TL just spent hours caring for me at the hospital and at home. Sadly, it reminded us of when I dropped her off at the emergency room on my way to work instead of taking the day off. She’s a much better spouse than I am, and a much better person.
I need some new material for my work on becoming a safer husband for TL. I’ve written, I’ve read, I’ve surfed the Internet. But, much of what I see now I’ve already seen. What’s new on the topic of how to help my wife after my infidelity?
I’m not sure what direction to take now with my work at becoming a safer husband for TL. I’ve read and written about honesty, empathy, transparency, friendship, and overcoming misogyny. All I can think to do on those topics is to remain vigilant and to train daily –like an athlete training for a game or a student training for a test – to become more adept at those skills. I’ve also thought, read, and written about puritanical upbringing, self-esteem, and proper definitions of love, with an aim to understand the origins of my selfish decisions.
Meanwhile, we had a recent experience with my parents that may be informative. As I’ve discussed before, I think my mother prevented me from growing up. In her own way, she thought she loved me, I suppose. She wanted to protect me, from everything, always. But, she didn’t realize – or possibly didn’t care – that what would truly be better for me – and therefore truly more loving—would be to encourage me to grow up. Perhaps this is relevant because my immaturity made me view gender, sex, and marriage selfishly. Perhaps my mother also incorrectly modeled love. To her, love was possession rather than caring.
I am reminded of this by a recent event in which my parents demonstrated that they cannot stop disrespecting my decision to marry, my choice of wife, and my decision to have children. For some biologically paradoxical reason, my parents seem to have wanted me to remain a child and to die unmarried and childless. Why would any parent want such things? If I died childless, their bloodline would also die.
I suspect racism is one part of the answer. One reason my parents won’t accept TL and my sons is that TL is not of their preferred ethnicity. But, I don’t think that’s the only reason. My parents also did not seem to want me to grow up or to marry at all.
In this most recent situation, my parents managed two simultaneous modes of disrespecting my family. First, they sent a note saying “Merry Christmas.” I’m sure some of our friends and readers are Christian. Please understand that every single year, for 24 years, I’ve politely told my parents, “We don’t celebrate Christmas,” “We don’t celebrate Easter,” “We don’t eat pork,” “and “We don’t eat shellfish.” And, every single year, for 24 years, my mother has tried to play ignorant, asking, “Can’t you just eat some pork loin?” “Oh, really, you don’t celebrate Christmas?” “Don’t the kids want some Easter candy?” and “Why won’t you eat shrimp?” How hard can it be for my mother to get it? It’s been 24 years.
Second, my parents sent me two toys for my birthday, which falls in December. They sent nothing for my sons, who typically receive Chanukah gifts from other relatives in the same timeframe. This angered me because grandparents ought to be focused on grandchildren, not obsessing on their adult son while trying to pretend his children don’t exist.
This is the same mother who once made a big scene of purchasing four funeral plots: one for her, one for my father, one for me, and one for my brother. This was years after TL and I married.
My parents also obsessively talk about all the crap – and it is just crap – that I might supposedly inherit when they die. Once when my mother was listing such crap to TL, my wife mentioned something about our children. My mother shot back with, “No, these things are not for your kids. They’re for my son.” What? Am I supposed to be buried with my mother’s knick-knacks and bric-à-brac that she wills me – like some pharaoh—rather than will them, in turn, to my own sons? If I’m so damned important to my mother, why are my sons not important to me? Is it just the racism? Or, is it that she is primarily focused on controlling me, not on loving me?
In any case, I think it’s relevant here because that’s what I did to TL for 18 years: I focused on controlling her rather than loving her. In general, I am training to become less focused on control.
It’s been over five years since TL discovered my 18-year history of lying and cheating. We’ve filled the recent years with polygraph tests, counseling, studying, and blogging. TL is understandably still traumatized, afraid of being hurt or deceived again, afraid of details of our history she does not know, and angry at the betrayal and injustice I caused. I am working to stop answering with thoughtless, panicked untruths when she confronts me with questions, and to start seeing everything I do through her eyes and changing my behavior accordingly.
She still questions me about details of the affairs and reasons for my behavior. My sincere responses that “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” make her blood boil. Despite my efforts, I still do thoughtless things and fail to do helpful things. Most recently, I mindlessly failed to brief her on a woman who sat next to me on a plane, and again when I e-mailed the woman with my contact information, in what I thought was a routine work-related encounter but what must have appeared to TL as an attempt on my part to establish an illicit relationship. Before that, I let my insecure and jealous demons speak for me when TL trusted me enough to discuss a violation that had occurred before we met. I jumped to victim blaming instead of empathy and support.
I have identified why I cheated and lied, and how to prevent recidivism. My puritanical upbringing left me insecure and resentful in the face of the modern world. Insecurities about my body, and a badly-distorted perspective on the roles of sex and gender in our lives contributed to my sense of entitlement and jealousy. Prevention means being grateful for everything and everyone in my life; being humble; being empathetic, compassionate, and loving; and keeping sex and gender roles in a healthy perspective.
So, now what? When does she decide that staying with me is no longer necessary nor worth it? How, specifically, can I make myself more attentive to her and less instinctively self-protective or self indulgent?
I read an article by this name by Bella Rayne at lovepanky.com. Here’s the one suggestion it offered that seems promising.
“Don’t answer too fast. It’s alright to take time to think. Compulsive liars don’t think before they talk. Lies just flow out even before they make up their mind about whether they want to lie or tell the truth.”
It also offered one possible explanation for my habit of lying that makes sense to me.
“Why do you lie so much? In most cases, it could be childhood experiences or a life altering experience that convinced your mind to start lying. In my case, it was my angry, ill tempered father who always had an opinion about everything I did.
When I was a child, he would always yell at me every time I told the truth that I had forgotten something or overlooked something else. I learnt that it was just easier to lie than look like an idiot in front of him. And that stuck in my mind. A perfect lie could get me away from all my troubles with the slightest effort.”
In my case, it was my mother rather than my father, who was controlling and critical.
Where are we? I don’t know.
He admits he has a problem with lying when he feels panic.
While he promises me honesty, he cannot promise me that he will not instinctively lie when in a panic. I respond, then how in the world is it you are promising me honesty?
He says he promises to learn to identify his panic mode, and to own up to any lie immediately when he realizes what he’s done. He promises to work on eliminating this instinct. But, in wanting to be honest with me, he cannot promise it will never happen again as he learns to extinguish this behavior.
He promises to never keep things from me. But, cannot promise he will not “forget” ever again. He promises to take some very specific steps to make it unlikely he will forget. But, again, he cannot promise he will not “forget” ever again.
When he discusses his steps to remembering me, I cannot help but feel that he has to include me on his “to-do” list to not forget me. And, that leaves me feeling like he does not love and respect me enough to think about me, unless forced to do so or reminded by some “to do” list to do so.
So, where are we? I don’t know.
My second affair partner (AP2) once asked me whether I had cheated on my wife before. I said that I had. I think I recall her then asking whether I had cheated once or more than once. I think I recall responding that I had cheated many times, which was true in view of my first affair and my history with prostitutes. A similar conversation played out with my third and final affair partner (AP3).
Why did I tell them that?
I don’t know. I welcome your ideas.
My theory was that I told those APs I had cheated before because I wanted to hear myself say it. Perhaps I wanted to believe I was a desirable man, and hoped very briefly that saying I had been with several women would make me think that. I don’t know if that makes sense. If that was what I intended, it only worked for about one second, the amount of time it would take to recall that most of my sexual experiences had just been purchased from prostitutes. So, perhaps the theory that I wanted to make myself feel sexually experienced doesn’t work.
Did I tell them I had cheated often so as to demonstrate great disrespect for TL? No. That was not my intent. I get, however, that it was the effect. When I think about it, maybe I was trying to say the following to the APs: “I cheat often, and have no moral qualms about it. So, you, AP, should also have no moral qualms about our adulterous relationship. Please, AP, don’t suddenly grow a conscience and stop giving me sex.”
In fact, the relationship with my first affair partner (AP1) did gradually peter out with signs that she was struggling with her last vestiges of a conscience. I suspect she eventually realized that she did not want to invest more time and energy into me when all she got from me was covert sex, and that what she really wanted was a normal relationship that did not have to be covert. Perhaps that shaped my behavior with AP2 and AP3, with me trying to convince the APs that there was nothing wrong with our adulterous relationships.
When I told the APs I had cheated before, was this a signal from me to APs that I did not respect TL and that I wanted them to also disrespect her? I can see that’s how it appears to TL. It likely appeared that way to the APs as well. Though it is not what I actively intended, I see how that is probably the message I unthinkingly conveyed. I understand that from TL’s view my acts of sex with other women were small potatoes next to my lies and next to those disrespectful messages about her I conveyed, intentionally and actively or not.
TL, I think I see that fidelity is not just a question of sex, but also a question of loyally telling you everything honestly as well as of promoting and defending your honor and dignity and the value of our relationship through my words as well as my nonverbal signals. When I apologize for cheating on you, please know that I’m not just apologizing for adulterous sex, but also for disloyal, deceptive, and treacherous behavior.
As you all know MC’s work involves travel and the majority of his cheating occurred when either he was away or the kids and I were away. Not all, but the majority! So, travel is a particularly big trigger for me. One in which I have come a long way, so that I no longer freak-out every time he is away. However, that doesn’t mean he gets to slack off in his diligence, especially in regard to actions in the moment and in regard to informing me of such actions.
Mindless was away for a week. He was seated next to a woman on his flight. She struck up a conversation. She apparently has the ability to issue our family an invite to something we have been wanting to do, but needing an invite in order to do (sorry this is so cryptic, but again with the trying to maintain anonymity). So, she gave Mindless her business card. He was out of business cards to exchange, so when he returned to work he sent her his work contact information.
Do you know how I found out about this all? I have not looked at his work e-mail in a very long time, I think only two other times since our move here over a year ago. But, kids were at school and Mindless had a day off, so I decided I would look. And, I found the e-mail where he was sending his contact info to a woman he had never told me about. He explained the event and the reason for exchanging information.
He, then, attempted to tell me he was certain he had told me about it. He hadn’t. Then he tells me, he must have mentioned it to a co-worker because he remembers telling somebody about it. I, then, asked him why he would share that he was exchanging information with a woman he met on the airplane to his co-worker and not to me? Was he wanting to brag about meeting some woman? He quickly changed his tack, saying “no, maybe I didn’t tell my co-worker.”
He tells me he panicked and he couldn’t remember exactly what happened and who he told, he was struggling with remembering the truth. I explained (AGAIN), that’s the thing about truth, it is easy to remember when not trying to “make shit up.” We proceeded to have a discussion about “making shit up.” I need a husband who does NOT EVER make-up shit for any reason!!!! That is the coward’s way out. If he wants to truly be a “man,” in my view, it means not being a coward and NEVER “making shit up.” For G-d’s sakes, just be honest with me, just be honest. His “truth” now is that he intended to tell me, but forgot.
He remembered to e-mail her, so basically he “forgot” twice, once right after it happened and again when he sent the e-mail. Now, he is telling me, “sorry” and “I know it was wrong.” “There was no malicious intent.” “I wish I had told you as it happened, I really intended to do so.” “I should have cc’d you on the e-mail, I just didn’t think of it.”
All of you know how I struggle with wanting all the pre d-day details and MC assuring me he has told me everything he can remember. At the minimum, this just further points out to me how little effort he puts in to “remembering” details that he may think of as trivial, but I would find not so trivial. It, also, reaffirms to me that transparency is only as good as he decides to make it. And, at the worst, there was nefarious intent and he is gas-lighting me again.
And, again, I find myself asking is this “a stumbling block” in his “work” from which he can learn and improve, or a systemic problem that he is unable or unwilling to change?
His solution, to bcc me on every damn work e-mail that involves a woman. Sorry, the last thing I want is my in-box flooded with his work e-mails. Why is this so fucking hard? Clearly he can see the difference between the woman on the airplane e-mail and back-and-forth e-mails about clearly work-related issues?!
I find myself wondering, maybe he really does not want me to find peace, maybe he doesn’t really care if I feel safe. After all, this would have been such an easy “win” for him, to tell me about the woman on the plane and cc me on the e-mail. What an opportunity to build trust! Why are such opportunities so trivial to him, unless there is more to this story he is not sharing?
Here’s a question I still can’t answer, after more than five years of actively trying to understand. Maybe you can help me.
Maybe I’v even written about it before. I can’t remember.
When TL caught me cheating, I e-mailed that third and final affair partner a message telling her the affair was over. I then showed TL the e-mail.
Here’s what I think the e-mailed should have said: “M, this affair is over. Stop all communication with me immediately and forever. I told my wife the truth, that I love her and only her, and that my relationship with you was a shamefully wrong choice on my part. You are nothing to me, and my wife is the center of my world.”
Instead, it said something like the following. My memory is not so keen, so I will paraphrase: M, I’m sorry, but it’s over. I now know I made the right decision by returning to my family. I hope you will also return to your family.”
So, here’s my question. Why was I so nice to that affair partner (AP) in that e-mail?
I really don’t know.
Did I wish to avoid hurting the AP’s feelings because I cared for her? No. Every time I tell TL that I did not give a damn about that AP’s feelings, TL does not believe me. I’m not lying to TL. Am I lying to myself?
Was I afraid the AP would get angry and try to do something vengeful? I don’t know. Maybe. I’m really not sure.
Did I want the AP to carry away the thought that she almost tempted me away from TL? I don’t think so. I really don’t think so.
Is there some other point or possibility that I’m missing here? I’d really welcome your thoughts.
When trying to eat healthy, I find it more useful to focus on positive habits instead of focusing on eliminating negative things. Though I clearly want to cut carbohydrates, fats, and calories, I don’t worry too much about telling myself not to eat certain things. Instead, I focus on healthy things I do want to eat. I find, for example, that if I work actively to drink enough water and eat enough produce and healthy protein sources, there’s little or no room left in my belly for cookies, cakes, and other garbage. The good things crowd out the bad things to a point where I don’t even want the bad things.
A similar strategy helps me with using time wisely. I focus on putting enough time each day into family, mental and moral health (for lack of a better term), work, volunteer activities, and fitness – in roughly that order of priority. I then have little or no time left for idleness, self-pity, temptation, or other self-defeating things. The good activities crowd out the bad, to a point where doing good things becomes a habit and a virtuous cycle.
I really think a similar strategy helps me prevent bad thoughts. If I think enough good thoughts, they should crowd out bad thoughts. So, what are these good thoughts? Here my ideas:
Focus on my mate as a friend, not as a possession nor as a means of meeting my needs.
Grow up and accept what I am and what I am not.
Balance aspects of myself: profession or career, God, family responsibility, fitness, intellect and mental pursuits, creativity, friendship, integrity, accomplishments, hobbies, pastimes, things that make me happy.
Re-dedicate myself to balance, friendship, and maturity each day.
TL recently worried that I am too negative about my physical self and that it constitutes dangerous self-pity. My reply was that my recent study in “10 Days to Self-Esteem” taught me at least two ways to deal with feeling inadequate First, I can take a look at my assumptions and be sure they are not resulting from distorted thinking. Second, in cases where I do find myself lacking in some way, I can just accept it instead of wishing it were different.
I tried listing the negative and positive aspects of myself, physically and sexually. I then listed other positive attributes I have. In both cases, I think I erred by listing my attributes in terms of comparisons to other men. So, I tried again, this time listings attributes as absolute rather than relative. See below.
In that self-esteem book, the author actually suggested assigning numerical values to such lists, to quantify how much significance I assign each item.
Self-assessment of my physical and sexual attributes
Negative things about me physically:
Small penis (10)
Soft features (10)
Not skillful in bed (10)
Positive things about me physically:
Acceptable physique (10)
No awkward features or deformities (10)
Using the numerical values I assigned each item on the list, I arrive at 40 points for my positive attributes and 60 for my negative. So, what if I throw in non-physical and non-sexual attributes?
Other positive attributes I have:
Good at speaking and writing (5)
Good at skiing (5)
Experienced with the world (5)
Attentive parent (5)
Acceptable at swimming (5)
If I add my other positive attributes to my list of positive physical and sexual attributes, I arrive at 80 points. In that case, the combined positive attributes outweigh my negative attributes by a value of 80 points compared to 60.
What’s the point of this exercise? I think it helps me keep my view of my negative physical and sexual attributes in perspective, so I don’t focus on them exclusively or obsessively. Perhaps it helps me accept unpleasant realities without letting them become all-consuming, depressing, or a source of self-pity or despair. Perhaps it will help me to revisit this list whenever I feel troubled by self-doubt regarding my physical attributes.
I want to feel alive. I want to feel the butterflies of a first kiss. I am not an Esther Perel fan, in that she too readily excuses lying. Yet, I want all the things Esther Perel uses to justify cheating by cheaters, butterflies from a new relationship, feeling alive, etc. I want to experience these things one more time before I die.
I don’t want to be a cheating liar. I don’t want to be with someone else, who themselves are willing to be a cheating liar. I will never lie to Mindless. I don’t want to be with someone else who would lie to their spouse. I will not hide anything from Mindless. I will not take part in lies to another. However, I cannot promise faithfulness to Mindless.
I want to feel the freedom of being with someone without the mind movies and pain blocking my ability to be at ease, and just be in the moment freely. I want to feel desired by someone who is both honest and confident. I want to feel desired by someone with whom I can feel safe and not worry about being judged for previous experiences, rather just being in that one moment in time together.
When I married Mindless, I accepted he would be my last first kiss, he would be the last person for whom I ever felt butterflies from a new relationship. I accepted that as part of making the commitment of marriage, knowing he too was doing the same. Well, that is no longer part of the equation.
If I ever act upon these feelings, it will be to allow myself to feel something I haven’t felt in over 20 years.
Sometimes, I think, perhaps it doesn’t have to be about sex. Perhaps, it could just be about experiencing something new and exciting on my own. Almost everything I’ve ever done has been with Mindless. Almost every new and exciting experience has been with Mindless. It is such a habit for me to tell myself I cannot do something without Mindless, if I know it is something he too would enjoy. We all know he cannot say the same! Why am I like this? I think his pre d-day pouting and jealousy of my pre-marital life, which was not anything all that great, created a fear within me, a fear I still struggle to overcome.
Before kids, we were apart for three months due to his job. I stayed behind and continued on with normal life, while I waited for permission to join him (certainly nothing new and exciting or from my own desire). In our first overseas country, I went on a ladies trip to some absolutely gorgeous, and these days completely unaccessible, scenery (the one new and exciting experience in my marriage that did not include Mindless). When I was pregnant with our youngest, I traveled to a neighboring country for a medical check-up. Finally, when a younger cousin married, I went for three days (two were travel days, one full day on the ground for the wedding). And, that is it in the last 24 years, those are the only experiences “on my own” without Mindless and/or kids with me.
Sigh, I don’t know. I don’t know.
In my last post I shared a hypothetical letter to my mother that my counselor recommended I write. Here’s the hypothetical response I wish she would write:
I am sorry I held you back, not allowing you to make decisions and learn independence like normal boys. I did want an eternal child about whom I could boast, not a living, breathing son with his own mind and his own wants and needs. Perhaps you treated your wife as a possession because you learned from me treating you as a possession. I should have wanted to see you learn to choose your own clothes, food, friends, girlfriends, spouse, and activities. Instead, I took those choices from you. It was unfair to you.
You know I was not sure how to deal with the Church. I tried to give you choices in that matter. I really do prefer the lifestyle the Church promotes, and I wanted that for you. I’m sorry that my anger at the Church and so many of it’s members made you think I opposed the Church’s teachings. I do share the Church’s views on sex and morality.
I never knew how to help you build confidence in sports and activities without discouraging you. I’m sorry I got that balance wrong too.
I’m also sorry I burdened you with my attempts to live my life through you. I was unhappy with myself and my life, and I hoped I could change that by getting recognition for your accomplishments. I’m sorry that I put unfair pressure on you.
Though I am very uncomfortable with the topic of sex, I’m sorry I passed my disappointment and unhappiness with that topic to you. Again, I should have made it clear that I believe in the Church’s view of sex and morality. I see, however, that by pushing you to leave our hometown, I was driving you to a life that was not compatible with the Church’s views on those topics.
You could have been more and been more happy had I not held you back. I am sorry.
My counselor suggested I write a letter to my mother – possibly a letter I will never send – expressing my feelings of injustice about my upbringing. I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with my counselor since I wrote it. I wonder what you think of it. I’m not sure what to think about it. Here it is:
I’m sure it will come as no surprise that there are some things about my upbringing that disappointed me. I think they really led to a lot of jealousy and insecurity on my part. I’ll list them, by way of review. First, since before kindergarten, I long recall thinking I had more restrictions than my peers, whether they be neighbors, classmates, or cousins. I felt overly restricted in my ability to go outside and play, to watch shows and movies that kids my age were watching, to do things for myself rather than have parents do them for me, to associate with peers of my own choosing, to choose my own clothes, and, later, to talk and act freely regarding interest in girls.
This left me with a strong feeling of jealousy, first of elementary school boys my age and, later, of adolescent peers who I assumed had more experience with sex than I did. The jealously led to insecurity. I was certain my peers were better than me at sports and games, more worldly, and more sexually active because I was cloistered and they were not. I figured that made them better, more desirable, or more successful than me. As an adult, I drew on that jealousy and insecurity to justify marital infidelity, cruel judgmentalism, bitterness, pettiness, and disproportionate anger about perceived sleights, regardless of how small or inconsequential.
Of course, I had free will. I could have and should have not chosen to obsess on those feelings of insecurity and jealousy. At this point there is not much to be done about it. I’m not sure what I want now in regards to this topic. Perhaps I want acknowledgement that your over mothering did delay my development and put me at a disadvantage vis-à-vis my peers. I suspect you’ll say you just wanted me to be safe. I’d like to hear anyone other than myself agree with me that you went too far. Safety is not an end, it is a means. I could be one hundred percent safe, but have zero reason to exist. Your focus on safety was extreme and debilitating.
Second, I was troubled by the mixed messages you gave me regarding the Church. I understand that your own experience with the Church made you dislike it and discourage it. But, I was unhappy that you encouraged me to adopt the Church’s values regardless, sending me to Sunday school alone until I was eight, and also teaching me, both through your words and your example, to adopt the Church’s puritanical views of sex and gender roles. I wish you would have just made a decision to raise me as a Mormon or not, rather than trying to be all things to all people. I learned to be uncomfortable and dissatisfied associating with puritanical-minded peers whose life experiences were similar to my own. I also learned to feel insecure and awkward around peers who did not share my puritanical background. I thus felt at home nowhere, alone in every crowd, and too different to fit in. As an adult, I chose a mate who attracted me with her progressive thinking and experiences. I then tormented her with unfair judgments drawn from my puritanical subconscious mind.
I think I do blame you for teaching me two conflicting sets of values and desires. I feel like you set me up to be unhappy. Whichever choice I made – a progressive, modern peer group or a conservative, puritanical peer group—one part of me would be unsatisfied. I say “peer group” instead of wife or mate because, when I think about it, clearly your vision for me was that I would never marry. You wanted me to remain single and childless. You wanted me to remain an eternal child. That’s so self-defeating; not even wanting grandchildren. It’s cruel; like keeping an eagle in a small cage all its life. I can’t think of a reason to address this now, nor a solution to it. Maybe I just want someone to agree with me that this internal conflict you bequeathed me was unhelpful and predisposed me to unhappiness.
Third, I felt you ultimately failed to teach me the importance of fitness or sport. Yes, I resisted. But, I do wish you would have encouraged me more to stick with swimming or martial arts or to try something more versatile such as running. I got the message that it’s okay to not try. I want you to admit that you didn’t place enough value on physical education in my childhood, and that it was not a good way to raise a boy.
Fourth, I got the sense that my accomplishments or lack thereof were about you, not me. For example, when I missed a word at the spelling bee, I recall being more worried about you being upset than about my own view of the situation. Even now I do not feel good talking about my successes, especially the relatively small day-to-day ones, with you because I fear you will overplay them and use them for your own bragging, making you look foolish and making me feel foolish. I also do not feel good about sharing my failures or worries with you. You appropriate those too, moaning about injustice when in fact, the problem is either a normal part of life or the result of some legitimate failing on my part. You going on and on about life being unfair makes me feel you are bemoaning the fact that your son disappointed you, not that you are at all concerned about the effect the situation will have on me.
As a parent, I have to actively remember not to live through my children. Their successes and failures are theirs, not mine. If my son is treated poorly by people or by fate, I don’t want to bitch and whine about people or fate. Instead, I want to hear what he is thinking and feeling and be available to discuss solutions if, and only if, he wants that. For you and I, Mom, please just stop hunting for reasons to brag about me, and stop complaining about injustice when I mention something disappointing.
Fifth, I think I learned from you that sex and romantic attraction are so bad they can’t even be mentioned. When they were mentioned, usually only by someone on television, I recall you sighing, mumbling, turning the television off, and pretending nothing happened. I think I got the idea that sex is truly a deviant topic, and that anyone versed in it is a bad person. I don’t know what to say or do with this issue now. I don’t need you to suddenly change your views on this topic. Maybe it would help if we both acknowledge that your puritanical views on sex were passed down to me, and that they did not prepare me to live in the modern world.
So, now what? Hopefully it will help me to have simply expressed my feelings about these aspects of my upbringing. I don’t know.
Why did I have Chasing Amy Syndrome, the obsession with female chastity that led me to compete for sexual experience as a symbol of adulthood, masculinity, and self-esteem, and to feel intimidated by any woman who is not a virginal, two-dimensional, eternally innocent, Disney princess? I think I understand how I developed such wrong thinking. When I recognize it inside me, I know how to swat it away. I struggle, however, to excise is from my subconscious, so it does not covertly drive me to say or do things that are judgmental or unloving.
Here, I believe, is how it began. As an only child for the first five years of life, and having overprotective parents who did not have many social connections with friends or their own families, I was uncomfortable with other people, especially girls. My parents sheltered me, and I was resentful about it.
I was timid and physically small. I wished to have more confidence with sports, but did not put much effort into it. I was told sports are not important, and I did not learn perseverance and resiliency.
As a racial minority in a small, almost entirely white town, I wished very much to be treated as “normal,” something many whites, including well-intentioned adults, were almost incapable of doing. Even my mother, in my view, focused too much on differences with other people rather than similarities.
The majority of people in the town, including all of my extended family on one side, were of the same Church. My mother angrily rejected the Church while simultaneously teaching me that all of its views on sex and gender were “normal” and “good.” I think this planted misogyny in my subconscious while leaving progressive views in my conscious mind.
I was teased by peers for my relatively late puberty and late interest in girls. My first serious girlfriend refused to have sex with me. A short time later, she announced that she had sex with someone else and told me she was ready for sex with me. I was silently angry.
My second serious girlfriend similarly refused sex with me and then got pregnant with someone else. Chasing Amy Syndrome gradually dominated my life when I was with another serious girlfriend in college. I was irrationally jealous of her previous experiences. She and I had sex often. Looking back on it, I wonder whether it could be described as compulsive sex. Then, finally, Chasing Amy Syndrome reared its ugly head in my marriage.
So, that’s how it started. If I know the roots of my bad thinking, then what? How do I remove my biases about women and sex? I have removed it from my conscious mind. But, I fear it is still stuck in my subconscious.
The other day when TL and I were scuba diving, the sight of fins made me think of mermaids. It reminded me that in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale the mermaid ultimately changed who she was in order to become a wife. That’s what I inflicted on TL. I forced her to be more like my image of her and less like herself. Now, in trying to repair the damage I caused, I’m trying to swim in the sea with her instead of forcing her to be something she is not.
The following article caught my eye.
In particular, this phrase leapt off the page at me.
“Multiple other studies now reveal conclusively that sex addiction is a label rendered overwhelmingly on males (90-95% of sex addicts are males), and half of those males are white, heterosexual, religious (most often Christian and very high rates of Mormon) married males who are middle to upper class in income.
The author goes on to argue that religious-based therapists may over diagnose sexual addiction. Separate from my agreement with the author that sex addiction is probably an over-used term, I also am reminded of my belief that the obsession with sex, experience, keeping up, proving manhood, and expecting a virginal bride that I experienced is noticeably correlated with growing up in a highly conservative—often Christian or Muslim – family or community.
I’ve written about this before. I believe that my Mormon upbringing did at least three things to set the conditions for my unhealthy attitudes about women and sex. First, hiding from my parents my natural pubescent interest in girls and natural desire to become independent from my parents led to a double-life: a visible life as a parent-focused, helpless, neuter child, and a hidden life as an independent-minded, self-focused, male adolescent. Second, it really firmly emphasized a preference for female chastity and male dominance.
Third, when I physically moved away from that conservative little community, I experienced culture shock, accompanied by feelings of inadequacy when I compared myself to new peers who were more at ease with premarital sex, mixed-gender activities, and males and females doing things that break stereotypes of gender roles in traditional societies. The feelings of inadequacy led to anger, jealousy, defensiveness, self-pity, and an unhealthy desire to “catch up” to my new peers who had not been held back by traditional upbringings.
I’m not sure what to do with this thought now. I wonder whether others have noticed this correlation between selfish sexual behavior and traditional upbringings.
I wonder whether I might feel more compassion for myself if I admit to myself freely that I grew up Mormon rather than try to avoid thinking of myself that way. Let me try it now. As a child, I was culturally Mormon. That partially explains why my earliest experiences with girls and sex were different from those of my current peers. I used to be ashamed and angry about my Mormon upbringing. Instead, perhaps I should forgive God for the fact of my birth into that community. Perhaps I should forgive myself for coming to the wider world from that little Mormon background.
Perhaps I should stop trying to be, or pretend to be, something I am not. I was not raised in the urban, modern, liberal family or community to which I aspire, which I somehow idolize and envy. I was raised in a conservative family and community full of sexism, ignorance, and insecurity. I came from there. It’s not where I want to be. But, I, in fact, came from there.
I’m not sure where to go from here on this topic. I know I need to think of my wife as a friend, not a possession. I thought I was succeeding in that. But, the recent example of me not supporting her properly when she wanted to talk about a guy who had used her years ago suggests that I was not successful. I had thought I had mastered my misogyny and insecurity. To my unpleasant surprise, they popped up when I had not expected them. I wonder whether behavioral conditioning can eliminate misogynistic feelings, jealousy, and insecurity.
Now that’s possibly an addiction. You know I believe sex addiction is, at least ninety-nine percent of the time, a phony label to explain away something more conscious and more intentional. But, this case of misogynistic beliefs and sexual insecurity I have seems to affect me on both a conscious and a subconscious level. On the conscious level, I know my feelings are hurtful to TL, I want to change that, and most of the time I can control it. On the subconscious level, how can I fully excise the instinct to judge women differently from men? How can I excise the instinct to see sex as a competition?
Comparing ourselves to others is a fool’s errand. I know MC struggled with this and allowed it to fuel a poisonous self-pity that ruled his heart and mind for too many years. I found after d-day, after so much heart-ache in my life, I struggle with this and with not allowing self-pity to overtake my heart and mind. I hate that feeling, it is not who I want to be. On the other hand, I’ve not found a way to understand and frame all of that pain in a way that allows me to harness it into the tools I need to make a better life going forward. This article really gives me something to think about. Not sure if it is the right framing or not, but simply something I think I need to sit with for a while.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts
Life brings many questions: Why do some people have such difficult lives, while others have it so easy? Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why are there so many tragic deaths?
To make sense out life, we need understanding, to gain understanding we need perspective. Let’s begin with a parable:
A famous actor receives a call from his agent.
“Listen, Jack we just got a great offer. Tons of money, an all cash deal, you get the star role, playing next to the greatest co -stars in the industry. But the best part of it is the plot, it’s great. The story line really clicks, it’s a guaranteed Oscar. I’m sending the script over this morning. Tell me what you think.”
After reading the script Jack calls his agent back.
“Listen Bob, forget it, no deal”.
“What do mean?”
“I mean it’s no way, no deal. I won’t do it.”
“Jack what is it? Is it the script?”
“No, the script is fine?
“Is it the other actors?”
“No, they’re fine too.”
“So Jack, what is it?”
“What is it? Bob, don’t you get it? The guy that you want me to play is penniless and not too bright either. More than that, he’s a jerk! I can’t stand anyone seeing me that way.
“But Jack, that’s only the part you are playing, it’s not you.”
“Bob, forget it, doing this production means everyone, I mean millions of people are going to see me as a creep, and a down and out. I can’t stand the embarrassment. Don’t even ask me again, I’m not doing it.” And he hangs up.
Obviously, this conversation never took place. Because any actor, as well as any person going to the theater, understands that those people up there on the stage are there playing their parts. They aren’t judged by how wealthy or poor they are in the play. They aren’t judged by whether their role portrays a life of success or failure. There is one criterion for judging an actor: how well did he play his part. If his role is to play the part of an Idiot Savant, and he does it convincingly, he will win awards for his performance. If his role is to be the most successful man in the world and he isn’t real, the critics will rip him to shreds. He is there for only one purpose—to play his role. The characters has this type of personality, is from this type of background, has this level of intelligence—now go out there and play the part.
This is a parable to life. Each of us was given an exact set of circumstances, and a specific set of criteria. The backdrop is laid out and we are given the task of playing the role. Born into a particular time period, to a specific family, given an exact set of parameters – you will be so tall, so intelligent, have so much of this talent and so much of this one. Now, go out there and do it! Live your life, ford those streams, cross those rivers, and sail those seas! Live up to your potential. At the end of your days you will be judged- but not you compared to me—nor me compared to you: you will be judged by a far more demanding yardstick, you will be measured by how close you came to accomplishing all that you were capable of.
The Vilna Gaon, tells us that the most painful moment in a person’s life is after you leave this earth; when you stand before the heavenly tribunal, and they hold up a picture for you to look at; a picture of a truly exceptional individual—a person of sterling character traits, who shows intelligence, kindliness, and humility – a person of true greatness. And they say, why didn’t you do what he did?
Me?! Little me? What do you want from me? Was I some kind of genius? Was I some kind of powerful leader of men? How could I have done those things?
And they answer the most telling and most troubling line a person will ever hear: that picture is you. Not you, as you stand here now. Not you as you have lived your life. But, that is you had you accomplished what you were put on this earth to do. That is you, had you become what you were destined to be.
They don’t ask how much money you made. How attractive you were. How popular. Those are the stage settings of life—hand chosen by HASHEM as the perfect environment to allow you to reach your potential. Whether you were smarter, or richer, or more talented then the next person is irrelevant, the only issue is: How much did you accomplish compared to—you, compared to what you were capable of.
Most of the serious life questions we ask come from the assumption that this life we now lead is the end all and be all of existence. As if my station now in this world is the reason for creation.
From that perspective very little in life makes sense. Certainly not pain, suffering, or the inequitable distribution of talent and opportunity. However, once a person widens their perspective, to understand that we were created, to grow, to accomplish, and in the end we will be rewarded – judged by only one criterion: how much I grew, in relation to my potential—then life begins to make sense.
HASHEM custom designed a set of circumstances for each individual to give him the ultimate setting for his growth and perfection. Not every situation is pleasant – but they are needed to shape us, or give us the opportunity to grow. Once we understand this point, life itself takes on a very different meaning and a person can focus on the purpose of life: fulfilling our mission and purpose in existence.
Many friends are posting “me too” on their timelines. I hesitate. Recent conversations regarding my FOO, made me really look at “It was not my fault.”
I was thinking of an incident in college. For years, I did think it was my fault. But, with recent conversations regarding my FOO, and all the “me too” postings, I started to realize how I had completely let this boy off-the-hook, telling myself it was my fault.
There was a boy, he was the best friend of my friend’s boyfriend. We had driven across our home state several times together. We argued from time-to-time, in a flirty, playful kind of way. He once challenged me to solve a quadratic equation, after a debate about girls and math abilities. I easily solved it. He was humbled and admitted it. One night, we were out drinking with friends. He came back with me to my downtown studio apartment, into my bed, we made out. Clothes did not come off. We slept. I woke-up with my shirt pulled up and him on top of me. . .
I told the story to MC many years ago. I was clear that it was not consensual. It was clear he didn’t want to hear about it. I never brought it up again. Until last night. MC is safe now, right? I brought the story up because I wanted to share a revelation that occurred to me just that day. I was simply trying to share with him that I had realized that, “it was not my fault.” I did not consent. It was not ok.
MC started questioning me about the incident, wanting me to rehash it moment-by-moment. Telling me, I should not have put myself in that position. He then told me he had always viewed that incident as consensual. His pre d-day self was angry at me, not at the boy.
Last night, I simply wanted to share the revelation with him. He kept questioning. He would give platitudes, followed by “but, . . . “. He would backtrack, give more platitudes, then turn to me and say, “I know this will likely make it worse, but you should’ve. . .”. You know what, I simply wanted to share a revelation, not rehash and defend myself over the incident to my husband.
I asked him if he ever climbed on top of an AP or prostitute in the middle of the night, while they were asleep, to fuck their breasts? He replied, “no, I would never do that.” I asked him more about why he would never do that, if it is ok for anyone to do that. He replied it was not ok. I, then, asked him to apply those same standards to me, his wife. I pointed out, it appears he is showing more compassion to a prostitute who was paid to be used, then his own wife. Why is that?
He apologized, but is that only because I was so upset with his previous responses? He is trying to tell me that he is still working to conquer his misogynistic views of the world, that this pointed out to him how much more he has to overcome. But, if a paid prostitute should expect to not be treated like that, then why shouldn’t I? I’m scared. I thought he was safe. It wasn’t meant to be a test, but it kind of turned out to be. . .
Then, I find myself wondering, “if my learning to deal with my issues is a long-term process, should I not give MC the same grace?” Then I wonder, “are these thoughts of giving him some grace simply my old pattern of putting on rose-colored glasses, when I need to allow myself to see reality in front of me?” Why does he only apply his sick misogynistic views to me?
My mother was an addict. She was addicted to prescription opiates, before it was so widely talked about. She kept a shoebox full of other prescription drugs as well. In addition to her opiate based painkillers she took ever increasing doses of Elavil. Different doctors, different pills. At 12 years old, I knew more drug names than any 12-year old should know.
My mom’s addiction overtook her body and mind. The addiction escalated requiring more and more drugs to achieve her desired affect. In the mornings, she would follow me around as I got ready for school, non-stop talking at me. By the time I got home from school, she was groggy and slurring her words. She seemed to go back and forth between those two states. There were times she attempted to manage the addiction. She would reduce dosage, gain some clarity, and pull me in with hope that it would now be better. It never lasted long and the drugs were back.
Her mind and body rotted before our eyes. When I would question her use of these drugs, she claimed she was sick and that I just didn’t understand her sickness, that she needed those drugs. She would go to Canada whenever she could, so she could stock-up, as they sold Tylenol with Codeine over-the-counter. I was called selfish and uncaring for not “understanding” her sickness.
She used fake suicide attempts to gain sympathy and attention, to manipulate our sympathies. We moved to another state for a few years. When I was in jr. high school, she swallowed some pills and told me I needed to call an ambulance. I didn’t believe her. We had been down that road too many times before. She called the ambulance for herself. They pumped her stomach, they found nothing, but my Dad could have her observed overnight if he chose. We had no health insurance. She begged him not to let them keep her for observation, he acquiesced. We moved back “home” not long after. I remember when I was 20 years old, a junior in college in my hometown, she did it again. She ended up in the hospital. I went to visit her, at my Aunt and Grandpa’s request, and her doctor mentioned the situation as being her first suicide attempt. I was floored, what?
Her father and sister (my Grandpa and Aunt who I love dearly) protected mom from the consequences of her actions. They knew better, but let her create her own narrative. I explained her past to the doctor. He told me he would have her put in a facility to help her. I was so happy, she was finally going to get help. She threw a fit. My Grandpa stepped in. It so happens that my Grandma’s brother was a highly respected attorney and founding partner of the most distinguished firm in town. Grandpa dropped his name and threatened to sue. My mom was not sent to the facility. I was so disappointed. Her doctor suggested I learn about how to set boundaries with her and my family to protect myself emotionally and referred me to my college counseling clinic. I went.
Eventually, I came to understand that I could not save her. Though, I think until the day she died, I held a tiny piece of hope that she would eventually come to save herself. Of course, it never happened. After years of escalating drug use, my mom died at 65 years old from heart failure.
I’ve been sitting on this post for a very long time. Not sure why? I know it is part of who I am and how I relate to my world. I know it. I lost my mom to addiction, long before she ever died, I lost my mom to addiction. Deep breath.
I had some stressful days recently. The days that come to mind were stressful in quite different ways, making me wonder what it means when people say that stress could cause a betrayer to reoffend. The first day was very busy, at work and at home. The pace was high and the rhythm of events, activities, interruptions, deadlines, and evolving daily priorities changed frequently throughout the day. It wasn’t a particularly bad, nor good, day. It was just busy. I didn’t feel bad. In some ways, I actually felt good; possibly enjoying the adrenaline and endorphins. But, I think I can say I was stressed.
At the end of that day, I had momentum. I was physically charged – perhaps too physically charged to immediately switch to a completely passive activity such as sleep. In the bad old days I could have channeled that excess energy into adultery, porn and masturbation, or even self-centered sexual approaches to my wife in a way that was inappropriately focused on physical gratification rather than on showing her affection. It was not the adrenaline-laden stress that caused me to choose inappropriate responses. Long before that, I had made conscious decisions to allow myself to choose such selfish, hurtful, and deceitful activities when the opportunity arose.
Now, after consciously choosing to not be selfish, hurtful, and deceitful, I seek more appropriate ways to transition my physical and mental energy from a stressful busy day to a restful night. I might choose a book, a walk, a brief television program with family, a single nightcap, or a single dessert. In any case, it’s not the stress that determines whether I choose something selfish and hurtful or something more benign. It is separate internal discussions with myself about what choices are acceptable and what are not.
Then there was a different type of stressful day. For whatever reason, that day, I worried about the unknown. How will my next job search go? What will my boss say about my next report? Will some bad driver cut me off in traffic? Will I fall behind schedule tomorrow? Both now and in the bad old days, that kind of stress did not lead me directly to selfish, hurtful choices. It did, however, in the bad old days , open up the possibility of self-pity. I would think things like: nothing goes my way, life is unfair, I deserve better, and the like. When I dwelled on such self-pity, I translated it to entitlement, thinking: I deserve adultery as a selfish pleasure, or I deserve seeking flattery or imagined flattery. Now, I believe it is not stress that determines whether I choose selfish, hurtful behavior, but that the self-pity and entitlement led me to the bad decisions. To prevent it, I strive to address this kind of stress with acceptance rather than with self-pity and entitlement.
Here’s what I mean by acceptance. If I worry about my next job search, I am better served by accepting that the only thing I can do about it is implement my job search strategy and accept whatever comes of it. It works the same with my next report to my boss or the next deadline I strive to meet. And, if some guy cuts me off in traffic, so what? I could not have prevented it, I can’t change it or remedy it after it happens, and unless I obsess on it, it really makes no difference to the rest of my day. Planning, execution, and humble acceptance are the remedies to this kind of stress.
Then there’s the stress surrounding unmet needs. I’m hungry, thirsty, hot, tired, or groggy. My head hurts. I want sexual release. This is stressful too. At the right time and place, I can have food, water, air conditioning, sleep, caffeine, pain reliever, and even sex. But, to have a fulfilling life, I have to balance these things against other concerns. If I want to work, study, spend time with family or friends, worship, introspect, or even read and write, I can’t constantly eat, drink, sit in the coolest rooms, sleep, drink coffee, take medication, or pursue sex. Given my own goals and values, as well as the need to treat others—such as my wife – respectfully, I can only respond to this kind of stress by focusing on balance.
The fourth kind of stress is worrying about other irrational things. Does that colleague think I’m stupid? Am I a loser because I was nerdy in high school? Do I look dorky or scrawny? It need not be a particularly busy day. I need not feel adrenaline. But, sometimes I just have these thoughts, and they are stressful. It’s a different kind of stress. Neither now nor in the bad old days do these thoughts lead directly to selfish, hurtful choices. I think, however, that in the bad old days I might have obsessed on self-pity, thinking, for example: I fear or hate that guy who possibly thinks I’m stupid. I’m angry at God because I am physically small. I’m angry at my parents because they did not allow me to experience the world. These examples of self-pity also contributed to entitlement, as I told myself I deserved selfish behavior.
The solution now, I think, is to address this stress in a more healthy way, before transferring it to self-pity and entitlement. The answer may lie in prevention. Prevent this self-doubt by focusing on healthy priorities such as family, integrity, and responsibility. Inoculate myself against self-pity by building healthy self-confidence and values. And, short-circuit this self-pity by learning to like myself even if I am short, skinny, and uncoordinated, and even if I do feel my sexual history or life experience is or was inadequate or subnormal.
In sum, it’s not stress that makes me choose selfish, hurtful behavior. Rather, what makes the difference is how I choose to respond to that stress.
You know, MC and I were talking about the unique situation living overseas, moving every few years to a new country, brings to this shit storm. We are far from friends, families, and roots. In some locals, we have great access to mental health care. In other locals, very little exist. And, the type of care available is different depending upon the country. And, we move a lot, never really developing deep roots. We make great friends, for a short time, then move on. We may also feel compelled to not risk those friendships by revealing TMI about our marriage, either in fear of friends not wanting to get involved with drama, or fear of becoming the focus of gossip in our small expat community. Also, the opportunities and availability of “things” is often much more “in your face,” whether it be prostitution or locals who want to snag themselves an American (insert any developed nation) man; some (meaning me) might even refer to them as unpaid prostitutes.
This is not to say I don’t love many things about the expatriate experience. I really do love it on many levels. It is to say that it adds a unique twist to an already gut-wrenching situation. And, I think, perhaps we need to find a way to reach other people like us (expats dealing with infidelity) to support one another. I know having discussions with others, in general, has been helpful. But, the identifying with others (like LAA, E and SBE) adds a level of understanding that is so helpful!
We talk of how MC suffers from SOB syndrome. Yes, partially it is making fun, but it is also reality. He was a Selfish Oppressive Bastard and we have a very specific description of what that means that is foundational to his recovery. We talk of how MC was truly sick. Not a sickness as in a disease, but sick because he was spiritually unsound and morally corrupt. He was a morally corrupt coward. This was his reality. Some may say that I lack compassion for discussing his reality in this way. I say that facing reality is a necessary part of recovery. Coddling MC, hiding from these truths, simply would enable a continued ignorance of these core problems, these core realities. These discussions are not weapons to hurt MC. In fact, these discussions are based on his descriptions of his motivating factors and fears throughout his life. We openly discuss these factors and fears, for him and for me. We are learning to walk by each other’s side through each of our pain, but ultimately each of us is responsible for healing our own pain within. And, I think this is the difference between compassion and enabling.
A compassionate person is neither a martyr, nor a messiah. Compassion walks with another in their pain, if and when they are ready to take that walk, but understands that they are not capable of fixing that pain for the other. Compassion does not push, pull, or carry another into walking into their pain, but rather offers to walk by their side if they are willing to do so. Compassion does not allow the other to avoid natural consequences of not wanting to take that walk. Compassion does not sacrifice one’s own mental, emotional, spiritual and/or physical health and well being to do any of this.
Loving with an open hand by Ruth Sanford
A compassionate person, seeing a butterfly struggling to free itself from its cocoon, and wanting to help, very gently loosened the filaments to form an opening. The butterfly was freed, emerged from the cocoon, and fluttered about — but could not fly. What the compassionate person did not know was that only through the birth struggle can the wings grow strong enough for flight. Its shortened life was spent on the ground; it never knew freedom, never really lived.
I call it learning to love with an open hand. It is a learning which has come slowly to me and has been wrought in the fires of pain and in the waters of patience. I am learning that I must free one I love, for if I clutch or cling, try to control, I lose what I try to hold.
If I try to change someone I love because I feel I know how that person should be, I rob him or her of a precious right, the right to take responsibility for one’s own life and choices and way of being. Whenever I impose my wish or want or try to exert power over another, I rob him or her of the full realisation of growth and maturation; I limit and thwart by my act of possession, no matter how kind my intention.
I can limit and injure by the kindest acts of protecting – and protection or concern over-extended can say to the other person more eloquently than words, ‘You are unable to care for yourself; I must take care of you because you are mine. I am responsible for you’.
As I learn and practise more and more, I can say to one I love, ‘I love you, I value you, I respect you and I trust that you have or can develop the strength to become all that it is possible for you to become — if I don’t get in your way. I love you so much that I can set you free to walk beside me in joy and sadness’.
I will share your tears but I will not ask you not to cry. I will respond to your need, I will care and comfort you but I will not hold you up when you can walk alone. I will stand ready to be with you in your grief and loneliness but I will not take it away from you. I will strive to listen to your meaning as well as your words but I shall not always agree.
Sometimes I will be angry and when I am, I will try to tell you openly so that I need not resent our differences or feel estranged. I cannot always be with you or hear what you say for there are times when I must listen to myself and care for myself, and when that happens I will be as honest with you as I can be.
I am learning to say this, whether it be in words or in my way of being with others and myself, to those I love and for whom I care. And this I call loving with an open hand. I cannot always keep my hands off the cocoon, but I am getting better at it!
I have absolutely no respect for the MC that I now know existed prior to d-day, that is true. But, I have an immense amount of respect for the person, for the man, he is working to become now. But, it is his work to do. And, when I really think through why I sometimes want to gently help the cocoon along, I can see that it may have more to do with my wanting a sense of control in the chaos, a sense of control over the future. It is hard to embrace uncertainty. But, in the end, keeping my hands off that cocoon is healthier for us both. I work hard to remember that, though admittedly sometimes it is easier said than done!
Mom seemed absolutely traumatized, even morally outraged, at the idea that I might become an adolescent, and then an adult. So, I tried to protect her from that truth. I hid that fact from the light. Peter Pan, many classic Disney tales, and the entire Santa Claus industry do make most middle class developed world families hold back a tear when children start to grow beyond the emotional boundaries of the hundred acre woods.
But, most families hold back that tear, and let – or even encourage – their children to grow up. And, often the tear is more joyful than sorrowful. I got the impression it was different with my mother. She seemed truly distressed – sometimes scornful and angry —when I showed interest in things, people, activities, interests, and concepts that lived outside the nursery room. Having children was somehow important to her. Having those children grow up represented a loss to her.
So, I endeavored to lead a double-life: pretending to remain an eternal child when near my mother, and secretly struggling to appear mature when with peers. I became interested in girls, secretly. My body developed and my interests diversified, secretly. I learned to hide my relationships. I associated with friends and with girls, covertly. I tried alcohol and tobacco, covertly. I viewed porn, covertly.
I can’t help but wonder whether the double-life of adultery, porn, and lies that nearly destroyed us actually began in elementary school or even earlier.
As a parent, I don’t want my sons to be afraid or ashamed to talk to us about growing up: about girls, beer, smoking, drugs, safe sex, porn, desires, fears, and indecision. I don’t want them to be ashamed or afraid to disagree with us. I don’t want to push them to be a particular thing nor discourage them from being some other thing. I want them to be themselves in front of me, just as they are in front of peers, teachers, girls, grandparents, bosses, friends, enemies, and total strangers.
Oh my goodness, I watched this video today and it sounds so much like what MC describes from his childhood. Whoa!
I try so hard to keep elements of our non-recovery life out of the blog. Something happened at the beginning of the year and I told myself it was unrelated, but I’m beginning to see just how related it may be.
When we arrived to our new home a year ago, we met a family that took us under their wing. They showed us where all the best groceries stores were located, took us to a couple of the local expat clubs, invited us over for drinks, really made us feel welcome. I thought, wow, we are really finding some nice friends here.
A few comments here and there sparked my attention. The first occurred a few months down the line when it was casually mentioned that they founded and ran a youth ministry when they lived back in the US and missed it very much. She would talk about it from time-to-time and it always sounded like just some positive youth group experience to which she and her husband were devoted.
One night we joined them for drinks. They asked what Judaism means to our family. I have no problem with that at all. Clearly, they had very little exposure to Jewish people and were curious. We explained how it is an important part of our identity, how we try to do a little more each year to honor our Jewish heritage and identity (keep mitzvah), but that we don’t see G-d as some corporeal being in the sky granting special wishes. Somewhere in the conversation they explained to us that Jesus is their Lord and Savior and path to redemption. There was also a comment in there about the earth being less than 10,000 years old and, yes, I was in a bit of shock over that statement. But, I didn’t see any of that as a deal-breaker. I’ve always been the type of person who does not need you to believe everything I believe, as long as you are willing to do the same for me.
Then, I got an e-mail from her, saying she was studying scripture from Romans, and she would love to hear my thoughts on what she was reading. This was someone I considered a friend. So, you know what, I read it and made a very considered, studied, respectful, while staying authentic to my own beliefs, response. I spent hours on it. She responded with, “I really love your response and cherish our friendship! Looking forward to spending more time together with our families throughout the next year!!” Ok, phew, got through that sticky situation. We can just go back to focusing on our similarities. But, then she sent another reading from her study of Romans. WTF? It went over the exact same ideas, with repeating the same “evidence” as the previous thing sent. I’m all for two-way academic discussions, but this felt very different. There was no conversation. She just sent “readings” from her studies. It seemed like she just wanted me to read Romans, not really exchange thoughts, ideas and understandings. I did not respond. I just ignored it.
Things went downhill from there. Her kids, who had been so friendly to ours, started asking them why they don’t believe in Jesus? My oldest would answer and they would ask again, as if they had not heard a word he said. During this time, the family started another “youth ministry” here. I looked into who they were and what they believed. It really confirmed my fears, they were using friendship as a way to build trust with our family, so then they could walk us down “Romans Road.”
While I am proud of myself for seeing “red flags” sooner than I would have in the past. For understanding I needed to disengage sooner than I would have in the past, I was still upset.
And, it reminds me of the black and white thinking, the dogmatic thinking we have encountered on our recovery journey. And, if anything, I feel more dogmatically anti-dogmatic than I ever have before. In my view, there is NO book that is inerrant. Life is evolving, literally and figuratively. There is more than one right path.
It is ok if you don’t agree. I do not need you to believe everything I believe, as long as you are willing to do the same for me. I, however, must also admit to myself that if both cannot work from that premise, then it will result in an emotionally unsafe relationship. I’m learning. I just wish I didn’t have to keep learning the hard way. Because it really hurt.
I watched this video today. The trauma experienced by this woman and her ability to forgive are mind-blowing. All I can say is “wow.” I always hear, “Forgiveness is more for the forgiver than the forgiven,” but I never saw what that looks like in practice. Though in theory it sounds nice, I never understood how that could be true in anything beyond theory. This video has certainly given me food-for-thought.
What if I grabbed your infant out of your arms, tortured him, mutilated him, and then dashed his brains against the ground while you were forced to watch helplessly? What if I threw acid in your face, leaving you blinded and scarred for life? What if after years of apparently close friendship I sold you out to the nazi regime?
What if I later said I was really sorry, I had changed, and I understood how you felt? Would you believe me? Would it matter if you did?
I altered the course of your life, terribly and irreversibly.
I get that. Though it probably doesn’t change anything, I do get it.
My loyal spouse, I beg your forgiveness. I do not expect forgiveness. I must beg for it nonetheless.
Movies often have a scene where it becomes shockingly clear that a seemingly good character has in fact been a bad guy all along. Chancellor Palpatine, the theatrically-minor character who leads the Republic, turns out to be Darth Sidious. Grandma seems really hungry for Red Riding Hood’s baked goods. But, wait. Why does Grandma have a long snout today? A teacher or coach seems like a great mentor for youth, until you read that he was arrested for child abuse.
I was Darth Sidious, the Big Bad Wolf, and the deceitful abuser. TL was the victim. It’s not just that I treated her with contempt. Any criminal, bully, bureaucrat, or bad driver does that, regularly. It’s that I did it with stealth and deception. I was supposed to be her champion, her greatest hero, protector, promoter, fan, friend, lover, family member, and confidant. I was Delilah and she was Samson. I was the wolf in the fold.
There’s neither excuse nor remedy for what I’ve done. Even having to live with the knowledge of what I’ve done is insignificant compared to the pain with which TL must live.
I’m not even sure what I want readers to do with this story. Maybe I want other victims to see that some betrayers can understand, on some level, the pain they caused.
Maybe I want other betrayers to be inspired to share their stories. Stop hiding behind shame, sex addiction, childhood problems, or victim blaming, and share the hurtful things you did and the hurtful reasons you did them. I wonder whether I’m alone in discussing these things.
I never felt emotionally safe with my mother, and still do not. Even when she seems to be having a rather normal conversation with me, I always worry that anything I say might sharply and surprisingly set off some criticism, judgement, or hard feelings. As a child, and even now, it was not clear to me that she wants a relationship with me. She wants me in her life and near her. But, she does not want a relationship with me. She wants to brag about me to other people. She is disappointed when I don’t give her fantastic fodder for bragging to her family and acquaintances about her son. She wanted to control my every choice and action: who I chose as friends or acquaintances, what I pursued for education and career, what I thought, who I married, whether I had children, and what I said and did. She did not want me to grow up and learn independence. She did not want a real son. She wanted an image of a son. She wanted a thing she could take off the shelf and display to any neighbor or third-degree relative, and then put back on the shelf to stay quiet and predictable. I wanted nothing more than to get away from my mother.
Then I started seeing TL, and soon married her. I sought to control with whom she associated, her preferences and opinions, and her aptitudes and interests. I wanted to control how she viewed sex, me, the past, and the present. When she showed an aptitude or interest that intimidated me, whether in the bedroom or in the garage, I reacted with childish jealousy, insecurity, and defensiveness, rather than with respect, gratitude, and support. In short, I constantly tried to replace the real TL with the image I had of the perfect wife. I was angry with TL for not being the image.
I became my mother. I made TL fear me in the same way I feared my mother. I denied TL freedom and individuality, the same way my mother denied me freedom and individuality.
The image, by the way, is unobtainable. There is no such person in real life, nor should there be. The image is a two-dimensional caricature of a woman. An image can’t be a friend. But, then, until D-day I didn’t want to be a friend. I only wanted the image to make me feel better about myself and about life.
Now I’m focused on friendship in our marriage. It is a work in progress.
I had an image of TL in my mind long before I even met her. I started to form the image even before I knew she existed. The image was a virgin woman who was very impressed by me and by sex with me. She never disagreed with me. She never surprised me by having a unique or unexpected preference, behavior, or past experience. She was exciting and strong, but never nearly as exciting and strong as me. She was great. But, I was greater.
Then I met TL and eventually married her. There was mounting evidence that she was not a virgin, and that she had unique and unexpected opinions, past experiences, skills, aptitudes, relationships, and preferences. I began to suspect she was an independent adult human being. I began to fear she was as great as or greater than me.
That threatened me. It made me feel anger, jealousy, and resentment. I was infatuated with “the image.” I was cruel and neglectful toward TL, the real woman.
I pursued years of adultery, porn, and masturbation to feel greater than I was. It didn’t work. I hoped it would give me control over sex and how women view me. It did not.
Now, since D-day, I have learned about love and friendship. I’m trying to give TL love and friendship.
But, the damage has already been done. I’ve already driven away all her old friends by pouting and moaning when she might see them, with me feeling intimidated that they encouraged TL, the non-virgin woman with her own thoughts and opinions, to be herself instead of being “the image.” I’ve already made TL afraid to be herself and even made her forget who herself is. I’ve already missed a million opportunities to support her and encourage her for her own strengths, for being herself.
I love TL, not “the image” nor anyone else. But, my years of obsession with the childish image were sick and hurtful.
Does anyone else out there understand this? I was not a sex addict. I was obsessed with a sick fantasy, at the expense of a real woman. I wasn’t tempted by other women. I was seduced by jealousy, feelings of inferiority, and anger at TL for not being “the image.” I didn’t just make bad choices. I was motivated by bad thinking and bad feelings.
TL deserved much better.
I love fried chicken. I love skiing. I love my cast iron skillet.
Those are all incorrect uses of the verb.
I like fried chicken more than I like other foods. I like skiing more than I like other activities. I like my cast iron skillet more than I like other cookware. I liked you more than I liked other people. I liked my children. I liked self-indulgence and flattery.
I do not love fried chicken. I do not love skiing. I do not love my cast iron skillet. I did not love you. I did not love Son1. I did not love Son2.
Then I learned what love is, and devoted significant time and energy to practicing it. I’m still working on it.
I love you. I love Son1. I love Son2. I love Dog.
I do need to control my frustrations. This has been a difficult topic for me to understand and to articulate.
Thank you for your patience.
TL: I’m not sure you even liked me. I certainly didn’t rate as one of your three favorite things.
MC: I liked you. I am sorry I let that get lost in a mountain of jealousy, resentment, anger, and self-pity.
TL: You didn’t treat me like someone you liked.
MC: I know. I was like a kid who does not take care of his toys, and then cries when they are broken or lost.
TL: Changing the word “love” to “like” doesn’t make it any more true.
MC: I disagree. It’s what I’ve been trying to say all these years.
TL: Treating a human like a toy does not equate to loving or liking a human, only to liking an object. There is no relationship with an object. It is all one sided. I’m not an object.
MC: I know. That’s one of the many problems I had.
TL: If you know, how can you claim to have even liked me (a person with my own thoughts and feelings). You only liked an image of me as an object, you never liked me.
MC: I guess that’s what I’m saying. It was wrong of me. I am sorry. I am working to correct it.
TL: You didn’t like me. You didn’t love me. You only had occasional like or love for an object-like image of me that was actually never really me. And, then you spent years being angry at me for being me, not your object-like image. You liked fried chicken, you really did. You liked skiing, you really did. Not an image, but the reality of those things. You cannot say the same of me. In fact, you hated the real me.
MC: That’s basically true. I am sorry.
You’ve all seen the discussion of the last few days. I am so grateful for the input of betrayed friends who have so helped to both pinpoint the source of my doubts, as well help me recognize the strength and rarity of all the work thus far.
When we started on this recovery journey, we began to learn the meaning of “love.” We learned that love is wanting the best for the other. We, also, learned that love never means allowing yourself to be in an unsafe situation with an unsafe partner. What was and has continued to be confusing for me is how MC, after learning this definition, could ever say he loved me prior to D-day.
He has discussed separately how he saw me as a possession to be controlled. And, how he was angry and disappointed that, as his prized possession, I was not all he wanted; I was not the virgin wife he thought he deserved. Whenever I write that, I feel so shocked that a modern man can have such hypocritical, misogynistic ideas. I am proud of him for admitting these truths, for facing this ugly reality over the course of the last five years. But, I am still dismayed by it!
Possessing and controlling are NOT love. Infatuation is also NOT love. Treating me like a prized toy on a shelf, to be played with at his convenience and to be put away and forgotten about otherwise is NOT love. Being angry with me for not being in bubble wrapped condition upon marrying me is also NOT love. And, I know he knows that.
He now admits that at the time of the affairs, he did think he loved AP 1 and AP 3 on some level at some points. He can (and does) easily say and mean he didn’t truly LOVE the others, given the definition of “love” he now knows. But, then, how in the world is the same not true for me. I personally think he was confusing not wanting me to stop loving him, for him loving me. And, that too is NOT love.
The one truth he has had trouble seeing was that there is NO definition of love, on any level, that describes his feelings for me prior to d-day. On some level, I knew this all along, but perhaps I too didn’t want face the ultimate ugly of uglies. But, I felt it, couldn’t quite put a name to it, and it has been eating away at me. I cannot help but wonder what other truths is he hiding from himself? It feels so overwhelmingly important, like a block I could see, but couldn’t name and couldn’t remove. This is a brick in the wall between us. Perhaps the last brick, perhaps the biggest brick, I don’t know, but if feels very very important. Is he willing to truly remove this brick and expose the ugly to himself? This feels like a make or break point for us.
TL often asks what I did or said to make each affair partner think I would choose them over my wife. I don’t exactly know the answer to this question, nor do I feel confident that I understand why she asks. Nonetheless, if trying to answer this question could possibly be helpful to my betrayed spouse, here’s my attempt.
One. The first affair partner (AP1) once during the affair asked whether I was still having sex with TL. I said something like, “Well, sometimes I still have to do command performances.” That comment was aimed at making AP1 think I preferred her to TL. That was, in fact, not true. I very much wanted and preferred sex with TL, and did not want to admit that to AP1 for fear that AP1 would then realize I was just using her for illicit sex and flattery. But, it makes sense that the whole incident would be hurtful to TL in any case, and that TL would have no reason to believe that I did not really prefer AP1
Two. During one illicit rendezvous with AP1, I said something like, “Oh, I’m so happy.” I was happy. But, not because of AP1. I was happy because I was selfishly indulging myself. I was happy to be stealing cookies from the cookie jar. The cookies themselves were rather tasteless. Still, AP1 probably interpreted my comment as saying I preferred her.
Three. I cannot think of any specific thing I said or did with the second affair partner (AP2) to make her think I preferred her. However, I frequently rather brazenly approached her for sex and told her I wanted her. This probably made AP2 think I preferred her to TL.
Four. I do not think there was any specific thing I said or did with the third and final affair partner (AP3) to make her think I would choose her over TL. However, I gave AP3 significant quantities of time and attention, no doubt making her think I preferred her to TL.
That’s what I know on this topic. I also know that I did choose TL and have always preferred TL to anyone else. One of the many reasons that was not properly evident was that I buried my love and desire for TL under a rotting pile of jealousy, self-pity, anger, and selfishness. My work now is aimed at hauling away that mountain of filth of my creation and trying to salvage the love that was suffocating under it.
I’m now working with a book called 10 Days to Self-Esteem. The first chapter said to identify my goals with regard to self-esteem.
Goals for self-esteem:
Stop wishing the past had been different.
Stop being disappointed in myself.
Stop being disappointed in my life.
The chapter concluded by asking me to evaluate what it had just told me, to summarize what I learned, and to say if there were things I liked or did not like about what I read.
Evaluation of step one:
I learned that right now I have minimal depression and borderline anxiety. I am somewhat dissatisfied with my marriage in terms of how we relate to each other. It will require consistent work to become mentally healthy.
What I didn’t like about step one was that it did not explain how depression, anxiety, and relationship quality are necessarily the beginning of a discussion about self-esteem. Is it not possible that one has low self-esteem despite not being terribly depressed or anxious and having a decent relationship? I was disappointed that step one did not include any ideas that were really new to me. I was disappointed that step one was a bit elementary.
I liked the suggestion that self-help could be more effective than just continuously talking to a psychoanalyst. I liked the idea that success is determined in large part by how much effort you put into it, and your sincere commitment. I think there was some practical value to finally articulating my goals with regard to self-esteem. Just aiming to have more self-esteem is a bit imprecise and hard to measure.
I won’t blog about everything I read and do in 10 Days to Self-Esteem because most of the thoughts I would share are not new to readers of this blog. But, here are a couple thoughts from it that I do really want to share.
Epictetus said, “Men are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.” This is just like Buddhism. If wanting something is making you suffer, stop wanting that thing.
Life is not fair, and it’s counterproductive to wish it was fair. That’s not from the book. It’s my own thought that the book helped me find. Of all such thoughts, this one is particularly meaningful to me. I wasted much of my life mourning the loss of some childhood fantasy. I really wish to stop wasting my life.
Chapter four says do a cost-benefit analysis of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Among other things, it suggests a technique for untwisting thinking called “the acceptance paradox,” which is really a Buddhist principle.
After converting to Judaism three years ago, I’m finally using my mental health time on the sabbath to just read the Hebrew Bible. I’m still in Genesis. I’ll have more to say on this topic, I hope, when I get beyond the portion of that tome that is the mythical ethnic history of a particular tribe. Meanwhile, during recent travel, I found a copy of The Teachings of Buddha in a hotel room. I read it front to cover. It is a quick read. It too has portions that are the mythical ethnic history of some tribes. It also has other portions that are clearly-written advice on mental health. Some of the advice struck me as applicable to my own struggles with mental health.
Satisfying desire is like quenching thirst with salt water, the text said. In the bad old days, I desired flattery and erotic ego-stroking. Every time I thought I was obtaining those things, from an affair partner for example, I found them not credible, insufficient, and unsatisfying. I also desired sexual stimulus, to the point where I would regularly see prostitutes or masturbate to porn to obtain it. No quantity of those things was ever enough. I always walked away wanting more. They didn’t give me what I really wanted from them: the confidence and comfort of seeing myself as a desirable adult man. I have now quit drinking the seawater. It has been five years since I last used adultery, prostitutes, or porn. The less I use them, the less I want them. It is a self-generating virtuous cycle.
If the mind is filled with wise and pure and unselfish thoughts, there will be no place for worldly passions to take root, the text continued. Here’s my interpretation. Every bad apple in your fruit bowl leaves you with that much less room for fresh, healthy fruit. Conversely, every good piece of fruit leaves that much less room for bad apples. I’ve spent the last five years filling my bowl with good, fresh fruit, in the form of healthy goals, giving friendship, and showing compassion. There is almost no space left in my mind for self-pity or desire for ego-stroking.
The book continued. One kind of person is like letters carved in rock. They hold grudges. Another is like letters carved in sand. They anger, but it passes. Another is like letters carved in running water. The anger does not have an impact. They keep moving forward. This thought reminded me that I used to get very angry, and often held that anger for years. The anger usually wasted my time and energy while achieving nothing. I was angry at my wife for not being a virgin when we married. I was angry at drivers who cut me off. I was angry at women who did not make me see myself as a desirable adult man. I was angry at colleagues and bureaucrats who did not immediately see my point of view or wish to make my life easier. What did all this anger get me? Nothing. Who did this anger affect? Me. I have been working to not take things personally, and to not expend energy on anger.
Eliminate thoughts that stimulate greed, anger, and foolishness, and encourage thoughts that stimulate charity and kindness, the book said. Here’s my interpretation. So, it is not unhealthy to avoid bad thoughts as long as one also encourages good thoughts. Bad thoughts may erupt if suppressed and not replaced. But, if bad thoughts are eliminated and replaced with good thoughts, there will be no place for the bad thoughts.
The work should be directed toward the future, not the past. I had to study the past to identify the sources of my bad decisions. I know those sources. They are not a mystery. They are my cultural internal conflict, jealousy, self-pity, and thinking my wife owed me something. These ways of thinking can not recur by surprise. I know the signs. I am not suppressing them, only to have them erupt unexpectedly. I am not just avoiding unhealthy thoughts, as I should. I am also replacing them with healthy thoughts. This practice of unearthing old thoughts of jealousy and insecurity can and must cease now.
The book went on. True offering is not followed by regret or self-praise. Poor men can offer labor, life, compassion, kind glances, smiles, kind words, a seat, and shelter. This thought just struck me as a useful guide for future acts of kindness.
Here is more from Buddha. If a person has a repentant spirit, his sins will disappear. If he is unrepentant, his sins will continue and condemn him forever. I’m no expert on Christian teachings, but that thought sounds familiar. I guess it’s meant as encouragement to sinners, to tell them it is never too late to start trying to be a better person.
To worry in anticipation or to cherish regret for the past are like reeds that are cut and whither away, the book said. Dead reeds. That’s what I spent too much of my life creating. As Jon Marsh said in Recovery Nation, I hurt myself by not living to my potential. I’v thrown away too much of my life. To me, that’s good motivation to not throw away more of it, especially now that the years behind me no doubt outweigh those ahead of me and the most productive period of my life is winding to a close. Buddha continued on this theme. The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate troubles, but to live wisely and earnestly for the present. Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
I understand why TL feels like a consolation prize, an afterthought, or a plan B. Perhaps she fears I loved my first affair partner (AP1), would have divorced TL for AP1 if I’d had the balls to do so or if AP1 had been a virgin, and only stayed with TL because we moved to a new city and AP1 finally realized I was just using her. Perhaps TL fears I long for the love of AP1, but just settled for TL to avoid being alone and divorced.
Perhaps TL fears I loved my second affair partner (AP2), only stayed with TL because we again moved to a different city, and that I spend time inside my head reminiscing about sex with AP2.
Perhaps TL fears I loved my third affair partner (AP3), only returned to TL because AP3 moved to a different city, and that I would have gone on to pursue AP3 permanently had TL kicked me out of the house when she discovered that affair.
None of those fears are true. I never loved anyone but TL.
But, if the roles were reversed, I’m sure I would have those same fears, despite the unfaithful spouse’s attempts to reassure me. I get it. It reminds me a little of my fears that TL had better sex with more desirable men before she started seeing me and that she just settled for me for practical reasons. I don’t mean to suggest that my fears were equivalent to hers nor that mine were healthy. They were not. I just mean to say that I’m trying to empathize with TL regarding her fears.
What can I do to help TL? Really, I could use some advice.
I want her to know that those APs were meaningless and remain meaningless to me. I want her to know that I never loved anyone but her, despite the fact that I told APs I loved them.
I want everyone to know that if TL and I were on a sinking ship with those three APs and a two-person life raft, I’d put TL in the life raft with me immediately and leave the others to perish.
After 18 years of being disloyal, and only five years of trying to be a good husband and friend, how can I prove to TL that she is and always will be my first, best, and only love?
We know self-pity was one of my root problems, giving me excuses for my selfish and hurtful behavior. I read quite a bit on overcoming self-pity, and found some common themes: identify and accept sources of your pain; accomplish something, even something small; list good things and be grateful; give selflessly; refuse to waste time and energy on misery; and focus on duties, goals, plans. The basic source of my pain was my jealousy. I remember being jealous of a cousin who was better at video games than I was when we were nine-years old. I was jealous of other children, then jealous of girlfriends and peers, and finally jealous of my wife. Similar to self-pity, the common prescriptions for jealousy include gratitude, mindfulness, and becoming less self-centered.
Self-pity is the opposite of self-esteem. Internal low self esteem can cause attention seeking through self pity, I read. In self-pity you have an inner childish desire to be dependent. In my case, could this have come from being taught by my parents that independence is not good, kind, and expected? Could it come from not being encouraged to be independent? Self pity is alluring because it rejects responsibility and blames others. Self pity is abandoning responsibility instead of taking loving action to help yourself; it is trying to manipulate others into giving you the compassion you ought to give yourself.
Another prescription says ask myself, “What makes me unhappy?” Then, it says, change it. If not possible, change my attitude toward it. That basically comes from Buddhism; life is suffering, and if you’re suffering from wanting something then stop wanting it. So, if I want to change reality, I can either suffer from wanting that impossibility, or simply stop wanting it.
This is a difficult topic to discuss. Women, as well as modern men with even half a brain, may say it is ridiculous or misogynist for me to have been jealous of my wife for having one-night stands before marriage.. They’re right. It is ridiculous and misogynist, especially considering that she is relatively liberal and progressive and that I would also like to be liberal and progressive. The following fact may make your jaws drop further. Prior to our marriage, I had more sexual experience than she had, with a roughly similar number of previous partners. So, how could I be jealous? I had no right to be jealous. Of course, I had no right to be jealous.
Nonetheless, I was jealous. I was jealous that she had several successful one-night stands with people she had met only a few hours before intercourse while I, on the other hand, had never had even one one-night stand with a complete stranger. Yes, it’s still ridiculous and misogynist for me to have such jealousy. But, I was jealous. And, it drove me insane – or, more insane.
This is the basic jealousy that I used to motivate and justify my attitude within our marriage that my wife owed me sex, my insatiable demand for sex and ego-stroking, and my adultery. With my goal of preventing future adultery and selfishness on my part, I should be certain to prevent a recurrence of this ridiculous and misogynist jealousy. How?
First, I can reason that whether I become more sexually desirable than her previous partners or not, it will not affect our relationship, her view of me, or my view of myself, and it will be impossible to verify it. Can I get a bigger penis than her previous partners? No. Can I get a better body than her previous partners? I can improve my body, gradually and within my genetically predetermined limits. Otherwise, no, I can’t. Can I give her more physical pleasure than her previous partners? I can pay more attention to the things she prefers. I should do that anyway. Will it work? Who knows? There is no way for me to know. I’m not her. And, what does all this matter? If I become more sexually desirable to her, will she want me more or love me more? Who knows? Will she compliment me more than she already does? If she did, would I believe it? No. If I become better or more desirable, would I like myself more? How would I know? Probably not. If I fail to become more desirable than her previous partners, will she leave me? No.
She’s probably had bigger penises, more muscular dudes, and guys that made her orgasm more. I can’t change that. Wanting to change that just hurts me. It does not help me, in any way. She was able to score one-night stands. I was, and am, too impatient and self-conscious to try. I can’t change that in the past, and it’s not really worth it to me to try changing it in the future, even in some hypothetical future in which I become single again. One reason I never had one-night stands is that they were not worth the effort for me. Women can have them with relatively low investment in time and bruised egos. For a skinny, short, average guy like me, the investment in time and bruised egos is just too high. I need to stop blaming her, me, and God for that fact. It’s just a fact. I must stop, definitively, wanting to change that fact that cannot be changed. Wanting to change it caused me suffering. To prevent future suffering, I must not allow myself to want to change that fact.
Second, I can stop blaming her for things that are not her fault. It’s not her fault she had opportunities and took them while I was too impatient and insecure to invest the time and take the chances. It’s not her fault God made me the way I am and made her the way she is.
Third, I can try to keep it in my thick skull that marriage is primarily about friendship, and not primarily about sex, possessing my spouse, nor about meeting my needs for ego-stroking. One example of behaving as a friend is to be happy for her that she had some good experiences rather than being jealous of her.
So, again, it’s clearly self-defeating and even cruel of me to be jealous of her. What do you think of my strategy for excising the jealousy? Am I missing anything? Will it work? Or, is managing my negative conditioning the only realistic approach to it?
My most basic problem is that whenever I think of sex, intoxication, tobacco, or marijuana, I have an immediate, instinctive, almost subconscious negative feeling. Since before I could walk or talk, my parents and community taught me, perhaps without even much conscious effort, that those things were repulsive and should be avoided. Now, like Pavlov’s dog trying to learn a new trick, years after the formative experiment, I struggle to eliminate those subconscious impulses, those subconscious negative views of otherwise normal, modern human activities.
As I grew through childhood and adolescence, I learned from television, literature, music, films, peers, and other sources that most modern adults, at least most in the cultural milieu where I wanted to live, view sex, intoxication, tobacco, and marijuana more objectively. They apparently see those things more matter-of-factly, without judgment, the same way I had viewed common activities such as eating caloric foods, luxuriating in a steam bath, or appreciating a work of art. By the way, I can understand now how some people can learn to be judgmental about other activities that I consider mundane, things such as coffee or certain types of art. Back to my point, I grew up to have an internal conflict, with one part of my mind having learned to be judgmental about sex, intoxication, tobacco, and marijuana, and another part of my mind simultaneously drawn to those forbidden fruits.
Problem one was that I went on to abuse each of those four things in a self-destructive manner. While an inner voice told me sex was bad, another component of my own mind rebelled against those thoughts and indulged in adultery, porn, and masturbation. Similarly, I sought out intoxication and fell to unspoken peer pressure to use marijuana during my twenties. Similarly, I used tobacco at several points in my life. I’m confidently and comfortably beyond all those problems now. Marijuana is, as it once had been, simply uninteresting to me. I might have a cigar again one day, maybe; but the thought of it is not very appealing now. I drink alcohol in moderation. And, I am faithful and moderate regarding sex now.
Problem two was that, despite my hypocritical behavior, I struggled to stop myself from judging other people unfairly when they engaged in those things. I used to be terribly critical of other people for engaging in smoking, getting drunk, or having premarital sex, despite my own awful history with those things. Even now, when I encounter talk of or hints of smoking, intoxication, or premarital sex, I am forced to have a quick internal dialogue in my head. “They’re doing something immoral and shameful,” says a voice in my head. “No, dammit, stop thinking that,” says another voice, recalling the words of our first marriage counselor who said those thoughts were “sick obsessions.” “That’s unhealthy, self-destructive thinking,” I now tell myself. It works well enough. However, it’s still necessary, even after all the evidence that my moral judgments are harmful. And, the temptation to judge not only pings in my head when I am faced with real examples of smoking, intoxication, and premarital sex. It also pings when I encounter references in film, music, literature, and pop culture.
My personal mental and marital health objective is to eliminate my conditioned negative views of those four things. I don’t really know how. Is it possible to extinguish those impulses to judge other people? Or, is managing them the most realistic goal? I don’t feel they will drive me to again commit adultery or deceit. But, the impulses to view those four things critically are irritating.
I’ve tried to trace the roots, or at least the history, of my retroactive jealousy. Clearly, I experienced it in my relationship with TL. I clearly recall experiencing it with my long-time girlfriend prior to TL. What about before that? Perhaps the first, albeit brief, time was an incident during my senior or junior year of high school. I’ll try to recount the story here. Tell me what you think.
Here’s the story, from my writer’s sketchbook of ideas. This is a true story. The names are changed.
Mindless focused on his work, carefully counting items on the grocery store shelves, rearranging cans that were out of place, and noting items that were running low in stock.
“Mindless,” a woman’s voice called sweetly from behind him. By the time he raised his eyes, she was standing before him.
“Mindless,” she said, looking at him temptingly. She actually looked more attractive than when he had last seen her. Something was different. She was older. Yes. But, there was something more.
“Lynn,” he said, not even trying to conceal his surprise. He stood to greet her. Suddenly, she was right up next to him, gently touching his upper arm and looking flirtatiously into his eyes. Her perfume smelled of musk and spice.
“How have you been?” she asked.
“Okay,” he said, wondering why she asked. “You?”
“I’m wonderful,” Lynn cooed.
“Why her? Why now?” Mindless asked himself. “I left her long ago because she was not ready. She was not willing to give herself to me.”
“We should get together,” she said, as though that year, when they were both sophomores, was only yesterday.
“Maybe.” Mindless was suddenly suspicious. He didn’t know why.
“I have a secret to tell you.”
He took the bait. “What secret?”
“I’m different now,” she said. “Remember that thing I wouldn’t do?”
“Well, I did it,” she said, as though he should be happy.
“What in the hell is she talking about?” he asked himself. “Is she saying she gave herself to someone else?” He stood there, a bit dumbfounded.
“Do you want to know who it was?” she whispered, seemingly excited to share the news.
“Okay,” Mindless lied.
“It’s one of your friends,” she said.
Mindless paused, “I really have no idea.”
“Think about it,” she teased him. “He’s the brother of one of my good friends.”
Mindless thought, “That actually shows how little I know this girl. Who are her friends? I really don’t know.”
“I don’t know,” he said out loud.
“Jay Johnston,” she announced, as if he should have guessed by now.
“Huh?”Mindless asked himself. “How should I have guessed that? Who the hell is Jay Johnston? Sure, we went to school together. We know the same people. Beyond that, he is nothing to me. And, why would she tell me that? Why should I want to know that?”
“Oh,” he said aloud. “I see.”
“So,” Lynn said, seductively, “why don’t you meet me tonight when you finish here?”
“Maybe.” He knew as he said it that he would not meet her. She could go to hell.
“What a stupid girl?,” he thought. “Why would she think I would want her after another man had her? Why did she give herself to him before giving herself to me? I don’t need her. She’s not worth it.”
So, that’s the “Lynn” incident. I’ve never really understood it. Why did she think I would want sex with her after she had denied it to me, given it to someone else, and then forced me to confront the fact? Why didn’t I just cast off my pride and enjoy the chance for sex? In any case, that may be the first time in my life that I experienced that retroactive jealousy. Is it normal? Did I never recover from it? Am I missing something else here?
Okay, now let’s get back to what really seems to be my problem. I’ve seen a few people write about Chasing Amy Syndrome, referring to a guy who is unhealthily insecure about his perception/his perception that his mate is more sexually experienced than he. The term is a reference to a Ben Affleck movie.
“Kevin Smith once explained why he made it—it’s well known that the story was based on his real-life relationship with Joey Lauren Adams and the way he unfairly projected his insecurities onto her.”
“He wrote in this 2000 piece: “The day I saw disbelief, outrage, and hurt reflected in the eyes of the woman I loved as she realized I was insisting that she apologize for her life up until the moment we met… well, that was the day it struck me that I wasn’t quite as liberal as I fancied myself and instead came to grips with the fact that I was rather conservative. And rather than enter therapy, I decided to exorcise my demons on screen. Chasing Amy was conceived as a sort of penance/valentine for the woman who made me grow up, more or less—a thank-you homage that marked a major milestone in my life, both personally and professionally.”
There’s not much written about how to exorcise this syndrome. Suggestions seem to include: therapy, “get over yourself,” and cognitive behavior therapy techniques to reduce the symptoms. I’ve been working on all three, with some success. I do need to specifically discuss this with my therapist, and get her off of the time-wasting tangents we otherwise discuss. As for “get over yourself,” gratitude is a helpful tool for me. Compassion and friendship are also helpful. And, the cognitive behavior therapy techniques do help: interrupting unhealthy thoughts and redirecting my thoughts.
I would be interested to find others who have struggled with this syndrome, and to learn more about it.
I finished it. I’m not sure what I think about that. I guess the main point was that I should keep a close eye on my values and be sure my behavior lines up with them.
The good thing about being done with Recovery Nation is that I can now use my daily “mental health study time” (I need a better name for it) to read some more specific things about self-esteem, retroactive jealousy, and problems with my birth family.
I figured the Recovery Nation chapter on STDs would be redundant. TL and I are already painfully aware that I gave her herpes after contracting it from a prostitute. But, the following passage is a haunting reminder of what I have done.
“One of the most devastating consequences of having engaged in sexually compulsive behavior is the potential that you may have compromised your physical health and/or the health of your partner. What complicates this is the reality that most who engage in such behavior also tend to engage in ‘magical thinking’ in terms of contracting such diseases. That being, ‘they likely won’t; don’t have an STD and so, there is no need to admit the possibility that they may’. ”
This “magical thinking” is real. That’s exactly what I did. That concept itself probably suggests further research I can do. How did I let myself engage in magical thinking? I don’t really understand it. I must have subconsciously calculated that my insecurity and obsessions were more important to me than health. It’s very sad.
Recovery Nation offers a couple prescriptions for handling self-talk.
“1) Every negative self-thought must be challenged. Every time.”
“2) Create a list of five important affirmations (positive statements) about you, your life and/or your long-term goals. And every morning for the next forty-four days, read this list to yourself before you leave the house.”
Five statements? Hmm. First, I have two sons whom I want to raise to be successful, or at least happy. Second, I have a beautiful wife who is a great friend and supporter. Third, I’m pretty good at writing and speaking. Fourth, my dog loves me. Fifth, I enjoy skiing and diving.
Wow. That was surprisingly difficult. I know it should not have been. But, it was. Could I have done that 14 years ago, before my oldest son was born? How about before I was married? As an adolescent? Perhaps not. And, had I tried to do it back then, would I have become depressed, or would I have considered doing a better job of setting goals and striving for them?
This, self-esteem, I believe, is where I really ought to focus my attention, for the sake of understanding the root cause of my infidelity and preventing recidivism.
Recovery Nation’s supplemental chapter on sexual intimacy was a bit confusing. It began with the following.
“Intimacy is a limited value. By this, we are referring to the limited, finite scale of which the positive stimulation produced by the value exists. There are other limited values: honesty, for one; order, another. In each, there exists a maximum amount of positive energy that can be generated, and once that maximum has been achieved, there is only way for the stimulation to go…negatively. When a limited value is at its threshold (that threshold being, you are completely satisfied with the role this value is playing in your life), you have achieved the maximum emotional benefit that this value provides, and the focus then turns to maintaining it. Unlike compulsive behaviors, there is no habituation that takes place with values. Self-esteem, honesty, intimacy…such values do not require more and more to achieve the same emotional results. They simply need to be maintained. Which is a major reason why, once the compulsive behaviors have ended, and the underlying roles those behaviors were fulfilling have been replaced, the potential for relapse not only diminishes, but disappears altogether.”
I’m struggling to see the practical application of that passage. I think Jon Marsh, with his unfortunately piss-poor grasp of the English language and the skill of writing, is trying to say.that one can rid oneself of compulsive behaviors by replacing those behaviors with healthy values. That fits with the following passage later in the chapter.
“That means, the next time you are about to pick up another addiction recovery book to read, or the next time you are about to make yet another post on your online recovery support board, read a book on one of your values. Learn how to be honest. Develop the skills that it takes to have self-respect. Or, go to a discussion board that focuses on something that you are interested in, outside of recovery. Begin expanding as a person. Begin allowing yourself to make real changes in your life. Begin the transition from recovery to health…by focusing on the health.”
I’ll summarize the next part of this lesson by saying that Marsh believes there are eight elements of sexual intimacy. He says: “As we examine each of the elements, keep in mind your role in past relationships (or the role of your partner). What parts of the wheel were missing? What parts have you yet to develop properly?”
Elements Involved in Sexual Intimacy
“Reality: the knowledge that your perceptions of the relationship are similar to your partner’s perceptions of the relationship.” Obviously, by leading a double-life, lying, and cheating, I robbed TL of this important element of sexual intimacy. I believe I am safe now in knowing my perception of the relationship is the same as hers, from my point of view. I think I may have had some distorted, irrational views on reality in the past, at the beginning of our relationship. I think I may have irrationally feared that she was less interested in our relationship than I was.
“Choice: the feeling that you openly choose to be with the person that you are experiencing intimacy with; the feeling of “not being stuck” in the relationship.” Now, TL perhaps feels stuck in our relationship. Though I betrayed her, she may feel that our children and our weak financial situation leave her stuck with me. I have never felt stuck with TL. But, I do recall that feeling in a previous long-term relationship. Accurately or not, one part of me kept thinking, “I should be able to find a more attractive girlfriend.” Another part of me would respond, “No, I can’t. This is the best I can do.”
“Trust: the knowledge that your partner is honest with you; that you are honest with your partner; that your partner knows that you are being honest; and that you know that your partner is being honest.” Here’s another aspect of sexual intimacy I obviously destroyed for TL. On the other hand, TL has never given me anything but honesty.
“Pride: the willingness and desire to tell others about your relationship.” I have always felt proud of my relationship with TL. Again, I undermined this good aspect of our relationship by hiding my relationship with TL from potential affair partners. Thus, TL does not believe that I am proud of our relationship. She, on the other hand, has always been proud of our relationship, and shown it. I, however, wallowing in self-doubt, refused to believe that she was proud of our relationship.
“Respect: the feeling of wonder and amazement towards your partner as a human being; equality.” I began our relationship feeling this kind of respect for TL. Then I soon buried it under jealousy, insecurity, and unhealthy expectations.
“Vulnerability: the willingness to risk emotional damage in the attempt to grow as a person/couple; the knowledge that your partner will use the information/experiences you share in positive, fulfilling ways.” This is an interesting topic. I’m not sure I completely understand it. In the early years of our relationship, I was irrationally possessive of TL. I whined and pouted to prevent her from going out without me. I was manipulative and unfair. Was I afraid that would make me vulnerable? Is that what it means to be vulnerable, in this context? Or, does vulnerable mean being willing to share private, intimate thoughts, feelings, and ideas? If that’s what it means, then I have been vulnerable with TL. I think she has been vulnerable with me. If not, how would I know?
“Self-love: the knowledge that the more you love yourself in healthy, productive ways, the more positive emotions that you will have to share with your partner; the more accepting of yourself that you are, the more accepting of your partner you will be.” This is a rather new concept. It makes sense. If I’m not so insecure, I should be freer to accept her, unburdened by jealousy, fear, or doubt. This is a work in progress for me. If I had to guess which one aspect of intimacy was the most difficult for me, this would be the one. In fact, this one concept may be the root of many of my problems. For so many decades, I just wasn’t at ease with myself. I wasn’t confident, relaxed, focused, or natural. Instead, I was always imagining what others might be thinking about me. I’m much happier with myself now, but it came severs decades too late.
“Sensory Stimulation: the understanding that all sensory stimulation between you and your partner is geared towards communicating to that person’s soul; the use of intentional sensory manipulation to bring emotional pleasure to one or both.” I’m not very good at this. I’ve tried to improve. I do have some difficulty understanding it. I need to remember to focus on this.
I read Recovery Nation’s supplemental chapter on the concept of love. The following passage is helpful enough that I want to save it and use it again.
“Love is not attraction. One does not fall in love with a person based on their physical appearance. In other words, love at first sight does not exist in a healthy reality.”
“Love is not stability. Though stability can and should play a big part in a long-term, committed relationship…remaining in that relationship for the sole sake of stability does not equate to love. There must be some interest in seeing the relationship and/or the individuals grow.”
“Love is not a distraction, nor a shortcut. To often, rather than looking at one’s own chaotic life, a person seeks out “love” from others in an effort to distract them from having to deal with that life. Or to artificially produce the esteem that would otherwise require years to develop.”
“Love is not selfish. For love to occur, it must be by choice. It must be through the desire to care for, nurture, share and experience certain parts of your life with that person…and for those feelings to be reciprocated. This isn’t to suggest that love cannot include selfish acts…it can and should. Individual boundaries that include clear expectations of the other’s behavior within the relationship are examples of this. Without these boundaries and “selfish expectations”, it would be too easy to be taken advantage of by a selfish partner.”
“Love is not a guess. In love, it is the responsibility of each partner to share his or her true self with the other. Let’s repeat that. In love, it is the responsibility of EACH PARTNER to share his or her true self with the other. Without this, the experience of love can achieve nothing more than an illusion. Without honesty and the sharing of one’s inner self…any emotions experienced are based on projections and images. Additionally, love is never having to guess how your partner really feels. To trust that they are sharing their true selves with you.”
“Love is not desperate. When feelings of love are not reciprocated, or when the target of your love does not treat you in a way that reflects the way that you want to be treated…then the relationship is not based in love. Most likely, when someone continues to pursue such a relationship, there are unresolved issues from one’s past, or emotional deficiencies (e.g. low self-esteem)…but the feelings that are being experienced are not love. Love does not have to be won. It does not have to be proven.”
“Love is not a savior. Love should never be sought in an attempt to “rescue” your otherwise unsatisfying and/or chaotic life. Additionally, love should never be used as a bargaining tool after “rescuing” another person. Love is best experienced when you have first learned to love yourself. That is more than a cliché…it is absolutely true in terms of the fulfillment that love can bring.”
“Love is not dangerous. In love, there should never be a worry that your vulnerabilities will ever be used against you. Or that something you share in complete sincerity is later taken out of context or used to judge you. Communication is open and instant. Even if that means to communicate that you are not in an emotional state to effectively communicate at a particular moment.”
The exercise says: “Post your own understanding of what love is. The role that love plays in your life (or the role that you would like love to play in your life).”
Maybe this will be easier if I break it down to the specific subtopics Jon Marsh suggested. What can I say, for example, about self-love? I’m sure I have spent too much of my life being unhappy with my physical body, my abilities, and my accomplishments. Conversely, I spent too little time realizing that I have some control over each of those things. Do I love myself? Did I love myself? I don’t know. Perhaps I worried so much about how others viewed me that I neglected to consider how I view myself. Actually, I’d welcome some feedback on this topic. How does one know whether one loves oneself? How does that look? How does that feel?
How about romantic love? I want the best for TL, I want to be with her, and I don’t expect anything in return. I wasn’t always that way. I used to expect her to be perfect, to meet my every need or whim, and to make me feel better about myself or about life. In that regard, I didn’t learn what romantic love is until after I had already caused terrible damage to TL, until after D-day.
What about familial love? I know I have unconditional love for my children. I just know it. I would love them no matter what they did or didn’t do. I also know that I have struggled to stop myself from putting too many expectations on them with regard to sports, homework, extracurricular activities, and anything that does not involve them sitting on their butts playing video games or watching television. Is expecting too much of them an unloving act on my part?
Speaking of familial love, what about my parents and brother? I do think I love them. Yet, I don’t really like talking to them or being with them and I do carry around varying degrees of anger toward them. Is that contradiction really possible?
That’s the extent of love in my life, except for the unconditional love I have for my pet dog. But, even she makes me very angry at times, when she bites too much or destroys something in the house.
Is that enough love in my life? I think it is. Why not? I think the main thing I need to remember is to keep my love for TL unconditional.
I read the Recovery Nation supplemental lesson on family of origin. Again, I want to quote a few passages that seemed relevant to me.
“Further development involving this person’s “family values” might include taking the time to understand the toxic effects of the environment in which they were raised, or learning to integrate associated values (like forgiveness and compassion). The point is, no matter what your past holds, from abuse to blissfulness, if you are struggling with compulsive sexual and/or romantic behavior–further developing the values associated with your family of origin will help to balance/stimulate your emotional life.”
“For children, one of the most important roles a family can play is to provide them with a safe, nurturing environment where they have the opportunity to test and develop their social boundaries–boundaries that will later be used to develop healthy relationships outside of their family structure. Too often, when these boundaries are not properly developed, further social development is retarded, thus creating an additional stressor throughout the person’s life. A common example of this would be the domineering parent who extorted nearly constant behavioral control over the child throughout their childhood and early teen years, thus stripping them of the critical ability to develop confidence in managing their own emotional awareness and decision-making.”
“Additional sources of familial stress might stem from the parenting style in which you were raised: with authoritative, critical and/or perfectionistic parenting styles triggering lifelong issues with anxiety, lack of confidence and overall emotional imbalance/low self-esteem. Or, you may have derived stress from a constant parental pressure to succeed in all areas of your life. For some, after many years of struggling with such “family issues”, you may have even made the conscious decision to resign yourself to the fact that you will never have the opportunity to experience the power and positive emotions that can be produced by an association with a healthy family. Which, of course, is a deception…but one that provides a temporary relief over the alternative.”
“Can one be happy without ever experiencing it? Yes, but it will take an extraordinary emotional adjustment, with the family being replaced by some other significant nurturing target–like God, or animals.”
“Otherwise, it is not hard to see how the development of relationship addictions and romantic obsessions might be used to balance the enormous emotional burden of not experiencing the unconditional love sought through one’s family. Even those adults who go on to connect with their own spouse/children in a deeply emotional way, continue to require a personal connection to their family or origin (whether that family is biological or not is irrelevant). Those who have broken their ties with their family of origin (either through choice or through circumstance) will continue to suffer emotional consequences as a result of this disruption. Granted, the amount of relief gained from the disruption may outweigh the stress that continuing the relationship would have otherwise caused, but stress will be experienced when a person has no healthy connection to their “family of origin”–and their parents, in particular.”
The exercise with this lesson says: “Spend fifteen minutes thinking about the role your family has played in your life. As you think, consider the following:”
“1) What does unconditional love mean to you, and have you ever experienced it? From whom? Towards whom?”
“2) How did the parental style in which you were raised affect you both positively/negatively?”
I think I had unconditional love from my father, and he was present in my life. But, I think the amount of time I spent with my mother dwarfed the amount of time I spent with my father, or with any other human being. She was omnipresent, in my mind. And, in my admittedly biased memories, hardly any other person was ever present. My only sibling was born when I was five-years old. In my memory, other relatives, friends, neighbors, or others were rarely present, very rarely. I thought that my mother went out of her way to discourage friends and acquaintances, even shunning her own friendships and her own relatives. I’m sure I exaggerate that situation in my own memories, but it does capture my feelings.
I never thought much about whether my mother loved me, unconditionally or otherwise. She often said she loved me, so I figured she did. She probably did, and does. But, I recall constantly resenting her. Though it may be another exaggeration in my own mind, I thought she inappropriately controlled every aspect of my life: where I went, what I did, what I ate, what I wore, my entire grooming and appearance, with whom I associated, what I watched on television, what music I heard, and more. I also always thought that all my peers had enormous amounts of freedom that I did not have. I’m sure I focused too much on my negative view of the situation. I especially say that now that I have one son who is constantly complaining that everyone in the world except him gets to watch raunchy movies and have no bedtime.
Did I have unconditional love from my parents? Maybe I did. But, I didn’t think I did. Did I give unconditional love? No, probably never. I think I only gave unconditional love to pets. I thought I was giving unconditional love to my own children, but later realized I was somehow communicating some sort of unrealistic expectations about athletic interests to them. As for giving unconditional love to TL, that’s something I’ve been trying to learn since D-day.
I have long blamed my mother’s parenting style for preventing me from learning how to make my own healthy decisions. I do learn rather slowly from my own mistakes. Perhaps my mother assumed that meant I would never learn. I’ve also written about how I believe my mother’s own inner struggle between freedom and her Victorian upbringing was passed down to me. In short, she told me progressive modernism was smart and good, but she behaved as though anything other than a strictly conservative lifestyle was evil. She also taught me that sex was an unspeakably evil act, women were only for marrying, and she did not want me to marry or grow up. Among other things, that upbringing put little or no value on maturity and taking on adult responsibilities. In fact, I believed those things were discouraged, and that they would hurt my mother’s feelings too much.
I read the supplemental lesson called “Your Search for Meaning” in Recovery Nation. It does not include exercises or questions. It is just a lecture. But, it is encouraging. Just as I have put real emphasis on spirituality in my life since D-day, Marsh describes his own individual approach to it and how it helps with changing compulsive or hurtful behavior patterns. I hate to just quote large portions of what he wrote. But, aside from his habitual disregard for English grammar and syntax, Marsh did a pretty good job of capturing some thoughts I found helpful. Here they are:
“Developing your own understanding of “why you are here” can be a tremendous source of strength, guidance, energy and stability in your life. From a strictly “recovery” standpoint, it is not important what you believe, only that you do believe.”
“Having a clear understanding of the reason for your existence allows you to not take yourself so seriously. It allows you to keep your perceptions in perspective.”
“Being agnostic for many years, I searched for answers my entire life. I studied anthropology, world religions…talked endlessly to stout Christians, Muslims…I wanted desperately to “feel” God in my life. When I was truly honest with myself, I knew that that feeling had never come. In reading the Bible, I just couldn’t get past the thoughts that it was man’s word I was reading, not God’s. And knowing how manipulative, controlling, selfish and domineering man has been throughout the ages…I was not too receptive to the Bible’s messages. Was I sincere about wanting to feel Him? If you have completed the Recovery Workshop, you should have no more doubts as to how deep my sincerity runs. I prayed…and prayed…and prayed…alone, when it was just me and God. I would spend hours sitting alone in my house…my car…in the middle of a forest…anywhere where I could to finally feel His presence. It never came. Then, after many years of searching, logic finally got the better of me. I had always considered myself a logical person, and realized that, logically, I had only two choices: I could go on believing that there is no God, and that my life is essentially meaningless (existentially); or I could have faith that God does exist and in return, be rewarded with a purpose and “meaning” that will last for the rest of my life. If I was wrong? Then it wouldn’t matter anyway.”
“Logically, there was no down side to developing my spirituality. Of course, it had to be one that I believed in, and one that made sense to me…I couldn’t openly lie to myself…that would destroy the value of spirituality altogether. And after many, many years of intense searching… I developed my own understanding of God and Heaven and the role it plays in my life. I won’t go in to what those beliefs are; though if you, as an individual struggling with similar issues would like to know…I would be more than happy to share them with you individually. There will be no conversion attempts, only God as I see Him. Or, more accurately, as He has guided me towards seeing Him.”
“Being that there are thousands of books having been written on the soul, I will share only the most basic thoughts as they apply to recovery and health. The soul is a metaphysical concept that many believe to be the true self. Beyond your senses, beyond your muscles and bones and skin, beyond your emotions lies your energy source–your soul. Others will argue that a soul could not exist without emotions, and without senses. What is the truth? Nobody knows. Logically, it makes sense that if our life is perceived through our senses, and our senses elicit the emotional responses that make up our “soul”, then our soul’s could not exist without our senses. This is one of the more frustrating points for me to understand about most people’s perception of Heaven…because it contradicts their perception of the soul as an energy force, separate from the body. “It is your soul that goes to Heaven.” Why then, is it assumed that our soul will continue to experience thought, emotion and other such traits once it has left the very body that produced them? Not really looking for an answer, just emphasizing the point that nobody really knows what the “soul” is.”
“For me, it is when I close my eyes. All of the feelings, emotions, sensations, thoughts…that is what makes up my soul. When I communicate with people, that is what I am trying to communicate with. Not whether they are young or old…fat or thin…tall of short…black or white…I close my eyes and try to get in touch with their soul. Or at least what I believe to be their soul. If I’m wrong, and that isn’t actually their soul, so what. It works for me, it works for my value system, and it promotes healthy relationships with others. That is all that matters. The truth is relative.”
“When considering your soul, like spirituality, it doesn’t matter what you believe, only that you develop a thorough understanding of this belief and that you use it to promote your life. In recovery, once you have a clearly defined “soul”, the process of separating your emotions from your behavior becomes that much easier.”
I don’t really think I have or had what Jon Marsh calls love addiction. But, I read the relevant supplemental lesson in Recovery Nation to be sure. Marsh listed his own symptoms. Here they are, with my thoughts on whether I experienced them.
• “The relationships all involved instant intimacy.” In my marriage and in other relationships did I proceed to intimacy instantly? If that means physical intimacy, then no, I did not. If it means emotional intimacy, maybe. Maybe it is my habit to either awkwardly avoid women or, alternately, to approach them with slightly more emotional intimacy than would be considered normal. I’m not sure. In any case, I now make a conscious effort to avoid emotional intimacy with any woman except TL.
• “Most required an intense, deeply-rooted need to have them like me. To tell me they love me. Until that happened, most actions within the relationship were geared towards achieving that goal.” This does seem familiar.
• “There was a sense of desperation involved with establishing/maintaining the relationship.” Maybe.
• “As the relationships began to lose their intensity…so too went the feelings of ‘love’.” Maybe.
• “There was a willingness to sacrifice any and everything for the relationship to succeed.” Though I didn’t recognize it at the time, in retrospect, my approach to some relationships did seem that way.
• “When the relationship would end while that intensity was still intact, I would experience a completely inappropriate sense of rejection, failure and desperation.” I don’t believe this ever happened to me.
• “There was a completely unrealistic perception of the person’s qualities at the beginning of the relationship; completely unrealistic expectations of their abilities towards the end.” This does seem familiar.
• “There was an intense, constant hypersensitivity/pressure within the relationship; and a constant need for reassurance.” Maybe. Perhaps that fits with some examples of me being overly or awkwardly jealous or possessive.
• “Many relationships were brief, intensely emotional sexual relationships, to experience the aura of that initial love and awe.” No, that doesn’t seem to fit.
• “In many relationships, there was an obsessive nature behind my acts – constantly checking up on my partners to assure that they weren’t cheating on me.” This may fit with my awkward, outsized jealousy, including retroactive jealousy.
• “In many relationships, there was a considerable, hair-triggered sense of jealousy – which was triggered from the fear of them meeting someone ‘better’ than me and/or leaving me.” Yes, I guess that’s true.
• “In many relationships, there was the need to be the end-all to their existence. Healthy boundaries…mutual growth…partnership? No idea what you are talking about.” Yes, I think I did this.
• “In several relationships, experiencing incredibly intense, emotional devastation that lasted for years after the relationship ended. The inability to let go. That I couldn’t live my life without that person.” No, this never happened.
Marsh says: “ . . .[B]ecause the root of most love addiction can be found in early relationships (childhood trauma involving . . .parental . . . domination/extreme performance pressure), the foundation of the healthy transition must involve a commitment to relearn/rebuild healthy relationships – which may or may not include the need to rebuild sexual values/boundaries. In sexual addiction, the foundation is to relearn/rebuild healthy sexual values/boundaries – and then to integrate those skills into healthy relationships.”
Marsh then lists his standard recommended steps for addressing sex addiction, which I’ve done, and says, “For love addiction, the path would be similar, but the following areas would need to be added:”
• “The need to initially isolate yourself from all obsessive relationships (in which the target is an active participant in the relationship).” I’ve done this, unless it’s possible to say that I behaved obsessively in my relationship with TL, my wife, too. In fact, I think that I was obsessive toward TL, and that overcoming that view of her has been an important part of improving myself as a person and improving our relationship since D-day. I used to treat her as a possession, putting unrealistic expectations on her. Now, I’m learning to treat her as a true friend and individual, something I never really understood nor valued in my earlier years.
• “The ability to redefine yourself as an individual.” Yes, this is a challenging, ongoing, and crucial task for me. It’s something I should have done as a child or adolescent, but perhaps didn’t do fully or properly.
• “The need to redefine the health/boundaries of all existing relationships early on in the recovery process.” Yes, this is done.
• “Learning the role that others play (both consciously and subconsciously) in actively prolonging your unhealthy behavioral patterns/addiction.” I think this is done.
• “Learning the role that society plays in encouraging/promoting love addiction (society actively recruits sexual addicts for profit; it promotes love addiction as an actual value to be admired/emulated – this is an important distinction).” Yes, this is done, and it us a helpful reminder.
• “Learning the process of redeveloping healthy relationships from ones that were once obsessive.” Right, I think that is what I am doing regarding my relationship with TL.
• “Dealing with loss as a choice, versus a consequence.” I don’t think this particular line item is relevant for me.
Marsh says, “Love is a universal need/experience in all healthy individuals. It is not like alcohol or porn – where the behaviors can be seen in terms of absolute abstinence. So, while past factors that led to the development of a love addiction cannot be permanently removed, the ability to develop permanently mature, healthy life management skills – and thus eliminate the need for that addiction – is most certainly attainable.” This suggests to me that “love addiction” might not even be the right term. Maybe a more accurate term would be “relationship addiction.”