Shame

We often read in the blogosphere of some reconciling adulterer who is so overwhelmed by his (usually male, with a couple memorable exceptions) own shame that he doesn’t put much energy into helping his spouse, the victim.  I admit I’m always skeptical about these stories.  So, the cheater wasn’t too overwhelmed by shame to commit the adulterous acts, but suddenly shame rises within them and it prevents them from doing anything constructive to repair the damage they’ve done?  I am tempted to view this as a excuse for not moving forward and helping their spouse, and as a convenient shield to protect themselves from admonishment.  In effect, they’re saying, “Don’t worry about criticizing me, I’m already criticizing myself.  You couldn’t possibly get down on me more than I’m getting down on myself.  Don’t you feel for me?”

But, maybe my view of these stories is unfair.  I feel considerable shame for all the ways I lied and cheated.  If someone else had done even a few of the things I did, I would have piously held my nose in disgust and looked down on their moral failure.  Yes, it’s quite hypocritical.

So, why am I not debilitated by my shame?  I think it’s because I already spent decades allowing my feelings about the past to debilitate me, and I consequently almost destroyed my whole life and everything I truly value.  Also, if I were to obsess on my shame now, I would know damn good and well I was doing so by my own choice.  I no longer have the luxury of obsessing on myself.  If I want TL, my only option is to learn to think about her rather than just about myself.

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5 thoughts on “Shame

  1. Thank you. In particular I appreciate your last sentence ” I no longer have the luxury of obsessing on myself”..that you need [and want] to think about TL. What I think is hard for those who want to reconcile is that they have to step into the shoes of the person they betrayed in order to feel what they are feeling and in order to understand what they need. Asking a person what they need is only part of it as understanding it requires advanced empathy and advanced empathy can only be given when you are not “obsessing” about yourself and your needs.

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    1. Thanks. Yes, developing empathy — even basic empathy — is one of my objectives in reconciliation. Just to put things into perspective for readers, I have always been deeply sympathetic to animals. Was it empathy? I’m not sure. But, for decades, I think I didn’t bother putting much effort into empathy for people. Perhaps that’s one trend that led my to get so out of balance in regard to self-pity — out of balance to the point of considering myself even when I should have been considering TL.

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      1. From all the couples I work with, I do see gender differences, even if I do not want to see them, they are there.
        Women tend to respond differently. It seems that some of the more sensitive responses come easier to females, while men tend to go first for solutions and move on.
        I am also quite taken aback by my finding that men tend to be more inclined to seek revenge affairs than women. I need to look into research and see if my data is consistent. So far what I found in my practice, is consistent with the trends in the wider population of this subgroup.

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  2. Maybe unsurprising, but this resonates with me very much. My husband, an obvious SA (which I understand you are not sure you are), is absolutely obsessing about himself, his recovery, and has zero involvement in my healing. He has many words for me, but zero actions. He has no idea how to help either – I know he says he wants to, but just doesn’t know how to. In what ways do you think you are helping your spouse heal? I’ve read your blog in its entirety, but it would be super helpful to get your view explicitly about what are the exact things you think you are doing to help TL.

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    1. Myworldshattered, thanks for the dialogue. It does help make me think.

      What am I doing to help TL heal? Good question. Here’s the things I’ve tried so far, in no particular order. (And, no, I’m not so arrogant as to think this is necessarily helpful to others. I hope it is. But, I don’t know. It helps me to write about it. And, if it generates feedback from anyone, that might help me too.)

      What does she need in order to heal? I think she needs safety, recognition, empathy, justice, support, dignity, honor, and time. I suspect there are other things she needs also, but we have not necessarily identified them all. In the meantime, am I giving her the eight things I listed here? Probably not. I’m trying.

      I know, there is no try. Just do it. As a sinner trying to reform, when this issue arises I can only take solace in a favorite line from religious study. For the life of me, I can’t recall which Talmudic scholar said the following. But, it always impressed me that when this great religious leader was asked whether he observes all 613 mitzvah (commandments), he did not say “yeah” or “nay.” Rather, he said “not yet.” We are all works in progress. Here are some areas in which I strive to progress.

      When reading this list, understand that I am neither complaining nor boasting. I’m just trying to list facts, in answer to your question.

      First, safety includes truth, transparency, accountability, and risk reduction. I tried to do as much as possible to prove to TL there are no more secrets. I have passed three polygraphs. This is to give TL truth. Also, as TL and I have recently written, I continue my struggle to be braver and more proactively honest. For transparency, TL now has passwords and access for every one of my computer accounts, phones, and gadgets. I call her before I leave work, and we use a monitoring app so she can see my location. I had a vasectomy, so I will never be able to have children with anyone but TL.

      For risk reduction, TL and I plan together where we will live and travel, and everything else, with an eye toward eliminating temptations. The other part of risk reduction is healing the psychologically sick parts of my mind so I will be less and less inclined to reoffend and more and more capable of helping TL psychologically. To that end, I’ve seen three counselors, taken the Affair Recovery class, thoughtfully and seriously converted to religion, and dedicated regular time to blogging, discussing, and studying toward self-improvement.

      For recognition, I now try to recognize one of TL’s sacrifices each day, proactively going back over each of my sins against her so she knows I will never forget them. I try to use every birthday, anniversary, holiday, or event to publicly proclaim my love for TL and my pride in her.

      Empathy is harder for me to describe. It is definitely an area where I need work. I have spoken to counselors about it. I look for opportunities to practice empathy. A common example is when TL is struck by despair, sadness, anger, or fear due to my history of lying and cheating.

      We often talk of justice. It was supremely unjust that affair partners sometimes got better treatment than TL did. I’ve tried to give TL all the gifts, trips, and experiences I should have given her long ago. It will never compensate for the injustices I created, but I must try.

      Support often means listening. It means being fully mentally present for TL, whether discussing her latest intrusive thoughts, her practical thoughts about work and school, or even her latest new idea about something unrelated. It means being present for these discussions regardless of how late at night it is, how early work starts, how physically uncomfortable I am, or how many other things TL and I have on our plates. I also try to support her by doubling my efforts to be a good parent and a helpful domestic partner.

      Dignity and honor go hand-in-hand. I stole her dignity by disregarding her feelings, her reputation, her perceptions, and her dreams. I wrack my brain for ways to restore her dignity. So far, all I can figure out is to try to give her the loving husband she always deserved. I’d welcome other suggestions.

      Finally, I promise to give TL time. It may take decades for the crisis I caused to come off the front burner and simmer down. It may never simmer down. That’s OK. Whatever TL experiences as we reconcile, I will not be helpful if I try to rush it.

      Does that answer your question? I know the list is not entirely satisfying. I’d welcome suggestions.

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