Monthly Archives: October 2015

The monkey-bar phenomenon

We’ve had some very deep talks recently, surprise, surprise.

One theme that seems apparent is a theme of lack of courage.

We call it the “monkey-bar phenomenon.” When our oldest was young, he loved to climb and do monkey bars, no fear at all. He liked to play soccer as a fun thing to do with friends. When we lived in our last overseas country, there were some local boys who were bullies. It was hard on our son and he lost that fearlessness for a while. It got to the point where, even though he loved to do the monkey bars, if there was anyone else at the playground doing monkey bars, he wouldn’t even try. And, he wanted absolutely nothing more to do with soccer. It made me so sad for him. And, it reminded MC of himself who refused to do anything if he felt that, in comparison to others, he would not do well at it. As a child, I too had similar proclivities. I don’t think it is an uncommon instinct. However, it has the potential to become pathological and I think that is dangerous.

Our son has steered away from certain sports that he was bullied about overseas. But, I am happy to say he has found a niche that has been very affirming for him. We’ve had a lot of talks about this with him. You don’t have to win the race, and so what if you lose the race, it is still better to participate and try than to sit on the sidelines because of fear. It is a hard lesson to learn, even for adults.

I was so worried about our son for a while. But, this boy has really come into his own. He has a mind of his own and he speaks it. He is not afraid to be who he is, he is not afraid to stand by his beliefs, he is not afraid to stand-up for himself or other kids being mistreated, not in an aggressive way, but in a calm and matter-of-fact kind of way. I am so PROUD of him.

Courage isn’t protecting yourself from consequences, courage is facing the consequences, even when painful and/or scary. Courage isn’t arrogance, courage is knowing when you need help and asking for it. Courage isn’t telling others what they want to hear and then doing what you want anyway, courage is matching your actions to your words. Courage isn’t going along with what others want because it is easier, courage is voicing your opinion and then working together to find solutions. Courage isn’t agreeing to do things because you are afraid of people thinking poorly of you, courage is being able to say “no” when you need to do so.

I am starting to strongly believe that when a man lacks courage, he will question his masculinity and this leads to poor  self-esteem and possibly some very dark places to compensate. Every time MC acts with courage, I see it building belief in himself. The more he does it, the more he moves away from being a little boy and being a man, not just to me, but to himself. When MC started turning it around, I saw our son starting to turn it around. It is a healthier place for all of us and that gives me a sense of safety for all of us. MC still works hard to have courage in the face of fear. I know it is not instinctive yet, there is more work ahead. But, I also know he is learning, he is growing and I do see that he has come a long ways, and continues the work to move forward, to become stronger, to become healthier.

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MC: “Follow-up to travel travails”

Here’s what I’ve learned from this experience.  First, I was overconfident in recent months when I went about saying and writing that I would have no trouble spiking a lunch invitation or something similar from a woman.  I really thought it would be easier than it was.  I really thought I was prepared to just say “no,” without worry about what anyone might think of me.  In some ways, I was prepared and I did do the right thing.  When CW loitered around as I waited for my luggage, I bravely said, “Don’t feel compelled to wait for me.”  She left.  More importantly in my mind, I had no mental, physical, or other temptation to treat CW as a target and I was one-hundred percent loyal to TL in my thoughts, desires, and intentions.  

Where I failed, however, was in not anticipating the real possibility that CW would again run into me at the airport and approach me with a lunch invitation.  I was too damned sure that would not happen, and I was not prepared.  I was so confident that this was a harmless incident, that I didn’t consider the potential for temptation or false signals during that lunch.

Second, I failed by giving in to cowardice.  I thought I would have been brave enough to just send CW packing, awkwardness or social graces be damned.  I should have been braver.  TL and I talk a lot about courage.  Before D-day, I was too cowardly to defend us against my mother.  I tried to change the subject or pretend like nothing was happening, instead of bravely saying, “Mom, you can’t treat us that way.  This visit or conversation will end if you treat us that way.”  

I was cowardly regarding my work-life balance before D-day.  I was not brave enough to be the first to leave the office or to not be the first to arrive at the office. I was afraid of how bosses and colleagues might judge me.  

I was even cowardly toward TL before D-day.  I was afraid, and too prideful, to show her how much I wanted her.  I was afraid she might reject me or do something I would perceive as rejection.  So, I approached her infrequently and haltingly.

The trend of cowardly behavior goes further back. It goes back to when I was single, and I was too afraid to approach girls. I then berated myself for that cowardice. I dwelled on it and used it to fuel my self-pity, self-pity that later motivated my selfishness and cheating. The trend goes back all the way to childhood. I was afraid of the ball, afraid of the bully, and afraid to try new physical endeavors. Similarly, I berated myself for caving in to those fears. Self-pity gradually developed out of that. In terms of wife, work, and my bullying mother, I have found my courage. It’s not that my fear has gone away, it’s that I am learning to not let it control me. Clearly, I need to summon new courage in dealing with CW and similar people.

Third, with TL or by myself, I should give serious thought to hypothetical future situations and mentally drill myself on how to respond.  Soldiers train for combat. Students train for exams.  I should train for inappropriate advances from women.  I need to get to a point where “no, I have plans to call my wife” or “no, I want to do something different for lunch” just rolls off my tongue instinctively.

To TL and our long-terms readers, as much as I let you down by having lunch with CW, I let myself down too.  Rick Reynolds warned me against overconfidence.  He said no matter how long you walk along the right path, you’ll always still be just a few feet from the ditch.  CW’s lunch invitation was taking my eyes of the road and heading toward the ditch.

I can only be thankful that I learned some lessons from this, thankful that I was not at all tempted to actively abuse the situation, and thankful that TL was willing to discuss this all with me and support me as I learn from it.

TL: “Sometimes, I just really still need my dad.”

You know, the last few days have been rough ones for me emotionally. We have so much up in the air right now in our lives. I was always so careful in our past. Prior to d-day I never allowed us to carry consumer debt of any kind. Now, we are under it and it is killing me inside. I need to finish this degree, I need to know where the fuck we are going next, and then I MUST find a job!  All of this, plus the other things we’ve recently discussed in the blog, let’s just say I am a wreck. I had a few tears and a lot of talking with MC. He’s deeply exploring and going to write about that in upcoming days.

Yesterday, I found myself wishing my dad were here. For the first time in a few years, while kids were at school, I spent a bit of time crying over missing and still needing my dad. You know, there are some in my family who are big believers in the paranormal. I’ve always tried to tell myself it is complete hogwash, irrational, illogical, etc. Only, since our youngest first started talking, there were weird conversations and incidents that would be described that made even me wonder, that made even MC (even less believing than me in such things) wonder. Our little one is smart, tenacious, witty, questioning and sometimes the things that come out of that child’s mouth, well. . .

Last night at dinner, our little one starts asking about my dad. This was completely out of the blue; the topic of Grandpa had not come up in a very long time. What was he like? Why did he get sick? Was he nice? Wishing Grandpa could spend time with us. Usually when I talk of my dad, I do so with a feeling of bittersweet nostalgia. He died so very many years ago. He was only a year older than I am right now when he died. I told our youngest that I know Grandpa would love to be a part of their lives and the tears started flowing from my eyes, I just couldn’t help it. My kids have never seen me cry over my dad. The kids and MC all gathered around me in a big loving, group hug.

If these things could be true, if such ability to sense was really possible, then maybe my dad was here with us last night and my little one sensed his presence. Maybe? Or, maybe just the thought of that is something I wouldn’t mind believing to be true right now. Maybe, sometimes, I just really still need my dad.

MC: “Travel travails”

The other week I was out of town for three nights, on a business trip. Last week I was out of town for one night on a business trip. That amount and frequency of work-related travel is quite unusual for me. In fact, it seems to be cyclical. I often have a lot of work travel demands in the August through October period. The rest of the year, my travel schedule is only about one or two brief trips per quarter. This quarter, I had three trips, for a total of five nights.

This created two problems for us. The first is the problem TL described in her post: she wanted me to schedule less trips without conferring with her. One thing I learned from the experience was that when I travel, TL sometimes feels like I would rather be working than spending time together, that I would never say “no” to a trip unless she asked me to do so. This tells me I’ve not done enough to let her know she and our family are my top priority.

We talked more about it this morning. I now understand that TL felt that I never wanted to say “no” by myself and that I depended upon her to set the limits. I now understand that her pushing off decisions was her way of showing that she was not comfortable being put in the position of always being the one to set the limits. It was not my intention to make TL feel she had to set limits, that I was not willing or able to do so.

I did not view it as anyone setting limits. I viewed it as the two of us together making these decisions on a case-by-case basis. And if I traveled, it was not because “she let me travel.” And, if I did not travel, it was not because “she wouldn’t let me travel.” Rather, each trip was a single event that I thought the two of us were evaluating together with neither of us having a bias in favor or against. We did agree on a way to deal with that going forward.

The second problem was TL’s fear when I told her I had lunch in an airport with a female co-worker. Here’s the story. I’ll refer to this woman by the initials CW. CW works down the hall from me. She started just a few months ago. She is friendly, but not awkwardly friendly. She usually says “hi.” On two or three occasions she poked her head into my office to comment on some thing she just saw on the news and to ask my opinion. There are several male colleagues at work who do the same thing. I just try to be polite. CW is out of the office more than I am, for travel or projects. So, I can often go for several days without seeing her. Our little interactions have never seemed unprofessional or too friendly to me. I do make a conscious effort to avoid her, when possible.

On my most recent trip, while I waited to board the plane, I was surprised to find CW waiting to board the same plane. It was not a pleasant surprise. I knew TL would be unsettled by it. But, it was a completely unexpected, coincidental occurrence. I said “hi,” thinking it would be weird or rude if I did not. We made small talk while waiting to board the plane. It was completely innocuous, innocent, professional conversation. I made it a point to refer to my wife and children, in the most loving tones, whenever I could work it into the conversation. On the plane, we were seated several rows apart, so there was no need to talk.

At the layover, we were both headed off to separate flights, to separate airports. CW started waiting for me while I waited for my plane side-checked bag. I said, “Don’t feel compelled to wait for me.” I tried to be matter-of-fact about it. I did not want to be rude to a co-worker. I also did not want to be unnecessarily friendly. She walked off. I got my bag and started to look around for a restaurant. I was starved and it was about midday.

By coincidence, CW saw me. She asked, “Will you join me for lunch?”

I thought as quickly as I could. I was going to have lunch anyway. This woman works down the hall from me. I want to be polite but not too friendly. I decided to accept her lunch offer but to commit myself to purely professional conversation, a brief lunch, and an immediate full report to TL.

I did that. We had a brief lunch. We made pleasant small talk about work, family, and stuff in the news. After we paid our separate checks, I said, “Well, I’m going to hit the men’s room and then call my wife.” I proceeded to do that.

As we were leaving, I said, “Safe travels.”

She said, “Yeah, maybe we’ll see each other there.” She was referring to our firm’s second headquarters, which was where both of us were supposed to end our journeys that day. By then, I had forgotten she was going there too.

I said, “Oh, yeah. Maybe.”

“Give me your phone number,” she said.

I felt a little trapped. I gave her my business card. We went our separate ways. A short time later, she texted me, to give me her phone number. I texted back, “Thanks.” We had no further communication, and I have not seen her since then. Last night she sent me a friend request on Facebook. I immediately showed TL and hit “decline.”

This is the type of woman I would have tried to exploit, prior to D-day. I told TL that now I don’t see CW as an opportunity for an affair. Rather, I see her as an opportunity to demonstrate to TL that I continue to be transparent, safe, and motivated by love for TL. TL and I talked about prevention. For example, if I’m confronted by an impromptu lunch invitation again, I can say, “I can’t. I have an FaceTime date with my wife while I eat.” My plan is to continue avoiding CW, to talk about TL when I am confronted by CW, and to keep telling TL everything that happens.

TL: “I don’t want to have that responsibility”

MC has done a lot to reprioritize his life. Prior to D-day, we really only saw him on weekends, with him waking up very early for two hours of exercise and then leaving for work before the kids were awake and then returning after all were in bed. Those nights he returned prior to bedtime, I would ask him to read our youngest a bedtime story and he would inevitably fall asleep mid-sentence while reading. This has all changed!

He now drives our oldest to school, he only exercises 30 minutes each morning, inviting me and the kids to participate with him if we want. He is home for dinner every night, he is involved with the kids’ activities, he helps with homework and bedtime routines, he is helping with carpooling and a plethora of other examples. Family comes first on a day-to-day basis. After our year apart, we had a choice of several positions. We decided as a family. He took a position that would have very limited travel. We are here now.

Only the job ended up having “opportunities” for him to travel much more than expected. These are two-day, one-night trips typically, with an occasional slightly longer trip with his CEO. The small trips are just Mindless going to teach newbies certain skills. These started just once/quarter, but his reputation for being good at this has increased dramatically and he is being requested more and more. This has been so good for him, on a career level and personally.

He started with one/quarter as that is all I could handle. But, the requests for him have increased. Where Mindless thinks that we are deciding as a team, I feel guilty saying, “no,” knowing how good this is for him. He prefers being able to talk about each trip on an individual basis together and decide together. Yet, for me, it began to feel like I was wielding this very strong “veto” power, knowing he would go on any trip I did not “veto.”

Here’s the thing, I don’t want to have that responsibility. I want him to set limits on the travel himself, including factoring in what is good for our family. So, I asked him to set his own limit on travel and then stick to it. So, he has set a limit of two trips, no more than a total of three-nights away per quarter. I know I still have “veto” power if I want because of some timing not working well or other things going on in our life. But, I really don’t want to use it. Does that make any sense at all? I am hopeful that this benefits both of us.

Esther Perel and Rick Reynolds, a comparison

This is a rehash of things of I’ve said before here, there and everywhere. But, I just wanted to make it as a stand-alone post, as opposed to an addendum or comment to another.

Esther Perel appears to be all the rage over this last year. She has some valid thoughts and generalizations that I think ring true to many of us in part, at least.  What worries me about her, however, is what she prescribes to do about it in her greater works.

You probably all know we are big fans of Rick Reynolds, but he can be a bit Jesus heavy for us Jewish people. Still, obviously we like so much of what he has to say. And, it is clear to me that Perel and Reynold’s fundamental underlying principles share some common ground, yet how they proceed from there is very very different.

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

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

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

MC: “Unexploded ordnance”

TL left this comment on another R4L post the other day:

Ah the shit. . .Today, I must admit has been a rough one for shit. One of the things I asked of MC after the shit hit the fan was, were there any gifts given or received? He told me about everything, including that his first AP had given him a homemade origami swan (so about 17 years ago now). He thought he had thrown it away. Today, I was looking through some old files trying to find an old password for an account we rarely use. I passed by an old college memorabilia file and decided to take a look in it, guess what I found in that file. . .the origami swan. In addition there was a message on its folded wing – “empathy helps.”

It was a very rough morning for me, especially because MC is out of town right now. In the past, I would have crawled back into bed and cried the rest of the day away. Today, I had errands to run. So, I got myself together. I went shopping. I treated myself to lunch and a coffee, and I’m ok (not great, but ok).

What is the moral of that story? I haven’t a fucking clue.

An affair partner gave it to me years ago, and I really thought I had thrown it away.  Last week TL found it.  I was shocked and disheartened. She was heartbroken and angry.  She asked me, as she had many times before, why I had ever kept things like that.  I answered, as I had many times before, “I don’t know.”  I really didn’t know.

I think when I initially received a gift like that from an affair partner my initial reaction was to feign gratitude, ask myself what the hell I was supposed to do with it, and then hide it from TL until I could decide what to do.  Why didn’t I throw it out immediately?  I think I initially kept it because I was trying to determine whether keeping it would make me feel better about myself.  I wondered whether it might remind me of feeling wanted or validated by my affair partners.

Later, after the affair, I would come across the hidden gift that I had forgotten.  I again asked myself whether to throw it out.  Again I told myself that keeping the gift would remind me that the affair partner had wanted me sexually.  At least, that’s what I thought.  I kept the gift to stroke my own ego.  It was a means of seeking validation.

Years later, but before D-day, I again came across that hidden gift inadvertently.  That time, I really did think I had thrown it out.  Maybe I’m remembering that incident incorrectly or just imagining it.  Maybe I was sloppy, and lost track of it before I could throw it out.  In any case, on that occasion, I told myself that the stupid little gift wasn’t even helping me feel better about myself.  I might as well toss it, I told myself.

When TL finds things like that, it really is as if she stepped on a land mine, left over from a war long ago.  To prevent that from happening again, I continue to search my memory for any little worthless scrap of paper or cheesy trinket I may have forgotten.  If I ever think of one, I have to tell TL and then destroy it.  Why tell TL?  She wants to know all the gory details of my affairs, to help her fill in the gaping, hurtful, doubt-filled holes in her story of us.  Such unexploded ordnance must be destroyed.  It is unnecessary, unwanted, and hurtful.

I think the first step for me in learning empathy was to stop being selfish and self-centered.  It’s difficult to ask yourself what someone else is feeling when you are preoccupied with what you are feeling.  The second step is remembering, each time someone expresses something, that you have the opportunity and the need to try to put yourself in their place.

As far as I can tell, those are the fundamental steps to practicing empathy.  The problem is that those two steps are much easier said than done.  They only come with years of consistent practice.  And, even after all that practice, I still occasionally fall short, lose focus, or fall down on the job.

I’m not complaining, nor prescribing.  I’m just saying this is what I’m trying to do.  Advice or thoughts welcome.

The dog story

MC and I were talking last night and he reminded me of something that we thought would be worth sharing. He’s got a lot on his plate this week, so I thought I would share it as it fits our current theme. . .

Before we had children, while living overseas, we took in an abused dog. She was beautiful, so loving to us and instinctively protective. She had it in her genes to be a guard dog, although all we wanted was her to be a member of our family and a running companion. She could only hang out with people who themselves had dogs. She LOVED other dogs and was therefore loving and friendly to their people. For those without dogs, she did not like them AT ALL.

When we had our first child, I was nervous. But, she was very loving and gentle near the baby. When our oldest was a toddler he ran up to our girl, falling into a big hug with her. She snapped at him and barely broke the skin, but did break the skin. We tried to find her a new home, but couldn’t. We called animal rescue organizations back in the US, telling them we would fly her to them, if they would take her. They wouldn’t. Finally, we decided to take her to the vet to put her down. We loved her so very much, but we thought she wasn’t safe for our child at that point.

Do you see where this is going? Just because you love someone doesn’t mean they are safe for you and that you can keep them in your life. So, while the definition of love is very important to our reconciliation, so is the idea of safety. Love is one thing. Safety is another.

Now, just so you know the end of the dog story. . .

We got our girl to the vet and he found she was infested with something similar to yet-to-be hatched from her skin botflies. No wonder the girl was cranky at being hugged. We got her all fixed-up and she came home to us to live a long and happy life with our growing family, never to snap at our family again. She died a few months before d-day. We still miss her.

A parting thought…It is true, MC was never infested with botfly larvae. And, there were certainly moments I wanted to put him down (ha!). The reality is that in addition to reprioritizing his values and his life; learning to think outside of himself; and learning to love truly, as opposed to only loving on a quid-pro-quo basis; MC also had to focus on becoming a safe partner and providing mechanisms of safety not only to protect me and the kids if I chose to attempt reconciliation with him, but even if I chose to divorce.

TL: Now you see it

We talk about love a bit on this blog and by now you all know what that means to us. But, I was thinking about the one aspect of the definition that is separating out giving love freely and willingly, not because you feel you must, not to receive something in return, but just because you want the best for the other person.

I think I need to explain this a bit better in terms of why the non-transactional nature of love is now so important to me.

My brother is exceptionally gifted. While I am a hard-working, intelligent enough woman, my brother has a photographic memory, an IQ near 160 and was our mother’s pride. Mom would talk endlessly about him and forget to even mention that I existed. As a little girl, I would ask my mom “what is special about me?” And she never did have an answer, never. My dad was different. He was so proud of me, of how hard I worked, he thought I could do anything I set my mind to do. I knew it, I felt it, I saw it. And, yet I wanted that from Mom too.

As an aside, I know my brother felt that our dad favored me, as much as I felt our mom favored him. I think it was the source of so much of our horrible fights as kids. As teens we became exceptionally close. My brother and I have drifted from each other in years since. He couldn’t take our family’s dynamic and cut off ties with all but me after college. I completely understand his need to do this for his own mental health. I love him, I know he loves me. With time, age and physical distance, we are not as close as we used to be, but we still want the best for the other.

My point here was that I tried so hard to win my mom’s love. I kept hoping, praying, trying to win her love. I thought if I had something special about me, then maybe she would love me too. I do wonder if part of why I went with her when my parents divorced is because I thought if I took care of her, she would love me. Only, it never did work out that way.

After my parents divorced, my brother went with our dad and I went with her. I was expected to be the adult, until she didn’t like what I had to say. She was dating an alcoholic, uneducated, illiterate man that she met in a bar. She wanted me to flatter him, give him hugs when he came to visit her, to treat him adoringly. I was polite, but distant. She kicked me out when I was 16 years old, thinking I would come running back to her, that I would do and say anything she wanted me to do. I never returned. I went to her sister who allowed me to move into their storage/laundry room.

I know that Mom’s family feared me going to live with my dad and brother, that it would send Mom into a tail spin. My dad was loving, but not a very responsible person. He was a hard worker, but couldn’t hold a job because he always had to be his own boss, he was evicted from homes often, yada, yada, yada. . .I loved spending time with Dad, but for short amounts of time; a great place to visit, but I didn’t want to live there. And, I wanted stability, I wanted a family to love and to love me, I wanted to be able to be a kid.  I spent so many nights wishing that there had been some huge mistake and that my aunt was actually my mom. But, it wasn’t true, it would never be true. And, even being mom-like was difficult for her, there was a wall. My mom accused her of stealing me away. She pressured my aunt to get me to visit. I didn’t want to because it was very hard on me to do so, but I did it to please my aunt. When I would visit, Mom would spend all her time asking questions about my brother, she was not at all interested in anything about me. I started to believe she only “missed” me living with her because I was her source of info about my brother, because she wanted me to be her caretaker and so she could get the child support and more money and food stamps.

I was kept at arm’s length by my aunt. Enough to not go to my dad, but never enough to feel like I had a mom in my aunt. My mom refused to give the child support she received from my dad (by this point it was being directed through Adult and Family Services) to my aunt and uncle. My uncle, who had bailed out my family many many times in the past, had enough. He would have talks with me that I needed to figure out how to get that child support to them or I would need to find another place to live. I said I would let AFS know that I no longer lived with my mom, so the child support would go directly to them. It would also mean that my mom would lose the extra bit of money and food stamps she got because I was supposedly part of her home. My aunt knew that she would then be making up that loss of money to my mom because our family was just that enabling. It was a stale-mate, but at least I didn’t have to go back to live with my mom. I just wanted a home. I just wanted a “normal” family to love me. I did everything I could to get them to love me.

I put myself through college, graduated and just a few months later ran into MC. We started dating, he loved me, actually he love-bombed me. I saw all my dreams of having my very own family coming true. After we married, I started to feel that nothing I could do was enough. I was loyal, I was loving, I put his dreams and ambitions ahead of everything else. I thought if I just did enough he would love me, think of me again like when we were dating.

Do you see the pattern? Do you see the problem? You CANNOT make people love you. They will or they won’t! That is THEIR CHOICE. I’ve stopped trying to make people love me (or, at least, I am working very hard to stop). If I do something for another, it cannot be because I want them to like me or love me, it must simply be because I want to do something loving toward them, because I want what is best and healthiest for them to live to their fullest potential. This does NOT include enabling poor choices!

When I was in college, just after my Dad died, I talked to my uncle. He knows he was hard on me in high school, he so wanted me to not turn out like my parents or be the enabler that my aunt and grandpa had been. And, he saw with my words and actions that I did not want to turn out like that either. He told me how proud he was of me and how much he thought of me like I was his daughter. I have felt so close to him ever since.

When Mom died, the wall between my aunt and I came down. She no longer felt like she had to protect my mom’s feelings. I will never be her daughter, but we are closer than ever before. I do love her and want what is best for her, no matter what our relationship was, is or will be.

Sharing “Which Direction is Good for You? Head that way. . .” by Elle at Betrayed Wives’ Club

For some time now, I’ve felt all cried-out, perhaps a bit hardened in some ways. I don’t know. But, when I read this from Elle over at Betrayed Wives’ Club, it brought a tear to my eye because it really touched me and I thought it might also touch some of you. TL xx

Which Direction is Good for You? Head that way…

“I did what anyone who’s ever had to rebuild their life has to do – very slowly, one step at a time, find a way to walk back in the direction that’s going to be good for you. That isn’t about your sorrow and your suffering but is about your strength and your light. And it’s about healing your wounds instead of circling around them neverendingly.”
– Cheryl Strayed, Dear Sugar Radio, “The Wounded Child Within”

I ask your forgiveness of me and of what might seem like my relentless insistence that you will heal from this. So often your comments read like my own thoughts in the early days post-betrayal, when I was absolutely certain I would never ever feel anything but agony again. When I might accept that the day would come when I could function but I simply could not accept that this shattered mess where my heart used to be would once again be whole. And so I recognize your agony as my own. I remember as well my inability to recognize my strength, so crippled did I feel by my husband’s infidelity. Your insistence that I’m wrong, that you simply can’t heal from this, sounds so familiar.

And I’m guilty, I know, of sometimes forgetting the sharp edges of that pain. And so I respond, perhaps unfeelingly, offering up platitudes that healing will come, insisting that whether he introduced his OW to his friends is immaterial and that whether they slept together twice or two hundred times hardly matters. He cheated. That’s what matters. It’s, really, all you need to know.

Except this. You need to know this also even if it makes you want to punch me in the face: Your healing is possible. No matter how devastating his betrayal. No matter the depths of his depravity. You can heal from this. It will take a whole lot longer than any of us ever imagined it would. It will be really really hard. But, as the two Sugars on Dear Sugar radio told “Wounded Child Within”, healing is always possible when we shift our gaze from what happened to what we will do about what happened. Or, as Strayed puts it, when we walk back in a direction that’s going to be good for us.

Strayed is talking about her own self-destructive choices in the wake of her mother’s death. Wracked by grief, she numbed herself with sex, with drugs, with aimlessness. Her choices felt like no choice at all. No matter which direction she went, her mother was dead. There was no changing that.

Which is a big part of what trips us up, I think. Our choices don’t include a good one. Instead, we’re given the choice between shitty and shittier. We can stay and keep our children’s world relatively intact and not have to tell our dying mother that her son-in-law is a snake and cross our fingers that our “I’ll-never-do-this-to-you-again” husband is speaking the truth. Or we can leave a marriage that seems irreparable and unhealthy, model resilience and fortitude to our heartbroken children, and cross our fingers that we can survive every second Christmas by volunteering at the food bank. I used to wail to my husband that my only choices were to sacrifice my happiness or my children’s. Shitty. And shittier.

But a funny thing happened when I gave up on happiness. Once I’d resolved that I’d never again ever feel joy but decided that I would at least fight for feeling less horrible, I began to experience slivers of, let’s call them, hope. In my pursuit of less horrible, I stopped focussing on my husband and all the ways in which he’d ruined my life and turned instead to what I could do to rebuild it. I still had no idea whether this rebuilding would incorporate my husband or not. I was leaning heavily toward not but was waiting until I felt less emotionally fragile before springing that news on my blissfully ignorant children. And so I shored up myself.

With long walks alongside my beloved dogs. With meditation. With an intention to notice those slivers of hope and stockpile them. I was, to again borrow Strayed’s metaphor, walking in the direction of what was good for me. I was intentionally shifting my gaze from what my husband had done to what I was going to do with that. I had felt my sorrow and suffering – and I think it’s crucial to feel your sorrow and suffering. You don’t get to skip that step – but I was ready to recast it as strength and light.

I know it’s not easy. It will probably be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. But it will save your life. It will ensure that the life you save is full and rich. There are no guarantees that you will be spared further pain. In fact, I can assure you there will be more heartache, in one form or another, to come. But that heartache will happen to a different you. One that is able to walk in the direction of strength and light. One that can feel her sorrow and suffering without letting it define her. And one that is more compassionate and more open-hearted for having suffered. One that savours every drop of joy that life offers, and I promise you, joy will come.
Source: Which Direction is Good for You? Head that way…

TL: “Let go or be dragged.”

I’m being a bit of a dork today, procrastinating working on this homework.

So, there is a very old song that I have always, always loved. You’re going to laugh. But it’s Little River Band’s “Time for a cool change.” You see I love the water, I’ve always LOVED the water. Whether it is kayaking, sailing, or SCUBA, I just feel so alive on or in the water. So, after feeling so wonderful after yesterdays’ little kayak trip, I went to listen to my song and it was streaming some quotes, there were many good ones, but one really stopped me in my thoughts for a moment. I do love a good quote. So, I will share two of my old favorites and the one that really caught my eye today.

  1. Let go or be dragged
  2. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful
  3. The most difficult phase of life is not when no one understands you; it is when you don’t understand yourself

So, on the first quote, it may not exactly be what you are thinking. I don’t know. As I’ve mentioned before, my mother was mentally ill and addicted to prescription drugs. She used to change words, and change history to manipulate others to her cause, that she was always the victim to be pitied. I put myself through college with no help from family and was very proud of that fact. My parents lost our home when I was seven years old to a bankruptcy and proceeded to be evicted from just about every home we ever lived in thereafter. While I was in college, Mom went around telling people that she had sold our family home and put herself into a cheap, dark, dreary apartment so she could pay for my college. That is just one of so many examples. So, when I feel that someone has twisted words, manipulated the truth, or changed history to fit their own narrative, OH BOY do I have hard time letting that go. Not just when it happens to me, but when I see it happen to others. So, the “let go or be dragged” is to remind me that I don’t have to fight every battle, every cause is not mine to resolve. So, much easier said than done.

On the second quote, it is just a reminder that perfection is its own worst enemy. That we have to smell the flowers on our journey forward.

On the third quote, that was a new one to me today. It really plays into the first quote in a way. I am focusing on learning again who I am, who I want to be, how I want to live life now and in the future. I need to not waste so much time on trying to be understood, as I much as I need to spend time understanding myself. It was a very good reminder!

Ok, now I need a quote about not procrastinating with my homework. I better get to it. I hope all of you have a beautiful day!

TL xx

TL: “A beautiful day”

Today has been an absolutely beautiful day.

It started off with an informational interview with someone who has a successful business within my field of study. I will be done with my Masters in a few months and I wanted to understand what real-world possibilities existed for me within the field. I am so very scared, and excited, to once again return to the professional world of work. When we return to the US, I now have a solid idea of something feasible that I can make happen. Until that time, I have some objectives to make myself more competitive, including what type of work experience to pursue when we get to our next destination.

Mindless has the day off and the kids do not. So, after the informational interview, we grabbed one of our kayaks and headed to water. We picked up these kayaks a few months ago, looking for activities for our family. We live near some beautiful places to kayak. Usually, the kids come with, but today it was just Mindless and me. It was absolutely beautiful.

We are home now, sitting on our back porch sipping coffee in this beautiful weather before the chaos of “kids home from school” activities begin. It does seem like we are seeing more and more flowers blooming in our garden.

I think it is helpful to know that if I need to process anything from the past, that Mindless is there with me to do it. We continue to work on ourselves and our marriage. But, it is also reassuring and refreshing to have moments where we can relax and just enjoy the garden as a family, on our own or as a couple.

MC: “State of our union”

I don’t really have anything compelling to say today.  I take that as good news.  This morning I remarked at how much better I feel about us compared to two or three years ago.  Even a year ago, we had some desperate, painful episodes that kept us awake several nights in a row and seared like wounds for weeks at a time.

There are still moments when TL is overcome by fear, anger, or pain about our relationship.  But, now those moments last several minutes or a few hours.  They used to last entire days or several days.  Now those moments come every couple of weeks or so.  They used to come several times a week.

We still blog, pray, attend counseling, talk about accountability and fears, and remain cognizant of where we’ve been in our relationship.  But, today at least, I feel free of that serious doubt that we could ever again be happy.  Today at least, I feel I can relate to my wife with regard to sex, friendship, money, work, parenting, and many things like “normal couples,” without everything being tinged by the infidelity.

The toxic waste that I buried in our garden is still there.  It will forever be there.  We’ll never forget it’s there.  But, even in Chernobyl, flowers now bloom and animals now thrive.  Today I see some flowers in our garden.  Instead of fearing the next radiation warning, today I’m just going to smell the flowers.  I’m already past my half-life.

MC: “Chariots of ire”

When TL and I began learning how to move forward after infidelity and discovery, we did not have to reinvent the wheel.  For thousands of years, and especially in the past several decades, plenty of different tribes have designed this chariot.  Many said we must divorce, others said we must remain together, most were ambivalent.  Some said consider sex addiction and a 12-step program.  Some said look to religion.  Others said try cognitive therapy.  The tool shop was full, with marriage counseling, individual counseling, medication, books, retreats, behavioral therapy, and on and on.  We did not need to reinvent the wheel, nor did we need to buy every chariot.  Who could?

We take the most relevant and useful parts from several chariots and tool shops, and we build our own.  We could not have done it without all the others who have gone before us.  We hope to leave something useful for other couples, now and in the future, who are working on their own chariots.

We also recognize that our chariot is “never done.”  We always look for new ways to improve it.  We want to evolve.

We’ve felt disappointment at least a couple times when we thought we had found others who also wanted to evolve but instead we learned that they thought they had no need to evolve. For example, we tried conversing on Surviving Infidelity.  We soon saw that the administers of the site were hostile to new ideas.  When we tried to introduce new ideas or present polite dissent for the sake of exploring something, they shot us down in a very fundamentalist manner.  They believed they knew everything that they needed to know about recovering from infidelity, and they believed any other approaches, old or new, were heretical.

We tried another site, IHG, that purported to be more moderate, somewhere between Surviving Infidelity’s “coddle the cheater approach and Chump Lady’s “ditch him and start fresh” approach.  IHG was also a disappointment.  Talking with the IHG administrators felt like we were saying the Seahawks are better than the Patriots (both American football teams) while they were saying, “No, no, baseball is foolish, stop talking about it.”  They misconstrued our words and seemed to seek misunderstanding and disagreement rather than looking for common ground and ways to learn from each other.  Their tone became more and more angry and condescending as the discussion continued.

There are plenty of good chariots out there.  TL and I are working to build on the chariot design.  We want an automobile, maybe one day even a Tesla.  We want to continue to evolve. We figure we’ll more likely succeed at that quest if we can work with other people, learn from their ideas, and also sometimes improvise.  If anyone riding their chariot of ire insists condescendingly that you cannot recover from infidelity unless you follow their path unquestioningly, start asking questions.  Whether it’s therapy, religion, or politics, if a person’s point cannot bear some scrutiny, their point is probably pretty weak.

MC: “Should have” is a form of self-pity

This is more of a theoretical or research question than an assertion.  The other day, TL and I started to talk about choices we should have made differently in life:  when to buy a house, which job to take, etc.  We do that occasionally.  It occurred to me that the discussion is both an opportunity and a risk.  It is an opportunity to learn.  “Next time I’ll consider more information before buying.  Next time I’ll plan better.”  These are just examples.

The discussion is also a risk:  a risk of falling into self pity.  “Woe is me.  I made the wrong choice long ago and now I can do nothing about it.  My life sucks.  It could only be better if I could just go back and change the past.  Because of past decisions, I’m now at the mercy of other people, God, karma, or whatever.”

I had a flash of insight during that little conversation.  The latter type of thinking about the past suddenly reminded me of the way I used to think before D-day, the way I’m training myself to not think now.  I used to think about feeling powerless to my genetics, the way my parents raised me, and my past decisions.  From that thinking, I used to slip right into self-pity, feeling sorry for myself. From there, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to anger, bitterness, fatalism, and even revenge. Yes, revenge.  Against whom?  Against God.  I told myself God had cheated me, and that I therefore had the right to break moral rules to get what I deserved.  I had the right to lie and cheat to even the score.

I know, that cascade of sick logic is rather extreme.  It shows me just how dangerous self-pity can be.  So, to the extent that “should have” leads to self-pity, I need to stop saying “should have.” “Can do better next time,” or “can learn from this” are helpful.  “Should have” is not.

Let’s talk about love

Ok, so as you know from my previous post, we had a conversation with Wayfarer and some IHG staff about love’s place in marriage and reconciliation.

The thing is that we do think it is a worthwhile conversation to have. We’ve thought a lot about a “healthy” definition of love, but we have never before encountered the idea that “love is beside the point.”

We would love to talk about that with our readers. We want to hear your thoughts. We will give our current thinking to these questions below, after asking you the questions, so as to not influence your thought process on these ideas.

What is a healthy definition of love?

Is a healthy definition of love unhealthy to the marriage and/or process of reconciliation?

Is “love beside the point?”

Form your thoughts, then read our answers below if you like. Regardless of our thoughts, we hope you will share yours!

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Our thoughts on those questions:

What is a healthy definition of love?

If you’ve been a reader for a while, you’ve probably read several pieces from MC talking about his fucked-up definition of love prior to d-day, that it was all about getting and not at all about giving. For me, it was the idea that if I am loving enough, do enough, that people will love me in return. Both of these ideas were unhealthy.

First, “the key to a healthy marriage is enjoying your mate and learning to love them rather then needing them to love you.” And, second:

“. . .relationships based on romanticism are immature and unrealistic. Indeed, they contain intense emotions, but they are not about mature, lasting love. Instead they are based on wanting what I don’t have and the sacrifices I’m willing to make to get what I want. They are not based on what’s in the best interest of another; they are based on what I believe I need in order to be happy. In the end, this romanticism is incredibly and unequivocally selfish.

While romanticism is based on wanting what you don’t have, marriage is based on having what you don’t always want. There always comes a point in marital relationships where we are wounded or disappointed by our mate, and it’s not until that moment that we have the opportunity to really love another.

Until that moment, love is based on the belief that you can complete me; being with you will result in happiness and fulfillment for me. But after that moment, when hope is crushed and I’ve abandoned my illusion that you are what I need, then my love (if I’m able to love) becomes something more mature and divine. It’s the opportunity for my love to become less about me and what I want, and more about truly choosing the other person. . .

.  . .Truly loving another is the most difficult thing we can do, and it’s completely counter-cultural, but with practice over time it will lead to a more fulfilling relationship than you’ve probably ever known. That being said, truly loving your spouse does not mean you have to subject yourself to situations or relationships that are not safe. Truly loving your spouse does not include enabling poor choices or remaining in codependent situations.”

These ideas by Rick Reynolds (surprise, surprise) were truly eye-opening to us for our marriage and it really got down to the brass tacks of the insufficiencies in each of our pre d-day views of love.

From this, we developed the idea about what we are working towards when we talk about love:

First, when we do loving and kind things for others, we do them because we want to do them. Perhaps, we simply want to help, or bring a touch of joy, kindness, and/or laughter to someone’s day. Perhaps we just want to show someone we think lovingly about them in some way. We do not do these things with an expectation of anything in return.

Second, we should expect that we treat each other ethically, respectfully, and with dignity and decency. We should also set boundaries for ourselves that do not allow others to treat us poorly.

But, these are two SEPARATE things. One does not beget the other. I should do the first because I choose to do it out of love. All too often, we perform one expecting the other. Both are good, healthy and appropriate things, but expecting one to bring about the other is a fool’s errand.

So, for us, love is not transactional, we find that idea personally unhealthy and part of the fucked-up thinking of our pre d-day life. We are working to change all manner of fucked-up thinking in ourselves and in our marriage.

Is a healthy definition of love unhealthy to the marriage and/or process of reconciliation?

Our previous unhealthy views of love were unhealthy for us and for our marriage. We find it difficult to believe that a personal healthier view of love is harmful to our marriage or reconciliation. It is a fundamental shift in how we view love for and with each other, one that has been a guiding star on our journey.

Is “love beside the point?”

Our answer to that question is that love is not beside the point. It is, however, a separate, important and relevant point. Ethics, respect and treating others with dignity are the stalwarts of human decency. That needs to be a foundational element in healthy human relations, something MC has had to and continues to do a lot of work on! Love is separate from, but certainly complementary to, that truth. The two are not dependent upon each other, but they are also not mutually exclusive.

MC: “Motivation matters more than method”

I read this article:  http://www.apa.org/education/ce/motivation-autonomy.pdf.  Actually, I just read the abstract, and then thumbed through the rest of it.  It makes a lot of sense to me.  There are plenty of ways to quit smoking. Some people succeed, regardless of the method.  Many people do not.  I tried many times to quit masturbating and using porn before D-day.  I failed again and again.  After D-day, I quit those things cold turkey, and have been clean for over three years.  What’s the common thread here?  Motivation.

Are you starting a diet and exercise program, for example, because you want to do so?  Really?  Or, is it because your spouse or physician said you should?  Is it because other people you know are doing it and you don’t want to feel excluded or look lame?  Is it because some gym owner or pitchman on television made a convincing case that you ought to do it?  If you’re doing it for any external reason, your odds of failure are pretty high.  Alternatively, if you’re just doing it because you yourself came up with the idea and you see how it will ultimately make you happier, you can succeed, almost irrespective of which diet and exercise plan (within reason) you choose.

Similarly, my quest for honesty and fidelity now is much easier than before D-day.  Before D-day, I occasionally thought about trying to overcome my self-pity.  But, I failed because I did not genuinely believe it was totally necessary.  I had ambivalence instead of motivation.  D-day brought the consequences of failure into the light.  I could no longer hide from those consequences.  As a result, I found my own internal motivation to succeed at honesty and fidelity, as well as staying off porn and masturbation.

I feel pretty good about my methods:  counseling, religious devotion, new habits regarding spouse and family, and continued study and reflection.  But, I don’t feel compelled to tell others in my position that my methods are the only ones that could help them.  With genuine motivation, the chances for success increase significantly.

Putting it out there.

Both MC and I were members of Surviving Infidelity, but banned because our views did not align with the site administrator’s views. We believe the cheater does not get to use the excuse of “triggers” or shame to avoid talking to or dealing with their betrayed’s hurt feelings. We also believe that not all serial cheaters are sex addicts, that the sex addiction label and twelve-step are not the only diagnosis and treatment that can and should be used for serial cheaters, and certainly it is not the right fit for us personally. In addition, we do not believe the terms “reconciled” or “happily ever after” are healthy or appropriate when dealing with reconciliation; it is just setting oneself up for resting on their laurels, so to speak. After being banned for such views, we created Reconcile4Life.

We recently found another forum called Infidelity Health Group (IHG). We had such high hopes that it would be a good fit, appearing to share some of the views above. We had what we thought was a respectful conversation with Wayfarer, in the comments section, about love and ethics. With a disagreement about whether or not love should be transactional, we do not believe it should be. I do think that how we think that works was not completely understood by Wayfarer and IHG, but it doesn’t need to be by them, it is their site and forum after all. Ultimately, we were asked to not comment further as our views on love were muddying the waters for their readership.

Still, I wanted to clear up their misconceptions about what we were saying.

First, when we do loving and kind things for others, we do them because we want to do them. Perhaps, we simply want to help, or bring a touch of joy, kindness, and/or laughter to someone’s day. Perhaps we just want to show someone we think lovingly about them in some way. We do not do these things with an expectation of anything in return.

Second, we should expect that we treat each other ethically, respectfully, and with kindness. We should also set boundaries for ourselves that do not allow others to treat us poorly.

But, these are two SEPARATE things. One does not beget the other. I should do the first because I choose to do it out of love. All too often, we perform one expecting the other. Both are good, healthy and appropriate things, but expecting one to bring about the other is a fool’s errand.

Wayfarer explained that our views would muddy the waters of the purpose of their site. We understand, but must admit a bit of disappointment. We had hoped that the IHG site and forum might be more accepting of allowing us to learn new ideas, while at the same time allowing us to share our thoughts, to learn and grow from and with each other.

We were looking to find a sense of community with on-going conversations that are most conducive to a forum environment, conversations that would instigate us thinking, and instigate others thinking, about new thoughts and new ideas that may help each of us on this journey. We just cannot seem to find that, out in the world of infidelity forums, for both partners as individuals and as a couple. We seem to have just enough of a mix of things different from both types of forums to not be accepted into either for exact opposite reasons.

We enjoy mutually respectful conversations so we can build on ideas together. We would love to start that kind of conversation here, with our readers. The blog is picking-up in comments and readership. We are beginning to see more conversations and we really do appreciate that so very much. So, if you have some thoughts, ideas, questions you would like to share, explore, discuss, and/or ponder together, let’s do it.

I hope if you’ve read the blog, you can see disagreement is ok. Agreement is ok. Finding common ground together is ok. Agreeing to disagree is ok. All we ask is for mutually respectful conversation and thus far our readers have been fantastic on this front. Let’s have a place for this type of discussion that seems so lacking out in the world of infidelity forums.

MC: Love and ethics

Blaming the cheater’s past rather than his current character and world view is inappropriate.  To be precise, family of origin issues, or other psychological issues may explain, in part or in whole, the cheater’s thinking, but they can not and should not excuse his choices and behavior.  They were deliberate, conscious choices, and there is no excuse.

Ethics are important.  I think of it as honor, humility, and commitment to spiritual principles.  Ethics is a good shorthand.  Yes, I lacked ethics when I cheated.  I’ve been working hard to develop myself in that way.  Before D-day, I was unethical and dishonorable.  I thought of myself rather than of my duty to my wife, children, or God.  I thought of selfish gain rather than behaving with integrity.  I measured myself by childish notions of masculinity rather than taking pride in acting with integrity.

After D-day, I learned and practiced integrity, ethics, honor, and spirituality.  I don’t mean I’ve perfected it.  Like physical and mental health, moral health is a never-ending quest.  I used to go to the gym often, for physical health.  Now I also turn to ethical and religious teachings regularly, for moral health.  I know that might sound simplistic.  I’m neither a religious fundamentalist nor an esoteric New-age freak.  I use the terms spirituality and morality here because there are really no other simple ways to describe it in our language.

Maybe there are some people who can improve their motivations and behavior purely through ethics, without empathy, compassion, and love.  More power to them.  I find that focusing on empathy, compassion, and love, as well as integrity and morality, is very helpful.

For me personally, the definition of love is crucial.  I suspect other cheaters will find it helpful.  I could be wrong.  But, learning that love is selfless, not transactional, was a watershed discovery for me.  It actually tied directly into thoughts about ethics.  How can you not make your wife’s safety, feelings, and honor a top priority if you truly love her?  How can you not make her less important than yourself if you only view love as transactional?

I learned to change my world view for the better.  I hope, but don’t demand, that other cheaters might be able to learn something from my experience.  I also hope that other victims of cheating can see that there is at least one way, probably more, that cheaters can reform, and that there are also many ways a cheater can fail to reform or feign reformation.

Let’s be clear.  A cheater’s understanding of love is absolutely not a fail safe protection against abuse.  There may be no fail safe protection at all.  But, my experience is that a proper view of love, the view I learned from Rick Reynolds, is very helpful to the marriage.  And, even if the marriage must end in divorce, a new understanding of love can benefit both the cheater and the victim.