Self-Sabotage

In Alice Boyes’ May 1, 2018 Psychology Today article “30 Types of Self-Sabotage (and What to Do About It)”, I can see several problems that have troubled me at various points in my life.  See https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/in-practice/201805/30-types-self-sabotage-and-what-do-about-it for more information.  I came across this article while searching for material to explain why I have repeatedly done illogical self-defeating things such as sleeping with potentially diseased prostitutes while risking serious legal, financial, and reputational damage to my family; overestimating children’s ability to not get lost in public places; and expecting a merchant who overcharged me to not overcharge me a second time.  I have been working, with varying degrees of success, to overcome the following problems that Boyes identified. This list is borrowed directly from hers.

  • Your approach to pleasure is a denial-binge cycle.
  • You waste a lot of time and emotional energy reinventing the wheel, such as writing a new packing list each time you take a trip or continually resetting passwords you forget rather than taking the time to set up a password manager.
  • In situations in which you can choose to be happy or choose to be miserable you choose to be miserable.  
  • You create self-imposed rules that trigger and support procrastination.
  • You stay stuck in patterns that are psychologically comfortable, but not working for you. For example, overworking is more comfortable and familiar than having more balance.
  • You allow yourself to ruminate or worry without expecting yourself to take appropriate problem-solving actions. For example, you worry about the security of your online accounts, but do nothing to lower your risk.
  • When a relationship needs improving, you over-focus on decreasing negative interactions, but under-focus on increasing positive interactions and shared experiences.
  • You throw stones from your glass house. You complain about other people’s behavior when you need to make the same change yourself.  
  • You repeat strategies for trying to influence others that aren’t effective >90+ percent of the time. For example, you repeatedly nag your spouse when it hardly ever works.
  • You operate based on how you think a situation should be rather than dealing with reality.
  • You don’t adequately acknowledge the valid points other people make. You ignore other people bringing up genuine problems about your behavior; for example, your spouse complains about you spending time on minimally productive tasks and has a point, but you don’t adequately acknowledge this.
  • You self-generate stress. For example, you start more projects than you have time to finish.
  • You work on low priority tasks, but leave high priority tasks undone.
  • You overwork when what you really need is to step back and see the big picture.
  • You’re self-critical when self-acceptance and compassion would have a more positive impact on your behavior and emotions.

I have also made observable progress on the following problem.  But, I call it out here because it is perhaps the most troublesome problem for me.

  • You have emotional raw spots that, when triggered, result in out-of-proportion reactions. You don’t have effective methods for managing your emotions and behavior when your childhood hurts and traumas are reactivated.

The foregoing item seems to describe what we call my sick obsessions:  feeling sorry for myself with regard to my premarital sexual history. As I tried to describe to my therapist recently, that problem of mine used to be about the size of an elephant, sitting in my living room and blocking the doorway.  Now, after years of work, it is about the size of the gecko that actually does call our living room home: usually hidden, easily ignored, and relatively harmless, but not exterminated.

In any case, I commend to you this article by Boyes.  It was truly thought-provoking.

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Small, but big…

We just experienced something that many may see as something quite small but, to me, it is significant because it is indicative of a pattern that Mindless still struggles to overcome.

You see, there is a Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. At this market, there are food stalls that take credit cards. We like to eat breakfast at these stalls before cash-only shopping for produce.

Last weekend, Mindless used a credit card at the food stall, and the shop charged our credit card 12 times for the same charge. The merchant’s machine showed only one charge. Clearly, it was a mistake. Our credit card company automatically fixed it two days later. If the credit card company had been unwilling to fix it, the merchant was willing to do whatever he needed to help us get it fixed. When this happened, MindlessCraft and I had a conversation about not taking the chance on this again and using only cash. I thought it was a done deal. We learned a lesson and would act accordingly in the future.

You have to go early, or the market becomes very crowded. This morning I just needed a little extra quiet rest, so Mindless and our boys (who love to go to the market) went without me. Yeah, a very nice gesture indeed. But, but, but…They go to the same food stall and Mindless, yet again, uses our credit card. Our youngest even told him he should pay with cash, but Mindless didn’t hear him or listen or something…Even a child knows that cash is better after what happened before. Mindless and I had come to that conclusion during the last incident. How is it that he would not use cash? I just don’t even understand. And, of course, we have three charges for the same purchase on our card now. Most people learn the first time an error happens, why does it take him multiple times? Even our kids knew better. WTF?

I shouldn’t have to remind him. Our kids shouldn’t have to remind him. He is not a little boy (and frankly even little boys, well a tweener anyway, understand without being reminded), and I am not his mom nor have any desire to be his mom. I am frustrated. I am disappointed. He needs to figure out why this is a pattern for him and what the fuck to do about it.

ETA: Our older son built himself a computer a few years ago. Recently, the motherboard died and had to be replaced. He put in the new motherboard and it still didn’t work. It turned out that he had plugged in one wire incorrectly. One wire and the whole thing did not work. He was able to find it and fix it, but I cannot help but feel this is a wonderful analogy for MindlessCraft’s issue. Mindless is an exceptionally book-smart person of high intelligence, but there is this one complete disconnect, like a wire that was plugged-in wrong.

We’ve talked a lot about MindlessCraft’s mom and how she never let him make choices for himself, never let him fail or face the natural consequences of those choices. I sometimes do find myself wondering if this made Mindless the way he is OR was his mom the way she was because of this disconnect within Mindless. Chicken or the egg? I guess that doesn’t matter as much as Mindless figuring out what the fuck to do about it.

And, yes,  his name was purposefully chosen.

Intimacy Anorexia Literature Review

I did some reading on this topic, with a focus on solutions.  In “Keys to Overcoming Intimacy Anorexia,” Cory Schortzman says to play the feelings game twice a day with your spouse, take turns each week setting up a date night together, be very clear and explicit when saying you want sex with your spouse, stop being easily offended by real or perceived sleights because it leads to inappropriate focus on blaming other people, and take responsibility every time you find yourself exhibiting the symptoms of intimacy anorexia.

Andrew Green, in “You Can Overcome Intimacy Anorexia — Start with These Steps,” says understand how you became intimacy anorexic, remember that you and your spouse are in it together, see a qualified therapist, make a daily effort to connect with your spouse, seek a healing community, and be vigilant for signs of relapse.  The signs of relapse that seem relevant to me are blaming, anger, silent punishing, being too busy to connect, criticizing, withholding physical or other affection, and withholding emotion.

Robert Bogue, of Thor Projects, makes basically all the same points in a December 14, 2015 book review of Douglas Weiss’s Intimacy Anorexia:  The Hidden Addiction in Your Marriage. Weiss appears to be the root source for most other writers on this topic. Article after article references Weiss.  Another common bit of advice in these articles is to give your spouse a compliment at least once a day.

Scheduling

Mindless brought a bunch of stigma about sex into our relationship. One thing that has bothered me intensely since d-day is the knowledge that he left those stigmas at the door in his sexual relationships with others during our marriage.

I do know those issues existed, before I came along, in his other “real” relationship. And, he often tells me that he knew they would follow him into any “real” relationship. Kind of a fucked-up way to prove to me that these OW never were all that special to him, nothing more than a vessel for sex and flattery where he felt free to leave his sexual stigmas (sick obsessions) at the door.

But, beyond just the issue of cheating, I cannot help but be bothered that during our marriage he has experienced intimacy free of his “sick obsessions” and I have not. And, even if he is learning to “leave them at the door,” within and for our relationship, that doesn’t take away years of fear and conditioning that has grown within me toward his stigmas and insecurities. It is still a wall that has not been fully deconstructed. He’s been trying to increase affection between us, but I could not help but fear that affection was with one goal in mind. So, it really didn’t help in the way I hoped it would.

So, we are trying a once/week sex date based on the following premise:

Scheduling reduces tension over sex. When couples adjust to scheduled trysts, nonsexual affection returns to the relationship. And with both parties aware of the calendar of upcoming events, either one can initiate hugging, kissing or cuddling without fear of misinterpretation. Couples who resolve this issue often marvel at how much they’ve missed nonsexual affection, even as they rediscover how crucial it is to the relationship — and to their own well-being.

I have to say, I do see a difference, freedom between us that is definitely a step in the right direction. Our last “date” definitely felt more relaxed, more intimate, more about sharing an experience together, rather than worrying about the who, how and when of initiating sex. And, now, when he is affectionate with me at other times, I can fully relax into it and have found it also is allowing me to share affection with him. We resisted scheduling because we thought it would be stifling, who knew it would actually be more freeing. So far, anyway…

The dog story

We’ve recently seen some equate the betrayed’s decision to leave with meaning the betrayed did not truly love their partner or did not love their partner enough. This is a dangerous idea for a cheater or their betrayed to buy into.

If the betrayed decided the relationship was not safe for them, then it is a healthy choice for them to leave it and it has nothing to do with their quality or level of love prior to d-day. I repost this in an attempt to illustrate the point.

Reconcile4Life

MC and I were talking last night and he reminded me of something that we thought would be worth sharing. He’s got a lot on his plate this week, so I thought I would share it as it fits our current theme. . .

Before we had children, while living overseas, we took in an abused dog. She was beautiful, so loving to us and instinctively protective. She had it in her genes to be a guard dog, although all we wanted was her to be a member of our family and a running companion. She could only hang out with people who themselves had dogs. She LOVED other dogs and was therefore loving and friendly to their people. For those without dogs, she did not like them AT ALL.

When we had our first child, I was nervous. But, she was very loving and gentle near the baby. When…

View original post 328 more words

Labels

Yesterday, I wrote about intimacy anorexia. After all this time, why am I so excited to find a label that fits?

There is no label that takes away the pain of Mindlesscraft’s horrible choices of the past. There is no label that changes that fact that he is responsible for those horrible choices. There is no label that would relieve him of the responsibility for destroying our marriage and our lives together. There is no label that changes the fact that if I ever decide that I cannot continue in this relationship, it will be due to his horrible choices of the past causing too much damage to overcome. There, also, is no label that changes the tenor or meaning of all the work he has done since d-day to not only take responsibility for his horrible choices, fix his shit, and make amends but also for understanding that my choice to attempt to reconcile was and is a gift he was never owed. Those are the facts and there is absolutely no label that changes those facts.

Betrayed on this journey, of course, have many things in common and that support is invaluable. But, what excited me about finding something that actually really fits is that it means we are not alone in the world on these specific issues. It means, perhaps, there are others out there who have the understanding that goes along with these specific issues and finding those experiencing the same would be a support network that we both would appreciate.

Intimacy Anorexia

As you know, we’ve discussed, ad nauseam, why a sex addiction diagnosis just never really fit for Mindless. It felt to us that it was always the first “go to” for a serial cheater, to the point that the two terms have become almost synonymous, even though they were never meant to be considered synonymous.

When digging into the SA possibility, it becomes easily clear that there are just too many areas that just don’t fit for him. But, that’s not to say we didn’t want a diagnosis of some kind. In fact, it’s been quite lonely to have this history and nobody who seems to understand the underlying issues that he is trying to address. I even created my own label  (Selfish Oppressive Bastard Syndrome) just to have a vocabulary in how to address MindlessCraft’s issues.

We move a lot. We’ve been to countless counselors, each move a new one. And each has offered something new in perspective and treatment that has been, at the least, a good guide. But, with each I would ask,  “what’s the diagnosis?” And, none could give us any beyond he clearly he has issues with OCD. We’ve never found anything that was a decent “fit,” until now, intimacy anorexia!

Dr. Doug Weiss talks about Intimacy Anorexia. He states the following:

To truly see if you or someone you love has Intimacy Anorexia consider the ten characteristics.

  1. Busy: Staying so busy that you have little time for your spouse or partner.
  2. Blame: If a problem or issue comes up in the relationship you will first blame your spouse before being able to see if you are part of the problem or issue.
  3. Withholding Love: Not giving your spouse or partner love the way you know they receive love or how they have asked you to love them.
  4. Withholding Praise: Not sharing with your spouse or partner about their positive qualities as a person and their positive impact on your life.
  5. Withholding Sex: Avoiding sex, sabotaging sexual encounters or not connecting emotionally during sex with your spouse or partner.
  6. Withholding Spiritually: Withholding spiritual connectedness from your spouse or partner.
  7. Feelings: Being unable or unwilling to share feelings with your spouse or partner.
  8. Criticism: Having ongoing or ungrounded criticism of your spouse or partner be it spoken or just in your head.
  9. Anger/Silence: Using anger or silence as a way to control your spouse or partner.
  10. Money: Controlling (by limiting, or letting you buy anything) or shaming around money issues with your spouse or partner.

EVERY SINGLE ONE!!!! Before D-day, Mindless consistently exhibited EVERY SINGLE ONE of these. Oh my G-d! EVERY SINGLE ONE!

Dr. Weiss discusses SA as definitely one possibility for the cause of IA. He also discusses other causes. And, in fact, two of the other causes seem to fit for Mindless so much better, the second and fourth causes are SPOT ON!

The first cause of Intimacy Anorexia is sexual trauma. The individual who experiences this trauma may conclude that intimacy (not just sexual) is not safe or is actually painful. This person, at their very core, can avoid real intimacy due to their trauma. Not all survivors of sexual abuse become intimacy anorexics. However, over the last 20 years or so, while treating intimacy anorexics this has been a significant factor.

The second cause is the inability to attach to the cross gender parent during childhood. The opposite gender parent could have been hostile or emotionally unpredictable. The parent also could have been around physically but was not emotionally present, may have betrayed confidences and could have been an addict or had mental health issues. That parent could have hidden behind a newspaper, television or activity and as a child, you were more managed than related to by this cross gender parent.

The third cause of Intimacy Anorexia is very common and continues to grow in our culture. It’s sexual addiction. This person connects to fantasy and/or pornography on a regular basis. He or she begins to connect their sexuality to an object and not a person. They emotionally stay underdeveloped and have little need to connect deeply or emotionally to another soul (like a spouse). However, when a man or a woman is a sex addict (with self or others) often the Intimacy Anorexia is the primary addiction and the sexual addiction is secondary.

The sex addict/intimacy anorexic will have self sex or sex with others regularly but will often have no connection sexually with their spouse and often will avoid it. In this case, both issues need to be resolved because these two issues can feed off of each other. The sex addict needs to find out what type of sex addict he or she is and address the Intimacy Anorexia to have a healthy marriage or relationship.

The fourth cause of Intimacy Anorexia is role model neglect. As a child, this person grew up never seeing intimacy in the home. Mom and dad didn’t kiss, touch or show affection to each other or the children. The children totally gave up hope of connecting early on in life and fell into the grid that parents are there to do or perform, be managed and not connect to each other.

The other underlying commonalities of those with Intimacy Anorexia include:

  • Preoccupation with the sexual intentions and sexual behaviors of others, and their own sexual adequacy
  • Negative, rigid, or judgmental attitudes about sex, body appearance and sexual activity

These are exactly what Mindless talks about with his sick obsessions.

I studied psychology in college, it was my degree and I know that does not qualify me in any way to make any kind of anything. Still, I remember discussion of anorexia in various classes as an example of a childhood problem often developed, more by girls than boys, by those seeking to have some sense of control over their own lives. In addition to that, those with eating disorders often suffered from body dysmorphia.

Pre and post d-day, I have often commented to Mindless, that had he been a girl (disclaimer: I do know boys can have it too, but the more common stereotype and the one most often discussed 30 years ago in my college classes was about girls) growing up in his home, he would have been anorexic. And, now that I see this, I think he is, just with intimacy instead of food. But, it does go beyond intimacy. He definitely has this dysmorphic view of his body as being weak and his penis being small. He is built like a runner and he has a great body but never is it good enough for him. He lifts weights and has really nice arms and chest, not disgustingly vein-popping bulky like a professional lifter, but the boy looks really awesome in a tank top! And, his penis is average; I mean if you look it up (and I have to prove it to him) he is exactly average and plenty for me!!! And, oh my G-d, let’s talk about body fat. He is obsessed with the percentage of body fat on his body. “It’s over 12%, OH MY G-d, what will I do, I’ve gotten so fat.” Never mind that his body fat is under ½ of mine! His previous constant comparison of his premarital sexual experiences to mine and to anyone else (what we call his “sick obsessions”) are also based on distorted views of himself and others. And, to this day, when he talks about eliminating his sick obsessions and insecurities about his physique and experiences, he talks about doing so in terms of making peace with them, not being bothered by them, understanding that the only one who gives any mind space to these purported things about him is him. Still, he never has admitted and accepted that such views of himself are based on inaccurate distortions in the first place. That is probably my biggest remaining worry as we move forward.

Mindless has done so much work on figuring out much of his shit, working on eliminating his insecurities and sick obsessions, and becoming a safe and loving partner and addressing all of those characteristics that happen to be listed by Dr. Weiss. But, knowing about intimacy anorexia is a whole new area to explore.  Let’s see where it goes.

Gaslighting and Infidelity

I started moving away from the daily blog round-up because it was so hard for me to not absorb the pain of those betrayed bearing their souls and living in the midst of gaslighting and confusion without being able to just pull them up and out. I realized that I needed to give myself a little distance. So, lately, I mostly focus on figuring out my own journey, sharing along the way, and hoping that perhaps it resonates for some.

Mindless and I don’t often share AffairRecovery (AR) stuff here anymore, but these videos address some points on gaslighting that I think have been so important on this journey. So, I want to share these videos. I would highly encourage you to watch both fully, sit with it, think on it, and then react (if you want).

AR: Gaslighting and Infidelity, Part I

AR: Gaslighting and Infidelity, Part II

First things first, I’m a realist

I wanted to repost this because I’ve seen our blog referenced a few times with a misstatement of our name. And, while we definitely appreciate the shout-out, folks seem to want to think we are saying “reconciled4” rather than “reconcile4.” On first blush, I’m sure it seems minor, but it is a fundamental misunderstanding or our name and premise, and I just wanted to clear it up or try to. Thanks all!

Ok, so our kids love that song, most likely because of the Jimmy Fallon Lip Sync battle with Emma Stone that they saw on YouTube. But, that specific line just fits well here.

When we created this site, we did so with a theme in mind. In the last few days, I articulated that theme in a way that I had not really been able to do before.

I know many see the name of our site and think it means something different than it does. I thought the words of recent days were worth posting to give texture to the meaning we did intend.

Reconcile4Life meaning:

If the marriage ends, it is easy to be definitive, IT IS OVER, no more definitive than that. But, it doesn’t work that way with reconciliation, does it? That is the thing with reconciling. Successful reconciliation is a marriage-long process, not a line in the sand. While progress can be seen over the years, you cannot really declare success in the middle of the journey. Well, I suppose you could, but I wouldn’t suggest it. Declare progress, recognize progress, of course. Declare success, not until the end of our life together can I make that evaluation.

I keep thinking of President Bush standing on the aircraft carrier declaring success, “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” after getting Sadaam Hussein. It led many of us to believe that now we could relax, the major battles had been fought and won. Yet, nothing could have been further from the truth. If you choose to go into something like that, success is just not that finite, clear and easy. I mean we may say look at Germany and Japan, these are our success stories after WWII. But, don’t forget we have a huge presence in those countries still. It wasn’t like, win a battle, declare victory, all is good now, time to move on.

And, then out in the reconciliation world, especially out in the forums, I would see things from people declaring “we are happily reconciled,” “we are living our happily ever after” or “I know he has learned his lesson and will never ever do this again.” You don’t know, you cannot know. You can see progress, you can have proof along the way that all is going in a good direction, but start declaring finite “success” and what happens, both parties take their eye off the ball and it is exactly these folks who end up exactly back where they started wondering where their second chance at a fantasy went wrong.

The fantasy is gone for me forever, I want it gone, I don’t want a life based on fantasy. It’s a path, it’s a journey, we need to keep our eye on the path, on the journey. That doesn’t mean I want to be bleeding from gaping wounds along the path. I don’t. I can’t. That would make the journey impossible to continue upon. I suppose this all sounds so depressing to some, but to me, it is the point. No more fantasy, no more rose-colored glasses, not gray either, just clear and real and forward.

You can also check out this post for more on the difference between “reconcile” and “reconciled” and why we see a fundamental difference between the two: Reconciled versus Reconciling

 

Reconcile4Life

Ok, so our kids love that song, most likely because of the Jimmy Fallon Lip Sync battle with Emma Stone that they saw on YouTube. But, that specific line just fits well here.

When we created this site, we did so with a theme in mind. In the last few days I articulated that theme in a way that I had not really been able to do before.

I know many see the name of our site and think it means something different than it does. I thought the words of recent days were worth posting to give texture to the meaning we did intend.

Reconcile4Life meaning:

If the marriage ends, it is easy to be definitive, IT IS OVER, no more definitive than that. But, it doesn’t work that way with reconciliation, does it? That is the thing with reconciling. Successful reconciliation is a marriage long process, not a…

View original post 371 more words

Wanting two conflicting things

I am finding myself conflicted, wanting two conflicting things.

You see, for over twenty years, we have lived in a variety of countries, on a variety of continents, often in locales we would never have otherwise experienced. Oh, how I truly loved that about our life. Having lived in so many countries, we’ve had the opportunity to travel to remote interiors that I could never before even imagined. The sights, the people, the experiences are very special to me. And, to know that type of new adventure is gone forever is bringing me such sadness, I cannot even explain. There are so many more places I wanted to explore as only a resident can. I know we will have tourist experiences, and they will be fun, lovely, exciting, etc. But, I will miss that level of experience and detail that comes with living there.

And, yet, in some of the more remote places we lived, there were some real sacrifices made, day-to-day living risks that we would not have had in the US. I certainly have my share of idyllic memories, but I also have a shit load of pretty scary insane ones as well. And, when Mindless went away for a year, to a place families were not allowed, our kids and I went home. And, oh man, I hadn’t realized how much I missed home. And, I started longing to go home forever. It was so much-needed. And, the kids and I loved being home so much for that year. They are so excited to go home, as am I.

Still, here I sit, trying to get my shit together to move us back home forever. And, here I sit, scared and in sadness, knowing that our way of life for the last 20 years is all over and we must start anew. And, here I sit, viewing Zillow porn, as I dream about our new house back home. And, as I do that, worrying about just how expensive “home” has become!

I am excited, happy, sad, scared and disappointed all at the same time. And, I keep moving us along in this move, as does Mindless. Every step closer to home is both exciting and sad. And, I just don’t know what to do with that?!

Control

Yesterday, I read this Carolyn Hax Q&A and the reply just so thoroughly and succinctly summarized this issue. As you know, letting go of control is a really HUGE issue for Mindless. It is something he is working on, learning that he can control his own inputs and he can control his reactions to outcomes. But, he cannot control anyone else’s inputs, nor the ultimate outcome itself.

I like what Carolyn Hax has to say on this topic and I think she makes some important points.

"Dear Carolyn: People have often shrugged me off with, "Oh, that's just because you like to be in control," and I'm starting to wonder if they're correct. Any suggestions for identifying/solving my possible control issues?
— Mission Control
Mission Control: If you think someone else might be right, congratulations! You’re cured.
Kidding, but only a little. The need to control is really just a failure to trust. You have to drive because so-and-so will be reckless; you have to keep your mate in sight or else s/he’ll cheat; you have to do everything yourself because underlings won’t be as competent . . . stop me when this sounds familiar.
A failure to trust, meanwhile, is really just a triumph of fear. Fear of crashing, heartbreak and failure in the examples I just gave, but it’s all one biggie — fear of the unknown. Specifically, that you won’t be able to handle any outcome that deviates from the one you’ve envisioned.
Which means the person you don’t trust is yourself. Right?
That’s hard to admit, but also, I think, the hardest part of the process. From here, there’s no universal solution, but asking why you’re so scared is a start, or — the true measure of strength — just slowly releasing your grip on getting the exact outcome you want."

Letting go of control is something I too have had to face, since d-day, in this reconciliation journey. Now, clearly my lack of trust stems from all Mindless did against our marriage and against me. And, he is working to rebuild that trust over time, starting with the measures of safety we always talk about as a foundation. But, yes, part of this process was learning to trust myself, trust that I will be ok no matter what happens with my marriage, trust that I am aware of my surroundings and able and willing to trust listening to my gut. So, I am learning to release the grip on getting the exact outcome I want, with the understanding that I can work towards it and along the way I will reach my destiny, whatever that is. Sometimes, it is easier said than done, isn’t it? In that regard, this little Carl Schurz quote is something that I find a comforting reminder.

Top predictors of real change

As seen in NIH’s Project Match and many other behavioral change models, the most powerful predictors of long-term success are readiness-to-change and self-efficacy. In fact, in the Project Match study, these two factors were more predictive of long-term success than the actual treatment model used.

We know what they mean by readiness-to-change, but what is meant by self-efficacy exactly. Well, that turns out to be a much longer explanation and an important one.

Self-Efficacy Theory in Psychology

The term “self-efficacy” is not used nearly as often in pop culture as self-esteem, confidence, self-worth, etc., but it is a well-known concept in psychology.

Albert Bandura and His Model

The psychological theory of self-efficacy grew out of the research of Albert Bandura. He noticed that there was a mechanism that played a huge role in people’s lives that, up to that point, hadn’t really been defined or systematically observed. This mechanism was the belief that people have in their ability to influence the events of their own lives.

Bandura proposed that perceived self-efficacy influences what coping behavior is initiated when an individual is met with stress and challenges, along with determining how much effort will be expended to reach one’s goals and for how long those goals will be pursued (1999). He posited that self-efficacy is a self-sustaining trait; when a person is driven to work through their problems on their own terms, they gain positive experiences that in turn boost their self-efficacy even more.

Locus of Control Explained

To put self-efficacy in other terms, you might say that those with high self-efficacy have an internal locus of control.

The locus of control refers to where you believe the power to alter your events resides: within you (internal locus of control) or outside of you (external locus of control).

If you immediately have thoughts like, “I only failed because the teacher graded unfairly—I couldn’t do anything to improve my score” or “She left me because she’s cold-hearted and difficult to live with, and I’m not,” you likely have an external locus of control. That means that you do not have a solid sense of belief in your own abilities.

In juxtaposition to the external locus of control is the internal locus of control, in which an individual is quick to admit her own mistakes and failures, and is willing to take the credit and blame whenever it is due to her. You probably have an internal locus of control.


Going home

“Screw you guys, I’m going home”

Mindless often tells me that SouthPark is very much like his home town growing up. He and our almost 16-year-old son are fans of the show. It is pretty funny, but sometimes a little too over the top for me. Still, I cannot help but think of Cartman in reference to this post.

In a few months, we are going HOME, FOREVER! This year, Mindless will finish his overseas career, job, life, but not in time for the upcoming school year. We will be apart for several months as I take the kids HOME, so they can start new schools at the start of the school year. This will be a whole new way of life for us and our kids.

I know I don’t share a lot about our day-to-day lives, the things we do, the places we go, the people we meet, the things we see. And, it is hard because it is so much a part of who we are and only sharing the part of us that has to do with the infidelity shit show and reconcilation journey is limiting. For now, it is what I feel I need to do. But, I will say that we’ve spent the last 20+ years seeing the world, experiencing other cultures by living there several years at a time. And, I will miss that so very much! Still, I won’t miss the logistics of moving every few years. And, it is defintely time to plant some roots.


MC: “Forty costs of my infidelity”

A very old post, but one that both MC and I found to be a very helpful exercise. If your unfaithful spouse has not yet done this exercise, I highly recommend it. It is not a silver bullet in any way, shape or form. But, even all these years later, we both feel that it was the opening of the door to the empathy I needed from MC.

Reconcile4Life

One of the many exercises I appreciated in Rick Reynolds’ Affair Recovery program was when he asked me to list forty costs to TL of my infidelity.  It was an important early step in my learning empathy. This was one of my first structured steps, written about November 2012. After 40 something years of thinking too much about things in my life that I thought were painful, I had pretty much never thought about anything painful in anyone else’s life. So, to force myself to think in a deep way about painful things in TL’s life, specifically things that I caused, it forced me to see life through her eyes. I’m still working on empathy, as well as selflessness, loving, and listening. I highly recommend this exercise to other unfaithful spouses.

1. My infidelity cost you your sense of security; you fear I will re-offend.
2. My infidelity cost you beautiful memories…

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If I am being honest with myself

If I am being honest with myself the reason I stay in my marriage is not some lofty vision of deep abiding love to last a lifetime. That fairy tale notion ended long ago. And, the reasons I stay may be displeasing to many, but they are my reasons.

I will never again have the unquestioning blind-faith trust in any partner in my life. Any partner in my future would pay the price of MC’s sins. And, yet, no partner except the one who committed those sins should have to pay that price.

MC is as close to me as any partner will ever be. The love I can give is the most I will ever be able to give to any partner. He understands my need for transparency and safety and is willing to provide for that. He understands that sometimes I need alone time and gives it when I need. I am able to freely speak my mind with MC. Once he stopped holding me to some unrealistic expectation of who I should be, he started seeing me for me and loving me for me.

I spent years wishing for a future where MC would put aside his ambitions and focus on our friendship, our relationship, and our family. I spent years telling myself, “one day, one day he will reach his goals and then he will be free to focus on us.” Upon d-day, I realized that day was never in his plans, there would always be something more to acheive. I no longer accepted that we were working toward that shared future, with many sacrifices made “today” to get there. If he wanted me and our family, then that is what needed to come first, NOW. The constant stream of chasing more and more, greater upon greater, ambitions had to stop, our family FIRST. I have that with him now.

Maybe, these aren’t good enough reasons to stay for some. I don’t know, but they are my reasons. As far as my love for MC, I do love him, I care for him, but I am still unable to fully open my heart, to fully be vulnerable with him or anyone else. I cannot speak for him, it appears to me that he understands why this is the case and accepts it for what it is.

So, perhaps this is not a fairy tale ending, but fairy tales aren’t real. And, all I want in my life now is what is real and that is the track we are on.


Unconditional Love

Every now and then, I notice an increase in hits on a particular old post. Not sure what is causing the increase, but thought, well maybe it is worth resharing.

Reconcile4Life

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I am a fan of ChumpLady and find value in so much of what she writes. She recently wrote on unconditional love. Though I respect her greatly and completely understand the source of her perspective, I personally feel that too many people on all sides of this issue are misconstruing the meaning and intent of “unconditional love.”

First, when we do loving and kind things for others, we do them because we want to do them. Perhaps, we simply want to help, or bring a touch of joy, kindness, and/or laughter to someone’s day. Perhaps we just want to show someone we think lovingly about them in some way. We do not do these things with an expectation of anything in return.

Second, we should expect that we treat each other ethically, respectfully, and with dignity and decency. We should also set boundaries for ourselves that do not allow others…

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How self-pity leads to adultery

I am going to talk about my adultery in marriage.  I will also talk about my self-pity. Let’s be clear, the self-pity I had relating to sex and relationships predated my marriage.  I had the same self-pity about sex and relationships with an earlier long-term girlfriend. I also had a general sense of feeling sorry for myself about sex and relationships back in my adolescence and perhaps even before that.  But, I am beginning today’s discussion in terms of my marriage simply because that is when and where I chose to use it as an excuse for adultery.

In our marriage and earlier relationship, I started to feel sorry for myself.  I was not satisfied with the amount of sex we had, and — perhaps more importantly — with my perception that initiating sex required much effort on my part.  (Remember, I’m talking about my perceptions 25 years ago, not about objective facts, nor about how I view the world today.) I obsessed on thoughts of my wife having premarital casual sex, and corresponding disappointment that I had never had sexual encounters with strangers on the same night I met them.  (Yes, I get that I was worrying about stupid and inappropriate things, and the mere mention of those things makes my wife feel hurt and angry for a variety of reasons we have discussed elsewhere.) I wished I could change the past. Knowing I could not change the past, I felt sorry for myself. Feeling sorry for myself about my inability to change the past in that regard, I eventually gave myself permission to try to catch up to my wife in terms of casual sex.  

That’s how I got from self-pity to adultery.  Can we learn any lessons from this? Obsessing on the past seems to be an indicator of potential problems.  Comparing oneself to others in a negative way may be another indicator. Giving disproportionate weight to unmalleable facts about the past as part of one’s self-worth or happiness also indicates problems.  The lesson for me is that I must avoid returning to that self-pity.

Do I believe that self-pity related to other topics would also lead to adultery?  It depends. While self-pity is never health nor helpful, I believe there are a number of ways it might present, each related to the focus of the self-pity, and each specific to the individual in question.  For example, for me (other people may be affected differently), self-pity in relation to sex and relationships seems a likely stepping stone toward sexual impropriety. What about self-pity related to emotional, financial, or other loss, or other disappointments?  I don’t see why those would lead so naturally to adultery, for me specifically. I suspect those kinds of self-pity are more likely to lead to things like depression, suicidal thoughts, or substance abuse, for me specifically. So, for me, I need to avoid all kinds of self-pity.  And, for the sake of my commitment to being a better husband, I especially need to avoid self-pity related to thoughts about sex and relationships. Other people may have other demons. That is my specific demon.

What about a sexual infidelity recovery approach that emphasizes the cheater’s unfortunate childhood, compulsive tendencies, or other disadvantages that supposedly led to adultery?  Does it help for the cheater or his spouse to feel sorry for the cheater on account of his childhood, compulsive tendencies, or other disadvantages related to sex and relationships? I suspect not.  In my case, for example, I could think about how my mother emasculated me. On one hand, being aware of that fact may be useful insight. On the other hand, constantly obsessing on that fact may lead to renewed self-pity about sex and relationships due to dwelling on unmalleable facts about that past.  Also, I could think about my tendency to be a bit obsessive-compulsive. On one hand, it seems useful for me to be aware of that tendency and to try to mitigate it. On the other hand, for my wife or others to treat that tendency like some sort of incurable disease and offer me pity regarding it may simply encourage me toward self-pity about my mental health.  Self-pity about my mental health may, in my opinion, not directly lead toward thoughts of adultery. But, it could promote depression or other unhealthy reactions.

Having personally fought off compulsive behavior regarding tobacco, viewing pornography, and illicit sexual encounters, I recall a couple things.  I recall that I was in fact in a self-reinforcing habit of using those things. I also recall that I stopped using those things once I told myself — and sincerely believed — that I wanted to stop using those things, once I truly believed that it was necessary, desirable, and worth it to stop.  

Breaking the cycle

Both MC and I have our FOO issues. The world looked upon my parents as failures and assumed my brother and I would follow in their footsteps. My mom rarely expressed pride in anything I said or did. I longed for her attention and approval until it became clear to me she was in such a medicated state that what I was seeking with her could never be found. Still, even with all my dad’s dream chasing and inability to stay financially solvent, I was fortunate enough that he, at least, saw me through such loving eyes; he thought I could do anything I set my mind toward doing. Of course, that all ended when he died at 46 years old.

MC, on the other hand, had two fully functioning parents by all appearances to the outside world. And, yet, his parents treated/treat him as if he was incapable of doing anything, achieving anything, without their guidance and “sacrifices.” On the one hand, they give all these words about how proud they are of him, pump him for information about anything they can use as fodder to brag to others. Yet, on the other hand, they take great offense at any suggestion that he is fully capable on his own, fully in control of his own thoughts and ideas, and spent years trying to control both the inputs and outcomes of his life.

MC is exceptionally task oriented. The boys and I tease that he has a “to-do list” for his “to-do list.” He is always in motion. I do see a tendency towards micro-managing our children. We have this disagreement over whether or not our kids would do anything without his constant nagging. He believes they would not. I believe that by not allowing them the opportunity to direct their own course, that he is assuming their failure in very much the same way his mom assumed his failure in any endeavor that she did not control. Yes, they are teenage boys and some nagging is normal, but, not to the point of NEVER allowing them to show that they would get it done if given the chance.

So, again, I come back to this quote from Kristina Kuzmic, “you see, the more I treat a child like a competent human being, the more he or she will act like a competent human being. Isn’t it crazy how that works?” I know MC wishes his parents would have treated him like a competent human being. I think he even gets that there is some middle ground with our kids that would give them what he himself wished for from his parents. But, his to-do list for himself and our family is almost a compulsion. I even know he recognizes that and is working on it. But, it brings another point to my mind.

MC’s mother’s controlling nature led to a lot of resentments, “I deserve” thinking and overall self-pity. As an adult, probably as a teen too, self-pity was by far his biggest demon. In fact, I see self-pity as the canary in the coal mine that warns of dangerous toxins invading our space. MC’s done and continues to do a lot of work on facing that demon. And, though his to-do list/nagging compulsion is certainly annoying, after six years of work, it is by far the lesser of problems that needed facing; just trying to keep it in perspective. Still, I don’t want to see the same resentments he has for his parents happen between him and our kids. We must break that cycle!

Memories

Here’s the thing, cheaters, the betrayed’s healing isn’t about you maintaining your centrality. Healing from cheating requires allowing the betrayed some centrality. A Betrayed’s recovery isn’t just about the fact that you have things to fix about yourself, though that is certainly a necessity for any safety to exist for the betrayed. It is also about the fact that our memories of the past have been thrown into disarray. It is about the trauma of realizing that what you thought you knew about your life, about your marriage was only the surface view of an iceberg. I repost this article for those of you who may have not seen it. It so perfectly describes this feeling and why searching for the truth of our past, for many of us, becomes such an integral step on the healing journey.

Great Betrayals

By Anna Fels

October 5, 2013

AS a psychiatrist I find that friends frequently seek me out to discuss problematic events in their lives; it comes with the territory and I’m usually happy to do it. But I was surprised and shaken to hear from an old friend that her husband of nearly 25 years had long been accruing and hiding from her a huge credit card debt (in the six figures). Even after divulging his secret, the husband had lied about the amount, with the sum increasing every time it was discussed. And right from the start, he refused to document where the money was spent. He left it for his wife to ruminate on, trying to puzzle it out. The disclosure wreaked financial and emotional havoc on their family.

After my initial shock at this unsuspected betrayal, I began to recall patients I had seen whose situations were not that dissimilar. They were people who had suddenly discovered that their life, as they knew it, was based on a long-term falsehood. They were people who might have stumbled across family secrets on the Internet or found old bills from a spouse’s long-hidden liaisons.

This predicament, a sudden revelation of new, pivotal information about one’s life, is the subject of many memoirs: Bliss Broyard, in “One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life — A Story of Race and Family Secrets,” discovers shortly before her father’s death that his family of origin was black and that he had “passed” for white. Katha Pollitt, in “Learning to Drive,” writes about discovering the infidelity of her long-term partner. Geoffrey Wolff, in “The Duke of Deception,” unearths evidence that his father had lied about virtually every aspect of his past: his religion, education, career and military record. 

But what if you’re not a writer and don’t have the option of metabolizing this kind of toxic experience through the process of writing? Most of us can’t seize control of the narrative by publishing our side of the story or get the sweet revenge of going public with the other’s misdeeds.

Discoveries of such secrets typically bring on tumultuous crises. Ironically, however, in my clinical experience, it is often the person who lied or cheated who has the easier time. People who transgressed might feel self-loathing, regret or shame. But they have the possibility of change going forward, and their sense of their own narrative, problematic though it may be, is intact. They knew all along what they were doing and made their own decisions. They may have made bad choices, but at least those were their own and under their control. Now they can make new, better choices.

And to an astonishing extent, the social blowback for such miscreants is often transient and relatively minor. They can change! Our culture, in fact, wholeheartedly supports such “new beginnings” — even celebrates them. It has a soft spot for the prodigal sons and daughters who set about repairing their ways, for tales of people starting over: reformed addicts, unfaithful spouses who rededicate themselves to family, convicted felons who find redemption in religion. Talk shows thrive on these tales. Perhaps it’s part of our powerful national belief in self-help and self-creation. It’s never too late to start anew.But for the people who have been lied to, something more pervasive and disturbing occurs. They castigate themselves about why they didn’t suspect what was going on. The emotions they feel, while seemingly more benign than those of the perpetrator, may in the long run be more corrosive: humiliation, embarrassment, a sense of having been naïve or blind, alienation from those who knew the truth all along and, worst of all, bitterness. 

Insidiously, the new information disrupts their sense of their own past, undermining the veracity of their personal history. Like a computer file corrupted by a virus, their life narrative has been invaded. Memories are now suspect: what was really going on that day? Why did the spouse suddenly buy a second phone “for work” several years ago? Did a friend know the truth even as they vacationed together? Compulsively going over past events in light of their recently acquired (and unwelcome) knowledge, such patients struggle to integrate the new version of reality. For many people, this discrediting of their experience is hard to accept. It’s as if they are constantly reviewing their past lives on a dual screen: the life they experienced on one side and the new “true” version on the other. But putting a story together about this kind of disjunctive past can be arduous.

Understandably, some feel cynical if not downright paranoid. How can they know what is real going forward? How can they integrate these new “facts” about family, origin, religion, race or fidelity? Do they have to be suspicious if they form a new relationship? As my friend said in despair, “I’m just not a snoop; it’s not in my genes.”

And the social response to people who have suffered such life-transforming disclosures, well meaning as it is intended to be, is often less than supportive. Our culture may embrace the redeemed sinner, but the person victimized — not so much. Lack of control over their destiny makes people queasy. Friends often unconsciously blame the victim, asking whether the betrayed person really “knew at some level” what was going on and had just been “in denial” about it. But the betrayed are usually as savvy as the rest of us. When one woman I know asked her husband, a closet alcoholic who drank secretly late at night, how he could have hidden his addiction for so long, he replied, “It took a lot of work.”

FREQUENTLY, a year or even less after the discovery of a longstanding lie, the victims are counseled to move on, to put it all behind them and stay focused on the future. But it’s not so easy to move on when there’s no solid narrative ground to stand on. Perhaps this is why many patients conclude in their therapy that it’s not the actions or betrayal that they most resent, it’s the lies. 

In this situation, therapy can be one path to reclaiming your past. Creating a coherent narrative of one’s life has long been seen as a central goal of psychotherapy. It provides the internal structure that helps us predict and regulate future actions and feelings. It creates a stable sense of self. But if, to quote Louis Cozolino, a psychologist who writes on the neuroscience of therapy, “memory is a form of internal enactment of whatever is being recalled,” how do we retroactively create a life story out of events that were never experienced? There is a disturbing bifurcation: memory no longer corresponds to objective fact.

As a psychiatrist, I can tell you that it’s often a painstaking process to reconstruct a coherent personal history piece by piece — one that acknowledges the deception while reaffirming the actual life experience. Yet it’s work that needs to be done. Moving forward in life is hard or even, at times, impossible, without owning a narrative of one’s past. Isak Dinesen has been quoted as saying “all sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.” Perhaps robbing someone of his or her story is the greatest betrayal of all.

Anna Fels is a psychiatrist and faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical School.


Toxic Masculinity

I recently read an article discussing toxic masculinity in the context of fatherless South African young men. I was struck by how similar the issues raised are to MindlessCraft’s issues. Except for one difference, Mindless grew-up with a father.

As I read, another thought occurred to me. In Mindless’s case, and so many others I’ve seen on blogs and forums, the case wasn’t so much of a missing father (though, perhaps, an overly quiet one) as it was of a controlling mother; a mother who refused to empower her child to make mistakes, learn from mistakes, and to have a voice of their own. A mother who wanted their son never to grow up, never to be a confident man capable of making his own life choices, a mother who wanted never to let go. Pretty much the opposite of this video by Kristina Kuzmic. I love this video, especially the lines, “you see, the more I treat a child like a competent human being, the more he or she will act like a competent human being. Isn’t it crazy how that works?” And, “we don’t get to decide our children’s strengths and talents, so why don’t you let your child be and go get yourself a puppet.”

This blog post has been sitting as an unfinished draft for some time, in the intervening days since I wrote this, the Gillette ad came out. I must say, I love the Gillette ad. As I read some of the backlash comments, I was stupified by the prevalence of such toxic masculinity that still exists in our society, our American society.

And, it occurs to me once again, how I think the real issue at play is “control.” Men who hold onto notions of toxic masculinity, men who are reacting negatively to the Gillette advertisement are doing so, perhaps, because they sense that many in American society are tired of male dominance being the expectation, these men are losing complete unquestioned control. We are moving to a place where many in our society actually expect RESPECT to be the guiding principle in how we treat others, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. I am astounded that the simple idea of “mutual respect” is receiving such backlash!

And, it brings me back to thinking of MindlessCraft’s issues, which are his to describe and his to heal. However, placing them in a broader, societal context, I cannot help but think that there is a misunderstanding between “aggressiveness” and “assertiveness.” In my opinion, aggressiveness, including passive aggressiveness, seeks to manipulate or control the agency of another. Whereas, assertiveness is merely the recognition and honest expression of self while honoring others also have the right and responsibility to express themselves.

How many of our men refused to be assertive in their daily visible personal lives and resented that fact? How many of our men saw their hidden sexual lives as something they alone controlled? I look at the latter as an aggressive act borne of fear and resentment, while also a fundamental mischaracterization of what it means to be a man. Being a man isn’t about being aggressive and taking what you “deserve.” Being a man is about being an adult, which means being authentic, assertive and respectful of others’ need, right and responsibility to do the same.

I will not give Mindless control over me, I will not give Mindless my agency. On the other hand, damn it, I don’t want him giving over his control and agency to me. Instead, I want an assertive partner. One who has agency and recognizes that each of us has agency in our decisions. One who understands the difference between assertive and aggressive, including passive aggressive. I don’t want to be a human puppet, and I don’t want a human puppet for a partner. I want a partner who discusses all openly and honestly, but also understands that I will be doing the same.

Being a man isn’t about sexual conquests, it is about being an adult. Being an adult isn’t about control, it is about living with courage. Living with courage isn’t about getting rid of fear before being open and honest, living with courage is about being open and honest in spite of the fear.

Since before d-day, I see so many differences on this front with Mindless. It is definitely a work in progress. But, of all of the work he is doing to become a healthy man of integrity, this is probably the one that gives me the most hope and the strongest sense of safety.

Book review: No More Mr. Nice Guy

Robert A. Glover’s No More Mr. Nice Guy says if a man focuses on pleasing others instead of meeting his own needs he becomes unhappy, unattractive, and unsuccessful. Moreover, he often becomes bitter and resentful, feeling the victim, covertly harboring anger and self-pity. In many cases, this can lead a man to lies, a hidden double life, affairs, prostitution, compulsive use of porn and masturbation, and not living up to his full potential. Typical childhood roots of the problem, says Glover, include the well-worn themes of abuse and neglect, as well as parents who are controlling or religiously (and culturally, in my opinion) repressive, or who meet their own needs through their children. The solution, per the book, is for these nice guys to start knowing what they want out of life, love, and sex; take initiative and be assertive; and ditch self-defeating habits.

This all rings true. My mother gratified her own ego by bragging about me, even when I believed her boasts about me were exaggerated, irrelevant, or otherwise over-the-top. It made me hate hearing someone go on about how smart or handsome I supposedly was. My community and my parents were culturally repressive. My mother was controlling, to the point of choosing my friends and my clothes well into my late teens and disparaging any piece of modern or popular culture that might have touched themes too mature for Mr. Rogers. I recall not wanting my family to see who I was at school, for example, and not wanting my teachers and peers to see who I was at home. I recall always looking over my shoulder, wondering what others thought of me. Regarding sex, I think I learned to view it as something I had to sneak or steal, something received only through luck, and not something I could just shamelessly and openly seek. More than six years after D-day in our marriage, I find some of Glover’s suggestions helpful. I feel better about life as I strive daily for courage and integrity, being the same person at work as I am at home, and caring less what others think of me. With sex, I am learning—in fits and starts – to approach my wife with brave disregard for the immediate outcome, not allowing an occasional “not in the mood” to scare me away or depress me.

Glover’s book, however, is not a perfect fit for me. Since it cannot be all things to all people, it does not address a case like mine in which I have already hurt my wife through extreme lies and adultery. The book’s long lists of suggestions for nice guys to tend to themselves first seems tone deaf in the aftermath of infidelity. The book therefore seems laden with good advice that I should have taken before it became too late. Now that it is too late, there are only a few relevant lessons from the book: develop courage and integrity, stop worrying what others think of you, and openly and honestly deal with your needs and desires before they turn into resentment and frustration.

The Wood Song

Before d-day, The Wood Song was one of my favorites. It really summed up my life view, how I had taught myself to view all the pain from my younger life.

I wish I could still feel the same about it. Now, I just cannot find the strength to see it this way anymore.

I still love this song, but must admit to a certain sadness when hearing it. It reminds me of the strength I once had within me to accept the pain of the past and not let it negatively interfere with my present or future, to understand that all of the past, good, bad and in between, was part of what made the strong person I thought myself to be. I miss that strength. I miss the strength I once was able to harness, but cannot seem to find again.

The Wood Song, by the Indigo Girls, written by Emily Ann Saliers

The thin horizon of a plan is almost clear
My friends and I have had a tough time
Bruising our brains hard up against change
All the old dogs and the magician<

Now I see we’re in the boat in two by twos
Only the heart that we have for a tool we could use
And the very close quarters are hard to get used to
Love weighs the hull down with its weight

But the wood is tired and the wood is old
And we’ll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

No way construction of this tricky plan
Was built by other than a greater hand
With a love that passes all out understanding
Watching closely over the journey

Yeah but what it takes to cross the great divide
Seems more than all the courage I can muster up inside
Although we get to have some answers when we reach the other side
The prize is always worth the rocky ride

But the wood is tired and the wood is old
And we’ll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

Sometimes I ask to sneak a closer look
Skip to the final chapter of the book
And then maybe steer us clear from some of the pain it took
To get us where we are this far yeah
But the question drowns in it’s futility
And even I have got to laugh at me
No one gets to miss the storm of what will be
Just holding on for the ride

The wood is tired and the wood is old
We’ll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

My Letter to Mindless

Spouse of an SA asked me why the topic of “retroactive jealousy” scared me so much. And, I put a lot of thought into that question. I fear that it still exists within him and I wrote this letter to Mindless focusing on that fear to see if it might help me flesh out these feelings, so here it goes. . .

Mindless,

I need you to stop wanting to change your pre-marital past. I need you to stop wanting your pre-marital past to be different. I need you to stop caring about your pre-marital sexual experiences. And, most of all, I need you to recognize and embrace that your pre-marital sexual past was NOT “less than” my past before you. Until you do those things, I cannot believe you are my friend, I will not believe you are my friend. 

I should’ve been enough for you. Our life together should have been enough for you. Our life together should have been more than enough for you to realize your blessings, be grateful for your blessings and  to overcome all your past  pre-marital sexual “disappointments.” For hell’s sake, what do such “disappointments” of the past have to do with who you are in the present and future if you are happy with what you have in the present and the future? And, frankly, your “disappointments” of the past are whack, are distorted completely from reality. You do not have a small penis, you are handsome, you are fit, you are smart (though your common sense is clearly questionable). And, if we are going down the path of wishing our pre-marital pasts were different, I could just as easily wish I had your pre-marital past. I could just as easily wish that I had a steady boyfriend all through college, that I had boyfriends in high school (not just one for a couple months), that I was invited to and attended parties in high school. I didn’t have any of those things. Regardless, that never made me do to you what you did to me. How can you stomach that you still consider your pre-married life to be “less than” mine after everything, after EVERYTHING? 

Let’s talk about my pre-married life for a minute. I was so alone and so lonely after my dad died. There was absolutely nobody in the world who would’ve noticed if I had just disappeared forever. Every one of my friends had boyfriends on and off, more on than off, and I had nobody. I was the fall back for someone to hang with if nothing better was available. I was the one to call if in need of help because everyone expected I would jump and be there for them because I always was there for them. 

And, then I met M on a visit to my grandfather and M gave me attention and I thought he really was into me. And, on our first date, we made out at a park. I was 21 years old when we met. He proceeded to write me letters over the next several months until I went back to visit my grandfather again. M was my first. He continued to write to me after that trip. When I saw him again I thought it was really going somewhere. Only, it never was and he was using me. It cheapened what I had done with him, what I thought I had with him and I reacted by telling myself it was all meaningless anyway. So, yes, I spent the next 18 months convincing myself it was all meaningless anyway, or trying to, and secretly hoping on some level that maybe by not being such a prude (as I had been called in the past) that boys might be more interested in me and want to be my boyfriend, if they could only see I’m not some cute, little girl that only belonged in the “friend” zone. 

And, then I realized that is not who I am or who I want to be. I need to be happy with myself, even if that is being alone forever. And, that is when you came into my life. You were handsome and smart, and I could talk to you like I had only ever been able to talk to my dad. And, I dreamt of our future together, our kids together, our life together, we had so much in common and could really build a future together, I could see it all, I could love you, I could be safe with you, I saw you loving me and cherishing me back, that it would never again be so damn one-sided as it had always been in my life.  But, you bait-and-switched on me. And, then that lonely, painful part of my past was used as a weapon against me. That lonely, painful part of my past was held up as some holy grail that you felt you deserved to have. You never recognized the pain of that time for me. You have never admitted to the pain of that time FOR ME. You dismissed my pain to pursue your self-pity. You must stop dismissing that pain. It wasn’t some holy fucking grail. It was lonely, I was lonely. Stop holding that time up to me as if it was some holy fucking grail. It NEVER was and NEVER will be. I was ready, willing and able to leave both of our pre-marital pasts behind us because it didn’t matter and we now had each other. Why damn it, why couldn’t you do the same?

It’s on me this time, I think?

MindlessCraft tells me everything. This is what I want. He could tell me about a woman trying to flirt with him, and it wouldn’t bother me, in fact, it would make me feel safer that he shared this information with me, shared how it made him feel (even if only for a second in time), shared how he would have handled it pre-d-day and shared how he handled it now. The point is that he can tell me almost anything as long as it is honest, volunteered immediately, and proactively showing deep thought and discussion regarding the distinct differences between pre and post-d-day reactions and responses. I find this all very helpful.

He often tells me what he is reading or delving into in regards to “the work” on his own or with his counselor, and that too has been more helpful than not. There is one topic, however, that I just do not know how to handle, it is a discussion of his “sick obsessions,” “retroactive jealousy,” “Chasing Amy Syndrome,” whatever the hell you want to call it about my pre-Mindless history. All of these are colloquial terms for the same issue.

Though he harassed me for the first few years of our marriage about my pre-marital, pre-MindlessCraft life, he finally found a program of intense physical fitness as his outlet and mental health salve. Or, at least, that is what he led me to believe. Only, as you know, this was not the truth. He withheld himself from me, seethed in anger inside, and acted out (what I still feel in some ways was with “vengeance” in mind) in the most horrific of ways.

He recently started digging deeper into this “retroactive jealousy.” It certainly was not in a “woe is me” kind of way, nor was there any self-pity being used as his guiding light into hell, dragging me along with him. And, I know, as sure as I know anything, that I don’t ever again want this topic buried, hidden, nor pushed aside. I, also, must admit that just the mention of the topic sends me into a panic mode. It is the ONE topic that makes me feel very unsafe, to know that there is still a small part of him that struggles with those thoughts and feelings. And, I don’t know what to do about this. He will talk with his counselor more about it, and perhaps that is where this one conversation must remain. But, on the other hand, I don’t ever again want anything hidden from me. I don’t know what to do on this. Is there any way I could ever feel safe with discussions of this topic with Mindless? How can I ask for full honesty, nothing hidden, and shy away from this topic? It’s on me this time, I think?

Neither humility nor pride

I devote some time to “the work” of trying to become a safe person for TL each day. Most days, lately, that means reading or listening to advice from Rick Reynolds’ Affair Recovery archives. Other days, it means reading from a self-improvement book Rick or others may have recommended. On days when I have neither books nor internet access, I use the time to think, reflect, and write.   

Today, I wonder, as I often do, what were significant problems that made me not a safe person for TL in the past? Safe, in this context, means I won’t lie, cheat, or judge TL. I think a lot about how I used to be jealous, possessive, and controlling. A few internet searches bring up a raft of literature suggesting all those bad behaviors often stem from low self-esteem. Yes, I had low self-esteem, not being proud of myself, particularly when I thought about my physical body, my experiences or self-perceived lack thereof, inadequate feeling of accomplishment, inadequate feeling of self-sufficiency and independence, and general discomfort with other people. So, becoming more proud, and less ashamed, of myself should help, right? Nurturing some self-confidence ought to help, I suppose.

I wonder, also, how to square such a conclusion with another lesson I learned that seems contradictory. The other lesson is that I think I can become safer as I develop more humility. As life, including consequences of my own decisions, hits me with humbling experiences, I am increasingly reminded to count my blessings. Humbling experiences abound: uncertainty about jobs and income, near-death moments while driving, sick kids, schedule conflicts, competing financial demands, and on and on. I think the best way for me to handle those humbling experiences is to remember gratitude.

So, is that a paradox: to become a safer husband I should become both more proud of myself or self-confident, as well as more humble, remembering I am small in the shadow of God?

No Honor

Partisan politics aside, the dishonorable judge Brett, nominated by the less-honorable president racist-clown, made me think. Politically, I’ve been on both sides of the aisle, and can empathize with both sides (only up to the point of racism) to this day. Regardless, the more I learn about judge Brett, the more I envision the kind of guy he was in high school, or even in elementary school.   

I realize now that growing up in the pasty-white portion of America, as I did, we learned mixed messages about dudes like Brett. By the time we studied liberal arts in college and moved to cosmopolitan areas, we were taught—but did not necessarily learn—that Bretts are barbarians, left over from an outdated era when it was okay to think a woman deserved abuse on account of not staying virginal and near the hearth.

In my case, I didn’t truly learn—meaning to internalize the belief rather than just parrot the politically correct – until I just about destroyed my wife and my family through my sexual insecurity-driven lying and cheating.

Digging further back, however, before liberal arts college, I recall a pasty white hometown where the honor student jock with country-club parents – the Brett – was admirable, regardless of what he did. The measure of the man was success, not honor. The measure of the woman was the appearance of chastity, not personal accomplishment nor character.

My lying and cheating were inexcusable and unforgivable. Still, I am credulously awestruck to recall that guys like Brett – worse still, guys like younger me, who envied Bretts – are very common. You’ll find them all throughout pasty-white, Jesus-quoting, country radio-listening America. Moreover, you’ll also find them hidden somewhat deep inside the personal psyches of plenty of men in politically-correct, MS-NBC-watching, briefcase-carrying America too.

We look pretty civilized. Many of us struggle to live up to that description.

No Secrets, No Walls

So, I am a firm believer in all windows and no walls between spouses. I believe this is a foundational principle for recovery. And, on this, I find it just so difficult to see, hear about, read about situations where this is clearly not happening, not even expected, perhaps not even wanted by a betrayed spouse of a serial cheater (or whatever label given to describe the serial cheating spouse).

For me, a baseline of a detailed timeline of MC’s truths was essential, truths that I would never in a million years have thought he was capable of doing, truths that I would never in a million years have known about. And, having that then backed up by a polygraph was a start to showing me that we were now at ground zero, his bricks had all been torn down.  When dealing with a serial cheater, there can never really be a “He tells me he could never do a, b or c. I know him, I know he would never take the risk that far, he says so himself.” I cannot help but feel angst at seeing the rose-colored glasses I once used to wear still exist on a betrayed. It is like watching a trainwreck coming and knowing there is nothing you can do about it. I just find it too hard.

So, I’ve noticed that we’ve had a lot of hits on our posts relating to Esther Perel. As you know, I am not a fan. First, as I’ve mentioned so many times before, I find too many who don’t understand where she is leading the conversation. I don’t disagree with her theories about why affairs happen. Peggy Vaughan and Rick Reynolds have very similar ideas about this, though very different ideas about what to do about it. I am not bothered that she encourages American society to reexamine the place of monogamy in our society. I do, however, think she should be much more clear about that at the onset.  It is not that she wants us to feel freer within our marriages “to explore alternative relationships” that I find so disturbing, it is the fact that she thinks there is a place for secrecy within a marriage.

“In America, lying can never be an act of caring. We find it hard to accept that lying would be protective, this is an unexamined idea. In some countries, not telling, or a certain opaqueness, is an act of respect.”

“For Americans, infidelity is wrong. In France, it hurts. There is a moral element more present in Anglo-Saxon culture than in Latin culture where infidelity is experienced not only as a betrayal, but as the expression of an existential dilemma between love and desire,”

“In the United States, transparency is the key to redemption, while in Europe, we have more respect for the unsaid.”

Perel is advocating that sometimes secrets are good for a marriage and that is a shade of rose that just doesn’t sit well with me. I believe secrets are poison. I believe secrets are counterproductive to the healing journey. When we put up a wall between ourselves and our spouse, we are not allowing them to know us, to love us for who we really are. And, if we cannot truly know each other, how can we truly love each other? Secrets are bricks that build-up into walls. For this marriage to work, all the bricks had to be torn away, and new ones can never again be put between us.

A lot of therapists have similar ideas about what leads to affairs, it’s the conclusions that differ so drastically. Instead of justifying secrets as some weird form of respect, Peggy Vaughn sees secrets as the fuel of temptation:

When I discovered my husband’s affairs, I had a hard time coping with the idea that our marriage was not monogamous in the way I had assumed it would be. While I gave up my belief in the Monogamy Myth, I didn’t give up my hope for monogamy. I still believe in monogamy and think it’s attainable. But achieving monogamy calls for making some drastic changes in our thinking. The irony of the Monogamy Myth is that it keeps us from dealing with the issues that need to be addressed in order to make monogamy a more attainable goal.

The best hope for monogamy lies in rejecting the idea that a couple can assume monogamy without discussing the issue, or that they can assure monogamy by making threats as to what they would do if it happened. Either of these paths creates a cycle of dishonesty. In either case, people don’t feel free to admit being attracted to someone else. If they don’t admit these attractions, then they won’t admit being tempted. And if they don’t admit being tempted, then they certainly won’t admit it if and when they finally act on the attraction. The effect on the relationship is to cause it to be filled with jealousy and suspicion, as well as making it less likely that it will be monogamous.

The hope for monogamy lies in making a conscious choice that specifically involves a commitment to honesty. In making this choice, both partners realize that attractions to others are likely, indeed inevitable, no matter how much they love each other. So they engage in ongoing honest communication about the reality of the temptations and how to avoid the consequences of acting on those temptations. The effect on the relationship is to create a sense of closeness and a knowledge of each other that replaces suspicion with trust, making it more likely that it will be monogamous.

I am open to a lot of different ideas about how to go forward in recovery, but one of the unwavering principles I take forth with me on this journey is that secrets are bricks that build up into walls. No secrets, no walls, even about the hard things, especially about the hard things.

Trigger, realization, not sure?

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So, MC and I were playing billiards when the song, Desperado came on the radio. I’ve heard that song many times. In fact, it brought back a memory. So, in that way, it was a trigger. You see when we lived in one of the many developing countries that we’ve lived, our oldest son, about three years old at the time, and I had to leave due to dangerous situations going on around us. MC stayed behind. The housekeeper also stayed. Yes, THAT housekeeper.

I remember how our oldest son and I waited back home in the U.S. for things to calm down so we could return overseas to be with MC. I remember how our son would ask to listen to Desperado over and over again when we would drive in the car and how we would sing to it as we listened. I remember how I did it because I too loved that song and loved that he loved daddy’s song. And, I remember the reason we both loved it is because it made us feel closer to MC.

So, here we are playing billiards and Desperado comes on the air. I know the lyrics, but this time I just really took them in. And, it just really hit me why MC liked the song so much, and a sad realization just washed over me. That song still touches me, but somehow in a very different way now.

I don’t even know what to think or feel right now. It just is. I’m not drowning in sorrow or anything, it just touched something in me.

Desperado
Eagles
Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
You been out ridin' fences for so long now
Oh, you're a hard one
But I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin' you
Can hurt you somehow


Don't you draw the Queen of Diamonds, boy
She'll beat you if she's able
You know the Queen of Hearts is always your best bet
Now, it seems to me some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can't get


Desperado, oh, you ain't gettin' no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they're drivin' you home
And freedom, oh freedom, well that's just some people talkin'
Your prison is walking through this world all alone


Don't your feet get cold in the winter time?
The sky won't snow and the sun won't shine
It's hard to tell the night time from the day
You're losin' all your highs and lows
Ain't it funny how the feeling goes away?


Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate
It may be rainin', but there's a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you (let somebody love you)
You better let somebody love you
Before it's too late

 

How do you dream beyond tomorrow?

So, MindlessCraft and I were talking about how we live in this day-by-day world. He understands my need to take it day-by-day. He understands that I don’t feel safe dreaming of OUR future. He tells me it is very sad that he has caused this to be the way it is. He understands that his not knowing what tomorrow will bring regarding my thoughts of our marriage is a consequence of me not ever again feeling 100% confident that he will continue to be a safe partner for the remainder of our lives.

Can we live this way, day-by-day, without any guarantee of what tomorrow will bring? Is there any way that our marriage can be a safe place, where we can dream of a future together without fear? What would I need to feel that way?

I can never again have blind faith in anything or anyone. I will never be the naive, trusting girl that I was before d-day. Knowing that there are no guarantees for any of us, how do you start again dreaming beyond tomorrow? Whether he is in my life or not, I’m focusing on living today, trying today, and building upon that day-by-day. I wish it were different too. After all that has happened, I just don’t have it in me to trust anything beyond the tangible directly in front me.

I do remember one of our counselors emphasizing the need for near-term plans, mid-term plans, and long-range plans. We do talk about these things in terms of our financial security and jobs, and in terms of helping our boys plan next steps for their education. We plan for logistics. We plan for events in the near future. But, we don’t dream beyond tomorrow. Should we, can we, and if so, how?

Good night, Westley

I wanted to clear up any confusion that may exist. Yes, I have given MindlessCraft the gift of reconciliation. Make no mistake, this is a gift, not a right, not an expectation. After what he did, I owed him nothing, and he expected nothing. In fact, he presumed I was going to throw his sorry ass out the door and never look back.

Why I am telling you this? Because I want to be sure our example is not used as a statement that one should or must try to reconcile. I also hope that our example shows just how much is involved in that attempt. Part of what influences my decision to stay, to try,  is seeing Mindlesscraft’s dedication to helping me heal, fixing his shit and providing safety for our boys and me, whether or not I chose to reconcile or divorce. I see Mindless doing the work, and today I am still here, each day now for the last six years. And, MindlessCraft has no guarantees that tomorrow or the next day I might not decide that the healthiest path forward for me is without him, and yet he continues doing the work regardless. And, that speaks to me.

“Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”

That is not to say this is a linear process. It is not! I compare it to the stock market. There are valleys and peaks along the way, but over the long haul, there is clearly an upward trajectory.  This upward trajectory is not a guarantee for me, for Mindless, for you, for anyone. Goodness knows, there are some big ass swamp rats on this journey. And, you have every right to decide whether or not that is a journey worth facing.

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As betrayed spouses, we have been stabbed in the back, hurt, lied to, crushed into a billion little pieces by the very person who was supposed to be by our side. We do not owe our cheating spouse a chance. They broke everything. And, if you want to walk away, then know that you have my complete love and support in that decision. If you’re going to give reconciliation a try with a spouse whose actions are based on fixing their shit and providing you safety regardless of your decision to stay or go, then I will give you love and support in that decisions as well. If you want to try today and leave tomorrow, I totally love and support you in that decision. The destruction of the relationship is not on your shoulders, the cheater did that all by themselves. However, your future is on your shoulders.

 

Antiversary

Today, it was six years ago today that I found out the depth and breadth of MC’s betrayal. I hadn’t even thought of it, hadn’t realized it until MC mentioned it. Thoughts of that day flooded into my mind, and then out again. I’ve been down that rabbit hole many times over the years, there’s nothing left to see in there, meh.

This is not to say I don’t still have thoughts and triggers, and even an occasional rabbit hole that I feel compelled to explore again. But, not this one, not this one…

On Crucial Conversations

I read Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, et. al. Rick Reynolds suggested it. The main point was conversations can be successful when we learn to put aside ego and to seek knowledge in conversations rather than seek to win arguments. Do we value verbally battering someone until they concede? Do we value remaining silent to show frustration or avoid the effort of discussion? Or, do we value achieving a result and preserving a relationship?   

Putting aside ego and focusing on results is straightforward enough. It also occurs to me that having such conversations rather than avoiding them takes courage as well as some degree of genuine positive feeling about the other person. How can you overlook offenses or difficult comments from the other person and focus on results if you really think the other person is too different from you or too unimportant to you to matter? In other words, I think it is easier to stay focused on results if you generally like people and assume they mean well than if you generally fear and suspect other people.

As for me, I think I was fearful and suspicious of people for most of my early life. I remember feeling people thought ill of me behind my back or that they really didn’t like me. In retrospect, perhaps I was just projecting my feelings onto them. I do feel noticeably more at ease with people in general than when I was younger. Perhaps that comes with age. Perhaps that comes with the humility and focus I learned through our D-day experience. Perhaps it’s a little of both.

Samson Syndrome Discussion Questions for Personal Reflection, Part Three

Which of the seven enemies of discernment trouble you, or have troubled you? They are pride, liquor, anger, lust, greed, hatred, and impatience. How will you mitigate them? I think almost all of them have troubled me, at some point or another. Let me see if I can be more specific.   

Perhaps my trouble with pride is the same arrogance and overestimating myself that I described before. Perhaps it often kept me from learning from others, or even from learning from my own mistakes. I think one way I mitigate pride is regularly recalling things that make me feel humble: my mistakes, other people’s strengths and successes, how easy it would be to die or lose a loved one in an unforeseen accident, daily challenges and obstacles in life that are bigger than I expected, and how many people there are in space and time who each have little worlds revolving around them. I think another way to mitigate pride is to actively care about my faith community and my kids’ youth groups. Bravely trying worthy endeavors, and often humbly failing, are also useful antidotes to pride.

Liquor was a problem for me in my twenties. I think I mitigated that through my own, unplanned aversion therapy. I just got sick of feeling sick: of hangovers, headaches, dehydration, and fatigue. I got sick of wasted time and fattening calories. I really sort of outgrew my immature alcohol abuse. Intoxication turns me off as much, or more than, it tempts me now.

I recall acute angry outbursts, such as one day when I blew up at a gas station clerk because of some minor service that was unavailable. Or, maybe it was because of a long wait time or something. I don’t remember. I do remember my angry outburst was unproductive and embarrassing. I recall longer-term, festering anger such as my anger about feeling sexually undesirable. That was also unproductive. Age has helped me mitigate the acute angry outbursts. I believe I actually learned, after considerable experience, that losing control of my emotions is losing sight of the objective, which actually hurts me and makes it less likely I will achieve my objectives.

It is less clear how to mitigate the long-term, festering anger. I think it helps to actively develop humility and gratitude. I think it helps to remember to not take things personally.

Lust was obviously a problem for me, evidenced by a life of adultery, porn, and masturbation. I have extinguished those behaviors. Does that mitigate the lust? I do try to regularly remind myself of the value of integrity. I think integrity helps me stop myself before I follow lustful thoughts and let them snowball. When I see a woman or an image of a woman, I remind myself to think of my wife and my integrity.

Is greed really a specific problem for me? No, I don’t recall that being a problem.

What about hatred? There have been times when I was so angry with a certain person or other that I thought I hated them. What is the difference between deep anger and hatred? Joseph Burgo’s February 14, 2013 article, “What is the difference between anger and hatred?” says:

“We can distinguish between anger and hatred in two ways: intensity and duration. It helps to think of them as occurring along a spectrum. Anger might be triggered when a loved one does something that frustrates us. It tends to come and go and doesn’t crowd out all our other feelings for that person. We can often voice it in ways that aren’t hurtful. Hatred lasts longer and is more pervasive. It tends to overwhelm us and obscure everything else we might feel. It makes us want to take action, to hurt or destroy whatever inspires the hatred.

Hatred makes us want to take action. I don’t think I have ever reached that point with anyone. But, I have experienced deep anger.

And, finally, there is impatience. I have no doubt that I have succumbed to impatience. On some level, impatience stalks me still. I am impatient about finishing tasks or achieving objectives. I often must remind myself to practice patience.

Breaking the loop

This weekend, I bought some ribeyes for the grill. MC started the grill as usual and cooked the steaks. Not wanting to pierce the meat with a thermometer, I have suggested on many occasions that he use the touch test. He refused to do it, insisting that he could tell in his own way (monitoring time). And, yes, sometimes his way works and we have a beautifully cooked steak. But, so often it doesn’t and the steak ends-up over or under cooked. I’ve asked for him to do, or allow me to do, the touch test, but he always resisted this suggestion. Well, it happened again, and the steaks were rare, when medium is our goal. When the steak was done, rested and on my plate, I did the touch test and could tell it was rare. He cut into his and saw, to his surprise, the steak was rare. He put them back on for a few minutes. No big deal. The steak itself is not the real issue here. The issue is that he gets stuck in these loops: first A, then B, then C. These loops cannot be changed or interupted. Even when he finds, time and again, that there is a better way, he cannot break the loop. There are so many examples, but rehashing those is not the point.  The real point is that such loops have permeated many areas of his life. His ability to recognize and break the loop has been very difficult for him. But, this time, he saw it, he really saw it. And, we had a very good conversation about it and I feel it actually brought us closer.

After dinner we played a new (for us) game with our kids. It’s called Ticket-to-Ride. It was a lot of fun and I can see it will be a new family favorite. Then, today, we all went to a local beach, each with our books. We spent the day swimming, reading, and having a lovely (though not very healthy) lunch.

MC is playing Dungeons and Dragons with our kids now. They enjoy doing this activity so much together. As I watch them together, I see them sharing a common interest and enjoyment and it is wonderful to see. This has just been one of those weekends that feels close, that feels good, you know what I mean?

Plan Zed

My best friend in high school and I are no longer friends. She was angry at me for not being who she wanted me to be. She envisioned me as a CEO or professor at a prestigious university and was angry and disappointed in me that I did not become one of those things. And, while, I agree that I professionally could have done so much more with my life, I still feel that she had no right to be angry with me over the choices I made for my own life, that really have nothing to do with her. She couldn’t love me for who I am and that is not a healthy friendship.

I’ve been thinking about this more and realize that MC and my best friend from high school share so much in common in how they approach life. Something is gnawing at me that I am trying to explain to MC, but he just doesn’t seem to get it.

He spent many years quietly seething with anger at me for my not being a virgin upon marriage, or at least for not having significantly less sexual partners than he had prior to marriage. He secretly and illicitly kept searching for the “perfect woman” all the while having me for comfort, friendship and an emotional safety net. I was simply Plan Zed.

He now will tell me that he realizes that no “perfect” woman exists. But, surely there are women out there with far less pre-marital sexual experience, with far fewer partners than he had as a single person. Telling himself that such a woman does not exist, is not really helpful and, in fact, does little to conquer the feeling that I would still be Plan Zed if such a woman ever walked into his life.

He has replied that I am misunderstanding his words and intentions on the above. He explained that every day he chooses love, that he is no longer making comparisons and that he understands that love means to choose to love your partner anyway, in spite of their imperfections.

But, I cannot help but feel, “So, this is the best he can do, be disappointed in my past, but choose to love me anyway.”

Are these two things the same:

1) I am disappointed in your past choices, but I choose to love you anyway.
2) I was wrong to judge your past choices that have nothing to do with me. I love who you are without reservation, without wishing to change a thing about the choices you made that were yours alone to make.

Seeing your partner is not perfect and choosing to love them anyway is applicable and appropriate for those choices that have to do with your life together. But, that is not what MC is doing, or not all that he is doing. It feels too much like what my high school friend did.

Am I expecting too much?

Samson Syndrome Discussion Questions for Personal Reflection, Part Two

I’ll continue with my responses to relevant study questions in Atteberry’s book. What good advice had you rejected, and what happened? Growing up, my father often told me to count my blessings. I didn’t give it much thought until recently. I was not grateful for my secondary or even college education. I failed to study, work hard, and learn. I was not grateful for my wife. I failed to support and care for her as a friend, and I ended up destroying our relationship.   

The second major piece of advice I failed to take was the advice to go to law school instead of going straight into the workforce. Now I’m forced to reinvent myself at age 50 because I don’t have a profession to earn a living now that my job is coming to an end. The third piece of advice I should have taken was a counsel I ignored on two separate occasions: to serve at headquarters rather than taking a third and then a fourth consecutive assignment abroad. The third assignment abroad put me in dangerously close proximity to marriage-destroying temptations. The fourth assignment continued that risky trend. It also put me in a position of responsibility with limited preparation and no support. It did not set me up for a fifth assignment with adequate support and mentoring.

What makes you stubborn? I’ve never thought about this. Am I stubborn? I’m sure my wife would say so. Let me count the ways. It might be easiest to explore this in reverse chronological order. I was stubbornly pessimistic when my wife was telling me to stop being so negative about the future. Why? Fear. I’m truly afraid of the future. I use pessimism to mitigate disappointment, and to remind myself to be vigilant.

Sometimes I have been stubborn when I thought I knew something, even when I did not. For example, I could’ve sworn there was no office supply store in a particular neighborhood once. My wife insisted otherwise. She was right, and I was wrong. I don’t know why I was stubborn about that. I sincerely believed I was right, until proved wrong. Perhaps sometimes I am overconfident about my knowledge. I think I spent much of life assuming I knew more than other people. I habitually underestimated others. I wonder whether perhaps my mother spent too much time telling me I was special, and I spent too much time believing that. Perhaps I then formed the bad habit of overestimating myself and underestimating others.

Perhaps I stubbornly stick to routines too automatically, and perhaps am relatively inflexible. I hate to change my sleeping, eating and exercise patterns. I’m very set in my ways. The routines comfort me. When I must stray from them, I start to doubt myself more than usual.

How did I suddenly change my desire for illicit sex?

And, what’s to stop me from suddenly changing my mind again and figuring that I do want illicit sex? We discuss these questions often. I really have little or no idea how to answer them. Here are my best efforts. For 42 years, I consciously desired illicit sex. I thought it would make me feel I was getting experiences I had unfairly missed earlier in life, that it would be a fair way to give myself physical pleasure as long as no one knew, and that the experiences would make me feel more confident as an adult, to counter the nagging feeling that I was a naïve, inadequate, undesirable child.

My betrayal and selfishness was exposed on D-Day, an experience I found to be shocking and frightening. I faced the serious possibility of losing my marriage, as well as everything else I thought I had in life. All those things I had foolishly failed to appreciate for 42 years were suddenly very real and current to me. I don’t know why. But, it is simply a fact of life that the possibility of losing everything suddenly shocked me into appreciating everything.

It was a life-changing moment of my own making. I suppose it was sudden. What was not sudden was the years of work I then undertook to rebuild my marriage and family, and to build mental health. I won’t go down a laundry list now. I’ve written it all before, in these pages.

So, why would I not just suddenly decide – maybe tomorrow, or maybe 15 years from tomorrow—that I’d really rather have the illicit sex than the marriage, family, and mental health? This is an even tougher question. I simply know in my heart that I do not wish to make such a negative decision. Can I prove that to you? No. Can I explain it to you? Perhaps not. Can I prove it or explain it to myself? I don’t know.

I know I prefer my life and myself today over the double-life I led and the unhappy self I was six years ago. Six years ago I was unhappy about me, exhausted, ungrateful, and self-defeating. Today I am happier about me, more rested and healthier, grateful for what I have, and thoughtful about my decisions. I prefer now to then.

I don’t want to return to then. It’s not worth a fuck, a blow job, a new female body, or a new sexual experience. I don’t want to throw away my current contentment for a one-off, stupid fuck. I don’t. I can’t prove that to you nor to myself. I simply know it.

How do I know it? You tell me. I really don’t know the answer to that question.

Samson Syndrome Discussion Questions for Personal Reflection, Part One

Atteberry’s book offers questions for further study. I’ll pick out those that seem relevant to me, paraphrase them, and answer them. In some cases, I will take a few extra liberties with paraphrasing the following questions to thoroughly de-Christianize them so they can also apply to progressive or non-Christian people. 

What are your personal boundaries, why, and how well do they work? I do not masturbate, and have not done so for nearly six years. Masturbation was a dangerous link to porn and adulterous fantasies. This boundary helps keep my mental focus from drifting into self-defeating areas. I do not use porn, and have not done so for six years. The reasons are the same as for not masturbating, as are the successful outcomes. To avoid temptation toward porn, I also have to remember to limit my time alone on the Internet, and to limit myself to sites free from salacious advertising.

I try to avoid women, except for the most limited, necessary, professional interactions, all of which should occur in plain sight of other people. I try to avoid sitting or standing near women. The reason is to limit possibilities that being near a woman will lead to conversation that could make someone question my attitude toward marital fidelity. I must remind myself, at least daily, to report to my wife any interaction with a woman that might make someone question my attitude as a husband, even if I consider the interaction to be innocent. This boundary is to prevent sliding down a slippery slope. I must remember to call my wife every time I begin my evening commute home, so we both know I am not tempted to stop on route for an adulterous liaison. I must remember to report to my wife every penny I spend, the same day I spend it, so we both know I am not tempted to spend it on an adulterous activity.

Are there any fences you have neglected, and how can you repair them? I don’t believe I am neglecting any fences now. Many, or all, of the fences or personal boundaries I have built have been responses to previous self-defeating, selfish, or unloving behavior of mine.

Have you ever sought greener grass on the other side of the fence, and found it disappointing? Every act of adultery I committed was an example of me seeking greener grass. Every one was disappointing. I cheated on my wife with women who were stupider, more selfish, less sensual, more flat-chested, more irritating, crazier, less educated, less wise, less spiritual, less logical, and less accomplished. And, of course, they had less integrity.

When is sexual desire excessive? This is a good question. I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s different for different individuals or for different couples. Clearly, it’s excessive if it leads to adultery or making one’s partner feel sexual desire has crowded out other aspects of the relationship. In my case it’s excessive if it leads to covert use of porn or masturbation or adulterous thoughts.

How can parents of young children equip their kids with the knowledge to make healthy and realistic choices about sex? Here’s another good question about which I am not certain. It might be gender-specific too. Is there anything my parents could have done to deter me from a path toward excessive focus on sex? My first thought is of the fact that as a teenager and twenty-something I judged my worth, happiness, and success on my sexual experience and lack thereof. Perhaps my parents and I could have done more to give me alternative measures of worth, happiness, and success—measures such as youth group leadership, sport, extracurricular activities, academic endeavors, and religion. In my case, I wonder whether things such as scouting, a mild dose of structured religious activity, parental enthusiasm about my extracurricular activities, a gentle suggestion in the face of my ambivalence about joining a team, mild encouragement toward any sport, and meaningful consequences for neglecting my academic work may have helped me put all those things and sex in their more healthy perspective rather than allowing all those endeavors to become overshadowed in my mind by thoughts of sex.

Looking back, I recall putting disproportionate time and energy into pursuit of sex and alcohol and correspondingly insufficient investment in other pursuits. Could it have helped had my parents encouraged, or at least not discouraged, interest in girls and dating? Could it have helped had they not treated alcohol and coffee as taboo? I wonder whether depicting those things as forbidden fruits made me focus more on them than I otherwise would have.

On St. Augustine

Intrigued by a reader’s comment, I dug up a Wikipedia article on the early Christian philosopher. Yes, do break beyond the Bible and read from philosophers, be they Christians, Rabbis like Maimonides, Muslims like Ibn Kaldun, ancient Greeks, or others. Here’s an overview of St. Augustine on sexuality:

“For Augustine, the evil of sexual immorality was not in the sexual act itself, but rather in the emotions that typically accompany it. In On Christian Doctrine Augustine contrasts love, which is enjoyment on account of God, and lust, which is not on account of God.[152]Augustine claims that, following the Fall, sexual passion has become necessary for copulation (as required to stimulate male erection), sexual passion is an evil result of the Fall, and therefore, evil must inevitably accompany sexual intercourse (On marriage and concupiscence 1.19). Therefore, following the Fall, even marital sex carried out merely to procreate the species inevitably perpetuates evil (On marriage and concupiscence 1.27; A Treatise against Two Letters of the Pelagians 2.27). For Augustine, proper love exercises a denial of selfish pleasure and the subjugation of corporeal desire to God. The only way to avoid evil caused by sexual intercourse is to take the “better” way (Confessions 8.2) and abstain from marriage (On marriage and concupiscence 1.31). Sex within marriage is not, however, for Augustine a sin, although necessarily producing the evil of sexual passion. Based on the same logic, Augustine also declared the pious virgins raped during the sack of Rome to be innocent because they did not intend to sin nor enjoy the act.[153][154]

Before the Fall, Augustine believed that sex was a passionless affair, “just like many a laborious work accomplished by the compliant operation of our other limbs, without any lascivious heat”; the penis would have been engorged for sexual intercourse “simply by the direction of the will, not excited by the ardour of concupiscence” (On marriage and concupiscence 2.29; cf. City of God 14.23). After the Fall, by contrast, the penis cannot be controlled by mere will, subject instead to both unwanted impotence and involuntary erections: “Sometimes the urge arises unwanted; sometimes, on the other hand, it forsakes the eager lover, and desire grows cold in the body while burning in the mind… It arouses the mind, but it does not follow through what it has begun and arouse the body also” (City of God 14.16).

Augustine believed that Adam and Eve had both already chosen in their hearts to disobey God’s command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge before Eve took the fruit, ate it, and gave it to Adam.[155][156] Accordingly, Augustine did not believe that Adam was any less guilty of sin.[155][157] “

In addition to being Jewish and believing in God, I also believe in science. As such, the Fall could not have happened literally as described in Genesis. That must be a myth. Instead, the Fall must have been the gradual development of intelligence and emotions as our distant ancestors evolved into Homo sapiens. Does an animal will its penis erect? Or, does it get an erection due to an instinct that makes blood flow there when it sees a female at the right time? Do I will myself to have an erection? Or, does the sight, smell, and touch of a woman under specific conditions trigger an instinct that makes blood flow to my penis? When that happens, am I excited? When that happens to an animal, is the animal excited?

So, I don’t know what I think about St. Augustine’s views. I do, at least, find it a helpful reminder that lust is not love. When I committed adultery, I was too stupid and ignorant to realize the difference. That is what makes me certain that TL is the first and only woman I have ever loved.

Samson Syndrome

I have been reading The Samson Syndrome, by Mark Atteberry. It’s the most relevant and helpful book for unfaithful husbands I have ever read. I recommend it to cheaters so they can use it as a guide for preventing future infidelity and for understanding the true nature and origins of their past infidelity. I recommend it for betrayed wives because it may shed light on questions about their husbands such as: “How could you be so stupid?” “Why would you take such obviously stupid risks?” “How did you not learn those lessons long ago?”

The book is sometimes distracting for non-Christians because it is so intertwined with a Christian world view. As a Jew, I had to mentally replace the noun “Christian” with the word “mensch” every time I encountered it, and use the word “spiritual” in place of the adjective “Christian.”  Otherwise, the book would have been useless to me. I also had to mentally tune-out – not difficult – each reference to the Christian New Testament.

After mentally de-Christianizing the book, I found it very useful. It talks about failings that are common for men: lust, repeating mistakes, dumb risks, ego, ignoring advice, difficulty with intimacy, breaking rules, ignoring boundaries, overestimating one’s own cleverness, employing anger, taking things for granted, and losing sight of the big picture.

Atteberry very briefly says that some people may be addicted to sex. But, overwhelmingly, he talks about how infidelity and other sins flow mostly from men’s own bad choices, choices that too often flow from one or more of the twelve failings described in the book. For each of the twelve failings, Atteberry describes how they dogged Samson, gives examples of how they often challenge ordinary guys all the time, and gives a few suggestions on how to avoid following these failings into bad or disastrous decisions.

Next, I might take a closer look at some of the study questions in the back of Atteberry’s book, and then move on to other books. I will perhaps be even more selective about what I read in the future, now that I know it is possible to find books that go beyond sex addict dogma for infidelity.

Jesus pushers

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I am so sick and tired of Jesus pushers. Jesus is not the only way. I am not doomed to failure and hell if I don’t accept Jesus. I am not dooming my children to failure and hell for teaching them that Jesus was just a man, perhaps a Rabbi, and nothing more.

And, the more you press it with me, the more I despise being around you. So, why do you bother? What is the fucking point of trying to convert someone who clearly has no interest in converting?

And, as I recently said, this whole “Jesus is the only way” crap reminds me so much of why I am so damn uncomfortable with SA and 12-step. Because far too many within that community insist it is the best way, it is the only way, and anyone who seeks something different is in denial and doomed to fail. It just reminds me too much of replacement theologists who try to convert us to Christianity. Except instead of SA and 12-step, it is Jesus – Jesus is the best way, the only way and you are in denial and doomed to hell if you don’t convert. It is just too similar of a message and I find it fucking creepy and its own form of arrogance.

Love a rock, worship a rock, believe in a rock for all I care, just stop throwing your damn rock at others.

Ok, sorry, just needed to get that off my chest!

 

Acceptance

I read a post from Elle over at Betrayed Wive’s Club regarding acceptance. My first reaction was to believe that I have reached acceptance in my mind, but not my heart. But, then, I really put some deeper thought into that question and realized something. I have accepted the past in heart and mind. I will never like it, as Elle explained so beautifully, we never can and never will “like it.”  I have, however, accepted it happened, it cannot be changed, and finally, I no longer waste my time with the “would’ve, should’ve, could’ve and if onlys” of the past. Acceptance of the past is not my problem.

My problem is acceptance of the present and future. I accept MC wants to be a better man, husband, father and friend. I accept MC is learning to count his blessings in a way he never did prior to d-day. I accept MC is digging and learning about the sources of his self-pity and entitlement complex and learning to rewire his thought processes away from such negativity and toward gratefulness and humility. But, I am afraid to accept that I am in a safer place now. I am afraid to accept that I will be better able to see those red flags if they ever do occur again. I am afraid to accept the risk of bringing down the wall I have built to protect myself.

I am framing this in terms of acceptance, but perhaps what I am really speaking of is fear. Fear of being fooled again by anyone. Fear of being knocked down again by anything or anyone. And, I know I cannot continue to live my life in fear. I feel it eating away at me, but I do not know how to overcome it. For the life of me, I don’t know how to overcome it.

Perhaps, it is about acceptance after all. Acceptance of fear, of the risk that life has no guarantees, that I will be hurt again by someone and/or something. Perhaps it is not about overcoming these fears, but rather not allowing myself to be paralyzed by them. Perhaps, I need to stop trying to overcome them and make them disappear, but instead learn to accept these fears as a part of me and my life and learn to  live, laugh and love in spite of them. I really don’t know.

Larry the Lobster

When I was young, I was traumatized by a memory of a skit on SNL regarding Larry the Lobster. I was sure I remembered the memory of the skit correctly. I recently looked it up and had it all wrong. It was Eddie Murphy, not Andy Kaufman. The viewers voted to save Larry’s life, not kill him. I had a memory of Larry boiling on live tv. It didn’t happen. I had a memory of a montage regarding Larry’s family. I find no indication that such montage existed. In the end, Larry’s life did end. During the following week’s show, Eddie  Murphy presented an already boiled lobster, supposedly Larry, for he and the Weekend Update cast to eat. But, only after and in response to an exceptionally racist letter regarding the skit.

So, why does this matter at all? Because the realization that even my own memories are untrustworthy has blindsided me. I don’t know why it should be such a surprise, this was a memory from over 35 years ago. Of course, our memories from that long ago might not be wholly accurate. Somehow, the realization that I have no trustworthy source of memories has me feeling uneasy. My parents are dead. My brother has blocked out most of our childhood. My memories apparently aren’t as clear as I believed them to be. My entire married life and memories were lies. I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’ve been really sick with a bad cold this week and in a medicine haze, so maybe that is influencing my mindset in some really outlandish way.

Expectations 

I’m reading Fighting for Your Marriage, by Markman, Stanley, and Blumberg. It has a lot of good advice about communication, such as using the speaker-listener technique. It also has a thought-provoking—for me – discussion about expectations. A set of exercises asks me to think about several specific topics, listed below, to identify my expectations, be sure we have discussed them as a couple, and evaluate how realistic they are. While I’m at it, I’m sure I can identify some that are different now compared to the early part of our marriage. When evaluating how realistic each expectation seems, I will – per the instructions—rate them parenthetically on a scale of one to 10, with one meaning very unrealistic and 10 meaning very realistic. 

Longevity of relationship. I expect this marriage to last forever. That is realistic. (9)

Sexual fidelity. I expect complete fidelity from both of us, meaning no extramarital physical contact or non-physical flirting. This should have been realistic. (9) However, given my own hurtful history of infidelity, I have discussed with TL that I can no longer justifiably expect fidelity from her. Yes, I did expect complete mutual fidelity from day one. However, I then made a series of repeated conscious corrupt decisions to betray not only her expectations of me, but also my own expectations of myself.

Love. I expect complete and never-ending love from both of us. However, given my own hurtful history of infidelity, I have discussed with TL that I can no longer justifiably expect love from her. Yes, I did expect complete mutual love from day one. This should have been realistic. (9) However, I then made a series of repeated conscious corrupt decisions to betray not only her expectations of me, but also my own expectations of myself. Also, I began our marriage with what I now consider to be an inaccurate definition of “love.” Now I understand love as a conscious decision to love the other person and seek the best for them. Before, I thought love was an innate aspect or set of aspects of the other person that makes me happy or satisfies my needs or desires.

Sexual relationship. Frequency, practices, and taboos. I don’t know what to expect on this topic now, for two reasons. First, I came into the marriage with unstated, unlimited, and unrealistic expectations on frequency and nature of sex. I expected sex on demand, daily or more often, with little or no foreplay, and including oral sex. That was unrealistic. (2) It did not match TL’s expectations. Second, following my long history of repeated corrupt decisions to be unfaithful, I’m not sure what I should realistically expect.

Romance. I have, and had, no expectation of romance. Regardless of my past and present behavior, I know TL expects romance, and expects me to figure out what that means at any given time.

Children. We, as far as I can tell, are both happy with our two children. We did begin our marriage with different expectations about children, but we gradually resolved those differences to our mutual satisfaction, in my view.

Work, career, and income. I expect that I will be allowed to find a way to work – even just a little bit – until the day I die. It gives me personal satisfaction. I think that is a realistic expectation. (8) I would like TL to work – even just a little bit – as long as she is willing and able. It appears to me that she is mentally healthier when she works. That also seems a realistic expectation. (8) I do not have particular expectations about whose career should get priority or who should earn more.

Emotional dependency. I expect us each to be responsible for our own emotional health, but each to desire to help support the other emotionally when possible. I believe that is a realistic expectation. (8) I believe I began the marriage with the unrealistic expectation that TL – or even marriage itself—would resolve my emotional problems for me. (1)

Approach to life, loyalty, communication and problems., power, and control. I expect us to be a team, totally loyal to each other, and making significant decisions together. I expect open, honest, and early communication, as needed. I expect us to share power and control of everything equally. That is realistic. (9) Yes, I did expect that from day one. However, I then made a series of repeated conscious corrupt decisions to betray not only her expectations of me, but also my own expectations of myself.

Household tasks. I expect TL to load the dishwasher. I expect to unload the dishwasher. I expect to take out the garbage and replace empty toilet paper dispensers. I otherwise expect us each to do what we can when we can to keep the house, dishes, and clothes clean and tidy, and keep on top of various errands and responsibilities related to the household, including pets, cars, children, and other things. That is realistic. (9)

Religious beliefs and observances. We have similar, compatible, realistic expectations about this that have evolved over time with mutually-satisfying discussion. (9)

Time together. I think I began our marriage with the unrealistic and unstated expectation that we would spend every possible moment together. (3) I was possessive, jealous, and threatened at the thought of her spending time with friends, others, or even herself. I didn’t have healthy practices for organizing my own time. Gradually, I over-corrected, spending less and less time with TL and more and more time on adultery and other selfish pursuits. I think that was my childish way of pouting about my incorrect belief that TL owed me more sex and flattery. Now, in contrast, I do try to spend every possible moment with TL. But, I am no longer jealous or threatened when TL chooses to spend time without me. I think now I have a more realistic, but perhaps unstated, expectation that we can each have a little time each day to work on personal tasks. (7)

Sharing feelings. I expect us to want to share our feelings with each other, and to be safe and supportive of each other in that regard. Notwithstanding my regrettable long years of intentional deceit and emotional distance, I think this is a realistic expectation. (7)

Friendship. I expect us to be true friends, forever. Notwithstanding my regrettable long years of not being a friend to TL, I think this is a realistic expectation. (8)

Little things. I can’t think of any expectations in this category.

Forgiveness. I expect us to forgive each other. This may not be a realistic expectation. (5) I did not forgive TL for not being perfect in the first part of our marriage. Though she had done nothing that should require forgiveness, I was unforgiving. Also, it may not be possible for TL to forgive me for my years of adultery, deceit, and betrayal.

Other relationships. As an unfaithful spouse, some or all of what I say on this topic may sound unbelievable or hypocritical. I began the marriage expecting we would both leave all previous relationships in the past. That was probably realistic and reasonable. (7) I also had the unrealistic, one-sided, unreasonable expectation that she would never again communicate with a previous lover, even openly and platonically, and that she would magically make all my feelings of inferiority to her previous lovers disappear. (1) I had the unrealistic, one-sided, and unreasonable expectation that she would end relationships with girlfriends simply because I felt threatened by any reminders of her social life before me. (1) Now, after learning my lesson the hard way, I have rid myself of those unrealistic, unfair, and unreasonable expectations.

As a crappy husband with a history of serial cheating, I had a bad record of being uncaring, not recognizing TL, breaking my commitment, lacking integrity, and not accepting TL. Regardless, and especially now, I do expect we will both care for each other, recognize each other, honor our commitments, accept each other, and behave with integrity. I think that is realistic. (9)

Chicken or egg?

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I’ve started and stopped many times on writing a new blog post. I think I have something to say, only to find I really don’t, or at least not anything that is relevant or interesting. So, perhaps that is not a bad thing. I don’t know. So, sorry, it seems I only write when processing something I am unable to process on my own.

We recently went on vacation. It was nice. We were in a new city, with big beautiful everything, lots of new experiences for us as a family. During this all, we had an incident where youngest son was lost for a brief time. We were on our way to one of these experiences, our tickets reserved ahead for a set time. It was located in a large crowded place. The boys needed to use the bathroom. So, I waited at the entrance of our next experience, while MC took the boys to search for a bathroom. Our youngest finished before MC and our oldest son. MC told him to walk back to me by himself. The bathroom was not in visual distance of me. Our son got lost. When MC and our oldest returned to me our youngest was not present. I was scared to death. Our 10 year old son was lost in a crowded place, in a city where he knew nothing and nobody. We found him. All was ok. He asked people for help and they gave it to him. But, I couldn’t help but feel like there is a lack of judgement within MC. He has this instinct to put time and schedules above all else, even the safety of our children. And, in the end, it took MORE time searching for our lost son than if he had remained in MC’s presence the entire time, instead of being sent ahead.

Here’s the thing, I have a habit of asking myself, “What is the worst that could happen?” This little question has encouraged me to not worry so much about some things and to determine it is not worth the risk about other things. Clearly, before d-day, MC never asked himself this question. And, sadly, even after d-day, he still struggles to ask himself this question. Is he capable of knowing what is safe and what is unsafe?

For MC’s whole life, even today, his mom constantly asks “is it safe?” about everything, even minuscule things that are clearly safe, but also those things that are not clearly safe. Is he unable to ask this question of himself because of her constant badgering about “is it safe?” OR does she constantly badger about this because she knows he has no concept of what is safe and what is not. I really don’t know anymore.

Capurnican psychology

I think I noticed something about people. As infants, we think we are the center of the universe. When do we learn that we are distinct from other people or other creatures? I’m not sure. But, at first, when we see ourselves as distinct, we typically initially judge ourselves to be more important than everyone else and everything else. At least, I believe that was my initial view when I was a young child. Are there people who some degree of neglect or abuse convinces they are not the most important thing in the universe? I don’t know.   

In my case, my parents gave me plenty of attention, reinforcing my initial belief that I was the most important thing. For people like me in this regard, some may continue to believe, for the rest of their lives, that the universe revolves around them. That is a subconscious belief, I think, impervious to rational, conscious learning about physics, biology, society, politics, workplaces, schools, families, morality, and God.

Others may eventually experience a lesson, or series of lessons, that humbles them, making them finally question their belief that they are the center of the universe. For some, maybe they experience that in military boot camp, addiction recovery, or sudden and catastrophic loss of financial or emotional support. For me, I experienced it through destroying my marriage, almost losing it, and knowing that it was all my own fault.

Now when I look at people at work or in the grocery store, I am constantly reminded that if I die or move away, if I am happy or sad, if I succeed or fail, their lives will go on, largely unaffected. If there are people stronger or weaker than me, smarter or stupider, more or less attractive, more or less experienced, bigger or smaller, better or worse at giving sexual arousal or sexual pleasure, who cares? They’ll get a new co-worker or see another stranger in the grocery store. One hundred years from now, a few people will infrequently recall that I existed. A million years from now, if there are any people here, they will likely not think often about my society. And, there will come a time when my species and my planet will cease to exist.

In that context, what should some stranger, neighbor, colleague, or even my spouse have to do to ensure that I am happy and that I do not mourn some real or imagined injustice? Nothing. Not a damned thing. The only person who really has to worry about my happiness and my sense of justice is me. And, I can even choose not to worry about those things. I don’t have to be happy. Life doesn’t have to treat me fairly. I can choose what I want to do, think, and even feel, and just get on with it. I’m not the center of the universe. That frees me from worrying about what people think of me. It also frees them, unless they choose otherwise, from thinking about me.

Negative perceptions

Here’s how I thought about my wife before D-day. If she loved me she would give me sex. (We did have sex. I just did not appreciate it, and would always want more.) If she was attracted to me she would give me sex. If she loved me she would be attracted to me. I was emotionally needy, needing assurance that I was attractive and lovable.   

If I am happy with my body, mind, and moral self, perhaps it doesn’t matter whether I am attractive or loved. I don’t need any substitutes for being happy with my body, mind, and moral self. What do you think?

What went wrong with me?

Let’s figuratively take out a blank sheet of paper and a fresh pencil and write down some simple thoughts. I’ve spent six years now trying to figure out what to think, write, read, say, and do about the fact that I was a serial adulterer and liar. Though I’ve made some progress, I want to check my bearings by starting over, at the beginning. What went wrong with me? Why was I a bad father to my sons, a bad husband to my wife, a bad boyfriend to my college girlfriend, a bad son to my parents, and a bad custodian of myself?

My first thought on this is that, unlike today, I was not happy with my body, my mind, and my moral self. For my first two decades, I bemoaned my physical inadequacy without taking responsibility nor action, without accepting what I could not change and acting on what I could change. For all my education and supposed intelligence, for my first four decades I took my mind for granted. I didn’t appreciate how much personal satisfaction and self-confidence I could experience from enjoying mental and academic pursuits for their own sake. For my first four decades and more, I didn’t even think about having a moral self. I didn’t even think to ask myself whether I might be able to generate some confidence and peace by choosing some values such as responsibility, compassion, integrity, and courage.

What were the ill effects of failing to invest daily in my body, mind, and moral self? I was a coward. I was petty. I was jealous. I struggled against people for no coherent reason. I tilted at windmills with no thought as to why. I focused on self-destructive objectives such as sex, alcohol, tobacco, experimenting with drugs (briefly, prior to marriage), and porn for their own sake. Not feeling confidence about my body, mind, and moral self, I hoped to feel it by pursuing sex and substances. Now I see that sex and substances are fats and condiments while body, mind, and moral self are the meat and potatoes of life. Sex and substances are lawn gnomes and wind chimes while body, mind, and moral self are the foundation, pillars, and roof.

Now what? Now, I think, I just need to give daily attention to nurturing my moral self, the same way I give my body and mind daily care and use.

Seeking others’ pity to be happy

Here’s a passage from the book Making Peace with Your Parents that made me think. 

Quote:

“For anyone who grew up with a martyr parent, it is essential to recognize that guilt is self-punishment you don’t deserve. In truth, Julie had neither caused nor could remedy her mother’s emotional distress. To illustrate how guilt operates and to help Julie stop blaming herself for her mother’s self-critical and self-destructive habits, I stood up in the middle of one of our sessions and walked to the window. “Now, if I jumped out this window head-first and splattered myself on the pavement below, killing or crippling myself, would it be your fault?” Julie laughed and said, “Of course not.”

“But what if I left behind a note that described how Julie looked at me the wrong way, that Julie only thinks about herself, or that Julie wasn’t living up to my expectations of progress in psychotherapy? Then would it be your fault?”

Julie hesitated for a moment before she replied, “No, it would still be ridiculous. I’m not the one who made you jump.”

End quote.

Why did the foregoing passage give me pause? I think the idea of trying to make others feel responsible for my happiness is familiar. I’ve done that; tried to make my wife, girlfriend, peers, family, and even strangers feel as sorry for me as I felt for myself. I thought, or hoped, that upon seeing my misery – self-created or otherwise—they would be moved to give me liberties, flattery, sexual attention, or service. When did I start doing that? I seem to recall sitting alone in my room as a child or adolescent, hoping my parents would feel sorry for me and that they would then remove some unseen barrier that kept me from socializing with peers.

As an aside, perhaps, I can now look back on my lonely youth with a new perspective. The new perspective comes from being a parent of a teenager myself. As a teenager, was it really just that my parents kept me from going out and socializing? Perhaps there was more to it. Perhaps I didn’t socialize much with some peers because we didn’t have enough common interests. On the other hand, there was the question of how and where would I socialize with peers. I didn’t want to talk to them on the phone because I feared my parents were eavesdropping, prying, and commenting on everything. I didn’t want to invite peers to my house for similar reasons. Were my parents socially isolating me, or was I doing it to myself?

And, where might I have learned that habit of trying to make others pity me so I could turn their pity to my advantage? I think my mother modeled that type of thinking, with her lifelong, constant refrains of, “Why doesn’t anyone do something for my family?” Perhaps I then continued the unhealthy strategy well beyond my elementary school years because I saw it as easier than taking responsibility for my own happiness.

List of resentments

I am now reading a book called Making Peace with Your Parents: The Key to Enriching Your Life and All Your Relationships. One of its first exercises says to make a list of all your resentments toward your parents. Here’s mine. 

1. I resent that you did not let me do things for myself, even simple things like getting lights and doors.

2. I resent that you sent me to the church, but that you did not participate. Incidentally, I recall now that you did not drive me there. Grandpa drove me there.

3. I resent that you did not let me listen to radio stations or watch television shows my peers experienced.

4. I resent that you did not allow me to choose my clothes as an adolescent.

5. I resent that we did not interact with other people very much. I think it contributed to me feeling scared and awkward around people.

6. I resent that you did not give me chores or responsibilities. I think it made me take things for granted and be ungrateful.

7. I resent you, mother, for basically teasing me about being a teenager, making me feel it was some reason to feel ashamed or estranged.

8. Mother, I resent you for frequently criticizing every girl I ever dated, making me feel I had to hide my relationships.

9. Mother, I resent you constantly criticizing my wife and doing things to make her seem separate from me.

10. Mother, I resent your frequent, intense, desperate harassment to make me accept my father chaperoning my wife and me across the country.

As I attempted to make this list, I found that some of my regrets were not resentments directed at my parents. Rather, I resented my fate, my own inaction, and myself. The following list covers approximately the first two decades of my life. I have written previously about other regrets from the second part of my life.

1. I regret not just shaving off that damned facial hair on my upper lip that always invited teasing when I was in grade school.

2. I regret not disciplining myself to become better at running and swimming.

3. I regret being so scared and shy.

4. I regret not asking for help with wetting my pants.

5. I regret teasing people until they retaliated.

6. I regret believing in Santa Claus longer than my peers did due to my fear of hurting my parents’ feelings.

7. I regret not finding piano songs I enjoyed.

8. I regret that I did not do my homework.

9. I regret that I feared my parents’ expectations about the spelling bee.

10. I regret that I did not try the wrestling team.

11. I regret not learning about fitness and nutrition sooner.

I’m only at the beginning of this book. I don’t know whether it will address the fact that I inadvertently came up with as many resentments not related to my parents as resentments regarding my parents.

What does that tell us? I’m not sure. I think it says that my problems with insecurity and jealousy were not really about my parents. Rather, they were about my relationship with myself.