Monthly Archives: January 2017

Respecting others’ boundaries 

Lesson 40 of Recovery Nation is about identifying the boundaries of others and learning how to respect the. I think that’s the assignment.

I. Choose someone in your life that you feel close to. A spouse. A child. A parent. A friend. Rather than assuming what boundaries they have; or what values they want protected…take some time to step into their lives. Refresh those perceptions that you have. Consider how you can HELP THEM reinforce those boundaries. Post a few thoughts about this in your thread.

This first step seems to have two parts: identify someone else’s boundaries, and then figure out ways to help that person enforce those boundaries. Well, let me use my wife, TL, as the subject here. Without just walking over and asking her, can I list what I understand to be her boundaries? Here’s my attempt:

No dishonesty 

No failure to communicate 

No broken commitments 

No focus on sex; friendship has priority 

No failure to defend her from others (mother-in-law, etc.)

No choosing work, fitness, or anything else before the relationship 

There may be others, but the aforementioned are the ones I know for sure. Now, how can I help her enforce those? Here are my ideas:

No dishonesty: give her complete access to all my things, phones, computers, and communications; communicate frequently about my whereabouts and activities 

No failure to communicate: speak and write many times each day 

No broken commitments: try not to make commitments, write down and plan toward commitments once I make them 

No focus on sex; friendship has priority: talk to her frequently, each day; watch for opportunities to be helpful 

No failure to defend her from others (mother-in-law, etc.): be on alert when my mother or other hurtful people are around 

No choosing work, fitness, or anything else before the relationship: be on alert for opportunities to flex out of my routines or plans to be attentive to her

II. Consider what you could do should YOU become aware that you have violated a boundary of theirs.

This is a tough question. I’m not sure I know the answer. I suppose the clearest thing I could aim to do is to correct my mistake or oversight, right away.

III. Consider your reaction should they tell you that you have violated a boundary of theirs. Think beyond defensiveness…keep working until you grasp a healthy reaction.

 
When this happens, I am apologetic and regretful. I’d like to figure out a more helpful reaction, and I welcome suggestions.

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Healthy Sexual Boundaries

Lesson 39 of Recovery Nation speaks of broken boundaries and of establishing new boundaries. It lists a few examples of broken boundaries that are sadly familiar to me:

Unprotected sex with a stranger

Extra-marital sex that jeopardizes life stability

It then asks me to follow several steps. It says, “The following is intended as a step-by-step guide for rebuilding your sexual values and for developing the boundaries that will protect those values. It is not intended to be completed in a matter of hours, but to be developed over the course of weeks, months and years. This is certainly not the only way to develop healthy sexual values, but it is a guaranteed effective way.”

“Step 1 Take Inventory of Your Current Sexual Values

Your first step in redeveloping healthy sexual values is to brainstorm a list of all sexually-related values that you currently hold. Don’t worry about how socially acceptable this list may be, nor concern yourself with whether a particular value is healthy or unhealthy. Your goal here is only to identify your current thoughts/attitudes relating to your own sexuality.”

I borrowed some of their examples, and added a few. The following list may be incomplete. I’m trying to explore whether there are any I have forgotten. Also, the list includes some items I’d like to keep and ingrain and some items I should probably work to change. The first three seem healthy and the remaining five seem unhealthy.

I will only have sex with my wife.

I will only think about sex as it relates to my wife.

I will focus on the emotional relationship, not the sexual relationship, with my wife.

Women want to have sex when they are physically attracted to someone

I am insecure about the size of my penis

I need to make my partner orgasm for sex to be successful

If a romantic partner won’t have sex with me, there’s something wrong with the relationship

My sex drive is unusually strong

“Step 2 Define an Ideal Ending

Your goal here is to define three to five ideal sexual values that you will begin developing into your life.”

Here’s my attempt:

I will only engage in sexual activity with my partner

I will never engage in sexual behavior that places my sexual partner or myself in physical, legal or social danger

I will be a compassionate, considerate sexual partner; as opposed to a sexual performer

I will not engage in sexual behavior that I know to be high risk for destructive consequences

“Step 3 Define a Beginning

I. Take out the list of current sexual values that you developed in Step One

II. Remove each value that is unrelated to, irrelevant towards and/or contrasting with the values identified in Step Two.”

Here’s what remains on my list:

I will only have sex with my wife.

I will only think about sex as it relates to my wife.

I will focus on the emotional relationship, not the sexual relationship, with my wife.

“III. All remaining values on your list should now represent your current healthy sexual values; and all should be related to helping you achieve your immediate developmental goals.

This filtered list is your starting point — your beginning. This list is the foundation for the remainder of your sexual development. From this point forward, your goal will be to add only healthy values to this list — values that will bring you closer and closer to the goals identified in the previous step.”

“Step 4 Define Your Existing Vulnerabilities”

One obstacle is the constant parade of attractive women on television, in print media, and in real public spaces that tempt a man to look too closely, to retain a mental image, or to ask oneself whether the interest might be mutual.

The other obstacle I can identify is impatience. Patience is another one of my goals, and I need to employ it in order to keep myself focused on emotional issues, rather than sexual desire, with my wife.

“You will not be able to identify all potential obstacles, nor should you try. This step requires only that you look ahead to identify the most realistic obstacles that you might face. Additionally, it is intended to address only those obstacles that will keep you from achieving the developmental goals set forth in Step Two. With each obstacle identified, an action plan should be developed (not now) that will outline exactly the course of action that you will take should such an obstacle appear.”

“Step 5 Ask for Feedback

Step Five suggests that you take your list of healthy sexual values and discuss them with someone you trust.”

“Step 6 Select Initial Value for Development

Step six requires that you select a single sexual value from your current foundation of sexual values to begin actively developing.”

I will focus on the emotional relationship, not the sexual relationship, with my wife.

“Step 7 Define the boundaries that will protect the selected value”

When I feel sexual desire, I will convert that feeling into a feeling of concern for my wife and a genuine attempt to understand what she wants and needs at the moment.

When my wife expresses something, I will make a genuine effort to put work, sex, household chores, and daily objectives out of my mind and focus on active listening.

“Step 8 Observe Others”

“Step 9 Look for Opportunities to Apply Your Values”

“Step 10 Evaluate the Consequences”

“Step 11 Continue to Ask for Feedback”

“Step 12 Redefine Values/Boundaries

From the feedback received from others…from your own assessing of the consequences of your value-based decisions…continue to make adjustments to your existing values and boundaries.”

“Step 13 Update Your List of Vulnerabilities”

“Step 14 Return to Step Seven

As mentioned, value development is a long process that will continue for the remainder of your life. That does not mean that you must put forth a conscious, sustained effort for the remainder of your life, only that development will occur slowly, through a process of change.”

Evaluating boundaries 

Lesson 38 of Recovery Nation says to consider at least two situations where this value may be threatened. Are the existing boundaries enough to protect against this threat? The value of counting my blessings could be threatened when several simultaneous, perhaps unrelated challenges arise, for example, forced retirement, combined with a wife under stress, combined with parents and children wanting attention. I do think the boundaries I created in the previous lesson would be enough to help, if I adhere to them diligently. Second, my value of maturity will surely be tested next time my mother visits or we visit her. Again, my boundaries seem adequate. It’s just my consistent adherence to them that will be crucial.

More on boundaries 

Lesson 37 of Recovery Nation again discusses boundaries. It says to develop five boundaries for each of my top three values and then to develop three absolute boundaries.

1. Counting my blessings. What five boundaries would flow from this? Tough question. Perhaps the following. a) If I think of something in the past that I might wish was different, remind myself that wishing to change the past is a self-defeating, dangerous waste of time. b) If I think of something I might wish were different about my wife or sons, remind myself that they are irreplaceable, wanting to control everything about them is sick and hurtful, and that I could easily lose them through an act of God or an act of stupidity on my part. c) If I think that the day is not good or that my life is not good, remind myself that I have seen plenty of people with much less wealth, health, or comfort than I have. d) If I think I just accomplished something laudable and that people should recognize me, remind myself that I have made plenty of mistakes and that I should just be grateful I did not make another mistake. e) If I think that I just made a mistake and that therefore life would be bad, remind myself that everyone makes mistakes and that successful people think about what they might learn from their mistakes.

2. Honesty. a) If a thought occurs that makes me fear sharing it with my wife, remind myself that such fear is an important sign that I indeed should share it with her. b) When considering the best way to respond to requests or questions from anyone who is not a child, boss, or customer, remind myself that honesty is easiest in the long run and that even children, bosses, and customers can usually benefit from an honest reply, as long as it is diplomatic. c) When considering whether to share a piece of information with my wife, remind myself that sharing and transparency are helpful even if it has nothing to do with sexual malfeasance. d) When considering any action, remind myself not to do it if is something I would be ashamed to describe to my wife, sons, parents, bosses, peers, or others. e) When sending or receiving any written communication with females, remind myself to tell my wife about it right away.

3. Maturity. a) When speaking with my mother, remind myself that I am an adult and that my responsibility to my wife outweighs my fear of my mother. b) As I make continuous decisions about my own behavior, remind myself that I am an example for my sons and others. c) When daunted by work, whether at my job or at home, remind myself that an adult man must take responsibility for providing for his family, and not just financially. d) When afraid to speak up or take initiative, remind myself that speaking up and taking initiative are examples of maturity. e) When facing criticism, remind myself that an adult should use the criticism as a chance to learn and grow.

Three absolute boundaries. a) Never hide anything from my wife. b) Never overlook an idea for how to support my wife. c) Never put off communicating with my wife.

Another part of OUR STORY

There is another part of “our story” I want to share, have been very afraid to share, but with everything going on in our country, I just cannot stay silent.

A month after MC and I married, I became pregnant. As you know, those beginning days were filled with fighting. I had started a new job a few months prior and my insurance did not cover pregnancy until I was on the policy for 12 months. I had always wanted to be a mom. But, MC wanted me to have an abortion. He didn’t threaten divorce, just made it very clear he had no interest or desire in being a dad so early on in our marriage, or having the financial burden of an uncovered birth on our shoulders. I was so afraid of bringing our baby into such an environment, of not being able to give my child a better life than I experienced. At that moment, as much as I wanted to be a mom, I wanted our marriage to have a fighting chance more.

I took a few days off of work, one for the procedure and one to recover. I was so sad, I ended-up telling close people I had suffered a miscarriage. It wasn’t true, but I so needed some love and support.

A few months later, MC’s mom was pestering him about making sure I didn’t end up pregnant. He told her it had already happened, but that I had an abortion. She was relieved. She spent years trying to persuade MC to not have children with me. He eventually didn’t listen.

When we were finally ready to have a baby, it took five years and medical help. I know if I had kept that first baby, life would have been different, not necessarily better, just different. One of those possible differences is that I would not have the children we now have. And, I wouldn’t want anything to change their presence in my life. Still, I know I’ve carried anger and sadness inside that MC didn’t say, “Don’t worry about a thing, we will find a way to make this work, I’m so excited you are having our baby.” I’ve carried anger and sadness inside of me that MC used the abortion as a way to reassure his mom, instead of saying, “Mom, back off. TL is my wife, I love her and want to have a family with her.”

All that being said, I completely support a woman’s right to choose. Also, I support conditions that allow a woman to make that choice without fear of how she will pay for the birth and support her baby once born.

I’m a bad parent too, corrected

Last night at dinner I got carried away with a line of questioning to my son. I consider him a picky eater. He is thirteen, and has chosen to be vegetarian. He prefers starches and sugars, so I worry about his health. I also sometimes feel that he is overly critical of food prepared by TL or me. I started asking every family member to name several of their favorite dishes. It went well at first. Then, after a few rounds, I stopped thinking and said something critical like, “See, son, it seems like you don’t like any dishes.”

It wasn’t true. But, I had told myself it was true because he was naming only dishes that I considered too starchy and not well-balanced. Repeat, it wasn’t true. He didn’t just name unhealthy dishes. Rather, I perceived his words incorrectly, due to my bias against him and my failure as a listener.

Despite my promises to myself to not criticize my son the way my mother criticized me, I found those stupid, hurtful words rolling off my tongue. And, worse still, I said that my line of questioning was all aimed at proving that he would not name healthy foods. That’s another sickly negative thing for me to have said.

Why do I do stupid stuff like that? I’m trying not to be a pessimist and a critic the way I was before D-day. I think I need help.

Even if…

Even if it could be true, I doubt I will ever unquestionably believe when MindlessCraft tells me I’m beautiful, intelligent, talented or any other complementary thing. First, all of his past actions make such words seem hollow to me. Second, and likely more important, I need to learn to believe it for myself regardless of MindlessCraft’s opinion. But, I am having a very difficult time finding how to do that. How do I learn to see myself through my own eyes and in a positive light????

As I contemplate these feelings, as I contemplate the world around us, This quote from Judith Lewis Herman really speaks to me somehow…

Traumatic events destroy the sustaining bonds between individual and community. Those who have survived learn that their sense of self, of worth, of humanity, depends upon a feeling of connection with others. The solidarity of a group provides the strongest protection against terror and despair, and the strongest antidote to traumatic experience. Trauma isolates; the group re-creates a sense of belonging. Trauma shames and stigmatizes; the group bears witness and affirms. Trauma degrades the victim; the group exalts her. Trauma dehumanizes the victim; the group restores her humanity.

Repeatedly in the testimony of survivors there comes a moment when a sense of connection is restored by another person’s unaffected display of generosity. Something in herself that the victim believes to be irretrievably destroyed—faith, decency, courage—is reawakened by an example of common altruism. Mirrored in the actions of others, the survivor recognizes and reclaims a lost part of herself. At that moment, the survivor begins to rejoin the human commonality…

Boundaries

Lesson 36 of Recovery Nation is about boundaries. I suspect it is building toward something. It poses a couple of very simple questions.

I. Describe a scenario from your past where not having a well-defined set of boundaries has prolonged and/or intensified the personal consequences that you have experienced.

Every affair and every visit to a prostitute was enabled by my poorly-defined boundaries. The consequences are clear: a broken marriage, disease, lost money, lost time, heartache, and more.

II. Describe a situation in your life where having solid boundaries will assist you in managing the event in such a way as to protect your value system.

Sometimes I am tempted to wonder what women, be they co-workers or strangers, think of me. Well-defined boundaries help me ward off such thoughts.

Monitoring exercises 

Lesson 35 of Recovery Nation asked me to make a daily and a weekly goal. I wrote myself a note and placed it near my cuff links, which I use every morning. The note said: “I will think of supporting TL before anything else today.” I guess my weekly agenda for this exercise is really similar to my daily agenda: evaluate myself on whether and how I made my wife, sons, and dog my highest priority for my time and energy during the week.

Immediate gratification versus measured decisions 

Lesson 34 of Recovery Nation contains one bit of wisdom that resonates with me. “The seeking of immediate gratification begins in infancy and should transition to a more mature, delayed-gratification pattern by late adolescence. When this transition does not take place, it is most often a result of either abuse or parental neglect. The most common reasons for emotionally stunted development are extremely controlling parent(s); hyper-religiosity; severe lack of nurturing; and physical, sexual or emotional abuse. In such situations, the child is not exposed to the more advanced decision-making processes that come with necessary developmental elements like being allowed to make mistakes or being encouraged to take risks. . . . People raised in such environments have never had the opportunity to be taught with compassion and interest by those who are closest to them. They have never had the opportunity to share their long-term goals with family and have those goals valued. Most often, such dreams were met with negativity and/or doubt; or by approval “as long as the long-term goals are in accordance with the parents’ wishes.”

I wasn’t abused or neglected by my parents. But, I was raised with hyper-religiousity. My parents were not religious in the traditional sense of the word. But, perhaps just from following examples of their family, peers, and community, they surrounded me with super conservative views of gender roles, sex, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, dating, and other aspects of modern life. I was not taught about consequences of sex or substances, only that those things were bad and should be avoided. Even discussion of those things on television or in overhead conversations was hushed up and avoided, as if invoking the topic might inadvertently summon an evil spirit. And, did my parents encourage me to dream or plan? Did they approve of my dreams? No. They only encouraged their plans for my career, my spouse, and my lifestyle.

Lesson 34 Exercise:

A. Describe a time in your life when the “Immediate Gratification” principle has come into play: Probably the most glaring and most recent example of this in my life is when I would go out with my last affair partner. I focused on the immediate gratification of grooming her for sex, even when my attempts at doing so we’re lame ad unsuccessful. I did not weigh longer-term consequences such as humiliating my family, ruining our reputation, wasting money, wasting time, or the potential pain it would cause my wife if she learned of my behavior.

B. As best as you can, describe the anxiety you feel when you are trying to NOT ACT on a compulsive sexual thought or behavior. I never really tried to not act on sexual thoughts with real people before D-day; I consciously acted on them. More relevant examples might be times in my life when I tried not to masturbate or smoke. I would sometimes get so narrowly focused on doing the unwanted behavior, telling myself it would put my mind at ease and allow me to sleep, that I didn’t consider healthier alternatives.

C. As best as you can, describe the feeling that you experience while you are engaging in a certain compulsive sexual thought or behavior. It’s been well over four years since I have masturbated or used porn. So, I don’t remember the feelings well. I think I would describe the feelings as shame and fear of getting caught.

Stop worrying about how others view you 

As I sit here on a plane, with no affordable Internet access, and thus no access to Recovery Nation or WordPress, perhaps I can use this time to step back from those resources and give myself a progress report, or self-diagnostic. Where am I, and where should I go next? I think the top reason I am doing this daily work and therapy is to prevent myself from ever re-offending as an adulterer and liar. I know I will not re-offend; my sins resulted from my own conscious decisions, and my reform comes from my conscious realignment of my priorities as well as conscious analysis of risks and counting my blessings. But, there is no way my wife, or any other person, can know that about me with the certainty that I know it. They have no evidence. From their perspective, it must seem entirely possible that I might suddenly and inexplicably change my mind about my behavior, or that something buried in my subconscious might assert itself in a way I can’t or won’t control.  

On the idea that I am certain I won’t change my mind, but that no one else can share that certainly, I can not think of a solution to that reality. It is, at least, comforting to me that my newest therapist shares my views on this topic; she believes I have truly changed my ways and that I will not re-offend. What about that possibility that some monster of the id might assert itself and change my behavior unexpectedly? Can we identify potential subconscious problems? What were my conscious drivers of adultery and deceit? And, what were the subconscious drivers? Are the two sets of drivers related? How can we distinguish them? Let’s see. What were the drivers of my sinful behavior?  

When was the first time I recall telling myself that I wanted to commit adultery? I was obsessing on my wife’s sexual history. What did I feel? I felt jealous. Why? I thought that fate had given her experiences that I wished I had had. I thought it unfair. I thought I was unfortunate; hence the self-pity. Why did I wish I had had those experiences? I thought those experiences, or lack thereof, would say something about me, about whether I was successful and desirable. I felt undesirable. I thought that my wife was an attractive adult woman and that I was an unattractive boy. I thought that I did not have the skills to satisfy or impress my wife sexually. I thought that if I did not impress her sexually, she would look down on me with dissatisfaction, pity, superiority, and boredom. I thought she would not be happy with me as a mate. I thought she would always harbor, even subconsciously, knowledge that she was superior to me sexually.  

So, what if she had? So what? I would have felt defeated. I wanted to be a winner, not a loser. I wanted to be a leader, not a follower. I wanted to be a strong man, not a weakling. I wanted to be a success, not a failure. I wanted people to admire me, not to pity or ignore me. I wanted women to want me, not to overlook me. Why did I want all that? I wanted to be happy about myself and proud of myself, not unhappy with myself or ashamed of myself. I was ashamed that I was physically small and weak. I was ashamed of every stupid mistake or blunder I had ever made and every opportunity I had ever missed.

In this obsession about my wife’s sexual past, I told myself that adultery would help me “catch-up or even the score. I set about trying to fornicate, thinking that extending my own list of sexual partners would make me feel confident, successful, grown-up, attractive, sexually adept, and desirable. It did not, and could not. Yet, I kept trying, telling myself that though I could not count those adulterous experiences honestly to my mate, I could at least quietly and internally feel better about my own sexual history. There’s an interesting point. Maybe it wasn’t so much that I felt bad about my wife’s sexual past, but more importantly that I felt unhappy about my own sexual past. It wasn’t just that I obsessed on the idea of her being sexually successful. It was that I obsessed on the idea of me being sexually unsuccessful.

So, what are the problems with feeling bad about my own sexual past. First, no one can change the past. Second, obsessing about the past distracted me from living to my fullest potential in the present. Third, my mate is not responsible for my past.

So, the main driver of my adultery was the goal of making me feel better about my past. No action I could take in the present could compensate for my past. The only way I can feel better about my past is to change how I view it. I need to see it in perspective. It is much less important than I thought it was. I thought it was important because it would affect how my mate views me. In fact, I will never have complete control over how she, or any other person, views me. I have to stop trying to control that. I can more easily affect how I view myself. I can choose some values and goals, and measure myself by those rather than by my reckoning of how other people view me.

That’s been my main source of instability all these decades. I spent so much time and energy measuring myself by what I thought other people thought of me. But, do I trust my own self-evaluation when trying to measure myself according to my own values and goals? No, not entirely. And, that is self-doubt. Right? That’s exactly what self-doubt is.

So, who do I trust in evaluating myself? What is a healthy way to measure my worth? I trust God. I know, that sounds overly simplistic, and a bit surprising coming from me. But, this must be why some people talk about the value of having a personal relationship with God.

For example, here are some unhealthy and unhelpful questions I could ask myself. Is she attracted to me? Does that person respect me? Does that person think I am foolish? Am I desirable? Have I done enough? Have I done too little? Do I have a right to be proud of myself, or am I fooling myself? Should I be ashamed of myself, or am I overreacting?

And, here, perhaps, are healthier questions that I might more easily answer. Am I behaving as I promised God that I would? Does God approve of my efforts? Does God see that I have made the appropriate efforts to help myself and to help others?

And, does God care whether I am sexy, manly, foolish, successful, unsuccessful, strong, or weak? I think God does not care about those specific things. Instead, I think, God cares whether I have done my best and acted with integrity. So, that’s where I need to focus: on measuring myself by my commitments to God, rather than by my guess as to how others view me.

Houston, we have a problem.

Perhaps, I am overreacting, but I don’t feel like I am. Perhaps I am spiraling, perhaps I am being a bitch, perhaps it is justified, perhaps all, perhaps none. I really need some feedback.

MC is traveling, again. I know that his current position requires it much more than his last position, but similar to some previous positions. I’ve been relatively ok with it. He text messages me when he boards the plane, when he arrives, when he goes to a meal and with whom he goes to this meal. When he gets back from dinner he calls. He is available to take my call or respond to messages all through the night. He text messages me “good morning” every morning right when he wakes up (usually before I’ve woken up). He texts me when he goes to the gym, when he returns, when he hits the shower, calls after the shower before he goes to breakfast, text messages me when he heads to work from breakfast, and also if he is going into a meeting and will be out of contact. You get the point, pretty much every step of the way. And, even still, I know it is no guarantee. I usually don’t respond to much of these updates, but I’ve grown accustomed to these little notes when he travels.

This trip, his time is an hour earlier than our time. So, this morning, just before I go wake the kids for school at 6 AM, I am looking over my e-mails. An e-mail from our attorney was in my inbox. It’s a business issue that has me a very stressed (former tenant broke lease), and MC knows it. It was a short note explaining next steps and I forwarded it to MC, asking for his thoughts. I’ve been handling the whole thing without any help from MC. But was just getting dragged into more drama than I can handle right now. He was supposed to be taking this drama off my shoulders. It is now 7 AM and kids are just waiting for the bus and I see he never texted me “good morning.” I know he has been up for at least an hour at this point, as he is a morning person and exercises early. No “good morning,” no “heading to the gym.”

Here’s a copy of our conversation:

Me: Where are you???

MC: Back from gym. Ready to shower.

Skype call ensues. Don’t understand why he didn’t respond to my e-mail, at least with a loving kind response to not worry. Or, at least, to text “good morning” as normal. I got NOTHING! I express fear as his MO when cheating was to ignore my existence. Ignore calls. Ignore e-mails. He has a variety of explanations. At first it was because it was so early, he didn’t want to wake me. I call complete Bullshit.  He knew I was up, I needed to wake kids and I also sent him an e-mail. He also has always texted good morning, often before I was even awake. Then he states that things have been going so well, that he got lazy. Continuing by stating he was focused on gym time and was being selfish and clearly still needs to be flexible. I explain that even if that is all that is going on, it is still completely hurtful that I didn’t rate above his workout.

More texts:

Me: It’s not about being flexible. It’s about the fact that after 4.5 years, the gym is still your top priority. If that wasn’t true, there would be no need for flexibility.

MC: I understand

Me: What do you understand?

MC: I was selfish

Me: What was your top priority.

Me: The gym was/is your selfish pursuit. OWs were your selfish pursuit. Never me. Always someone or something else, never me.

MC: I understand nothing should be a higher or more urgent priority than communicating with you and reassuring you.

MC: I know

MC: I need to show you, and show myself, that I can make you my highest priority.

Me: 💔

MC: I can’t view the icon on this device.

Me: Broken heart

MC: Is it a tear?

MC: Me too.

Me: It shouldn’t be as hard as it is,

MC: I know.

MC: It’s my fault, my habit of self-centeredness

Me: Perhaps you are trying to force yourself to do something that you actually just really don’t want to do.

MC: That’s what I must continue working to overcome.

Me: Perhaps you don’t really love me. If you did Forcing this wouldn’t be an issue. Just like you don’t have to force yourself to exercise, because you actually love doing it.

Me: You never forced yourself with others or for gym, because you wanted those. The fact that you have to force yourself with me says it is because you don’t actually want me.

MC: I love you.

MC: I want you.

MC: I have bad, selfish instincts and habits.

Me: Why am I not one of your selfish instincts?

MC: good question

MC: It’s not lack of love

MC: It’s a bad part of me that I have to correct.

Me: And, in the meantime I’m left to feel like I am not important to you.

Me: At least not in action.

MC: I know.

MC: I must work harder.

Me: And you’ve known for a long time, and still…

Me: Words…

MC: I know.

MC: I stumbled today.

Me: No, you willfully and consciously chose to show me that I am not important

MC: I beg your forgiveness.

MC: I see your point.

He calls our teenage son every morning from work to make sure he woke for school, not trusting our son or me will be able to accomplish this amazing feat on our own 

Me: Did you call (teenage child) this AM?

Still no answer after an hour

Me: Did you call (teenage child) this AM?

I take his delay in answering to mean he is scared to answer. 

Me: Stop trying to devise a narrative to control the outcome and just honestly answer, “yes, I did” or “no, I didn’t.”

MC: I did not call (teenage child). Sorry.

MC: Devise a narrative? What?

MC: I failed. Yes, I did. No narrative.

MC: No excuses.

MC: I love you. I failed.

Me: What were you doing instead, given you always call him?

MC: That would have been 5:50, which was 4:50 here. At that time I was trying to sleep, and then I brushed teeth and shaved.

MC: Test

Me: 😡

MC: What does that mean?

MC: I can’t see it too well.

MC: Very sad?

Me: No

MC: Hmm

Me: How about: 🖕

MC: Can’t read it.

MC: Giving up?

MC: Anger?

Me: First was anger

MC: Despair?

Me: Second was middle finger

MC: Thought so.

MC: I know.

MC: Disappointed in myself.

MC: Also, scared and sad.

MC: Definitely not traveling to country A and B next week.

By the way all, I have never heard of such plans in all his plans discussed thus far. First to me that he was going to do yet another trip so soon after this one.

Me: Too bad you have to force yourself to give a shit about me.

Me: I don’t see how we can ever move forward in a healthy way when you only make effort to care out of fear of what you will lose, go through or experience, not because you actually care. I will always fear things going well because you have confirmed that things going well makes you lazy. If you truly care, there is nothing to get lazy about.

Me: The fact that you have to force yourself to care about me is probably the thing that hurts most of all.

MC: I have bad, selfish instincts.

 

Ego, fear, anger and jealousy 

Lesson 33 of Recovery Nation is about emotions. It poses three tasks.

1. While you have no doubt already deepened the awareness of your emotions…you now want to begin the process of mastering them. You want to make it a goal of yours to turn what was once a debilitating fault into one of your greatest strengths. That can’t be done by reading. It must be developed in your day-to-day life. And so, that is your assignment. To take this next week to seek out opportunities to deepen an awareness of your emotions — both as they occur and as they can be anticipated. Each day, find at least five opportunities to assess your emotions. Don’t do this retroactively…as in, you are about to go to bed and so, you review the day’s activities and how you felt about them…this must be done in the here and now.

Additionally, add a few opportunities for developing this awareness by anticipating, role playing common rituals surrounding your past behavior. Or possible future behavior. Consider your emotions at the height of a compulsive urge. On the death of a loved one. On the experience of a child’s birth. Think of the extremes.

The insights you are searching for throughout this exercise will be in relation to the finite qualities of emotion; the lack of fear/anxiety that comes with developing confidence in being able to anticipate emotional intensity; and the confidence that comes with the same.

2. Each day over the next three, share a few insights relating to these topics in your personal thread. Insights that you have gained from that particular day’s focus.

What is the emotion I have when I suspect a woman might be interested in me? Actually, there are perhaps two versions of this. One is when the woman, for no apparent reason, gives me attention. In this case, these days, I feel fear. I fear I will be in trouble with my wife if I don’t make every conscious effort to drive the woman away. What about ten or twenty years ago? What would I have felt in that situation? I think it was a different fear. I feared I would do something stupid that would drive the woman away. And, in fact, the times I recall that scenario really happening, I let the fear immobilize me.  

The second version is when the woman does not show interest in me, but rather I wonder whether she could potentially be interested in me based on the way she looks at me or talks to me. The emotion, I think, is confidence, from a little self-esteem boost caused by the possibility of her interest. When I walk away and nothing further happens, the feeling of confidence is replaced by nagging self-doubt, as I question whether I had been simply deluding myself. In the bad old days, I might have tried to flirt with that woman to try to stroke my ego again. These days, I walk away, count my blessings and remind myself what is important in life.

What is my emotional reaction when my wife expresses her fear, worry, anger, and self-doubt I caused through my infidelity? In the best case scenario, I feel compassion, and I express it by trying to be supportive. If my efforts are met with resistance, I think I feel frustration, as I am confounded by my inability to help the situation and my worry that it might get worse before it gets better.

I experienced intense fear when thinking about forced retirement and career change. Lately, we have developed an improved plan that gives me some hope. But, once in a while, in the worst moments, I feel panicked, worrying about how it might be difficult to find a new job.

It is not uncommon for me to feel stressed, or even panicked, when I start to think of a growing list of things to do at work or at home. The solution, it seems, is to remember the image of how to fit rocks, pebbles, and sand in a jar.

Sometimes someone cuts me off in traffic; knowingly or otherwise creates a bureaucratic labyrinth or obstacle; or generally treats me with disrespect, self-importance, or impatience. This makes me feel angry. In the first two examples, it helps to remember that it is not personal, no more so than when a stampeding cow tramples a flower. That is the same approach that helps in the third example, but it is challenging.

What about feeling jealous? I can’t believe I have never before researched this topic specifically. It is the main emotion I recall when I try to pinpoint the beginning of my adultery and unloving behavior. Before I continue, let me do a little reading on this. First, I found “Are you jealous of your partner’s past” in the March 12, 2012 publication of Psychologies. It says:

“‘What appears to be curiosity is an attempt to gain reassurance, says psychoanalyst Sophie Cadalen. ‘We want to know everything so that we can compare the place we have in our partner’s life with that of their ex.’ Love is unsettling and we’re always looking for benchmarks against which to measure our relationships. Even though we know it has the potential to torment us, we drag up the past by asking questions. We think, ‘If I knew how they lived before – the things my partner liked, I’ll be able to work out whether they like their life now’. Wanting to pick over your lover’s life in forensic detail can also be an indication of something else, says Abse. ‘I would suggest that this is really about you and your own fantasies about somebody else having a better time than you. Jealousy can often come from feelings of inadequacy.’ At the root of this is probably a childhood experience of not feeling special, she says.”

Then I read “Jealousy FAQ: How to get over your partner’s past,” by Jennifer on December 30, 2012. The author is far more religious than I, and far more grounded in reality than I was at the height of my jealousy. I mean that I was self-righteous and overlooked my own past, whereas this author was indeed a virgin. Nonetheless, it was comforting to read that jealousy is not so uncommon and that one can overcome it by focusing on the things that are truly important in life and the irreplaceable good traits about your mate. It was also comforting to see that often people with jealousy of their mate are, like me, coming from a markedly conservative religious, cultural, or family background. I went on to read a couple more pieces by this same author.

Then I found a book and website called Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy. It sounds promising, including this line: “I’ve received countless letters from RJ sufferers with… shall we say, very “colourful” pasts. Much more “colourful” than that of their partners… and these people still suffered from debilitating retroactive jealousy.”  

As you can see from my most recent post, over the past week or so I did quite a bit of thinking about jealousy.

3. At the end of the week, assess the level of effort you put into this task. Did you remember to consciously seek out such developmental opportunities each of the seven days? Post your assessment in your thread.

Maybe I got a bit side-tracked with my exploration of jealousy. Nonetheless, I think one benefit I got from this exercise is that it lead me to study that emotion that had troubled me for so long.

Retroactive jealousy 

I found this post on a site called /r/OCD/, by a guy calling himself horned1x. I’m re-posting it here with my own additional commentary because it’s full of stuff that makes me think, much more than anything about sex addiction or generic OCD I’ve previously encountered. Forgive the length and my extensive use of quotations in this post.  By the way, the author acknowledges that many people with retroactive jealousy were, like me, exaggerating their partner’s premarital experiences and minimizing their own.  This irrational hypocrisy, often stemming from conservative views of gender roles, may be part of the problem.

“We’ve all been jealous of our partner’s sexual / relationship history at some point or another, but when ‘normal, relatively healthy’ jealousy extends to constant, unwanted, painful instrusive thoughts about your partner’s past, coupled with excessive questioning and reassurance-seeking, disturbing mental images and ‘videos’, anxiety, and seemingly irrational anger directed at your partner, we’re dealing with something else: Retroactive Jealousy. Also referred to as retrospective or retrograde jealousy, this condition is actually a rare form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and should be treated appropriately.

This is a widely-misunderstood phenomenon, with little useful, practical information regarding treatment available online. Even qualified psychologists / psychiatrists seemingly struggle to provide coherent treatment advice for this condition, let alone the frankly useless information available from online “relationship experts”.

I suffered terribly with RJ (Retroactive Jealousy) myself, it completely took over my life for many years. I know exactly how debilitating, confusing and, frankly, horrifying the unexplained, compulsive visualisation of your partner engaged in sexual / romantic activity with someone else can be.

It really can sap your energy, happiness and willpower, and on top of that the vast majority of people can’t understand what you’re going through. Very few people understand the true nature of RJ, which makes it an extremely isolating condition, as even your own partner can eventually become frustrated at not knowing what they can do to help you. There is an expectation from other people that you should be able to just “get over it” – don’t be angry at them, it’s not their fault, they just don’t understand what you’re up against. It’s not your fault either. Don’t feel ashamed, or in any way weak or incapable, for having RJ. It is not a choice, nor is it any indication of your personal strength or weakness. RJ, like all OCD, is a result of a faulty circuit in your brain. And, like all other OCD, it CAN be successfully and permanently treated given intelligent, targeted psychological treatment methods (see below), coupled with commitment, discipline, acceptance and courage.”

Okay, readers, I interrupt the foregoing quote from /r/OCD/ to seek your reactions. This blogger I am quoting does say a lot of things that sound hauntingly familiar to me. When I try to pinpoint my root psychological problem that preceded my adultery and deceit, I think it was this RJ. I say “preceded,” not “caused,” because there were other causes, including my habit of secrecy, my selfishness and self-centeredness, my lack of true love and compassion, my lack of empathy, and my tardy development of good life management skills. But, I’m making some progress on those issues. RJ, however, is one I still want to understand better. Here’s more from /r/OCD/.

“Some time ago, someone else did a pretty damn good job of summarising the concepts and advice relevant to beating this condition in a .pdf document available [HERE.][http://www.pdf-archive.com/2013/10/05/slaying-the-dragon-partner-s-past/slaying-the-dragon-partner-s-past.pdf]

What I will do in this post is outline practical tips to start curing yourself from this condition straight away, along with a few other things to think about.

RJ can affect both men and women, although it more commonly affects men. Due to the biological differences between men and women, RJ manifests differently for each gender. Men tend to find themselves obsessing about their partners past sexual encounters, particularly those of a casual or promiscuous nature. Whereas women suffering from RJ tend to conjure up mental scenarios in which their partner acted in a romantic and caring way towards an ex-partner.

This difference is fundamentally down to what was important to males and females during the hunter-gatherer stage of our evolution. Males needed to be sure that their offspring was in fact theirs – to ensure that they were passing on their own genes, rather than raising another males children. And females needed to ensure that their mate would be providing to their offspring, rather than that of another female.  This post will focus on how RJ affects the male brain, although the techniques, in principal, would also work to cure RJ as it manifests for women.

RJ is a form of OCD and needs to be treated as such. As outlined in my other post about [how to tackle OCD in general][https://www.reddit.com/r/OCD/comments/3oy4k5/beat_ocd_top_tips_and_resources_repost/], the most effective treatment for OCD is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).”

Another interruption from MindlessCraft here. Dear readers, what do you think about this ERP treatment, both in general and as applied specifically to RJ? I’ll return us now to the /r/OCD/ post.

“The Compulsions in Retroactive Jealousy do seem somewhat hard to grasp, meaning that applying ERP seems initially confusing. RJ is what experts would call “Pure-O” OCD. This stands for “Purely Obsessive”, implying that there are no Compulsions, but this is actually a misnomer. Essentially, Pure-O type OCD is just the same as normal OCD, it’s just that the Compulsions are all MENTAL.

Reassurance, and ‘thinking through’ thoughts or memories until they feel ‘complete’ etc. are all mental compulsions. I believe that the compulsion in RJ is ‘thinking through’ the sexual scene that your partner engaged in in the past, until you have a feeling of ‘completeness’ or reassurance. Why, indeed, would we spend so much time torturing ourselves with these disturbing images/videos, unless they were a compulsion? And why would we do it over and over again?

For example, I used to be sitting at my desk at work when, out of nowhere, I would get an Intrusive Thought – the memory that many years ago, my girlfriend had met a guy in a nightclub in Cuba, and run outside and had sex with him in an abandoned building nearby. Difficult to process at the best of times, as I’m sure you can imagine. When this Intrusive Thought appeared, I would feel a very strong need to rush off to the toilets (quiet space and alone) to ‘think through’ the scene which she described to me. I would think it through in a very detailed, OCD way… slowly and visualising every last detail, making sure I got it ‘right’. This in itself was painful and time-consuming. . . .

Now, it’s important to note here that Doubt is a huge element of OCD. Essentially, due to my childhood value system, and “core beliefs” about women, sexuality, and the type of girl I’d like to end up settling down with, the fact that my girlfriend at the time had had sex in an abandoned building made me DOUBT that she was the right person for me. If she hadn’t done it, or I had no desire to stay together with her, or I didn’t love her, there would have been no problem. But she had done it, I did want to stay with her, and I did love her – that was reality and I needed to accept that. It’s the doubt. . . . . The thoughts and visualisations that you engage in are Reassurance to quell these doubts. But as we know now, engaging in Reassurance only worsens the problem, as it strengthens this neural circuit in your brain.

So, I should get to the point – how do we apply ERP to RJ?

Standard OCD Cycle: 1. Intrusive Thought 2. Anxiety 3. Compulsion (to reduce Anxiety) 4. Temporary Relief 5. Intrusive Thought returns – back to step 1.

Retroactive Jealousy: 1. Intrusive Thought about partner’s past sexual experience(s). 2. Anxiety. 3. Mental compulsion, to achieve ‘Reassurance’. This could be picturing the sexual scene in your head, playing a mental video of it, ‘thinking it through’ or analysing it somehow. Or it could be ‘seeking Reassurance’ by asking your partner questions. 4. Temporary Relief. 5. Intrusive Thoughts return – back to Step 1.

Exposure and Response Prevention works by short-circuiting the above Cycle. You resist performing your Compulsion, and force your brain to develop a tolerance to the anxiety you are experiencing.

For RJ, ERP goes like this:

Firstly, write “Triggers” on post-it notes, and stick them all around your bedroom, kitchen, car, and anywhere else you’re likely to see them. A Trigger is anything that will trigger you to think about your partner’s past sexual activities. Like a phrase to do with something they have done in the past, or a picture of her with her ex.

Here’s an example ERP:

1.Trigger// Post-It note: “Her One-Night Stand with that guy” 2.Intrusive Thought// E.g. the thought of her in bed with an ex. 3.Response Prevention// DO NOT follow up the thought by imagining the scene, or analysing what happened, or reassuring yourself. Do not respond in any way… simply continue what you were going to do, e.g. going downstairs to make breakfast. 3a. (Optional) SPIKE – Say to myself mentally ‘This really does matter, and ignoring it is going to result in me ending up in a terrible situation’. Believe it for a second. 4.ANXIETY// Feel that anxiety coursing through your body. Fast heartbeat, short breaths, hands shaking, uncomfortable feeling of things being “not right”. 5.Ride it out! After about 15 mins the anxiety will subside.

So, if the [Response] is to think through the sexual scene, visualise it, and give yourself reassurance, then what is Response Prevention, in this case? It’s: don’t follow up the intrusive thought with visualisation or any further analysis whatsoever. When the Intrusive thoughts (examples below) pop in to your head, simply briefly recognise it, and continue on with what you’re doing. You’ll notice that this is extremely uncomfortable. Every fibre in your body will be urging for you to “reassure yourself” that it doesn’t matter that she did what she did, that she’s still the girl for you etc. Your mind will be screaming for you to visualise what happened… but you must not. You must just continue with what you were doing, and live through that “uncomfortable” feeling that this produces.

Example Intrusive Thoughts: – The time your girlfriend had that one night stand. – She must have given her ex a BJ at one point. – Am I sure she’s the right girl for me? – I wonder if she’s ever slept with a football player? – Did her ex give her a better time in bed than me?
When any of these thoughts pop in, simply feel the anxiety and keep on doing what you were doing without following the thought up.

OCD craves CERTAINTY. And to beat it you must become comfortable with UNCERTAINTY. Becoming comfortable with uncertainty is the stake in the heart of the OCD Vampire. That means being OK with not knowing: – How many guys she has slept with. – Whether she’s the right girl for you. – Whether she has ever done X or Y with Guy A or Guy B. – Whether her ex was better than you at X. . . .

This probably seems like a terrifying proposition at the moment. How on Earth could I be comfortable NOT knowing for sure whether she is the right girl for me, or how many guys she’s been with?

The thing is, this fear is an illusion produced by the malfunction in your brain. I’m not going to lie, doing ERP is truly terrifying to begin with. But the more you do it, the more the fear just… disappears! It must seem so strange at the moment, but you genuinely will gradually just be less and less bothered about being ‘sure’ about these questions. The more ERP you do, they will seem less important, and the Intrusive Thoughts will gradually just stop appearing.

Each instance of OCD, at it’s core, is about Fear. . . . Fear that your partner’s ex’s or past encounters were somehow “better” than you sexually, or “more masculine” than you. Fear of not being “enough” for your partner. . . .

These fears are very similar and seem to all be part of ‘the same thing’. I recommend that you discuss with a trained psychotherapist the possibility that you hold these fears, and that they are the ‘Source’ of your OCD. He/she should be able to use psychotherapeutic techniques to work on these fears and change your “core beliefs” about yourself, your partner, relationships, and life in general.

Once you have completed your ERP, there may still be some, albeit mild, remnants of your RJ left. My understanding at the moment is that dealing with these fears will extinguish these remnants of your RJ.

Finally, some additional resources on RJ:- – [Udemy Course][https://www.udemy.com/draft/147342/] – [Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy][http://www.retroactivejealousy.com/what-is-rj/ – [Book: A Guide to Getting Over Your Partner’s Past and Finding Peace][http://www.amazon.co.uk/Overcoming-Retroactive-Jealousy-Getting-Partners-ebook/dp/B00EZWPHFW] . . . [Retroactive Jealousy Crusher][http://www.retroactivejealousycrusher.com/]”

Okay, readers, MindlessCraft here again. Thanks for your patience reading these extensive quotes. What do you think of this RJ concept and the use of this ERP to address it? I’m not yet sure what to think of it, but it is intriguing.