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.