I’ve counseled hundreds of couples whose marriages and other partnerships were marked by sexual infidelity and other trust betrayals. Sometimes, problems revolved around other kinds of sexual irresponsibility (e.g., “sexting,” flirting, email enticements, internet pornography, partner sexual objectification, etc.) as well. And many times, before these individuals made contact with me, they had tried to seek help for these problems in various popular treatment venues. Often this involved the unfaithful or irresponsible partner getting into some sort of “sexual addiction” treatment and the aggrieved party participating in a support group while their bad-actor partner struggled to “overcome their denial,” then “heal,” and “recover”.
Now I’m not one of those professionals who insists that addictions are not real. And, I’ve even witnessed some instances of genuine sexual addiction. But such cases are extremely rare. Being willfully sexually irresponsible and wantonly disregarding the requirements for nurturing a meaningful, intimate relationship is not the same as suffering from an addiction. And unfortunately, our society has increasingly accepted the notion of “illness” as an excuse for a person’s perfectly voluntary misbehavior and abdication of responsibility. What’s worse, many professionals and treatment models endorse such a perspective. In so doing, they have become some of the more serious “enablers” of character dysfunction, a fact that negatively impacts us all.
Every now and then, we come across an egregious example of someone carrying our culture’s tendency to see everyone as a victim to an absurd extreme, and the fact that this happens at all should give us great pause. I’ve written before about the notorious (and now deceased)child rapist Ariel Castro who satisfied his lust for teenage girls by carefully stalking and then abducting three young women, holding them hostage for years, and regularly sexually assaulting them. Castro declared himself no “monster” or predator, but rather a “sick” victim of a severe pornography “addiction” (See also: “I Am Not A Monster”: Impression Management Ariel Castro Style, and Mental Disorders and Accountability: Is Everyone a Victim?). This man then had the gall to assert that he should be pitied instead of reviled and afforded treatment as opposed to being punished for his heinous crimes. I’ve also written about three drug-dealing teenage hoodlums caught on their school bus surveillance camera beating a classmate within an inch of his life to “teach [him] a lesson” about “snitching” to school authorities, while attorneys and mental health experts alike argued that the perpetrators were merely “troubled,” had “anger management issues,” and deserved therapy as opposed to strict legal consequences and reformative intervention (See: Anger Management for Bus Beaters: Justice Misguided?). Every day there’s a similar story. From the congressman caught systematically funneling off hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal use while claiming Bipolar Disorder made him do it, to the congressman turned mayoral candidate who claimed that his ongoing lewd behavior and sexual solicitations (even after having “successfully completed” treatment!) was the result of his sexual addiction, to the spoiled rich kid who drank and drove illegally, killed his friends in the process, bragged his well-heeled parents would get him off, and whose attorneys (and, I might add, a psychologist as well) asserted he suffered from the disease of “affluenza” (being the “victim” of never having learned accountability because wealth and power always spared him consequence), claims that mental disorders of some sort are really to blame for a person’s willful misbehavior have become so commonplace that not only have most folks lost their outrage about such claims but they have also increasingly afforded such claims a fair degree of plausibility and even legitimacy (See: “Affluenza”: Is Spoiled Rotten The New Accountability Excuse?). This begs the question of whether the concepts of personal responsibility and accountability even exist anymore. Is everyone in fact a victim in one way or another? Is all our behavior merely a product of our biochemistry, our upbringing, our environment, etc.? Do we have any real control over our actions as some of our parents wanted us to believe? Are the concepts of right and wrong, personal responsibility and consequences for behavior simply outdated?
This coming Sunday night on Character Matters, my guest will be Tracy Schorn, AKA: “Chump Lady.” She has a way of practically applying the principles I’ve long advocated in my books Character Disturbance, In Sheep’s Clothing, and The Judas Syndrome) to matters of relationship irresponsibility and, especially sexual infidelity. Being a faithful, committed participant in a life partnership has never been an easy task. It takes integrity of character to resist the many temptations one faces on a daily basis, to honor one’s vows, to commit yourself fully to one person, and to love that person genuinely and deeply.And Tracy has a particularly articulate way of spelling out what it looks like when a person with at least some decency of character and has done damage to their relationship takes responsibility for their misconduct and commits to not only repairing that damage they did but also to developing the kind of integrity that might guard against them doing more damage in the future. Tracy’s been “chumped” before – played for a fool. But she learned some hard lessons and is committed to being a chump no more. I expect we’ll have a good discussion about why so many relationships these days are as troubled as they are and why the traditional, dominant models for providing “help” have proven so ineffective.
The good news is that the pendulum is definitely beginning to swing in the opposite direction and the tide is truly turning when it comes to people’s attitudes toward responsibility and character. Character is and has always been the key to responsible social functioning, and many others are beginning to share this opinion. That’s good, because we have it within our power to stem the tide of rampant abdication of personal responsibility. A good beginning would be to put an end to the endless “enabling” we’ve been doing by refusing to accept the all-too-frequently invoked “disorder (or addiction) excuse” and holding all people, except for those very rare few who are truly so mentally ill that their voluntary capacity is compromised, accountable for their misbehavior. “Therapy” was never meant to be a substitute for a well-earned consequence. It’s time to quit shuffling habitual responsibility-shirkers into ineffective “treatment” and instead hold them to account. Folks who, like Tracy, have been “chumped” in their relationships, have unfortunately learned this lesson the hard way.