Here’s some more recent thinking that was spurred by Recovery Nation.
Lesson 15 said: Whether you struggle with compulsive behaviors associated with sex and/or love, take some time to think of how these behaviors were introduced into your life. Think of how they developed into destructive (or potentially destructive) behaviors. What were some of the key “introductions” of new values that you associated with this behavior? Things like significant relationships, traumatic or stressful events and personal insights that affect the development (for the good or the bad) of your values should be considered.
Here’s my attempt.
Let me work backwards, in trying to identify the introduction of my compulsive behavior. The behavior was what our first counselor called my “sick obsessions,” my old habit of thinking to myself: “my mate is more sexually experienced than I,” “I will not be able to sexually please her enough to make her think I am a desirable man,” “she will always remember one or more other guys who were better lovers than I,” and “she will harbor secret thoughts of someone who is more manly or desirable than I.”
I often spoke those fears to myself, particularly during the first years of our marriage. I used those fears to justify my subsequent feelings of jealousy, belief that my wife owed me more sex and more types of sexual acts, and belief that I deserved to “take the sex I had been deprived,” even if it meant adultery. I told myself I would have felt emotionally safer and happier if she had not been with other men. Since that was not the case, I told myself she should prove her desire for me by offering me sex constantly.
Those fears — those “sick obsessions” — did not begin with my marriage. I definitely experienced them with the long-term girlfriend I had before starting to date my wife.
I’ll call that girlfriend “S.” I think the sick obsessions did not appear with S until an incident when she called out her ex-boyfriend’s name during sex with me. Was that my introduction to obsessive fears about a partner’s past experiences? I’m not sure. I think so. As I re-read what I just wrote, that incident seems a bit trivial. Did my sick obsessions actually begin before that incident?
Maybe my compulsive sick thoughts did start so modestly, the problem being that I allowed them to continue until they became a deeply-ingrained bad habit. I didn’t tell myself to stop such self-destructive thinking. S did not leave me, despite my increasing interrogations about her past and my frustrating pleas for her to alter that past. I then carried that bad habit into my marriage, telling myself it was normal and permissible to compare my sexual history to my mate’s and to resent her for it.
Those sick comparisons I made compounded my existing feelings of sexual inadequacy I had created through high school and college by keeping a mental scorecard of every time a girl had refused to give me sex and then gave it to another guy and every time I had failed to bed a girl by being too shy or awkward.
I also had trouble growing beyond the gender stereotypes I learned from the Mormon community where I was born: that women should be chaste. The reality, that modern urban women will be sexually active and sexually successful in proportion to their attractiveness or their desperation for attention, was a frustrating comparison to my own perceived difficulty bedding attractive women.
Against this backdrop, I ask myself why I spent so much time and energy worrying about comparing my sexual history to my mate’s. Why not instead invest more energy into academics, fitness, financial gain, spiritual endeavor, or creativity?
Instead, I should have told myself it was no more possible nor useful to compare my sexual history with my wife’s than to compare apples and oranges; variables such as geographic origin, learned gender roles, religious and cultural indoctrination, and actual gender roles in modern urban mating among twenty-somethings make the comparison impossible. Moreover, I should have told myself it was not healthy to compare myself to my wife. Rather, I should have focused on being a friend in order to have a friend and contributing to and appreciating our partnership.
Perhaps I put disproportionate value on sexual prowess — right, not sex itself, but rather the attribute of being sexually successful or desirable — because I felt socially isolated, and I thought sexual success was my last remaining proxy for self-esteem regarding social success. Way before puberty, I recall feeling socially isolated, for several reasons:
1. I was a racial and religious minority. Kids teased me on that basis.
2. I was physically small. Kids teased me on that basis.
3. My mother told me the dominant religion in the community was wrong and distasteful. Simultaneously, she shamed me into accepting that religion’s views of women, sex, and modernity.
4. My parents didn’t really teach me resiliency with regard to social development nor persistence with regard to physical endeavors. For my part, I gave up too easily at sports, and I tried too desperately to achieve social success.
5. Most importantly, I spent time feeling sorry for myself. That became a terrible bad habit. I let that stop me from focusing on things I could affect. I also let it stop me from being happy. In a way, I became happy with being unhappy. It was really sick. Writing this passage actually brings a tear to my eye. I caused my own problems.
I am working to fix my problems, and I am learning to be happy. In the meantime, I’ve robbed my wife of her happiness and health.
I just re-read my foregoing comments, again. Maybe I have identified how I came to tell myself it was okay to cheat and lie. But, perhaps there was more to it than that. Not only did I learn and practice some wrong ways of thinking and behaving, but at the same time I failed to learn some right ways of thinking and behaving that could have possibly, at least partially, mitigated my sick obsessions. What did I fail to learn? Perhaps I failed to learn the following:
1. Friends and mates are equal to ourselves and are individual in all ways. They are not possessions. They do not exist to meet my needs. The friendships are valuable in their own right, and they must be nurtured.
2. You must be a friend to have a friend.
3. Expecting perfection from a friend, spouse, child, or anyone is unrealistic, unfair, and ultimately selfish and cruel.
4. You should never do something you would be afraid to admit to other people.
5. Marriage is for friendship, not just for sex. Friendship means honesty, respect, and putting the other person ahead of yourself.
I am now working to make those lessons part of my daily life.