major pieces of my program put to bed that I can make a little more headway than I am now.

Perhaps for now I should focus on why this logical thinking makes me feel guilty and triggers my perfectionistic tendencies?