Monthly Archives: July 2015

MC: “Some books on reconciliation and infidelity.”

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.

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TL: “My own midlife crisis.”

Sometimes I think this damn computer is my own escape, except it seems that it too often turns into pain shopping. I am wondering if part of what gave me some peace while we were on vacation is that I spent far less time on screen time and far more time just doing enjoyable endeavors with MC. Far, far more than I do when MC is at work and we are back in our day-to-day routine.

I started back to school yesterday, so now the majority of my screen time is for a productive endeavor (mostly anyway. . .). It so helps my mind and spirit to feel as if I am accomplishing something. I too often lately find the dole drums of day-to-day life so lacking. I think I’ve entered my own kind of midlife crisis and long for something, I just don’t exactly know what.

My father died when he was 46 years old and my mother when she was 65, though in many ways she left us in mind and spirit many many years before. I am 45 now and I cannot help but think about the finality of life, of how I too could be dead at 46 years old from some fast acting cancer that hits from out-of-the-blue. We just never know.

I look at all the sacrifices I made for MC’s ambition, career, for his dreams and ask myself, “What in the hell do I have to show for it?” While he risked it all to play his sick games of ego boosting tom-fuckery, I was at home raising our children, running our household, and moving all over hell and back for his dreams. What do I have to show for it? Well, for one thing, I have our two beautiful children. And, believe me, I understand how lucky and fortunate I am to have these beautiful children as a part of my life.

But, who am I besides a mom and a foolish, naive wife? Who am I? Who am I? And, so the discovery of MC’s tom-fuckery sent me into a tail spin, my own midlife crisis. I want to live, I want to have new, exciting experiences. I also want to send my kids to college, buy a house back in our home state and have enough to do more than survive in my, hopefully our, future. Still, I want a little something just for me.

Maybe this Masters degree will help me feel more like an individual who can have her own dreams and desires. But, it certainly isn’t wildly fun and exciting. Do I ever get a turn? I don’t mean cheating, by the way. But, something just for me. I don’t know. I really don’t know. Maybe, this is just my own form of self-pity that does nothing positive or helpful?

It is funny, maybe related, maybe not, but I cannot help think of this recent conversation with our first child (FC). When FC was at camp, there was a workgroup discussion on determinism that  found meaningful and worth sharing with me. FC explained , “If any of us were able to go back in time, without any learning or knowledge of what was to come, we would all still make the exact same decisions.” I was taken aback by this thinking. I thought, “Nah, that just cannot be true.” But, then I realized, why wouldn’t it be, if we had no new information or perspective, why would we make a different decision. We wouldn’t. I always wonder about how “knowing everything I know now, would I make different choices?” And, ultimately anything that would have prevented me from having these very special individuals in my life, my beautiful children, no, no way in hell would I do anything to jeopardize the possibility of their existence. But, I never even thought about looking at those choices from the perspective of going back, but not knowing anything new. It is a good point. It really did stop me in my tracks for a moment.

TL: “A cyclical pattern.”

I am at a loss for what to write right now. I must admit that I still have some awful days. I am starting to wonder if there is a cyclical pattern. There seems to be about a week each 4 – 5 weeks that my emotions are so intense that I feel completely out-of-control, where the pain is so intense that I cannot handle it and just want to find a way to escape from it all, everything, everyone, and life overall. I had a partial hysterectomy in 2011 and so cannot really tell when my cycles occur, but even before d-day and the hysterectomy I do know that I was more emotional at very specific times. I know that exercise does help reduce the severity of the emotions, but at the same time lack of motivation really takes hold during these emotional downturns. My house becomes a cave and I hide, getting out of bed, getting anything done becomes like carrying the heaviest weight on my shoulders. All I can think is my children, my poor children, what I am doing, I need to be a better Mom, what the hell is going on with me. But, I do come out of it and function more than not.

Here is an example of how whacked out I get. I asked Mindless to help me keep track to see if this is cyclical. So, I saw his recent list of dates and had to work so very very hard to not go ballistic on his ass about the list. The list I asked him to keep. I was about to say what about a list of my good days? What, to you, determines that it was a fucking bad day? So, if I have a a down moment does this make the whole damn day a loss to you? I asked him to keep this fucking list. I stopped myself this time. But, cannot help but wonder, what the fuck is wrong with me right now? I know I haven’t seen B for quite a while with our long summer break, kids home, yada, yada, yada. I must get back to seeing B, she helps me more than I realized. I miss our vacation together, I miss being back “home” with our family. I need to find a way to help myself through this and get my shit together.

MC: “Shame.”

We have posted links to two different topics on shame over the past few months. It is such an important topic that must be addressed for the unfaithful to truly begin healing. I would encourage unfaithful spouses to check out both of these insightful links.

First is the blog post, Being Selfish with your Shame, found on the Affair Recovery website. It discusses how the unfaithful holding onto shame is another form of selfish thinking and how hurtful such continued patterns of thought are to the unfaithful’s recovery and to the healing of the betrayed spouse. Next, is a TED talk, Listening to Shame  by Brené Brown. I will repost the comment I left for her a few months ago, as I think it explains why I feel her TED talk takes the shame discussion to the next level for the unfaithful spouse.

Brené, your talk about shame really struck a chord for me. My wife and I are working on reconciliation after my infidelity. When we talk to others in the same situation, we often recommend they see your TED talk on shame.

In my case, I was very ashamed of parts of myself when I transitioned from a parochial, provincial upbringing to a modern, cosmopolitan society. I was ashamed of my lack of worldly experience. However ridiculous that may seem, I let that shame lead me to irrational attempts to measure up to my new peers. This measuring myself against others and against my own shame gave me an excuse to act out in very self-centered, self-absorbed, and amoral ways.

As my wife and I work on reconciliation, we talk a lot about my need to develop self-esteem as opposed to nursing a fragile ego. Self-esteem requires me to face my shame, understand it and understand that though it is part of me, I am greater than it.

I am ashamed. But, in order for me to really love and to really be worthy of love, I must accept all of me and not try to ignore or erase any parts of me.

Thank you, Brené, for helping me understand that I don’t need to be controlled by shame about my provincial upbringing. And, thank you to my wife for helping me understand that I control my own happiness. My shame, sadness, and fear are not from you, God, or the universe. They are from me. I made them, and I can choose not to be a slave to them.

MC: “Learning to listen.”

Then there was the “sleepover” incident, a recent example of me not listening to TL.  A couple months ago we agreed to get together with a family whose youngest child is friends with our youngest child.  We all found the mother in that family a bit annoying. Before meeting up with this family, TL expressed that she was not up for entertaining anyone at the house that evening.  I assumed it was because of the mother. We agreed, if either of us were asked, we should just say, “No, it just won’t work out tonight.”

At the event, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the annoying woman had been unable to attend.  She had to work.  Later, we all took the kids to a pizza place.  The younger kids asked us whether they could have a sleepover at our house.  TL said, “No, it just won’t work out tonight,” as planned.  That’s where I stopped thinking carefully and started speaking before thinking things through.

I thought to myself, “Wait a minute.  Why should the kids not have a sleepover?  The annoying woman would not be involved.  If the kids could entertain each other, maybe TL and I could have more time to ourselves.”  Following that incomplete logic, and failing to consider my obligation to back-up TL, I said, “Well, why not have a sleepover?”

The kids had the sleepover.  When we returned home TL went directly to bed, telling me I was in charge of the sleepover.  Though it was early for TL, it was not early for me.  I tried to go to bed too.  This made TL more angry.  TL wanted me to stay up and supervise the kids, who were seven and eight years old.  I believed the kids could entertain themselves, did not need supervision, and could put themselves to bed. TL disagreed.

Later, we dissected this incident with B.  That’s part of what led to our discussion of the three parts of personality and the importance of me learning to nurture and support TL.

I’ll mention our recent “eggs over-easy” incident.  It’s another lesson in communication for me.  On vacation, I decided to make breakfast for everyone. Knowing TL likes an egg for breakfast, I asked her how she wanted her egg.  She said, “over-easy.”  I said to myself, “That can’t be right.  The clearest memory I have regarding how TL likes her eggs is a memory of her saying she preferred egg yolks to be firm, not runny.”  I proceeded to cook her an egg over-hard.  I was convinced I did the right thing.  I had not.

TL asked, “What happened with the egg?” I told her I made it hard because I didn’t believe she actually wanted it over-easy. A heated discussion followed about why I would assume to know better about what she wanted than her very words just told me. She could not understand why I bothered to ask how she wanted it, if I had my own idea about how to make it already. Obviously, when TL first said, “over-easy,” I should have verbalized my confusion out loud and asked her to confirm whether I understood correctly.  It turns out that the year I was away, she started liking her eggs over-easy. This was yet another example of my poor listening skills based on making assumptions instead of actually listening to her words. I’m working on it still.

MC: “Was it fun to deceive her?”

TL often asks whether I enjoyed sneaking around, hiding things from her, doing illicit activities, lying, and generally deceiving her.  This is a difficult question for me.  I don’t understand why she asks.  I don’t really know the answer.

Did I get some adrenaline rush from it, some thrill or excitement of the chase, like playing hide-and-seek?  I guess so.  I think that’s a natural physiological phenomenon.  I’m certainly not proud of it.  It doesn’t mean I don’t feel deep remorse about my crimes against TL.

I guess it’s just a fact of life.  I did get an adrenaline rush from deceptive behavior.  It was not the reason I did those illicit things.  The reason was my low self-esteem and obsessive race to feel better about myself.  And, I certainly don’t miss, crave, or need the adrenaline rush of sinning.  When I want adrenaline, I really prefer to get it from diving, skiing or something similar.

What can I tell TL about the adrenaline rush of doing illicit activities?  I am truly sorry.

She says it’s not fair that I had those experiences and she did not.  I respond with, “You’re right.  I really am sorry about that.”  I know I’d have no right to feel bad if she were to go outside the marriage to find those experiences.

I wish I had a better response to this.  Was sex fun?  Yes, there is almost always at least some small element of fun in sex for me.  Did deceit give me an adrenaline rush?  I think that in a small way it did.

Do I regret doing it?  Yes, with all my heart.  What do I feel about it now?  Shame and remorse.  Are all these facts irreconcilable?  I don’t think so.  What do you think?

TL’s reaction to my foregoing discussion was to ask whether I felt guilt when I deceived her.  Yes, I did.  Then she asked how I became such a deceptive person.  Please re-read my June 24 blog entry called “I will never again be a liar.”  In short, the following things led me to my sick and wrong behavior of lying.  First, I subconsciously learned from my mother to consider manipulative lies to be normal.  Second, I sickly and wrongly justified my lying and cheating by telling myself I deserved illicit sex as compensation for my self-perceived lack of experience with sex and self-perceived lack of sufficient sex.  Third, I compounded this sick and wrong justification by thinking the whole world revolved around me and not placing any value on other people and their feelings.

TL asked if I’m still intrinsically the same person.  That’s a difficult and metaphysical question.  I believe I am the same person.  But, I also believe that I have been successfully working hard to change the way I think and behave.  I have been building new neural pathways to include honesty, courage, empathy, confidence, and compassion.  I have been erasing neural pathways leading to deceit, self-centeredness, self-pity, and self-protection.  How?  Practice, practice, practice.

How do I know I am doing this successfully?  I know because I have not lied since second D-day, September 13, 2012, with the awful exception of my smoking lie (which I know is bad on account of the lying, not just the smoking).  I know because I can describe several moments in the past few years when I was tempted to not tell TL about a beer I wanted to drink, a woman I thought was too friendly, or a health issue that embarrassed me.  On each of those occasions I successfully reminded myself to tell TL everything.

I know because every time I look at TL I am reminded how traumatized she is due to my lies and I remember how terribly I’ve damaged our relationship.  I remember how wonderful it is when TL and I spend time together doing “normal” things and how desperately I want more of those moments and fewer moments of tearful memories of my sins.

TL said that even after first D-day, I continued to deceive her with absolutely no outward signs of guilt about doing so.  She said I was seemingly loving, kind and concerned, but still easily willing and able to deceive. How do I explain that?  For new readers of this blog, this is referring to the fact that on D-day, I only told TL about my most recent affair.  It wasn’t until ultimate D-day that I revealed my whole history of cheating and lying to TL.

Here’s the way I understand it.  On first D-day, I promised myself I would never cheat again.  But, I was still too afraid to tell TL about my whole history.  I was loving and caring after first D-day, and I did sincerely intend to stop cheating and to start loving and appreciating TL properly.  But, I was not brave enough to reveal everything until ultimate D-day.  And, I did not fully appreciate until then that complete honesty, including about the past, was absolutely required in order for TL to feel safe.  The smoking lie, a year later, shows just how cowardly I was about telling TL the truth and just how difficult it was for me to create the new neural pathways making honesty a habit.

TL asked if my tendency to lie to her before first D-day was different from my continued lies after first D-day.  You bet it was different.  For one thing, this little adrenaline rush that was present when I had illicit sex before D-day played absolutely no role in my life after first D-day.  That little adrenaline bump didn’t come from lying.  It came from pursuing something illicitly.  After first D-day, I never again justified in my own mind pursuing something illicitly.

Second, before first D-day, I actually justified my lies in my own mind, telling myself I deserved the illicit sex.  Yes, again, that was sick and wrong.  After first D-day, however, my continued lies to hide my previous sins from TL had no justification, even in my own mind.  I did feel guilty about those lies, even as I spoke them.  I did feel shame and remorse, even as I told those lies.  But, until ultimate D-day, I continued to tell those lies simply out of fear — fear that I would lose TL forever if she knew the truth.  Yes, I know that was wrong of me, to put my fear ahead of TL’s need to know the truth.  It was wrong, and it again shows just how difficult it was for me to quit thinking about myself and start thinking about TL.

Then, you might ask, after learning the lesson of ultimate D-day, seeing the pain I caused TL by continuing to hide my 18-year history of cheating, why could I still not bring myself to be immediately honest and transparent about smoking?  Did I feel guilty about the smoking lie?  Yes, a lot.  Did I think it was OK to deceive her about smoking?  Justified?  Thrilling?  No, no, and no.  It was just a sad failure on my part, again.  I failed to muster the courage and compassion to share that hidden part of me with TL.

Unlike before first D-day, I wasn’t telling myself I had insufficient experience with tobacco nor that I deserved more tobacco at any cost.  Please re-read my June 20 post called “I’m not a little boy.”  In short, I arrived at smoking through some combination of restlessness and a history of warped thinking about the role of smoking in a man’s life.  It was sick and wrong.  But, I admitted to myself — even at the time — that it was wrong,  I went to great lengths to hide it from everyone.  Unlike with the illicit sex before D-day, I did not pat myself on the back for it or excuse it.  I just did it, not even fully wanting to continue it.  I really think I became a bit physically addicted to the smoking.  Lying, to hide it, was just another attempt at self-protection.  That’s where I failed the most.  Like before ultimate D-day, I again cowardly put my own self-protection ahead of TL’s need for total honesty.  I again behaved selfishly in that regard.

TL asks what actions can show I am no longer willing to deceive TL, both the kind of deception I used before D-day and the kind I used after D-day. Good question.  I know in my heart that I do not want to deceive her.  But, how can I prove it?  I suppose that if the roles were reversed, I would also be looking for proof, evidence of safety, security, and predictability.  All I can say is that I’ve been learning and practicing compassion and courage.  When I say “practicing,” I do not mean it in the sense such as “practicing such-and-such religion” or “practicing witchcraft.”  I mean it in the sense of “practicing piano” or “practicing handwriting.”  For me these are skills — underdeveloped skills that I’m working hard to develop properly.  I’ve made some mistakes.  I mean the smoking lie.  I’m making fewer mistakes with time. The evidence, in my mind, was that the smoking lie was my last and only lie since before ultimate d-day.

Again TL asks if there was no guilt when I lied after D-day.  Again I tell you I did feel guilt about my lies after D-day.  In that regard, there was a qualitative difference between my lies before D-day, which I justified through my sick and warped calculus, and my lies after D-day, which came not from sick justifications but from cowardly self-protection.

How was I able to hide that guilt?  No, my guilt did not rise to a level that compelled me to confess.  My cowardice and selfishness still outweighed my guilt.  I regret that.  Now, I’m working consistently to reduce cowardice and selfishness and increase courage and compassion.  I’m on the right path.  The only way TL, or you, will see that, is for me to just stick to it and let time show my commitment to compassion and courage.

TL: Changing tack

When we started with our new counselor, B, it was different than with the previous two counselors, very different. For the first time, I really think we were getting marriage counseling, whereas before it was more like joint individual counseling.

With Phil it was all about MC owning up to his shit and helping me with the trauma. Phil was very G-d centered. He talked about what G-d wanted for our marriage. If our marriage had hope he would tell me, if it didn’t he would tell me. I also liked that he called the APs religious hypocrites, pointing out to me that even if they fooled the world around them, they could not fool G-d (I somehow found that helpful)! Phil was also very real, in terms of calling MC out on his behavior, on helping MC understand that our healing would be hindered by any instinct for self-protection (especially in terms of fear and shame). If MC truly wanted us to heal and move forward, he could not allow that instinct to win out over helping me, our marriage and, ultimately, himself. Phil pointed out weaknesses and what needed to happen to address them.

With Counselor Troi it was all about talking to our pain, finding out why it was a part of us and how to go about facing it and deconstructing its power over us. When we started with Counselor Troi, I was so lost. I felt like I didn’t really even know who I was anymore. So, Counselor Troi helped us identify who we were as individuals, finding who we each wanted to be and how best to get there in the present and future, as well as still helping me through the trauma. Yes, I had a shit ton of trauma. Counselor Troi also worked with MC on, what she called, his “neural biological” pathologies and how to deal with those.

Just before and overlapping with our Counselor Troi sessions, we also took an online Affair Recovery EMS 13-week course. The exercises in Rick’s class, through Affair Recovery, were instrumental in helping MC and me to have a better example of what love, marriage and family can and should be about, as opposed to what we had seen in our own families. The AR class helped us understand a more complete definition of love and maturity. The AR class also was instrumental in MC understanding the costs of his actions, the costs to me, to our family and to himself. This gave him a true understanding of the pain he had caused. It was helpful to me to see MC truly understand this pain, to see and feel his empathy and understanding.

With our newest counselor, B, on an individual basis we are working on our individual issues, including family of origin (foo) stuff and learning the hows and whys of building new neural pathways, while allowing the old pathways to crumble away. Together, we also talk about these new pathways. In fact, I am so excited to talk to B about the movie Inside Out, it is really an animated version of everything she has been teaching us! We also spend our together-sessions on working on the marriage, to understand how to better communicate with each other about kids, about life, about the past, present and future. We are learning about how we listen, how we react and what we can do to ensure that we are truly on the same page, not just talking at each other, but to each other.

I think we needed the path given to us by each counselor. They each served a wonderful purpose at the time, based on where we were bleeding out the most. As those sutures heal, I feel we are actually starting the process of learning to live again as a healthy couple, not just trying to stop the bleeding.

I know I say this a lot, but I feel it important to point out that this process is neither linear, nor finite. But, when I look at where we are now, to where we were last year and the year before that I can see those improvements. This is not to say that there are not still hard moments. Those moments are coming less often though. You know, it’s been 26 years since my Dad died and I still miss him, I am still sad that he is gone. But, that pain and sadness do not overtake me like they once did, that pain and sadness do not rule my life like they once did. It is very different in many ways, I know. But, still, I think there are some similarities in how the impact of the pain will fade, but not ever entirely go away.

July: ignorance to angst to, hopefully one day, reclamation.

July is the month that the shit really started to hit the fan. This was the month when I sensed something was very wrong and when I figured out about MC’s last affair. It is also the month of our beautiful children’s birthdays. I hate that the joy of their celebrations is marred by finally turning my ignorance to angst. One day, I hope to reclaim July as a month of celebration. For now, I am not yet there.

Hard moments about July include:

On our oldest child’s birthday, as previously discussed, MC was at a spa resort with AP3 and missed calling our child.

July 8th always reminds me of this e-mail exchange with AP3. This was sent upon MC telling her he was leaving town for sure (as if there was a decision to be made), flying to see me and our children. This was on our youngest child’s birthday. This was also just before MC knew that AP3 had found a way to buy a plane ticket back to the US on his same flights (only the final leg being different):

From: MC
To: AP3
Subject: I have to fly tomorrow morning

It’s only fair to let you know this now.

Can we still see each other tonight?  Maybe after 8pm?

MC

From: AP3
To:MC
Subject: Re: I have to fly tomorrow morning

Ok, if that is your decision.

Just remember July 8th, our Song and the Corinthians.

AP3

From: MC
To: AP3
Subject: RE: I have to fly tomorrow morning

I will always remember you and always feel the same way about you.

MC

These messages make me feel sick inside for so many reasons.

No matter how many spa resorts MC has arranged to take me to since D-day, the fact that he stole away to do so with her at all, let alone first (even though we had been married 18.5 years at the time) will always hurt me so deeply.

I found out about this affair on his first full day in town back with us, it was the day of our youngest child’s birthday party.

I hate that the month of July is now marred by such horrific memories and feelings. I do want to reclaim July, but I am not quite sure how to get there. MC offers to be home with me, not go into work on each specific day, but that doesn’t change anything and I’d rather have those vacation days for real vacations.

I am letting go of imagining what it would be like to change the past, since my head and heart have mostly caught up to each other in this regard. I know the past can never be different. I know it in my head and I know it in my heart. That doesn’t make the pain fully go away though.

TL: “Pretty damn good.”

We had a beautiful vacation back “home.” I pretty much lived in the moment and I LOVED IT! There were thoughtful moments, we would discuss our present and future and a few times MC had some insights into the past to share and we would discuss those together. But, for a couple of weeks, I did not dwell on details we’ve gone over thousands of times, there was no spiraling downward. MC is always willing to discuss whatever I want, whenever I want. But, you know what, I just didn’t want to. Nothing much to add, nothing much to say and for the first time in a long time, that felt pretty damn good.

MC: “Building new pathways”

I travelled a few times in my job this past year.  The first couple of trips were each several days.  TL was really remarkably supportive and resilient.  As before, we used the Internet to keep in constant contact.  All-in-all, it seemed to work out pretty well for us.

Then people asked me to make a handful of very brief trips in country.  The shortest was thirty-six hours and the longest was about three-and-a-half days.  Each of these requests came individually, not all at once.  One of these trips was to a nearby city.

When I discussed it with TL, she seemed to panic.  I originally thought she feared I was planning to go find available women.  I was not.  In fact, I was quite proud of myself for not even wanting those things in the two-and-a-half years since D-day.  Later, however, TL and I discussed this issue.  I had misunderstood her fear.  In fact, she said, she actually feared I might plan or desire to hook-up with a colleague during the trip.  That, of course, was never my plan nor my desire.  But, I do completely empathize with this fear of TL’s.  It’s an understandable fear, given everything I did before D-day.

Trying to help TL relax, I said, “It’s OK, I can skip this trip.”  The trip really wasn’t required, from a professional perspective.  It would be helpful professionally, but not required.  TL, still in panic mode, told me that my quick offer to skip the trip supported her suspicions that I had nefarious plans.  She said she would pull the kids out of school and travel with me.  With genuine concern about the kids’ schooling, I expressed doubts about that course of action.  TL dug in her heels.  I conceded.  No course of action before me appeared to have the potential to put TL’s mind at ease.  She did pull the kids out of school and accompanied me.  It worked out quite well.  We all had a good time, and I even got what I needed out of it professionally.

The next trip was shorter but farther away.  B discussed it with us and suggested I try it alone.  It also worked out well.  TL and I recently talked about why it worked out well.  First, spending time to constantly communicate with TL during the trip eliminates time I would have to dwell on selfishness or self-pity.  That helps to diminish the old, negative patterns in my mind.  Second, the act of communicating with TL reinforces positive pathways in my brain that are focused on honesty and transparency.  Third, I am also able to reassure TL, giving her all the time and attention that I denied to her in the past. B often emphasizes to us the importance of building new pathways and deconstructing the negative ones.

We continue to discuss these trips as they arise and to deal with them on a case-by-case basis.  Each time, we consider TL’s fears and feelings and work on constructing new healthier pathways both individually and together.

TL: “Where’d you go, TL?”

I’m here, enjoying my coffee doing a bit of reading in the AM. We are “home” visiting family. The kids are at camp for a bit of that and so MC and I have had some lovely alone time together. I’m focusing mostly on the beauty of home (though it is far hotter here than normal), enjoying the lake, enjoying the quiet, relishing the time to talk with MC about all kinds of topics, including us. I think I just need a break from writing right now. I’ll be back. In the meantime, MC has had some nice time to be introspective and put some thoughts down in writing, so we might as well share those thoughts.

MC: “Counseling.”

I was hopeful the latest move would at least give us more time together, time to rebuild as a couple and as a family.  We had a wonderful family vacation as we turned our move into a cross-country road trip.  We made some nice memories as a family.

The new house and neighborhood were quite perfect for our family, in my view.  We live near the water.  TL and I even went scuba diving here once.  I enjoyed it — not just for its own sake, but because it was something fun I could share with TL.

The kids and I found a nice rhythm in the new place, with new friends, activities, and routines.  I knew TL was still suffering desperately.  I knew she had her heart set on staying in her hometown.  That’s a dream I’d love to give her, but she and I both decided there’s a lot to be said for a pension and a few more years of financial stability for the kids.  I saw and felt her desperate loneliness, depression, and pain.

TL and I found babysitting and went out together occasionally.  It was a good chance to work on our relationship.

TL feared the vasectomy and counseling delay showed that I failed her by not matching my words with my actions.  I just discussed my view of the vasectomy issue.  Yes, I failed.  Please read further to see my view of the counseling issue.

I failed to act quickly in beginning to see a counselor alone.  Right after D-day, I saw the immediate need for marriage counseling as a couple.  First of all, it was to help us deal with the shock of d-day and all the related revelations. Second, it was to help us carefully start down the path of reconciliation. It was like joint urgent care.  I also saw the need for TL to see a counselor individually, to help her through her trauma that I had caused.  And, I told TL that I would see a counselor individually as well, to work on fixing my fundamental flaws so as to prevent further sins on my part.  I meant it.  I wanted to do that.

But, the  problem was, I think, that separate from my desire to help TL and our marriage, I did not yet understand what I would do, for my own purposes, in individual counseling.  So, like with the vasectomy, that good intention kept slipping lower down my to-do list.  Again, it was not until TL reminded me about it that I seriously spoke to B about seeing me for individual counseling as well.

Unlike my delay with the vasectomy, I was not hesitating on individual counseling due to fear.  I think I was hesitating on account of lack of understanding.  Yes, it was arrogant of me to think I had to understand the diagnosis before seeing a counselor for strategies.  Even with physical health, sports, or job skills, I prefer to go as far as I can on my own before asking for professional assistance.

But, I was wrong.  I should have jumped into individual counseling immediately.  I finally got it done.  It feels good to be doing it, but I will always feel lousy about how long it took me to start.

Why am I in counseling?  I have struggled with self-esteem problems my whole life.  At age forty-five, I have not been able to fully master that challenge.  I need help.  Second, I still need to learn more of how to nurture and support TL, how to think of others before myself, how to think before I speak, how to listen better, and how to be more empathetic.  Third, though I’ve learned some effective strategies for staving off self-pity and how to avoid comparing myself to others, I could benefit from professional guidance, to be sure I’m not missing threatening clues.  Fourth, I view mental health maintenance as analogous to physical health maintenance.  You need regular check-ups and occasional professional interventions.  I promised TL that I will continue seeing a counselor regularly until I die, even if TL leaves me or dies first.  I do it for me — not just for her.

Very gradually, I’m learning some tangible things.  I’ve already mentioned some examples earlier in this blog, and you’ll see more as they develop.

Most recently, B helped us discover that I need to learn how to nurture TL.  We discussed the three parts of personality in a theory that builds on Freud’s discussion if the id, ego, and super-ego.  In this theory we call the three parts child, adult-computer, and adult.  The latter can be authoritarian or it can be nurturing.  When TL and I communicate, particularly in the difficult discussions, we are trying to recognize which part of each of our personalities is at the fore in that particular conversation.

Then came the travel dilemma.  Please read my next entry for more on that.  Also, in future posts I’ll talk about books I’ve read on the subject of affairs, reconciliation, and self-esteem.

MC: “What was at risk?”

TL and I re-read my last post, “The risk dichotomy,” and discussed it.  I think it finally makes more sense.  I think we finally see why I took some shocking risks while simultaneously avoiding more mundane risks.  To me, before D-day, it was not a paradox.  The dichotomy was caused not so much by me choosing some risks over others, but more by me being cavalier about risks to health and hearth while timid about risks to my ego.

Before D-day, I never really thought sufficiently about risks to health and hearth.  I took those things for granted.  I was not thankful for them.  I did not count my blessings.  What I did value, however, was my ego.

I obsessively protected my ego.  I often did not initiate sex with TL before D-day because I feared rejection.  I probably kept silent too often or too long in many professional and social interactions to avoid conflict in the short term.  I kept silent with my mother too often, to avoid short-term conflict.  And, I never sought sex from any woman who might turn me down.  Prostitutes don’t say, “No, I have a headache.”  They just take the money.  My affair partners were so desperate, in their own ways, that they did not turn me down.  I never took a risk toward my ego with women.

I obsessively protected my ego because I was struggling with low self-esteem.  As I described in my previous post, the basic goal of my individual counseling and my self-improvement efforts is to build healthy self-esteem.

I think the practical lesson from this is that I might be able to feel more like an adult man if I work at being more courageous in my relationships.  This will require me to stop obsessively protecting my ego.  I’m working on this, specifically regarding the three types of relationships where I used to cowardly and obsessively protect my ego.

The first type is sex.  I try to initiate sex with TL now, without obsessive fear of rejection.  It helps that I see my whole life from a more realistic perspective now.  No longer using sex as a way to medicate my sick ego, I can now view sex in the context of other priorities, including health, love, friendship, sleep, and even other pleasures such as food or fitness.

The second type is with my mother.  I try to be super-vigilant with her, working hard to break my old habits.  That means looking constantly for her attacks against TL, our children and/or myself.  It also means pushing back quickly and firmly against those attacks.

The third type is with bosses.  I try to be braver about speaking up when I disagree or when bosses mistreat me or my staff.  Again, it helps to look at my relationship with bosses from a healthier, more holistic perspective.  So what if the boss responds with something petty such as childish games or a poor evaluation?  If that’s what they do and worst comes to worst, then I tell myself, “Perhaps I’d be better off working elsewhere or being self-employed.” I can no longer allow the fearful child to rule my choices.

A secondary lesson is that I can approach risks to health and hearth from a more healthy, realistic perspective by truly appreciating health and hearth.  I need to be thankful.  I need to count my blessings. I need to make choices as an adult.