Monthly Archives: June 2015

MC: “The risk dichotomy”

Before D-day, I was relatively risk averse with relationships. The clearest example was my relationship with my mother. My mother verbally harassed me, threw temper tantrums to get her way, and used lies and manufactured crises to manipulate me. She did this well into my adult years. The older I got, the less I confronted her on these conflicts. I would give in to her, to get her off my back. Or, if I really did not want to give in, I would ignore her. Or, I would pretend to concede to her but then covertly go about doing whatever it was I really wanted to do anyway.

I confronted her on one memorable occasion. At the beginning of my marriage, TL and I planned a move across country. My mother insisted my father accompany us. My mother called me daily, at home and at work, to beg, threaten, and yell to get me to concede. Several times I hung up the phone. This was before caller ID was common. Even with caller ID, I could not let the phone ring and ring at work. Once I threw the phone at the wall in anger. I did not concede. We did not speak to my parents for many, many months after that.

Aside from that confrontation with my mother, there were several incidents when my mother said something rude or nosy toward TL, poked her nose in our business regarding children or other things, or generally did something that seemed designed just to irritate TL or me. All too often, my response was too meek. I attempted to ignore what my mother was doing or to change the subject. Rarely, if ever, did I say, “Mom, that’s not appropriate.” I avoided confrontation. I avoided the risk of conflict.

Now that I think about it, I avoided certain career risks too. I avoided the risk of law school. I avoided the risk of joining the military. On at least one notable occasion I avoided the risk of pushing back on a boss who was behaving the same way my mother behaved. As an adolescent and twenty-something, I avoided risks with sports and with dating.

Against the backdrop of my risk aversion, I went to the opposite extreme in my adulterous double-life. I had unprotected sex with prostitutes in a country where HIV was prevalent. I picked up prostitutes with foolhardy confidence that I wouldn’t encounter the legal or social consequences. TL is aghast that I did those things. I’d be aghast about it too, if it were someone else. TL asks why I took such risks. I’ve had the hardest time answering that question. As I was taking those risks, I told myself, “Don’t worry about it. It [the dangerous consequence] won’t happen to me.”

The other day it hit me. Perhaps my extreme risk aversion in normal life and my complete disregard for danger in my illicit life were not paradoxical. Perhaps they were related, like two ends of the same strip of paper that can touch each other if you bend them back far enough. In fact, maybe my complete disregard for danger in my illicit life was the child part of my personality rebelling against the risk aversion that the damaged adult part of my personality imposed on me.

The adult part of my personality had subconsciously learned from my mother the habit of imposing that risk aversion. Instead of growing up and being courageous, I just kept suppressing my instinctive desire for freedom, my desire to act like a grown-up, my desire to be a man. When suppressing it so thoroughly and so long, it occasionally erupted in the most uncontrolled ways, with me doing everything I could to break free, even at the expense of reason.

The dichotomy — being a risk-averse person who occasionally lost all inhibitions regarding risk — was my struggle to prove my masculinity. My mother went to sickening lengths to undermine and discourage my development as a man and as an adult. I actually developed the habit of hiding those aspects of my personality in order to avoid conflict with her. She discouraged sports, isolated me from other children, vilified the concept of normal interest in girls, and prohibited contemporary music and culture. She used shame and guilt to discourage me from dating. She made it clear she would never approve of me marrying, except in the mathematically unlikely event that I married someone of a specific cultural background that appealed to her — a culture that actually is almost nonexistent in modern America.

Having suppressed my adulthood and my masculinity so seriously and for so long, I turned to illicit, uncontrolled, and disproportionate ways of releasing those energies. Temporarily abandoning reason and risk-aversion, as part of my illicit double life, was my imbalanced psychological system’s means of seeking equilibrium. My system was imbalanced by the intense restrictions on my thoughts and actions. At first my mother imposed those restrictions. Then, I learned to impose those restrictions on myself.
The bursts of insanity — that’s what I call my temporary abandonment of reason and risk aversion — were not subconscious reflexes. When I saw prostitutes, for example, I knew what I was doing and I arrived at that insane action through a series of conscious decisions. But, I call those events “moments of insanity” because there is no better term in our language for acts that defy a person’s otherwise established patterns of thought and behavior.

Why did I choose to take those risks? I think it was my misguided way of trying to exert control over my life. I wanted the control that an adult man ought to feel with regard to his own life. My conscious adult mind did not help me achieve that feeling. So, the child part of my personality kicked in and pursued that feeling, at any cost.
I was so extremely immature — underdeveloped as an adult and as a man — that I became jealous and resentful of TL, who was quite a bit more mature than most people our age. Even before meeting TL, I was very conscious of feeling I was not really an adult, not really a man. I often felt like a little boy compared to other people my age. I didn’t like that feeling. I resented it. I resented my mother for forcing me to remain a little boy too long. I resented myself for not mustering the willpower to overcome it.

I envied other people who seemed to have matured more than I had. They were more independent from their parents, more self-reliant, more experienced with the world, and more experienced with sex and relationships. I was insanely jealous. I developed a deeply-ingrained habit of comparing myself to others. I scored my own self-worth against other people’s, in terms of number of sexual encounters, degree of independent-mindedness, and diversity of experiences, including illicit and dangerous experiences. This was the thinking that led me to total disregard of risk in my illicit double life.  I had thought less of myself when I was risk averse. So, I tried to take risks as a way of feeling better about myself. It didn’t work.

On D-day, this double life was snuffed out. The sick thinking that enabled my double-life had to end too. The solution is to focus on healthy, transparent, and genuine ways of demonstrating my adulthood and manhood to myself. Instead of comparing myself to others, I have to find intrinsic value in myself. Instead of seeking control and the feeling of adulthood and masculinity in uncontrolled bursts, I need to feel small, regular doses of it every day. For this I look to new definitions of adulthood.

I can find these in religion, fatherhood, being a better employee, being a better leader, and viewing physical fitness in a healthier light. Since D-day, I’ve been working to be more courageous — more comfortable with myself and my priorities — at work, in appropriate social interactions, and as an example in my role as a father. My life was out of balance before D-day. My personality was out of balance. Part of the work I am doing to give TL safety as my mate is to keep my personality in balance.

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MC: “Remorse.”

You just read about how I failed to act quickly on the vasectomy.  I’ve written a post about a similar failure regarding individual counseling.  I’m grateful to be in individual counseling now, but I took too long to get there.  You’ll see that post soon.  But first, I want to say something about remorse, remorse for my years of cheating, lying, and hurting TL.

First, I’m far from perfect, as a man and as a husband.  But, I’m working so hard to learn from each of my mistakes, to deepen my empathy and emotional maturity, and to be a better person and a better husband for TL.  Yes, even in my attempts to make things better after D-day, I’ve had failures. There were times I hesitated.

I’m doing the homework.  I studied hard, for months, for my religious conversion.  I found our first two counselors and the attorney.  I booked my own polygraph exams. I studied hard with Rick Reynolds.  Every single day I work on my personality flaws and on our relationship.  I’ve worked harder on this than on anything else in my life. I do things lovingly, willingly, and for the right reasons.

I hesitated on the vasectomy and individual counseling due to my own fear, confusion, and ineptitude.  I failed by waiting for reminders from TL before jumping right on those things.  I did do those things of my own free will and was happy to do them, but I hesitated.

I failed to identify an individual counseling path for myself in a timely manner.  But, since starting, I book and consistently attend the individual counseling sessions.  I haven’t missed one.  Nor have I wasted a moment in a session.  I am on-task, deeply honest, deeply vulnerable, and both emotional and analytical — to the best of my abilities — in each session with B.  And, when we move again, you bet I’ll get a new individual counselor, right away.

My heart is in the right place, my work is arduous and sincere, and I can’t even begin to describe how sorry I am for my years of crimes against TL, but I did hesitate on the individual counseling and the vasectomy.

Ultimately, I did those things and I’m happier that I did.  As evil as I was before D-day, my intentions toward TL, reconciliation, and improving my own mental health are pure. I know my emotional development is far from finished. As much as I know that I am truly remorseful, TL needs me to not hesitate to know it too.

MC: “Vasectomy.”

Shortly after D-day, TL asked me to get a vasectomy.  TL was unable to get pregnant again due to a medical issue.  TL was worried that I would carelessly cheat again and end-up getting some woman pregnant. Mostly, TL worried that I would one day walk out the door to start over with someone new, without ever looking back at the destruction I left in my wake for her and our children. She wanted some kind of tangible insurance that our children would never have to share my emotional, physical and financial resources with any other children. I knew I did not want divorce, and I knew I would never cheat again.  But, TL did not know that for certain.  The polygraph and the post-nuptial showed her that her safety was my top priority. The vasectomy was a means to show her that our whole family was also a top priority. I agreed.

I did not, however, rush out and find a doctor the way I found a polygraph examiner, counselors, and lawyer. I kept letting that particular item fall further down my to-do list.  I guess I was afraid.  I was afraid of under going surgery in such a sensitive area. I was afraid of something going wrong. Late last year she questioned my intentions. Why would I agree to do it, then not see it through? It was a continuation of old behavior patterns in her eyes. She felt it was once again me telling her what she wanted to hear with no intention of following through.  I got the vasectomy in December.  It was disgusting and painful, but it was worth it.

That lead right into our next crisis.  TL was there in the room when the doctor was preparing to perform the vasectomy.  I was talking to the doctor, asking about post-operative care and when I could get back to normal activity levels.  He said to be off my feet for a couple days at least.  Falling back into my old ways of thinking, I said something like, “Oh, the dishes and laundry are going to pile up.”  This, of course, completely ignored the enormous contributions TL makes to dishes, laundry, and lots of responsibilities to support household and family.  This made TL feel like she did not exist, that I thought she was not capable of handling our home alone, even though she just spent an entire year alone doing exactly that.

It also showed my continued obsessive-compulsive attitude toward those activities.  I think in my worst moments before D-day I thought compulsively about sex and porn.  After D-day, I conquered that tendency.  But, I was left with continued obsessive attitudes toward tidying and organizing the house.

Even as those words were rolling out of my mouth, I knew they were wrong.  It was like watching a ceramic cup fall from a high shelf after you have carelessly bumped into the shelf.  You see it falling in slow motion, the whole time wishing you could turn back time and prevent it but knowing it is too late.  The cup hits the ground.  It shatters into various-sized pieces.  You hear the gasps and questions from everyone around.  You regret the loss of the cup, the fact that you caused it, and the fact that you could have prevented it if only you had been just a little more thoughtful, vigilant, and careful.  You brace yourself to ask forgiveness, clean it up, and try to replace the cup.

That’s what happened.  I said the hurtful words that focused on my obsessions, ignorant of TL’s feelings about the matter.  Worse, I said them to another person.  I had vowed to start recognizing TL’s virtues and contributions in public, in contrast to the way I failed to appreciate her before D-day.  Instead, I devalued her contributions there in front of that stupid doctor.

I spent weeks trying to apologize and make amends for that foolish error.

TL: “Was I just fooling myself?”

When we arrived in our new local, we found our new home to be quite decent with a lot of land for our dog and kids. I was happy with our home, our neighborhood and the schools. That was a good start. As MC started his new position, the kids, dog and I settled into home life. After unpacking, I found myself sad, just sad. I missed my family terribly. I had no idea how much I missed them until I had been back living near them with the kids for an entire year. I missed our friends, old and new. I missed my hometown too. I was losing the capacity and desire to make new friends.

Most of the classes I needed were dependent upon a prerequisite only offered during the summer term. I could not take that class with our previous two summer moves. There was only one class that did not need the prerequisite and so I took that class in the fall term. Upon completion, I joined a book club and met some nice women, but nobody clicked in the same way as they did so quickly in our previous two homes. I was feeling rootless and rudderless. I became lonely and frozen.

We needed to find a new counselor. Our insurance was exceptionally limiting in providers in our new area. I expected MC to take the lead on this. He tried, but the provider ended up no longer accepting our insurance. It fell to the wayside. Desperate for help, I found us a new counselor. The area in which we now lived was not very cosmopolitan and qualified available providers on our plan were exceptionally limited, there was one left on our plan, only one!

We talked with our new Counselor about individual counseling as well as marriage counseling. We asked if she could do both. She was willing, with the proviso that it was possible that we would need to find another counselor to help MC if any conflict in doing it this way appeared. At first, it was me going alone, then the both of us together.

I was getting anxious for MC to attend some individual counseling. I had given so much leeway on this at first because while overseas we had one American trained, english speaking local counselor available to us and we always saw her together. His year away, there were no local counselors available to him. He would join Phil and I on Skype when the timing worked out. And, he spent the year working on his religious studies. Otherwise, I spoke with Phil alone. I wanted our new home to be more comprehensive in our treatment with each of us receiving individual treatment as well as marriage counseling. MC stated he was on board with this idea, in fact that he agreed it was the best course forward.  It took him longer than I expected to start his individual counseling.

In addition, he had promised he would get a vasectomy upon returning home to the US, something that was definitely best done in the US as opposed to previous less developed overseas locations. I did recognize that the overseas component of our lives had added difficulties to acting on this promise. After a few months, however, in our new location in the US, I was getting eager to see that his actions would indeed match his words without me instigating, arranging or directing for that to occur.

Before d-day he lived by three mantras:

1) Pretend to listen, ignore it and it will likely be forgotten about,
2) If necessary to act, put forth the least amount of time, thought and energy just to “check the box.”
3) It’s always better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Part of his healing, in my mind, involved him NEVER living according to these mantras again. And, so, when I worry, suspect or see evidence that these are still tendencies by which he lives or toward which he is inclined naturally, it is a HUGE trigger for me and I begin to question everything.

Since arriving at our new local, I had stopped exercising. I just could not get the motivation to start that back up again. With missing family, friends and home terribly, with the smoking lie, and with him not immediately acting upon getting IC and a vasectomy when finally possible to do so, I found myself spiraling down into depression and worrying more than I had the entire year he was away. Was I just fooling myself?

TL: “Going with MC.”

Before we left “home” for MC’s new job, we got together one more time with our friends, I’ll just refer to them as the Perel friends. Knowing they were huge proponents of honesty within a marriage (open or otherwise), I found myself confiding my worries about MC’s smoking lie and what it meant to the future of our relationship. Was this a set-back or a deal breaker? I was reminded of the progress that MC has made, the efforts he has gone to in giving me safety and his devotion to me and our children. I was also reminded of the fact that MC is changing a lifetime of bad habits. A lifetime of coping with life through lies instead of facing shameful truths. Perhaps I could and should consider this more of a set-back than a deal-breaker.

This situation also opened up wider discussion between MC and I about the difference between ego and self-esteem, the difference between trying to please others as opposed to doing what is right for its own sake. This was the beginning of a greater conversation, a conversation I decided was worth pursuing together. I went with MC to his next job.

MC: “I will never again be a liar.”

You’ve read my previous entry, about how I let my insecurities about my masculinity lead me to smoking.  I’ve worked very, very hard — and successfully — to overcome those insecurities, and to stop smoking, cheating, using porn, flirting, masturbating, and paying for sex.  I’ve overcome alcohol and food challenges too.  Please understand that I get that there’s more to it than that.  I get that lying is a distinct and frightening problem, regardless of overcoming those other challenges.

Here’s how I’ve worked to stop lying.  First, I recognize that lying was one of my many distinct flaws as a husband, son, and human being.  I suspect I subconsciously learned at an early age that lying was “normal” and that people can say one thing while thinking or doing another.  My mother did that often.  She would exaggerate stories to make herself or her family look better, more deserving, more needy, more put-upon, or whatever she found it convenient to portray at the moment.  In some cases, she invented lies from whole-cloth, to “save face,” avoid conflict, or manipulate people or situations. I knew that was wrong.  What I didn’t know is that I was beginning to emulate my mother’s dishonesty, more and more, without even realizing how much I was doing it.

I’ve struggled with my mother’s influence all my life.  I’ve struggled with the bad example of how to view the world that she taught me, her bad habits she modeled for me, the guilt and verbal abuse she used to control me, the games she played to manipulate me, and the anger with which she attacked me.  Part of my work on self-healing and reconciliation has been to break free from her influence.

I now defend TL and my kids with strength in the face of my mother’s attacks.  I now don’t succumb to my mother’s guilt trips or her temper tantrums.  I also no longer view the world as she does.  I’m leaving behind her negative view of the world.  I’m happily leaving behind her sick manner of exaggerating, hiding the truth, telling half-truths, and lying.  I want to be better than that.  I want be happier than that.

Second, I have really embraced the journey  toward being genuine.  I’ve found great freedom in it.  Now, when I walk around — be it at work, at scouting events with my kids, or anywhere — I can calm the voices of self-doubt in my head.  Instead of wondering what people might think of me or what might happen, I relax in the knowledge that I am speaking my mind honesty, I am behaving honestly in the best interests of my marriage, my family, and myself.  Other people’s opinions of me no longer matter so much anymore.  “Other people” includes my mother, bosses (within reason), colleagues, strangers, and many others.  It proves to me that being honest feels better — safer, easier in the long run — than lying.

Third, more than anything else, I want to be closer to TL. I want a gentle, honest, safe, kind, and loving relationship with TL.  The smoking lie was my final reminder that lies achieve the opposite of that. If I ever lie again, TL will surely be gone.  I want to be closer to TL.  I want to be an honest man.  Even if TL leaves me or dies before I do, I want to be an honest man.

Fourth, when doing anything, I ask myself, “Is this something I want to hide, from TL or anyone else?”  If the answer is anything other than “no, I’m proud of my behavior,” I stop that behavior before it starts.

Yes, I failed.  Yes, I lied about smoking.  I will never lie again.  I’ve learned that being honest about sex is not enough.  I must be honest about everything.  Even something as small as a broken glass in the kitchen or a beer alone in my hotel room requires complete and immediate honesty with TL.

I lied about smoking.

I am working within myself, with my counselor and with God to remain an honest man.

I don’t want to lie.  I don’t need to lie.  Lying hurts me and those I love.  I will never again be a liar.

TL: “He didn’t have all the answers.”

MC went overseas and I was truly home with our kids, living in our home state for a full year. We had been “home” for a few months here and there, but never for a full year. I was so happy to be near my family again and to have our kids near my family again.

MC and I would talk on FaceTime multiple times per day. He was in a stressful job in a less than stellar environment and here we were talking for hours every day about very difficult topics. He called me, he checked in on me constantly. I know he was so worried about me, about us and he was vigilant in his concern. When he would wake in the morning, he would FaceTime with us as we ate dinner. When I drove the kids to school in our morning, he would chat with the kids on their way to school. And, while the kids were at school, after my workout, he would call to talk alone with me just before he went to bed. No matter what I dished out, he kept calling, kept checking, kept trying to sooth me, never giving up, never giving in.

I was afraid to let the pain go, afraid to let him not see my pain. Why? A couple of reasons really. First, I feared if he forgot the intense pain I was experiencing he would go back to his old ways. Second, I did not know how to address this pain within myself and I kept looking for him to do something, anything, to make it go away.

When I think about the rings now, I think my disappointment came far less from him not meeting some unspoken expectation in my head, but rather from the fact that new rings didn’t actually change anything, didn’t take away the pain. I did not realize for a very long time that, in reality, there was nothing MC could do to take away the pain. I did not realize for a very long time that, in reality, what I really wanted MC to do was to change the past and that just was NOT possible.

When I was alone, I would often find myself in my walk-in closet, curled up crying and rocking myself to soothe myself. I was again seeing Phil, but we got to the point where his most common advice often was that there were no crystal balls, we could each only do our best and there are somethings we had to just leave to G-d. I needed something more substantive. I needed strategies to learn new coping mechanisms. Our insurance was also giving Phil problems and so I started going less and less and less.

One of my out-of-town cousins came for a visit. We sat out on our balcony, with a glass of wine and a cigarillo each. It was a few lovely evenings with her. I told MC about it and all seemed fine. I noticed a few weeks later something seemed off, I sensed something wasn’t quite right. I asked him about it and he assured me all was well, nothing new to share, nothing new had happened, blah, blah, blah. . .I begged him to tell me if there was something, anything he was keeping from me. He insisted there was not.

At the same time, I met some wonderful friends through our children’s school. I also had a few old friends in town. We started having a life separate from MC. I was going to the gym every day, I was focusing on school, I was driving kids to and from school, to and from extra-curricular actives, in charge of making sure homework  was done and the accompanying struggles, making sure the household was running smoothly and just trying to keep it all together.

My youngest child’s best friend was the child of a couple with whom I became closer. As we became closer, they revealed that they were in an open marriage. I still really don’t know why they told me something they clearly don’t share with the greater community. Feeling a bit isolated in my pain, seeing they were more open and accepting about such issues, not fearing that we would be judged and knowing that they trusted me enough to share such private information with me, I decided to share with them some of my struggles with MC. They had a very different perspective than I had ever heard and introduced me to Esther Perel. I started to see beyond my pain and think through things in a different way, getting closer to acceptance than I had ever before.

MC and I talked about Perel and this couple a whole heck of a lot. He did not want an open marriage, but it was an interesting conversation to help us explore what it was we each really wanted. I also saw that between this couple’s professional lives, their relationships with others and their family life, they seemed stretched so thin. To this day, I don’t understand how you can focus yourself in so many different directions and still have something left for family. While these friends are still friends to me and MC, seeing how their relationship works and doesn’t work has also helped me to understand that an open marriage is not something I could ever handle.

MC, feeling bad about the new wedding band presentation, decided to surprise me with a new engagement ring and proposed to me all over again during his second visit home. It was beautiful. He was working on his religious conversion and would have it completed by his third visit home. We made a plan. The kids and I would meet him for his religious conversion ceremony, we would fly back with him to “home” and have a party for 50 friends and family at our home and then the next day have a small, simple, traditional ceremony at the synagogue with close family and friends (about 20 people total).  Our children’s teachers were also musicians and, as a gift, played for us at the ceremony. It was all so beautiful.

The next time MC would be home was at the end of his job overseas. Our landlords had returned to the area earlier than expected, so refused to give us the one month more we needed. The kids and I had to move out and into a hotel before MC was back. When he arrived, he had his 3rd polygraph since d-day. Before taking the test, I asked the polygraph examiner to change one question. Instead of “since the last polygraph have you omitted, hidden or lied to TL about any sexually related . . . .”. TO “since the last polygraph have you omitted, hidden or lied to TL about ANYTHING.” These are not exact words, but you get the idea. Before MC took the test, he admitted to the examiner that he had been smoking for months. When I came back in after the test, they shared this with me. At first, I thought, ok, so he smoked while in a stressful place. But, it didn’t take long for me to start ruminating on how he had hidden this from me. I became very very very very very upset with him. He had withheld this from me. How could he do this? I did not know what to do. I was distraught. On the one hand it had nothing to do with sexually related anything. On the other hand, he hid something from me and this was completely unacceptable. The shit really hit the fan!

I had seen how much work MC had done. He had put in so much effort regarding sexually illicit behaviors. Was I going to walk away over this. On the one hand, it was clear he believed in the polygraph so much that he admitted to the smoking upon hearing the question change. This was reassuring. On the other hand, would he have ever told me had I not changed that question? Why did he still feel it was ok to hide things from me? Why would he hide something like smoking, something I would’ve understood given the conditions he was living in, something I would have understood given that I enjoyed a very occasional smoke myself? When I had sensed something was off, it was that he was hiding that he was smoking. I was right. I needed him to help me learn to trust my instincts, he could’ve faced his fears to give me the knowledge that my instincts were spot-on. He chose his fear over doing that. Our new vows had been taken with a lie between us. I was so angry, so sad, and so disappointed.

We had a week and a half before we left to our new home. We spent the nights talking and talking about how this happened, why this happened and what he was planning on doing about it. He was scared, ashamed and he was embarrassed. All of our things were on the way to our new home. We were living in a hotel. I was distraught. I was angry. I was disappointed. I had to decide if this was a set-back or a deal breaker. We talked a lot about his propensity for self-pity, his addiction to it in fact. We talked some about his need to control and compare and where this had lead and where it would lead if he followed those impulses. This was a relapse. Not a relapse in terms of sexually related issues, but a relapse in terms of his self-pity. We talked about how he took a wonderful opportunity to share something he felt shameful about, to share all of himself with me and instead of doing so, he hid it. We talked about why he did that? He didn’t have all the answers. If he wanted our marriage he had to find those answers!

TL: “Mad at myself for feeling disappointed.”

I started graduate school 6 months after d-day. Counselor Troi and MC were my biggest supporters in this idea. I spent my first class making sure every paper, every assignment was perfect. I threw myself into that class to such a degree that I decided I needed to let go of my position on the PTO. School was going well, I had less time to ruminate, but I was still not doing well when not thinking about my school work.

My best friend was upset with me for withdrawing from our school community. She became sick with a cold and was mad at me for not checking in on her. I apologized, explaining I had become somewhat self-focused with school and dealing with everything going on in my life. I told her I had fallen short on being a friend, and was really sorry for that.  I hoped she could understand that I had needed some time to adjust to my new reality. She didn’t. She still pulled away from our friendship. I did wonder if this was her way of ending the friendship after I had confided in her about some of what was going on with MC and me. She cancelled plans for our joint family ski vacation, was always too busy when I would suggest coffee or tea and never again asked me for a ride anywhere. I missed my friend.

I ended-up sharing with two other women friends and I am so glad I did share with them a little bit of what was going on. They were so supportive of me and of seeing all the changes MC was making. One friend always made me laugh, she was such a free and healing spirit. The other friend was also a G-d send who happened to know a couple from the previous place they lived who had been through something similar. She put us in touch. It was this couple that introduced us to Affair Recovery.

MC continued with his work of becoming a safer partner, someone who was invested in our relationship and our family. A lot of this year was focusing on helping me through the trauma and his learning empathy. As we made our way forward, his year away was looming in front of me, in front of us. I was so scared on the one hand, but so very ready to live near my family for a whole year.

We moved back to the US. MC was with us for a few weeks before departing overseas. He had been talking about new wedding bands, since I had refused to wear my old rings since d-day. Here he was about to leave for a year and he had not even looked at rings, didn’t really seem to care that I wasn’t wearing a ring with him going overseas. I was disappointed. I felt bad for feeling bad about this. He asked me to drop him at the mall. I asked him to not get wedding bands because I wanted to pick those out together, maybe instead just something like a “promise” ring just so I could wear something that was meaningful and special and not tainted when I was ready. All he heard is that I was disappointed in no new wedding bands. He spent three hours at the jewelry store, traded in our old rings, and picked us out new wedding bands. The bands arrived a few weeks later.

I had hoped that he would have had a simple, but special exchange planned, with meaningful words, perhaps at a park or arranging with a Rabbi who would oversee an interfaith vow exchange. I had these images in my head of something extremely small, simple, with our kids by our sides, but meaningful and special. He had nothing, he just gave me the ring and said, “I hope you like it.” Again, I was disappointed. At this point, he decided we should go ahead and write vows to repeat to each other. We took about 30 minutes to do so, with the kids fighting in the background, we exchanged vows, standing in front of a tv set at our temporary lodging. I was mad at myself for having expectations. I was mad at him for not meeting my expectations. We clearly still had such problems communicating with each other and I felt disappointed, but so mad at myself for feeling disappointed.

MC: “I’m not a little boy.”

But, a few weeks before that visit I also made one awful decision that the polygraph did not address.  I started buying an ice cream bar after dinner once in a while.  Then it became every night.  I then told myself to stop that because I was watching my weight.  I have a hard time sitting still and wanted a way to wind down before going to bed each night.  Before D-day I would look to porn, masturbation, affairs, or prostitutes for that purpose when alone.  I definitely did not want to ever do those again.  I considered alcohol, but thought that would be worse than ice cream.  So, I turned to cigarettes.  I started covertly smoking.  I didn’t tell TL.

There were so many issues with that smoking problem.  As I look back on it now, I realize that 95% of the desire to wind down is reduced by not being alone, physically or emotionally.  That year I was physically alone.  Before d-day, I had made TL and I feel emotionally alone.  I had been so habitually deep in self-pity and expecting TL to meet my needs that I had let that sick thinking overshadow our previously good friendship.

I still feel a little restless discomfort on those rare occasions when I’m truly alone, like on business travel without TL.  I do consider alcohol, ice cream, or chocolate sometimes when that happens.  But, I know what’s happening and I choose not to do it.  I wonder why I’m that way, why I sometimes feel that restlessness when I’m alone.

I wonder whether it’s because I never learned how to be alone.  My parents were always omnipresent, like prison guards.  After that, I almost always lived with dorm-mates, roommates, girlfriends, or TL.  On the other hand, there have been plenty of occasions when I did OK alone.

Maybe it’s because of my high metabolism.  I’ve always been almost constantly in motion, mentally if not physically.  I do find that healthy routines relating to food, caffeine, exercise, alcohol, and sunshine help me immensely.  I think of them as naturopathic methods to regulate the mood-related chemicals in my body.  TL and I both worry about the use of anti-depressants.  We’ve both seen family members and friends who relied heavily and permanently on anti-depressants and other prescription drugs, becoming addicted and decaying mentally and physically as a result.

Second, of course, I should have told TL about the smoking,  I know that the smoking wouldn’t have bothered her so much.  It was the fact that I hid it from her that made her feel hopeless.  I don’t fully understand why I hid it from her.  It’s true that I grew up in a very conservative community, where smoking was discussed only with hushed-voices and piety.  I think it’s also true that I had become afraid of TL, afraid of her anger and disappointment.

Third, I justified my smoking by blaming TL for smoking first.  She had shared a cigarillo and a glass of wine with her cousin one evening and told me about it during one of our many FaceTime calls. As I discussed with my counselor the other day, justifying bad choices is bad enough. On top of that, I had some inexplicable desire to control whether TL smoked, a desire to change that reality.  That feeling was familiar.  It was very similar to the feeling I had before D-day when I justified my cheating by telling myself my sexual history did not measure up to TL’s.  I think I felt my manhood was threatened if I could not be confident I had had more sex, smoked more, tried drugs more, drank more, or God-knows-what-else more than TL.

Why should I feel threatened based on such a bizarre thing?  I’m still not sure I totally understand it.  Let’s be clear. It was wrong and pathological on my part.  But, explaining its origin is another question.  My theory is that it was my warped attempt to be an adult, to be independent of my mother.  Now I’m working on taking on genuine adult responsibilities, through being a husband, father, employee, advisor in my profession, man of faith in my religion, and citizen.

But, back then, before D-day, I was striving for adulthood, for manhood, in the wrong way.  I was angry at being treated as a little boy, by my mother.  I suspected that bosses, peers, women, and others perceived me as a little boy, not as a man.  Indeed, my physical appearance is that of a much younger man.  I’m a bit on the small side physically.  And, perhaps I had developed a subconscious habit of seeing myself as my mother saw me.  She was always so omnipresent in my early life.

She  taught me — rather piously and even angrily — that sex, smoking, drugs, drinking, and many more things were bad.  So, I think I calculated that I could measure my manhood based on my ability to do those things my mother said not to do.  And, if others — particularly a woman — beat me on those scales, I felt my manhood was threatened.  Yes, I know it’s pathological, and I’m working on countering my long history of such unhealthy thinking.  In fact, it was so deeply ingrained in me that I wouldn’t even call it thinking.  It was more of a sick, subconscious philosophy.

In any case, choosing to hide the smoking from TL was perhaps the worst decision I have made since D-day.  Though it started in September, I hid it until July, revealing it only just before my most recent polygraph.  We’re still recovering from that lie.  I wasn’t betraying TL with sex or other people.  But, by hiding part of myself from her, it was a betrayal of our friendship.  I can pat myself on the back for not using porn, masturbation, or sex illicitly for three years, and for not lying to TL about anything but smoking in those three years.  But, clearly I still have work to do.

Otherwise, what I remember from our year apart was the wonderful times we had together when I was home on breaks.  We saw old friends and new.  We had date nights and family nights.  Our sex life was the best it had ever been, in my view.  We had a nice family ski trip on my second break.  Each break, TL and I made it a point to go away for a spa weekend together.

I took three polygraph tests that year.  I passed every time.  TL was in deep despair when the smoking lie came out.  Thank God we’re still together.  This year I tell her everything about my day, every day.  I can’t lie to her again.

Around the time of my second break, I completed the self-study portion of my religious conversion.  On my third break I traveled to meet with the clerics, complete the interview portion, and undergo the rituals.  TL and the kids met me there.  I remember that day fondly.  I remember in the interview how I tied everything together.

Without getting into terrible details, I explained to the clerics that one of my main motivations for the conversion was to dedicate myself to a better path after learning from my personal mistakes and sins.  I also told them how some part of my problem came from centering my life around myself.  Thus, by putting God and family at the center of my life, I hoped to resolve my biggest problems that led to my sins:  selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-pity.

Then TL and I returned home for our vow renewal ceremony.  Close to our twentieth anniversary, we finally had the wedding ceremony and honeymoon I should have given TL years ago.  Actually, we did give ourselves a nice honeymoon cruise for our fifth anniversary.  But, this time, it was the whole package.  It was like starting over.  Our family and friends were there.  We wrote our own vows.  We did everything in the proper religious tradition.  The night before, we hosted a nice, but fun, reception at our home.  We even had a nice cake.

Earlier in the year I had begun working with an attorney to create a post-nuptial agreement for TL.  We finalized it toward the end of that year.  The idea was to assure TL that she had choices, that she did not have to stay in the marriage just for financial security.

In the final weeks of our year apart, I made a discovery that I still find useful.  I was never seduced by women, sex, or anything else.  I was seduced by self-pity.  One rare Saturday I was alone in my apartment, reading.  I came across a stupid men’s magazine that the previous resident had left behind.  I casually paged through it and came upon an article about how to be successful as a single guy, or some stupid thing.  Falling prey to my own old bad habit, my mind went back in time twenty-five years, to when I was a single guy.  I recalled how very unsuccessful I had felt back then. I don’t know how much time I wasted — maybe 30 minutes or more — feeling sorry for myself and my memories of feeling inadequate.

Eventually I got ahold of myself and firmly reminded myself I could not afford that type of thinking.  Unhealthy as that thinking was, this time it was also a revelation.  I realized I was never tempted so much by seeing an available woman, a porn magazine, or something similar.  Certainly two-years after D-day, I did not consider those things to be serious temptations.  Self-pity, on the other hand, was tempting.  That’s what requires me to be vigilant, ready to counter self-pity with positive and practical thinking.

When our year apart finally came to a close, we started on the most  recent leg of our journey together.  This brings me back to my most recent polygraph success and my terrible smoking confession.  TL almost left me that day.  She said the vow renewal, rings, and everything else were worthless because I was hiding smoking from her during that time.

I don’t know why she agreed to move to our current location and stay with me.  Thank God she did.  We had a fun family vacation drive across the country, enjoying lots of hiking, swimming, and once-in-a-lifetime family moments.  Our current home turned out to be a good place for us to spend time together, nurturing the kids and our relationship as a couple.

TL “Though my own eyes.”

Upon the realizations that all my sacrifices had been for MC’s dreams as opposed to “our” dreams, I was completely lost and lonely. I did not know who I was anymore. The strong, independent woman I had been was gone. My strengths had so atrophied over the years that I felt they no longer really existed. I needed to rebuild me from the ground up. I didn’t even know where to start, feeling as if I was only an empty shell.

When MC started his overseas career, I became “just a spouse,” someone who followed along and tried to make a home and life for our family with each new move. I had not been in the paid workforce for many years, except for some occasional jobs related to MC’s work that were more something to do than something with which to build a professional reputation. Inside, I knew that needed to change and it needed to change soon. If MC and I divorced, I needed to know that I had options. If we stayed together, I needed something that was mine and mine alone. I had been talking about working on a Masters degree for many years. But, MC had been rather ambivalent about the idea and I worried that without his unequivocal approval, I would fail. Why did I feel this way?

Through the years, as I allowed my strengths to die of disuse, I would ask MC what am I good at? What should I pursue? I should have looked into myself for these answers. Instead, I looked to MC. Why did I do this? I have really had to examine this closely and I think the reason was that I was afraid of bruising his ego. In a way, I was asking him what can I pursue, what am I allowed to be good at, that will not bruise your ego? Upon realizing why I had shied away from finding the answers for myself, I became very angry. I was not angry with MC, but with myself. How could I let myself become this person, this weak, scared, little girl? What happened to me? How did I ever let this happen?

I realized something. When I was a young woman I had seen myself through my father’s eyes. He thought I could do anything I set my mind to. He thought I was capable, intelligent, strong and wise. I was 19 when he died. When I lost him, I lost me or, at least, his vision of me. When I married MC just 5 years later, I looked for who I was in MC’s eyes. Only, it turns out the view was not so great.

When realizing that I was now this empty shell of a person, I also realized that I had never learned to see myself through my own eyes. It was time to change that for the better. I decided to apply for graduate school.

MC: “Fear”

Affair Recovery included an exercise that asked me to list forty costs of my affairs.  The list included big concepts like trust and safety for TL.  It included practical things like money I wasted on prostitutes and affair partners and the fact that I got a disease and exposed TL to it.  It included emotional scars such as the fact that we could never again use TL’s favorite gym and spa because I had selfishly taken an affair partner there.

If I picked any one item from that list at random and read it, I could only begin to understand the injustice, shock, pain, and sadness TL must have felt on learning of that particular betrayal.  The anger she clearly displayed must have come from feelings of hurt, loss, and fear.  Imagine your best friend was leading you on a dangerous, dark path, and he promised to protect you.  Now imagine that in the depths of the dark forest, with no one else around, your friend draws his knife and turns on you, attacking you.  As the forest beasts close in to finish the job, your friend does not fight them off.  Instead, it becomes clear that he had been conspiring with them against you all along.

You feel hopeless, angry, and frightened.  Later, after barely surviving this treacherous attack, you are still in shock.  Everything you thought was real was actually an illusion.  Everything you thought was true was a lie.  Your beautiful life was an ugly deception.  Your lover was a hired doppelgänger.  Your family were strangers.  Your friends were your persecutors.  You would never again feel safe, never again trust anyone, never again relax or lower your defenses, never again believe in anything.  You would never have anything beautiful because it might be lost or damaged.  You would never again run because you might trip and fall.  You would never again love because it might end in betrayal.

I knew all those costs.  None of them surprised me.  But, writing them all in one place at one time showed the overwhelming weight of them all.  It helped put things in perspective. I had known that perspective, but I had not focused on it in such a real, meaningful way before.  It helped me understand that it was really a miracle that TL did not just give up on us, leave me, close this terrifying chapter of her life, and move on to a safe place to nurse her wounds and rebuild her life.

This helps me understand that she is not only angry at me and disappointed in me.  She also must feel anger and disappointment in herself.  She questions how she could have fallen for a self-centered, damaged person such as me.  She questions how she could have not heeded signs that something was wrong with me.  She questions why she hasn’t given up.  And our public domain, societal wisdom, and media and Internet reinforce those doubts.

Another exercise had TL write the letter of apology she would like me to write and had me write the letter TL might write explaining her pain.  That was a tough exercise.  I did a fair job of it, but it was not possible to do it justice.  Both of these exercises were practice in empathy for me.  I’m still working on empathy.  In Rick’s class, learning empathy was a big focus.

Some of the biggest revelations for me — the danger of self-pity and the roots of my insecurities about my masculinity — came to me in the past year-and-a-half.  But, I did learn some key lessons in the first year after D-day.  I learned from Phil that comparing my sexual history to that of others was a sick obsession.  I learned from Rick that a mate is not there to meet my needs.  Rather she is someone I choose to love.  I learned that love is a choice, not something you passively fall into or out of.  I learned from Troi that perhaps I did not need my pain, the pain of feeling inferior and of having had less experience.  I learned from nearly losing everything that I should count my blessings.  I started to learn empathy.  I started to work on being less selfish and self-centered.

I also began to practice some healthy mental and emotional habits in that first year. Practicing them is gradual.  It is not glamorous, earth-shattering, or brilliant.  But, it is extremely helpful.  I began being accountable to TL for all my use of time and money and my location and activity at every moment of the day.  I began giving TL complete access to my computers and phones.  I never again touched porn, masturbation, or flirtation.  There was nothing fancy about doing all this.  The important thing was being consistent.

Then came our year living apart, due to my job.  That was scary.  TL was afraid I would cheat again.  I was afraid she’d decide life without me was indeed better.  We did the best we could to prepare.  We started back in our hometown by seeing Phil again.  He helped us connect with a very caring, professional polygraph examiner who I’ll call R.

R spoke with TL and me together. Then we began with me writing a list of every sexual experience I had ever had.  It was as precise as I could make it, given that there were some big periods when I had done so much that it all ran together in my memory.  Referring to my list and his discussion with us, R then spoke to us to develop ten questions.  Half of them were control questions.

I was scared.  But, I also thought that the polygraph was one of the few tangible things I could do to help reduce her fears.  She was very afraid that I was still hiding something.  Also, if I passed, I could then take it again in the future to prove I was not continuing to cheat or lie.  I passed the test.

We then traded in our old, tainted wedding rings for two new bands.  To me this was a symbol of starting our marriage over.

When I was away, TL and I used FaceTime to talk, at least twice a day, every day.  I put my head down and just focused on TL, work, food and fitness, and sleep, in that order.  That was also the period when I was able to make some real progress on my religious studies.

I was able to visit TL three times during that year, each time for a couple weeks or more.  The first time I came home to see her, I did more than I had ever done before to prepare.  I put hours into researching and talking with salespeople to find a new wedding ring for TL.  I coordinated with her family to arrange two days of babysitting so I could take TL to a nice spa weekend by the ocean.  During that weekend, at dinner, I proposed to TL all over again, surprising her with the ring and getting down on my knee in the restaurant.

During that visit I also took the polygraph again.  I passed again.

MC: “Pain.”

In our Affair Recovery class, we joined a small group of other couples in a weekly conference call led by a moderator.  Each couple was struggling to reconcile after infidelity.  That was the common thread.  But, I know TL took note of key differences between us and the other couples.  Most of the other couples were talking about a single affair, not a series of affairs and prostitutes. I remember the chiropractor and wife who dropped out after two sessions or so.  TL and I tried to figure out why they left.  Maybe the guy wasn’t really interested in the class because he didn’t want to admit to his sins.  There was an older woman who was a waitress who had cheated on her husband.  I think she was really trying to help her husband, but was still rationalizing as well.  Her husband was in such pain, we could all feel it.  There was a South Asian-American couple with young children who had both cheated on each other.  TL and I were hoping to find a couple like us in the group.  We hoped maybe we could share experiences and I could find an accountability partner.  There was no such couple, no such person.

During the AR class, we were also seeing Counselor Troi. She showed us an interesting technique that I think helped us both.  She said imagine your pain as a person, sitting across from you.  Talk to it.  Ask it, “what do you want from me?” “Why are you here?” And, then tell it, “I don’t need you.”  Watch it leave, disappear, evaporate.  Troi taught TL this technique.  TL wasn’t ready for that just yet, but would later find it helpful. I tried it immediately and did find it useful.

Yes, my “pain” was asinine, sick, and unjustified.  Nonetheless, I thought perhaps the technique might help me handle it better.  I envisioned my pain:  the naive, young boy from a small conservative family in a small conservative town, who felt completely inferior to peers at college or at work who seemed so worldly, experienced, and progressive about politics, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and sex.  Why had I thought I needed that pain?  I had needed it to open the door to self-pity.  I clung to self-pity like a security blanket.  I used it to justify hurtful choices.  I said to my pain, “I don’t need you.”  It may have been the closest I had ever gotten to controlling my self-pity instead of letting it control me.

In Affair Recovery, Rick talked about the importance of reaching “ground zero,” revealing all hidden things to the betrayed spouse.  That was the initial lesson.  We read, listened, wrote, and discussed about the fear and devastation we each felt about ground zero in our marriages.  We understood this to mean reconciliation could not really begin until the couple reached ground zero, the revelation of all affairs, contact, lies, betrayals, and illicit thoughts and behaviors in the marriage.  We reached ground zero, through very painful talks before even starting AR, but the class confirmed it was the right thing to do.  And, I assured TL it was not an illusion by using polygraphs.

Maybe that is what forgiveness will mean to me.

As we go through this process, Mindless talks a lot about the pervasive self-pity he held onto, almost like a security blanket. He talks about how he blamed G-d, parents, me, bosses, essentially everyone but himself for his problems. Oh, I see it, but not just in him. I see it in me. Not to the degree that Mindless discusses. I have fought thinking that way all of my life because I did not want to repeat my parents mistakes. I did a post about “the victim mentality” recently. Here’s the thing, I think I’ve done it in some ways without even realizing it.

I have a hard time saying no. I get upset with myself for not saying no when I do not want to do something. I put myself in the victim role by agreeing to do things I don’t want to do. For example, volunteering at my child’s school, I was asked to take the lead on a project I just really did not have the time, patience or desire to lead. The commitment grew, expectations grew, and my time and devotion to the project grew. Not because I wanted to do the project, but because I didn’t say no to it and therefore felt committed to see it through to the best of my abilities. Yet, I spent too much time being angry at myself for not saying no. This put me in the victim role. The thing is, I had a choice, I have a choice.

There are other examples of similar situations. I tell myself “I must” or “I should.” If I do get up the nerve to say no, I feel I must explain myself. Beyond some polite, “I just cannot take that on right now,” I don’t need to list off the reasons why. From now on instead of telling myself “I should” or “I must,” I think I will phrase it as “I choose to.” Perhaps this will help me to face that these are my choices.

In another way too, I think I adopted this victim mentality more than I realized. When I think of my past, before Mindless was even a part of my life, I think of all the things I went through as a child. I convinced myself that because of what I had survived, I had paid my dues and therefore would not face such deep difficulties in my future. Also, I held on to those memories almost as an award of distinction and honor, saying to myself “Look at what I survived.” I defined myself by wearing this label of “I survived, I overcame, blah, blah, blah. . .”. The problem with this thinking was and is twofold.

First, you never know what the future holds. Just because you’ve survived difficult things in the past doesn’t mean that your future will be free of difficulties. It just doesn’t work like that. Second, I am no longer that child, she does not need to define me anymore. I can be who I am in the present and the future and I don’t need to wear some label of the past (good or bad). Yes, it will always be a part of what made me into who I am today. Yes, I have learned many useful lessons along the way. But, those experiences are not the totality of who I am today. That would give the past way too much power over me still. I choose to not give it that power. I choose! One day, I will choose the same for what has happened between Mindless and me. I am not there yet, but I do see it as a choice to be made when I am ready. Maybe that is what forgiveness will mean to me. Hmmm?

TL: “I was a walking zombie.”

Everything from those first couple of months for me was a blur. I was a walking zombie. Mindless stepped in and stepped up. I remember not sleeping well, if at all. I remember Counselor Troi telling me I was suffering from symptoms of PTSD and wanting me on antidepressants and sleeping pills. I refused. I was unable to focus and was distracted, half-present in my life. I had several near misses while driving. I tried to keep up my PTO work, but it was suffering.  I threw myself into exercise. I just let Mindless lead the way at home.

Mindless was calling me, e-mailing me and texting me constantly. I would answer with one word replies, if I answered at all. The loving, kind, supportive wife of before was dead, well she was a walking-zombie. When he was home, he was by my side, never turning away in frustration like he had before final d-day. He came up with ideas for safety measures. I wasn’t going to do it, if he wanted to show me he was serious about us, he was going to have to take the damn lead to do it. He decided he would call me from his office phone before leaving, so it would show-up on my caller id and I would know that he came straight home. He stopped carrying more than $10 cash at a time. He turned down work-related travel unless I could go with him. He planned family nights for us with our kids input, he planned date nights and vacations. Beyond calling in sick after ultimate d-day, about a month later, he surprised me by calling in sick just to spend the day with me. He skipped workouts sometimes to just hold me in the morning. He started spending more quality time with me and with our kids. He would meet me for lunch at least once/week. He continued coming home in time for dinner every night, something he had instituted after first d-day. He decided that we needed to count our blessings each night at dinner. Mine was always about the kids for quite some time. He started complimenting and recognizing me and our kids, listening and really talking with each of us, sharing stories of “us” with others, showing he was proud to be with me and a part of our family. He started showing small, subtle displays of affection toward me, including in front of others. It wasn’t sexual or objectified, but subtle, loving and caring. So many things, but those are the ones that pop into my head as I write this here. He took the initiative on all of these things, I did not have to ask.

I knew in my heart that I finally had the important details, the who and the when and he was really working on his whys. But, I didn’t trust my heart, nor myself anymore. Regardless, that wasn’t enough. I wanted every moment of my life, his life, our life recreated in full view. Most of our alone time was spent with me asking for all the details, every one of them, every painful, hurtful thing out there, I wanted them all exposed. I did not want anyone knowing something about my marriage, about my life that I did not know myself. We would talk for hours every night. He wanted me to wake him if I couldn’t sleep. But, that was most of time and I didn’t see the point of having him up all night too. And, in fact, I sometimes just wanted to be alone in my thoughts. Sometimes though, if I had a nagging thought that I just couldn’t get out of my head, I would wake him. He would answer my question and hold me. This went on for a very very very long time.

MC: “Counting my blessings.”

I learned a lot from Affair Recovery.  I learned that love is an active choice, not something you passively fall into or fall out of.

I learned that my spouse does not exist to meet my needs.  That’s not her purpose, nor is it the basis of a healthy relationship.  It’s not the reason anyone should choose anyone else as a mate.  I should choose to love her — or not — regardless of my needs.

I started to work on learning empathy.  In one exercise I made a list of 20 things that would now be triggers for TL — things I had destroyed for TL — places I had been with APs, songs from the time I was cheating, particular sex acts, and many other things that were now frightening or repulsive to TL due to my betrayal.

I can’t begin to describe the sadness I felt reading that list out loud to TL and our AR group.  I often say it must be what it feels like if you had a priceless, breakable family heirloom and you had pissed on it, broken it, and hidden it in the trash.  Or, maybe it’s like if you had been trusted to protect the last of a dying species and instead you had killed it, through some combination of self-centered neglect and pathological rage.

In addition to Rick’s exercises, chapters, and lectures, I appreciated that the program gave TL and I a structure for spending lots of time together, focused on rebuilding our relationship.  In that regard, this blog of ours is the successor to Affair Recovery for TL and me.

During this time, TL and I began a habit of making one night each week a “family night” and another night each week a “date night.”  I started planning family trips and activities as well as trips and activities just for TL and I as a couple.  After each one, I planned another. One way or another we needed to do these things to rebuild our relationship. I knew TL was too traumatized to do it. And, I also knew that this was a way I could show her my level of investment in our relationship and our family.

We began our dinner time ritual when each family member names one thing for which they were thankful that particular day and one positive thing they are anticipating the next day.  This practice has been super important for me and one I wanted to share with our children.  One of my many problems prior to D-day had been that I did not count my blessings. I did not appreciate what I had.  I was always focused on the negative.  I even remember my father telling me to count my blessings when I was a very young child.  Instead of counting my blessings, I had spent 42 years angry at God for things I did not have rather than thankful to God for things I did have.  This anger helped me justify taking matters into my own hands and illicitly taking things that were not mine to take.

MC: “Atonement and vows.”

This brings our story back to the morning after second D-day.  I skipped work that day.  I called in sick.  I was afraid if I left for work, I’d lose any chance of reconciling with TL.  We called Phil, our counselor from back home.  In the weeks that followed, we had phone appointments with Phil every week. Finally, a colleague in the medical field was able to help us find a local counselor.  We started seeing our new counselor every week instead.  Our second counselor — we decided to call her Counselor Troi here — had a very different style than Phil.  Both were helpful.  Phil helped me call out my sick obsessions and start addressing them.  Troi helped TL start to work on the trauma I had caused.  Troi also helped us gradually work on rebuilding our relationship. Shortly after second D-day came Yom Kippur, the annual Day of Atonement.  For the first time during this holiest of holidays, I dug deep for genuine pledges for the new year.  Second D-day had freed me.  I was no longer constrained by a need to hide years of previous sins, even in my discussions with God. Second D-day began my most real and most significant round of begging forgiveness and making atonement.  It set the stage for my full religious conversion that began a few weeks later and took me a year-and-half to complete,  That Yom Kippur I vowed:  I will not cheat, I will not lie, I will put TL and the kids first, and I will strive to be more flexible.  In the year that followed, I recited those vows to myself — often aloud, so TL could hear — daily. It was also in this period that we began Rick Reynold’s Affair Recovery online course.  This was about 12 weeks of reading, watching videos, doing discussion activities as a couple, and participating in a support group with other couples in the class.

Our steps, part two

So, how could I defeat the vampire?  Contrary to myth, this one was not affected by garlic, crosses, holy water, or even sunlight. It was real, and I needed real weapons.  That was step two.  The weapon was values.  No, I’m not yet to the point of talking about abstract values such as honesty, faith, peace, and the like.  I mean, what is valuable to me?  Illicit sex?  Money?  Love?  Family?  Flattery?  Work?

I had been pursuing all those things, even when some contradicted each other.  I had been obsessively pursuing illicit sex and flattery in a way that detracted from my pursuit of family, love and financial responsibility.  With my double-life suddenly exposed, I could no longer pursue all those conflicting things.  One of my two lives had to die, instantly.  I had a split second to decide which life would die.  I decided I wanted the “positive” life to continue — the life with family and self-control.  The “negative” life died instantly — the life of affairs, prostitutes, porn, masturbation, and lies.  It died that instant.  I’ve spent the last almost three years trying to build enough mental health to be sure it never rises again.

Step three, the next weapons were transparency, reducing vulnerabilities, and giving TL safety.  Transparency meant giving TL complete, unfettered access to all my phones, computers, and accounts.  Never again would I be able to send or receive any message without my wife’s knowledge.  We only relax on this when I’m planning surprise gifts or events for TL.  But, even then, she could look if she wanted to look.  Transparency also meant, on my own initiative, consistently informing TL about my location, plans, and activities.  We talk, text, and e-mail often each day.  When I travel, we talk by FaceTime at least twice a day.  I try to minimize my travel.  I do everything I can to show TL that her safety is my top priority.

Transparency also means I have told TL, and you now, every detail of my double-life.  I try to remember more details to share with her.  She asks lots of questions.  I answer them all. On the rare occasion that I remember some detail that previously was lost to me, I volunteer it immediately.  We talk regularly about current events in our lives, including me volunteering whether there are any women or other temptations that could be vulnerabilities.  I have passed at least three polygraph tests.  I’ll take another in a few weeks.  Each time, TL helps develop the questions.

Reducing vulnerabilities means I never let myself be alone with another woman who could potentially be a temptation.  Creating safety for TL means a post-nuptial agreement, with generous protections.  Step four is trying to make amends, trying to give TL all the things I owed her and more, not for the purpose of pleasing, but just because I wanted to do it out of love for her.  We traded in our old wedding rings.  Two years after D-day, and after my religious conversion, we renewed our wedding vows, this time in a beautiful ceremony with friends and family and in the proper religious tradition.

Our steps, part one of many. . .

We say I have Selfish Oppressive Bastard (SOB) syndrome. Selfishness was clearly a problem for me, extending beyond the realm of sex and relationships.  “Oppressive ” refers to my misogynistic tendencies, so deeply ingrained in me that I didn’t recognize them until very recently.

TL and I have worked together to support her through the trauma and to work on my problems very intensely, with professional help, for nearly three years now. Our first therapist recommended Cairns.  After reading Out of the Shadows and some other work of Cairns, we discussed with our therapist the many things that did just not add up for me.  Cairns spent a lot of time describing men who just could not control their actions regarding sex, a process that included preoccupation, ritualization and despair that are an overpowering part of the addiction cycle. That wasn’t me. If opportunities presented themselves, I took them. But, I did not look at every woman as a potential opportunity. Though, I certainly have obsessive-compulsive tendencies and a history of impulsiveness, each time I cheated or lied, I did so based on a conscious decisions with little regret for the behavior, nor desire to stop.  For me, it all boiled down to the fact that when opportunity was there, I was willing, ready and able. Hence, why we call it Selfish Oppressive Bastard (SOB) Syndrome.

So, here’s the steps we’ve taken so far.  Step one was a system-shock.  With D-day, all the consequences I had spent years ignoring came to full bloom instantly, right before my eyes.  TL was deeply hurt, my actions caused her to be traumatized and she almost left me.  I could no longer hide the consequences from myself.  They were real.  It felt the same way I might feel if I stepped out my front door and saw a vampire.  Vampires are not real, right?

But there it is, standing in front of me, staring me in the face, and refusing to go back from whence it came.  The only thing I could do is learn to live with the vampire.  But, I did know exactly why the vampire was there, exactly which of my choices summoned it into existence.  I knew, at least, that I didn’t ever again want to do, say, or think anything that might summon another vampire.

TL: “My friend was gone.”

It is interesting as we get to the last years of our story how different MC viewed his “normal” life with me versus how I viewed our life together.

A year after we arrived, even my friendship with MC had all but disappeared. I made a couple good friends, joined the PTO Executive Committee, became involved as a classroom parent, started exercising with 3 other moms in a workout group with a trainer, and focused on the kids and myself. I started receiving kudos for my work with the PTO. I told MC, hoping I was telling my friend, he laughed at the compliments. I was hurt deeply by this.

The winter time in country had some skiing options not too far away. The kids loved it! It was the one physical activity that they were happy and excited to do and they were damn good at it too. I guess if you start that young, you don’t have far to fall. I took the kids to the mountain with a girlfriend and her kids for three nights. It was a lovely time. MC had to work and could not join us. We would go from time-to-time as a family after that trip. We still had MC with us on weekends, but many weekends he was “on call” at his office and told us he was not allowed to leave our area.

That summer we were supposed to take a trip to the US to see family, his first and then mine. A day before we left, I got a call from home. My mom had died of a heart attack. I ended up going to my family straight away, while MC took the kids to see his family and then joined me a few days later. After her funeral, I spent the trip with my cousin sorting through Mom’s things, selling what I could, keeping some family heirlooms and closing up any accounts she had. My sibling came only for the funeral, he had not spoken to Mom in years. I understood.

I also went to see my Ob/Gyn, the one that delivered YC. Since the birth of YC, I had horrible cycles. TMI here, but I had copious amounts of bleeding and pain that rivaled that of the kidney stone. My doctor suggested a supra cervical hysterectomy. We had to leave for overseas soon, so he didn’t take the full cervix, but quite a bit of it. Knowing what I know now, I wish I would have insisted we stayed in the US a few weeks longer and had the full cervix removed.  MC knew what he was doing, he had to have known the risks to me, but he was more worried about getting back to work than anything else, he could have supported me staying an extra few weeks to heal so the whole cervix could be removed. He did not support that idea and, thinking my risk was low, I agreed to the less invasive surgery, leaving a small bit of the cervix. The doctor performed the surgery removing my uterus. He found that I had something called adenomyosis. I have never regretted that surgery for a second. No more anemia, no more horrible cycles, it was a HUGE relief!

We went back overseas. I thought the death of my mom would give me a sense of closure. In many ways it did, but I found that something about both my parents having died just was harder on me than I realized it would be. I felt alone in the world. I was sad. I was sad that my mom missed seeing her grand babies one more time by only a few days. I was sad that my kids would never see her again. I was sad that I would never again see a spark of love in my mom’s eyes when she was with her grand babies. I tried to talk to MC about my thoughts and feelings. He just didn’t have time for me. I went to coffee with a good friend a few weeks after we got back. She asked me how I was doing. I told her MC is always working and I am much sadder about my mom dying than I ever thought I would be. I started crying. She had never seen me cry before. I was usually the person with a smile on her face for everyone. I think she was a bit taken aback. She told me I could talk to her anytime, that men just “don’t get it” and I agreed.

My birthday rolled around and MC was not going in as early as normal. YC’s school was on his way to work. So, I thought he was going in late, as a surprise to me, so I would have a break from driving YC to school on my birthday. It turns out, he was just running late (something MC never did). Upon realizing he wasn’t going to take YC, I asked him to take YC to school on his way. I had seen his co-worker bring their child to school many times for his wife. MC refused. Even five more minutes onto his schedule was unacceptable and he had neither the time, nor intention of taking our child to school. I was very upset. It had become exceptionally clear that we were not a priority to him, I was not a priority to him in any way, shape or form. This just wasn’t working anymore. My friend was gone.

I threw myself into PTO work. The next ski season, MC would join us for a week at the mountain. MC loved to ski and it was an activity the kids adored as well. We started going skiing on those weekends MC did not have to be available for work. I then started planning our next trip back to the US. MC would only be able to join us for 3 weeks. I wanted more time back home. Most of our friends were also leaving for the summer. He told me he really did not want me to go without him, he would like me to just wait until he could go and then we would all go together. I asked him “Why?” He would always say he loves having the kids and I around. I called bullshit. I told him we were clearly a low priority to him and with us gone, he could go to the office and exercise as much as his heart desired, we wouldn’t be in his way, he should enjoy that. I made arrangements to go to the US three weeks before MC. At the same time, we were talking about his next job, a job that did not include family members, a job that would have the kids and I back home for a whole year. For the first time ever, I was receptive to the idea. In fact, a part of me was thinking, maybe the kids I and will just stay there permanently.

And, now, I think we are back to where we started our story from my perspective.

MC: “I couldn’t keep track.”

After settling into our new place for a few months, I started to notice a prostitute who hung out about two miles from our house.  Given traffic patterns, my route home from work often took me by her.  One night all the wrong ingredients came together:  it was dark, she was there, and no one else appeared to be around.  Let’s get this straight.  I don’t recall saying to myself, “No, don’t do this.”  I only said to myself, “Be careful to not get caught.”  I drove her to an abandoned lot and paid for oral sex.

I saw her a few more times, for sex or oral sex.  At first it was something like once every other week, on average.  There was no pattern.  The timing just depended on availability.  Eventually I noticed that she was not the only one.  Driving one to three miles off my route home would take me past others.  I don’t even know how many I used.  I didn’t bother to keep track.  I couldn’t keep track.

They were cheap and available. It got to a point where I was looking for one once or twice a week.  About half of that time I found one.  About a year into this pattern, I found some disgusting cheap motels that rented rooms by the hour.  I started taking them to the hotels for 30 minutes of sex.

Looking back on it, the whole pattern was disgusting.  I carried on that way right up until the beginning of my third and final affair — the one I described at the beginning of this blog, the one that led to D-day.

Meanwhile, I continued to live a double-life.  Back in my normal life, the kids were learning to ski and enjoying it. TL and I took advantage of their love of this new activity and spent time skiing with the kids.  On weekends, I played baseball with our oldest.  We also did weekend activities with kids and friends.  Our oldest child was involved in music, which made us all proud.  I thought the “normal” part of my life at that point was really quite good.

One incident showed some hints of my underlying problems and my double-life.  I was arriving home late more and more often.  TL was understandably upset.  Between my misplaced obsession with working longer than my co-workers and my actual lies to hide my life with prostitutes, my time at home on weeknights was evaporating.

At one point our oldest child even noticed it and said I should get home earlier.  Denying to myself that my lateness was due largely to my double-life, I got angry at our child for saying that.  I told myself TL had planted that thought with the child.  I was wrong.  Most of all I was wrong to squeeze out my “normal” life with such stupid, sick compulsive behaviors

That’s our story.  You’ll recall how we already described the horrors of my third affair, D-day, and second D-day, and how we took an Affair Recovery class and worked with our first two counselors.  The rest of our story is about the reconciliation work we have done over the past three years and our way forward, to the future.

TL: “Spiraling down”

Living for the next three years in America, but far from home, was ok. But, if we are going to be in America, I so prefer to be “home.” Still, we made some good friends. Oldest child (OC) started pre-K at a community center. During OC’s pre-K time, I became friends with a lot of the Moms that worked at the community center. When OC graduated and went to big kid school, I decided to restart my exercise regime. YC was able to participate in the child watch. I knew the Moms that ran it and it gave me 90 minutes/day to focus on doing something healthy for myself. Also, I could shower there, while someone else was watching YC. As YC got older he transitioned from child-watch to the part-time morning preschool program and it was a lovely little community between OC’s school and the community center.

MC was working a lot. His commute was horrendous. He was leaving before I took the kids to school and often not getting home until after the kids were in bed. I felt like a single Mom. But, he was home with us on the weekends and we spent some nice time with friends and as a family.

One day, I awoke to some horrible abdominal pains. MC payed no attention. Didn’t seem to care at all. I insisted that he had to drive kids to school and then come back and take me to the ER. He put up a huge fight about it, he was going to be late for work. I was in no condition to fight, but insisted. He ended-up taking the kids to school and then taking me to the ER. He dropped me at the front door, pulling away the minute I shut the door. Not even a word of “hope you are ok” nor making sure I made it into the ER. I checked myself into the ER. Turns out I had a kidney stone. There was blockage and infection. I was put on meds and checked-in to the hospital. The urologist would not be available for surgery for three days. I was admitted to the hospital while waiting for surgery. Luckily, my cousin had recently moved to town. I was drugged-up, in the hospital and arranged with my cousin to pick-up kids from school and stay with them until MC got home. I actually do not know what happened with kids and schedules while I was in the hospital. I know my cousin helped a lot, but MC did adjust his schedule to help as well.

Sometime during this time living in the US, we started getting some strange pop-up ads on our computer. I became concerned. I looked in our history file and saw that MC had visited porn sites, not only that morning, but it looked like many mornings in a row. I looked at other records on the computer and was able to tell not only what sites he visited, but the exact time of visiting those sites, he was doing this during his early morning exercise routine. MC had free weights in our basement and was devoted to his exercise regime. He was getting up very early to exercise, making him exceptionally tired when he returned home in the evening. He was taking anywhere from 10 – 20 minutes/day to visit porn sites before exercising while the rest of us slept. I told MC I wanted him to stop. First, he already was so tired when he got home insisting on his early morning workouts. Second, I don’t want OC using the computer and having one of these pop-ups show-up. Third, I really didn’t like him viewing porn though I told myself it was probably a pretty normal thing for a guy to do. I said my piece, and instead of continuing to ride his ass about it, I decided to install more secure anti-virus software that allowed me to block pop-ups. The porn viewing did not stop, but my concern of children seeing these pop-ups was addressed, at least.

We moved overseas again. OC was becoming more adept at using the computer. One day OC opened up the history file to find a site he had used the previous day (my G-d these kids are so tech savvy). There, in the history, was a bunch of xxx sites. Oh my G-d, this is too much. I was very upset with MC. I ended up making separate log-Ins for me, for MC, for OC and for guests. I put parental supervision software on all the log-Ins but mine (as the administrator). This software, unfortunately, was blocking sites that did not need to be blocked. Body-building.Com, and even some regular news websites were being blocked. I am not MC’s parent and never wanted to be. I ended up removing the parental controls from MC’s log-in. Of course, that gave him full access, but I could see everything he was doing and when he was doing it. I told myself, so it is 10 – 20 minutes per day, isn’t this just what guys do? I stupidly didn’t even consider that he was actually masturbating to this shit.

MC was working a lot. He was getting up earlier and earlier to extend his workouts, he would come home at or after kid bedtime many nights. We were fighting a lot about his hours. His boss and co-workers were not putting in those same hours. He would try to tell me they were, but because I was friends or acquaintances with their spouses, I knew better. If ever he made it home before bed time, he was exhausted.

YC once had a sleepover on a Friday night. I asked MC to read the kids a story, so I could help OC with some things. MC fell asleep while reading the story to the kids — mid-sentence! I was becoming very very angry with MC. His selfishness was becoming more and more apparent. I would buy a ton of produce for the family. Some for MC and some for snacks for the kids to take to school. MC was eating a lot as part of his exercise regime. No matter how much I bought, it was never enough, he would just eat more. It got to the point where I would see there was plenty of produce the night before, but when I was getting the kids snacks ready for school the next morning, there was NOTHING left. I told MC he needed to never take the last of anything. He didn’t listen. This became a huge argument. My resentment was building.

I was not happy with how much time was spent on MC’s pursuits and goals and how little was left for the family. He gave us the weekends. But, those weekends had to be filled with activities he saw as promoting athleticism in the kids. He treated them with disappointment if they did not participate in athletic endeavors. It wasn’t about having fun together, it was about becoming the type of child MC wished he had been. Our OC felt the disappointment from MC. MC insisted that wasn’t true because MC never told OC of the disappointment. I could feel it, OC could feel it and their relationship was deteriorating quickly. MC blamed me for that, unwilling and unable to see how pushing OC so much was hurting both of them.

This job was supposed to give us more time with him. He was never home for dinner, rarely home for bedtime. My days as a single Mom, for the majority of the time, were continuing. The tension in our home was very high. I started thinking about separation or divorce, going home with the kids to America for good.  I started asking MC, “why are the kids and I even here? Why do you want us here? I feel like you think we are just in your way?” On several occasions, I told MC that I thought we needed some counseling. He was not receptive.

I started involving myself in the kids’ schools and making friends and living my own life.

MC: “You know how cheap she is.”

We lived the next three years as a normal family in suburban America.  We made a few friendships, enjoyed our favorite hangouts near the river, enjoyed activities with the kids, played as a family, and enjoyed each other as a family.

I wasn’t cheating during this time.  But, I still had plenty of flaws.  I still struggled with porn and masturbation.  I suppose I should specify what I mean when I say I “struggled” with porn and masturbation.  I looked at porn and masturbated once a day.  There were days when I did not do either.  But, it was as often as once a day.  I would spend anywhere from five to fifteen minutes with the porn, whatever it took to get aroused.  How did I decide whether to use porn and when?  I did it whenever I thought I would not get caught.  I have not done either for 36 months now.  I have never experienced withdrawal symptoms.  Faced with real consequences, I quit cold-turkey. In the 36 months since I last used porn and/or masturbated I have never thought, “Oh, that was easy.” In that same time I have never thought, “Oh, that was difficult.” Once I decided that it was very important to stop, I was no longer tempted by it.

I was still obsessive about work.  My boss at the time didn’t help that. He was a pathological workaholic and a rather evil, manipulative man.  But, I gave in to his guilt trips.  I failed to take time off to help TL with some health issues.  That was not malice on my part, but it was pretty stupid.  There was a time TL travelled without me and I thought about finding a prostitute or some illicit sex. Fortunately, I was easily deterred by lack of access in that place where law and order prevailed.

We moved overseas again.  In our new home we made friends together, helped the children develop, and generally enjoyed our lives together.  But, my dark side started to loom larger and larger.  This manifested itself in several ways.  First, my obsessive-compulsive approach to my job led me to working longer hours than necessary.  I really thought I was helping my career.  In retrospect, I was not.  And, the cost in terms of time away from my family was mounting in any case.

Second, we struggled to motivate our oldest child to be physically active and to spend less time with television and video games.  TL and I did not communicate with each other constructively on that topic.  I think I wasn’t taking the time to really listen to TL’s views.  I think we became frustrated with each other on this issue, gave up on trying to communicate about it, and began to quietly blame each other for our difficulty resolving it.  By the way, since D-day, TL and I have made great progress together on this particular issue.  We’ve really come a long way as a parenting team.

Third, I continued to struggle with porn and masturbation in the same way as before.  Fourth, around this time, I began secretly e-mailing AP2.  She was at a safe distance, on another continent.  But, the betrayal to TL was serious.  AP2 and I wrote the stupidest, most childish things to each other.  I wrote about sex acts that I imagined she could perform.  She wrote of loving me.  I replied to her talk of love with talk of sex.  I e-mailed her each time she e-mailed me.  It was as often as once per day, but there would sometimes be days of silence.

Here’s a really awful part of it.  At the same time, AP2 was making negative comments to TL that TL simply chalked-up to cultural differences. AP2 also began an overt e-mail discussion with TL, again offering her services as maid and nanny.  At one point AP2 began covertly persuading me that we should hire her.  I knew that doing so was not a good financial decision for TL and I.  But, I presented myself as undecided when I talked to TL about it.  Worse, I advised AP2 secretly that she ought to lower her salary demands when she talked to TL.  “You know how cheap she is,” I told AP2, referring to TL.

I can’t think of a more heartless, thoughtless, and unnecessary way to hurt TL.  In addition to constituting a racial slur (which was never my intent), the label “cheap” was actually better applied to me than to TL.  TL is, in reality, the most generous person I’ve ever known.  She is  thrifty in relation to her own needs and desires.  But, she is extremely — even obsessively — generous in every other way.  I was too cowardly to admit that I was the cheap one.  Cowardice and hiding behind TL were two of my biggest sins.

This e-mail relationship ended with AP2’s death.  TL wonders whether she actually died of natural causes as her relative told us, or if her husband learned of the affair and killed her?  I don’t care. I never felt a thing for that woman.  But, I sure as hell destroyed TL with doubts about my feelings toward AP2 and toward TL.  Just writing about this makes me want to cry, for the pain I caused TL and for my stupid, hurtful actions that I will regret until the day I die.

Fifth, I started seeing prostitutes again.

Getting rid of the rose and gray-colored glasses

I think there was a part of me that holds onto my pain in fear of being vulnerable again. It is not like one day I will decide, “Ok, I’ll be vulnerable now.” In fact, I still struggle with this, but when I look at where I am now to where I was 3 months ago, 1 year ago, two years ago, I do see progressive improvement, slow progressive improvement, but it is there. And, yes, there are/were most certainly times within that period where I sunk down below that improvement for periods of time (those periods seem to be more spread out and less long though as time progresses). But, there is more to it than just a fear of being vulnerable.

I know I think, “We are better than we were ever before, but at what costs to me?” Seeing Mindless understand those costs to me is helpful. One of his exercises, in our first year of reconciliation, was to write out 40 of the costs of his infidelity to me and then read them aloud to our AR group. This was very helpful to see him face that, acknowledge it and show he really “gets it.” Was that enough? No.

He has done everything possible to provide recompense for those costs, but there are some things that just cannot be recompensed. I do struggle with not wanting to feel that my actions are actually rewarding Mindless for being a shit head. But, how many years can I think that way? If I want to stay in our marriage, then we have to be equal partners, talking openly and honestly as friends and lovers, with boundaries and natural consequences in place. He has given me measures of safety, he is present with me in my pain, he is working on fixing what is broken within himself and I am working on fixing what is broken within myself. I am working on allowing myself to acknowledge his hard work and who he is now, to allow myself to love and acknowledge him as the person he is now. But, to do that I have to allow myself to be vulnerable. It is a work in progress. Is there more? What about trust?

I don’t have to fully trust Mindless. In fact, blind-faith in another human being seems rather ridiculous now that I think about it. Humans are fallible, not omnipotent beings. Mindless is working on giving me safety. I trust him more than I did upon d-day, it is building. But, it will never be the blind-faith of before, it just won’t. Instead I am working on learning to trust in myself and my instincts. It is easy to see how my blind-faith, rose-colored glasses so easily got in the way of my instincts pre d-day. Those glasses are gone, but I replaced them with gray-colored glasses. Only, I no longer want to wear gray-colored glasses, no matter how safe they make me feel. Instead, I want to see life in its reality and I am learning to trust in my ability to do so.

One thing I really notice is that Mindless wants to fix it for me, take away the pain. His instinct is to fix, not to nurture. I love that he wants to fix it, make it all better. But, he can’t. He can provide safety and be a loving, safe partner in the present and future. But, he cannot change the past, which is really the only thing that would take away the pain. Still, he surely can be there with me as I experience and work through the pain. He can be loving, supportive, communicative, and nurturing simply because he loves me, not because he is trying to please, nor because he expects something in return. Not everything is about a tit-for-tat (ha!) exchange anymore, and that is huge! He has come so far on this issue.

We’ve both come along way since d-day, in fact, since our life before d-day too. Though there is always further we can go, half the battle is wanting and working to continue that journey, and getting rid of the rose and gray-colored glasses that impede our vision along the way.

Communication

We have come a long way, but have a long way to go on how to communicate effectively together. Our marriage counselor recently gave us a tool that, somehow, has been very meaningful to my understanding of what happens when our communications break down, how to stop reacting to each other and really listen.

Neither MC or I came from very nurturing homes. But, MC’s was far less nurturing than mine. Though my father was irresponsible and made horrible choices in terms of supporting our family financially, he was emotionally present for me in many ways. I remember once when I did not get an “A” on a math test. I was exceptionally disappointed in myself. My dad, took me aside and said, “did you try your best?” I told him I had. He said, “That’s good enough for me. You are far too hard on yourself.” I used to hang with him when he would work on cars or go on work trips with him. I had his nurturing, which is probably why I was so devastated when he died at 46 years old. But, also, why I do have an understanding of what nurturing feels like, to think it important to give and receive.

On the other hand, MC will tell this story of when he came in second at the district spelling bee. He was crying and upset, not because he did not win, but because he was afraid of his mom’s reaction. Nothing was ever good enough for her and everything was about image to the rest of the family, the community, etc. . .He was like a fragile display piece, kept pristinely and on a shelf, out-of-reach, only for her to take down and dress, clean and keep pristine as she saw fit. His Dad existed quietly in the background. He was never nurtured and had no idea how to do it, nor why it was important.

Our counselor talks about our three selves. The parent, which can be either nurturing or critical;  the adult (or computer), which is processing and communicating information rationally; and the child, which is anger, compliance and passive aggressiveness. She discussed how important it is that we are balanced among the three. It is common to jump back and forth among our three selves in our interactions. When discussing tough topics she wants us to be in adult/computer mode, with the nurturing parent stepping in when needed to offer nurturing and common sense when our partner starts heading into child mode, to pull them back to adult/computer mode. I am not sure I’ve done this theory justice in anyway, shape or form. It is the very beginning of my understanding and so much more work to be done here. But, just to give a little background.

It became clear during this conversation that sometimes when I am asking MC questions, much of what I am really asking him for is some nurturing and reassurance. And, he has been working on learning to give this, not just with me, but to our children too. What I also recognized is that I’ve been withholding nurturing from him since D-day.

I have been afraid to initiate nurturing to MC, to compliment him, reassure him, or even say, “I love you” too much. I’ve withheld initiating this nurturing with him because I saw it as rewarding him for being a selfish prick. I did not think of it as punishing MC, but rather taking my time to see that his actions and words were matching before opening my heart to him in this way. It has been over 32 months since d-day. It is time. I want it to be time. I do not want a parent-child relationship with my husband. But, I do want to be his partner and have a nurturing partnership together. It was just a bit of an eye-opening moment.

Let’s talk about sex, baby. . .

If you read our story, I think you may understand why for many years I thought our sexual relationship was repressive, actually oppressive. So, I won’t go into those details again here. Suffice it to say that MC dealing with his sick obsessions about my sexual history, about his sexual history and about his misogynistic and hypocritical attitudes about women in general, has been a very healing thing for our relationship. Still, that doesn’t take away years of conditioning on my part.

As I am working through all that and, hopefully, freeing myself from those fears, I am sharing my fantasies with MC and he has been so supportive, in a way that did not exist before d-day. My problem is that when I get to the fantasy being acted out in reality, I just cannot do it and I’m not sure why. Is it that I know the reality of it will be uncomfortable, messy, unhygienic, whatever word you can come up with to describe the less enticing parts that are part of reality, that somehow don’t play or exist within the fantasies? Is it because I know some of these acts were done with the housekeeper and prostitutes and I am afraid I will feel like I am just filling that role? I really am not sure. All I know is that when I come to put my fantasy into reality with MC, I get cold feet.

He has shared a few fantasies with me as well. He doesn’t pressure me in any way. I am so glad to finally hear his fantasies, as he used to refuse to share those with me, acting as if he didn’t have them and it was wrong for me to have them. So, we’ve come a long way together. We share everything now. I know if I want to try, we can, and if I need to stop, we will. But, damn, I find I need to stop before I’ve even really started down the fantasy path.

After D-day, we experienced a growth in our intimate life and in our emotional life, and came to find out just how much they actually support each other and intertwine. This included an increase in sex. Many will tell us this “hysterical bonding” is nothing more than the betrayed marking their territory. I never saw it that way. All I know is that I had been starved for intimacy for a very long time. I was starved for a mutual sexual relationship with a partner who was confident, assertive, loving and intimate. When Mindless finally brought that to the table, I binged. And, our sex life has been so much more fulfilling than ever before. I would like to take it to the next level, to include those fantasies in our sexual life together. I am just not sure how to get there.  All I know is that I do want to get there. I am not saying that every time has to be a fantasy, just now and then I would like to get over myself enough to enjoy this kind of thing with MC. How do you do it? It is like this burning desire within me, and yet this other part of me that says, “I can’t do that!” Do you know what I mean?

Why I regret cheating

Here’s a conversation TL and I sometimes have.  She asks if I regret cheating.  I say, “Of course.”  She asks why. I say because it hurt her terribly, I regret my cruelty and selfishness, and the damage to TL and our relationship is immeasurable.  She asks, “Is that all?”  “If you only regret it because it hurt me” she says, “One day you might randomly change your mind about that and go back to lying and cheating.  If you only regret it because it hurt me, you might still harbor some joy, pride, fondness, or lack of remorse about the affair.”  I don’t really follow that logic.  But, no, I totally regret the affairs.  The only time I ever think about the affairs is when TL asks me to think about them.  And, those thoughts are negative.

Here’s the other things I regret about the affairs.  First, I regret the way I was during those affairs.  I was selfish and distracted.  This made me a bad husband, bad father, bad employee, bad colleague, and bad person.  I hurt my children.  I deprived myself of the full joy of marriage and fatherhood.  I deprived myself of full, meaningful relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.  I deprived myself of smart dedication to success in career, health, and other endeavors. I was amoral. I was a liar and a cheater.  My behavior and thinking during those times will be a source of regret for me until I die, even if TL leaves me.

Second, my behavior in those affairs was pathological.  I was desperately seeking an antidote to my low self-esteem.  I didn’t get the antidote.  The affairs ultimately made my self-esteem worse, knowing I could only get shallow flattery through illicit acts.

“But, wait,” TL says, “What about all those great things about affairs that Esther Perel and all sorts of cheaters describe?”  The list is long.  Was it thrilling?  Was it exciting?  Was it a source of adrenaline rush?  Yes, there is an adrenaline rush from doing something illicit.  But, that’s not a pleasant memory.  It’s not joyous, like the adrenaline rush from skydiving. It’s sick, like I imagine the rush from shoplifting would be.  It’s sick, shameful, and something that will never bring me anything but remorse. It’s not like butterflies in your stomach. It’s more like spiders, crawling up your spine. I regret it, for its own sake.

Did I love the APs?  No.  I wasn’t capable of loving anyone back then — not TL, not myself, not parents, not children, and certainly not APs.  To me, the APs were just blow-up dolls that could talk.  Had they gotten hit by a car after I orgasmed in them, I wouldn’t have given a damn.  And, yes, that too says something pretty awful about me.  I never missed those women and never will.

Was the sex enjoyable?  It was sex.  That’s all I wanted at the time — sex and flattery.  Any sex was good enough.  But, was it good sex?  Not really.  In a few cases, APs or prostitutes performed a certain sex act that TL and I did not do.  That doesn’t mean they gave me better sex.  I thought of them as whores.

Would I contact the AP in the future if TL died or divorced me?  No.  I would have no desire to do so.  Those women were as flawed as I was.  Now, they would just be time-wasting reminders of my flaws.  I’m trying to move forward as a man, adult, father, employee, and friend.  Those women have nothing to offer me.

Did I ever reminisce about the APs or the affairs in my mind?  No.  I did wish for a certain sex act. But, that was about the act, not the person. I was not open to talking about sexual desires with TL, I was too occupied with my sick obsessions.

Would I have dated those women in a hypothetical past where TL and I were not together?  I don’t know.  With TL, I was a desperate man — desperate for sex, without being haunted by my sick obsessions, and for flattery as an antidote to my low self-esteem.  Without TL, in some hypothetical past reality, I would have been even more desperate — desperate for sex and self-esteem, and lacking friendship too.  I would have possibly dated any woman who gave me attention.

Were the APs more attractive than TL?  No. They were all flat-chested and unremarkable.  TL is really a beautiful woman, inside and outside.  And, honestly, even the quality of the actual sex with TL has always been better.

Did I value the APs more than I valued TL?  No.  They could fall off the face of the earth and I wouldn’t care.  TL, on the other hand, has always been the most important woman in my life.  Yes, I arrived at lying and cheating by putting myself before TL.  But, aside from my selfish self, TL was always the most important person for me.

If my view of women was so self-centered and shallow, what was special to me about TL?  Despite my terrible lack of understanding about love and relationships, I was always supremely impressed by TL, proud of her, attracted to her, and drawn to her friendship in a way I’ve never experienced with anyone else.  I only recently learned to love properly.  But, I have always felt limerence for TL.  Yes, TL and I believe loving is more important than limerence.  The former is real, while the latter is insufficient for a lasting, healthy relationship.  But, I really have always felt limerence for her.

TL: “Struggle to understand this idea of compartmentalization”

First, I do want to reiterate again that 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. Just to be clear, I have been all over this world and experienced some pretty fucking fantastic once-in-a-lifetime experiences, largely in places that are  less developed or practically undeveloped. Sometimes, yes, I do get homesick. But, overall, these overseas experiences were very meaningful and special. My children have seen amazing diversity and resilience, as well as poverty and human struggles in a way living back home would never have given. I think this has given them a sense of compassion and empathy for the struggles of others that Mindless clearly never had and, frankly, I too needed to confront.

Though we are focusing largely on the negatives here, there were so many positive experiences along the way. Part of the struggle I am confronting is that I thought those shared experiences meant something special to not just me, but to us as a couple. And, I am starting to admit again that no matter what Mindless did or did not do in his “double life,” those experiences did, in fact, mean something to me, just not in the way I thought. Mindless insists those experiences were meaningful to him and his idea of us too. I struggle to understand this idea of compartmentalization that he keeps talking about. It is just not the way my mind works.

With that being said, back to our story.

Due to my difficult pregnancy, our whole family was sent home (truly HOME this time) at the beginning of the third trimester. AP2/the maid wanted us to take her with us. It was not possible to do, thank goodness! When we got home to America, my Mom was so very happy to see us.

My Mom was a very sick woman, but boy did she want to shower love and attention on her grandchildren. We, with the backing of my extended family, did not allow her to watch OC alone. She was very sick, still on many meds and couldn’t drive, etc. But, she could visit for a few hours here and there (small doses really were best). Seeing her visit with her grandchildren was the only time in many years I had seen a spark of love and caring for anything or anyone outside of herself. Somehow, I found comfort in that.

I had to stay in the hospital for almost a week due to hemorrhaging and an unexplained infection. Our baby was perfect, so they wouldn’t allow the baby to stay as an inpatient, though the baby was allowed to stay. Mindless stayed at the hospital with us to help with the baby, since the nurses were not allowed to do so. OC stayed with my extended family for that week. We were able to be home for another six weeks after the baby was born before going off to MC’s latest job – this time a job in the US, but still not so close to “home.”

A lesson to learn

One of my oldest and dearest friends is a faithful and devout Christian. Through the years we’ve had such wonderful conversations about our religious and political perspectives. Always with the utmost respect, openness and willingness to listen to the other. She doesn’t try to convert me, she is resolutely and quietly Christian in the way she lives her life, but not in a judgmental or evangelical way. She truly tries to live her beliefs as an individual, within her family and as part of her religious community. She looks for those places where she may fall short, taking responsibility and correcting her path along the way. I have so much respect and admiration for her. This is what I see as being a good Christian.

Why do I tell you this because I have found myself jaded in certain aspects of my religious tolerance. You see MC’s APs have a common theme. They portrayed themselves as devout Christians, going to Church on Sundays, quoting the bible on a regular basis, trying to get others to “accept the message,” touting themselves as “true believers” who want to help you be as strong in your faith in Christ as they are in theirs. All the while, they are fucking my husband. G-d wills it, therefore it must be. They truly believed that any choice to be made was in the hands of G-d and therefore part of the path G-d intended them to walk upon. As long as you accept Christ into your heart, all will be as it should be. Clearly, I have a HUGE problem with this type of thinking and not just because I am Jewish. They had another common trait as well, namely a sense of entitlement.

While I can and do believe that G-d, or whatever power you believe exists in the universe, will keep giving us a lesson over and over until we learn from it. I also believe it is our responsibility to take the lead to actually learn the lesson. Believe me, it takes me awhile to see it sometimes, to get it, I understand this. In fact, sometimes I wish G-d would just give me the damn “F” and let me move on to new lessons, but it doesn’t work that way. Lessons are not sequential, they are both concurrent and sequential and often intertwined. So, I look for the lessons I need to learn. Giving and receiving support to/from those who are actively wanting to learn and grow is part of that path. But, whether others want to learn and grow is up to them. I will always have a lot to learn, I will never understand all the lessons in this life, but I want to try to grow and learn and do the best I can, teaching our children to do the same. I am making the choice to try.

So, when I run into someone in our life that is the religious zealot and oozes a sense of entitlement, let’s just call it a trigger. Unfortunately, the mother of one of my child’s friends hits this nail on the head. Among one of several examples, for New Year’s Eve, I had two families over (8 guests, plus our 4). MC and I, who had just met the parents of the friend over the winter break, invited them to join us at our small kid-friendly event. A few hours before the event, she calls me saying they are going to a friends house and then asks if she and the friend’s guests can just come to our party (6 adults, 11 children). I declined. A while later, she friended me on Facebook and I accepted as our children are friends and classmates. There was post after post quoting the bible. As long as she doesn’t quote Corinthians (a favorite of MC’s APs to quote), I think we will be ok. Still, I’m sure there is a lesson here for me to learn about patience, tolerance and understanding. I am still working on that one!

MC: “Compartmentalizing.”

TL wonders whether I took her out just to have cover for sex with AP2.  No.  I wanted both simultaneously.  I wanted the “normal,” adult, responsible relationship with my wife.  At the same time, I wanted the illicit, superficial, self-centered sex from AP2.  I had compartmentalized the two parts of my life.

And, yes, there were at least a couple of occasions when I was home during the day at the same time as AP2 and I sneaked sex with her when TL ran out to do an errand.  I also began to occasionally exchange text messages with AP2, to plan sexual liaisons.

TL asks what AP2 and I talked about.  We talked very little.  There were two occasions when AP2 asked why I was having the affair.  She asked if I was not attracted to TL.  I replied that I was attracted to TL.  Feeling self-pity and seeing the opportunity to further manipulate AP2, I said I thought TL was not attracted to me.  I implied that TL did not give me enough sex.  Today, by contrast, I have corrected this view in two ways.  First, TL was giving me enough sex.  The limitations were created by me and my physical and mental problems.  Second, I should not judge my view of TL or our relationship based on quantity of sex.  Doing so was the result of having my priorities backwards and out of perspective.

There was another awful example of my self-centeredness.  One day while our child was at preschool, TL and AP2 had to evacuate our house because someone had applied pesticide incorrectly, fogging up the house with them in it.  Worried about the baby, TL immediately went to the doctor with AP2 in tow. The doctor suggested TL shower at the clinic and that AP2 go back into the house to get a change of clothes for TL asap.  TL was pregnant and was told, though harmless to adults, a pregnant woman should not enter until all had cleared out several hours later.  I was at work.  AP2 refused to go back into the house to grab some clothes from a closed closet for TL.  TL ended up doing it herself.  Later, TL told me what had happened and I did nothing, said nothing to AP2.

Similarly, occasionally TL and I talked about how AP2’s work as our maid was getting sloppy and how she was falling asleep more and more on the job.  TL would try to discuss the issue with AP2.  AP2 would tell her what she wanted to hear and then not do it.

I should have reprimanded AP2 or fired her.  Instead, I didn’t say or do anything.  TL thinks that means I valued AP2 more than I valued TL. That was never the case.  AP2 could have died on the spot and I would not have cared.  My flaw, however, was not immediately acting to reprimand AP2 for failing to do her job.  I didn’t fail on account of misplaced emotional attachment.  I did fail on account of not listening fully, carefully, and empathetically to TL and urgently acting on her behalf.  I was clueless, and I was not giving TL the attention she deserved.

During the first trimester of TL’s pregnancy, a doctor suggested TL should live apart from me, to be closer to modern medical care.  I resisted the suggestion, not wanting TL and our child to leave me alone in that place for months.  TL is perplexed today, wondering why I did not just revel in the chance to be alone with AP2.  The answer is that being alone with AP2 was like really being alone.  AP2 was not a person to me.  She was just a blow-up doll who happened to not be made of plastic.  Aside from sex, there was absolutely no reason to be around AP2.  TL was my friend and partner.  AP2 was just a masturbatory aid.  In both cases, my sick flaw was not really caring about anyone as much as I cared about me.

TL asks whether AP2 or I said anything about the fact that TL became pregnant.  No.  Neither of us said anything about it.  Why would we?  It had no bearing on the fantasy world of my double-life.  AP2 had no reason to think I did not have sex with TL.  Nor did she have any reason or right to care.

Finally, we left that place, leaving AP2 behind.  Thank God.  We moved on to the birth of our second child and then to a new home.  For me it was wonderful, redirecting my energies back to parenthood, family, and normal things.

It’s not all perfect and easy

We had a lovely long weekend in many ways. MC had a day off of work, but the kids were still in school. It was a wonderful day together. MC and I did something fun and new together, then went to lunch and enjoyed the weather and view. That evening we had our 2nd dancing lesson together.  Yes, we are taking dancing lessons together. We even practiced in front of the kids, they thought it was hilarious. We were all laughing so hard.  It was all quite lovely.

This weekend though we had two major communication breakdowns. We worked through it so much better than we ever had before, but it was certainly not smooth sailing. We brought it up at our marriage counseling session today and she helped us work through what the process was, where the break-down occurred and what to notice in the future. We got some visuals regarding the philosophies of Eric Berne and how to apply them to our situation. We had not had such a great example in our present for her to work with before now, so I guess that is a silver lining.

It was a reminder to us that it is always a work in progress. We cannot get freaked out when such things happen. It is not the end-of-the-world, it was not a deal-breaker, and we need to keep working it through together.

TL: “Where did my friend go?”

We left the shit hole and, due to logistical reasons, oldest child (OC) and I went back to the US for about a month while MC tied up loose ends at his old job. We met up with MC and moved on to his next job. Our first year was one of the best of our marriage in many ways. We learned to dive together. We spent a lot of time at the beach with friends and as a family. We started Saturday morning dives followed by lunch as our special date time. We had Wednesday pizza and wine nights at our house with friends. We had Sunday morning brunch on the beach with friends each week. It was a really lovely life in so many ways. Then things started becoming unsafe and MC’s job was starting to go down hill as well. We went on vacation back to the US. The country really took a turn for the worse. MC had to return to our house, our dogs, and his job. But OC and I were not allowed to return with him.

Three months later, OC and I were allowed to return. We arrived the same day as MC’s boss was flying in to town. MC, after three months apart, was unable to meet us at the airport. Yet again, work came first. I tried to be understanding, but a part of me could not understand why he didn’t send someone else to meet the boss instead. Work first, work always first. I arrived home and the housekeeper was there to greet us. I got a weird vibe from her. MC walked in to say a quick “hello” and she was looking at him and acting nervous. I later privately asked MC if everything was ok with her, did something happen while I was away? He told me he had no idea what I was talking about, she seems fine, nothing out of the ordinary (ha!). I believed him.

While away from MC, I exercised every day and was the fittest I had been in years. I felt good, I looked good and I was proud of it. I was pleased to find MC appeared to approve of the new fit me. I kept up my workouts upon returning, going to the local gym with friends each day. Our sex life improved too. I wasn’t sure if it was from him missing me or because I was more fit now, but I took it.

Before we returned, MC called every day to talk. His job was not going well and he was down, depressed, sullen and glib. I chalked it up to the job and to us being away. He claimed to miss us deeply. When we returned I noticed he was not talking to me like he used to do, but I continued to chalk it up to problems at work. I used to be his confidante about a lot of things, but especially work. Now, he would get mad if I ever brought it up and he would not talk about it with me.

We still had our Saturday date days, our Sunday morning brunch, and our Wednesday pizza nights with friends. I relished time with friends for many reasons, but most because it was the only time I would see MC at ease, laughing, having fun, telling stories about his day, talking about what was going on around us in country, etc.

A couple of months after we returned, I became pregnant with youngest child (YC). MC continued diving Saturday mornings, just without me. Our date days stopped. I was bleeding and put on “modified” bed rest. I could walk short distances, just no lifting, no carrying, no straining or exercise. Our social life was reduced, but not eliminated. The pregnancy was difficult and lonely in many ways. MC would refuse to touch my stomach to feel the baby kicking. He wouldn’t touch me, again he wouldn’t look at me, and he really wasn’t talking to me about anything except logistics and items on his “to-do” list. What the hell was going on? Where did my friend go? Where did he go?