I’ve done a decent amount of reading since d-day. I’ll review some of what I’ve learned here. I’ll cover more in future posts.
I will start with Not Just Friends by Dr. Shirley P. Glass. She starts with a little checklist of questions to help you know when a friendship with someone of the opposite sex has crossed the line and become inappropriate. None of the questions were surprising. My affairs, which basically began as “friendships” did not sneak up on me. I knew what I was doing. I knew they were inappropriate. They were inappropriate because of decisions and actions on my part. I suppose it’s helpful for a cheater to read that list. I think it’s more helpful for the faithful spouse to read it, so as to be aware of red flags. I think it might also be good for both spouses to discuss the list together, perhaps even checking their relationships against it.
Glass then gives an anatomy of typical affairs and more about warning signs, all useful for the betrayed partner and all familiar to the betrayer. More useful to me was her description of some of the costs of the affair. I’d encountered this before, in empathy-building exercises with Rick Reynolds, for example. But, I think a cheater can never get too much of that. The more I read about the costs, the more it strengthens my compassion for TL. Subtitles such as “Stolen treasures” and “flagrant indiscretions” renewed my shock and disappointment at my own sick actions that hurt TL.
The book then becomes a trauma and recovery management guide for the betrayed spouse, with discussions of how to decide whether to stay in the marriage and how to deal with intrusive thoughts. She then goes over the importance of telling the betrayed spouse every detail about the infidelity, down to the tiniest detail. She gives a list of questions to discuss. “How did you give yourself permission to do it?” “Did you talk about the future?” “What did you tell her about our marriage.” These questions are common topics for TL and me.
In chapter 10 she describes ways various types of personalities arrive at infidelity, covering everything from feeling entitled to struggling with low self-esteem. Both of those played a role for me. She also covers elements that seem less relevant in my case. For example, I did not have a history of abuse, unless you count my mother’s temper tantrums and manipulation. Risk seeking played a small role for me, but was insignificant next to the issues of entitlement and low self-esteem.
Most interesting for me was her inclusion of overindulgent parents as a risk factor. Indeed, my parents did not require any responsibilities of me, except for academic performance. I never had chores. They did, in many ways, behave as though the entire world revolved around me.
I’ve forgotten which books I read when. But, the next one that comes to mind is Peggy Vaughan’s The Monogamy Myth. Much of the book is a guide for the betrayed spouse, including discussions of how to detect an affair, how to confront the betrayer, and how to decide whether to reconcile. It’s useful for me to read those portions so I can see more of the pain the betrayed experiences. It’s useful for practicing empathy. I think TL has already mentioned the novel idea from Peggy Vaughan: that after the affair, the betrayed can promise honesty without promising monogamy. TL uses this approach. I accept it. I’m lucky she stays with me at all.
Several months ago, I spent some time with Susan Anderson’s, Taming Your Outer Child. This book seemed promising for me. She says the child part of our personality feels and the outer child acts out, sometimes in self-defeating or inappropriate ways. Yes, that’s what I did throughout my life. I felt sorry for myself for being cloistered, sheltered, innocent, naive, timid, small, and inexperienced. I acted out by cheating and lying.
The outer child is excessive, self-centered, and demanding, and loves to blame others. Yes, I went to extremes with risky affairs and prostitutes. I thought only of myself as I did those things. I never appreciated the wonderful things about TL or things she did for me. And, I blamed God, TL, and anyone but me for my unhappiness. Like B, our counselor, Anderson says I can improve my behavior and my thinking by looking to the adult part of my personality instead of the outer child.
I figured I should be familiar with the inner child concept too. I bought Charles Whitfield’s Healing the Child Within. It took me a while to decide whether the book was relevant to me. I looked to key words in his list of questions to determine whether the book might help, words like compulsive behavior, approval seeking, overextending yourself, and fear of losing control. I kept reading.
He goes over the long list of basic human needs, drawn partly from Abraham Maslow, suggesting that parents might sometimes stifle a person’s inner child by not adequately fulfilling one or more of these needs. A few needs stand out to me. He mentions touch. Maybe I didn’t get enough of that as a child. I’m not sure. I just wonder because my parents don’t hug or touch often.
He mentions accomplishment. That strikes a chord for me. I frequently recall frustration in childhood centered around wanting to do things for myself and not being allowed to do so. My mother dictated what I ate and wore, how I spent my time, with whom I associated, and how I behaved, well into my teenage years. Whitfield says freedom is a need. This seems related to my frustration with lack of accomplishment. In fact, you’ll recall that a lot of my sick thinking that was part of my double-life was focused on wanting to accomplish things: sex, worldly experiences, and the like.
Similarly, he says sexuality is a basic need; not just sexual intercourse, but also the experience of being a man or a woman. My mother still goes out of her way to pretend sexuality does not exist, in anyone. The topic is taboo with her. She dresses and behaves androgynously and asexually. She made me feel afraid and ashamed to talk of sexuality or to say or do anything overtly or freely masculine. One phrase of hers I recall most seems to exemplify her approach: “We don’t talk about that.”
Whitfield suggests a few relevant things that might typically inhibit the parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs: mental illness such as depression, rigidity, punitiveness, judgmentalism, and perfectionism. Each of these terms seem relevant to my mother and, before d-day, to me.
He points out the difference between guilt and shame, the former meaning to feel bad about something you’ve done, and the latter to feel bad about who you are. So, I suppose shame and low self-esteem are closely related. I certainly had low self-esteem. I can’t doubt that my sick validation seeking was an attempt to self-medicate my low self-esteem. But, did I feel shame throughout my life? I’m not so sure. I guess you could say I was ashamed — inappropriately– of my sexual and other naivety.
Whitfield says when we live in shame we feel unhappy. So, we use compulsive behaviors to try to feel better. The compulsions could involve alcohol, drugs, sex, food, shopping, or any number of things. Acting on the compulsions fuels the shame, in a vicious circle. Then he says that we can break the cycle by sharing our stories with others, having them validate our pain, and learning to accept ourselves. This sort of rings a bell for me. I recall that before D-day, when I obsessed on my feelings of insecurity about my perceived lack of sexual and worldly experience, I told myself I wanted TL to say, “Yes, you’re right, it’s legitimate for you to feel the pain and unfairness of a limiting, provincial, Victorian upbringing. You’re not crazy to feel that way. It does explain who you are. And, it’s not your fault. Things can get better now.”
But, I don’t believe that this aspect of Whitfield’s theory was really applicable in my case. First, TL actually did try saying exactly these things to me, several times. I didn’t really listen. It wasn’t enough for me. No matter how often TL empathized with me regarding my mother, it was never enough. In reality, I was not looking for empathy. I was looking for TL to change the past. I wanted TL, God, or someone to change reality. And, I was angry that she couldn’t do it.
Second, after D-day, I told Dr. Phil about my feelings of insecurity, and he said, “Those are sick obsessions.” So, is Charles Whitfield wrong? Or, am I misunderstanding him? More likely, the sick obsessions were not my shame, but the effects of my shame. My shame was simply a feeling of inadequacy about my lack of experience. Putting that feeling into action by comparing myself to others is the sick obsession that is not OK.
Furthermore, Whitfield’s prescribed remedy was insufficient in my case. Sharing my story and having someone validate my pain did not make the difference for me. Instead, what helped make the difference was taking a realistic view of the costs of wallowing in my self-pity, admitting and remembering that my lying and cheating on account of my self-pity was destroying my friend and was prohibiting me from being happy and healthy.
The rest of Whitfield’s book, beginning with a discussion of post-traumatic stress disorder, continues on a discussion seems geared toward the victims of infidelity, not the perpetrators, causing me to again wonder whether I should really be trying to apply Whitfield’s theories to myself at all.