All posts by MindlessCraft

Samson Syndrome Discussion Questions for Personal Reflection, Part Two

I’ll continue with my responses to relevant study questions in Atteberry’s book. What good advice had you rejected, and what happened? Growing up, my father often told me to count my blessings. I didn’t give it much thought until recently. I was not grateful for my secondary or even college education. I failed to study, work hard, and learn. I was not grateful for my wife. I failed to support and care for her as a friend, and I ended up destroying our relationship.   

The second major piece of advice I failed to take was the advice to go to law school instead of going straight into the workforce. Now I’m forced to reinvent myself at age 50 because I don’t have a profession to earn a living now that my job is coming to an end. The third piece of advice I should have taken was a counsel I ignored on two separate occasions: to serve at headquarters rather than taking a third and then a fourth consecutive assignment abroad. The third assignment abroad put me in dangerously close proximity to marriage-destroying temptations. The fourth assignment continued that risky trend. It also put me in a position of responsibility with limited preparation and no support. It did not set me up for a fifth assignment with adequate support and mentoring.

What makes you stubborn? I’ve never thought about this. Am I stubborn? I’m sure my wife would say so. Let me count the ways. It might be easiest to explore this in reverse chronological order. I was stubbornly pessimistic when my wife was telling me to stop being so negative about the future. Why? Fear. I’m truly afraid of the future. I use pessimism to mitigate disappointment, and to remind myself to be vigilant.

Sometimes I have been stubborn when I thought I knew something, even when I did not. For example, I could’ve sworn there was no office supply store in a particular neighborhood once. My wife insisted otherwise. She was right, and I was wrong. I don’t know why I was stubborn about that. I sincerely believed I was right, until proved wrong. Perhaps sometimes I am overconfident about my knowledge. I think I spent much of life assuming I knew more than other people. I habitually underestimated others. I wonder whether perhaps my mother spent too much time telling me I was special, and I spent too much time believing that. Perhaps I then formed the bad habit of overestimating myself and underestimating others.

Perhaps I stubbornly stick to routines too automatically, and perhaps am relatively inflexible. I hate to change my sleeping, eating and exercise patterns. I’m very set in my ways. The routines comfort me. When I must stray from them, I start to doubt myself more than usual.


How did I suddenly change my desire for illicit sex?

And, what’s to stop me from suddenly changing my mind again and figuring that I do want illicit sex? We discuss these questions often. I really have little or no idea how to answer them. Here are my best efforts. For 42 years, I consciously desired illicit sex. I thought it would make me feel I was getting experiences I had unfairly missed earlier in life, that it would be a fair way to give myself physical pleasure as long as no one knew, and that the experiences would make me feel more confident as an adult, to counter the nagging feeling that I was a naïve, inadequate, undesirable child.   

My betrayal and selfishness was exposed on D-Day, an experience I found to be shocking and frightening. I faced the serious possibility of losing my marriage, as well as everything else I thought I had in life. All those things I had foolishly failed to appreciate for 42 years were suddenly very real and current to me. I don’t know why. But, it is simply a fact of life that the possibility of losing everything suddenly shocked me into appreciating everything.

It was a life-changing moment of my own making. I suppose it was sudden. What was not sudden was the years of work I then undertook to rebuild my marriage and family, and to build mental health. I won’t go down a laundry list now. I’ve written it all before, in these pages.

So, why would I not just suddenly decide – maybe tomorrow, or maybe 15 years from tomorrow—that I’d really rather have the illicit sex than the marriage, family, and mental health? This is an even tougher question. I simply know in my heart that I do not wish to make such a negative decision. Can I prove that to you? No. Can I explain it to you? Perhaps not. Can I prove it or explain it to myself? I don’t know.

I know I prefer my life and myself today over the double-life I led and the unhappy self I was six years ago. Six years ago I was unhappy about me, exhausted, ungrateful, and self-defeating. Today I am happier about me, more rested and healthier, grateful for what I have, and thoughtful about my decisions. I prefer now to then.

I don’t want to return to then. It’s not worth a fuck, a blow job, a new female body, or a new sexual experience. I don’t want to throw away my current contentment for a one-off, stupid fuck. I don’t. I can’t prove that to you nor to myself. I simply know it.

How do I know it? You tell me. I really don’t know the answer to that question.

Samson Syndrome Discussion Questions for Personal Reflection, Part One

Atteberry’s book offers questions for further study. I’ll pick out those that seem relevant to me, paraphrase them, and answer them. In some cases, I will take a few extra liberties with paraphrasing the following questions to thoroughly de-Christianize them so they can also apply to progressive or non-Christian people. 

What are your personal boundaries, why, and how well do they work? I do not masturbate, and have not done so for nearly six years. Masturbation was a dangerous link to porn and adulterous fantasies. This boundary helps keep my mental focus from drifting into self-defeating areas. I do not use porn, and have not done so for six years. The reasons are the same as for not masturbating, as are the successful outcomes. To avoid temptation toward porn, I also have to remember to limit my time alone on the Internet, and to limit myself to sites free from salacious advertising.

I try to avoid women, except for the most limited, necessary, professional interactions, all of which should occur in plain sight of other people. I try to avoid sitting or standing near women. The reason is to limit possibilities that being near a woman will lead to conversation that could make someone question my attitude toward marital fidelity. I must remind myself, at least daily, to report to my wife any interaction with a woman that might make someone question my attitude as a husband, even if I consider the interaction to be innocent. This boundary is to prevent sliding down a slippery slope. I must remember to call my wife every time I begin my evening commute home, so we both know I am not tempted to stop on route for an adulterous liaison. I must remember to report to my wife every penny I spend, the same day I spend it, so we both know I am not tempted to spend it on an adulterous activity.

Are there any fences you have neglected, and how can you repair them? I don’t believe I am neglecting any fences now. Many, or all, of the fences or personal boundaries I have built have been responses to previous self-defeating, selfish, or unloving behavior of mine.

Have you ever sought greener grass on the other side of the fence, and found it disappointing? Every act of adultery I committed was an example of me seeking greener grass. Every one was disappointing. I cheated on my wife with women who were stupider, more selfish, less sensual, more flat-chested, more irritating, crazier, less educated, less wise, less spiritual, less logical, and less accomplished. And, of course, they had less integrity.

When is sexual desire excessive? This is a good question. I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s different for different individuals or for different couples. Clearly, it’s excessive if it leads to adultery or making one’s partner feel sexual desire has crowded out other aspects of the relationship. In my case it’s excessive if it leads to covert use of porn or masturbation or adulterous thoughts.

How can parents of young children equip their kids with the knowledge to make healthy and realistic choices about sex? Here’s another good question about which I am not certain. It might be gender-specific too. Is there anything my parents could have done to deter me from a path toward excessive focus on sex? My first thought is of the fact that as a teenager and twenty-something I judged my worth, happiness, and success on my sexual experience and lack thereof. Perhaps my parents and I could have done more to give me alternative measures of worth, happiness, and success—measures such as youth group leadership, sport, extracurricular activities, academic endeavors, and religion. In my case, I wonder whether things such as scouting, a mild dose of structured religious activity, parental enthusiasm about my extracurricular activities, a gentle suggestion in the face of my ambivalence about joining a team, mild encouragement toward any sport, and meaningful consequences for neglecting my academic work may have helped me put all those things and sex in their more healthy perspective rather than allowing all those endeavors to become overshadowed in my mind by thoughts of sex.

Looking back, I recall putting disproportionate time and energy into pursuit of sex and alcohol and correspondingly insufficient investment in other pursuits. Could it have helped had my parents encouraged, or at least not discouraged, interest in girls and dating? Could it have helped had they not treated alcohol and coffee as taboo? I wonder whether depicting those things as forbidden fruits made me focus more on them than I otherwise would have.

On St. Augustine

Intrigued by a reader’s comment, I dug up a Wikipedia article on the early Christian philosopher. Yes, do break beyond the Bible and read from philosophers, be they Christians, Rabbis like Maimonides, Muslims like Ibn Kaldun, ancient Greeks, or others. Here’s an overview of St. Augustine on sexuality:

“For Augustine, the evil of sexual immorality was not in the sexual act itself, but rather in the emotions that typically accompany it. In On Christian Doctrine Augustine contrasts love, which is enjoyment on account of God, and lust, which is not on account of God.[152]Augustine claims that, following the Fall, sexual passion has become necessary for copulation (as required to stimulate male erection), sexual passion is an evil result of the Fall, and therefore, evil must inevitably accompany sexual intercourse (On marriage and concupiscence 1.19). Therefore, following the Fall, even marital sex carried out merely to procreate the species inevitably perpetuates evil (On marriage and concupiscence 1.27; A Treatise against Two Letters of the Pelagians 2.27). For Augustine, proper love exercises a denial of selfish pleasure and the subjugation of corporeal desire to God. The only way to avoid evil caused by sexual intercourse is to take the “better” way (Confessions 8.2) and abstain from marriage (On marriage and concupiscence 1.31). Sex within marriage is not, however, for Augustine a sin, although necessarily producing the evil of sexual passion. Based on the same logic, Augustine also declared the pious virgins raped during the sack of Rome to be innocent because they did not intend to sin nor enjoy the act.[153][154]

Before the Fall, Augustine believed that sex was a passionless affair, “just like many a laborious work accomplished by the compliant operation of our other limbs, without any lascivious heat”; the penis would have been engorged for sexual intercourse “simply by the direction of the will, not excited by the ardour of concupiscence” (On marriage and concupiscence 2.29; cf. City of God 14.23). After the Fall, by contrast, the penis cannot be controlled by mere will, subject instead to both unwanted impotence and involuntary erections: “Sometimes the urge arises unwanted; sometimes, on the other hand, it forsakes the eager lover, and desire grows cold in the body while burning in the mind… It arouses the mind, but it does not follow through what it has begun and arouse the body also” (City of God 14.16).

Augustine believed that Adam and Eve had both already chosen in their hearts to disobey God’s command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge before Eve took the fruit, ate it, and gave it to Adam.[155][156] Accordingly, Augustine did not believe that Adam was any less guilty of sin.[155][157] “

In addition to being Jewish and believing in God, I also believe in science. As such, the Fall could not have happened literally as described in Genesis. That must be a myth. Instead, the Fall must have been the gradual development of intelligence and emotions as our distant ancestors evolved into Homo sapiens. Does an animal will its penis erect? Or, does it get an erection due to an instinct that makes blood flow there when it sees a female at the right time? Do I will myself to have an erection? Or, does the sight, smell, and touch of a woman under specific conditions trigger an instinct that makes blood flow to my penis? When that happens, am I excited? When that happens to an animal, is the animal excited?

So, I don’t know what I think about St. Augustine’s views. I do, at least, find it a helpful reminder that lust is not love. When I committed adultery, I was too stupid and ignorant to realize the difference. That is what makes me certain that TL is the first and only woman I have ever loved.

Samson Syndrome

I have been reading The Samson Syndrome, by Mark Atteberry. It’s the most relevant and helpful book for unfaithful husbands I have ever read. I recommend it to cheaters so they can use it as a guide for preventing future infidelity and for understanding the true nature and origins of their past infidelity. I recommend it for betrayed wives because it may shed light on questions about their husbands such as: “How could you be so stupid?” “Why would you take such obviously stupid risks?” “How did you not learn those lessons long ago?”

The book is sometimes distracting for non-Christians because it is so intertwined with a Christian world view. As a Jew, I had to mentally replace the noun “Christian” with the word “mensch” every time I encountered it, and use the word “spiritual” in place of the adjective “Christian.”  Otherwise, the book would have been useless to me. I also had to mentally tune-out – not difficult – each reference to the Christian New Testament.

After mentally de-Christianizing the book, I found it very useful. It talks about failings that are common for men: lust, repeating mistakes, dumb risks, ego, ignoring advice, difficulty with intimacy, breaking rules, ignoring boundaries, overestimating one’s own cleverness, employing anger, taking things for granted, and losing sight of the big picture.

Atteberry very briefly says that some people may be addicted to sex. But, overwhelmingly, he talks about how infidelity and other sins flow mostly from men’s own bad choices, choices that too often flow from one or more of the twelve failings described in the book. For each of the twelve failings, Atteberry describes how they dogged Samson, gives examples of how they often challenge ordinary guys all the time, and gives a few suggestions on how to avoid following these failings into bad or disastrous decisions.

Next, I might take a closer look at some of the study questions in the back of Atteberry’s book, and then move on to other books. I will perhaps be even more selective about what I read in the future, now that I know it is possible to find books that go beyond sex addict dogma for infidelity.


I’m reading Fighting for Your Marriage, by Markman, Stanley, and Blumberg. It has a lot of good advice about communication, such as using the speaker-listener technique. It also has a thought-provoking—for me – discussion about expectations. A set of exercises asks me to think about several specific topics, listed below, to identify my expectations, be sure we have discussed them as a couple, and evaluate how realistic they are. While I’m at it, I’m sure I can identify some that are different now compared to the early part of our marriage. When evaluating how realistic each expectation seems, I will – per the instructions—rate them parenthetically on a scale of one to 10, with one meaning very unrealistic and 10 meaning very realistic. 

Longevity of relationship. I expect this marriage to last forever. That is realistic. (9)

Sexual fidelity. I expect complete fidelity from both of us, meaning no extramarital physical contact or non-physical flirting. This should have been realistic. (9) However, given my own hurtful history of infidelity, I have discussed with TL that I can no longer justifiably expect fidelity from her. Yes, I did expect complete mutual fidelity from day one. However, I then made a series of repeated conscious corrupt decisions to betray not only her expectations of me, but also my own expectations of myself.

Love. I expect complete and never-ending love from both of us. However, given my own hurtful history of infidelity, I have discussed with TL that I can no longer justifiably expect love from her. Yes, I did expect complete mutual love from day one. This should have been realistic. (9) However, I then made a series of repeated conscious corrupt decisions to betray not only her expectations of me, but also my own expectations of myself. Also, I began our marriage with what I now consider to be an inaccurate definition of “love.” Now I understand love as a conscious decision to love the other person and seek the best for them. Before, I thought love was an innate aspect or set of aspects of the other person that makes me happy or satisfies my needs or desires.

Sexual relationship. Frequency, practices, and taboos. I don’t know what to expect on this topic now, for two reasons. First, I came into the marriage with unstated, unlimited, and unrealistic expectations on frequency and nature of sex. I expected sex on demand, daily or more often, with little or no foreplay, and including oral sex. That was unrealistic. (2) It did not match TL’s expectations. Second, following my long history of repeated corrupt decisions to be unfaithful, I’m not sure what I should realistically expect.

Romance. I have, and had, no expectation of romance. Regardless of my past and present behavior, I know TL expects romance, and expects me to figure out what that means at any given time.

Children. We, as far as I can tell, are both happy with our two children. We did begin our marriage with different expectations about children, but we gradually resolved those differences to our mutual satisfaction, in my view.

Work, career, and income. I expect that I will be allowed to find a way to work – even just a little bit – until the day I die. It gives me personal satisfaction. I think that is a realistic expectation. (8) I would like TL to work – even just a little bit – as long as she is willing and able. It appears to me that she is mentally healthier when she works. That also seems a realistic expectation. (8) I do not have particular expectations about whose career should get priority or who should earn more.

Emotional dependency. I expect us each to be responsible for our own emotional health, but each to desire to help support the other emotionally when possible. I believe that is a realistic expectation. (8) I believe I began the marriage with the unrealistic expectation that TL – or even marriage itself—would resolve my emotional problems for me. (1)

Approach to life, loyalty, communication and problems., power, and control. I expect us to be a team, totally loyal to each other, and making significant decisions together. I expect open, honest, and early communication, as needed. I expect us to share power and control of everything equally. That is realistic. (9) Yes, I did expect that from day one. However, I then made a series of repeated conscious corrupt decisions to betray not only her expectations of me, but also my own expectations of myself.

Household tasks. I expect TL to load the dishwasher. I expect to unload the dishwasher. I expect to take out the garbage and replace empty toilet paper dispensers. I otherwise expect us each to do what we can when we can to keep the house, dishes, and clothes clean and tidy, and keep on top of various errands and responsibilities related to the household, including pets, cars, children, and other things. That is realistic. (9)

Religious beliefs and observances. We have similar, compatible, realistic expectations about this that have evolved over time with mutually-satisfying discussion. (9)

Time together. I think I began our marriage with the unrealistic and unstated expectation that we would spend every possible moment together. (3) I was possessive, jealous, and threatened at the thought of her spending time with friends, others, or even herself. I didn’t have healthy practices for organizing my own time. Gradually, I over-corrected, spending less and less time with TL and more and more time on adultery and other selfish pursuits. I think that was my childish way of pouting about my incorrect belief that TL owed me more sex and flattery. Now, in contrast, I do try to spend every possible moment with TL. But, I am no longer jealous or threatened when TL chooses to spend time without me. I think now I have a more realistic, but perhaps unstated, expectation that we can each have a little time each day to work on personal tasks. (7)

Sharing feelings. I expect us to want to share our feelings with each other, and to be safe and supportive of each other in that regard. Notwithstanding my regrettable long years of intentional deceit and emotional distance, I think this is a realistic expectation. (7)

Friendship. I expect us to be true friends, forever. Notwithstanding my regrettable long years of not being a friend to TL, I think this is a realistic expectation. (8)

Little things. I can’t think of any expectations in this category.

Forgiveness. I expect us to forgive each other. This may not be a realistic expectation. (5) I did not forgive TL for not being perfect in the first part of our marriage. Though she had done nothing that should require forgiveness, I was unforgiving. Also, it may not be possible for TL to forgive me for my years of adultery, deceit, and betrayal.

Other relationships. As an unfaithful spouse, some or all of what I say on this topic may sound unbelievable or hypocritical. I began the marriage expecting we would both leave all previous relationships in the past. That was probably realistic and reasonable. (7) I also had the unrealistic, one-sided, unreasonable expectation that she would never again communicate with a previous lover, even openly and platonically, and that she would magically make all my feelings of inferiority to her previous lovers disappear. (1) I had the unrealistic, one-sided, and unreasonable expectation that she would end relationships with girlfriends simply because I felt threatened by any reminders of her social life before me. (1) Now, after learning my lesson the hard way, I have rid myself of those unrealistic, unfair, and unreasonable expectations.

As a crappy husband with a history of serial cheating, I had a bad record of being uncaring, not recognizing TL, breaking my commitment, lacking integrity, and not accepting TL. Regardless, and especially now, I do expect we will both care for each other, recognize each other, honor our commitments, accept each other, and behave with integrity. I think that is realistic. (9)

Capurnican psychology

I think I noticed something about people. As infants, we think we are the center of the universe. When do we learn that we are distinct from other people or other creatures? I’m not sure. But, at first, when we see ourselves as distinct, we typically initially judge ourselves to be more important than everyone else and everything else. At least, I believe that was my initial view when I was a young child. Are there people who some degree of neglect or abuse convinces they are not the most important thing in the universe? I don’t know.   

In my case, my parents gave me plenty of attention, reinforcing my initial belief that I was the most important thing. For people like me in this regard, some may continue to believe, for the rest of their lives, that the universe revolves around them. That is a subconscious belief, I think, impervious to rational, conscious learning about physics, biology, society, politics, workplaces, schools, families, morality, and God.

Others may eventually experience a lesson, or series of lessons, that humbles them, making them finally question their belief that they are the center of the universe. For some, maybe they experience that in military boot camp, addiction recovery, or sudden and catastrophic loss of financial or emotional support. For me, I experienced it through destroying my marriage, almost losing it, and knowing that it was all my own fault.

Now when I look at people at work or in the grocery store, I am constantly reminded that if I die or move away, if I am happy or sad, if I succeed or fail, their lives will go on, largely unaffected. If there are people stronger or weaker than me, smarter or stupider, more or less attractive, more or less experienced, bigger or smaller, better or worse at giving sexual arousal or sexual pleasure, who cares? They’ll get a new co-worker or see another stranger in the grocery store. One hundred years from now, a few people will infrequently recall that I existed. A million years from now, if there are any people here, they will likely not think often about my society. And, there will come a time when my species and my planet will cease to exist.

In that context, what should some stranger, neighbor, colleague, or even my spouse have to do to ensure that I am happy and that I do not mourn some real or imagined injustice? Nothing. Not a damned thing. The only person who really has to worry about my happiness and my sense of justice is me. And, I can even choose not to worry about those things. I don’t have to be happy. Life doesn’t have to treat me fairly. I can choose what I want to do, think, and even feel, and just get on with it. I’m not the center of the universe. That frees me from worrying about what people think of me. It also frees them, unless they choose otherwise, from thinking about me.

Negative perceptions

Here’s how I thought about my wife before D-day. If she loved me she would give me sex. (We did have sex. I just did not appreciate it, and would always want more.) If she was attracted to me she would give me sex. If she loved me she would be attracted to me. I was emotionally needy, needing assurance that I was attractive and lovable.   

If I am happy with my body, mind, and moral self, perhaps it doesn’t matter whether I am attractive or loved. I don’t need any substitutes for being happy with my body, mind, and moral self. What do you think?

What went wrong with me?

Let’s figuratively take out a blank sheet of paper and a fresh pencil and write down some simple thoughts. I’ve spent six years now trying to figure out what to think, write, read, say, and do about the fact that I was a serial adulterer and liar. Though I’ve made some progress, I want to check my bearings by starting over, at the beginning. What went wrong with me? Why was I a bad father to my sons, a bad husband to my wife, a bad boyfriend to my college girlfriend, a bad son to my parents, and a bad custodian of myself?

My first thought on this is that, unlike today, I was not happy with my body, my mind, and my moral self. For my first two decades, I bemoaned my physical inadequacy without taking responsibility nor action, without accepting what I could not change and acting on what I could change. For all my education and supposed intelligence, for my first four decades I took my mind for granted. I didn’t appreciate how much personal satisfaction and self-confidence I could experience from enjoying mental and academic pursuits for their own sake. For my first four decades and more, I didn’t even think about having a moral self. I didn’t even think to ask myself whether I might be able to generate some confidence and peace by choosing some values such as responsibility, compassion, integrity, and courage.

What were the ill effects of failing to invest daily in my body, mind, and moral self? I was a coward. I was petty. I was jealous. I struggled against people for no coherent reason. I tilted at windmills with no thought as to why. I focused on self-destructive objectives such as sex, alcohol, tobacco, experimenting with drugs (briefly, prior to marriage), and porn for their own sake. Not feeling confidence about my body, mind, and moral self, I hoped to feel it by pursuing sex and substances. Now I see that sex and substances are fats and condiments while body, mind, and moral self are the meat and potatoes of life. Sex and substances are lawn gnomes and wind chimes while body, mind, and moral self are the foundation, pillars, and roof.

Now what? Now, I think, I just need to give daily attention to nurturing my moral self, the same way I give my body and mind daily care and use.

Seeking others’ pity to be happy

Here’s a passage from the book Making Peace with Your Parents that made me think. 


“For anyone who grew up with a martyr parent, it is essential to recognize that guilt is self-punishment you don’t deserve. In truth, Julie had neither caused nor could remedy her mother’s emotional distress. To illustrate how guilt operates and to help Julie stop blaming herself for her mother’s self-critical and self-destructive habits, I stood up in the middle of one of our sessions and walked to the window. “Now, if I jumped out this window head-first and splattered myself on the pavement below, killing or crippling myself, would it be your fault?” Julie laughed and said, “Of course not.”

“But what if I left behind a note that described how Julie looked at me the wrong way, that Julie only thinks about herself, or that Julie wasn’t living up to my expectations of progress in psychotherapy? Then would it be your fault?”

Julie hesitated for a moment before she replied, “No, it would still be ridiculous. I’m not the one who made you jump.”

End quote.

Why did the foregoing passage give me pause? I think the idea of trying to make others feel responsible for my happiness is familiar. I’ve done that; tried to make my wife, girlfriend, peers, family, and even strangers feel as sorry for me as I felt for myself. I thought, or hoped, that upon seeing my misery – self-created or otherwise—they would be moved to give me liberties, flattery, sexual attention, or service. When did I start doing that? I seem to recall sitting alone in my room as a child or adolescent, hoping my parents would feel sorry for me and that they would then remove some unseen barrier that kept me from socializing with peers.

As an aside, perhaps, I can now look back on my lonely youth with a new perspective. The new perspective comes from being a parent of a teenager myself. As a teenager, was it really just that my parents kept me from going out and socializing? Perhaps there was more to it. Perhaps I didn’t socialize much with some peers because we didn’t have enough common interests. On the other hand, there was the question of how and where would I socialize with peers. I didn’t want to talk to them on the phone because I feared my parents were eavesdropping, prying, and commenting on everything. I didn’t want to invite peers to my house for similar reasons. Were my parents socially isolating me, or was I doing it to myself?

And, where might I have learned that habit of trying to make others pity me so I could turn their pity to my advantage? I think my mother modeled that type of thinking, with her lifelong, constant refrains of, “Why doesn’t anyone do something for my family?” Perhaps I then continued the unhealthy strategy well beyond my elementary school years because I saw it as easier than taking responsibility for my own happiness.

List of resentments

I am now reading a book called Making Peace with Your Parents: The Key to Enriching Your Life and All Your Relationships. One of its first exercises says to make a list of all your resentments toward your parents. Here’s mine. 

1. I resent that you did not let me do things for myself, even simple things like getting lights and doors.

2. I resent that you sent me to the church, but that you did not participate. Incidentally, I recall now that you did not drive me there. Grandpa drove me there.

3. I resent that you did not let me listen to radio stations or watch television shows my peers experienced.

4. I resent that you did not allow me to choose my clothes as an adolescent.

5. I resent that we did not interact with other people very much. I think it contributed to me feeling scared and awkward around people.

6. I resent that you did not give me chores or responsibilities. I think it made me take things for granted and be ungrateful.

7. I resent you, mother, for basically teasing me about being a teenager, making me feel it was some reason to feel ashamed or estranged.

8. Mother, I resent you for frequently criticizing every girl I ever dated, making me feel I had to hide my relationships.

9. Mother, I resent you constantly criticizing my wife and doing things to make her seem separate from me.

10. Mother, I resent your frequent, intense, desperate harassment to make me accept my father chaperoning my wife and me across the country.

As I attempted to make this list, I found that some of my regrets were not resentments directed at my parents. Rather, I resented my fate, my own inaction, and myself. The following list covers approximately the first two decades of my life. I have written previously about other regrets from the second part of my life.

1. I regret not just shaving off that damned facial hair on my upper lip that always invited teasing when I was in grade school.

2. I regret not disciplining myself to become better at running and swimming.

3. I regret being so scared and shy.

4. I regret not asking for help with wetting my pants.

5. I regret teasing people until they retaliated.

6. I regret believing in Santa Claus longer than my peers did due to my fear of hurting my parents’ feelings.

7. I regret not finding piano songs I enjoyed.

8. I regret that I did not do my homework.

9. I regret that I feared my parents’ expectations about the spelling bee.

10. I regret that I did not try the wrestling team.

11. I regret not learning about fitness and nutrition sooner.

I’m only at the beginning of this book. I don’t know whether it will address the fact that I inadvertently came up with as many resentments not related to my parents as resentments regarding my parents.

What does that tell us? I’m not sure. I think it says that my problems with insecurity and jealousy were not really about my parents. Rather, they were about my relationship with myself.

Practicing empathy 

I wrote recently about another stupid thing I did. Some woman sat next to me on a plane. I went to great effort to avoid looking at her or speaking with her. She was uninteresting physically and mentally. She started small talk. I kept it professional. She gave me her card. I stupidly forgot to tell TL about it.   

A few days later, I e-mailed the woman to give her my contact information. I had promised I would do so, and I had stupidly thought the potential connection would be useful to my family. I again stupidly forgot to tell TL.

Fortunately, the woman never replied. Unfortunately, TL saw that I had failed to tell her about the incident. It was wrong of me to forget. But, I did forget.

I did not lie, nor act deceitfully. Nonetheless, I failed TL, leaving her frightened and worried.

I asked my counselor how to not forget things like this. One suggestion was to improve my empathy with how TL would see such incidents. I have been working on empathy. I have a long way to go.

I just read “The Empathy Workout,” by Martha Beck. She talks about listening. I’m working on that. I have room to improve, but I have come a long way. She offers a technique she calls reverse engineering, mirroring someone’s expressions (in private) to try to feel what they felt when they spoke. She suggests something she calls shape-shifting, mentally transforming into the other person (also in private) to understand how they feel as they do what they do. Finally, she suggests what she calls meta-tation, privately, regularly meditating on thoughts of goodwill toward the other person.

Maybe I should start there, with Beck’s suggestions. I welcome other suggestions.

Read Chump Lady’s book

Taking the advice of one of our readers, I just read Tracy Shorn’s Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life: Chump Lady’s Survival Guide, front to cover. TL and I have long talked about Chump Lady, her blog, and her philosophy. I’m glad I finally read the whole thing. 

I’m not going to critique it. Why? I really could not find anything with which I disagree in the whole book. It’s well written, with an readable style, and I was not distracted by its grammatical imperfections or bombastic language.

Read it. If you’re a chump, to use her terminology, read it to help yourself. If you’re a cheater like me, again from her terminology, read it to see the chump’s perspective better.

I hope I’m the unicorn Chump Lady calls the remorseful cheater. I love TL, and I did not love her before I learned how to love. I hate what I did to her. Every act of infidelity on my part was a conscious decision. Every lie was a conscious decision. Now, I have consciously decided to try to be loving, honest, empathetic, and wise. I fail at those things often. But, I consciously try to improve. I don’t know how to improve, but I read, research, talk to my counselor, and think about it a lot, every day.

I do love TL, and I am sorry I cheated and lied.

So, Chump Lady says TL should divorce me. I am trying to be her unicorn. I don’t want to lose TL. I also don’t want TL to be frightened and unhappy.


TL just spent hours caring for me at the hospital and at home. Sadly, it reminded us of when I dropped her off at the emergency room on my way to work instead of taking the day off. She’s a much better spouse than I am, and a much better person. 

Give me something to read

I need some new material for my work on becoming a safer husband for TL. I’ve written, I’ve read, I’ve surfed the Internet. But, much of what I see now I’ve already seen. What’s new on the topic of how to help my wife after my infidelity?

Enmeshed parent?

I’m not sure what direction to take now with my work at becoming a safer husband for TL. I’ve read and written about honesty, empathy, transparency, friendship, and overcoming misogyny. All I can think to do on those topics is to remain vigilant and to train daily –like an athlete training for a game or a student training for a test – to become more adept at those skills. I’ve also thought, read, and written about puritanical upbringing, self-esteem, and proper definitions of love, with an aim to understand the origins of my selfish decisions. 

Meanwhile, we had a recent experience with my parents that may be informative. As I’ve discussed before, I think my mother prevented me from growing up. In her own way, she thought she loved me, I suppose. She wanted to protect me, from everything, always. But, she didn’t realize – or possibly didn’t care – that what would truly be better for me – and therefore truly more loving—would be to encourage me to grow up. Perhaps this is relevant because my immaturity made me view gender, sex, and marriage selfishly. Perhaps my mother also incorrectly modeled love. To her, love was possession rather than caring.

I am reminded of this by a recent event in which my parents demonstrated that they cannot stop disrespecting my decision to marry, my choice of wife, and my decision to have children. For some biologically paradoxical reason, my parents seem to have wanted me to remain a child and to die unmarried and childless. Why would any parent want such things? If I died childless, their bloodline would also die.

I suspect racism is one part of the answer. One reason my parents won’t accept TL and my sons is that TL is not of their preferred ethnicity. But, I don’t think that’s the only reason. My parents also did not seem to want me to grow up or to marry at all.

In this most recent situation, my parents managed two simultaneous modes of disrespecting my family. First, they sent a note saying “Merry Christmas.” I’m sure some of our friends and readers are Christian. Please understand that every single year, for 24 years, I’ve politely told my parents, “We don’t celebrate Christmas,” “We don’t celebrate Easter,” “We don’t eat pork,” “and “We don’t eat shellfish.” And, every single year, for 24 years, my mother has tried to play ignorant, asking, “Can’t you just eat some pork loin?” “Oh, really, you don’t celebrate Christmas?” “Don’t the kids want some Easter candy?” and “Why won’t you eat shrimp?” How hard can it be for my mother to get it? It’s been 24 years.

Second, my parents sent me two toys for my birthday, which falls in December. They sent nothing for my sons, who typically receive Chanukah gifts from other relatives in the same timeframe. This angered me because grandparents ought to be focused on grandchildren, not obsessing on their adult son while trying to pretend his children don’t exist.

This is the same mother who once made a big scene of purchasing four funeral plots: one for her, one for my father, one for me, and one for my brother. This was years after TL and I married.

My parents also obsessively talk about all the crap – and it is just crap – that I might supposedly inherit when they die. Once when my mother was listing such crap to TL, my wife mentioned something about our children. My mother shot back with, “No, these things are not for your kids. They’re for my son.” What? Am I supposed to be buried with my mother’s knick-knacks and bric-à-brac that she wills me – like some pharaoh—rather than will them, in turn, to my own sons? If I’m so damned important to my mother, why are my sons not important to me? Is it just the racism? Or, is it that she is primarily focused on controlling me, not on loving me?

In any case, I think it’s relevant here because that’s what I did to TL for 18 years: I focused on controlling her rather than loving her. In general, I am training to become less focused on control.

What now?

It’s been over five years since TL discovered my 18-year history of lying and cheating. We’ve filled the recent years with polygraph tests, counseling, studying, and blogging. TL is understandably still traumatized, afraid of being hurt or deceived again, afraid of details of our history she does not know, and angry at the betrayal and injustice I caused. I am working to stop answering with thoughtless, panicked untruths when she confronts me with questions, and to start seeing everything I do through her eyes and changing my behavior accordingly.    

She still questions me about details of the affairs and reasons for my behavior. My sincere responses that “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” make her blood boil. Despite my efforts, I still do thoughtless things and fail to do helpful things. Most recently, I mindlessly failed to brief her on a woman who sat next to me on a plane, and again when I e-mailed the woman with my contact information, in what I thought was a routine work-related encounter but what must have appeared to TL as an attempt on my part to establish an illicit relationship. Before that, I let my insecure and jealous demons speak for me when TL trusted me enough to discuss a violation that had occurred before we met. I jumped to victim blaming instead of empathy and support.

I have identified why I cheated and lied, and how to prevent recidivism. My puritanical upbringing left me insecure and resentful in the face of the modern world. Insecurities about my body, and a badly-distorted perspective on the roles of sex and gender in our lives contributed to my sense of entitlement and jealousy. Prevention means being grateful for everything and everyone in my life; being humble; being empathetic, compassionate, and loving; and keeping sex and gender roles in a healthy perspective.

So, now what? When does she decide that staying with me is no longer necessary nor worth it? How, specifically, can I make myself more attentive to her and less instinctively self-protective or self indulgent?

How to stop lying to yourself and to your partner

I read an article by this name by Bella Rayne at Here’s the one suggestion it offered that seems promising. 

“Don’t answer too fast. It’s alright to take time to think. Compulsive liars don’t think before they talk. Lies just flow out even before they make up their mind about whether they want to lie or tell the truth.”

It also offered one possible explanation for my habit of lying that makes sense to me.

“Why do you lie so much? In most cases, it could be childhood experiences or a life altering experience that convinced your mind to start lying. In my case, it was my angry, ill tempered father who always had an opinion about everything I did.

When I was a child, he would always yell at me every time I told the truth that I had forgotten something or overlooked something else. I learnt that it was just easier to lie than look like an idiot in front of him. And that stuck in my mind. A perfect lie could get me away from all my troubles with the slightest effort.”

In my case, it was my mother rather than my father, who was controlling and critical.

Why did I tell affair partners that I had cheated before, on numerous occasions?

My second affair partner (AP2) once asked me whether I had cheated on my wife before. I said that I had. I think I recall her then asking whether I had cheated once or more than once. I think I recall responding that I had cheated many times, which was true in view of my first affair and my history with prostitutes. A similar conversation played out with my third and final affair partner (AP3). 

Why did I tell them that?

I don’t know. I welcome your ideas.

My theory was that I told those APs I had cheated before because I wanted to hear myself say it. Perhaps I wanted to believe I was a desirable man, and hoped very briefly that saying I had been with several women would make me think that. I don’t know if that makes sense. If that was what I intended, it only worked for about one second, the amount of time it would take to recall that most of my sexual experiences had just been purchased from prostitutes. So, perhaps the theory that I wanted to make myself feel sexually experienced doesn’t work.

Did I tell them I had cheated often so as to demonstrate great disrespect for TL? No. That was not my intent. I get, however, that it was the effect. When I think about it, maybe I was trying to say the following to the APs: “I cheat often, and have no moral qualms about it. So, you, AP, should also have no moral qualms about our adulterous relationship. Please, AP, don’t suddenly grow a conscience and stop giving me sex.”

In fact, the relationship with my first affair partner (AP1) did gradually peter out with signs that she was struggling with her last vestiges of a conscience. I suspect she eventually realized that she did not want to invest more time and energy into me when all she got from me was covert sex, and that what she really wanted was a normal relationship that did not have to be covert. Perhaps that shaped my behavior with AP2 and AP3, with me trying to convince the APs that there was nothing wrong with our adulterous relationships.

When I told the APs I had cheated before, was this a signal from me to APs that I did not respect TL and that I wanted them to also disrespect her? I can see that’s how it appears to TL. It likely appeared that way to the APs as well. Though it is not what I actively intended, I see how that is probably the message I unthinkingly conveyed. I understand that from TL’s view my acts of sex with other women were small potatoes next to my lies and next to those disrespectful messages about her I conveyed, intentionally and actively or not.

TL, I think I see that fidelity is not just a question of sex, but also a question of loyally telling you everything honestly as well as of promoting and defending your honor and dignity and the value of our relationship through my words as well as my nonverbal signals. When I apologize for cheating on you, please know that I’m not just apologizing for adulterous sex, but also for disloyal, deceptive, and treacherous behavior.

Why was I so nice to that affair partner?

Here’s a question I still can’t answer, after more than five years of actively trying to understand. Maybe you can help me.

Maybe I’v even written about it before. I can’t remember.

When TL caught me cheating, I e-mailed that third and final affair partner a message telling her the affair was over. I then showed TL the e-mail.

Here’s what I think the e-mailed should have said: “M, this affair is over. Stop all communication with me immediately and forever. I told my wife the truth, that I love her and only her, and that my relationship with you was a shamefully wrong choice on my part. You are nothing to me, and my wife is the center of my world.”

Instead, it said something like the following. My memory is not so keen, so I will paraphrase: M, I’m sorry, but it’s over. I now know I made the right decision by returning to my family. I hope you will also return to your family.”

So, here’s my question. Why was I so nice to that affair partner (AP) in that e-mail?

I really don’t know.

Did I wish to avoid hurting the AP’s feelings because I cared for her? No. Every time I tell TL that I did not give a damn about that AP’s feelings, TL does not believe me. I’m not lying to TL. Am I lying to myself?

Was I afraid the AP would get angry and try to do something vengeful? I don’t know. Maybe. I’m really not sure.

Did I want the AP to carry away the thought that she almost tempted me away from TL? I don’t think so. I really don’t think so.

Is there some other point or possibility that I’m missing here? I’d really welcome your thoughts.


When trying to eat healthy, I find it more useful to focus on positive habits instead of focusing on eliminating negative things. Though I clearly want to cut carbohydrates, fats, and calories, I don’t worry too much about telling myself not to eat certain things. Instead, I focus on healthy things I do want to eat. I find, for example, that if I work actively to drink enough water and eat enough produce and healthy protein sources, there’s little or no room left in my belly for cookies, cakes, and other garbage. The good things crowd out the bad things to a point where I don’t even want the bad things.

A similar strategy helps me with using time wisely. I focus on putting enough time each day into family, mental and moral health (for lack of a better term), work, volunteer activities, and fitness – in roughly that order of priority. I then have little or no time left for idleness, self-pity, temptation, or other self-defeating things. The good activities crowd out the bad, to a point where doing good things becomes a habit and a virtuous cycle.

I really think a similar strategy helps me prevent bad thoughts. If I think enough good thoughts, they should crowd out bad thoughts. So, what are these good thoughts? Here my ideas:

Focus on my mate as a friend, not as a possession nor as a means of meeting my needs.

Grow up and accept what I am and what I am not.

Balance aspects of myself: profession or career, God, family responsibility, fitness, intellect and mental pursuits, creativity, friendship, integrity, accomplishments, hobbies, pastimes, things that make me happy.

Re-dedicate myself to balance, friendship, and maturity each day.

Accepting physical limitations and putting them in perspective

TL recently worried that I am too negative about my physical self and that it constitutes dangerous self-pity. My reply was that my recent study in “10 Days to Self-Esteem” taught me at least two ways to deal with feeling inadequate First, I can take a look at my assumptions and be sure they are not resulting from distorted thinking. Second, in cases where I do find myself lacking in some way, I can just accept it instead of wishing it were different. 

I tried listing the negative and positive aspects of myself, physically and sexually. I then listed other positive attributes I have. In both cases, I think I erred by listing my attributes in terms of comparisons to other men. So, I tried again, this time listings attributes as absolute rather than relative. See below.

In that self-esteem book, the author actually suggested assigning numerical values to such lists, to quantify how much significance I assign each item.

Self-assessment of my physical and sexual attributes

Negative things about me physically:

Small (10)


Small penis (10)

Uncoordinated (10)

Soft features (10)

Not skillful in bed (10)

Total (60)

Positive things about me physically:

Healthy (10)

Fit (10)

Acceptable physique (10)

No awkward features or deformities (10)

Total (40)

Using the numerical values I assigned each item on the list, I arrive at 40 points for my positive attributes and 60 for my negative. So, what if I throw in non-physical and non-sexual attributes?

Other positive attributes I have:

Smart (5)

Wise (5)

Good at speaking and writing (5)

Good at skiing (5)

Educated (5)

Experienced with the world (5)

Attentive parent (5)

Acceptable at swimming (5)

Total (40)

If I add my other positive attributes to my list of positive physical and sexual attributes, I arrive at 80 points. In that case, the combined positive attributes outweigh my negative attributes by a value of 80 points compared to 60.

What’s the point of this exercise? I think it helps me keep my view of my negative physical and sexual attributes in perspective, so I don’t focus on them exclusively or obsessively. Perhaps it helps me accept unpleasant realities without letting them become all-consuming, depressing, or a source of self-pity or despair. Perhaps it will help me to revisit this list whenever I feel troubled by self-doubt regarding my physical attributes.

Response from Mom

In my last post I shared a hypothetical letter to my mother that my counselor recommended I write. Here’s the hypothetical response I wish she would write: 

Dear MC,

I am sorry I held you back, not allowing you to make decisions and learn independence like normal boys. I did want an eternal child about whom I could boast, not a living, breathing son with his own mind and his own wants and needs. Perhaps you treated your wife as a possession because you learned from me treating you as a possession. I should have wanted to see you learn to choose your own clothes, food, friends, girlfriends, spouse, and activities. Instead, I took those choices from you. It was unfair to you.

You know I was not sure how to deal with the Church. I tried to give you choices in that matter. I really do prefer the lifestyle the Church promotes, and I wanted that for you. I’m sorry that my anger at the Church and so many of it’s members made you think I opposed the Church’s teachings. I do share the Church’s views on sex and morality.

I never knew how to help you build confidence in sports and activities without discouraging you. I’m sorry I got that balance wrong too.

I’m also sorry I burdened you with my attempts to live my life through you. I was unhappy with myself and my life, and I hoped I could change that by getting recognition for your accomplishments. I’m sorry that I put unfair pressure on you.

Though I am very uncomfortable with the topic of sex, I’m sorry I passed my disappointment and unhappiness with that topic to you. Again, I should have made it clear that I believe in the Church’s view of sex and morality. I see, however, that by pushing you to leave our hometown, I was driving you to a life that was not compatible with the Church’s views on those topics.

You could have been more and been more happy had I not held you back. I am sorry.



Letter to Mom

My counselor suggested I write a letter to my mother – possibly a letter I will never send – expressing my feelings of injustice about my upbringing. I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with my counselor since I wrote it. I wonder what you think of it. I’m not sure what to think about it. Here it is: 

Dear Mom,

I’m sure it will come as no surprise that there are some things about my upbringing that disappointed me. I think they really led to a lot of jealousy and insecurity on my part. I’ll list them, by way of review. First, since before kindergarten, I long recall thinking I had more restrictions than my peers, whether they be neighbors, classmates, or cousins. I felt overly restricted in my ability to go outside and play, to watch shows and movies that kids my age were watching, to do things for myself rather than have parents do them for me, to associate with peers of my own choosing, to choose my own clothes, and, later, to talk and act freely regarding interest in girls.

This left me with a strong feeling of jealousy, first of elementary school boys my age and, later, of adolescent peers who I assumed had more experience with sex than I did. The jealously led to insecurity. I was certain my peers were better than me at sports and games, more worldly, and more sexually active because I was cloistered and they were not. I figured that made them better, more desirable, or more successful than me. As an adult, I drew on that jealousy and insecurity to justify marital infidelity, cruel judgmentalism, bitterness, pettiness, and disproportionate anger about perceived sleights, regardless of how small or inconsequential.

Of course, I had free will. I could have and should have not chosen to obsess on those feelings of insecurity and jealousy. At this point there is not much to be done about it. I’m not sure what I want now in regards to this topic. Perhaps I want acknowledgement that your over mothering did delay my development and put me at a disadvantage vis-à-vis my peers. I suspect you’ll say you just wanted me to be safe. I’d like to hear anyone other than myself agree with me that you went too far. Safety is not an end, it is a means. I could be one hundred percent safe, but have zero reason to exist. Your focus on safety was extreme and debilitating.

Second, I was troubled by the mixed messages you gave me regarding the Church. I understand that your own experience with the Church made you dislike it and discourage it. But, I was unhappy that you encouraged me to adopt the Church’s values regardless, sending me to Sunday school alone until I was eight, and also teaching me, both through your words and your example, to adopt the Church’s puritanical views of sex and gender roles. I wish you would have just made a decision to raise me as a Mormon or not, rather than trying to be all things to all people. I learned to be uncomfortable and dissatisfied associating with puritanical-minded peers whose life experiences were similar to my own. I also learned to feel insecure and awkward around peers who did not share my puritanical background. I thus felt at home nowhere, alone in every crowd, and too different to fit in. As an adult, I chose a mate who attracted me with her progressive thinking and experiences. I then tormented her with unfair judgments drawn from my puritanical subconscious mind.

I think I do blame you for teaching me two conflicting sets of values and desires. I feel like you set me up to be unhappy. Whichever choice I made – a progressive, modern peer group or a conservative, puritanical peer group—one part of me would be unsatisfied. I say “peer group” instead of wife or mate because, when I think about it, clearly your vision for me was that I would never marry. You wanted me to remain single and childless. You wanted me to remain an eternal child. That’s so self-defeating; not even wanting grandchildren. It’s cruel; like keeping an eagle in a small cage all its life. I can’t think of a reason to address this now, nor a solution to it. Maybe I just want someone to agree with me that this internal conflict you bequeathed me was unhelpful and predisposed me to unhappiness.

Third, I felt you ultimately failed to teach me the importance of fitness or sport. Yes, I resisted. But, I do wish you would have encouraged me more to stick with swimming or martial arts or to try something more versatile such as running. I got the message that it’s okay to not try. I want you to admit that you didn’t place enough value on physical education in my childhood, and that it was not a good way to raise a boy.

Fourth, I got the sense that my accomplishments or lack thereof were about you, not me. For example, when I missed a word at the spelling bee, I recall being more worried about you being upset than about my own view of the situation. Even now I do not feel good talking about my successes, especially the relatively small day-to-day ones, with you because I fear you will overplay them and use them for your own bragging, making you look foolish and making me feel foolish. I also do not feel good about sharing my failures or worries with you. You appropriate those too, moaning about injustice when in fact, the problem is either a normal part of life or the result of some legitimate failing on my part. You going on and on about life being unfair makes me feel you are bemoaning the fact that your son disappointed you, not that you are at all concerned about the effect the situation will have on me.

As a parent, I have to actively remember not to live through my children. Their successes and failures are theirs, not mine. If my son is treated poorly by people or by fate, I don’t want to bitch and whine about people or fate. Instead, I want to hear what he is thinking and feeling and be available to discuss solutions if, and only if, he wants that. For you and I, Mom, please just stop hunting for reasons to brag about me, and stop complaining about injustice when I mention something disappointing.

Fifth, I think I learned from you that sex and romantic attraction are so bad they can’t even be mentioned. When they were mentioned, usually only by someone on television, I recall you sighing, mumbling, turning the television off, and pretending nothing happened. I think I got the idea that sex is truly a deviant topic, and that anyone versed in it is a bad person. I don’t know what to say or do with this issue now. I don’t need you to suddenly change your views on this topic. Maybe it would help if we both acknowledge that your puritanical views on sex were passed down to me, and that they did not prepare me to live in the modern world.

So, now what? Hopefully it will help me to have simply expressed my feelings about these aspects of my upbringing. I don’t know.



Chasing Amy from Where?

Why did I have Chasing Amy Syndrome, the obsession with female chastity that led me to compete for sexual experience as a symbol of adulthood, masculinity, and self-esteem, and to feel intimidated by any woman who is not a virginal, two-dimensional, eternally innocent, Disney princess? I think I understand how I developed such wrong thinking. When I recognize it inside me, I know how to swat it away. I struggle, however, to excise is from my subconscious, so it does not covertly drive me to say or do things that are judgmental or unloving.

Here, I believe, is how it began. As an only child for the first five years of life, and having overprotective parents who did not have many social connections with friends or their own families, I was uncomfortable with other people, especially girls. My parents sheltered me, and I was resentful about it.

I was timid and physically small. I wished to have more confidence with sports, but did not put much effort into it. I was told sports are not important, and I did not learn perseverance and resiliency.

As a racial minority in a small, almost entirely white town, I wished very much to be treated as “normal,” something many whites, including well-intentioned adults, were almost incapable of doing. Even my mother, in my view, focused too much on differences with other people rather than similarities.

The majority of people in the town, including all of my extended family on one side, were of the same Church. My mother angrily rejected the Church while simultaneously teaching me that all of its views on sex and gender were “normal” and “good.” I think this planted misogyny in my subconscious while leaving progressive views in my conscious mind.

I was teased by peers for my relatively late puberty and late interest in girls. My first serious girlfriend refused to have sex with me. A short time later, she announced that she had sex with someone else and told me she was ready for sex with me. I was silently angry.

My second serious girlfriend similarly refused sex with me and then got pregnant with someone else. Chasing Amy Syndrome gradually dominated my life when I was with another serious girlfriend in college. I was irrationally jealous of her previous experiences. She and I had sex often. Looking back on it, I wonder whether it could be described as compulsive sex. Then, finally, Chasing Amy Syndrome reared its ugly head in my marriage.

So, that’s how it started. If I know the roots of my bad thinking, then what? How do I remove my biases about women and sex? I have removed it from my conscious mind. But, I fear it is still stuck in my subconscious.

Mermaid versus swim partner

The other day when TL and I were scuba diving, the sight of fins made me think of mermaids. It reminded me that in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale the mermaid ultimately changed who she was in order to become a wife. That’s what I inflicted on TL. I forced her to be more like my image of her and less like herself. Now, in trying to repair the damage I caused, I’m trying to swim in the sea with her instead of forcing her to be something she is not. 

Some correlation between serial infidelity and ultra-conservative upbringing?

The following article caught my eye.

In particular, this phrase leapt off the page at me.

“Multiple other studies now reveal conclusively that sex addiction is a label rendered overwhelmingly on males (90-95% of sex addicts are males), and half of those males are white, heterosexual, religious (most often Christian and very high rates of Mormon) married males who are middle to upper class in income.

The author goes on to argue that religious-based therapists may over diagnose sexual addiction. Separate from my agreement with the author that sex addiction is probably an over-used term, I also am reminded of my belief that the obsession with sex, experience, keeping up, proving manhood, and expecting a virginal bride that I experienced is noticeably correlated with growing up in a highly conservative—often Christian or Muslim – family or community.

I’ve written about this before. I believe that my Mormon upbringing did at least three things to set the conditions for my unhealthy attitudes about women and sex. First, hiding from my parents my natural pubescent interest in girls and natural desire to become independent from my parents led to a double-life: a visible life as a parent-focused, helpless, neuter child, and a hidden life as an independent-minded, self-focused, male adolescent. Second, it really firmly emphasized a preference for female chastity and male dominance.

Third, when I physically moved away from that conservative little community, I experienced culture shock, accompanied by feelings of inadequacy when I compared myself to new peers who were more at ease with premarital sex, mixed-gender activities, and males and females doing things that break stereotypes of gender roles in traditional societies. The feelings of inadequacy led to anger, jealousy, defensiveness, self-pity, and an unhealthy desire to “catch up” to my new peers who had not been held back by traditional upbringings.

I’m not sure what to do with this thought now. I wonder whether others have noticed this correlation between selfish sexual behavior and traditional upbringings.

I wonder whether I might feel more compassion for myself if I admit to myself freely that I grew up Mormon rather than try to avoid thinking of myself that way. Let me try it now. As a child, I was culturally Mormon. That partially explains why my earliest experiences with girls and sex were different from those of my current peers. I used to be ashamed and angry about my Mormon upbringing. Instead, perhaps I should forgive God for the fact of my birth into that community. Perhaps I should forgive myself for coming to the wider world from that little Mormon background.

Perhaps I should stop trying to be, or pretend to be, something I am not. I was not raised in the urban, modern, liberal family or community to which I aspire, which I somehow idolize and envy. I was raised in a conservative family and community full of sexism, ignorance, and insecurity. I came from there. It’s not where I want to be. But, I, in fact, came from there.

I’m not sure where to go from here on this topic. I know I need to think of my wife as a friend, not a possession. I thought I was succeeding in that. But, the recent example of me not supporting her properly when she wanted to talk about a guy who had used her years ago suggests that I was not successful. I had thought I had mastered my misogyny and insecurity. To my unpleasant surprise, they popped up when I had not expected them. I wonder whether behavioral conditioning can eliminate misogynistic feelings, jealousy, and insecurity.

Now that’s possibly an addiction. You know I believe sex addiction is, at least ninety-nine percent of the time, a phony label to explain away something more conscious and more intentional. But, this case of misogynistic beliefs and sexual insecurity I have seems to affect me on both a conscious and a subconscious level. On the conscious level, I know my feelings are hurtful to TL, I want to change that, and most of the time I can control it. On the subconscious level, how can I fully excise the instinct to judge women differently from men? How can I excise the instinct to see sex as a competition?

Recidivism due to stress?

I had some stressful days recently. The days that come to mind were stressful in quite different ways, making me wonder what it means when people say that stress could cause a betrayer to reoffend. The first day was very busy, at work and at home. The pace was high and the rhythm of events, activities, interruptions, deadlines, and evolving daily priorities changed frequently throughout the day. It wasn’t a particularly bad, nor good, day. It was just busy. I didn’t feel bad. In some ways, I actually felt good; possibly enjoying the adrenaline and endorphins. But, I think I can say I was stressed.

At the end of that day, I had momentum. I was physically charged – perhaps too physically charged to immediately switch to a completely passive activity such as sleep. In the bad old days I could have channeled that excess energy into adultery, porn and masturbation, or even self-centered sexual approaches to my wife in a way that was inappropriately focused on physical gratification rather than on showing her affection. It was not the adrenaline-laden stress that caused me to choose inappropriate responses. Long before that, I had made conscious decisions to allow myself to choose such selfish, hurtful, and deceitful activities when the opportunity arose.

Now, after consciously choosing to not be selfish, hurtful, and deceitful, I seek more appropriate ways to transition my physical and mental energy from a stressful busy day to a restful night. I might choose a book, a walk, a brief television program with family, a single nightcap, or a single dessert. In any case, it’s not the stress that determines whether I choose something selfish and hurtful or something more benign. It is separate internal discussions with myself about what choices are acceptable and what are not.

Then there was a different type of stressful day. For whatever reason, that day, I worried about the unknown. How will my next job search go? What will my boss say about my next report? Will some bad driver cut me off in traffic? Will I fall behind schedule tomorrow? Both now and in the bad old days, that kind of stress did not lead me directly to selfish, hurtful choices. It did, however, in the bad old days , open up the possibility of self-pity. I would think things like: nothing goes my way, life is unfair, I deserve better, and the like. When I dwelled on such self-pity, I translated it to entitlement, thinking: I deserve adultery as a selfish pleasure, or I deserve seeking flattery or imagined flattery. Now, I believe it is not stress that determines whether I choose selfish, hurtful behavior, but that the self-pity and entitlement led me to the bad decisions. To prevent it, I strive to address this kind of stress with acceptance rather than with self-pity and entitlement.

Here’s what I mean by acceptance. If I worry about my next job search, I am better served by accepting that the only thing I can do about it is implement my job search strategy and accept whatever comes of it. It works the same with my next report to my boss or the next deadline I strive to meet. And, if some guy cuts me off in traffic, so what? I could not have prevented it, I can’t change it or remedy it after it happens, and unless I obsess on it, it really makes no difference to the rest of my day. Planning, execution, and humble acceptance are the remedies to this kind of stress.

Then there’s the stress surrounding unmet needs. I’m hungry, thirsty, hot, tired, or groggy. My head hurts. I want sexual release. This is stressful too. At the right time and place, I can have food, water, air conditioning, sleep, caffeine, pain reliever, and even sex. But, to have a fulfilling life, I have to balance these things against other concerns. If I want to work, study, spend time with family or friends, worship, introspect, or even read and write, I can’t constantly eat, drink, sit in the coolest rooms, sleep, drink coffee, take medication, or pursue sex. Given my own goals and values, as well as the need to treat others—such as my wife – respectfully, I can only respond to this kind of stress by focusing on balance.

The fourth kind of stress is worrying about other irrational things. Does that colleague think I’m stupid? Am I a loser because I was nerdy in high school? Do I look dorky or scrawny? It need not be a particularly busy day. I need not feel adrenaline. But, sometimes I just have these thoughts, and they are stressful. It’s a different kind of stress. Neither now nor in the bad old days do these thoughts lead directly to selfish, hurtful choices. I think, however, that in the bad old days I might have obsessed on self-pity, thinking, for example: I fear or hate that guy who possibly thinks I’m stupid. I’m angry at God because I am physically small. I’m angry at my parents because they did not allow me to experience the world. These examples of self-pity also contributed to entitlement, as I told myself I deserved selfish behavior.

The solution now, I think, is to address this stress in a more healthy way, before transferring it to self-pity and entitlement. The answer may lie in prevention. Prevent this self-doubt by focusing on healthy priorities such as family, integrity, and responsibility. Inoculate myself against self-pity by building healthy self-confidence and values. And, short-circuit this self-pity by learning to like myself even if I am short, skinny, and uncoordinated, and even if I do feel my sexual history or life experience is or was inadequate or subnormal.

In sum, it’s not stress that makes me choose selfish, hurtful behavior. Rather, what makes the difference is how I choose to respond to that stress.

Growing up, in darkness

Mom seemed absolutely traumatized, even morally outraged, at the idea that I might become an adolescent, and then an adult. So, I tried to protect her from that truth. I hid that fact from the light. Peter Pan, many classic Disney tales, and the entire Santa Claus industry do make most middle class developed world families hold back a tear when children start to grow beyond the emotional boundaries of the hundred acre woods.

But, most families hold back that tear, and let – or even encourage – their children to grow up. And, often the tear is more joyful than sorrowful. I got the impression it was different with my mother. She seemed truly distressed – sometimes scornful and angry —when I showed interest in things, people, activities, interests, and concepts that lived outside the nursery room. Having children was somehow important to her. Having those children grow up represented a loss to her.

So, I endeavored to lead a double-life: pretending to remain an eternal child when near my mother, and secretly struggling to appear mature when with peers. I became interested in girls, secretly. My body developed and my interests diversified, secretly. I learned to hide my relationships. I associated with friends and with girls, covertly. I tried alcohol and tobacco, covertly. I viewed porn, covertly.

I can’t help but wonder whether the double-life of adultery, porn, and lies that nearly destroyed us actually began in elementary school or even earlier.

As a parent, I don’t want my sons to be afraid or ashamed to talk to us about growing up: about girls, beer, smoking, drugs, safe sex, porn, desires, fears, and indecision. I don’t want them to be ashamed or afraid to disagree with us. I don’t want to push them to be a particular thing nor discourage them from being some other thing. I want them to be themselves in front of me, just as they are in front of peers, teachers, girls, grandparents, bosses, friends, enemies, and total strangers.


What if I grabbed your infant out of your arms, tortured him, mutilated him, and then dashed his brains against the ground while you were forced to watch helplessly? What if I threw acid in your face, leaving you blinded and scarred for life? What if after years of apparently close friendship I sold you out to the nazi regime? 

What if I later said I was really sorry, I had changed, and I understood how you felt? Would you believe me? Would it matter if you did?

I altered the course of your life, terribly and irreversibly.

I get that. Though it probably doesn’t change anything, I do get it.

My loyal spouse, I beg your forgiveness. I do not expect forgiveness. I must beg for it nonetheless.

The villain in disguise

Movies often have a scene where it becomes shockingly clear that a seemingly good character has in fact been a bad guy all along. Chancellor Palpatine, the theatrically-minor character who leads the Republic, turns out to be Darth Sidious. Grandma seems really hungry for Red Riding Hood’s baked goods. But, wait. Why does Grandma have a long snout today? A teacher or coach seems like a great mentor for youth, until you read that he was arrested for child abuse.

I was Darth Sidious, the Big Bad Wolf, and the deceitful abuser. TL was the victim. It’s not just that I treated her with contempt. Any criminal, bully, bureaucrat, or bad driver does that, regularly. It’s that I did it with stealth and deception. I was supposed to be her champion, her greatest hero, protector, promoter, fan, friend, lover, family member, and confidant. I was Delilah and she was Samson. I was the wolf in the fold.

There’s neither excuse nor remedy for what I’ve done. Even having to live with the knowledge of what I’ve done is insignificant compared to the pain with which TL must live.

I’m not even sure what I want readers to do with this story. Maybe I want other victims to see that some betrayers can understand, on some level, the pain they caused.

Maybe I want other betrayers to be inspired to share their stories. Stop hiding behind shame, sex addiction, childhood problems, or victim blaming, and share the hurtful things you did and the hurtful reasons you did them. I wonder whether I’m alone in discussing these things.

I became my mother

I never felt emotionally safe with my mother, and still do not. Even when she seems to be having a rather normal conversation with me, I always worry that anything I say might sharply and surprisingly set off some criticism, judgement, or hard feelings. As a child, and even now, it was not clear to me that she wants a relationship with me. She wants me in her life and near her. But, she does not want a relationship with me. She wants to brag about me to other people. She is disappointed when I don’t give her fantastic fodder for bragging to her family and acquaintances about her son. She wanted to control my every choice and action: who I chose as friends or acquaintances, what I pursued for education and career, what I thought, who I married, whether I had children, and what I said and did. She did not want me to grow up and learn independence. She did not want a real son. She wanted an image of a son. She wanted a thing she could take off the shelf and display to any neighbor or third-degree relative, and then put back on the shelf to stay quiet and predictable. I wanted nothing more than to get away from my mother. 

Then I started seeing TL, and soon married her. I sought to control with whom she associated, her preferences and opinions, and her aptitudes and interests. I wanted to control how she viewed sex, me, the past, and the present. When she showed an aptitude or interest that intimidated me, whether in the bedroom or in the garage, I reacted with childish jealousy, insecurity, and defensiveness, rather than with respect, gratitude, and support. In short, I constantly tried to replace the real TL with the image I had of the perfect wife. I was angry with TL for not being the image.

I became my mother. I made TL fear me in the same way I feared my mother. I denied TL freedom and individuality, the same way my mother denied me freedom and individuality.

The image, by the way, is unobtainable. There is no such person in real life, nor should there be. The image is a two-dimensional caricature of a woman. An image can’t be a friend. But, then, until D-day I didn’t want to be a friend. I only wanted the image to make me feel better about myself and about life.

Now I’m focused on friendship in our marriage. It is a work in progress.

What I did and how I view it

I had an image of TL in my mind long before I even met her. I started to form the image even before I knew she existed. The image was a virgin woman who was very impressed by me and by sex with me. She never disagreed with me. She never surprised me by having a unique or unexpected preference, behavior, or past experience. She was exciting and strong, but never nearly as exciting and strong as me. She was great. But, I was greater.

Then I met TL and eventually married her. There was mounting evidence that she was not a virgin, and that she had unique and unexpected opinions, past experiences, skills, aptitudes, relationships, and preferences. I began to suspect she was an independent adult human being. I began to fear she was as great as or greater than me.

That threatened me. It made me feel anger, jealousy, and resentment. I was infatuated with “the image.” I was cruel and neglectful toward TL, the real woman.

I pursued years of adultery, porn, and masturbation to feel greater than I was. It didn’t work. I hoped it would give me control over sex and how women view me. It did not.

Now, since D-day, I have learned about love and friendship. I’m trying to give TL love and friendship.

But, the damage has already been done. I’ve already driven away all her old friends by pouting and moaning when she might see them, with me feeling intimidated that they encouraged TL, the non-virgin woman with her own thoughts and opinions, to be herself instead of being “the image.” I’ve already made TL afraid to be herself and even made her forget who herself is. I’ve already missed a million opportunities to support her and encourage her for her own strengths, for being herself.

I love TL, not “the image” nor anyone else. But, my years of obsession with the childish image were sick and hurtful.

Does anyone else out there understand this? I was not a sex addict. I was obsessed with a sick fantasy, at the expense of a real woman. I wasn’t tempted by other women. I was seduced by jealousy, feelings of inferiority, and anger at TL for not being “the image.” I didn’t just make bad choices. I was motivated by bad thinking and bad feelings.

TL deserved much better.

Things I did to make affair partners think I chose them over my wife

TL often asks what I did or said to make each affair partner think I would choose them over my wife. I don’t exactly know the answer to this question, nor do I feel confident that I understand why she asks. Nonetheless, if trying to answer this question could possibly be helpful to my betrayed spouse, here’s my attempt. 

One. The first affair partner (AP1) once during the affair asked whether I was still having sex with TL. I said something like, “Well, sometimes I still have to do command performances.” That comment was aimed at making AP1 think I preferred her to TL. That was, in fact, not true. I very much wanted and preferred sex with TL, and did not want to admit that to AP1 for fear that AP1 would then realize I was just using her for illicit sex and flattery. But, it makes sense that the whole incident would be hurtful to TL in any case, and that TL would have no reason to believe that I did not really prefer AP1

Two. During one illicit rendezvous with AP1, I said something like, “Oh, I’m so happy.” I was happy. But, not because of AP1. I was happy because I was selfishly indulging myself. I was happy to be stealing cookies from the cookie jar. The cookies themselves were rather tasteless. Still, AP1 probably interpreted my comment as saying I preferred her.

Three. I cannot think of any specific thing I said or did with the second affair partner (AP2) to make her think I preferred her. However, I frequently rather brazenly approached her for sex and told her I wanted her. This probably made AP2 think I preferred her to TL.

Four. I do not think there was any specific thing I said or did with the third and final affair partner (AP3) to make her think I would choose her over TL. However, I gave AP3 significant quantities of time and attention, no doubt making her think I preferred her to TL.

That’s what I know on this topic. I also know that I did choose TL and have always preferred TL to anyone else. One of the many reasons that was not properly evident was that I buried my love and desire for TL under a rotting pile of jealousy, self-pity, anger, and selfishness. My work now is aimed at hauling away that mountain of filth of my creation and trying to salvage the love that was suffocating under it.

10 Days to Self-Esteem

I’m now working with a book called 10 Days to Self-Esteem. The first chapter said to identify my goals with regard to self-esteem. 

Goals for self-esteem:

Stop wishing the past had been different.

Stop being disappointed in myself.

Stop being disappointed in my life.

The chapter concluded by asking me to evaluate what it had just told me, to summarize what I learned, and to say if there were things I liked or did not like about what I read.

Evaluation of step one:

I learned that right now I have minimal depression and borderline anxiety. I am somewhat dissatisfied with my marriage in terms of how we relate to each other. It will require consistent work to become mentally healthy.

What I didn’t like about step one was that it did not explain how depression, anxiety, and relationship quality are necessarily the beginning of a discussion about self-esteem. Is it not possible that one has low self-esteem despite not being terribly depressed or anxious and having a decent relationship? I was disappointed that step one did not include any ideas that were really new to me. I was disappointed that step one was a bit elementary.

I liked the suggestion that self-help could be more effective than just continuously talking to a psychoanalyst. I liked the idea that success is determined in large part by how much effort you put into it, and your sincere commitment. I think there was some practical value to finally articulating my goals with regard to self-esteem. Just aiming to have more self-esteem is a bit imprecise and hard to measure.

I won’t blog about everything I read and do in 10 Days to Self-Esteem because most of the thoughts I would share are not new to readers of this blog. But, here are a couple thoughts from it that I do really want to share.

Epictetus said, “Men are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.” This is just like Buddhism. If wanting something is making you suffer, stop wanting that thing.

Life is not fair, and it’s counterproductive to wish it was fair. That’s not from the book. It’s my own thought that the book helped me find. Of all such thoughts, this one is particularly meaningful to me. I wasted much of my life mourning the loss of some childhood fantasy. I really wish to stop wasting my life.

Chapter four says do a cost-benefit analysis of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Among other things, it suggests a technique for untwisting thinking called “the acceptance paradox,” which is really a Buddhist principle.

Teachings of Buddha

After converting to Judaism three years ago, I’m finally using my mental health time on the sabbath to just read the Hebrew Bible. I’m still in Genesis. I’ll have more to say on this topic, I hope, when I get beyond the portion of that tome that is the mythical ethnic history of a particular tribe. Meanwhile, during recent travel, I found a copy of The Teachings of Buddha in a hotel room. I read it front to cover. It is a quick read. It too has portions that are the mythical ethnic history of some tribes. It also has other portions that are clearly-written advice on mental health. Some of the advice struck me as applicable to my own struggles with mental health. 

Satisfying desire is like quenching thirst with salt water, the text said. In the bad old days, I desired flattery and erotic ego-stroking. Every time I thought I was obtaining those things, from an affair partner for example, I found them not credible, insufficient, and unsatisfying. I also desired sexual stimulus, to the point where I would regularly see prostitutes or masturbate to porn to obtain it. No quantity of those things was ever enough. I always walked away wanting more. They didn’t give me what I really wanted from them: the confidence and comfort of seeing myself as a desirable adult man. I have now quit drinking the seawater. It has been five years since I last used adultery, prostitutes, or porn. The less I use them, the less I want them. It is a self-generating virtuous cycle.

If the mind is filled with wise and pure and unselfish thoughts, there will be no place for worldly passions to take root, the text continued. Here’s my interpretation. Every bad apple in your fruit bowl leaves you with that much less room for fresh, healthy fruit. Conversely, every good piece of fruit leaves that much less room for bad apples. I’ve spent the last five years filling my bowl with good, fresh fruit, in the form of healthy goals, giving friendship, and showing compassion. There is almost no space left in my mind for self-pity or desire for ego-stroking.

The book continued. One kind of person is like letters carved in rock. They hold grudges. Another is like letters carved in sand. They anger, but it passes. Another is like letters carved in running water. The anger does not have an impact. They keep moving forward. This thought reminded me that I used to get very angry, and often held that anger for years. The anger usually wasted my time and energy while achieving nothing. I was angry at my wife for not being a virgin when we married. I was angry at drivers who cut me off. I was angry at women who did not make me see myself as a desirable adult man. I was angry at colleagues and bureaucrats who did not immediately see my point of view or wish to make my life easier. What did all this anger get me? Nothing. Who did this anger affect? Me. I have been working to not take things personally, and to not expend energy on anger.

Eliminate thoughts that stimulate greed, anger, and foolishness, and encourage thoughts that stimulate charity and kindness, the book said. Here’s my interpretation. So, it is not unhealthy to avoid bad thoughts as long as one also encourages good thoughts. Bad thoughts may erupt if suppressed and not replaced. But, if bad thoughts are eliminated and replaced with good thoughts, there will be no place for the bad thoughts.

The work should be directed toward the future, not the past. I had to study the past to identify the sources of my bad decisions. I know those sources. They are not a mystery. They are my cultural internal conflict, jealousy, self-pity, and thinking my wife owed me something. These ways of thinking can not recur by surprise. I know the signs. I am not suppressing them, only to have them erupt unexpectedly. I am not just avoiding unhealthy thoughts, as I should. I am also replacing them with healthy thoughts. This practice of unearthing old thoughts of jealousy and insecurity can and must cease now.

The book went on. True offering is not followed by regret or self-praise. Poor men can offer labor, life, compassion, kind glances, smiles, kind words, a seat, and shelter. This thought just struck me as a useful guide for future acts of kindness.

Here is more from Buddha. If a person has a repentant spirit, his sins will disappear. If he is unrepentant, his sins will continue and condemn him forever. I’m no expert on Christian teachings, but that thought sounds familiar. I guess it’s meant as encouragement to sinners, to tell them it is never too late to start trying to be a better person.

To worry in anticipation or to cherish regret for the past are like reeds that are cut and whither away, the book said. Dead reeds. That’s what I spent too much of my life creating. As Jon Marsh said in Recovery Nation, I hurt myself by not living to my potential. I’v thrown away too much of my life. To me, that’s good motivation to not throw away more of it, especially now that the years behind me no doubt outweigh those ahead of me and the most productive period of my life is winding to a close. Buddha continued on this theme. The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate troubles, but to live wisely and earnestly for the present. Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

I made her feel like I settled for her

I understand why TL feels like a consolation prize, an afterthought, or a plan B. Perhaps she fears I loved my first affair partner (AP1), would have divorced TL for AP1 if I’d had the balls to do so or if AP1 had been a virgin, and only stayed with TL because we moved to a new city and AP1 finally realized I was just using her. Perhaps TL fears I long for the love of AP1, but just settled for TL to avoid being alone and divorced. 

Perhaps TL fears I loved my second affair partner (AP2), only stayed with TL because we again moved to a different city, and that I spend time inside my head reminiscing about sex with AP2.

Perhaps TL fears I loved my third affair partner (AP3), only returned to TL because AP3 moved to a different city, and that I would have gone on to pursue AP3 permanently had TL kicked me out of the house when she discovered that affair.

None of those fears are true. I never loved anyone but TL.

But, if the roles were reversed, I’m sure I would have those same fears, despite the unfaithful spouse’s attempts to reassure me. I get it. It reminds me a little of my fears that TL had better sex with more desirable men before she started seeing me and that she just settled for me for practical reasons. I don’t mean to suggest that my fears were equivalent to hers nor that mine were healthy. They were not. I just mean to say that I’m trying to empathize with TL regarding her fears.

What can I do to help TL? Really, I could use some advice.

I want her to know that those APs were meaningless and remain meaningless to me. I want her to know that I never loved anyone but her, despite the fact that I told APs I loved them.

I want everyone to know that if TL and I were on a sinking ship with those three APs and a two-person life raft, I’d put TL in the life raft with me immediately and leave the others to perish.

After 18 years of being disloyal, and only five years of trying to be a good husband and friend, how can I prove to TL that she is and always will be my first, best, and only love?


We know self-pity was one of my root problems, giving me excuses for my selfish and hurtful behavior. I read quite a bit on overcoming self-pity, and found some common themes: identify and accept sources of your pain; accomplish something, even something small; list good things and be grateful; give selflessly; refuse to waste time and energy on misery; and focus on duties, goals, plans. The basic source of my pain was my jealousy. I remember being jealous of a cousin who was better at video games than I was when we were nine-years old. I was jealous of other children, then jealous of girlfriends and peers, and finally jealous of my wife. Similar to self-pity, the common prescriptions for jealousy include gratitude, mindfulness, and becoming less self-centered. 

Self-pity is the opposite of self-esteem. Internal low self esteem can cause attention seeking through self pity, I read. In self-pity you have an inner childish desire to be dependent. In my case, could this have come from being taught by my parents that independence is not good, kind, and expected? Could it come from not being encouraged to be independent? Self pity is alluring because it rejects responsibility and blames others. Self pity is abandoning responsibility instead of taking loving action to help yourself; it is trying to manipulate others into giving you the compassion you ought to give yourself.

Another prescription says ask myself, “What makes me unhappy?” Then, it says, change it. If not possible, change my attitude toward it. That basically comes from Buddhism; life is suffering, and if you’re suffering from wanting something then stop wanting it. So, if I want to change reality, I can either suffer from wanting that impossibility, or simply stop wanting it.

How to stop being jealous of her premarital experiences?

This is a difficult topic to discuss. Women, as well as modern men with even half a brain, may say it is ridiculous or misogynist for me to have been jealous of my wife for having one-night stands before marriage.. They’re right. It is ridiculous and misogynist, especially considering that she is relatively liberal and progressive and that I would also like to be liberal and progressive. The following fact may make your jaws drop further. Prior to our marriage, I had more sexual experience than she had, with a roughly similar number of previous partners. So, how could I be jealous? I had no right to be jealous. Of course, I had no right to be jealous.

Nonetheless, I was jealous. I was jealous that she had several successful one-night stands with people she had met only a few hours before intercourse while I, on the other hand, had never had even one one-night stand with a complete stranger. Yes, it’s still ridiculous and misogynist for me to have such jealousy. But, I was jealous. And, it drove me insane – or, more insane.

This is the basic jealousy that I used to motivate and justify my attitude within our marriage that my wife owed me sex, my insatiable demand for sex and ego-stroking, and my adultery. With my goal of preventing future adultery and selfishness on my part, I should be certain to prevent a recurrence of this ridiculous and misogynist jealousy. How?

First, I can reason that whether I become more sexually desirable than her previous partners or not, it will not affect our relationship, her view of me, or my view of myself, and it will be impossible to verify it. Can I get a bigger penis than her previous partners? No. Can I get a better body than her previous partners? I can improve my body, gradually and within my genetically predetermined limits. Otherwise, no, I can’t. Can I give her more physical pleasure than her previous partners? I can pay more attention to the things she prefers. I should do that anyway. Will it work? Who knows? There is no way for me to know. I’m not her. And, what does all this matter? If I become more sexually desirable to her, will she want me more or love me more? Who knows? Will she compliment me more than she already does?  If she did, would I believe it? No. If I become better or more desirable, would I like myself more? How would I know? Probably not. If I fail to become more desirable than her previous partners, will she leave me? No.

She’s probably had bigger penises, more muscular dudes, and guys that made her orgasm more. I can’t change that. Wanting to change that just hurts me. It does not help me, in any way. She was able to score one-night stands. I was, and am, too impatient and self-conscious to try. I can’t change that in the past, and it’s not really worth it to me to try changing it in the future, even in some hypothetical future in which I become single again. One reason I never had one-night stands is that they were not worth the effort for me. Women can have them with relatively low investment in time and bruised egos. For a skinny, short, average guy like me, the investment in time and bruised egos is just too high. I need to stop blaming her, me, and God for that fact. It’s just a fact. I must stop, definitively, wanting to change that fact that cannot be changed. Wanting to change it caused me suffering. To prevent future suffering, I must not allow myself to want to change that fact.

Second, I can stop blaming her for things that are not her fault. It’s not her fault she had opportunities and took them while I was too impatient and insecure to invest the time and take the chances. It’s not her fault God made me the way I am and made her the way she is.

Third, I can try to keep it in my thick skull that marriage is primarily about friendship, and not primarily about sex, possessing my spouse, nor about meeting my needs for ego-stroking. One example of behaving as a friend is to be happy for her that she had some good experiences rather than being jealous of her.

So, again, it’s clearly self-defeating and even cruel of me to be jealous of her. What do you think of my strategy for excising the jealousy? Am I missing anything? Will it work? Or, is managing my negative conditioning the only realistic approach to it?

How to extinguish negative conditioning?

My most basic problem is that whenever I think of sex, intoxication, tobacco, or marijuana, I have an immediate, instinctive, almost subconscious negative feeling. Since before I could walk or talk, my parents and community taught me, perhaps without even much conscious effort, that those things were repulsive and should be avoided. Now, like Pavlov’s dog trying to learn a new trick, years after the formative experiment, I struggle to eliminate those subconscious impulses, those subconscious negative views of otherwise normal, modern human activities.   

As I grew through childhood and adolescence, I learned from television, literature, music, films, peers, and other sources that most modern adults, at least most in the cultural milieu where I wanted to live, view sex, intoxication, tobacco, and marijuana more objectively. They apparently see those things more matter-of-factly, without judgment, the same way I had viewed common activities such as eating caloric foods, luxuriating in a steam bath, or appreciating a work of art. By the way, I can understand now how some people can learn to be judgmental about other activities that I consider mundane, things such as coffee or certain types of art. Back to my point, I grew up to have an internal conflict, with one part of my mind having learned to be judgmental about sex, intoxication, tobacco, and marijuana, and another part of my mind simultaneously drawn to those forbidden fruits.

Problem one was that I went on to abuse each of those four things in a self-destructive manner. While an inner voice told me sex was bad, another component of my own mind rebelled against those thoughts and indulged in adultery, porn, and masturbation. Similarly, I sought out intoxication and fell to unspoken peer pressure to use marijuana during my twenties. Similarly, I used tobacco at several points in my life. I’m confidently and comfortably beyond all those problems now. Marijuana is, as it once had been, simply uninteresting to me. I might have a cigar again one day, maybe; but the thought of it is not very appealing now. I drink alcohol in moderation. And, I am faithful and moderate regarding sex now.

Problem two was that, despite my hypocritical behavior, I struggled to stop myself from judging other people unfairly when they engaged in those things. I used to be terribly critical of other people for engaging in smoking, getting drunk, or having premarital sex, despite my own awful history with those things. Even now, when I encounter talk of or hints of smoking, intoxication, or premarital sex, I am forced to have a quick internal dialogue in my head. “They’re doing something immoral and shameful,” says a voice in my head. “No, dammit, stop thinking that,” says another voice, recalling the words of our first marriage counselor who said those thoughts were “sick obsessions.” “That’s unhealthy, self-destructive thinking,” I now tell myself. It works well enough. However, it’s still necessary, even after all the evidence that my moral judgments are harmful. And, the temptation to judge not only pings in my head when I am faced with real examples of smoking, intoxication, and premarital sex. It also pings when I encounter references in film, music, literature, and pop culture.

My personal mental and marital health objective is to eliminate my conditioned negative views of those four things. I don’t really know how. Is it possible to extinguish those impulses to judge other people? Or, is managing them the most realistic goal? I don’t feel they will drive me to again commit adultery or deceit. But, the impulses to view those four things critically are irritating.

The “Lynn” Incident

I’ve tried to trace the roots, or at least the history, of my retroactive jealousy. Clearly, I experienced it in my relationship with TL. I clearly recall experiencing it with my long-time girlfriend prior to TL. What about before that? Perhaps the first, albeit brief, time was an incident during my senior or junior year of high school. I’ll try to recount the story here. Tell me what you think. 

Here’s the story, from my writer’s sketchbook of ideas. This is a true story. The names are changed.

Mindless focused on his work, carefully counting items on the grocery store shelves, rearranging cans that were out of place, and noting items that were running low in stock.

“Mindless,” a woman’s voice called sweetly from behind him. By the time he raised his eyes, she was standing before him.

“Mindless,” she said, looking at him temptingly. She actually looked more attractive than when he had last seen her. Something was different. She was older. Yes. But, there was something more.

“Lynn,” he said, not even trying to conceal his surprise. He stood to greet her. Suddenly, she was right up next to him, gently touching his upper arm and looking flirtatiously into his eyes. Her perfume smelled of musk and spice.

“How have you been?” she asked.

“Okay,” he said, wondering why she asked. “You?”

“I’m wonderful,” Lynn cooed.

“Why her? Why now?” Mindless asked himself. “I left her long ago because she was not ready. She was not willing to give herself to me.”

“We should get together,” she said, as though that year, when they were both sophomores, was only yesterday.

“Maybe.” Mindless was suddenly suspicious. He didn’t know why.

“I have a secret to tell you.”

He took the bait. “What secret?”

“I’m different now,” she said. “Remember that thing I wouldn’t do?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, I did it,” she said, as though he should be happy.

“What in the hell is she talking about?” he asked himself. “Is she saying she gave herself to someone else?” He stood there, a bit dumbfounded.

“Do you want to know who it was?” she whispered, seemingly excited to share the news.

“Okay,” Mindless lied.

“It’s one of your friends,” she said.





Mindless paused, “I really have no idea.”

“Think about it,” she teased him. “He’s the brother of one of my good friends.”

Mindless thought, “That actually shows how little I know this girl. Who are her friends? I really don’t know.”

“I don’t know,” he said out loud.

“Jay Johnston,” she announced, as if he should have guessed by now.

“Huh?”Mindless asked himself. “How should I have guessed that? Who the hell is Jay Johnston? Sure, we went to school together. We know the same people. Beyond that, he is nothing to me. And, why would she tell me that? Why should I want to know that?”

“Oh,” he said aloud. “I see.”

“So,” Lynn said, seductively, “why don’t you meet me tonight when you finish here?”

“Maybe.” He knew as he said it that he would not meet her. She could go to hell.

“What a stupid girl?,” he thought. “Why would she think I would want her after another man had her? Why did she give herself to him before giving herself to me? I don’t need her. She’s not worth it.”

So, that’s the “Lynn” incident. I’ve never really understood it. Why did she think I would want sex with her after she had denied it to me, given it to someone else, and then forced me to confront the fact? Why didn’t I just cast off my pride and enjoy the chance for sex? In any case, that may be the first time in my life that I experienced that retroactive jealousy. Is it normal? Did I never recover from it? Am I missing something else here?

Chasing Amy Syndrome

Okay, now let’s get back to what really seems to be my problem. I’ve seen a few people write about Chasing Amy Syndrome, referring to a guy who is unhealthily insecure about his perception/his perception that his mate is more sexually experienced than he. The term is a reference to a Ben Affleck movie.
“Kevin Smith once explained why he made it—it’s well known that the story was based on his real-life relationship with Joey Lauren Adams and the way he unfairly projected his insecurities onto her.”

“He wrote in this 2000 piece: “The day I saw disbelief, outrage, and hurt reflected in the eyes of the woman I loved as she realized I was insisting that she apologize for her life up until the moment we met… well, that was the day it struck me that I wasn’t quite as liberal as I fancied myself and instead came to grips with the fact that I was rather conservative. And rather than enter therapy, I decided to exorcise my demons on screen. Chasing Amy was conceived as a sort of penance/valentine for the woman who made me grow up, more or less—a thank-you homage that marked a major milestone in my life, both personally and professionally.”

There’s not much written about how to exorcise this syndrome. Suggestions seem to include: therapy, “get over yourself,” and cognitive behavior therapy techniques to reduce the symptoms. I’ve been working on all three, with some success. I do need to specifically discuss this with my therapist, and get her off of the time-wasting tangents we otherwise discuss. As for “get over yourself,” gratitude is a helpful tool for me. Compassion and friendship are also helpful. And, the cognitive behavior therapy techniques do help: interrupting unhealthy thoughts and redirecting my thoughts.

I would be interested to find others who have struggled with this syndrome, and to learn more about it.

Done with Recovery Nation

I finished it. I’m not sure what I think about that. I guess the main point was that I should keep a close eye on my values and be sure my behavior lines up with them. 
The good thing about being done with Recovery Nation is that I can now use my daily “mental health study time” (I need a better name for it) to read some more specific things about self-esteem, retroactive jealousy, and problems with my birth family.

STDs and Testing

I figured the Recovery Nation chapter on STDs would be redundant. TL and I are already painfully aware that I gave her herpes after contracting it from a prostitute. But, the following passage is a haunting reminder of what I have done. 

“One of the most devastating consequences of having engaged in sexually compulsive behavior is the potential that you may have compromised your physical health and/or the health of your partner. What complicates this is the reality that most who engage in such behavior also tend to engage in ‘magical thinking’ in terms of contracting such diseases. That being, ‘they likely won’t; don’t have an STD and so, there is no need to admit the possibility that they may’. ”

This “magical thinking” is real. That’s exactly what I did. That concept itself probably suggests further research I can do. How did I let myself engage in magical thinking? I don’t really understand it. I must have subconsciously calculated that my insecurity and obsessions were more important to me than health. It’s very sad.

Five positive statements

Recovery Nation offers a couple prescriptions for handling self-talk. 
“1) Every negative self-thought must be challenged. Every time.”

“2) Create a list of five important affirmations (positive statements) about you, your life and/or your long-term goals. And every morning for the next forty-four days, read this list to yourself before you leave the house.”

Five statements? Hmm. First, I have two sons whom I want to raise to be successful, or at least happy. Second, I have a beautiful wife who is a great friend and supporter. Third, I’m pretty good at writing and speaking. Fourth, my dog loves me. Fifth, I enjoy skiing and diving.

Wow. That was surprisingly difficult. I know it should not have been. But, it was. Could I have done that 14 years ago, before my oldest son was born? How about before I was married? As an adolescent? Perhaps not. And, had I tried to do it back then, would I have become depressed, or would I have considered doing a better job of setting goals and striving for them? 

This, self-esteem, I believe, is where I really ought to focus my attention, for the sake of understanding the root cause of my infidelity and preventing recidivism.

Exploring sexual intimacy 

Recovery Nation’s supplemental chapter on sexual intimacy was a bit confusing. It began with the following. 

“Intimacy is a limited value. By this, we are referring to the limited, finite scale of which the positive stimulation produced by the value exists. There are other limited values: honesty, for one; order, another. In each, there exists a maximum amount of positive energy that can be generated, and once that maximum has been achieved, there is only way for the stimulation to go…negatively. When a limited value is at its threshold (that threshold being, you are completely satisfied with the role this value is playing in your life), you have achieved the maximum emotional benefit that this value provides, and the focus then turns to maintaining it. Unlike compulsive behaviors, there is no habituation that takes place with values. Self-esteem, honesty, intimacy…such values do not require more and more to achieve the same emotional results. They simply need to be maintained. Which is a major reason why, once the compulsive behaviors have ended, and the underlying roles those behaviors were fulfilling have been replaced, the potential for relapse not only diminishes, but disappears altogether.”

I’m struggling to see the practical application of that passage. I think Jon Marsh, with his unfortunately piss-poor grasp of the English language and the skill of writing, is trying to say.that one can rid oneself of compulsive behaviors by replacing those behaviors with healthy values. That fits with the following passage later in the chapter.

“That means, the next time you are about to pick up another addiction recovery book to read, or the next time you are about to make yet another post on your online recovery support board, read a book on one of your values. Learn how to be honest. Develop the skills that it takes to have self-respect. Or, go to a discussion board that focuses on something that you are interested in, outside of recovery. Begin expanding as a person. Begin allowing yourself to make real changes in your life. Begin the transition from recovery to health…by focusing on the health.”

I’ll summarize the next part of this lesson by saying that Marsh believes there are eight elements of sexual intimacy. He says: “As we examine each of the elements, keep in mind your role in past relationships (or the role of your partner). What parts of the wheel were missing? What parts have you yet to develop properly?”

Elements Involved in Sexual Intimacy

“Reality: the knowledge that your perceptions of the relationship are similar to your partner’s perceptions of the relationship.” Obviously, by leading a double-life, lying, and cheating, I robbed TL of this important element of sexual intimacy. I believe I am safe now in knowing my perception of the relationship is the same as hers, from my point of view. I think I may have had some distorted, irrational views on reality in the past, at the beginning of our relationship. I think I may have irrationally feared that she was less interested in our relationship than I was.

“Choice: the feeling that you openly choose to be with the person that you are experiencing intimacy with; the feeling of “not being stuck” in the relationship.” Now, TL perhaps feels stuck in our relationship. Though I betrayed her, she may feel that our children and our weak financial situation leave her stuck with me. I have never felt stuck with TL. But, I do recall that feeling in a previous long-term relationship. Accurately or not, one part of me kept thinking, “I should be able to find a more attractive girlfriend.” Another part of me would respond, “No, I can’t. This is the best I can do.”

“Trust: the knowledge that your partner is honest with you; that you are honest with your partner; that your partner knows that you are being honest; and that you know that your partner is being honest.” Here’s another aspect of sexual intimacy I obviously destroyed for TL. On the other hand, TL has never given me anything but honesty.

“Pride: the willingness and desire to tell others about your relationship.” I have always felt proud of my relationship with TL. Again, I undermined this good aspect of our relationship by hiding my relationship with TL from potential affair partners. Thus, TL does not believe that I am proud of our relationship. She, on the other hand, has always been proud of our relationship, and shown it. I, however, wallowing in self-doubt, refused to believe that she was proud of our relationship.

“Respect: the feeling of wonder and amazement towards your partner as a human being; equality.” I began our relationship feeling this kind of respect for TL. Then I soon buried it under jealousy, insecurity, and unhealthy expectations.

“Vulnerability: the willingness to risk emotional damage in the attempt to grow as a person/couple; the knowledge that your partner will use the information/experiences you share in positive, fulfilling ways.” This is an interesting topic. I’m not sure I completely understand it. In the early years of our relationship, I was irrationally possessive of TL. I whined and pouted to prevent her from going out without me. I was manipulative and unfair. Was I afraid that would make me vulnerable? Is that what it means to be vulnerable, in this context? Or, does vulnerable mean being willing to share private, intimate thoughts, feelings, and ideas? If that’s what it means, then I have been vulnerable with TL. I think she has been vulnerable with me. If not, how would I know?

“Self-love: the knowledge that the more you love yourself in healthy, productive ways, the more positive emotions that you will have to share with your partner; the more accepting of yourself that you are, the more accepting of your partner you will be.” This is a rather new concept. It makes sense. If I’m not so insecure, I should be freer to accept her, unburdened by jealousy, fear, or doubt. This is a work in progress for me. If I had to guess which one aspect of intimacy was the most difficult for me, this would be the one. In fact, this one concept may be the root of many of my problems. For so many decades, I just wasn’t at ease with myself. I wasn’t confident, relaxed, focused, or natural. Instead, I was always imagining what others might be thinking about me. I’m much happier with myself now, but it came severs decades too late.

“Sensory Stimulation: the understanding that all sensory stimulation between you and your partner is geared towards communicating to that person’s soul; the use of intentional sensory manipulation to bring emotional pleasure to one or both.” I’m not very good at this. I’ve tried to improve. I do have some difficulty understanding it. I need to remember to focus on this.

Exploring the Concept of Love

I read Recovery Nation’s supplemental chapter on the concept of love. The following passage is helpful enough that I want to save it and use it again. 
“Love is not attraction. One does not fall in love with a person based on their physical appearance. In other words, love at first sight does not exist in a healthy reality.”

“Love is not stability. Though stability can and should play a big part in a long-term, committed relationship…remaining in that relationship for the sole sake of stability does not equate to love. There must be some interest in seeing the relationship and/or the individuals grow.”

“Love is not a distraction, nor a shortcut. To often, rather than looking at one’s own chaotic life, a person seeks out “love” from others in an effort to distract them from having to deal with that life. Or to artificially produce the esteem that would otherwise require years to develop.”

“Love is not selfish. For love to occur, it must be by choice. It must be through the desire to care for, nurture, share and experience certain parts of your life with that person…and for those feelings to be reciprocated. This isn’t to suggest that love cannot include selfish acts…it can and should. Individual boundaries that include clear expectations of the other’s behavior within the relationship are examples of this. Without these boundaries and “selfish expectations”, it would be too easy to be taken advantage of by a selfish partner.”

“Love is not a guess. In love, it is the responsibility of each partner to share his or her true self with the other. Let’s repeat that. In love, it is the responsibility of EACH PARTNER to share his or her true self with the other. Without this, the experience of love can achieve nothing more than an illusion. Without honesty and the sharing of one’s inner self…any emotions experienced are based on projections and images. Additionally, love is never having to guess how your partner really feels. To trust that they are sharing their true selves with you.”

“Love is not desperate. When feelings of love are not reciprocated, or when the target of your love does not treat you in a way that reflects the way that you want to be treated…then the relationship is not based in love. Most likely, when someone continues to pursue such a relationship, there are unresolved issues from one’s past, or emotional deficiencies (e.g. low self-esteem)…but the feelings that are being experienced are not love. Love does not have to be won. It does not have to be proven.”

“Love is not a savior. Love should never be sought in an attempt to “rescue” your otherwise unsatisfying and/or chaotic life. Additionally, love should never be used as a bargaining tool after “rescuing” another person. Love is best experienced when you have first learned to love yourself. That is more than a cliché…it is absolutely true in terms of the fulfillment that love can bring.”

“Love is not dangerous. In love, there should never be a worry that your vulnerabilities will ever be used against you. Or that something you share in complete sincerity is later taken out of context or used to judge you. Communication is open and instant. Even if that means to communicate that you are not in an emotional state to effectively communicate at a particular moment.”

The exercise says: “Post your own understanding of what love is. The role that love plays in your life (or the role that you would like love to play in your life).”

Maybe this will be easier if I break it down to the specific subtopics Jon Marsh suggested. What can I say, for example, about self-love? I’m sure I have spent too much of my life being unhappy with my physical body, my abilities, and my accomplishments. Conversely, I spent too little time realizing that I have some control over each of those things. Do I love myself? Did I love myself? I don’t know. Perhaps I worried so much about how others viewed me that I neglected to consider how I view myself. Actually, I’d welcome some feedback on this topic. How does one know whether one loves oneself? How does that look? How does that feel?

How about romantic love? I want the best for TL, I want to be with her, and I don’t expect anything in return. I wasn’t always that way. I used to expect her to be perfect, to meet my every need or whim, and to make me feel better about myself or about life. In that regard, I didn’t learn what romantic love is until after I had already caused terrible damage to TL, until after D-day.

What about familial love? I know I have unconditional love for my children. I just know it. I would love them no matter what they did or didn’t do. I also know that I have struggled to stop myself from putting too many expectations on them with regard to sports, homework, extracurricular activities, and anything that does not involve them sitting on their butts playing video games or watching television. Is expecting too much of them an unloving act on my part?

Speaking of familial love, what about my parents and brother? I do think I love them. Yet, I don’t really like talking to them or being with them and I do carry around varying degrees of anger toward them. Is that contradiction really possible?

That’s the extent of love in my life, except for the unconditional love I have for my pet dog. But, even she makes me very angry at times, when she bites too much or destroys something in the house.

Is that enough love in my life? I think it is. Why not? I think the main thing I need to remember is to keep my love for TL unconditional.

Addiction Recovery and Your Family of Origin

I read the Recovery Nation supplemental lesson on family of origin. Again, I want to quote a few passages that seemed relevant to me.
“Further development involving this person’s “family values” might include taking the time to understand the toxic effects of the environment in which they were raised, or learning to integrate associated values (like forgiveness and compassion). The point is, no matter what your past holds, from abuse to blissfulness, if you are struggling with compulsive sexual and/or romantic behavior–further developing the values associated with your family of origin will help to balance/stimulate your emotional life.”

“For children, one of the most important roles a family can play is to provide them with a safe, nurturing environment where they have the opportunity to test and develop their social boundaries–boundaries that will later be used to develop healthy relationships outside of their family structure. Too often, when these boundaries are not properly developed, further social development is retarded, thus creating an additional stressor throughout the person’s life. A common example of this would be the domineering parent who extorted nearly constant behavioral control over the child throughout their childhood and early teen years, thus stripping them of the critical ability to develop confidence in managing their own emotional awareness and decision-making.”

“Additional sources of familial stress might stem from the parenting style in which you were raised: with authoritative, critical and/or perfectionistic parenting styles triggering lifelong issues with anxiety, lack of confidence and overall emotional imbalance/low self-esteem. Or, you may have derived stress from a constant parental pressure to succeed in all areas of your life. For some, after many years of struggling with such “family issues”, you may have even made the conscious decision to resign yourself to the fact that you will never have the opportunity to experience the power and positive emotions that can be produced by an association with a healthy family. Which, of course, is a deception…but one that provides a temporary relief over the alternative.”

“Can one be happy without ever experiencing it? Yes, but it will take an extraordinary emotional adjustment, with the family being replaced by some other significant nurturing target–like God, or animals.”

“Otherwise, it is not hard to see how the development of relationship addictions and romantic obsessions might be used to balance the enormous emotional burden of not experiencing the unconditional love sought through one’s family. Even those adults who go on to connect with their own spouse/children in a deeply emotional way, continue to require a personal connection to their family or origin (whether that family is biological or not is irrelevant). Those who have broken their ties with their family of origin (either through choice or through circumstance) will continue to suffer emotional consequences as a result of this disruption. Granted, the amount of relief gained from the disruption may outweigh the stress that continuing the relationship would have otherwise caused, but stress will be experienced when a person has no healthy connection to their “family of origin”–and their parents, in particular.”

The exercise with this lesson says: “Spend fifteen minutes thinking about the role your family has played in your life. As you think, consider the following:”

“1) What does unconditional love mean to you, and have you ever experienced it? From whom? Towards whom?”

“2) How did the parental style in which you were raised affect you both positively/negatively?”

I think I had unconditional love from my father, and he was present in my life. But, I think the amount of time I spent with my mother dwarfed the amount of time I spent with my father, or with any other human being. She was omnipresent, in my mind. And, in my admittedly biased memories, hardly any other person was ever present. My only sibling was born when I was five-years old. In my memory, other relatives, friends, neighbors, or others were rarely present, very rarely. I thought that my mother went out of her way to discourage friends and acquaintances, even shunning her own friendships and her own relatives. I’m sure I exaggerate that situation in my own memories, but it does capture my feelings.

I never thought much about whether my mother loved me, unconditionally or otherwise. She often said she loved me, so I figured she did. She probably did, and does. But, I recall constantly resenting her. Though it may be another exaggeration in my own mind, I thought she inappropriately controlled every aspect of my life: where I went, what I did, what I ate, what I wore, my entire grooming and appearance, with whom I associated, what I watched on television, what music I heard, and more. I also always thought that all my peers had enormous amounts of freedom that I did not have. I’m sure I focused too much on my negative view of the situation. I especially say that now that I have one son who is constantly complaining that everyone in the world except him gets to watch raunchy movies and have no bedtime.

Did I have unconditional love from my parents? Maybe I did. But, I didn’t think I did. Did I give unconditional love? No, probably never. I think I only gave unconditional love to pets. I thought I was giving unconditional love to my own children, but later realized I was somehow communicating some sort of unrealistic expectations about athletic interests to them. As for giving unconditional love to TL, that’s something I’ve been trying to learn since D-day.

I have long blamed my mother’s parenting style for preventing me from learning how to make my own healthy decisions. I do learn rather slowly from my own mistakes. Perhaps my mother assumed that meant I would never learn. I’ve also written about how I believe my mother’s own inner struggle between freedom and her Victorian upbringing was passed down to me. In short, she told me progressive modernism was smart and good, but she behaved as though anything other than a strictly conservative lifestyle was evil. She also taught me that sex was an unspeakably evil act, women were only for marrying, and she did not want me to marry or grow up. Among other things, that upbringing put little or no value on maturity and taking on adult responsibilities. In fact, I believed those things were discouraged, and that they would hurt my mother’s feelings too much.

Your Search for Meaning

I read the supplemental lesson called “Your Search for Meaning” in Recovery Nation. It does not include exercises or questions. It is just a lecture. But, it is encouraging. Just as I have put real emphasis on spirituality in my life since D-day, Marsh describes his own individual approach to it and how it helps with changing compulsive or hurtful behavior patterns. I hate to just quote large portions of what he wrote. But, aside from his habitual disregard for English grammar and syntax, Marsh did a pretty good job of capturing some thoughts I found helpful. Here they are: 

“Developing your own understanding of “why you are here” can be a tremendous source of strength, guidance, energy and stability in your life. From a strictly “recovery” standpoint, it is not important what you believe, only that you do believe.”

“Having a clear understanding of the reason for your existence allows you to not take yourself so seriously. It allows you to keep your perceptions in perspective.”


“Being agnostic for many years, I searched for answers my entire life. I studied anthropology, world religions…talked endlessly to stout Christians, Muslims…I wanted desperately to “feel” God in my life. When I was truly honest with myself, I knew that that feeling had never come. In reading the Bible, I just couldn’t get past the thoughts that it was man’s word I was reading, not God’s. And knowing how manipulative, controlling, selfish and domineering man has been throughout the ages…I was not too receptive to the Bible’s messages. Was I sincere about wanting to feel Him? If you have completed the Recovery Workshop, you should have no more doubts as to how deep my sincerity runs. I prayed…and prayed…and prayed…alone, when it was just me and God. I would spend hours sitting alone in my house…my car…in the middle of a forest…anywhere where I could to finally feel His presence. It never came. Then, after many years of searching, logic finally got the better of me. I had always considered myself a logical person, and realized that, logically, I had only two choices: I could go on believing that there is no God, and that my life is essentially meaningless (existentially); or I could have faith that God does exist and in return, be rewarded with a purpose and “meaning” that will last for the rest of my life. If I was wrong? Then it wouldn’t matter anyway.”

“Logically, there was no down side to developing my spirituality. Of course, it had to be one that I believed in, and one that made sense to me…I couldn’t openly lie to myself…that would destroy the value of spirituality altogether. And after many, many years of intense searching… I developed my own understanding of God and Heaven and the role it plays in my life. I won’t go in to what those beliefs are; though if you, as an individual struggling with similar issues would like to know…I would be more than happy to share them with you individually. There will be no conversion attempts, only God as I see Him. Or, more accurately, as He has guided me towards seeing Him.”

“Being that there are thousands of books having been written on the soul, I will share only the most basic thoughts as they apply to recovery and health. The soul is a metaphysical concept that many believe to be the true self. Beyond your senses, beyond your muscles and bones and skin, beyond your emotions lies your energy source–your soul. Others will argue that a soul could not exist without emotions, and without senses. What is the truth? Nobody knows. Logically, it makes sense that if our life is perceived through our senses, and our senses elicit the emotional responses that make up our “soul”, then our soul’s could not exist without our senses. This is one of the more frustrating points for me to understand about most people’s perception of Heaven…because it contradicts their perception of the soul as an energy force, separate from the body. “It is your soul that goes to Heaven.” Why then, is it assumed that our soul will continue to experience thought, emotion and other such traits once it has left the very body that produced them? Not really looking for an answer, just emphasizing the point that nobody really knows what the “soul” is.”

“For me, it is when I close my eyes. All of the feelings, emotions, sensations, thoughts…that is what makes up my soul. When I communicate with people, that is what I am trying to communicate with. Not whether they are young or old…fat or thin…tall of short…black or white…I close my eyes and try to get in touch with their soul. Or at least what I believe to be their soul. If I’m wrong, and that isn’t actually their soul, so what. It works for me, it works for my value system, and it promotes healthy relationships with others. That is all that matters. The truth is relative.”

“When considering your soul, like spirituality, it doesn’t matter what you believe, only that you develop a thorough understanding of this belief and that you use it to promote your life. In recovery, once you have a clearly defined “soul”, the process of separating your emotions from your behavior becomes that much easier.”

What is Love Addiction

I don’t really think I have or had what Jon Marsh calls love addiction. But, I read the relevant supplemental lesson in Recovery Nation to be sure. Marsh listed his own symptoms. Here they are, with my thoughts on whether I experienced them. 

• “The relationships all involved instant intimacy.” In my marriage and in other relationships did I proceed to intimacy instantly? If that means physical intimacy, then no, I did not. If it means emotional intimacy, maybe. Maybe it is my habit to either awkwardly avoid women or, alternately, to approach them with slightly more emotional intimacy than would be considered normal. I’m not sure. In any case, I now make a conscious effort to avoid emotional intimacy with any woman except TL.

• “Most required an intense, deeply-rooted need to have them like me. To tell me they love me. Until that happened, most actions within the relationship were geared towards achieving that goal.” This does seem familiar.

• “There was a sense of desperation involved with establishing/maintaining the relationship.” Maybe.

• “As the relationships began to lose their intensity…so too went the feelings of ‘love’.” Maybe.

• “There was a willingness to sacrifice any and everything for the relationship to succeed.” Though I didn’t recognize it at the time, in retrospect, my approach to some relationships did seem that way.

• “When the relationship would end while that intensity was still intact, I would experience a completely inappropriate sense of rejection, failure and desperation.” I don’t believe this ever happened to me.

• “There was a completely unrealistic perception of the person’s qualities at the beginning of the relationship; completely unrealistic expectations of their abilities towards the end.” This does seem familiar.

• “There was an intense, constant hypersensitivity/pressure within the relationship; and a constant need for reassurance.” Maybe. Perhaps that fits with some examples of me being overly or awkwardly jealous or possessive.

• “Many relationships were brief, intensely emotional sexual relationships, to experience the aura of that initial love and awe.” No, that doesn’t seem to fit.

• “In many relationships, there was an obsessive nature behind my acts – constantly checking up on my partners to assure that they weren’t cheating on me.” This may fit with my awkward, outsized jealousy, including retroactive jealousy.

• “In many relationships, there was a considerable, hair-triggered sense of jealousy – which was triggered from the fear of them meeting someone ‘better’ than me and/or leaving me.” Yes, I guess that’s true.

• “In many relationships, there was the need to be the end-all to their existence. Healthy boundaries…mutual growth…partnership? No idea what you are talking about.” Yes, I think I did this.

• “In several relationships, experiencing incredibly intense, emotional devastation that lasted for years after the relationship ended. The inability to let go. That I couldn’t live my life without that person.” No, this never happened.

Marsh says: “ . . .[B]ecause the root of most love addiction can be found in early relationships (childhood trauma involving . . .parental . . . domination/extreme performance pressure), the foundation of the healthy transition must involve a commitment to relearn/rebuild healthy relationships – which may or may not include the need to rebuild sexual values/boundaries. In sexual addiction, the foundation is to relearn/rebuild healthy sexual values/boundaries – and then to integrate those skills into healthy relationships.”

Marsh then lists his standard recommended steps for addressing sex addiction, which I’ve done, and says, “For love addiction, the path would be similar, but the following areas would need to be added:”

• “The need to initially isolate yourself from all obsessive relationships (in which the target is an active participant in the relationship).” I’ve done this, unless it’s possible to say that I behaved obsessively in my relationship with TL, my wife, too. In fact, I think that I was obsessive toward TL, and that overcoming that view of her has been an important part of improving myself as a person and improving our relationship since D-day. I used to treat her as a possession, putting unrealistic expectations on her. Now, I’m learning to treat her as a true friend and individual, something I never really understood nor valued in my earlier years.

• “The ability to redefine yourself as an individual.” Yes, this is a challenging, ongoing, and crucial task for me. It’s something I should have done as a child or adolescent, but perhaps didn’t do fully or properly.

• “The need to redefine the health/boundaries of all existing relationships early on in the recovery process.” Yes, this is done.

• “Learning the role that others play (both consciously and subconsciously) in actively prolonging your unhealthy behavioral patterns/addiction.” I think this is done.

• “Learning the role that society plays in encouraging/promoting love addiction (society actively recruits sexual addicts for profit; it promotes love addiction as an actual value to be admired/emulated – this is an important distinction).” Yes, this is done, and it us a helpful reminder.

• “Learning the process of redeveloping healthy relationships from ones that were once obsessive.” Right, I think that is what I am doing regarding my relationship with TL.

• “Dealing with loss as a choice, versus a consequence.” I don’t think this particular line item is relevant for me.

Marsh says, “Love is a universal need/experience in all healthy individuals. It is not like alcohol or porn – where the behaviors can be seen in terms of absolute abstinence. So, while past factors that led to the development of a love addiction cannot be permanently removed, the ability to develop permanently mature, healthy life management skills – and thus eliminate the need for that addiction – is most certainly attainable.” This suggests to me that “love addiction” might not even be the right term. Maybe a more accurate term would be “relationship addiction.”