Jumping right in…
If you have acted out sexually with pornography, masturbation, affairs, etc. you’ve also acted “in” relationally. The two go hand-in-hand. Men who struggle with sexual integrity issues also struggle with things like hiding, blaming, shaming, avoiding, stonewalling, criticizing and controlling with anger. These behaviors push people away and, as some wives report, actually hurt worse than the sexual betrayal.
Once disclosure/discovery occurs and the acting out behaviors stop, the acting in behaviors become the issue. The tougher issue. It’s incredibly hard to change and get away from a critical spirit, from a blameshifting attitude or from being angry and defensive. Yet this is the work of recovery.
Too often I find that while men will own their acting out behavior, they have a difficult time owning their acting in behavior. Typically the justification for it is a cause and effect accusation against the wife. He says he wouldn’t have to be defensive if she didn’t get so angry and accuse him of things. He wouldn’t have to be quiet and shut down if she could just calm down and listen. He wouldn’t have to criticize her if she were a little more complimentary of him. Further, I hear the self validation when guys say that it is only with their wives that they are this way. Since it only happens with her, not the kids, at work or with his buddies, then by process of elimination she is the problem.
Take it from a recovering acting in addict, the best thing you can do for your relationship and for your recovery personally is own this junk. Even the cause and effect thinking itself is acting in. It is putting up a relational wall that keeps pain out and stagnant, self righteousness in.
By the way, sometimes the last statement about it only happening with a wife is true. But its usually not because she is the problem, though that can certainly be the case. More often, its because the marriage is the most intimate relationship we’re involved in. A wife has more ammunition to fire, knows exactly what buttons to push (intentionally or accidentally), and wields the most power to pronounce judgement and rejection. Simply said, there is more risk in the marriage.
The sooner you begin to own those acting in behaviors, the sooner you will feel a change within yourself. Remember that those of us who do this stuff aren’t monsters or perverts, we’re not stupid or simply jerks. There is a reason and there are emotional triggers that prompt us to enact old, unhealthy ways of dealing with life. The more you understand these triggers and your automatic response, the more you have a chance for life to be different.