Monthly Archives: May 2015

MC: “Not attractive, just available”

TL and our child had to be away for about three months for reasons beyond our control.  A few weeks into that period I began an affair with our housekeeper.  Let’s call her AP2.  Why did I do it?  I think it was just because I could.  I thought there would be no consequences.  The woman was not attractive.  She was simply available.

She started staying later and making me dinner, I did not ask her to do this. She would sit, stare and smile at me as I ate. One night she complained of shoulder pain.  When she repeated it the next night, I took advantage of the opening.  I offered to massage her shoulder.  It led immediately to sex.  Unlike AP1, AP2 was also married.  Claiming “safety” issues to TL, AP2 began staying the night several nights a week.  On two or three occasions when she was staying with her husband, I found prostitutes instead.

When TL and our child returned, I tried to pretend nothing had happened.  TL and I resumed what I considered our happy life together.  We conceived our second child.  On the exterior, everything was quite good between TL and I.

My dark, double life continued.  AP2 would babysit when TL and I went out. I would drive her home and pull-over en route for sex or oral sex.  There were a few nights when AP2 said she would just sleep on our couch, saying it was too late to drive her home.  While TL slept, I would sneak into the living room, get a quick orgasm from the maid, and then sneak back into bed with my wife.

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A victim mentality

I too have some major FOO issues, don’t we all?

My mother was addicted to prescription painkillers and other drugs. She was mentally ill and, after years of drug abuse, physically ill too. My father, though a very hard worker, took jobs where he would have part ownership in the company, was his own boss, and/or was always on commission, never with any benefits. The “dream jobs” never worked out. Food stamps, government and family bailouts were our way of life. We were evicted from our homes left and right, running from bill collectors and scamming the system along the way because, in my parents words, “We have no choice if we want to have a place to live and to put food on the table.” They spent money on things they wanted the minute it came in, under the premise, “We deserve, we deserve, we deserve.” Then, lo and behold, when it was time to pay rent, utilities or buy food there was nothing left. My parents were always the victims, never responsible for their own choices or their own lives. There is a lot more to this story, but that is the basic frame of reference. Both my parents are dead and it is my extended family that is the more meaningful relationship to me now.

I put myself through college with no help from family. When I met MC he was this organized, disciplined, ambitious, intelligent, witty, well-spoken, and very handsome guy who was interested in me. He talks about not thinking he is good-looking. Honestly, I always thought that was just false modesty. He truly belongs on the cover of GQ magazine. But, I digress. I was shocked and happy to have found someone who was everything I thought I wanted in a partner and who wanted me just as much. I thought he was so different from my family, someone I could count on and someone who believed as I did about personal responsibility, working toward shared goals, while learning and exploring together along the way. I thought our connection was so deep and I didn’t want to lose that connection. When I thought I might because I was afraid to go as fast as he wanted to go, I decided to jump in and take my chances. It turns out things just are never that easy.

Part of my shock over everything I found out was to see just how much of this “victim” mentality MC had for his whole life. I knew it was his mom’s way of living and I thought, like me, he learned from his parents bad example. Wrong! Perhaps I was afraid to see just how deep and pervasive it was within him. Part of addressing all of this is addressing this victim mentality for him, and addressing how and why I picked a partner that, in fact, was far more like my parents than I ever realized. I do understand the victim mentality. I have faced it within myself when younger and after d-day. I don’t want to live that way.

For many years before d-day, I told myself that all the bad stuff brought me to where I am now and so, I wouldn’t change any of it. “Look what I made it through and how far I’ve come.” But, after d-day, when I saw where “I am now” was not actually a true picture of my life, I sunk down into that victim state. And, frankly, I think I needed to do that as part of the grieving process. I fight with it still. Rationally, I know that staying the victim is a very unhealthy path. I can see my parents’, MC’s and his mom’s example to see just how far off-track one can go with that kind of thinking. I want to survive. Even more than that, I want to thrive. I want MC to thrive. I want our children to thrive. I want our marriage to thrive. I want our family to thrive. Still, I fight the victim mentality, but I am working on it.  Seeing MC facing that demon has been a helpful step on that journey.

MC: “Double life”

Those two years of our lives were good and bad at the same time.  I was truly living a double life.  My evil, hidden self was very, very evil.  I believed my good, clean exterior was, on the other hand, fully and happily engaged in parenting and spending time with TL.  I enjoyed our walks together along the coast, our dinners on the seaside, and playing at our club or a nearby resort with TL and our child.

I was still obsessively devoted to my to-do list, a personality flaw that challenges me to this day.  And, TL did talk to me about her sense of loneliness.  I remember not knowing how to respond, telling her she needed to find friends.

Over a year into that insanity with the prostitutes, I got herpes. I hid that fact from TL for seven years.  She only learned that truth a week after D-day.  Through careful timing (avoiding her during outbreaks), using condoms as our main source of birth control, dumb luck, and a problematic sex-life of my own making, TL did not get the disease in those seven years.  About 18 months after D-day, TL did test positive.

Prior to D-day, I had created several problems in our sex life.  First, I wanted sex for its own sake, to get the orgasm, put the proverbial notch in my belt, and be done with it.  I was skipping the part about emotional intimacy and enjoying each other in a variety of ways that might naturally lead to foreplay and possibly sex.  I know this made it seem rather mechanical to TL.  We might as well have been talking about brushing teeth or doing laundry.  I was doing it for the sake of getting it done.  I wasn’t enjoying the full experience, and neither was TL.

Second, if she was ever not in the mood, I took it personally.  I interpreted that as her being unimpressed by me or uninterested in me physically.  I told myself that might mean I was not attractive or not good at sex.  I told myself I wasn’t worth much and that I was a failure in those areas.  I think this fed into my double life narrative.  I went around looking for other women who might possibly say or do something to make me feel attractive, sexually adept, or worth something.  Taking it personally also led me to pout and act depressed.

Third, I conditioned myself to associate asking TL for sex with feeling bad about myself.  I told myself that if I asked her for sex she’d likely decline and that would make me feel bad about myself.  If she were ever naked in front of me, I would become aroused. I did not want to become aroused by her and then want sex with her. So, I would tell her to put on clothes and look away. Therefore, my sick logic continued, I should avoid looking at her and/or initiating sex.

Fourth, there were occasions when TL tried to initiate sex while I was having a herpes outbreak.  I declined during those times, not wanting her to catch onto my infidelity that led to the disease.  I had always told her that I would never be too tired for sex and was now using the excuse that I was too tired. She says the combination of me not wanting to see her naked, turning away from her and turning her down for sex led her to believe she was no longer attractive to me. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Fifth, there were times, particularly in the early part of our marriage, when I became insecure and intimidated when TL expressed interest or actively engaged with me in sex.  During those sick moments, I told myself her interest and engagement could not possibly be sparked by me because I was unattractive or unskilled.  So, I said to myself, maybe she’s really just inspired by memories of previous, more attractive, more skilled sex partners.  So, I got angry, jealous, and depressed.  This behavior on my part was undoubtedly scary and frustrating for TL.

After D-day, after freeing myself from my sick obsessions, I was able to be more free, affectionate and emotionally intimate with TL throughout our day. I was also able to initiate sex with TL more frequently and with less ego-based fear.  Gradually, our intimate life has improved.  All this goodness in our relationship was accompanied by something awful:  she got herpes from me. I have left her with permanent physical reminders of my selfishness.  Much as I try, I may never be able to make amends for those sins.

TL and our toddler made the next move a couple weeks ahead of me, for purely logistical reasons.  Previously, I had engaged in seeking prostitutes when traveling away from TL. During those weeks I sought local prostitutes on three occasions.

I was glad when I finally returned to TL and joined her in preparing for our next move.  I was hopeful that I could leave my evil ways behind.

During our next move, TL and I learned scuba together.  I never would have taken the initiative to do that without TL.  We learned together.  I learned it because of her, but came to enjoy it for me too. We had a wonderful time getting together with friends, having brunch on the beach while children played, and spending time together.

Then, a year into it, the country we were in became unsafe. TL and our child had to leave for safety reasons. It soon all went wrong again.

Honesty and monogamy

This is very scary to write and to admit. But, I’ve now seen news programs and several different blogs discussing Esther Perel. While I’ve hinted at it in previous posts, I felt I needed to talk about this in more detail.

A while ago I read something from Peggy Vaughn essentially stating that she and her husband promised each other honesty, not monogamy. She described how promising monogamy was encouraging secrets, which then laid a path toward infidelity. She described how talking about temptations, opportunities and the like actually helped to defang them. It did make a lot of sense to me.

Then, while MC was away for that year, I became very good friends with a couple who were/are quietly in an open marriage. Their youngest and our youngest were best friends from school. I still don’t exactly know why they told me about the status of their marriage, but after soaking it in for a bit, I shared just a few things about what had happened between MC and me, but none of the nasty details. They introduced me to Esther Perel.

MC and I talked so much about this couple, about Perel about our previous learning through AR and everything in between. Since discoveries, I have had a longing for butterflies. MC told me he did not want an open marriage, he does not want another intimate partner other than me. He tells me about every instance where in the past he may have looked for an opening. We talk openly and honestly about it all.

I was in a very vulnerable place when I was introduced to Perel and I worry about others getting so deep in, while also still being in a vulnerable place. Luckily, I was also in place where honesty between MC and I had really come to be a safer, comforting and supportive place. We talked for hours every day. I told MC that though I’ve been faithful our whole marriage, there were times I longed for a more passionate, free experience, but I didn’t cheat. Even though his self-pity is being addressed, his anger and jealousy are being addressed, I no longer know how to be free. I do want that with MC. I am working on it. We are working on it. But, sometimes, I do wish for an experience where I could be that free person just to see what it is like and maybe even bring that back into our marriage. MC tells me it makes him sad to think of me being in this place, but he understands. Hearing him say that was such a wonderful thing for me because it really did show how far he has come in regard to his jealousy and self-pity.

So, I do get a small bit of what Perel is saying in her less publicized works, but am also a little scared by that fact. Still, talking about it, has defanged it — mostly. It is not out of revenge, nor wanting to cause MC pain, but wanting to experience something new, to feel alive, like Perel describes in her works. I think these thoughts are a natural curiosity to many of us who have been betrayed. And, I think it would be foolhardy to pretend that these thoughts and feelings do not exist. I am going to be open and honest with my husband about such thoughts and feelings. And, with being so honest together, I do feel we defang the temptations for both of us.

ETA: Here were my thoughts on Esther Perel versus Rick Reynolds that I made to Kat’s blog:

Perel has many fundamental points that ring true. Her messages about a) expecting our partner to meet all of our needs being unrealistic and b) looking to someone other than our partner to find something different within ourselves are similar to the message of Rick Reynolds from Affair Recovery. The difference is, if you look into both of them further, is what each prescribes to do about it. Perel in other writings discusses that this is why as a society we should be open to allowing couples to redefine monogamy in their relationship, together, on an on-going basis. We, as a society, should encourage and support couples to redefine their boundaries and definitions several times in their life together, with each instance essentially creating a new marriage, together. This should be done openly, honestly and together (not forced by one party). She supports the idea of allowing other secondary partners to help fulfill needs that no one partner can meet. She supports the idea that we can find something missing within ourselves by opening ourselves up to other intimate relationships, other partners, while maintaining the marriage as the primary relationship.

Rick Reynolds agrees that it is unrealistic of us to expect that one partner could meet every need, want and desire. He also agrees that affairs are about looking to feel better about ourselves through they eyes of someone new. But, he goes in a different direction than Perel on how to handle that. Where as she encourages society supporting non monogamous or “almost monogamous” marriages, he does not believe that adding in new partners is helpful or healthy. Reynolds main premise is that truly loving is after limerence and the fantasy wears off, after you are faced with knowing that your partner cannot meet your every expectation, you faithfully choose to love them anyway. Reynolds also describes that after time with one partner, we see the true reflection of ourselves from our partner. It is often not that we are turning away from our partner, but turning away from that true reflection of ourselves. He goes on to point out that with a new partner, with the limerence and fantasy in place, the reflection we see from our new partner is based on a fantasy version of ourselves and we prefer that reflection to the true reflection seen in our partners eyes. Reynolds wants us to look within ourselves and our marriage to learn to feel good about who we are and would state that adding in other partners simply fuels an unhealthy fantasy.

Though they start with very similar premises, they go in completely different directions on how to resolve these issues. It is certainly up to the individual couple to decide how best to proceed. Maybe she is the wave of the future. I don’t know? I would just encourage those interested in Perel to look into her other work and understand where she intends to lead this conversation.

Self-pity and how I prevent it

First, self-pity, stemming from jealousy and comparing myself to others, was my fundamental problem. Before D-day, if I told myself to avoid porn or available women, sooner or later I forgot my commitment to avoid them, lost my resolve, and wandered back to them.

I’ll digress briefly to explain two parts of my thinking that could seem contradictory if oversimplified.  On one hand, every time I cheated I arrived at that action through a series of conscious decisions. I said to myself, “I deserve these experiences.” I did not say to myself, “I did not mean to cheat.” On the other hand, there were two brief moments when I told myself I would stop cheating.  One was after my first affair with an AP.  The other was after we moved away from a land full of prostitutes.  Each of these two times, I briefly said to myself, “I will stop doing that.”  When I stepped away from the time and place of those particular sins, I got a little bit fuller perspective on the costs. Each time, however, in the months that followed, in the face of my self-pity, I again made a series of conscious and selfish decisions that set me on a path toward cheating.

My failure was due to focusing on the wrong thing.  Porn and sex were symptoms for me. Self-pity was the disease.  Now I have identified it, I understand its dangers, and I focus on overcoming it.

Second, I should identify my vulnerabilities.  What things make me feel self-pity?  It seems like the last time I was drawn in by self-pity I had seen, read, or heard something from a magazine, movie, television show, video, or other people’s conversation that tempted me to compare my pre-marital sexual history to that of other people.  That’s usually, if not always, how it happened.  Someone — be it a real person in my life, or even a person on television — said something that reminded me that I had been unhappy about my pre-marital sex life.

I can’t prevent that from happening.  I can, however, control my reaction to it.  The easiest and most successful strategy I have used in that regard is basically to change the channel in my mind.  Instead of repeating to myself how much I wished my pre-marital sex life had been better,  I can go talk to my wife, kids, or just about anyone about something else, something positive, or at least something unrelated.  That helps.  The last time I remember that I really struggled with this self-pity was a time when I was alone for several hours, not working, not exercising, and not socializing.  Re-directing my thoughts can help with that.

Third, of course I need to eliminate the source of the self-pity:  my previous view that God owed me something.  I need to remind myself that the past is the past, the present could pass me by if I fail to act, and the future can only be better if I make it better.

Fourth, counting my blessings is a reminder that I have a lot to lose by focusing on self-pity.  Now I remember to tell myself, when tempted by self-pity, that I am very lucky to have my wife and kids and that I could lose them by dwelling on self-pity.

Fifth, I need new ways of feeling OK about myself.  Before D-day I struggled to find reasons to feel happy about myself.  I thought maybe I would like myself if I had been more successful sexually as a single man.  That thinking led to disaster.  I thought I might like myself if other people liked or admired me.  That was hit-and-miss and quite subjective.  I thought I might like myself if I got promotions or kudos at work.  That was also hit-and-miss and it led to my wife feeling I chose my work instead of her. I thought I might like myself if I continued to improve my health and fitness.  That does help a little.  But, it seems dangerous to have so many self-esteem eggs in that one basket.

Since D-day, I’ve tried to broaden my ways of finding something good in myself.  I can now also try to like myself for successes — however small — in terms of integrity, self-discovery, doing good deeds for my wife and kids, good ideas about society, insightful observations, and taking care of my family. It does help to have more reasons to like myself.

I’m not sure that any one of these reasons, by itself, would be a healthy place to gamble my entire self-esteem.  But, it’s certainly healthier than having the majority of my self-esteem depend only on my view of my sexual history, my job, my popularity, and fitness, the way it did before D-day.  So now if I start feeling low about myself on account of my pre-marital sexual history, a disappointment at work, or whatever, I can balance that out by recalling something better about myself in other areas such as, for example, integrity, insight, support to family, or other things.

Sixth, I now have permission from my first counselor, Phil, to stop comparing my sexual history to that of others.  He said it was a sick obsession.  I know this requires some explanation.  Before D-day TL had told me that it was sick and wrong for me to compare my sexual history to hers or anyone else’s.  Even if I did, it’s nothing that should have made me feel bad.  I should not have used it as a measure of my self-esteem.  I suspected she was right.  But, another part of me was afraid she was wrong about that.  After all, television, movies, literature, peers, celebrities, and so many other sources said or did things that made me think a man should measure his self-worth by his sexual conquests.

After D-day, we talked with Phil about how I compared my sexual history to TL’s and became mired in jealousy, self-pity, and feelings of inferiority.  Phil quickly and matter-of-factly said, “That’s sick.  That’s a sick obsession.”  To me, that was a watershed moment, an important lesson, and a touchstone I can continue to use.  Phil’s not a genius and I’m not an idiot.  But, somehow, Phil being a credentialed professional and a disinterested third-party gave me great faith in those words when he said them.  I had wanted, for years, to believe those words.  I was grateful to hear them from someone who was male, trained as a counselor, and not personally related to our situation.  The sick obsessions were the focus of my self-pity.  Mastering the sick obsessions was the key to mastering the self-pity.  Being confident that they were just sick obsessions helped, a lot.

Seventh, I’m trying to learn to like myself.  One of the deeper reasons for the sick obsessions and the self-esteem crisis was that I didn’t really like myself in some ways.  Since I was a child I did not like myself.  I liked some things about myself and some things about life.  But, there were a few nagging things I did not like.  I’ve been working on learning to be OK with myself.  That includes focusing on the things I do like, changing the things I can change, and learning new ways to view the things I did not like.  This approach helps me stop comparing myself to others and stop succumbing to jealousy.

A final useful strategy to stop comparing myself to others and thus stop feeling self-pity is to look at where I learned that behavior in the first place.  I learned it from my mother.  She still does those things.  Before D-day and therapy, I didn’t even realize that I had internalized those behaviors that are so frustrating in my mother.  She’s still unhappy, largely due to those behaviors.  Looking at her bad example in that light is a frightening reminder that I can and must reject self-pity.

Virtual workout buddy, anyone?

I joined a gym three weeks ago. . .and. . .have. . .only. . .gone. . .twice. Yes, that is right, I’ve only gone twice. I MUST go, I NEED to go, I WANT to go, but when the moment of that day arrives, I just cannot get myself up and motivated to actually do it. WTF is wrong with me?

Friends, help me here, is any one else encountering this same phenomenon? How do you motivate yourself in the moment? I know if I just go every day for the next three weeks it will be more of a habit. I need to just do it. Both my mind and body will appreciate the healthier lifestyle. Who wants to be my workout buddy out there. Anyone?

We could commit to at least 20 minutes a day of treadmill, walking, jogging, swimming, or whatever works. A minimum of 20, a maximum of whatever you want. But, just show up to exercise for the 20 minutes/day, M-F, and then see how you feel upon reaching that goal. What do you say, anyone in on this with me?

We can call ourselves the WOBS.

Beyond twelve-step programs

I’m not against 12-step programs for addictions or compulsions.  As I’ve said, I wasn’t addicted to sex itself.  I was simply pathologically self-centered and selfish as well as seduced by, even addicted to, self-pity.  I’ve spoken to TL and each of our therapists about 12-step programs.  When I look at it closely, I see that for me at least, there are really more than 12-steps to take toward mental health.

We have reviewed the 12-steps several times. I think it is helpful to evaluate and learn from a variety of sources, incorporating what fits into my program, but also recognizing the elements that may be counter to my overall treatment strategy. For those who have asked about or recommended the 12-step program as the course forward for my situation, I would just like to explain my thinking on the 12-steps and how they fit and don’t fit into my treatment strategy:

One.  We admitted that we were powerless over lust — that our lives had become unmanageable.  Yes, I did that.  I do, however, have some reservations about the word “powerless.”  In my case, I’m working with my wife and my therapist and taking responsibility for the fact that I do have, and did have, power to control my terrible behavior.  I simply chose, selfishly and childishly, to relinquish that power and give myself an excuse to cheat and lie.  I can reform, and I gladly seek and accept help from many sources as I do reform, including from God.

Also, in my case, the word “lust” is not appropriate here.  My view is that all men experience lust to some degree.  Lust was not my problem.  My problem was that I had constructed a sick justification for cheating and lying.  That justification was self-pity and a misplaced sense of injustice about my life.  I blamed God and others for my unhappiness and I gave myself permission to cheat and lie.  Maybe other men have a problem with an addiction to lust.  My problem was deeper than that.

Two.  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  Yes, one of the earliest things that I recognized after d-day is that my motivation for doing such terrible things had required a complete neglect of God. In fact, it wasn’t just a neglect of God, it was an abuse of the idea of God. Instead of being grateful to God for my wife, family, and many gifts, I was angry at God for not giving me more. Now, I spend time daily thanking God for my blessings and trying to treat those blessings and God with respect.

Three.  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  Yes, since D-day I’ve successfully undertaken a complete religious conversion which required months of study and several religious rituals, as well as an ongoing commitment to continue growing and improving in my religious observations and in my life. Focusing on God is something I needed to do, and I now do, to remember the people I love and the consequences of my actions.

Four.  Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  Yes, I did that. I also took and passed a polygraph to confirm, for TL, that this inventory included ALL of the physical manifestations of my moral failings.  Still, as TL and I work on this blog and other things, I find I’m doing this again, aiming for a deeper understanding of myself and my motivations.  This ties into work with our therapist.  In my case it includes using psychoanalytical psychotherapy to try to more fully and precisely identify why I did the terrible things I did. 

Five.  Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  Yes, I do this often, with TL, with therapists, and with other sufferers we reach through social media.

Six.  Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.  Yes.  But, I recall that God helps those who help themselves.  That’s a fact I neglected before D-day, when I was doing wrong, and blaming God for my defects rather than taking responsibility for addressing them.  Now, I am revising my world view to eliminate the original moral and psychological failings that motivated me to sin in the first place.

Seven.  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. Yes, but again I’m remembering I also need to help myself.  With all due reverence to God, I’m now working to help God by developing strategies to prevent myself from doing those terrible things again.  The strategies include transparency with my wife and others; accountability for my time, money, location, communications, interactions, and actions; and reducing or eliminating tempting or uncontrolled environments in my life.

Eight.  Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Yes, my list started with my wife and kids.

Nine.  Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.  Yes, I’m working on that.  Given the extent of the harm I caused TL and my kids, I may be working on that for quite some time.  It’s work that may never be finished.

Ten.  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.  Yes, I work on this every day.

Eleven.  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.  Yes, this is also work that will take a lifetime.

Twelve.  Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to sexaholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. Yes, writing this blog is just one small example of how I’m doing this.  No, I’m not carrying a 12-step message.  My message is that each cheater can find a way to become a good person, if wanting to do so.  There are lots of different ways, and each couple can find the way that works for them.  The hardest part, I think, is for the couple to know that the cheater has truly come clean, is truly trying to reform, and has truly changed their world view.

The thirteenth step seems to be sponsorship and support.  We did have a support group when taking the AffairRecovery class. Due to unique circumstances, I’m looking for that with extreme care.  This blog is one attempt for me to find that support.  TL and I are trying to discover other ways as well.  In the meantime, my wife and my therapist are very supportive, and I am very grateful.

TL: “Everything had to have a reason, a purpose, and a goal.”

The MC I knew would only take calculated risks, certainly he never would do anything life threatening, truly risky, or even spontaneous. If the gas tank would hit 1/4, even in the US, he would frantically rush to find a gas station. It would drive him nuts that I would let the tank ever fall below a 1/4 tank.

Everything had to have a reason, a purpose, and a goal.  Everything had to be tidy, planned, organized and controlled. Free time was time wasted. Our books, music and movies were organized by the Dewey-Decimal system. He ran his life by a to-do list and relaxing was not something that ever made it there. I had to fight tooth and nail to get him to put down that damn to-do list every now and again. When we were first married, we had a hot tub at our apartment complex. I would beg him to go sit in the hot tub with me, with a glass of wine. He would reply, “Why, what is the point in that, it is such a waste of time.” I would eventually talk him into doing that with me and I think he did enjoy it, but it was not a natural state for him to just relax and enjoy something like that together.

I was frugal with our money, but wanted to make our a house a home. Every single purchase was met with “do we really need that, why do we need that?” Only purchases he deemed worthy, were not questioned, and he deemed very little concerning domestic life worthy, to him it was all frivolous.  Why did we need towels that weren’t fraying? Why did we need more than one set of bedsheets? What’s the big deal about holes in casual clothes and undergarments? Why do we need art in our home? What is the big deal about plain walls? Why do our windows need curtains or blinds? If I wanted something, I felt I had to convince him of its worthiness. I felt I had to fight for it. Thinking about it, he never said, “no.” He just made it very clear he did not approve and I often felt too guilty to spend the money on something I wanted with or without his approval, due to my own FOO issues. With his disapproval evident,  and my guilt about spending money already in place, I ended-up not doing things I wanted to do for our home more often than not.

When we moved with our new baby to the “shit hole” I decided I wanted to paint a scene on our baby’s wall. My plan was to draw a scene from Winnie the Pooh and then paint it in. I liked to draw. Mindless was exceptionally discouraging to my plan. Saying it was a pain in the ass and one that I would not be able to complete. He told me I did not have the proper materials to make it work; and if I could find them, procuring the materials would cost too much; I would get discouraged and give-up; and he certainly wasn’t going to help me procure materials, move furniture, set-up for painting or paint the walls back to white when we would move again one day. I chose to not move forward with my idea, Instead choosing and purchasing wall stickers to decorate our baby’s room. It worked well enough. I used to be so self-sufficient, but over the years had allowed myself to be dependent upon his approval and help more and more. I think on some level I feared being individualistic and self-sufficient in any way would bruise his ego. Still, I was mad at myself for giving in and giving up so easily on that one.

After d-day, I had a hard time understanding how he could take such risks. Through so much therapy, time, discussion and work it became clear that his selfishness, his self-pity, his level of entitlement were exceptionally pervasive. He hid it all under a veneer of control, discipline, and ambition. And, then he let it all loose the minute he was able to do so without those in his day-to-day life seeing and knowing. So many things bother me about all of this, but one in particular is that I wanted him to let loose with me. I am sad to know he was capable of doing so and that he just chose not to do so with me.  He is now learning to let go, relax and be more flexible in his real life with me and our kids in a more healthy way. But, yes, there is sadness that he didn’t just do that all along.

TL: “A real shit hole.”

I had a high-risk pregnancy followed by a difficult delivery with our oldest child. I ended up with an infection and a third degree tear. Our baby was born with jaundice and needed to be kept under the bilirubin lights at the hospital. These things are not all that uncommon. Still, I was relieved that we had been sent to a developed country for our baby’s birth. At a month old our baby developed breast-milk jaundice. I had to wake the baby every two hours to feed. I was exclusively breast feeding and was told to continue. Given where we were going next, I so desperately wanted to ensure that the baby was breast-fed to give as much immune protection as possible.

MC’s next job opportunity was in a real dangerous shit hole, but it was “such a great opportunity.” The focus of the job was in the country next to where we would be living, a shit hole in and of itself, but at least not a dangerous one. At first, my impression was that he would have to travel, but perhaps once a month or every three weeks for a couple days. Soon after we arrived, he decided that  he needed to travel every other week for two nights and three days each time.

I had already lived in, what many would describe as, real “shit holes.” But, I never really saw them as that because it was such an amazing adventure. We would travel, explore, and meet new people. This place was different. I was different. I had a 10 week old baby. I was worried about malaria. I was worried about a variety of other diseases prevalent in that society. So, I didn’t travel outside of our little town. I had no friends and no family and my husband was traveling A LOT! Our baby had gotten into the habit of breastfeeding every two hours. I was exhausted. I was miserable, I was depressed. I hated it there!

MC was doing fantastically with his job. He would talk about it all the time, so excited about every detail. One time he came home from his travel and was confident, bold, and assertive with sex. I loved it. I had always wanted him to be like that with me. But, he had NEVER been like that. I asked him why the difference? He didn’t have an answer. Now, I know the answer!

When he was home, we would go to a local club to swim at their pool during daylight hours, avoiding dusk and dawn activities when mosquitos were most active. I spoke a modicum of the local language, but MC was quite good at it and so it was just easier to have him with us to go anywhere. We did have a housekeeper, so I could leave our baby home to go grocery shopping, which was its own little adventure. After a year in country, I met another new mom at the pool. We talked about how lonely we were and how wonderful it would be to start a Mommy and Me group. It started with just the two of us, then three, then five. By the time we left country, we had so many moms and little ones that we decided it was time to splinter into two groups (a baby group and a toddler group).

During this last year, MC had been doing very well in his career. He was tapped for yet another “wonderful opportunity.” We would cut this job short to make the move. He asked my permission. It was such a perfect fit for him, with so much less travel for him, that I said, “yes.” On the one hand, I had finally made a group of friends and was starting to enjoy life where we were. On the other hand, I did not like his travel schedule and was anxious to have him home with us more.

Just to be clear, my use of the term “shit hole” to describe a place says far more about my state of mind at the time, than the actual place. What I have found through the years is that there is beauty and hardship in each place we’ve lived. It is, however, my state mind at the time that determines which I choose to focus upon the most. Hmmm, interesting, that actually applies to more than just physical places too, doesn’t it?

MC: “Types of Shame”

I wrote the following as part of an ongoing discussion elsewhere on this site.  I keep coming back to it.  It seems like it brings out some topics that might merit their own discussion here. . .

I think many of us felt shame, but I suspect it’s worth understanding the different reasons for this shame. I haven’t yet see anyone write about those distinctions. Here’s my thinking.

First, there is the type of shame that starts a man down the path of unhealthy behavior in the first place. In my case, this was shame about not being as successful as I wished to be according to some very archaic, even sick, masculine stereotypes. I felt that shame as a child every time I was awkward athletically. As an older kid, I felt it each time I was awkward with girls or in social settings. Then comes the part I could have prevented. Instead of taking responsibility for those feelings and doing something about them, I told myself I could not control them. That was untrue. I could have practiced more at athletic endeavors. Instead, I chose not to develop resiliency. I chose not to try. I could have chosen not to obsess about awkward social interactions, to let them be water under the bridge, and to learn from them. Instead, I chose to feel sorry for myself and to think God owed me something. So, there’s the first type of shame that seems to play a role here.

Second, when I hid and used porn or saw prostitutes, I felt shame as I did those things. It was a different kind of shame. I was ashamed because I was violating social norms and I was wasting time and money.

Third, I was also ashamed that I was getting sexual satisfaction in a manner that detracted from my masculine (according to the aforementioned archaic, sick definition of masculine) confidence rather than contributed to it.

Fourth, when I committed affairs, I did not feel shame at the time. I choose those as a sick means of trying to satisfy my insatiable desire for sex, self-validation, and empty flattery. I only felt shame about those experiences after I was forced to confront the pain they caused TL and the fact that I did those things for very unhealthy reasons.

TL asked why I was ashamed on account of societal norms with regard to porn and prostitution but not with regard to affairs. The answer says something even more disappointing about my previous, sick and wrong way of thinking. I actually thought affairs were less threatening to my pride than porn and prostitution were. In fact, my concern about societal norms was tied to my view of what was more masculine — not to some view of what was more moral. Maybe most people see societal norms as important because they indicate morality. I did not see it that way. Societal norms were important to me only for purely self-centered, Machiavellian reasons. They were a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves. That has all changed for me now, but only through therapy, religious study, and lots of ongoing hard work.

I’d be curious to hear from other unfaithful spouses about the different types of shame they experienced.

 MC: “Escape into fantasy.”

We moved again, and I entered another dark chapter.  It wasn’t all bad.  TL and I helped each other through more new experiences, including parenthood.  But, I did some awful things.  TL experienced some physical injuries during the birth.  It was therefore painful and inadvisable for us to have sex for a while.  I quietly started to feel sorry for myself, more than usual, obsessing on wanting more sex and attention.

This, by itself, would have been manageable.  This alone might not have led me astray again.  Another risk factor complicated things:  easily available women, women I should have avoided.  Mind you, now, as I work on reconciling, I am overcoming my self-pity.  Now, though I try to avoid available women just to be safe, I can be around them now without transgressing. Among other things, I have developed healthy habits in this regard such as recognizing such women early; telling TL about them immediately; and, if I must interact, talking in a way that makes it clear that I am not available or interested.

I was traveling a lot for work.  Every couple weeks I spent one or two nights in a city that was crawling with relatively inexpensive prostitutes and zero law enforcement.  I was introduced to this fact quite by accident.  Usually I traveled there alone.  On that fateful night a married co-worker accompanied me.  Usually I ate in my hotel and read myself to sleep.  On that fateful night the co-worker suggested we go out to eat.

TL has asked me to reconstruct this conversation again and again.  I think it went something like this.  During dinner, he was bragging about his sexual history, claiming to have slept with over 300 women. Two prostitutes were watching us as we ate. As we left the restaurant, they offered us their services.  The girls were selling themselves hard.  I did not say “yes.”  I also did not say “no.”  I looked at my colleague to try to figure out what he was thinking.  He said, “Are we really going to do this?”  I said, “I guess so.”

During the eighteen months or so that followed, I saw that prostitute at least half a dozen times.  There was another prostitute I saw half a dozen times or so.  There were at least a dozen other prostitutes, each of whom I saw anywhere from once to four times or so.  There was one waitress who once agreed to come to my room and have sex, free of charge.

In addition to the betrayals, and other deeply hurtful aspects of this, a few points make these experiences particularly painful for TL and shameful for me.  One is the health risk.  Many times I did not use protection.  How often did I use protection and how often did I not?  Who knows.  I didn’t bother to keep track.  I think at least ninety percent of the times the woman insisted on condoms.  There were a few occasions when she did not.  I took advantage of those times.  Why did I do that?  I thought it felt better without protection.

What about the very serious risk of very serious diseases?  In the heat of the moment, I told myself not to worry about that.  I told myself, “No, it’s OK.  Hurry and get what selfish pleasure you can out of life before God takes it away.  You won’t get another chance at total, one-hundred percent self-indulgence, so milk it for all it’s worth.”  The next morning, and for days and years afterward, I would look back on those self-indulgent risks and worry terribly about the consequences.  I could get a disease.  TL could get a disease.  She could transmit it to our child.  My actions could have lead to the death of my wife and child.

I remember, at times, I prayed that God would save us from the diseases.  I did not pray for God to help me stop because part of me did not want to stop. TL now wonders whether I wanted to kill her and our child through disease.  I did not, no more than I wanted to kill myself.  I did not want to kill myself.  In those moments of extreme risk-taking I had reached the pinnacle of selfishness, focused so tightly on self-pity and my “deserving” of immediate gratification that my thoughts blotted out all other thoughts that would have considered the future, other people, or consequences.

I had spent over thirty years thinking about the past, the future, other people, and consequences of almost every aspect of life and the world.  So, I gave myself permission to escape into the fantasy that there was no future, no other people, and no consequences.  In those moments of illicit unprotected sex, I told myself that I was the only thing that existed in the universe, that moment was the only moment that existed in time, and the rest of space and time were simply inconsequential imaginings.  What was I trying to escape?  Myself.  I was trying to escape my feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, and insecurity.  I was flying directly toward self-pity, like a moth to a flame.

Was it stupid?  Yes.  Was it mentally ill?  Maybe.  Was it self-centered?  Obviously.  Was it wrong?  Of course. Thinking that way could have opened the door to all kinds of asocial, autistic behaviors.  You’d have to think that way to commit murder or other atrocities, right?  You’d have to think that way to commit suicide, including through substance abuse, right?  You’d have to think that way to totally abandon, temporarily or otherwise, parents, spouses, children, family, religion, ethnicity, partisanship, professionalism, compassion, humanity, and other values.

It was not beyond my control.  I chose it.  But, at the same time, the effects were similar to temporary insanity.  Does that make me not guilty?  No, I was guilty.  I had free will.  I actively chose to relinquish it for brief moments to indulge myself.  Does that mean my personal values were corrupt and insane?  Yes.  That’s why part of my journey in reconciliation is a reexamination of and daily reconsecration to my values.

TL: “I just wanted to chuck the entire past.”

We move a lot for MC’s job, less once the kids were in school, but before kids and school came a long, quite a bit. I loved the new adventures. I loved that time with MC. We worked together so well, when we did work together. We explored so many new places, new cultures, new environments. That first five years after leaving the US were beautiful in many ways.

I think admitting to having joy in my life pre d-day with MC has been hard for me to do, as I just wanted to chuck the entire past into a heap of “it really wasn’t all that great ever.” The truth is there were some beautiful times. MC was receiving a lot of good attention from his superiors and I do think that provided some source of validation that was a positive influence for him and in our lives.

We had our difficulties too. I was dealing with my own sense of ego loss when I left my career to join MC overseas. I really wasn’t all that fond of my career, but it had been a part of my identity for several years and with that now gone, I was grasping to find my place. With work options very limited, with household help being overly available and affordable, with MC and I feeling more settled in our life together as a couple, we decided it was time to have children. This turned into another difficulty, eventually requiring the aid of fertility treatments to successfully conceive and maintain a pregnancy.

We were  both excited and worried about our baby. Many emergency trips to the hospital thinking we had lost the baby, only to find a strong heart beat on the ultrasound screen. MC was by my side for the pregnancy as much as his job would allow. MC’s company sent us temporarily to safer environs during my 2nd trimester until it was safe for our baby to travel to a new job. We were alone. Though relieved to be someplace with more trustworthy and capable medical care and facilities, I found myself feeling sad that I did not get to share the pregnancy experience with my family or friends. I didn’t have a baby shower and it was just me and Mindless for the birth of our baby. As a first time Mom, I was so scared. But, we had our dogs, we had our baby, we had each other, and I thought we can do this, together.

MC: “Her memories are now tainted.”

Forgive me for going backward for a moment. There is one more incident that shames me about AP1.  One day TL and I went to my company picnic.  I genuinely went there with TL with no ulterior motives and no thought of AP1.  I suppose I was hoping TL and AP1 would not meet.  Just as TL and I were leaving the event, we ran into AP1 and I introduced them.  It was brief and uneventful.  TL says I went out of my way to introduce them.  I don’t remember it that way.  I thought I introduced them out of fear that it would seem suspicious to TL if I had not introduced them.

A few days later, AP1 told me she felt a bit odd watching TL and I drive away.  She said she wished it were her instead of TL.  I really don’t remember my reply.  But, it wouldn’t surprise me if my reply was some lie that was manipulative toward AP1 and back-stabbing toward TL.  It’s very sad that my history with TL is scattered with little moments like this when I did not put TL first in my life.

Back to our story, I never communicated with AP1 again after that e-mail.  Meanwhile, in the other life I was leading, I saw my relationship with TL improving.  TL and I happily prepared for our big career change and upcoming move.  It was a fun adventure we began together.  We put a lot of energy into planning, hoping, preparing, and wondering about the near-term future.  It was difficult but fun.  I remember it with fondness.

TL’s memories of it are now tainted with doubt.  She asks me now whether I had been wishing I was making that move with AP1 instead of with TL.  I was not.  AP1 was supposed to make me feel more masculine confidence and satisfaction.  She was not supposed to replace my life partner.

TL and I wrote and spoke as much as we could during our work-imposed separation.  That was before Skype existed.  I was so happy to talk to her and think of her.  I was proud of how she continued to do well with career, friendships, and other things while she was alone.  I hoped and prayed that we would be together again soon.  After a few months she was able to join me.  I was so happy and excited to be with TL again.  The absence was starting to make me appreciate her — not as much as it should have for a mentally and morally healthy man, but more than ever before in my life.  I remember telling myself that the next time I encountered my sick obsessions (jealousies and insecurities) I should remember how much I had missed TL and just be thankful to be with her.

We were there about two years.  I still had some trouble with porn and masturbation during that time, occasionally getting up in the middle of the night to abuse those habits while TL slept.  That problem was not as significant as it had been, but it was still present.  I rarely, if ever, bothered TL with my sick obsessions during that time.  I thought I was learning to control them.  In retrospect, it seems maybe I would not be able to truly control them — only suppress them — until I confronted them head on, recognized them as wrong, and took responsibility to eliminate them.  Instead of executing them, it seems I just sentenced them to life in a minimum security prison.

TL and I had a wonderful time exploring our new environment, seeing new things, making new friends, and learning new things together.  I never would have wanted those beautiful experiences with anyone else nor alone.  We took in a pet dog.  We played card games on the deck of our home, against the most spectacular scenery.  We struggled together with the insanity of my birth family and the equal but different insanity or her birth family.  We were a good couple.  I really thought so.

We did talk a little bit about wanting to increase spontaneity, newness, and romanticism in our marriage. I was still too clueless about how to create and sustain those things with TL.  We even started working on an activity book to help us with that.  The book was a good way for me to start creating better habits.

In the next three year period we moved three times for my job.  Our work on the book fell to the wayside.  TL and I worked together on and off during that period.  Though chaotic, it was really a wonderful time in our marriage.  I secretly continued my struggle with porn and masturbation, but I did not bother TL with my sick obsessions. We enjoyed new environments and adventures together again.  We helped each other through some tough times in a bad neighborhood.  We enjoyed traveling, spending time with friends, watching shows, and just being together.  We adopted another dog, bringing lots more adventures together.  We talked more seriously than ever before about becoming parents.  We worked together, lovingly, through fertility treatment.  It was a difficult pregnancy, but I was there for TL, every step of the way. During the last half of her pregnancy, TL and I worked together until a month before our oldest child was born.  It was one of the best moments of my life.  I was so proud of TL and our child.

MC: “What is love?”

Did I love TL?  Did I love any of the APs?  TL reminded me of a time before D-day when she had asked me whether I loved her and I had asked, “What is love anyway?”  Today, I learned something more about that.  I was so impressed after D-day when I learned from Rick Reynolds what love really is. It is a choice, to put the other person first — a choice to love them.  You don’t fall into it, nor do you fall out of it.

But, today I understand the corollary.  I understand that I didn’t love TL before D-day.  I had a connection to her.  I was extremely infatuated, intrigued, and aroused by her.  I wanted to possess her.  I was proud of her, attracted to her, and impressed by her. I wanted her and needed her.  I wanted her to take care of me.  On the whole, and despite my demands, anger, selfishness, and childishness, I had a positive view of her that I never had for anyone else.

I wanted her to meet my needs.  But, by the true definition of love, I had never loved anyone in my life.  I did not love TL before D-day.  And, I did not ever love any AP or other person.

Then, there’s a really sick thing I did with love.  I told AP3 I loved her.  As I wrote that to AP3, I knew it was not true.  After D-day, TL asked me whether I had loved AP3.  At first, I confessed, I was still confused about what love is and whether I had loved AP3.  Later, when I learned what love is, it was clear to me I had not loved AP3.  I don’t recall telling AP1 or AP2 I loved them.  Maybe I did say that.  I don’t know.

What’s worse is that by my old, warped, wrong definition of love, I did love the APs and did not love TL.  My old definition of love was:  this person meets my needs.  So, by that definition, at the time I told myself, “This AP gives me sex and flattery.  She meets my needs.  TL does not give me the one-sided, male-serving sex I want nor the exaggerated, mental-masturbatory flattery I want.”  Never mind that TL gave me real love, care, loyalty, attention, friendship, financial and career partnership and stewardship, family, beautiful experiences, devotion, and countless other precious things.  I was so sick, that I saw sex and flattery out of perspective from all those other precious aspects of life and relationships.  By that sick definition of love, I loved the APs and not my wife.

But, that’s not love.  That was an incorrect definition of love.  Soon enough there came a point when each AP could not meet my needs. I needed them to give me sex without reminders of my jealousies, insecurities, and feelings of inadequacy.  I knew that with AP1, those feelings would come after me if I put any real emotional capital into a relationship with her.  Those feelings followed me.  They emanated from me.  I invested emotional capital into TL, and my sick obsessions haunted me.  I treated APs like sexual cattle and the sick obsessions didn’t bother me at all with them.

I thank God for D-day and the opportunity to get my head on straight.  I understand now that I had not loved TL, APs, nor anyone before, and that I can love TL and only TL now.  I understand that my sick old definition had me thinking I loved APs before and not TL.  And, I understand that prior to D-day, regardless of love, I did have special feelings for TL that — however incomplete and imperfect my feelings — were unique and reserved only for TL.

Read “Romanticism:  Don’t believe the lie,” by Rick Reynolds.  And, no, we don’t have a financial relationship with his Affair Recovery business nor do we advertise for him.  We did take his class and I continue to read a lot of his work because I find it very helpful.  Maybe it will help you.  Maybe you’ll find other sources that help you more.

After you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your reactions.

MC: “Stop punishing her.”

Another shameful moment is when AP1 took time off work to accompany me on a business trip. She stayed in my hotel room. I avoided the telephone, fearing it was TL calling and that I would not be able to keep my two worlds from violently colliding. At one point during that sex-oriented night, I said to AP1, “I’m so happy.” TL still looks like I’ve just kicked her in the gut when she thinks of that story. Why was I happy? Was I happier with AP1 than with TL? No. It was not TL’s job to make me happy. It wasn’t even AP1’s job to make me happy. I had made myself happy by doing something cruel and illicit.

I was happy because I was having sex without the accompanying thoughts of fear and inadequacy I often had. I was happy I could treat AP1 like nothing more than a piece of meat. I was happy I could be sexually assertive with her, with no worry that she would decline on account of fatigue, emotional struggles, fear, or other issues. I regret so terribly that I acknowledged to AP1 a happiness that was based on selfishness, shallowness, and lies. I am truly happy with TL — without selfishness, shallowness, and lies — now that I am taking responsibility for my own happiness.

I know this incident is a terrible blow to TL. I wish to God I could undo it. As much as TL is hurt by the story itself, I know she is also hurt by the worry that AP1 still may think she made me happy and TL did not. That assumption, couldn’t be more wrong. When I look back on that night with AP1, I see nothing happy about it. It was pure evil, caused by me. Happiness is the hope that it’s not too late for me to be a good husband for TL.

The affair ended in three acts, each time with me trying to milk it for further sex and flattery. One day near the end of my time on that job, AP1 and I talked after lunch. She asked something like where was our relationship going. Seeing no use in lying about the well-known fact that I would be at a new job in a week or so, I said truthfully that I did not plan to leave my wife. I said I did love TL, and that on the whole our marriage was quite good. I confessed that the difficulties between TL and me were due to my jealousies. I did not elaborate. AP1 thought for a moment and then said, “Stop punishing her.” I paused, trying to comprehend. To this day, I don’t know for certain what AP1 hoped to achieve by saying that. I went silent and we went our separate ways.

A few weeks later, AP1 and I talked on the phone. I don’t remember the call nor who called whom. But, it must have happened because we agreed to meet. I was home for a long lunch break or something. TL was hard at work. AP1 came to our apartment. I saw it as a chance for quick, illicit sex. When I started to approach AP1 physically, trying to kiss her, she backed away. She said something like, “No, this is all wrong.” I still don’t know — and never cared — what she had expected nor what she meant by that. She left, deliberately but not quickly. She did not run. I followed her to her car. Neither of us knew what to say. When she drove off, she started to hurry. She backed out of the parking lot too quickly and broke a rear view mirror on a pillar. That was the last time I saw her.

The final act was a few months later. I was alone, in a new city. I e-mailed AP1. I had been there without TL for several days or weeks for purely logistical reasons related to my job. I e-mailed AP1 with a rather nonchalant tone like, “What up? I’m having an interesting time. What’s new with you?” I think I was hoping she would write back with some protestations of love or flattery. She did not. She wrote back with an equally casual but distant missive such as, “Oh, your new job sounds so interesting.” There was nothing really personal or intimate in the message. Contrary to what I had wanted, there was certainly nothing stimulating or pornographic. I found it quite unsatisfying, and I never communicated with her again.

I don’t know what AP1 thinks of me now. I don’t care. I certainly don’t think of her. But, I know these questions haunt TL like a spectre.

TL: “Now it is all so crystal clear.”

I have a tough time over this friendship and its status. Mindless would like to just cut the friend and his wife from our life forever, never to have to face them again. Yet, all the while I didn’t know, MC appeared to not be ashamed.

Mindless tells me after the phone call to his friend, he felt ashamed. At that time, not with what he was doing with AP1, but that he called his friend thinking he would be all “high fives” and the friend was not. A few months later we traveled and stayed with this friend. The friend had divorced his first wife a year before because she decided she married too young and didn’t love him anymore. He introduced us to the woman he was dating, who would become his wife.

When we went to a restaurant, I went off to the restroom alone. Mindless tells me the couple shared their disapproval, stating something like “I cannot believe you can just act like nothing happened.” I remember a conversation later that trip, now it is all so crystal clear to me. The friend posed a hypothetical. “If one partner cheats on the other, should they tell?” His answer was “no, I think they should have to live with the guilt for the rest of their lives and not hurt their spouse by telling.” I replied that I wasn’t sure, I think I would want to know, but the pain would be immense. He never told me, neither did his girlfriend/wife.

I know some hate friends who kept secrets like this. I don’t hate them, in fact I know that they were put in a very precarious situation. Still, I do wish they had told Mindless, “either you tell her or we will.” I’m sure they had convinced themselves that Mindless learned his lesson and no good would come from telling me. They had no way of knowing just how wrong that would be. They saw us through so many things. The friend was there for me in many ways through the years. In fact he was the executor of our estate and we named them guardians of our children in our will. That has since changed. But, I have not asked for them to be cut out of our lives. I am humiliated. They know I know now. That helps some, though it is clear they don’t want to talk about that elephant in the room. We rarely see them, it is really just a friendship through social media now. I’m not sure where to go with it or what to do. Any way you cut it, it is sad.

MC: “Bragging about sex.”

I conducted that first affair, against the backdrop of an otherwise happy marriage with TL.  It wasn’t perfectly happy.  I still had my sick obsessions, jealousies, and insecurities.  TL asked me to see a therapist.  I tried it, a couple times.  But, I gave up, not having spent enough time with the therapist to identify the sick obsessions as the root of my problems.  I simply stopped talking to TL about my sick obsessions, hoping that they would subside if I ignored them.

This only hid my real vulnerabilities from TL and from me.  Most of the time I went about thinking I was gradually becoming more content.  But, when I was alone and unaccountable, I sought illicit means of self-medicating my feelings of inadequacy and self-pity.  I remember beautiful weekends of long drives or walks with TL and quality time together.  Then, at work, I turned around and undermined those positive memories by selfishly seeking an illicit sexual outlet.

And, yes, I was a hypocrite in other related ways.  I was taking advantage of both worlds, illicit sex and holy matrimony, at the same time.  But, I would be extremely jealous if I thought some other man was giving TL too much attention.  There’s nothing defensible about that. It’s despicable and hypocritical.  I think the cheating and possessiveness actually came from the same source.  They were two sides of the same coin.  The source was my insecurities, my low self-esteem.  It made me over sensitive to competition.  It also was the way I rationalized my cheating.

Then I did something that makes me want to hide every time I think of it.  I called a guy friend and bragged to him about my affair.  I called him and said I was torn between my life with TL and my affair.  I said AP1 was attractive and gave me plenty of sex.  I said TL was less interested in giving me sex.  I left out the part about TL being discouraged regarding sex with me because of my insecurities, hounding her about the past, and unwillingness to be satisfied by anything she did.  I did mention that I loved TL and was grateful for her care and friendship.

The friend may have thought I was trying to decide whether to leave my wife.  TL interpreted this story that way too, when I told her.  The more I remember it, the more I understand that I never wanted to leave TL.  I never doubted I would continue with her and part ways with AP1 as soon as I moved to my new job.  This conversation with my friend was boasting.  Spurred by my sick insecurities, I wanted to hear myself tell someone else that I was getting sex from another woman.  It wasn’t enough to put a notch in my belt.  I had to show someone.  Otherwise, it would be a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it.

The result of that conversation with my friend was a ruined circle of relationships.  TL thinks I was actually trying to weigh her value to me versus that of the affair.  She is humiliated that I shared my illicit back-stabbing with that friend.  And, I am ashamed to ever see that friend again. His very existence is a reminder of the cruelty I inflicted on TL, the cruelty I wish I could erase.  All this came from my sick desire to boost my ego by bragging about sex, like a teenager.  I was twenty-eight when I behaved that way.

MC: “I never counted my blessings.”

By now you’re probably wondering why I was married to TL at all if I was so self-centered.  Why didn’t I just stay single or get divorced so I could spend all my time with porn, cybersex, and easy women.  Did I love TL?  On one hand, I didn’t know the meaning of the word “love” until I learned it from Rick Reynolds after D-day.  I didn’t know that loving TL was an active, conscious choice I had to make.  On the other hand, even with my warped and limited understanding of the word “love,” I have always loved TL, more than I’ve ever loved anyone except myself.

But, it wasn’t the kind of unconditional love I have for animals or for my own children. It was conditional on TL making me feel good, physically and emotionally.  Given my deep emotional problems, no one could make me feel good emotionally — not until I finally learned to take responsibility for that myself.

But, yes, though I was jealous, insecure, and demanding toward TL, I did feel she was the only woman I wanted as a wife, friend, and partner.  Yes, it’s contradictory and hypocritical.  That’s the point.  My behavior and my world view were contradictory and hypocritical.  Please know that I know and regret that fact.

For example, I was always very proud of how beautiful TL was and is.  Between my self-centeredness and my frequent scheming to cheat, I did not express that often in a healthy way.  But, TL has always been an object of pride and desire for me.  I was always grateful for her kindness and thoughtfulness.  Of course, I totally failed to learn from her example.  And, I never counted my blessings.  I never truly appreciated what I had in her.  I also fell for and stayed with TL because her intelligence was impressive, attractive, engaging, and satisfying.

The only thing wrong with TL — the only thing not perfect about her — was her nagging lack of a magic wand that could instantly give me self-esteem, change the realities of her past and mine, and fill the bottomless pit of my desire for sexual gratification and flattery.

We did have good times together.  I remember them fondly.  We moved in together after marriage.  I was so happy about that.  She got a new job.  I was so proud of her.  I was always proud of her successes.  She unearthed and solved a serious problem at her job.  That too filled me with pride and happiness for her.  She taught me new activities that I learned to enjoy, things like sipping wine and soaking in the hot tub, reading tarot cards as a jungian tool and even just a fun game, or even just playing card games together.  I enjoyed her friendship.  I enjoyed being near her.  I could never imagine being away from her.

Her employer took us on a small cruise once.  Another time we went to a company brunch together. I was so happy and satisfied to be part of her world and to have her as part of mine.  Later, she found a job closer to mine, in the same industry.  Again, I was very, very proud of my wife’s success at finding the job.  We commuted together.  We saw each other at times throughout the day, or at least spoke by phone during the day.  Each night we would share the tales of our days together.  I felt so close to her, and so happy in those moments.

My company went through changes, and TL and I decided the most logical next step was for us to move and for me to get a graduate degree.  The move was not without challenges, but I felt very close to TL as we took on a new adventure together.  Yes, by this time I already had a sorry history of illicit behavior.  But, even I tried to ignore that fact.  I showed TL too many moments of melancholy and self-pity.  But, when I was able to break free from those negative feelings, I was present with TL.  I remember fondly our dinners together, our incremental efforts to make our home a nice place to live, and my desire to spend time with her. Yes, by this time, there were already too many moments when I was in fact not desiring to spend time with TL. Rather, I was spending too much time on self-centered pursuits. However, contradictory thought it may be, I also had plenty of moments when I really did want to spend time with TL.

She got a good job in our new city.  Again, I was impressed.  And, I owe her the world for being our financial, as well as emotional, pillar during that period.  But, her commute was long.  She found us a newer, better, closer place to live.  She always found our homes.  She has always taken care of us so well.

In the new place we enjoyed a wonderful choice of restaurants, establishments, and long walks together.  We made some friends together, hosted little parties, and occasionally went out.  We took country drives together in our convertible, exploring new places.  We took turns introducing each other to shows and movies.  I, of course, took more than my fair share of turns.  Even as I slipped deeper into my double-life and even my affair, my time with TL was still the most important time to me.

Yes, I didn’t appreciate it.  Too often I pouted or complained about wanting more.  I missed a million opportunities to appreciate TL and to show her my appreciation.

TL: “Weaving together the life I knew with the life that truly existed.”

Oh my goodness, sometimes this is so very hard. We have talked about these details before. And, I have found it so helpful to use this blog to weave together his memories of what was happening in his thoughts and his version of our life with what I thought was our life together. Still, the pain of rehashing is sometimes overwhelming. His latest post about AP1 was very hard to read. There was nothing new, but I had to fight going down that rabbit hole. I was there for a couple hours last night, but I did escape before it completely overtook me like it used to do. Is this a healthy thing to do? In the moment, sometimes I doubt it. But, then a few days out, when I start seeing how the whole picture is weaving together into a truer narrative and understanding of my life, of our life, I do find that helpful.

TL: “Living with blinders on.”

Had Mindless not told me on ultimate d-day, I would never have known about his chat room hook-ups. I was aware of his porn use, though only to an exceptionally limited degree. The limited amount to which I was aware, I chalked up to typical male interest in porn. I did not think of it as a gateway drug and had no idea that it had gone to the level of excessive viewing, masturbation to porn, chat rooms and chat room hook-ups. I thought most of his non-school, computer time was being spent playing Civilization. He loved that game. When my work hours weren’t busy, we did it together. When they were he did it on his own, or at least that is what I thought he was doing.

During my busy season, I was working around 70 hours a week to support us while he attended graduate school full-time. We had decided it best for him to not take a paid job, so he could focus on school and get it done sooner than later. Also, this would allow him to assist a professor with a research paper and do an internship within his field of study. He did finish his degree within 18 months, graduating with a near perfect GPA. I thought he was working toward our mutual goals with little time for anything but a little down time playing Civ now and again, spending time with me and his compulsive need to keep everything tidy and in its place.

Within two weeks of finishing his schooling, he had a job. It was in the same field as before he got his degree. A job for which his degree was meaningless. “We” just spent $600/credit hour for him to get this graduate degree. He assured me the job was temporary, to have something paid while he explored more relevant options. It made enough sense. Soon, he was traveling about twice/month. Sometimes, a female co-worker from another department was assigned to go with him on these trips. The company provided membership to a local gym for its employees. So, he would go to this gym each day after work. Soon a “friendship” developed between his co-worker and himself. They were traveling together about once/month, going to the same gym at the same time and often ate lunch together as well. I was not pleased by this at all. He assured me they were “just friends,” I was “overreacting.”

I questioned him about what he would talk about with his co-worker. He would tell me it was all superficial, she wasn’t even attractive, they just spoke about work and exercise. She wanted his help figuring out how to make the most of her exercise routine. They had to sometimes travel together for work. Sometimes they would just grab a quick lunch at the same time, together. I believed  he couldn’t lie to me, that he was incapable of lying to me. I believed I meant something to him. I believed that all of my hard work and sacrifices to put him through graduate school meant something to him. We were working toward our goals together. We were working toward making a bright future together. I was living with blinders on.

Our apartment had just redone the entire gym facility, it was beautiful, it was state of the art. I asked him to stop going to the company gym and come join me at home for workouts instead. He refused, explaining he had his workout routine figured out perfectly and did not want to disrupt his routine. This did not raise a huge red flag to me because I knew Mindless was very routine oriented, very disciplined, organized and methodical about his life. This was the man who arranged our books by the dewey-decimal system for goodness sakes. Still, I was feeling lonely and homesick since he had started this job and was disappointed that his routine appeared to be more important to him than I did.

I did start telling him, if he was going to be doing the same type of job as he did back home, we should just go home OR he should get a job in his field of study. He agreed. We started working to make either of those occur when he was offered an overseas job that was a perfect fit with his graduate studies. HIs last day at his current job would be three months from when the overseas job was accepted. I was elated and so proud of him. I was telling all my co-workers about his new job and how excited we were and how proud of him I was. All the while, it turns out, he rarely spoke of me to anyone. They knew he was married, but expressing pride in me, in us, expressing love for our life together was just not something he ever did.

MC: “Emotional affairs and other sick lies.”

The story of my first affair is a reminder that no straight married person needs a straight friend of the opposite gender. Friendly acquaintances are normal. Friends that pre-dated the marriage and maintain occasional contact may be normal. But, during the marriage, developing a new friendship with someone of the opposite gender and devoting significant, consistent time and energy to that new relationship without your spouse’s involvement is a red flag. Even if it turns out to be just an emotional affair, it’s still giving something meant for your spouse to someone else. In my case, it wasn’t an emotional affair. I even tried to disguise it as an emotional affair, in last-ditch efforts to hide my cheating. But, all along, it was just an elaborate attempt to physically cheat, to get illicit sex.

How did it start? As I said, I began this so-called friendship with AP1, going to lunch with her and working out with her at the company provided gym, with the goal of turning it into a physical affair. One night during a work trip, I told AP1 I would be taking a new job elsewhere. She and I sat in silence a moment. She said something like, “Why do I feel so sad that you are leaving?” I saw my opportunity. I responded with, “I think it’s because in a different reality we could have been more than just friends.” We both went silent. I went to my hotel room. A few minutes later AP1 knocked on my door. I don’t remember what either of us said, but we hugged each other. I tried to convert the situation into sex right away, with kissing. She said, “No, I can’t do this.” We did not have sex that night.

The first time we actually had sex was a few days later. We skipped going to the gym and went to her apartment instead. I don’t recall what either of us said. But, we started our sexual affair. There was nothing remarkable about that sexual encounter or any of the small handful of other encounters with her that followed.

One day after a lunch date, for no apparent reason, AP1 asked me whether I still had sex with TL. I decided to make it sound like I regretted that I still had sex with TL. In fact, I was and always had been, a big fan of sex with TL. But, I thought if AP1 saw that part of me she might say to herself, “Hey, this guy is just using me.” I was just using AP1, for sex and for self-validation. So, I lied. I said sheepishly, “Well, sometimes I have command performances.” AP1 quietly took that thought onboard.

A short time later, AP1 confronted me with another question on that topic. It was a Monday. I had just come from a really nice weekend with TL. And, to my great pleasure, TL and I had sex that weekend. I know I seemed a bit quiet, distanced, and detached from AP1 that Monday. AP1 hesitatingly inquired, “Did you have one of your command performances this weekend?” Fearing that AP1 would see how I was using her, I continued my duplicitous act. “Yes,” I said, with a tone of regret and admission. “I thought so,” AP1 replied.

I’ll never be able to undo this shameful act. It makes me sick to think of it. Not only did I cheat on my wife, I also made the AP think she meant more to me than TL did. It wasn’t true. Even during such lowly lying and cheating, TL still meant far more to me than the AP did. But, I stabbed TL in the back with the most shameful lie, just to manipulate AP1 into continuing to give me sex.

Did I think about TL during this affair? Yes. My thoughts were self-centered and sick, full of stupid excuses for my hurtful behavior. But, I did think of TL. I practiced living a double-life. I went from full immersion in an illicit affair to playing like nothing was wrong while hanging out with my wife, all in the space of a few hours. I was being two different people. I was the very definition of lack of integrity.

Did I talk to AP1 about TL? Of course not. The last thing I wanted to do was remind AP1 that she was participating in a dead-end, false, temporary, and dishonest relationship. I went out of my way to make AP1 forget that TL even existed. I never spoke of TL to AP1, at all. It would have run counter to my strategy of manipulating AP1.

MC: “Compulsion versus addiction.”

In my last post, I talked about porn, cybersex, and masturbation.  I don’t know that everyone who engages in these activities is necessarily on a path toward infidelity.  But, they are big red flags.  I see them as entry-level drugs.  First, even though something like masturbation seems like a solo activity, it’s not.  It includes mental or pictorial images of someone who is not your spouse.  If you do masturbate to images of your spouse, maybe that’s different, as long as she knows about it.  Either way, unless there is full discussion and mutual agreement between you and your spouse about these activities, they are probably something you are hiding from your spouse.

If the first problem is looking outside your spouse for stimulation without mutual agreement, the second problem is keeping a secret from your spouse.  The third problem is that these activities, especially if hidden from your spouse, desensitize you to sex.  You start to need harder and more bizarre porn to be aroused.  You then start to lose your inhibitions about cybersex.  Finally, you lose your inhibitions about real-life cheating.  It is a slippery slope.  Very few people try a drug with the goal of becoming addicted.

I’m not convinced that addiction is the right term for my compulsive approach to porn, masturbation, cybersex, and then cheating.  But, it’s difficult to find another word in our language that captures the way I view those behaviors.  I suppose one difference between my sex compulsion and an actual addiction is that you often can’t quit something cold-turkey if it’s an addiction.  I did quit all these things cold-turkey.  I did not experience physical, mental, or emotional withdrawals when I quit.  On the contrary, I was very happy to have been liberated from the cycle of compulsion.

What liberated me?  One thing was the reality of consequences on D-day.  I was exposed.  My marriage almost ended.  TL and I talked about it every day since.  I could no longer hide.  And, I no longer wanted to hide.  I was forced to choose between fantasy and reality, and I chose reality.  I suspect an addict can’t just implement that kind of choice without clinical intervention.  I was able to implement my choice, by myself.  I do see a therapist to help me understand, learn new coping mechanisms, and address the root causes of my unhealthy choices. Before D-day, I had difficulty making healthy choices.  I was torn between my self-pity and fantasy, on one hand, and courage and reality, on the other hand.  D-day made it clear that the consequences of self-pity and fantasy were real and far outweighed the benefits.

To continue with my story, the compulsion led me to further shame.  There was another woman I met in a chat room.  Let’s call her CR2.  The story was similar.  She met me at our apartment one morning when my wife was at work and I was supposed to be studying.  CR2 and I quickly got into bed, the bed I share with TL.  I was nervous about getting caught, and therefore hurried. There was no foreplay.  CR2 was also unappealing.  This combination of factors resulted in erectile dysfunction again.  I quickly and politely kicked her out, upset with my inability to perform and equally upset with my compulsive desire to try.

It got worse.  The chat room environment desensitized me to a point of having cybersex with men too.  I invited one man to our apartment for a real-life liaison.  When he arrived, I was immediately turned off by the idea.  I apologized for wasting his time and got rid of him.  The compulsion was serious.  The definition of insanity, I’ve heard, is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.  I was, in that way, insane.  I invited another man to our apartment.  He tried oral sex on me.  I was really turned off, afraid, and ashamed.  I politely put a stop to it. Thankfully, soon after, I got a job and no longer had such periods of unaccountable time to play with chat rooms.  The porn and masturbation were reduced too, but they continued.

Then came my first affair with AP1.  She was a co-worker who was occasionally assigned to travel with me.  The relationship quickly relaxed from professional to friendly.  I knew in the back of my head that I would take it to sexual level if I had the opportunity.  Sex is all I wanted from that relationship.  But, I disguised it as actual friendship.  We went to lunch together, alone and way too often.  We worked out together.  All this was my superficial strategy of spending time with her to look for an opportunity for sex.

I had worked there a year by the time we converted the relationship into a physical affair.  The physical affair lasted two and a half months.  The so-called emotional affair that preceded it lasted three months. I use the term “so-called” because I did not really invest any emotional capital into the relationship.  It fact, I had rarely invested emotional capital in any relationship in my life.  This affair was a transactional relationship for me.  There were 6 or 7 physical liaisons.  I would go to her place for sex after work. On one occasion I stayed the night at her place when TL was out of town.  On another occasion AP1 took time off work to accompany me on a business trip when she hadn’t been assigned to join me.

MC: “Reconciled versus reconciling”

I think it’s clear that TL and I believe reconciliation is a marriage long process.  It’s never done.  In fact it’s more like a lifestyle.  For more on this, read Rick Reynolds’ “How long will it take to get over the affair.  You know — to get back to normal.”  As Rick said, I don’t want to get back to normal. That old normal, for me, was alternately pathological and superficial.  Reconciling will be part of our marriage forever.  That’s OK.  We need to accept that, adjust to it, and do it well.

There are plenty of examples of things you can do to continuously work on reconciling.  These  include counseling, writing, new activities as a couple, and perhaps others we have not yet discovered.  The new normal also means that new practices such as transparency about phones, computers, after work activities, and more never end.  Those healthy practices are not temporary.  They are part of your new lifestyle in reconciling.

TL and I had a conversation about this last night that put it into perspective for me.  The bottom line is, after surviving the initial shock of discoveries together, the urgency of reconciling can subside but the importance of it does not.  We work on reconciling every day.  But, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  If we were expecting the job of reconciliation to be finished — to be finite — we might be tempted to crash on it, the way a student might crash studying for an exam or writing a term paper.  Running a 100-meter dash, I’d throw every ounce of strength and energy into it.  Running a marathon, I’d pace myself.

Reconciliation is not a final exam we can pass or fail.  It’s more like a new habit such as exercising, eating right, observing our religion, brushing our teeth, abstaining from addictive vices, or caring for someone or something.  You do it forever.  For the sake of truth in advertising, expect little moments of imperfection. For example, if you miss a day of exercising, you get right back to it the next day.  If you allow yourself one dessert, you don’t give up on your whole diet.  Either way, you strive to do the right thing, forever. Similarly, even though you may have little moments where you forget to be compassionate, empathetic, or thoughtful, you should not give up on these things. I am saying that if you have these small failures, it does not mean that you are a failure and therefore still a cheater and a liar. Instead, these little failures are reminders of the importance of the work you are doing on reconciliation. These are signs that a course correction is needed.

I told TL that when some people ask when reconciliation will be achieved and when others say they have reconciled, it makes me think of reconciliation as a door closing, ceiling to floor, like in Star Wars or Indiana Jones, with the hero running to slide under the door before they are trapped in The Temple of Doom.  If that is reconciliation, you can have the illusion that once you’re safely under that door all your troubles are behind you, forever.  They are not.  You must keep dealing with them, daily, gradually, and appropriately.  If you see reconciliation as that door coming down, you rush and hurry.  You panic and crash.  You act as though you can put everything into it, non-stop, for one last leap to freedom.  That’s an illusion that causes you to focus on speed over quality.  It causes you to act in desperation.  You cannot reconcile through desperation.

Instead of escaping The Temple of Doom, recognize it as something else.  Take your time.  Do it right.  If you’re a betrayer, you can’t escape what you’ve done.  If you’re a betrayed, you can’t escape what your spouse has done to you.  Instead of escaping it, walk through it together.  Examine it together.  Dismantle it and rebuild it, from the inside out, together.

TL and I will never be reconciled.  I believe we are reconciling.  Each day it is a conscious decision to choose reconciliation.

We welcome your comments on this and any other discussion topics. If you would like to send in something to discuss, please e-mail it to us at reconcile.4.life@gmail.com.

Changing thoughts

Mindless and our oldest child leave early each morning. Mindless drops OC at school on his way into work. Today, he kissed me good-bye and told me how much he loves me, as he has done every morning in recent years. And, the thought that came into my mind was, “Why couldn’t you be this way, love me this way, before d-day?” When that thought came into my mind, I realized something. In the past, I obsessively questioned everything he did with me compared to what he did or did not do with an AP. Those thoughts sometimes still come to me, but I am no longer spending hours every day combing through every possible scenario in my mind, I am no longer consumed by those thoughts. Now, the majority of questions that come to my mind are focused on just our relationship before, during and after d-day.

When did this change happen? Honestly, not that long ago really. Going down the rabbit hole of questioning every detail was overpowering the first year. The second year he was away and we struggled through on FaceTime and with several visits to us as best we could. Mindless being away was exceptionally hard on all of us. But, also, being near my family again was a blessing I did not before see was missing and needed in our family’s life.

Mindless returned at the end of his year away, we had a few weeks before moving on to his next job. When we made our move to his newest job, I went even deeper into the rabbit hole of depression. I think this influenced my inability to stop obsessively thinking about every detail and question over and over and over again. I finally feel like I am coming out of that depression, slowly. And, as I am coming out of it, I realize that the questions are not possessing me as they once did. How did I get there?

Upon first D-day and certainly upon ultimate D-day, my mind was consumed by questions and thoughts. We spent hours every day going through question after question after question, detail upon detail upon detail. The period between first d-day and ultimate d-day was filled with trickle truth and lies. I do believe he wanted to move forward with me. I do believe he wanted our marriage. I do believe he wanted to stop his double life. I also believe him when he says he was a coward, he was afraid the truth would end us for sure, that he was still putting his self-interest above mine out of fear, not out of malice. However, because he continued his lies for those two months, because I could sense that all was not adding up, because he was acting with duplicity (still lying while outwardly treating me lovingly), my sense of safety was further eroded upon ultimate d-day. How could I ever trust that I knew all the details? How could I ever trust that he was putting my need for information above his own self-protection?

First, the polygraph helped A LOT. Still, polygraphs don’t answer questions about emotions. And, polygraphs only test what the examinee actually remembers. I believe at the time of each polygraph he had told me all he remembered. Does that mean he has remembered everything? No! We have gone over and over the details so many times. And, he continues to make himself available for polygraph whenever I desire, if ever I desire. It is a measure of safety to have it, to know it is on the table whenever I need, which is less and less as we continue forward, as his actions continue to match his words, as he shares any  memory that emerges as it emerges (far and few between).

Second, I learned a lesson from Shawn on A Year After the Affair. Based on something she said, I learned how to put my negative thoughts and questions on hold for a bit, so I could just enjoy a moment or two in my life. It helped! It didn’t make them go away, but it allowed me a few moments of respite. I tried to increase the moment of respite a little bit more with each passing day.

Third, I do believe it happened without me even realizing it until today. I finally feel like I know all Mindless remembers and that he will share with me any new memory that comes his way. I know I can ask a question whenever I want, there is no time limit or prohibition on asking. But, I am all asked out, mostly. I just realized today, just today, that I have not been consumed by these questions of details for a little while. The thoughts are changing, the focus is changing, the questions are changing. Now they largely focus on us, on our relationship and I think that is a change for the better. Somehow, I’m not sure why, I feel more at peace with the details. I wonder if this blog is part of the reason why?

TL: “Molding a wife, losing me.”

We were young, double income, no kids (DINKs), enjoying each other’s company in many ways. We talked about so many aspects of life and dreams of the future. We would talk about how our “getting to know you” time actually occurred after marriage instead of before. It was not ideal, we both agreed. But, we were married and we were going to work through it together. I was so young, so naïve. I think we both were.

Mindless and I had such fun together when doing the things he felt skilled in or didn’t care about. But, on those occasions he did feel threatened, he would pout or become sullen. I loved to dance. Mindless hated it. So, I stopped dancing, except on the very rare occasions he would go with me. I loved to work with my hands and fix things. It bothered him, so I just stopped doing it. I was capable of lifting a 50 lb. bag of dog food and carrying it into the house on my own. This bothered him, so I stopped doing it (honestly, I didn’t really miss that one ever). He would be upset if I won at any game we played, such as Chess and Scrabble. I played to win, but if I lost I didn’t care. If he lost, he wanted to keep playing until he won. It took the fun out of playing. I refused to lose on purpose (he didn’t ask, but of course it was an option), instead I just avoided playing those games with him. We had gone to different colleges. We hung out with his friends from college far more than we did with mine.

Mindless and I had both gone to colleges near my hometown, which was far from his parents. So, though we both had friends in town, it was my family that lived near to us. Mindless decided he wanted to go to graduate school. We moved many miles away. I looked at it as a fresh start, in a place that was new to both of us. But, I was very sad to leave my home state and what little family I had left. He started graduate school. It took me about two months to find a job. It was a very difficult job, with a very difficult boss, but it supported us decently and it was a great resume builder. At first we lived about an hour away from my job. The apartment took my dog, which wasn’t easy to find. His school was a little over half the distance between our home and my work.

My dog was very old and getting very sick. A few months after we arrived, she was having trouble walking. She somehow made it to my bedside, laid down and had a seizure. I was crying to Mindless to help me get her to the car and take her to the vet. He insisted he had to shower first. We did get her to the vet, after his shower. It turns out she had a brain tumor. The vet suggested we put her down because, at her age, surgery just wasn’t a wise option and it was unlikely she could walk again. She was my childhood dog. She meant the world to me.

About a month after my dog passed away, we decided to give 30-days notice. We moved to an apartment one block from my work. It was so nice to be so close. Instead of the burbs, we were now living it up in the city. His school was closer than before with easier public transportation options if he desired that route. We traded in our two cars for one, and a cute one at that. We took road trips on weekends and enjoyed our lives together very much. I was patting myself on the back for having made this move away from family and friends. It was good for us, or so I thought.

My co-workers were all of the same age. Mindless and I were one of the few married couples. Co-workers would invite Mindless and me to join them at various bars around town, or a wine-tasting out in the country. We would go and enjoy ourselves. We had a lot of fun together. Once, Mindless told me he would meet me, instead of me coming home and us going together. So, I went with my co-workers to the local Irish Pub. We sat down and were chatting and had a drink. A guy was sitting next to me at the bar and started to chat with me and my co-workers. Mindless walked in and saw the guy talking to me, came over, put his hand on the guy’s shoulder and in an abrupt and angry tone said, “Dude, that is my wife!” My co-workers looked at me with surprise, and I think pity. I was so embarrassed. I told them that he can sometimes be a little jealous. We all moved on and pretended that it never happened. When we got home, I gave MC hell about it. We fought. I was very upset and he “regretted his behavior.” My co-worker friends still invited us out in the future. We still went out and we still had fun with them. In the future, however, I was more mindful to only talk to women or men Mindless already knew.

MC: “No amount of sex would have been enough.”

With alcohol, I can see what went wrong.  My puritanical upbringing put big normative restrictions on alcohol.  It made it a forbidden fruit.  Whenever I did have access to it, in high school or college, I overdid it.  It took me at about a decade to put alcohol into proper perspective, to learn how to enjoy it without bringing about unenjoyable effects such as hangovers and making a fool of myself.  I mention that because it parallels one of several problems I had with sex and had some vague similarities to my struggles with tobacco.  One of the several problems with my approach to sex was this view of it as a forbidden fruit.  It was forbidden and elusive.  I therefore used little or no self-control whenever sex was available.  I did not develop an internal desire to control my sexual behavior.  I relied on what I believed were plentiful external checks on my sexual behavior.

Back then I had a few porn magazines hidden from TL.  I used to masturbate to porn occasionally, more often than I wanted.  I don’t know how frequently I did that.  Over the years there were some periods when it may have been daily.  There were other periods when it was less frequent.  I was ashamed of it.  It was the same kind of lack of self control that sometimes caused me trouble with food, tobacco, or obsessively pushing back my cuticles.  Gradually, I learned to find porn on the Internet.  There were periods of time when I stopped doing that.  But, those successes in quitting never lasted.  Sooner or later I went back to searching the Internet for porn, sometimes as often as every night when TL was asleep or every time I was alone in the house.  I was quite disappointed in myself for doing that.  I struggled to stop.

Just so you know, I stopped porn and masturbation just before D-day.  I have not done either, at all, for at least 34 months now.

Some time, maybe around our second year of marriage, I discovered Internet chat rooms.  By this time, TL and I had moved many miles away from friends and family for me to start graduate school. I treated these chat rooms as a porn supplement or porn substitute.  I engaged in cyber sex.  In four cases, I actually met up with people I had met in the chat rooms.  I’ll use abbreviations to elaborate.  One woman, who I’ll refer to as CR1, met me in person twice.  The first time she stayed in a hotel room near our apartment.  While TL was at work and while I was supposed to be home studying for my degree, I went over to meet CR1.  She was really unappealing.  I was not able to perform.  Weeks later we covertly met again.  She came over to our apartment.  She performed oral sex on me.

I told myself very sick, dishonest, and stupid things to justify my cheating.  I told myself I deserved to cheat because TL was not giving me enough sex.  I told myself I deserved to cheat because God had left me with limited sexual experience and resulting lack of self-esteem.  I told myself what TL did not know would not hurt her. These, of course, were all wrong.  Even if TL did not give me enough sex, I should have dealt with it through honest discussion with her and perhaps with help from a counselor.  But, in fact, she did give me plenty of sex, by most standards.

The problem, in that regard, was that no amount of sex would have been enough in my mind.  I was using sex in unhealthy ways.  First, whether through sex or masturbation, I was behaving compulsively with regard to seeking orgasms.  Second, I was also using sex as a proxy for self-esteem.  The hole in my self-esteem was bottomless. Sex would never fill it.  I think the only way I could have really addressed my self-esteem, perhaps with help from a counselor, would have been to completely reinvent my view of myself and the entire world around me.  In fact, that is exactly what I’ve been working to do as part of my post-D-day recovery and prevention.

TL: “Why should mine be any different?”

Mindless and I had been dating for about 7 weeks. I went out with my best friend for $1 drinks, we talked to some guys at the bar, and then went to a nearby dance club. I told Mindless all about it, just thinking I was sharing about my night out with my friend. At that point, I didn’t know how unhappy Mindless was about that night. I didn’t know until after we were married how hurt he was about that night.

It did soon became clear that my best friend and Mindless did not get along at all. I felt like I was in the middle of war with both wanting to have more say over me than the other. I wanted say over me. My best friend was upset because I was spending less time with her and more time with Mindless. Mindless pushed us far and fast. He wanted to get married right away. Four months after we started dating we were engaged. I was young and naïve and knew that I did not want to lose him, so I took a leap of faith, a young naïve leap of faith, but a leap of faith nonetheless.

My best friend took me out for birthday drinks soon after. Some guys started talking to us. My friend wanted to follow them to their next location, they had invited us. I was engaged to Mindless, so I refused. My friend and I got in a huge fight and she told me I had just chosen Mindless over her. It was true. Our friendship dwindled. Mindless and I were married five months after our first date. We were both in our early 20s, just out of college.

When we were first married, I started to feel like MC only wanted a sexual relationship as a way to prove his manhood, rather than have an emotional connection with me. I convinced myself I was over analyzing.  We could talk for hours about so much. We enjoyed doing things together, spending time together. I thought I had found a best friend with whom to share my life and that the emotional aspect of our sexual life would develop with time.

He wanted sex all the time, complained that the three times/week on average was withholding sex from him, not enough. Made “jokes” to friends about our “non-existent” sex life. He would grab my breasts in front of his male friends and be very hands-on, treating me like an object. It was all a “joke,” so he said. I was not happy about it at all.

Our sex life deteriorated as each time I did anything that brought him pleasure, he would accuse and question how I possibly learned this, that or the other thing. Believe me, I was not doing anything conscious or unique. I wish I had been, I wish we could’ve been doing a variety of things, exploring together. But, Mindless did not want to learn, grow and explore together. That was not his goal at all. I would try to discuss fantasies with him and he would get mad at me, he would claim he did not have fantasies. I felt damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Our sex life suffered greatly.

One night, he went out with a friend. I was asleep when he walked in the door. I awoke and asked him how his night went. He started calling me horrible names. His friend was on our couch downstairs. I was crying at his horrible treatment and verbal abuse. I ran out the door, the friend had already left. I got in my car, not sure where to go or what to do. We had been married for less than a year at this point. I was so ashamed, too ashamed to admit to friends and family that I was in this situation. It was after midnight and felt so alone. I returned home several hours later to sleep on the couch and then figure out what to do in the morning.

When I walked in the door, he apologized, but told me it was not a good idea to drive alone in the middle of the night, to leave like that in the middle of an argument. I told him “I cannot live like this anymore.” He told me his emotions were out of control, he would get help and he would work on it. He saw a counselor for a few sessions, he started exercising. He appeared to be my friend again. He no longer verbally lashed out at me. I gave it a shot.

I would ask for physical affection that did not always lead to sex. He didn’t get it, wouldn’t get it, didn’t want to get it. The only time physical affection was given, was if he expected it to lead to sex. Romance was non-existent, why should he have to do that, let alone want to do it, now that we were married? I told myself he is just a hard-working, ambitious, Spock-like man. I told myself he was working hard for our future and didn’t have the time and energy to be romantic anymore. Turns out, he just didn’t have the time and energy to be romantic with me anymore.

Our sex life was dull, mechanical and I still felt that there wasn’t an emotional aspect to our sex life. I told myself that maybe that is just the way it is in some marriages. I was surrounded by marriages that were OK, but they all had their problems. Why should mine be any different? And, so, we plugged along this way for many, many years. We swept it all under the rug.

MC: “I felt so threatened, possessive, and jealous.”

I cheated on GF4 a few times with a woman I met while traveling.  I told GF4 about it.  I guess she told herself it was not a deal-breaker because we were not married.  I cheated on her a few more times with another girl.  I told her about it.  Again GF4 stayed with me.  On another occasion I kissed another girl at a party when a few friends were around but GF4 was not around.  I never told GF4 about that.  Later I cheated on GF4 a few times with a mutual friend.  I did not tell her about this  either.  But, the mutual friend eventually did tell GF4.  This time GF4 moved out.  She referred to it like it was a trial period or somehow temporary.  I think I knew it was permanent.  I think she knew that too.  I treated GF4 awfully badly during those years.  I owe her an apology and some gratitude.

Less than a year later, I started dating TL.  I was head-over-heels for TL.  I really thought of her as perfect.  I wanted her so badly.  Though this may seem like a positive attitude toward TL, looking back on it I can’t help but wonder whether maybe my attitude was a bit unhealthy.  I had her so high up on a pedestal that no one could possibly be or remain that flawless.  I raised my expectations of her very high.  And, it was unfair to her.  I was settings myself up to become disappointed with her.

It took a few dates for me to get up the courage to kiss her goodnight, and a couple weeks to move toward sex.  When we first tried it, I think I experienced erectile dysfunction.  Early on, she told me quite a bit about her sexual history.  If I recall correctly, I hadn’t asked.  She just volunteered it.  But, with me being on such a manic high, thinking of her as perfect, I didn’t really listen.  I didn’t register in my mind that TL was not the perfect virgin, or at least near-virgin, I had imagined her to be.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that expecting her to be a virgin and being disappointed at the contrary is archaic, hypocritical, and unfair.  There really always was a part of me that wished I didn’t think about gender relations in that parochial way.  But, the insecure part of me clung to those parochial views.

I fawned over TL.  I gave her romantic gifts, dates, and attention in a way I never had before and probably never have since.  But, it came to an abrupt halt soon.  Moreover, it was probably too fast for TL at the time.  One Saturday morning when I was looking forward to taking TL out to a big event that night, I was disappointed to learn that she had been out with a friend, getting drunk and talking with another guy the night before.  That experience burst my bubble, brought her down off the pedestal in my mind, made me recall what she had told me earlier about her sexual past, and rekindled my sick obsessions.

I told you how I first really encountered those sick obsessions, starring me in the face, when I was with GF4.  I had interrogated GF4 about her past, again and again, going over the same old ground dozens or hundreds of times. I started this same pattern with TL, blaming her for my unhappiness and imploring her to change the past, to change reality. Before marriage, I tried hard to not verbalize these obsessions. Little by little it became harder for me to control.

Nonetheless, I pushed forward with our relationship, rushing us into marriage.  We had a nearly impromptu civil marriage, chalking it up to lack of money and telling ourselves we would have a real wedding soon.  I remember another triumph of my self-centeredness that night.  TL was hoping to go spend time with her dog.  They had been separated all through college. Her dog arrived in town that day and was staying with a friend temporarily while TL figured out a more long-term housing solution.  TL was told that she must spend the first night with her dog since the friend would be out and did not want the dog alone in the house on that first day. I, on the other hand, was assuming TL would leave the dog and come spend our wedding night with me. I didn’t listen to her suggestions of compromise.  I pouted and left.  We both spent our wedding night alone.

I also tried to control TL in lots of petty ways due to lots of petty insecurities.  After a three-hour drive, I criticized her for asking for crackers upon arrival at a party before dinner was ready.  I criticized her for smoking even though I smoked myself. I criticized her for drinking caffeine, and for countless other things I’ve probably forgotten.  I also did little to control my insecurities.  She saw my insecurities related to her being more mechanically-inclined than I am.  Of course, I was insecure about her sexual past compared to mine.  Yes, you might say the difference between us was really not so great in that regard.  But, I perceived it to be great.  I perceived myself to be at the disadvantage, in that way and in countless other ways I may have  forgotten.

I felt so threatened, possessive, and jealous.  Every time TL was about to go out with a particular girlfriend, I pouted and fell into a bout of manipulative depression.  I felt I was losing control when she was with that friend.  It was crazy, but I believed being with that friend would lead TL to cheat on me.  After all, I thought, that was the friend she was with that Friday night in February that became part of my obsession.

Hypocritically, I went out with guy friends a couple times, hoping some other woman would give me attention and boost my fragile ego.  The most horrific incident was when I arrived home from one of those outings. I was drunk. I was angry at God for the fact that no one had given me attention.  For some inane reason I yelled at TL, calling her a whore and blaming her for my depression and low self-esteem.  TL left me that night. I am extremely lucky that our relationship didn’t completely end right then and there. I’ll never be able to apologize enough for that, and so many more examples of me punishing TL for my inability to accept reality and inability to make my own happiness.

Like many other things, I went overboard with alcohol.  There was another occasion, at a party, when I got so crazy drunk that I kissed a guy friend in public.  To compensate for that, I grabbed the nearest woman and kissed her.  All this time, TL was watching me make a fool of both of us.  That incident set me on a path to dealing with my drinking.  But, I still was far from dealing with all my other problems.

TL: “The second letter to AP.”

The second letter to AP was much better than the first. That woman kept e-mailing, stating Mindless must contact her, then she would give an address for him to send her stuff. If he did not contact her, she would be filing a missing person’s report and/or a police report for the recovery of her things. I had been asking him to write her and let her know that a) he had no interest in her whatsoever and b) all of her belongings had been trashed long ago. Upon ultimate d-day, he finally wrote her again and he made it all very clear once and for all. I felt that he had not only closed that door, but slammed it irrevocably shut forever!

She wrote back that he was lying about her things. At this point I wrote to her myself.

AP3:

I honestly don’t know what will happen with my marriage. I am shattered into a billion little pieces.

I am the one who destroyed all of your belongings. I figured out what had happened a few hours after he sent you the e-mail asking for an address to send your stuff.  I saw all the emails and found your things. I was so angry. I ripped apart your blouse, I stomped on your perfume box, then I tore the view screen of the camera and jumped up and down on it. I took out the picture card and cut it in half. This was when I thought you were the first and only. Obviously, you were only the tip of the iceberg.

As I said I am broken, shattered and confused. The person I loved most in the world did this to me and you were part of it. I have to find a way beyond this pain – G-d willing. Please let us move on.

TL

She wrote back with this:

To: TL

subject: Do not worry

Do not worry, TL, thanks for letting me know.

Take care of him and yourself. Your love for each other will only grow bigger, keep faith in what God can do for you both and you will see.

And then a few hours later she sent this:

To: TL

subject: hope this helps

Healing a bruised soul can be a very long journey, TL.
The hardest part on that journey is to completely forgive the one who has hurt you the most. We want to be forgiven but we forget to forgive others.
You see I forgave you about the camera and the pictures – they were incidentally with him and very precious to me and my family, unrelated to him.
You were in pain and I empathise. But do not stay angry with him. From the little I know it seems he was trying perhaps somehow to overpower you.
May be without realizing it you in a different way were trying to overpower him. That happens when one does not realize God really has the higher power.
If you can both truly forgive each other, then love wins. Forgiving someone is like becoming free and obedient to God at the same time. If you are both able to do that God will heal your marriage. But you must stay the course…as habits must be broken, not cameras. This is what I think may help. Such kind of relationship is worth keeping and not only for the sake of your children, which are very important. Wishing your entire family health and happiness.

And that was the last of her, or so I thought. A few months later we received a series of e-mails, from her e-mail address, supposedly from a photographer friend, claiming the camera was actually his and demanding money for the camera and the pictures, which now, supposedly, were from his professional shoots on behalf of AP in years prior. He wanted $5000.

It was a simple point and shoot digital camera and the disk inside was labeled with a date from three years prior. If he really existed, why wouldn’t he write from his own e-mail address? The “friend” claimed to be in touch with an attorney and would be filing a police report if we did not make this right immediately, stating the AP3 had been victimized enough and that I, TL, should be ashamed of myself for further victimizing AP3.

I wrote back pointing out an entire series of inconsistencies and stated that if they would simply give me their attorney’s name, contact information and ABA# that I would go hire an attorney immediately as I would rather spend thousands of dollars on an attorney fighting this than to be stalked, harassed or blackmailed by AP3.

We never heard from her (or any of her supposed friends) again.

TL: “I cannot, I will not ever do that, not ever!”

Oldest child (OC) was 9 years old and youngest child (YC) was 5 years old. I was a wreck. When I thought Mindless had one affair, I was a wreck. We were in a vacation apartment and we both knew our children heard us — they were downstairs, we were upstairs, but it was a small place and they heard too much, at least the loud sobs from me. At that point, OC, who is an exceptionally empathetic, kind, thoughtful, and intelligent child was worried sick. Upon hearing me crying and upset OC asked me, “are you and Dad going to divorce?”

I don’t make promises I cannot keep. I really did not have an answer for that question just yet. So, we told OC that we love both OC and YC very much and that will always be the case, we are getting some help to figure out some very hard things right now. We are working on it as best we can. OC wanted to know what happened? We had our oldest talk to the counselor for a session. OC knew that Dad had a friendship with a woman that was not OK. And, that Dad was doing everything possible to face his bad choice and fix it. That is where it was left when we went back overseas. OC saw the work, the effort, the time that Mindless was putting in to help our family become healthier and happier. Mindless and I were talking and e-mailing each other a lot, doing date nights and traveling together with kids and without, our house overseas was quite large with plenty of privacy, so we were able to deal with things outside of the earshot of the children — thank goodness. My sadness, while present, was not getting in the way of my ability to be a Mom and continue with all of my volunteer activities. When alone, I was a mess, but when not alone I was able to wear the “mask.” In fact, volunteer activities, doing Mom stuff, and being around friends was very helpful to my self-esteem and ability to think of something other than the betrayal for short spells. That was until, final D-day, two months after first d-day. That is when the shit really hit the fan. That is also when my language took a serious turn for the worse.

After ultimate d-day, I went into a very deep depression. I had made it through a lot of horrible things growing up, so much so that I thought I had paid my dues and that the rest of my life was going to be of my making, and happy at that. To realize that my life since that childhood had been based on so many lies, I was distraught, I wanted to die. If this is all life has to offer, I don’t want to do it anymore. I wrote a note, I started reading online, looking-up methods. Then, I saw a story of a woman who had overdosed on drugs, on purpose, and was now in a coma. There were some calling her selfish and saying some pretty harsh things about her decision to try to take her life. One thing really struck a chord with me, she hadn’t ended her pain, she had only transferred the pain to her kids. Oh my G-d, whoa, stop, stop, stop! That very dark moment, that very dark road, I realized that Mindless had carried around a lot of pain based on some really fucked-up shit. Now that pain was on my shoulders. If I took that step to end my pain, I would not really be ending it, but simply transferring it to my children’s shoulders. I decided then and there that I cannot, I will not ever do that, not ever!

I was still deeply depressed. OC saw it, was worried, was asking about it. Mindless and I talked and decided he needed to talk to OC. He told him that he had made some very stupid, hurtful choices, a lot of them, not just one. He had hurt Mom very badly, very deeply and he was going to do everything possible to make it right. Mindless explained that he had acted as a spoiled, selfish little boy who only cared about himself. And, he had not thought about anyone but himself. Mindless told OC, he would spend the rest of his life showing them by example what it means to be a good man, a good husband and a good father, we would now and always be his top priority. Then Mindless apologized and told OC to talk to us whenever he wanted about any of this, it was open for discussion and questions anytime he wanted or needed. There were a few very hard questions for both of us. We answered them honestly. We also had a counselor available if ever wanted. From time to time I would ask OC how he was doing, how he felt and he would always respond that he liked how things were going, except homework, homework always sucked.

I always worry if we should be pushing the kids into counseling. I asked our counselor today and she, like the previous two, thought it important to let the kids lead the way on this and actually to not try to dig with OC so much, as it is clear he knows he can come to us and talk to us honestly and openly.  I so hope so!

MC: “I was angry that I felt inferior.”

I did not go to work the next day.  For the first time in my life, I called in sick when I wasn’t sick.  I had to care for my wife.  She had suffered emotional trauma.  I knew that if I did not spend the day with her, she might be gone when I got home from work.

We spent the day talking, crying, and trying to save our relationship that I had destroyed.  I don’t remember if it was that day or shortly thereafter when I wrote a letter to the last AP — AP3.  No, this was not a letter to break off contact with her; I had stopped all contact on first D-day, but she kept writing asking for her things.  So, this was a letter to tell AP3 to stop trying to contact me, to clarify that she never meant anything to me and that I was just using her.  TL wanted me to write that letter to prove that I really did not feel anything for AP3.  It was easy enough because it was true.  I never felt anything for AP3.  She was just another object to be used.  In the end I also became a bit angry with AP3 anyway, because it was not as easy to use her as I had hoped.

If some of the things I say about affair partners or others sound misogynistic, they may be.  You may think that more and more as I write more and more about my pre-D-day past.  Keep in mind, please, that I’m not proud of that kind of thinking, and I’m working carefully to eliminate it.  I think I’ve made a lot of progress in that regard.  But, I had a long way to go in the first place.  Also, it was really only this week that I began to understand that the term misogynist probably applied to me.  I had resisted the term in the past.  I don’t think I really understood it.  I thought a misogynist was a man who wanted to hate women.  I did not want to hate women.  But, I think my upbringing and my deep insecurities led me to fear and resent women.  I didn’t realize that’s what I had been doing all those years.  I was a bit taken aback the other day when TL labeled the pre d-day me as a misogynist.  But, I think it’s true that a lot of my past sins came from that fear and resentment.

Again, I don’t recall whether it was that same day or shortly thereafter when I talked to our oldest child about what I had done.  I was afraid to do it, but I had to do it. Our child was nine at the time.  He was pretty sharp, and he knew something was desperately wrong.  I told him I had hurt his mother by behaving childishly.  I told him I was very sorry and that I was working hard to try to help TL.  Talking to our kids about my sins, even in an age-appropriate way, was devastating.  I think it’s one of several experiences I recall when I remind myself why I’m working so hard to help TL recover.  My relationship with the kids is now the best it’s ever been.  But, I certainly missed a lot of opportunities before D-day.

TL and I took a very helpful Affair Recovery class together.  We found a new, local counselor.  The class took a few months.  It was a good experience for me.  I learned a lot of things that continue to inform my philosophy about relationships.  One example from Rick, the course leader, was the definition of “love.”  He said, basically, it is not about finding the perfect person.  He said, rather, it is about choosing to love your mate, in spite of their imperfections.  It is about putting your mate first.  Most importantly, love is a choice.  It is not something that you fall into, or something that happens to you.  You choose it, you make it, and you make it the best you can make it.

Before I tell you more about our reconciliation, let’s go back to the beginning and bring you up to date.  I was raised in a home with lots of contradictions.  My mother struggled against the local religious establishment in the small town where we lived.  She constantly told me religion was bad.

At the same time, my mother taught me to follow all the restrictions of the local church.  She taught me that the following things were evil, embarrassing, beneath us, and not worthy of discussion.  The subject must immediately be changed if anyone, including someone on the television or radio engaged in the following or discussed these things with anything but contempt and moral superiority:  foul language, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, sex, and music with the exception of classical music or mellow children’s songs.  She taught me that I should not worry about physical endeavors such as athletics.  She taught me to be ashamed of having interest in girls.  She taught me to be afraid to show the humorous, adventurous, or social facets of my personality.  She taught me that I was smart.  I interpreted that to mean that academic pursuits and intellectual endeavors should be easy and that I did not have to try hard.  She taught me that she would be deeply disappointed in me if I did not succeed at mental endeavors.  I feared her disappointment.

I hit puberty a bit later than most boys.  I remained physically small, timid, and awkward with girls longer than most boys.  When I had a girlfriend who was attractive in the conventional sense, I was not discreet, going overboard with public displays of affection.  Looking back on it, I wonder whether that was subconsciously an attempt to show off.  At other times, when I had a girlfriend who was not attractive in the conventional sense, I did not show her much affection in public.  I may have been as concerned about my image as I was about sex.  On the rare occasion when I was with a girl who would offer sex, I missed the opportunity, either through erectile dysfunction or through missing their signals and failing to act.  A few years later, I would look back on those missed opportunities and I would alternately beat myself up about them and then feel sorry for myself on account of those missed opportunities.

But, sex was not as important to me as pride or ego.  One early girlfriend — I’ll call her GF1 — refused to give up her virginity to me.  Yes, I know that viewing her that way was very self-centered and showed no regard for her feelings; such disregard for others is something I’m facing and working to overcome.  When it became clear to me that she never would, I broke up with her.  I didn’t really want her as a friend.  I just wanted to stop being a virgin myself.  A year or two later, GF1 found me and told me she had lost her virginity to someone else and that she was now ready to have sex with me.  Ego and pride took center stage in my mind,  I politely declined.  I had a similar experience with a girlfriend I will call GF2.  She refused to give me her virginity.  We broke up when I went off to college.  When I saw her a year and a half later, she was pregnant and unattached.  I was polite, but I never saw her again.

Here’s another example of my selfishness.  A more attractive girl (OG) asked me to the junior prom.  Although I was going steady with GF2, I accepted the invitation from OG.  Of course, OG was just using me, so she could go to the prom even though she had moved to another school.  But, my selfishness must have been very hurtful to GF2.

On winter break my freshman year, a friend I will call GF3 looked me up.  We spent a lot of time together.  She also refused to give up her virginity. Back at college, I started seeing a girl we’ll call GF4, who was not a virgin.  For several months she refused sex.  GF4 and I eventually had sex together and then got into a serious relationship.  In one form or another, it lasted about four years.  Very early in my relationship with GF4, I started to obsessively compare myself to her previous boyfriend. I badgered GF4 with questions about her previous sexual experiences.  I wallowed in self-pity and begged out loud for GF4 to change the past.  I was angry that I had not been her first.  I believed it was unfair that GF4 took so long to give me sex.  I was angry that I felt inferior to GF4.  I felt like a simple child and I saw her as a worldly adult.

“God gave me a treasure.”

I just read a couple of my wife’s recent posts, “The Jungle Nightmare” and “Tell Me Five More Things.”  I began with the latter.  Reading her description of how she discovered my affair with the housekeeper and how I ultimately told her about all my other adultery that night caused my heart to sink.  As I read, I felt I was reliving that moment, that horrible night.  My chest tightened, my eyes teared up, and I felt ashamed. I felt fear, sadness, and guilt.  I felt like hiding.

Then I read TL’s memories of how she walked around our kids’ school in a near suicidal daze.  I remember seeing her that day.  It was as if it were yesterday.  I remember feeling shocked and detached.  TL was gone.  I did not know about the part where she went to the basement of the school to cry.  Reading that was another heart-breaker for me.  I had taken the most beautiful gifts God had given me, and I had pissed on them, broken them, and left them in the trash. I owe TL more apologies than I can ever express in one lifetime.  I just realized, I actually owe God an apology too.  He gave me so much, and I appreciated so little.

Then I read her dream story. I knew that dream well.  I remember when she first described it to me.  Reading it today, it still shocks me.  It really does send a chill through my body.  It has such archetypal imagery of loss, betrayal, and evil.

TL: “Tell me five more things.”

When we returned overseas, MindlessCraft started going in later and coming home earlier, in time for dinner every night. HIs workouts were reduced substantially, he started really spending time with me and our children. In the past, I had planned activities and travel, he just came along for the ride. I was done. If he wanted our family, our marriage, I wanted to see him taking the initiative. And, he did.

The first trip out-of-town, was to a luxurious hotel. He got us a fancy suite and arranged for several dives. Years ago, I had talked him into learning SCUBA, but we had not done it in a very long time. That trip I asked him all kinds of questions, but his answers did not always make sense. I am a very logic based person. He would tell me I am trying to find logic in the illogical, when he could see I was not convinced with his answers. We had a lovely time in many ways, but I could feel a wall between us still. I wanted all windows and no walls and I refused to let-up until I KNEW all the walls were down. I kept imploring him to be honest with me. I felt like I had to interrogate him to find the answers. I felt like he was playing word games, the definition of “is” is.  . .I wanted him to just voluntarily spill all. I came up with a little mechanism to help this along. It started with “tell me three things I don’t already know.” He would claim he couldn’t think of any. I would tell him “surely there are three small, inane details you have not yet shared, and maybe those will help you remember a bigger detail. Just three, any three, I am not letting this go until you give me something.” He would strain and think and strain some more, and then come up with a few. I would be satisfied for a few days, then again feel like there were still walls and again tell him “tell me three things I don’t already know.” This went on for a couple months. Of course, then it was “I’m out of things, you really do know everything,there is nothing more, nothing” blah, blah, blah.

I had seen e-mails between MC and his AP, but did not have access to all of them. One day, I went to meet him at his office. I was early, he was still working on other things, so I sat down to “play” on his computer. His e-mail happened to be up. Hmmm, I thought, let’s just take a look. I searched his in-box and sent messages, there was nothing. I then had a thought; I clicked into his delete folder. There were a bunch of old, pre d-day, messages from his AP. I also saw a bunch of old messages from our former housekeeper. She had been trying to persuade me to bring her to our new local to work for us. I stupidly said out loud, “What are all these messages from our housekeeper?” MC abruptly stated, “We need to go, we’re going to be late.” I said, “No, I see a bunch of messages that I want to read.” He said he would transfer them back to his phone, so I could read them on the way. He only transferred those messages from his AP. I saw several messages that portrayed his interest in her more romantically than he had previously described. I was so utterly crushed!

I was so used to 18 years of his work coming first, that it didn’t even occur to me to tell him we absolutely could not go. We arrived at the event. Upon arrival, I immediately got myself a Gin and 7 UP and found a quiet hidden corner to go drink and quietly cry. I would pull myself together long enough to go get another drink. A colleague of my husband’s, looking for the bathroom, saw me, but I think I had dried the tears before he saw, maybe. I went up to MC and said, “I need to leave NOW!” We walked to a local park and I said, calmly as I could muster, “TELL ME five things I don’t already know!” He told me one, but it was enough. He replied, “I lied to her and told her that there had been numerous others.” My heart sank, it all started to click. He then confessed to two other APs (the housekeeper and a colleague in his first job out of grad school), prostitutes and four chat room hook-ups, all over the course of our entire marriage! He also shared details of his last affair that he had lied about, obscured or withheld. Previously, when I felt he was playing word games, I was right! My world crashed in all around me. I made him take me back to his work to read ALL of the e-mails! I forwarded the most despicable examples to my own e-mail. My plan was to have those when I contacted a divorce attorney.

We went back to the house and called Phil, telling him everything. Phil told me, “I support you no matter what you decide, you have every right to leave this instant if that is what you want, come home and I will be here to help you through. But, you do not have to decide this instant. He talked about MC telling me everything, things I could never have known about, as being a very good sign and step.” He talked to Mindless. Mindless was frantic, “What can I do, I’ll do anything, what can I do?” Phil chastised Mindless for not coming clean when we were “home,” he told him that holding onto lies was the worst possible thing to have done. Regardless of whether or not I left, truly loving me meant from now I on, MC needed to put my interests above his own. We made appointments to call Phil often for counseling. Phil suggested a polygraph. MC was ALL OVER IT! Phil gave him the contact info for an examiner he trusted. Mindless contacted the examiner and set-up an appointment for the moment we returned “home.”

I was a walking zombie, walking around dazed and confused. I had no idea what I was going to do. We were overseas, we had no home of our own back “home.” The kids had started back to school already. The plan already was that the end of the school year, we would be returning “home.” Mindless would come with us for a visit, but then would be off for a year to a job that did not include family members. I told myself, I will let the kids finish out this school year, and then go “home” to have a year without him to figure out what I want to do.

I was in such great pain. I had always had a smile on my face for everyone. It was gone. I was on the verge of tears at every moment. I had been very involved with the kids’ school. There was an event that weekend that I could not get out of doing. People could tell something was very wrong. People who barely knew me could tell something was very wrong. I was stumbling through, but not very well at all. At one point during the event, I went to the basement of the school, to the end of a hallway, far away from everyone in a dark corner and just cried and cried. I lost 3 kilos in less than a week.

Of all the things I’ve been through, struggled through in this life, that by far was THE WORST!

The Jungle Nightmare

I had many nightmares in the first two years after d-day, but one in particular was so vivid that I can still see it clearly. The nightmare happened about 6 months after ultimate d-day.

Background: One of MindlessCraft’s APs was our former housekeeper. I trusted her, I believed she really cared about our family. She was trying to convince me to bring her to work for us in our new local. MC acted as if he could go either way, but was secretly encouraging her to “convince” me to bring her over. I contacted her to say we were interested, let’s talk. She never wrote back. We learned that she had stopped contact because she dropped dead of a heart-attack. This was about a year before ultimate d-day. Sometimes, I still feel haunted by thoughts of her.

The Dream: In this dream, some girlfriends and I were hiking on a difficult trail. The trail started on the side of an abandoned building, going upward, and then went behind the building as it continued its ascent. The top floor of the building was on level with part of the trail. Inside the abandoned building was what looked like an overgrown jungle. The trail continued beyond the building until we reached a stopping point. It was a cliff, we could walk no further. We talked. Some friends were saying, just step off the cliff and you will find there is actually a bridge across. Most went this route, one-by-one, stepping off the cliff. When I looked over to see what happened, I could see nothing, no sign of anything. Another friend and I thought this certain death and decided to head back down the trail. As we approached the part of the trail on the same level as the top floor of the abandoned building, my friend suggested we cut through the building and not walk the difficult trail back. I refused, she went ahead. I was walking along the trail by myself, I could hear her screams inside the building, the jungle. As I got to the bottom of the trail, I was right in front of the building. I looked to the top floor and could see hands reaching out, zombies reaching out. One of them was our housekeeper. I could hear my friend screaming. Our housekeeper, in zombie form, was taunting me, come save her, come save her. I wanted to help my friend. I just knew if I did, I too would be trapped in the jungle and turned into a zombie. I started to walk away and that is when I woke-up.

I don’t know why it sticks with me so much, but it does. Do you have any nightmares that just stick in your head?

MC: “TL and I were in hell.”

One thing I could improve through tangible steps was the amount and quality of time I devoted to our relationship, as opposed to work, fitness, sleep, or personal endeavors.  I set about making sure, as much as our schedules allowed, that each weekend TL and I had a date night and that we also had a family night.  I made it a point to be home for dinner every night.  There were few exceptions.  I tried to plan trips away, for the family and for TL and I without kids, whenever kids’ schedules allowed.  By the way, I struggled to maintain the momentum of these dates, family events, activities, and trips after our recent move to a sleepy town with few babysitters.  But, I’m working to regain momentum on that front.

TL and I had what was probably our first weekend away without kids.  We drove to a town about four hours away, stayed in a nice hotel, did some scuba diving together, and generally spent every moment together working on our relationship.  I will always remember that weekend fondly.  TL is troubled by it, I think.  Here’s why.  We did have a lot of difficult conversations that weekend.  She questioned me about the affair.  I made promises, commitments, and apologies.  But, selfishly, I continued to lie in order to hide my previous adultery.

I did not lie to hurt her.  I lied out of the cowardly, selfish desire to protect myself from her anger and to stave off the chance of her just leaving me immediately.  Yes, that was not the right way for me to help my injured wife and heal our relationship.  Even after committing to put her first and to never hurt her again, I was still hurting her.  Second D-day was awful.  But, it was absolutely necessary, in order for me to really put TL first, ahead of my childish, primitive self-preservation instinct.  It was necessary in order for me to begin my long journey toward learning empathy and acting with love.

Second D-day almost destroyed us.  Looking back on it, I think it actually saved me.  It freed me to be completely honest and gave me a totally fresh start.  But, it destroyed TL.

She met me at my office one night, and we were going from there to an event.  She went through my e-mails at work.  I tried to hide certain e-mails that I thought I had deleted.  She saw more details about the affair.  She also saw that there was another series of e-mails,  to our former housekeeper.  I whisked her away to our event before she had a chance to look at those. Later, at the event, it was too much for TL.  We left together, early.  We walked to a nearby park.  Her understandable onslaught of anger and questioning broke through to my other secrets.  I revealed my two previous affairs. I also revealed my series of illicit encounters with prostitutes and people I had met online.  TL knew that I viewed porn in the past. During our conversation I also revealed just how frequently I had used porn, and that I had used it compulsively.

TL and I were in hell together. We called our counselor, Phil, for emergency help.

TL: “The visit.”

Some back ground on MC’s Mom, I’m sure he will give more, but let me give you my perspective.

MC’s mother rarely has anything nice to say about women. She bases many of her opinions of people on stereotypes. In her view, and words, most women are stupid and silly. She is a fantastic baker and gardner, but only sees the negative in herself and others. She puts herself down, for being a woman, constantly. The one type of woman she envisioned as perfect for MC, and the only type she deemed acceptable, was a woman: from the Asian continent; who was demure, unassuming and plain; whose family was wealthy; who went to the best schools; and most importantly would be subservient to her husband and his family in all matters.  She gives her and her husband the exact same haircut, she wears men’s clothes, she never wears make-up, which is fine in and of itself, but when combined with the other actions and statements through the years, it paints a fuller picture. Imagine her horror when MC decided to marry a woman who was from a poor, suburban, liberal Jewish family. You would think the fact that I put myself through college would have been a plus, but to her it was an embarrassment. To say she was not pleased with me as choice for wife is a HUGE understatement. And, heaven forbid we breed.

For the first half of our marriage, I bit my tongue and let her walk all over me, including rearranging our home without my or MC’s permission, criticizing my cooking, cleaning and whatever else she could find. I would only voice an opinion if it was one I believed she also held. I quickly found out that if it came from me, it was wrong, wrong, wrong. For example, I knew she hated beards. MC was growing one and I mentioned that I did not like it. This is when she told me that such an opinion was “stepping over the line as a wife.”

From the day we married, she criticized my cleaning, even though both MC and I worked full-time. When she came to visit us while MC was in grad-school and I was working 70 hours/week to support us and put him through school, she again was critical of my housecleaning. Never mind that MC was home far more than I was home. Overseas, we often had a housekeeper. The house was cleaned top to bottom every day. MC’s parents visited. And, she still criticized the standard of cleanliness.

Before I was 30 she would constantly tell MC we were too young for kids. When I hit 30 it was all about how I was too old for having children. Once we had kids, she would criticize my parenting as if MC had no say in it. She was proud of keeping MC in a bubble as a child and felt it was the proper way to parent. Both MC and I disagreed wholeheartedly, but kept our mouths shut.

We visited when our oldest was a toddler. We asked if we could childproof one room of the house, to have a safe place for our child to hang-out. Childproofing is not how she does things. We told them we would get a hotel, she insisted we stay with them because it would “look bad to the family.” We were not allowed to get our own glass of water or snack, nor get one for our child. We were not allowed to get together with old friends or other family members on our own. Everything had to go through her. She had many glass, ceramic knick-knacks throughout the house and was constantly telling our child “no” and telling us we needed to spank him, if we didn’t she would. When she started coming down on our child, I broke. Don’t mess with me when it comes to my children.  I told her that her house was not meant for a toddler and that we needed to move to a hotel. Oh boy, you would think I launched a nuclear war. She went off big time into one of her temper tantrums. This time, I responded. In fact, I did not hold back at all. MC didn’t say a word except that it was “time for us to leave.” All through the years, I kept hoping that MC would step in at some point and tell her to “knock it off.” But, he did not. That is how it was before D-day.

This visit just after d-day, clearly I was not in good shape when we arrived in town. We did stay at a hotel, but visited for the sake of our kids seeing their grandparents, a supervised visit! MC stood by my side every second, he held my hand in front of her, and gently and affectionately caressed my arm or back in front of her. He stood up for me and the kids when she started to go off the deep-end. He did so without backing down, while remaining calm and firm throughout. Oh my, I had never seen him like this with her. I was so proud of him, so very proud of him. And, it felt good, so good. And, you know what, I really do think she started treating him more like an adult, instead of a child, after that visit. We do limit our visits and contact. But, they are the only grandparents alive and our kids do love them (at least with the limited exposure).

Then we left the US to go back overseas.

MC: “I wanted to take those secrets to my grave.”

There were still things I did not explore with that counselor, Phil, because I was still hiding my previous affairs. I was afraid he would see I was hiding additional sins.  The one we were discussing was catastrophic, even if it had been the only one.  I was also ashamed, deeply ashamed of the additional sins I was hiding. Why did I continue to hide those additional sins?  Self-protection.  Cowardice.  I wanted to take those secrets to my grave.

Meanwhile, I also wanted to take my newfound intimacy with TL and build it into a better relationship than we had before. Yes, TL and I were more intimate than we had been since our courtship.  It was painful, shameful, frightening, and devastating.  But, it was intimate.  No one in the world but TL would go through all that with me.  I owe her the world.

TL questioned me about every detail of the affair.  At first, I resisted telling her things I thought would be particularly hurtful.  I feared her rage.  I feared losing her.  I was ashamed to admit all the gory details.  She asked me again and again and again to fill in details.  It took me weeks to get the courage or desperation to tell her some of the worst details:  I had given the AP a rose, I had taken the AP to a public event, I had invited her to our home and had sex in our bed, I had taken her to TL’s gym, and I had skipped a workout to lie in bed with her.

I yearned to go on building a better relationship with TL.  Her devastation was deep.  To this day,  nearly 34 months later, she still struggles with fear, pain, doubt, and anger.  I have now told TL every detail about everything.  She still has questions and doubts.  I probably would too, if the roles were reversed.

Understandably, TL had anger at the AP, in addition to anger at me.  The AP kept writing demanding her belongings be returned, insisting that I contact her and only then would she provide an address. TL wanted to write the AP, she wanted to deride her for giving me herpes, she wanted to tell the AP that her things had been destroyed.  TL asked me to write a stronger and more effective letter to the AP, making it clear the affair was over and was meaningless. I did not do that until after second D-day.  At that point, after first D-day, I did not, for two reasons.  One, I feared the AP might respond with details that would  reveal my previous affairs, reveal that she was not the one to give me herpes, or rehash details that would be hurtful to TL.  Two, I genuinely thought it would be safer to ignore the AP and not prompt her to do or say anything that might reveal our affair to the world.

TL and I went on our previously planned visit to my parents.  We had had a troubled history with my parents already.  As you’ll read later, my mother is critical and petty.  In many ways, she’s mentally ill.  In addition to my other sins, I had a long history of being cowardly toward my mother.  There were several memorable moments throughout my marriage with TL when my mother said or did unbelievably rude things to TL, things normal people certainly don’t say out loud.

With that in the background, I made a concerted effort to be brave, be genuine, defend my wife when necessary, and show my wife affection in front of my mother.  I had previously been too cowardly even to be relaxed and affectionate with TL in front of my mother.  My mother had wanted very much for me to remain single, and perhaps to be gay, to have no binding ties in my life except my mother.  I did not do as my mother wished.  But, I did fear her criticism, her mumbled comments under her breath, her disapproving glances, and her temper tantrums.  So, I had fallen into an unconscious habit of hiding my true personality from my mother, curtailing my affection for others in front of her, and resignedly accepting her criticism and childish behavior.  I vowed to TL and to myself that I would take this opportunity to grow up and love and defend my wife like an adult man.  I believe I finally succeeded.

TL and I returned to our home.  We threw out our bedding and rearranged the bedroom.  We continued the long struggle to recover and improve our relationship.

TL: “The counselor.”

Mindless combed through our insurance provider list looking for a counselor who could take us in immediately. They all were booked weeks ahead. He finally found one that had a cancellation for just a few days away. Mindless set up the appointment. He was a Christian counselor (a counselor associated with a Christian religious organization). We are not Christian. So, the first thing we asked was if that was a problem. He assured us that he did much work with Jewish religious leaders and community and would be very willing and able to help us. In some ways, having a Christian counselor was a great help. He looked a lot like Dr. Phil, actually, so I will refer to him here as Phil. 🙂

First, having Phil confirm that the AP was a religious hypocrite was somewhat helpful to me. He shook his head in disbelief at the things she was saying to Mindless, told me that G-d knows what is really in her heart and that she can hide that to the world, but not to G-d. Phil also held Mindless’s feet to the fire. He wasn’t there to just listen, but to call bullshit when he saw it. Of course, he didn’t use the word “bullshit.” I felt good about Phil’s ability to see if there was a way forward for us or not. We only had two and half weeks before we were supposed to go visit Mindless’s parents for a few days and then head back overseas. For that time, our schedule was open, Phil made time for us wherever he could, including giving us every cancellation he got.

During our first session, for some reason, the issue of our pre-marital experiences came up. I said that Mindless and I basically had very similar numbers of partners before marriage. Mindless was agitated and made it a point to clarify that I had one partner more than him. Ok, I was a bit taken off guard with his agitation. He tried to play it down, but it was out there. We moved on to talking about the affair. Later that day, we were waiting to pick-up our children from summer camp and started talking about the pre-marital experiences, why was he so agitated about it? I thought he had dealt with that years ago. Little did I know exactly how he had dealt with it!  I told him that we needed to bring up this obsession with our counselor, I thought it was important. He tried to down play it, tell me it had nothing to do with anything going on, that he was so sorry he had been agitated, it was nothing, he over reacted, blah, blah, blah. I was not going to let it slide EVER AGAIN!

I brought it up to Phil and thank G-d I did. Phil listened to Mindless’s self-pity, “woe is me” tale of comparing his pre-marital past to mine, which really wasn’t all that different. Phil pointed out his hypocrisy, told him it was simply “sick,” in fact a very damaging “sick obsession.” Mindless was stunned. He had always told himself that he had a right to be angry at me for this, that it was normal and just to have this anger.  Phil and Mindless really started digging into the heart of this matter. I saw connections being understood that Mindless never would before even consider.

Phil talked to us about the fact that healing from the affair will likely take much longer for me than for Mindless, who must be patient, kind, loving and consistently remorseful, no matter how long it took me to work through the trauma. Phil emphasized to Mindless that complete honesty with me was essential for us being able to move forward together. Between the beginning of seeing and addressing some very damaging thought processes within himself, and the more free, loving, non-sexually related affection, I felt hopeful that we could finally have a marriage that was so much more than I had ever hoped was possible. Our counselor helped me so much, in such a short time. He told me I could decide whatever I wanted at any time, but that I did NOT HAVE TO decide immediately if I did not want to do so. Over that two and half weeks, we must have had 5 or 6 sessions.

Mindless had insisted he did not need STD testing. I insisted he did. He stalled. Then he had an outbreak. He had herpes, he acted as if it was a surprise. We both were tested. I was clean, he had herpes, but was clean for everything else. Mindless had told me that he and his AP had always used protection. Phil thought this just didn’t quite add up. Mindless insisted that the doctor clarified that a condom does not always protect against herpes. Phil thought there was more to this story, but I so wanted to believe in Mindless. I was such a fool, still.

I was convinced that Mindless was not capable of lying to me for any extended period of time. I was convinced that I figured out about his affair so quickly because of this inability to lie to me. Phil told me he had hope for us and believed Mindless wanted to make things right, to take my time, to watch his actions. My cousin came to town to see us, I told her everything that I knew. She thought Mindless was taking responsibility and was loving and supportive of both of us, also telling me she would be there for me no matter what. Damn, I have some great cousins! I decided I would go back overseas with him, with a pitstop at his parents place as previously planned.

MC: “Sick obsessions.”

Of course, I should have just gotten rid of the AP’s things and not looked back.  I feared she would harass me about returning her things if I did not.  I feared she would do something, careless or otherwise, that would tip off TL to the affair.  So, I planned to hide the things until I could sneak away and mail them to the AP.  It wasn’t a great plan.  It was simply the only plan I had.

I arrived at our vacation apartment and tried to pretend nothing was wrong.  I e-mailed the AP to find out her mailing address.  The next afternoon, TL confronted me with questions about why I had missed our child’s birthday, been so rude and distant, and had so many stories that didn’t add up.  It was one of the most awful moments of my life.  I found myself running and hiding in the bathroom when TL asked to see my e-mails.  It didn’t work.  She saw messages that were evidence of the affair.  I tried several lies to hide.  It all failed.

I told TL I would break off contact with the AP.  Then and there I wrote an e-mail to the AP saying, “I’m sorry, it’s over . . .”  I don’t recall what else I wrote.  It was brief, and it was something like, “I now see that I made the right decision returning to my family.  I hope you go back to your family.”  I showed it to TL and sent it.

TL is still hurt, I think, by the way I worded that e-mail.  It showed significant concern for the AP’s feelings. I did not have concern for the AP’s feelings.  I never did.  I just had this terrible, lifelong habit of faking concern for others’ feelings.  And, in a situation  where I was supposed to be solely focused on TL, I should have been far less concerned about the AP.  I did not love the AP and I never had.  In fact, I had never really known the meaning of the word “love” and had never really loved anyone but myself.  More on that later.

The whole e-mail note to the AP was a failure, in terms of showing love for TL.  I told myself I wrote such a gentle farewell note to the AP so the AP would know it was really from me.  That’s only part of the reason.  I think the main reason was that sick habit I had, of faking emotions and trying to make everyone think well of me, at any cost.  It was selfish and it was a form of trying to stroke my own ego, trying to leave the AP thinking well of me, even after the affair.  When I think about it, that’s the main thing I wanted from the affair in the first place.  More than just sex, I wanted other women to think well of me.  That’s what I wanted, as a substitute for my missing self-esteem.

From that point, everything blurred together into a terrible crisis for TL and me.  She packed my bags and told me to get out.  I begged and pleaded her to allow me to stay.  I really did commit, on that first day, to never cheat again.  Gradually, I told her more and more about the affair.  I gradually became more open about what had happened.  We talked about ways to make her feel safe and make me be accountable to her.  This was a process that continues to this day.

I found a marriage counselor who could see us right away.  I did more and more to try to help.  One big obstacle remained:  I was desperately trying to hide the fact that I had had two previous affairs and a long series of other illicit encounters.

Similarly, I wanted to hide the fact that I had herpes, something I had probably gotten from a prostitute seven years earlier.  I had hidden it from TL all those years, hoping that abstaining from sex during outbreaks would be sufficient to keep her from contracting it.  How could I take such risks with TL’s health?  The answer:  on my list of priorities, protecting myself and my secrets was my first and most important instinct.  Yes, it was cowardly and selfish.

That day, the day TL discovered my affair, is what we call D-day.  In fact, we call it first D-day.  Second and final D-day came nearly two months later.  Beginning with first D-day, I knew I wanted TL and only TL.  I knew I never again wanted my double life.  I was convinced I would never again intentionally hurt TL.  I did continue to hurt her, unintentionally, by continuing to hide things from her.  That was due to cowardice on my part, not malice.

Our first marriage counselor gave us urgent care.  He helped TL see that she had the power to decide how to deal with our situation, but that she did not have to rush to decide.  He helped me see that I had to change my selfish, self-centered ways, be deeply remorseful, continuously express my remorse, and put TL’s need to heal above all else.

Here’s the most important thing he gave me.  We talked about how I came to be so insecure, jealous, and self-centered.  I revealed a problem with which I had struggled our whole marriage.   From the first year of our courtship and marriage, I struggled with insecurities about how I compared with TL’s previous lovers.  It actually reminded me a bit of that Ben Affleck movie called Chasing Amy.  I admitted that I knew it was not right for me to think that way.  Before I could continue, our counselor interrupted and said clearly, “That’s sick.  That’s a sick obsession.”

I had long suspected there was something wrong with my thinking in that regard.  But, hearing it from a licensed counselor helped me believe it.  At that moment, I learned I could come back to our counselor’s words, as a touchstone.  When the sick obsessions would creep toward my consciousness, I confronted them head-on and called them what they were.  Then I was able to tell myself that TL is too important to be lost, especially on account of sick obsessions.

TL: “WTF?”

Mindless told me how the AP was extremely concerned that no others find out. Though, she was once married into a wealthy and connected family, she divorced years ago, with little assets, money or connections left. Her child was grown, she seemingly had nothing to lose, no real reason to be concerned. He kept insisting that he felt the same, he did not want anyone to find out, especially me.

All I can figure is that her public persona and her private one were also so different, just like Mindless really, that she could not stand exposing her true nature to anyone. She professed she was a devout Christian and, in earlier years, used to fraternizing with the upper echelons of society. It must have been a blow to her ego that she was reduced to seeking favors and attention from some non-famous, younger, not fabulously wealthy, non-Christian, married man with children. She actually was attempting to convert Mindless to Christianity. I will tell you this, it takes more than quoting the Bible, posting pictures of Jesus everywhere and attending church to be a person of faith. Clearly, she never figured out the “more” part. In fact, Mindless and I used to joke about such people and their lack of self-awareness. Wow, the joke was really on me, wasn’t it?

Sorry, going off on a tangent a bit there. My main point was that I can almost see asking Mindless to put her camera in his carry-on. But, WTF is up with asking him to carry a woman’s blouse and an empty perfume box in his carry-on luggage? She also gave him a black & white, 8×11 photo of herself in her younger years. Was it signed? It may have been. I don’t remember. The moment I found it, I tore it to shreds.

I know I should not even attempt to decipher this shit. But, I cannot help but think that she wanted me to find this stuff, so that Mindless would be kicked-out and come running back to her fabulous, glorious self, so he could pay her way for a bit longer. I was bound to find out regardless, as Mindless was truly Mindless. He used our credit card to reserve her a hotel and pay the excess baggage charge. Normally he stuck to using cash because, you know, we live in cash-based societies and using a credit card is not safe. Unfortunately, that last bit is all too often true with the places we live.

Let me be clear, my anger is far more with Mindless than anyone else. But, Mindless has given transparency into what was going on in his heart and mind and is doing everything possible to take responsibility for his actions. That is not true for the AP.  When I am wronged, by anyone, I want to see them take responsibility for their actions. Regardless, of illicit sexual behavior or some other wrong doing, this is my nature, it is hard for me to let that go. I have always been about fairness and justice, not just for me, but for those I see being mistreated as well. Maybe G-d’s lesson to me in all of this is having to really face that I cannot force life to be fair, I cannot force justice to occur. I cannot fight every injustice. I cannot right every wrong. I cannot control the outcome, only my own inputs. It sure took me a long time to learn that lesson. Well, at least to see the lesson I need to learn.