Category Archives: For Both

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.

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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.

A stumbling block or a systemic problem?

As you all know MC’s work involves travel and the majority of his cheating occurred when either he was away or the kids and I were away. Not all, but the majority! So, travel is a particularly big trigger for me. One in which I have come a long way, so that I no longer freak-out every time he is away. However, that doesn’t mean he gets to slack off in his diligence, especially in regard to actions in the moment and in regard to informing me of such actions.

Mindless was away for a week. He was seated next to a woman on his flight. She struck up a conversation. She apparently has the ability to issue our family an invite to something we have been wanting to do, but needing an invite in order to do (sorry this is so cryptic, but again with the trying to maintain anonymity).   So, she gave Mindless her business card. He was out of business cards to exchange, so when he returned to work he sent her his work contact information.

Do you know how I found out about this all? I have not looked at his work e-mail in a very long time, I think only two other times since our move here over a year ago. But, kids were at school and Mindless had a day off, so I decided I would look. And, I found the e-mail where he was sending his contact info to a woman he had never told me about. He explained the event and the reason for exchanging information.

He, then, attempted to tell me he was certain he had told me about it. He hadn’t. Then he tells me, he must have mentioned it to a co-worker because he remembers telling somebody about it. I, then, asked him why he would share that he was exchanging information with a woman he met on the airplane to his co-worker and not to me? Was he wanting to brag about meeting some woman? He quickly changed his tack, saying “no, maybe I didn’t tell my co-worker.”

He tells me he panicked and he couldn’t remember exactly what happened and who he told, he was struggling with remembering the truth. I explained (AGAIN), that’s the thing about truth, it is easy to remember when not trying to “make shit up.” We proceeded to have a discussion about “making shit up.” I need a husband who does NOT EVER make-up shit for any reason!!!! That is the coward’s way out. If he wants to truly be a “man,” in my view, it means not being a coward and NEVER “making shit up.” For G-d’s sakes, just be honest with me, just be honest. His “truth” now is that he intended to tell me, but forgot.

He remembered to e-mail her, so basically he “forgot” twice, once right after it happened and again when he sent the e-mail. Now, he is telling me, “sorry” and “I know it was wrong.” “There was no malicious intent.” “I wish I had told you as it happened, I really intended to do so.” “I should have cc’d you on the e-mail, I just didn’t think of it.”

All of you know how I struggle with wanting all the pre d-day details and MC assuring me he has told me everything he can remember. At the minimum, this just further points out to me how little effort he puts in to “remembering” details that he may think of as trivial, but I would find not so trivial. It, also, reaffirms to me that transparency is only as good as he decides to make it. And, at the worst, there was nefarious intent and he is gas-lighting me again.

And, again, I find myself asking is this “a stumbling block” in his “work” from which he can learn and improve, or a systemic problem that he is unable or unwilling to change?

His solution, to bcc me on every damn work e-mail that involves a woman. Sorry, the last thing I want is my in-box flooded with his work e-mails. Why is this so fucking hard? Clearly he can see the difference between the woman on the airplane e-mail and back-and-forth e-mails about clearly work-related issues?!

I find myself wondering, maybe he really does not want me to find peace, maybe he doesn’t really care if I feel safe. After all, this would have been such an easy “win” for him, to tell me about the woman on the plane and cc me on the e-mail. What an opportunity to build trust! Why are such opportunities so trivial to him, unless there is more to this story he is not sharing?

A Pence for your thoughts

Ok, all, I’ve been seeing much to-do about VP Pence, his wife and their agreement to not have a meal alone with a person of the opposite sex, nor to attend functions where alcohol is featured without the other also in attendance. I do not support Pence’s politics in any way, shape or form. I, also, see many of my liberal friends trash talking the Pence’s decision for their marriage. And, I find myself so very sad to see such lack of understanding for such a decision. But, also find myself asking how far is too far?

Here is where I am at on this topic. Every actual professional lunch or dinner Mindless has attended, included more than one other person. When a lunch or dinner invitation was given by a colleague, it was not because work was needing to be done, but more to build a social connection. And, after all we’ve been through, that is not a pertinent enough reason to go to lunch or dinner alone with a colleague of the opposite gender. Surely, there are one or two more colleagues that can be invited, or spouses could be included?

Thoughts anyone?

Unconditional Love

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I am a fan of ChumpLady and find value in so much of what she writes. She recently wrote on unconditional love. Though I respect her greatly and completely understand the source of her perspective, I personally feel that too many people on all sides of this issue are misconstruing the meaning and intent of “unconditional love.”

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

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

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

Prior to d-day, I thought if I did enough for my husband, a friend or a family member, I would earn their respect and love. This was fucked up thinking. Prior to d-day, MindlessCraft thought if I loved him, I would do x, y, and z. This was fucked up thinking. Now, when I choose to do loving acts for another it is simply because I want to do it, not because I am trying to win love, respect or approval. Admittedly, after d-day, my desire to do such things was very limited. And, I don’t want MindlessCraft doing loving acts because I expect him now to do them, they need to be because he wants to do them, otherwise they really are emotionally vacant acts. So, yes, love is about what we give (because we desire to give it), not what we take.

However, respect, dignity, decency and ethics are essential components of our humanity. We have a right, irrespective of anything to do with love, to expect to be treated with such humanity, from all people, including ourselves and our partner. If someone does not treat us with such humanity, then they are not a safe person. Even if you love someone, if they are not safe then they should not be in your life.

So, this is why we say, above all else, the cheating partner must work on being a safe person. While there are many components to this, we see these as a great place for the cheater to start:

  1. Providing safety for the betrayed, regardless of the decision to divorce or reconcile. If reconciliation is the path, then the cheater must do all possible to put the risk of reconciliation on their own shoulders and off of the shoulders of the betrayed. If divorce is the path, a cheater truly wanting to reform, should provide for the safety of their partner and children regardless.
  2. Learning to count their blessings, which is the first step toward eradicating self-pity.
  3. Rewiring of their decision making processes to be based on fundamental core values instead of emotional based thoughts and/or reactions (e.g., self-pity, desire for external validation, etc.). Or, another way to put it, “growing the fuck up!” Remember being a MAN is not the difference between man and woman, nor is it the difference between straight and gay. Instead, it IS the difference between being an adult and being a child.

What’s wrong with Esther Perel?

Here is a new Economist article on Esther Perel that makes her views on infidelity much more clear than previous things I’ve seen posted to infidelity blogs and forums.

As I’ve said before, many of her premisses on why infidelity occurs are in line with those of Rick Reynolds of AffairRecovery.com, it is what she recommends doing about it that goes in a completely opposite direction.

Like her views, hate her views or something in between, that is completely up to you. But, at least know what she really believes before making that decision.

RELATIONSHIPS
WHAT’S WRONG WITH INFIDELITY?
Americans are increasingly intolerant of adultery, but Esther Perel believes they should take a more European attitude. Emily Bobrow met the country’s most celebrated – and controversial – relationship guru

EMILY BOBROW | DECEMBER/JANUARY 2017

Seth and his girlfriend of many years were already engaged when he discovered she had cheated on him. It was only once, with a co-worker, but the betrayal stung. “I had jealousy, insecurity, anger, fear,” he recalls. “It was really hard to talk about it.” He wondered whether his fiancée’s infidelity meant there was something fundamentally wrong with their otherwise loving relationship. He worried it was a sign that their marriage would be doomed. He also still felt guilty about an indiscretion of his own years earlier, when he’d had a one-night stand with an acquaintance. “I knew that what I had done meant nothing,” said Seth, a New York-based entrepreneur in his early 30s. “It felt like a bit of an adventure, and I went for it.” But anxiety about these dalliances gnawed at his conscience. How could he and his fiancée promise to be monogamous for a lifetime if they were already struggling to stay loyal to each other? Did their momentary lapses of judgment spell bigger problems for their union?
For help answering these questions, Seth and his partner went to Esther Perel, a Belgian-born psychotherapist who is renowned for her work with couples. Her two TED talks – about the challenge of maintaining passion in long-term relationships and the temptations of infidelity – have been viewed over 15m times. Her bestselling 2006 book “Mating in Captivity”, translated into 26 languages, skilfully examined our conflicting needs for domestic security and erotic novelty. Recently she has taken her work further, into more controversial terrain. Her forthcoming book “The State of Affairs”, expected in late 2017, addresses the thorny matter of why people stray and how we should handle it when they do. When Perel is not seeing clients in New York, she is travelling the world speaking to packed conferences and ideas festivals about the elusiveness of desire in otherwise contented relationships. After Seth saw Perel speak at one such conference, he sought her out for guidance with his fiancée.

“Esther helped us understand that perfection is not possible in relationships,” he explains to me. With Perel’s help, Seth and his fiancée have come to embrace a relationship they are calling “monogamish” – that is, they will aspire to be faithful to each other, but also tolerate the occasional fling. “It just never occurred to us that this is something we could strive for,” he says. “But why should everything we built be destroyed by a minor infidelity?”

This view may sound sensible, but it remains heretical. Attitudes towards sex and sexual morality have changed dramatically in the past few decades, with ever fewer Westerners clucking over such things as premarital sex or love between two men or two women, but infidelity is still seen as a nuclear no-go zone in relationships. In fact, studies show that even as we have become more permissive about most things involving either sex or marriage – ever ready to accept couples who marry late, divorce early, forgo children or choose not to marry at all – we have grown only more censorious of philanderers. In a survey of public attitudes in 40 countries from the Pew Research Centre, an American think-tank, infidelity was the issue that earned the most opprobrium around the world. A general survey of public views in America , conducted by the University of Chicago since 1972, has found that Americans are more likely to say extramarital sex is always wrong now than they were throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Younger generations can usually be relied upon to push sexual morality in a more permissive direction, but infidelity is the one area where the young and old seem to agree. In this broadly tolerant age, when so many of us have come around to accepting love in all different shapes and sizes, adultery is the one indulgence that remains out of bounds.

“There is no subject that elicits more fear, gossip and fascination in the realm of couples than adultery,” says Perel. Back when divorce was a shameful prospect, couples grappling with an affair typically found a way to muddle through. Now, however, men and women are often made to feel ashamed if they try to move past a partner’s infidelity, instead of “kicking the dog to the kerb”. This view is particularly popular in America, Perel adds, where “cheating” tends to be seen in purely moral terms. Critics of Hillary Clinton, for example, have long seen her tolerance of her husband’s infidelities as a blot on her character, rather than as a sign that she prioritises their strengths together over his personal weaknesses. This is a problem, Perel explains, because we have never been more inclined to stray.

Reliable statistics on infidelity are hard to come by as there are few incentives for candour and definitions vary. Numbers of those in Western countries admitting to some sort of infidelity range from 30% to 75% of men and 20% to 68% of women. Now that more women enjoy financial independence and jobs outside the home, the gap between philandering men and women is narrowing swiftly. “There is not a single other taboo that is universally condemned and universally practised,” says Perel. Basically, cheating is something we don’t want and don’t like, but it is something we do and do often.

Nowhere is the prohibition against infidelity in the West more severe – and the consequences more dire – than in America. “People in the States are massively hypocritical,” says Perel. “They don’t cheat any less than the French. They just feel more guilty about it.” Perel argues that this is because Americans not only have more puritanical views of sex and deceit, but also because struggling with self-control is central to the national ethos. “Everything is exaggerated here, everything is world-famous, the portions are gigantic, it’s all about excess and control. In Belgium you don’t sit and eat a meal and talk about all the things you shouldn’t be eating because it’s bad for you. Being bad is a pleasure.”

Perel wants to change the way we think about infidelity. Instead of seeing it as a pathological and immoral impulse that invariably leaves trauma and destruction in its wake, she wants us to understand that extramarital yearnings are all too natural, and that affairs are terribly, perhaps even inevitably, human. “Monogamy may not be a part of human nature but transgression surely is,” she says. “And sometimes even happy people cheat.” If, like Seth, we want to build relationships that will last, then we may need to share his realism about what such a relationship might look like, and what kind of imperfections we are willing to tolerate. “It’s not that monogamy is impossible to pull off, but a lot of people don’t and many more won’t,” he says to me. “The whole point of this is to maintain a relationship that can exist in happiness for decades. Esther’s been instrumental in helping us figure this out.”

“Infidelity was always painful, but today it’s ‘traumatic’,” says Perel. “This notion that ‘my whole life is a lie, I don’t know anymore what to believe’, or that you apply PTSD to infidelity? That’s a completely recent construct.” Raised in the Francophone Jewish community in Antwerp, Perel speaks with the kind of lilting French accent that could make a shipping forecast sound alluring. Between sips of kale juice at the Soho Grand, a chic Manhattan hotel near her apartment, she is explaining to me why time has hardened our view of adultery.

“It’s because fidelity is the last thing left that defines a marriage,” she says. “You don’t need to wait to have sex, you don’t need kids. You don’t even need marriage anymore. The only thing that distinguishes it is that, after years of sexual nomadism, you suddenly say ‘I have finally found the one. You are so extraordinary that I am no longer looking for anything else. For you I promise to be suddenly exclusively monogamous’.” The only hitch, says Perel, is that sexual nomadism doesn’t prepare you for exclusivity. “It’s not as though you got it out of your system. Love and desire aren’t the same thing.”

Perel has a refreshing way of talking about sex. Particularly in America, where schools still tend to advocate abstinence and where talk of sex swiftly veers into either smut or sanctimony, her non-judgmental ease with pleasure and desire is rare. Her delivery is also well-served by the fact that, at 58, she is still arrestingly attractive, with misty blue eyes, flaxen hair, an easy smile and an unapologetic way of carrying herself. Dressed in a stylish outfit of flowing bronze silk, which sets off her late-summer tan, she sits with her legs wide and leans forward, her elbows resting on her thighs, her finger- and toe-nails painted the same blood red. “Esther is one of the sexiest human beings I’ve ever encountered,” says Lisa Thaler, a psychotherapist in New York who asked Perel to be her supervisor after hearing her speak. “The way she thinks, the way she inhabits her body, she’s captivating.” When Perel says things like “Good lovers are made, not born,” her seductive confidence makes her easy to believe. Unlike past sex therapists who have become famous, such as the grandmotherly Dr Ruth Westheimer, Perel seems like someone who not only understands sex, but also is very, very good at it.

Seekers of marital advice also like the fact that Perel is still married to her husband of over three decades, Jack Saul, an American psychotherapist and the director of the International Trauma Studies Programme at New York University, whom she met while they were both graduate students in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “My husband deals with pain; I deal with pleasure. They are intimately acquainted,” she writes in “Mating in Captivity”. Together they have two sons, both in their early 20s. But Perel typically deflects attention from her personal life, and is quick to say that she is not holding herself up as a model. “Longevity doesn’t make a relationship a success,” she tells me. “My family life and my choices happen to work for me, but my choices aren’t what I am selling to anyone else. There are just as many reasons why I could not be together with him as there are that I am.”

Such humility is unusual among peddlers of relationship advice, particularly in a country where such guidance tends towards the moralistic and where only the happily married seem allowed to dole it out. Yet Perel is eager to make it clear that she is not selling dogma, but rather commenting on the romantic conundrums of our age. “What works for one couple may not be what works for another couple,” she says. “I really don’t think it’s one size fits all.”

Most people – including many couples therapists, particularly in America – assume that if you stray outside the marriage, there must be something fundamentally wrong with the union itself. But Perel argues that our motivations for affairs are far more complicated than that. “In an age of consumerism, an age of entitlement, we are never meant to feel satisfied,” she says.

Past generations may have been able to settle for fairly good marriages and so-so sex. “The old guy was happy to have a women lend him her vessel; the whole thing took four minutes, about as long as it takes to boil an egg. A soft-boiled egg.” But we now live in a culture in which we feel we deserve to be happy, we are entitled to it. “Everyone wants desire these days,” she says. “What is desire? It’s to own the wanting. I want. That’s the essence of consumerism.” Awkwardly for marriage, we rarely desire what we already have.

This is not a new perception, as countless women’s magazine stories entitled “365 ways to bring passion back into your marriage” can attest. What’s interesting about Perel’s work is her nuanced view of the erotic. Infidelity, she believes, is rarely about sex, or even about the other person. Rather, it’s about recapturing “a feeling of aliveness with someone, of playfulness and curiosity, of selfishness” – that is, the very feelings that time and the mundane necessities of life tend to erode in marriage. When we are unfaithful, Perel explains, “it isn’t so much that we’re looking for another person, as much as we are looking for another self.”

Desiring people other than our partner is fundamentally, unsettlingly natural. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, argues that adultery even makes evolutionary sense, as affairs allow males to spread their seed, and females to diversify their gene pool and collect a little extra help on the side. But what we once tolerated as an unfortunate fact of life, we now see as traumatic. This, Perel argues, is because we not only expect our carefully chosen soul mates magically to satisfy all of our needs, but also rely on them to anchor us in an otherwise rootless and existentially lonely world.

“Never before has the private domain been the central place where people have to find the answers to all of the important questions of life,” Perel tells me. “People used to have religion, people used to have a community, people used to live with three generations of their family. But today I want my sense of belonging, my sense of identity, my sense of all the big questions of life located in my relationship with my partner and my children.” If our partners have essentially become our bulwarks against the vicissitudes of modern life, then it makes sense that infidelity has become rather more destabilising than it once was.

Yet Americans have a uniquely narrow-minded take on infidelity, says Perel. “Most Europeans see it as an imperfection, and not something worth destroying your marriage over.” But Americans, who tend to see sex as corrupting and approach pleasure with scepticism, often view affairs in more binary terms. “Here there’s a persecutor and a victim, these are the only two options,” Perel says. “The language is criminal. I think that speaks volumes.”

Perel of great price
Esther in her library
Perel’s parents were both the only members of their large Jewish families to survive the Holocaust. Her father, the only survivor of nine siblings, went through 14 Nazi concentration camps and ultimately saved 60 people by creating a black market with a friend in the kitchen of one camp. Her mother made it through nine camps, outlasting every member of her Chasidic family. “If they had done what they had been told they wouldn’t have been alive,” she says. “What’s right isn’t always what people tell you, and the rules are sometimes corrupt and cruel. Those stories came with mother’s milk.”

The story of Perel’s parents is essential for understanding her and her work, she says. Yet she recognised this herself only after she turned her attention to sexuality. Her parents, she explains, emerged from the camps wanting more than just to have survived; they wanted to make the most of every day. “I began to understand eroticism not from the sexual modern definition, but from the mystical definition, as in maintaining aliveness, an antidote to death.”

Couples therapists in America, who number more than 50,000, rarely talk about sex. Most assume that if they fix a couple’s emotional problems, good sex will follow. “Therapists are humans and sex is a topic a lot of humans are uneasy about, so it’s no surprise a lot of therapists are uneasy when it comes to talking about sex,” says Ian Kerner, a New York-based psychotherapist and sex counsellor. Because couples therapists “receive very little training about sexuality and sexual diversity, their social beliefs often end up intruding into their practice without them being aware of it,” adds David Ley, a New Mexico-based psychotherapist who offers sexuality training to mental-health therapists around the country. Sex therapists, on the other hand, mostly deal with the medicalised and pathologised kinks of sexual performance. So couples who wish to talk about their flagging sex life or the appeal of a non-monogamous – or monogamish – relationship often struggle to find a willing therapist. As for infidelity, the lion’s share of America’s therapeutic literature focuses on the needs of the harmed partner and condemns the philanderer.

Perel’s approach is different. Not only does she get her clients talking about sex, ever mindful of the relevance of sexual desire in relationships, but she also sees infidelity as a complicated business that often lacks a clear villain or victim. “Betrayal comes in many forms,” she says. “You can be the person who has steadfastly refused your partner for decades, but then he cheats on you and you’re the victim? The victim of the marriage is not always the victim of the affair.”

Instead of treating an affair like a traumatic wound one partner shamefully inflicts on the other, Perel gets people to talk about why they strayed. “Before I tell a person you have to stop, I want to know: What is it for you? How mesmerised are you? Who are you in your affair?” Rather than punish people for their selfishness, their shortcomings, their lack of self-control, Perel wants to know what made them do it, what they were looking for, and why they felt they needed to stray to find it. “The debate is that once you make it complicated you’re trying to be a moral relativist,” she says. “But working with infidelity is about working with the existential dilemmas that surround commitment and loyalty and fidelity and love.” Sometimes, she adds, if a couple can be guided to ask the right questions and listen for the answers, a crisis of infidelity can help them talk about sex and intimacy in a way that brings them closer together.

This approach has its detractors. “Infidelity is a violation. And when you do something that destroys the well-being of the other person, it’s not neutral, it’s not fair, it’s not love,” says Janis Abrahms Spring, a Connecticut-based psychologist and author of the bestseller “After the Affair”, one of the first books to label infidelity a psychological trauma. “The reason my book has been so successful is because it provided a language that captured the heart of the hurt party and made them feel less crazy and alone. For Esther or any therapist to in any way minimise that pain is to retraumatise the traumatised patient.”

Others criticise Perel for her view that loving couples might struggle with desire. Psychologists who promote the attachment theory of human relationships argue that our most fundamental need is to create secure bonds with others, and it is only when we feel secure that we achieve emotional and erotic satisfaction. “Exclusive, positive-bonded relationships are the opposite of ‘captivity’,” argues Sue Johnson, an Ottawa-based clinical psychologist and couples therapist. “And secure attachment really precludes active deception. To suggest that people in happy marriages seek affairs is all kind of a fabrication. People have affairs because they get lonely, because they can’t connect with their partner. They tend to be into thrill-seeking and not into long-term relationships.”

John Gottman , a well-known American psychologist and researcher on marriage and parenting, sent me an e-mail in which he condemned Perel for having “very little clinical sensitivity, so her intuitions about people are almost always way off the mark”. By way of example, he recalled a video Perel presented at a professional meeting in which she treats a couple after an affair. “She asked the hurt wife to empathise with her husband’s pride at his prowess at sexually satisfying his affair partner. ‘Go ahead,’ she told the wife, ‘validate what a great lover your cheating husband thinks he was toward the other woman.’ We thought this was not only misguided but unethical and abusive. So she’s dead wrong. Basically about everything she says.”

Perel is not alone in proposing that we are guided by often conflicting impulses; the work of psychologists such as Stephen Mitchell and David Schnarch has paved the way for her. Evolutionary anthropologists such as Fisher have also found that humans are quite capable of feeling a deep attachment to one partner, an intense romantic love for someone else and a desire for hot sex with quite a few others. “We don’t have one fundamental human need, we have many,” says Perel. Or as Kingsley Amis once said of his own libido: for 50 years it was like being chained to an idiot.

But Perel’s charisma has raised the profile of this approach. She has become a mentor to many in her profession. When we meet in her Fifth Avenue office, just above Manhattan’s Museum of Sex (remarkably enough), she has just finished addressing nine established therapists who have sought her out for guidance – her second monthly meeting with therapists that day. Afterwards she will hop on Skype to advise a group of psychologists based in Israel, Hebrew being one of the nine languages she speaks fluently.

“Esther is really defusing the ticking time bomb at the heart of so many of our long-term relationships,” says Dan Savage, an American pundit who coined the term “monogamish” and is the author of “Savage Love”, an internationally syndicated relationship and sex-advice column. “We define cheating as a relationship extinction-level event, and then we stand around with our thumbs in our butts wondering why marriages don’t last.” Perel’s aura, adds Savage, helps spread her message. “When I say maybe you shouldn’t have a heart attack and die if there’s one or two infidelities over the course of a 50-year marriage, I’m one of those gay people who can’t keep it in his pants. When she says it, she’s a nice married lady who has dedicated her life and a great deal of her work to marriage counselling and trying to save relationships. I’m in awe of her. I just think she’s a genius, and incredibly insightful.”

Does her approach work? The question is irresistible, but also unanswerable, because “work”, in this context, can mean any number of things. Some couples never get past an affair, says Perel. Infidelity can become “a black hole trapping both parties in an endless round of bitterness, revenge and self-pity”. Others use adultery to expedite the collapse of a failing relationship. But after years of following up with couples she has treated, Perel has found that the ones who continued to thrive were those who used an affair as a catalyst for change. Of course it is natural to react to a betrayal with interrogations, injunctions, and near-forensic searches of phone messages and credit-card statements, she warns, but such things never quite allay anxieties that a partner will cheat again. It is only when couples stop scavenging for the sordid details and instead ask more probing questions about the meaning of an affair that they can figure out whether their relationship is based merely on exclusivity or whether it is grounded in the rarity of their connection.

“Maybe you really work to build a lifelong relationship that strives for monogamy but doesn’t expect it, at least not perfectly,” says Seth. “Talking about these things can be very scary at first, but it’s a process of getting rid of neuroses and insecurities. An irony is that infidelity actually makes your relationship more stable. Your partner is thinking, ‘Oh my god what other relationship am I going to find where someone is this secure that I can wander occasionally and still come back.’ It becomes another reason why you stay together.”

Although Perel became an American citizen in 2013, she remains a perennial outsider – a Jew in Antwerp, a Belgian in Israel, where she went to university, a European in America. This distance, and her way with languages, lends some heft to her observations of universal urges and local idiosyncrasies. Marcelo Bronstein, a friend of Perel’s for over 20 years, recalls going to a Spanish bookstore in a small Chilean beach town some years ago and spotting a sign that read “Sorry, we are out of ‘Mating in Captivity’.” “I thought, what is it about this Belgian woman that she can speak to these people in Chile? It’s as if she sees the patterns of humanity across cultures.”
Perel’s status as a foreigner also seems to give her licence to say things that might be off limits to insiders. She can be amusingly merciless in her take on her fellow Americans, and the naive way we seem to think “there’s a solution to everything.” In France, she explains, “a smart book is a brilliant ramble. The smarter it is, the more unintelligible it is. Here the art is about simplifying things. Six steps, seven steps – God forbid you go above seven! But the dilemma of modern love is a complicated situation, it’s not five steps!”

It will certainly take time before Americans soften their view of infidelity. Seth admits that he rarely talks about his “monogamish” relationship, “because it’s so taboo”. Yet he says that when he has opened up about it, at least among more progressive friends, “it’s almost like we’re heroes, like we’re inspirations to people who are thinking the same thing or are curious about it.” The fact that he and his fiancée have a good relationship and “are not like some hippy, dippy couple out on the fringes” often reassures people, he adds. “People seem glad to know that it can be done.”
This makes sense. In a country with so little tolerance for human frailty, where the pursuit of perfection often yields more shame than satisfaction, Perel’s message offers some solace. Perfection, she says, is impossible in even the best relationships. “A great relationship”, Perel insists, “is an imperfect one.”

Competition

When I see MC talk of his academic failures, I sit a bit stunned by his belief in that evaluation. I think of his fear of his mom when he placed second at the district spelling bee and how he thought of himself as a “loser” for coming in second. I look at his academic record, and no he was not valedictorian, nor did he go to Harvard. Still, his graduate school was in the top ten in the US for his field and he graduated with a near 4.0. I know when he looks back on his college and graduate school career, he knows he did not give it his best effort and, so perhaps, some of his disappointment stems from that fact. I know I can personally identify with that feeling as well when I think of my undergraduate studies. And, this points out to me what I see as the “wrong” kind of competition versus the “right” kind.

I want MC, me and our children to each compete against ourselves, to do our personal best and seek to improve compared to where we were before. When we see others have thoughts, ideas, practices that improve outcome, then by all means we should learn about those thoughts, ideas and practices. What I don’t think is appropriate is the thought that we must be “better than” others. The only person we each need to be better than is ourself. There will always be somebody who does better, who knows more, has more, who goes further, etc. There will always be somebody who does worse, knows less, has less, goes less far, etc. But, if we use such things as a metric to feel good about who we are or where we are in life, then we are setting ourselves up to either gloat or be disappointed. Comparing ourselves to others is the surest path to building false ego and falling into the self-pity trap (two sides of the same coin if you ask me). We are also setting ourselves up to be afraid to fail, and so afraid to try.  But, if we are competing against ourselves, we can look at our improvement over time based purely on our willingness to work toward personal improvement, on our willingness to do the work, no matter how it compares to others.

 

 

Courage, Persistence, Perspective, Resilience 

The other day TL and I struggled to find the right labels for the next set of underlying problems I must tackle. In simple terms, it seems my problems are that I am too pessimistic and that I give up too easily. Why do we think that? The most recent example is when I reacted negatively to suggestions that I needed to put more time into my recovery work and into helping with my sons’ scouting activities. Reminded of these responsibilities, I panicked. I instinctively feared I could not find the additional hours in each day. I blew the challenge out of proportion. I failed to approach the challenge with persistence and resilience. My initial temptation was to give up, to tell myself it could not be done.

Several days later, after experimenting with some new ways of organizing my time, I found that it was indeed possible to do all my responsibilities each day, or at least each week. (Actually, I’ve seen my kids experience a similar pattern of panic followed by acceptance when they are given responsibilities.) What had I learned? I learned that I need courage, courage to take on new challenges or to be flexible. Patterns and habits are a crutch for me. I must learn to walk without them more often. I learned that I need to keep challenges in perspective, not imagining them to be insurmountable. And, I learned that I must be persistent and resilient. I must not give up, even when the work becomes difficult.

Had I learned these lessons decades ago, I may have pushed myself to be more successful, more physically fit, more focused on academic achievement rather than on image and arrogant pride, more flexible and more innovative, and a thousand other things that would have made me a better and happier person.

The false “positive”

Recovery Nation then said:  Consider the POSITIVE role that addiction has played in your life. What purposes has it served (think short-term, not long)?  Understanding the functional role of your addiction is important in removing the power, mystery and fear from that addiction — to begin seeing it in terms of practicality, rather than as some kind of supernatural fate or disease that you are doomed to suffer.  Share a few positive aspects of your addiction in your recovery thread.

(Let me remind readers that we don’t adhere to the “addiction” terminology,  and that Recovery Nation does not use the term in the conventional sense.  Nevertheless, I borrow their terminology in the process of using Recovery Nation as a tool for introspection.)

This is a difficult question. I don’t really think of adultery, porn, masturbation, and lying as addictions, nor as the root problem. I consider them symptoms of the deeper, more insidious compulsion: self-pity. Did I get anything “positive” from the self-pity? What did it do for me, or what did I expect it to do for me? Was it my early attempt at comforting myself in the face of disappointment, loneliness, or insecurity? I guess so. It’s hard to think of it that way because, looking back on it, it actually made all those feelings worse, not better.  

Maybe it was my way of giving myself a hug. I didn’t want my mother to be involved because I always thought of her as addressing my problems by taking control of them. She didn’t give comfort. She took control. More than anything, I wanted control. It’s a sick irony that indulging in self-pity is an extreme form of abandoning control.

Remembering two important lessons 

Now Recovery Nation says to describe how I have integrated recent lessons into my daily life.

These lessons really go back four years.  My most recent post here reminds me of two important lessons. First, focus more on giving rather than receiving, in friendship. I do try every day to put spending time with my wife at the top of my to-do list. Though I need to improve, I do try to think of things that will make her happy each day. I know she needs to get out of the house. I take her out. I know she is working hard on things. I show gratitude. I know she wants a dog. We get a dog, even one I wouldn’t have chosen. When we have sex, I try to focus on giving pleasure rather than just receiving. I know I need to do more, but these are a few recent examples.

Second, and most importantly, stop feeling sorry for yourself. I really do focus on things I can affect rather than things I can’t change. Before D-day, I followed the path of evil by doing exactly the opposite.

Health Monitoring 

I’m back to blogging.  I apologize for the long absence.  In the aftermath of moving to a new house and new job, I really didn’t do a good job of sticking with the soul-searching and blogging.  I have still been using Recovery Nation as a way to organize my thoughts.  The last thing RN suggested was that I make a list of questions for monitoring my mental state, and that I spend no more than five minutes each day contemplating the questions as part of my inner dialogue.  I came up with the following questions, and I have been using them, though I’ve missed more days than I care to admit.

1. Did I tell my wife about my day, including my emotions regarding each element of my day?

2. Did I take advantage of every opportunity to tell others something positive about my wife?

3. Did I take advantage of every opportunity to tell my wife about other women, even virtual women, I came across during my day?

4. Did I actively search for anything thought provoking about recovery I could share with my wife during the day?
5. Did I drop everything to give my wife my full attention when she talked during the day?
6. Did I invite my wife to do something together?
7. Did I invite my kids to do something together?
8. Did I touch my wife in a non-sexual way that did not include touches she has asked me to avoid?
9. Did I take every opportunity to be encouraging and upbeat toward my wife’s ideas?
10. Did I tell my wife about everything I spent today, no matter how small or routine?
Why am I telling you this?  One reason is that this blog is a good way to “show my work” and keep myself accountable for continuing to soul-search.

I was recently reminded to fix my wrong ways of thinking and behaving.  In many ways, I really do think I’ve made visible progress in that regard.  Nonetheless, it was a good reminder that to do this work properly, one can never consider it to be “done,” “better,” or “good enough.”  

I treat physical fitness the way I treat brushing teeth, clipping nails, and eating; it’s just part of good, responsible hygiene.  I need to remember to treat this mental hygiene the same way. 

Masculinity and self-doubt

I had long struggled with doubts about my masculinity, particularly before D-day.  But, when I tried to discuss it with people they thought I was worrying about being feminine, homosexual, or androgynous.  Though there’s really nothing wrong with any of those things, they seemed completely irrelevant to what I was trying to discuss.  It may seem obvious, but it’s finally quite clear to me why we seemed to be talking about two different things.  “Being a man” is one phrase that has at least two different meanings.

I’ve long noticed that people often confuse the concepts of nationality, ethnicity, and religion. Sometimes we might say someone is, for example, Irish.  But, wait. That guy’s not from Ireland, yet you’re calling him Irish.  Why?  We’re using the same single word to describe both a nationality and an ethnicity.  Maybe for the latter, we should call that person Celtic instead of Irish, but we often don’t.

A similar confusion is possible when someone speaks of “being a man” or “being a woman.” Yes, the opposite of man is woman.  And, the opposite of the popular connotation of “manly” is “effeminate.”  But, in the other definition of “man,” it is part of a spectrum where the opposite end of the spectrum is “boy” or “child.”

Why is this important to me?  I really do need to “be a man” to feel better about myself. Striving to “be a man” according to the first definition of the term led me to some unhealthy choices.  I went about trying to prove my masculinity through sexual experience, honesty and integrity be damned.  Failing to “be a man” according to the latter definition also led to poor choices, such as letting my mother interfere, failing to protect my wife, and failing to value courage, honesty, and integrity, at work and at home.

I do think our popular culture leads us to think of “being a man” more as the opposite of weak or effeminate rather than as the opposite of being childish.  Though I should have understood the difference and its implications long ago, I really only thought about it clearly when I was studying for my recent religious conversion.  I don’t think the concept can only be found in religion.  But, our secular society could probably produce healthier and happier people by putting more emphasis on “being an adult,” as opposed to just “being a man” or “being a woman.”

Compassion

We talk of how MC suffers from SOB syndrome. Yes, partially it is making fun, but it is also reality. He was a Selfish Oppressive Bastard and we have a very specific description of what that means that is foundational to his recovery. We talk of how MC was truly sick. Not a sickness as in a disease, but sick because he was spiritually unsound and morally corrupt. He was a morally corrupt coward. This was his reality. Some may say that I lack compassion for discussing his reality in this way. I say that facing reality is a necessary part of recovery. Coddling MC, hiding from these truths, simply would enable a continued ignorance of these core problems, these core realities. These discussions are not weapons to hurt MC. In fact, these discussions are based on his descriptions of his motivating factors and fears throughout his life. We openly discuss these factors and fears, for him and for me. We are learning to walk by each other’s side through each of our pain, but ultimately each of us is responsible for healing our own pain within. And, I think this is the difference between compassion and enabling.

A compassionate person is neither a martyr, nor a messiah. Compassion walks with another in their pain, if and when they are ready to take that walk, but understands that they are not capable of fixing that pain for the other.  Compassion does not push, pull, or carry another into walking into their pain, but rather offers to walk by their side if they are willing to do so. Compassion does not allow the other to avoid natural consequences of not wanting to take that walk. Compassion does not sacrifice one’s own mental, emotional, spiritual and/or physical health and well being to do any of this.

Loving with an open hand by Ruth Sanford

A compassionate person, seeing a butterfly struggling to free itself from its cocoon, and wanting to help, very gently loosened the filaments to form an opening. The butterfly was freed, emerged from the cocoon, and fluttered about — but could not fly. What the compassionate person did not know was that only through the birth struggle can the wings grow strong enough for flight. Its shortened life was spent on the ground; it never knew freedom, never really lived.

I call it learning to love with an open hand. It is a learning which has come slowly to me and has been wrought in the fires of pain and in the waters of patience. I am learning that I must free one I love, for if I clutch or cling, try to control, I lose what I try to hold.

If I try to change someone I love because I feel I know how that person should be, I rob him or her of a precious right, the right to take responsibility for one’s own life and choices and way of being. Whenever I impose my wish or want or try to exert power over another, I rob him or her of the full realisation of growth and maturation; I limit and thwart by my act of possession, no matter how kind my intention.

I can limit and injure by the kindest acts of protecting – and protection or concern over-extended can say to the other person more eloquently than words, ‘You are unable to care for yourself; I must take care of you because you are mine. I am responsible for you’.

As I learn and practise more and more, I can say to one I love, ‘I love you, I value you, I respect you and I trust that you have or can develop the strength to become all that it is possible for you to become — if I don’t get in your way. I love you so much that I can set you free to walk beside me in joy and sadness’.

I will share your tears but I will not ask you not to cry. I will respond to your need, I will care and comfort you but I will not hold you up when you can walk alone. I will stand ready to be with you in your grief and loneliness but I will not take it away from you. I will strive to listen to your meaning as well as your words but I shall not always agree.

Sometimes I will be angry and when I am, I will try to tell you openly so that I need not resent our differences or feel estranged. I cannot always be with you or hear what you say for there are times when I must listen to myself and care for myself, and when that happens I will be as honest with you as I can be.

I am learning to say this, whether it be in words or in my way of being with others and myself, to those I love and for whom I care. And this I call loving with an open hand.  I cannot always keep my hands off the cocoon, but I am getting better at it!

I have absolutely no respect for the MC that I now know existed prior to d-day, that is true. But, I have an immense amount of respect for the person, for the man, he is working to become now. But, it is his work to do. And, when I really think through why I sometimes want to gently help the cocoon along, I can see that it may have more to do with my wanting a sense of control in the chaos, a sense of control over the future. It is hard to embrace uncertainty. But, in the end, keeping my hands off that cocoon is healthier for us both. I work hard to remember that, though admittedly sometimes it is easier said than done!

It’s not a game

For much of our married life we have not lived near “home” because of MC’s schooling and then his job. Prior to d-day, I would miss home from time-to-time, but it was not this underlying longing that I now have since d-day. When MC was away for the year for work, the kids and I got to be home. I thought it would quench my thirst, make me realize why long ago I had decided a little distance was not a bad thing. But, it didn’t. The longing grew. I did not want to leave.

MC was willing to stay, put in a few job applications even, but I must admit I assumed the worst. That it was likely him playing chicken with me. You see, in just a few short years, he will be fully vested in his company, which means some very awesome lifetime benefits that are quite a motivating factor. So, in the end, before he would ever say anything to his HR department about wanting to quit, I would stop him and I came to believe that he was counting on exactly that.

As we get closer to our next overseas move, the homesickness grows within me. As we prepare for our oldest child’s Bar Mitzvah and are inviting family from back home, the home sickness grows within me. I wish we could be home for such big events. Last night I was sad about home. MC again said he would quit. That he would send an e-mail right now to do so. He started writing. I thought he was playing a game of chicken with me and I decided I had to know if that is what he was doing or not. So, this time I didn’t stop him. I left the room while he was writing. He sent the e-mail.

Here is the thing though. As much as I want to go home. We need those benefits. We’ve put in too many years to walk away from it now. He knows it, I know it, and he knows that I know it. So, while there is a huge part of me that is so glad to see that this was not a game, he was serious, he was actually willing to quit. The other part of me is now scared to death that something has been set into motion that may not be able to be undone. He is reaching out to HR today to find out exactly what leaving before vesting would mean. If it means losing it all, we cannot quit. Now, I am a nervous wreck that we may not even have the option to stop that ball from rolling.

Trust and Safety

Just one more I must share. It is just a great article that really touches some core issues from the beginning of this whole process and things we are still working on. It really explains why we have made the safety issue priority one and think it is so important to the process of healing.

The article is rather long, but I think it really is a good primer regarding safety and trust. It’s called, The Shocking Truth About Trust.

After discovering this article was part of the Affair Recovery subscription library, I took the actual text of the article off of our site to be sure I was not violating any copyright issues. Not that anyone said anything, but just to be safe. The provided link was found via a Google search and available without subscription.

Reference:
Reynolds, Rick (2008). The shocking truth about trust. The Affair Recovery Center. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.affairrecovery.com/The-Shocking-Truth-About-Trust-eBook-2017.pdf

A Psalm of Life

I first read this poem in high school so many years ago. It was a favorite.  I just came across it again today and was struck by how the message is as relevant today as it was back then.

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
   Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
   And things are not what they seem.

 

Life is real! Life is earnest!
   And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
   Was not spoken of the soul.

 

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
   Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
   Find us farther than to-day.

 

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
   And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
   Funeral marches to the grave.

 

In the world’s broad field of battle,
   In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
   Be a hero in the strife!

 

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
   Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
   Heart within, and God o’erhead!

 

Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints on the sands of time;

 

Footprints, that perhaps another,
   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
   Seeing, shall take heart again.

 

Let us, then, be up and doing,
   With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
   Learn to labor and to wait.

First things first, I’m a realist

Ok, so our kids love that song, most likely because of the Jimmy Fallon Lip Sync battle with Emma Stone that they saw on YouTube. But, that specific line just fits well here.

When we created this site, we did so with a theme in mind. In the last few days I articulated that theme in a way that I had not really been able to do before.

I know many see the name of our site and think it means something different than it does. I thought the words of recent days were worth posting to give texture to the meaning we did intend.

Reconcile4Life meaning:

If the marriage ends, it is easy to be definitive, IT IS OVER, no more definitive than that. But, it doesn’t work that way with reconciliation, does it? That is the thing with reconciling. Successful reconciliation is a marriage long process, not a line in the sand. While progress can be seen over the years, you cannot really declare success in the middle of the journey. Well, I suppose you could, but I wouldn’t suggest it. Declare progress, recognize progress, of course. Declare success, not until the end of our life together can I make that evaluation.

I keep thinking of President Bush standing on the aircraft carrier declaring success, “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” after getting Sadaam Hussein. It led many of us to believe that now we could relax, the major battles had been fought and won. Yet, nothing could have been further from the truth. If you choose to go into something like that, success is just not that finite, clear and easy. I mean we may say look at Germany and Japan, these are our success stories after WWII. But, don’t forget we have a huge presence in those countries still. It wasn’t like, win a battle, declare victory, all is good now, time to move on.

And, then out in the reconciliation world, especially out in the forums, I would see things from people declaring “we are happily reconciled,” “we are living our happily ever after” or “I know he has learned his lesson and will never ever do this again.” You don’t know, you cannot know. You can see progress, you can have proof along the way that all is going in a good direction, but start declaring finite “success” and what happens, both parties take their eye off the ball and it is exactly these folks who end up exactly back where they started wondering where their second chance at a fantasy went wrong.

The fantasy is gone for me forever, I want it gone, I don’t want a life based on fantasy. It’s a path, it’s a journey, we need to keep our eye on the path, on the journey. That doesn’t mean I want to be bleeding from gaping wounds along the path. I don’t. I can’t. That would make the journey impossible to continue upon. I suppose this all sounds so depressing to some, but to me it is the point. No more fantasy, no more rose-colored glasses, not gray either, just clear and real and forward.

It bears repeating

I don’t like the idea of love being conditional. In my view, that is cheater think. It is exactly what MindlessCraft believed as he rationalized and excused the irrational. If only it was so easy for us betrayed to turn on and off our love like some water spigot. It is not, which is why I think it is so important to understand that love is one thing, but safety is another. In my view, staying in the marriage is conditional. Love and safety are not.

ETA:

So, when I talk of “love,” I define it as “wanting the best” for my partner, my parent, my child, my sibling, etc. What does this mean exactly? It means wanting this person to have the healthiest life possible, living to their fullest potential in both a healthy and loving way.

I think of my mother. I had anger toward her. I couldn’t have her as a part of my day-to-day life as she was not safe for me emotionally. But, I loved her. I always wanted her to be healthy and to have the tools within herself to live to her fullest potential in a healthy and loving way. My love for her was not conditioned upon anything, it just was. The fact that she was not safe for me did not turn my love off for her. The fact that I loved her did not turn off my need for my own safety. Love and safety were separate, independent variables. Having her in my day-to-day life was conditioned upon maintaining my safety, regardless of my love for her.

I get very scared, especially for victims of domestic violence who have been conditioned to believe in this “love is conditional” crap, when we make such declarations. Love is wanting what is best for the other. Enabling abusive behavior is not healthy and has nothing to do with love. So, instead of talking about love being conditional, I think we should talk about staying in the relationship as being conditional. And, so, this is what I mean by saying, “staying in the marriage is conditional. Love and safety are not.”

WP Update

Oh my goodness, I finally figured it out, finally.

First, if you could not already tell, I am the computer guru of the family. Actually our children are the real computer gurus, but I cannot really ask for their help on this site, so when it concerns R4L administration, I am the one trying to figure it out and put it together. I must admit, I kind of enjoy that kind of thing!

Second, when we first started this site, I wanted to find a way to separate out “our story” and have the posts from that category show up in chronological order, instead of reverse chronological. For the longest time, I thought I would have to upgrade WordPress to have access to plug-ins that would give me more administrative functionality. Last night, I finally found another way.

For anyone out there wanting to do this, here is how I did it:

  • I selected “custom link” on the menu page
  • I made this my custom link, inserting it into the URL space:

https://reconcile4life.wordpress.com/category/our-story/?order=asc

  • I labeled it with “Our Story” so that is how it would appear on R4L.
  • I placed it where I wanted it in the menu
  • I hit save menu

Voila, it listed “Our story” as a separate tab with all posts showing in chronological order. It was adding  /?order=asc to the end of the URL link that allowed me to do this.

Perhaps, I am just really behind on all of this and this is common knowledge, but I was so happy when I finally discovered how to do it. I just had to share and, also, thought perhaps it could be helpful to others wanting to do something similar.

TL xx

 

 

The Fed’s interest rate analogy to parental discipline 

It worries me that the Federal Reserve Board is apparently determined to raise interest rates. Stay with me for a moment.  This will become relevant.  You raise interest rates to slow down an overheated economy.  Our economy is actually still in the doldrums.  Sure, unemployment is down.  But, wages remain low, many people have dropped out of the labor market, public sector and private sector debt are high, and housing prices have still not recovered.  So, why raise interest rates now?  There is only one argument that makes sense:  with interest rates so low, we have no tools to respond when recession returns.  What are we going to do to stimulate the economy in the face of recession?  Cut interest rates?  We won’t have that tool.

I could go on at great length about how it’s still unwise to raise interest rates this month.  But, let me stop here and describe what this recently taught me about human behavior, parenting, and maturing.  As parents, we try to discipline our kids only enough to provide them learning-oriented correction when the misbehave.  When they are behaving well, or at least well enough, we try to give them a fair amount of freedom.

I recently thought about how this worked in my own childhood.  It did not.  My parents, particularly my mother, were so strict that they really had no way to punish me when I did something wrong.  They couldn’t ground me.  I was effectively grounded for eighteen years because my mother used guilt, intimidation, and manipulation to prevent me from leaving the house or maintaining social relationships.  They couldn’t take away my allowance.  I had no allowance.  The only tools they had were physical violence, which they did not do, or guilt, criticism, and verbal assault.  My parents, like the Federal Reserve today, had no tools left.

The lesson from this is that I think we should set broad boundaries for our kids, but be permissive within those boundaries.  That way we will be able to take away certain liberties in a reasonable way when we need to discipline our kids.

Another lesson is that my lack of freedom as a child, and my lack of logical, proportional punishment as a child, retarded my learning self-control and responsibility.  As an adolescent and adult, I often went overboard with newfound freedoms, like a dieter binging on Twinkies. I didn’t have enough experience with freedom to use it responsibly.  To paraphrase that great Jewish-American thinker, Stan Lee, with any degree of freedom comes an equal portion of responsibility.

Listening 

Yesterday I learned, somewhat to my surprise, that I have a deeply-ingrained bad habit of not listening.  In fact, it’s more than that.  It’s really a combination of arrogance, unwillingness to trust others, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and under-developed listening skills.

Our child needed one more thing to run tests on a science project. TL checked for it on Amazon and found it only sold in bulk and was unable to ship quickly. Yesterday, when out shopping, TL suggested we go to the office supply store on our way home. I told TL, “No, there is no office supply store in this town, we will have to order it from Amazon.”  She disagreed, insisting that she knew there was a local store.  Without even thinking much about it, I mindlessly repeated my opinion that there was no such store nearby.  She disagreed again.  We repeated the exchange, talking past each other a third time, and perhaps a fourth.  Ultimately, she got angry and sad about my failure to believe that she knew what she was talking about, to listen. We drove to where she thought there was an office supply store, it turned out she was right, and I apologized for not listening.

I tried to deconstruct the event to figure out what I had done.  I tried to empathize.  I found an analogy.  It reminded me of all the times I felt my parents don’t listen to me.  I explain the same things to them again and again.  Each time they act as if they had never heard it before.  Just today I spoke with them on the phone.  To my frustration, I heard, “We were surprised you’re moving in a few months.”  I had told them many times over the course of the past two years when we would be moving. Then my father said, “so, you’re really retiring in a few years.” I had explained my career timing to them again and again over the past 17 years.

Today I realized that they hear these things each time, but they let them go in one ear and out the other.  I ask them to do things, like remember that we are Jewish.  They act as if I hadn’t said anything.  I answer their questions. They ask the same questions next time we talk, as though we had never discussed it before.  Perhaps they don’t believe what I say.  Perhaps they don’t want to believe what I say.

In my parents’ case and in my case, there may be similar themes that compound these poor listening skills.  I suspect arrogance has a role.  When I am so very certain of my knowledge, I feel no need to listen to new information from any source.  Of course, this is a terrible impediment to learning and growth.  I have to remind myself, daily, of how much I don’t know.  I also have to remind myself that it’s OK to not know everything.  Just now, as I write this, I realize I may have a bit of fear with regard to admitting ignorance.  I often use knowledge as a big ingredient in my self-esteem box.  So, I feel a threat to my self-esteem when I have to admit ignorance.  I need to regularly recall that the quest for knowledge is built on ignorance, not on omniscience.

There’s also perhaps an element of unwillingness to trust other people.  I’m not sure where I got that tendency.  I think I observed it in my mother.  I think of her as being extremely untrusting.  I think I became that way too.

Then there’s my obsessive-compulsive tendency, which B and others identified in me.  When I start a course of action or plan or begin with a particular opinion about something, it is extremely difficult for my to change gears. I am inflexible.  I know this about myself, and I have done a lot to become more flexible.  I often remind myself that I do not have to do everything every day.  It’s a struggle, but I do see progress.  But, today, I realize the same inflexibility that makes it difficult for me to break routines also makes it difficult to listen to ideas that counter a thought I am already pursuing.

In sum, improving my listening skills takes continued practice.  It also takes remembering that it’s OK to learn from others and remembering to be flexible.  Seeing how it makes me feel when my parents fail to listen will hopefully help me remember to not inflict that treatment on TL or others myself.

Esther Perel and Rick Reynolds, a comparison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about love

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

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

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

What is a healthy definition of love?

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

Is “love beside the point?”

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

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Our thoughts on those questions:

What is a healthy definition of love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is “love beside the point?”

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

MC: Why did I cheat?

I just read a post called “Adultery – Do not seek rationalisation” by MarriageRecoveryBlog. It’s well worth reading.

There can be a rational answer to the question.  But, it will be a heartbreaking, disappointing answer that says the cheater is psychologically unfit and needs to grow up.  The answer, in my case, is I cheated because I was selfish, self-centered, never satisfied, lacking compassion, lacking empathy, entitled, and nursing self-pity.  I suspect most cheaters will have similar reasons for cheating.

If they suggest, in any way, that they cheated because of something the victim did or did not do, that’s unacceptable.  Love is not transactional, love does not demand perfection from the object of desire, and above all love cares deeply about the spouse’s well-being.  If such love exists, there can be no way to respond to perceived needs by cheating, by hurting their spouse.

“Why” is a big question.  Just be prepared for a big answer:  your cheating spouse valued himself more than he valued you.  Any other answer from the cheating spouse would be a lie, victim-blaming, or manipulation.

Can that change, for the better?  Yes, it can, but only with long-term re-prioritization and practicing empathy, compassion, selflessness, and real love.

Two thoughts

Just want to put this out there. Two thoughts that again and again seem to appear in our work on ourselves and our marriage. Perhaps, these really should’ve been obvious all along. 

First, comparing yourself to others is a gateway to self-pity.

Second, no matter where you go or what you do, you cannot run away from yourself.

What do you think, do you share similar thoughts or have other thoughts that have become apparent to you as you do the work to move forward?

Over-parenting begets childish men

I hesitate to write this because I don’t want it to sound like I’m saying all my selfishness and self-pity came from my mother.  Several points along the way, I could have chosen to take responsibility for my actions and for the way I viewed the world.  I’ve written about the cultural roots of my problems and the inconsistency my mother taught.  I have a few more thoughts on this, as I try to find root causes of my sick thinking.

First, my parents spent most of my early life shielding me from the consequences of my own decisions and actions.  They blamed others for any problems I faced.  They did not trust me to solve my own problems.  If I got a bad grade, they would insist on intervening with the teacher. If I had a conflict with other kids, my parents blamed the other kids or blamed fate, tried to micromanage the way I handled it, and generally treated me as though I was a toddler, incapable of handling social interactions without my parents interfering.

If I did something wrong — a prank, for example — my parents never exactly punished me.  They yelled, sighed, shook their heads, and talked about shame and disappointment.  They never grounded me; in general, I wasn’t really allowed to leave the house except with specific permission, on a case-by-case basis.  They did not spank me.  They talked about spanking often, but never did it.  In short, there were no tangible, measurable, specific consequences for my misbehavior.

At the same time, my mother did create severe and unreasonable consequences for my failures to meet her hopes or expectations.  On one hand, she did not do what we try to do for our children:  warn them that there will be a consequence if they misbehave, and follow through with the reasonable punishment, as well as let them suffer — within reason — the natural consequences of their choices.

On the other hand, my mother imposed consequences that were not tied to my choices.  Rather, they were tied to her evaluation of me.  It wasn’t, for example, something like, “If you fail to do your homework I will ground you.”  Instead, it was more like my mother having an emotional breakdown if I lost the district spelling bee.  Her consequences were not related to my choices, but to my performance.  And, I feared her emotional outbursts, so much so that I began lying and hiding many aspects on my life in order to avoid my mother’s reactions.

I think this upbringing might be part of how I came to do such risky, heartless, illogical things during my years of adultery and lies.  I was used to having no consequences for my actions.  So, I gave no thought to potential consequences of cheating, consequences such as diseases, death, arrest, public humiliation for myself and my family, and more.  God — actually my parents — had always ultimately shielded me from consequences, so I subconsciously assumed God would continue to be my safety net.  Do you think that is a sick, twisted misuse of theology?  It is.  That’s my point.

Second, my parents also did not teach me accountability.  They didn’t tell me I needed to try harder or practice more to improve.  For example, instead of  saying that I might want to practice baseball, they just talked about how some people are supposedly naturally good at it and some people are not.  They made a big show of telling me I was smart, for example, but they never really provided consequences for bad grades, forgotten homework, or general laziness and evasiveness.  Similarly, I never bothered to hold myself accountable for my actions.  Mother had always been in control of my accountability.  So, why should I bother weighing my choices against their potential effects on me or on others?

Third, my parents actively discouraged me from growing up, and I failed to resist it courageously.  My life is a story of me allowing my mother to control me.  I didn’t fully escape it until D-day.  For example, to this day, my mother goes on and on about how she thinks I handled certain friendships wrong in seventh grade.  To this day, I disagree.  She viewed me as a toddler and treated me as such.  That continues to this day.

She discouraged me from playing team sports, from leaving the house, and from dating.  She made it clear she disapproved of every girlfriend I ever had.  She didn’t even try to be subtle, saying awful things about each girl.  I finally got away, by going to college out of state and never again living in my parents’ home.  Even then, I didn’t get away completely.  By the time I married TL, just two years after college graduation, I still had one credit card my parents had given me.  TL helped me see that my parents were using that leverage to control my choices, and I was letting them do it.  TL and I cut up that credit card.

My mother continued her habit of saying awful things about my girlfriends, or wife in this case.  She spent 18 years making little mumbled remarks, inappropriate comments, and flat out rude critiques of TL, me, and our children, as though it was perfectly normal to behave that way.  As I had been all my life, I was afraid of my mother.

I cut off contact with my mother for several months once when she harassed me non-stop for several days, at home and at work, to insist on inserting herself into the move TL and I were making.

A few years later, my mother made a big scene of reportedly purchasing funeral plots for her immediate family, including me but not including TL, “because a son should be buried next to his parents.” She told me it would be inappropriate for me to tell TL, my wife, of this plan and that I should not do so.  I did tell TL, but never informed my mother that I told TL, nor did I confront my mom about her inappropriate behavior and expectations.

Years later, after our first child was born, my mother began criticizing our child. TL, who had patiently held her tongue for years, would not allow our child to be dragged into my mother’s psychological warfare. TL told my mother her house was not an appropriate place for our family and we would be moving to a hotel. My mother went ballistic. I told TL to pack-up, so we could just leave town altogether. But, I said nothing to my mother.

I sent TL into the house to pack us up, while I loaded our child and the car. My mother approached TL, blaming her for everything under the sun. TL let my mother know she knew everything my mother had tried to do to undermine our marriage, including expressing joy over a miscarriage and about the funeral plot secret. We again cut off contact with her for several months.

Each time, I eventually, gradually let my mother slip back into our lives, returning to her way of questioning with implied criticism, questioning with intent to control, and outright criticism.  More importantly, I had a decades-long habit of not confronting my mother, not calling her out on her inappropriate behavior.  She said something, and I would ignore it or try to change the subject.  What I should have done instead is to calmly but bravely tell my mother she was behaving inappropriately and that I would not accept it.

Shortly after D-day, we visited my parents, and I began practicing relating to them as an adult, as well as not being afraid to show my love, pride and affection for TL in front of my mother.

After D-day, I tried very hard to get my mother to apologize for undermining our marriage.  She never really did. She supposedly had my father apologize on her behalf to me, but never directly to me and absolutely never to TL.

After D-day, I considered a couple of things about my relationship with my mother.  First, I had signed up to protect TL, and I had been failing in that responsibility, for years.  I failed to protect TL from myself, from my psychological problems, from the world, and from my mother.  If I was going to become a better husband, it had to include protecting TL from my mother.  Second, my lies and adultery came, essentially, from my failure to grow up, failure to take responsibility, failure to see the world through the eyes of an adult man.  This, in turn, was related to my failure to grow up with regard to my mother, to stop being cowed by her, and to have the compassionate courage to set limitations for her.

For three years now, I’ve been putting a stop to my mother when she tries to say or do something hurtful to TL, me, or our children.  It has helped.  It’s not easy.  About a half a year ago, my mother tried to criticize TL in my mother’s own uniquely manipulative way, this time bringing our children into it. The children did not understand, and I put a stop to my mother.  At this point, I no longer have any real relationship with my mother.  It’s now crystal clear, even to my mother I think, that she has nothing to say to me aside from her attempts to control me.

In sum, I can’t stress enough the importance of learning responsibility, accountability, and self-control early.  Let kids make mistakes.  Let them receive punishment, from parents and teachers, when they do wrong or neglect responsibilities.  Let them make choices.  Within reason, let them control their own lives.

Self-compassion versus self-pity

Mindless suffered from a severe dependency on, in fact an enslavement to self-pity. He describes a feeling of inadequacy. He describes being angry at G-d, the world, me, and even himself for falling short, refusing to accept reality for what it was, instead of what he imagined it should be. He often told himself things like “my life is worse than anyone else’s,” “nobody else has to deal with such things,” “nobody is suffering like I am suffering.” He became so encumbered by these thoughts that he would get caught up in a cycle of negativity. When he would try to ignore his thoughts and feelings of inadequacy they expressed themselves in very destructive ways. What Mindless needed to learn was to practice self-compassion. But, how is this different from self-pity?

Dr. Kristen Neff explained that self-compassion includes three components.

Below are the three elements of self-compassion:

Is he cheating? Warning signs of infidelity

How will TL know if I start heading in the wrong direction, away from her, love, and us, and toward selfishness, self-pity, and lies?  How can any spouse know?  

There are clues.  This list is not exhaustive, and some items may be more likely for certain personalities than for others.

If I actively beg you to rewrite parts of your past in a way that is less threatening to me, I may be saying I will only really love or respect you if you could be perfect.  No one is perfect, and love should not be conditioned on perfection.  If I want so badly to change you, I may be tempted to search for someone else — someone who is more perfect.  Of course, no such person exists.  But, the mere process of obsessively wanting your mate to be better is a selfish process, destined to prevent real love.

If I pout, throw any sort of tantrum, or otherwise behave childishly when you don’t give me the sex, time, or attention I want or I otherwise don’t get my way, I’m saying I’ll only love, honor, respect, tolerate, or like you if you give me things and do things for me.  This demanding personality can never be satisfied.  Enough is never enough.  Each gift or favor leads to more desires and demands.  Since I can’t be satisfied, I may start looking outside the marriage to get even more of my desires and demands met.

If I use porn or masturbate, without your participation or without your full, immediate knowledge, understanding, and support, I may be starting to take my sex life underground.  I should feel comfortable and compelled to tell you everything I think and do, particularly with regard to sex.  If not, I should stop doing it.  If I am so obsessed with porn or masturbation that sex with you is not enough, or if I insist on much more sex than you want, we should discuss it.  If we can’t develop solutions together, we should work together with a counselor, class, or course of study.

Similarly, if I own any books, videos, magazines, subscriptions, or anything at all without your full and complete knowledge, I may be harboring some unhealthy interest in porn or in other people that I am using as a substitute for a healthy sexual and romantic relationship with you.  You should be able to look at any part of our home, my workplace, my computer, and my phone, at any time.  I should not be defensive about showing you those places, including websites I visit, numbers I call, and e-mails I exchange.  You should be able to ask me about any unexplained spending.  If I’m not doing or contemplating anything wrong, I should have no stress about showing you everything.

TL, you know me, my friends, and my favorite activities.  I don’t go out without you unless it is for fitness or to participate in a sport.  Every guy is a little different in this regard.  Some guys regularly — not often, but regularly — go spend time with certain friends for poker, golf, watching a ball game, or the like.  That’s OK, if that’s their way.

But, in any case, if I start changing my pattern in this regard, I may be hiding something or contemplating doing something I would want to hide.  I think this applies to other guys too.  A wife should wonder what’s happening if a man suddenly starts spending time away from her for new reasons that don’t fit with his previous patterns.

You should feel free to go out without me for a girls night. If I discourage that, through guilt trips or any other threat or manipulation, that’s a bad sign.  If I am so insecure that I can’t handle you going out without me, I may be tempted to start seeking self-validation outside the marriage.

Sometimes you and I might mutually decide that you’ll have a girls night out while I have a guys night out.  Or, maybe we’ll decide to alternate, taking turns while the other watches the kids.  That’s fine.  But, be careful.  These activities with our individual friends should start to decline, not increase, as our relationship progresses.  More and more, we should have mixed and mutual friends.  And, these individual activities should be minimal compared to dates centered on you and me together.

Given my personality and my personal demons, I do not need to go out drinking with the guys without at least inviting you.  Guys night out should not occur at a club or bar.  If it does not center on a game or sport, it may be a disguise for courting infidelity.  I don’t go to clubs and bars without you unless I am contemplating something I am afraid to share with you.  If I go out, with no relation to sports, why do I need to go without you?  If I am defensive about preserving these individual activities, beware.  I certainly should not need to go to a bar or club without you, without a damned good explanation and your complete understanding and support.

Of course, it’s healthy for me to have male friends.  But, men can do activities together in “safe” places, like golf courses, fishing boats, camping trips, or in front of big screen television with a game on.

If I ever have a meal or any one-on-one activity, sports included, with a woman who is not my blood relative, it means I am starting to drive toward the ditch. Even if unintentional, I must address it immediately and make course corrections immediately. I should be able to give you a non-defensive, consistent, and logical explanation.  We should be able to talk, non-defensively, about why I would even consider doing something like that without you.  At this point, if you have even the slightest hint of doubt about my integrity, we should see a counselor.

If you are willing to go to the gym or do any physical activity with me, I should choose that before I choose working out alone or with someone else.  Doing both is fine, though unlikely.  But, choosing the activity without you before the activity with you is a bad sign.  Are my fitness goals or level too different from yours?  As a smart athlete, I should be able to adjust, adding weights or otherwise increasing the challenge for myself while still being with you.  If I insist I must workout without you, I may be hiding a desire to seek attention from others at the gym. Or, if nothing else, I may be showing you I value me more than I value us.  What if I do my own workout at home, while you do something else?  That’s fine.  It’s insisting upon going somewhere without you that starts to raise a red flag.

If I turn down sex when you offer it, you should be suspicious.  Any physical advance from you will turn me on.  If it doesn’t, I either have a physical problem that I should discuss with you, or I am harboring some sort of anger or trying to manipulate you emotionally.   We should discuss it with our counselor.

If we have a female housekeeper or nanny, she should not be in our home if I am there without you.  It’s just unnecessary. Any woman who is old enough to drive or ride a taxi, should not be driven home by me.  No female employee should ever stay the night at our house.

I should be able to call you from my office phone before I head home.  You know how long it takes me to drive home.

These indicators are not foolproof.  They are a starting place.  I know they will help me gauge my own behavior now and in the future.  I hope they might also be useful ideas for other couples.

It’s not all perfect and easy

We had a lovely long weekend in many ways. MC had a day off of work, but the kids were still in school. It was a wonderful day together. MC and I did something fun and new together, then went to lunch and enjoyed the weather and view. That evening we had our 2nd dancing lesson together.  Yes, we are taking dancing lessons together. We even practiced in front of the kids, they thought it was hilarious. We were all laughing so hard.  It was all quite lovely.

This weekend though we had two major communication breakdowns. We worked through it so much better than we ever had before, but it was certainly not smooth sailing. We brought it up at our marriage counseling session today and she helped us work through what the process was, where the break-down occurred and what to notice in the future. We got some visuals regarding the philosophies of Eric Berne and how to apply them to our situation. We had not had such a great example in our present for her to work with before now, so I guess that is a silver lining.

It was a reminder to us that it is always a work in progress. We cannot get freaked out when such things happen. It is not the end-of-the-world, it was not a deal-breaker, and we need to keep working it through together.

MC: “Reconciled versus reconciling”

I think it’s clear that TL and I believe reconciliation is a marriage long process.  It’s never done.  In fact it’s more like a lifestyle.  For more on this, read Rick Reynolds’ “How long will it take to get over the affair.  You know — to get back to normal.”  As Rick said, I don’t want to get back to normal. That old normal, for me, was alternately pathological and superficial.  Reconciling will be part of our marriage forever.  That’s OK.  We need to accept that, adjust to it, and do it well.

There are plenty of examples of things you can do to continuously work on reconciling.  These  include counseling, writing, new activities as a couple, and perhaps others we have not yet discovered.  The new normal also means that new practices such as transparency about phones, computers, after work activities, and more never end.  Those healthy practices are not temporary.  They are part of your new lifestyle in reconciling.

TL and I had a conversation about this last night that put it into perspective for me.  The bottom line is, after surviving the initial shock of discoveries together, the urgency of reconciling can subside but the importance of it does not.  We work on reconciling every day.  But, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  If we were expecting the job of reconciliation to be finished — to be finite — we might be tempted to crash on it, the way a student might crash studying for an exam or writing a term paper.  Running a 100-meter dash, I’d throw every ounce of strength and energy into it.  Running a marathon, I’d pace myself.

Reconciliation is not a final exam we can pass or fail.  It’s more like a new habit such as exercising, eating right, observing our religion, brushing our teeth, abstaining from addictive vices, or caring for someone or something.  You do it forever.  For the sake of truth in advertising, expect little moments of imperfection. For example, if you miss a day of exercising, you get right back to it the next day.  If you allow yourself one dessert, you don’t give up on your whole diet.  Either way, you strive to do the right thing, forever. Similarly, even though you may have little moments where you forget to be compassionate, empathetic, or thoughtful, you should not give up on these things. I am saying that if you have these small failures, it does not mean that you are a failure and therefore still a cheater and a liar. Instead, these little failures are reminders of the importance of the work you are doing on reconciliation. These are signs that a course correction is needed.

I told TL that when some people ask when reconciliation will be achieved and when others say they have reconciled, it makes me think of reconciliation as a door closing, ceiling to floor, like in Star Wars or Indiana Jones, with the hero running to slide under the door before they are trapped in The Temple of Doom.  If that is reconciliation, you can have the illusion that once you’re safely under that door all your troubles are behind you, forever.  They are not.  You must keep dealing with them, daily, gradually, and appropriately.  If you see reconciliation as that door coming down, you rush and hurry.  You panic and crash.  You act as though you can put everything into it, non-stop, for one last leap to freedom.  That’s an illusion that causes you to focus on speed over quality.  It causes you to act in desperation.  You cannot reconcile through desperation.

Instead of escaping The Temple of Doom, recognize it as something else.  Take your time.  Do it right.  If you’re a betrayer, you can’t escape what you’ve done.  If you’re a betrayed, you can’t escape what your spouse has done to you.  Instead of escaping it, walk through it together.  Examine it together.  Dismantle it and rebuild it, from the inside out, together.

TL and I will never be reconciled.  I believe we are reconciling.  Each day it is a conscious decision to choose reconciliation.

We welcome your comments on this and any other discussion topics. If you would like to send in something to discuss, please e-mail it to us at reconcile.4.life@gmail.com.

It’s never done

Though we believe this is a life long journey, please don’t think we are saying the pain and trauma will continue to overtake the whole of your existence for the rest of your life. In time, you will once again be able to see and feel all the colors of life (admittedly, TL still struggles with this, but is working toward it).

What we are saying is that we are driving together on a road we have never before been upon. It is important to appreciate and experience the highs, lows and in-between of our life journey.  Still, we must also not forget to pay attention to the road we are upon, both as individuals and as a couple, to ensure we don’t veer off course.

TL: Though I’ve found this betrayal in many ways far more traumatic, I liken it to the death of my father many years ago. When he died I was overwhelmed with sadness and pain. That pain overtook the whole of my being for a good couple years. But, with each passing year the intensity lessened, the time spent in pain lessened and I was once again able to experience all of the other emotions and feelings available in life – good, bad and in-between. The memory of my Dad and the pain of his loss will always be a part of me, always be a part of the fabric of my life, just not the entirety of it. I believe it will be the same with this pain. Our experiences, including this pain, are fundamental to the design of our road map going forward, but we are still the ones driving the car. The moment we think the roadmap is perfect, the GPS knows all, that we are so confident in its accuracy that we go on “auto-pilot,” this is when the journey can easily and unexpectedly turn unsafe. It is not enough to have a roadmap, we must stay aware of our surroundings and adjust our course along the way.

MC: I learned that loving properly is a lot like physical fitness, sobriety, smoking cessation, mental agility, or even dental hygiene. It’s never “done.”

I used to regularly think about self-pity, jealousy, insecurity, and my anger at God, myself, and others for what I considered unfair about life. Now I remind myself daily not to think like that. I now regularly remind myself to count my blessings, take responsibility for my happiness, empathize with my wife, and remember that I chose to love her.  As much as I am attracted to her and I admire her, I didn’t “fall in love with her.” I chose her, and I chose to love her.

The practical lesson in this, for me, is that when asked, “What have you done to ensure you will not reoffend,” the answer is: “I’ve chosen a healthier path, and everyday I make little adjustments to be sure I never veer off course.” I am driving the right car, on the right road, in the right direction. But, I can’t afford to fall asleep at the wheel.

Talking openly and honestly

After d-day, I told Mindless I could promise him 100% complete honesty, but that given all he did I could not promise him fidelity just yet. He told me it made him sad, but that he understood my need to work through that decision and it was mine to make. He would be faithful, loving and do whatever he could to show me that we are worth saving.

You see before d-day, I did not allow myself to flirt or notice flirting, in fact I was pretty withdrawn from that aspect of the world. I was afraid to look pretty. I was afraid of a man noticing me. I was afraid of doing anything that threatened Mindless’ ego, because early on in our marriage it had resulted in him pouting for days. I did not want to do anything to hurt Mindless or threaten his ego, anything. After d-day, that just wasn’t something that I was going to let rule my world any more. I was so hurt, so vulnerable and so crushed after all my years of devotion and protecting his ego and essentially giving up myself to do it.

He wanted to show me that his ego does not rule his world anymore that he cared more about helping me heal than anything else in the world. Knowing that has helped me so much. And, no, I have not acted out, though I have flirted. The thing is I have told Mindless every single detail of everything immediately, about anything that could possibly even be considered a flirt. He always replies with, “of course you’re being noticed, you’re beautiful,” etc. . .

At first, oh boy how tempted I was to take it as far as I could. Mindless and I talked for hours/day. Through our intense discussions of all he did and all I was experiencing with this new flirting, we really started looking at the differences between ego and self-esteem. Over the course of time, I have realized that though it would build my ego, it would do nothing for my self-esteem to act upon it. With each passing day, as I become stronger within myself, I realize that acting out of ego with someone else, who would only be doing the same, actually makes me feel a little sick inside. I don’t want that. I want to be whole and happy within myself, and not build a foundation of who I am and how I feel about myself from external sources. Now I just take the compliment for what it is, enjoy it, share it with Mindless and that is that.

After several years of seeing how much Mindless is working on building his self-esteem and letting go of ego, after several years of seeing him put his love for me and our marriage above his ego, I am on my way to heading back there myself, but in a way that will never again compromise my true self. I like math, I like being mechanical, I like looking pretty. I am glad he is giving me the space, time and openness with him to be able to work through this aspect of recovering my true self.

Now, we talk openly together in a way we never did before. He also shares with me when he thinks a woman is sending signals and what he is doing to protect me and us. And I share ALL with him without fear. I will tell you this, the sharing of all of this kind of thing has really brought us closer together and, I believe, is helping make us stronger partners, safer partners for each other and have a stronger, safer marriage. By the way, I went back to school to get my MBA. Over half way done and it is wonderful to see Mindless supporting me in this endeavor in a way I never thought possible before. He is now my biggest cheerleader!

Count your blessings

One of MindlessCraft’s largest issues, and one we see time and again in other unfaithful spouses, is the inability to appreciate what they have in their lives and always wanting something more, something different. Failing to realize that a) the grass is greener on the other side of the fence because it is fertilized with bull shit and b) the true problem lies within and you cannot run away from yourself.

Before d-day, MC would often joke “not only is the glass half-empty, it is broken and leaking.” He always said it with a laugh and a smile, in a light-hearted, joking manner. But, jokes often have a way of actually being true, don’t they? This is exactly how MC saw his life. As it turns out, the crack in the glass was of his own making. He kept trying to get everyone else to fill his glass (feed his ego), but even that didn’t last because of that leak. And, even if the leak did not exist, depending on others to always be filling your glass is far less sustainable than learning to fill it yourself.

A good part of the focus now has been on fixing that leak, filling his own glass, and just appreciating the glass he has in front of him. MC is rewiring his thought processes to look at the positive and stop always focusing on the negative. MC decided one measure to address this, and to teach our children by example, was to eat dinner together as a family every night. Something we had not done in years, if ever. At the dinner table, MC initiated what we call “count your blessings.” It starts with “today, I appreciated. . .” and ends with “tomorrow I look forward to. . .”. Everyone does it, even TL.

At first, it was very difficult for TL to participate. As a betrayed experiencing great trauma, she was now mired in pain, despair and self-pity. But, with two beautiful children, there was always something she could contribute to this exercise. It has been 2.5 years and we continue to do this. One small thing on the journey forward to remind us to look at the positives in our life.

Nobody said it would be easy

“Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.”–Carl Schurz

We will not always get it right, but we try, we do our best, we work toward our goals. We stay focused, and make course corrections as we go along. We hope to do that with our readers, and hopefully commentators!

Here is an example that reminded us that the path is not linear, not finite and that we must pay attention to not get off course.

Mindless took a week off to spend Spring Break with the family. Then our children decided they wanted to participate in a day camp. Mindless decided to take the week off anyway and hang out with me.

He brought up something in the present and it brought me back to a memory in the past. I started to talk to him about that memory. I started down the “should have” path. He talks to me so much, so often about all of this, but I am usually the one who brings up the painful stuff. He listens, he apologizes, etc. . .But, when he brought up a topic he wasn’t expecting to instigate a painful discussion, his first response was to say, “sorry I brought it up.” That did not go well. In fact, fearing he was avoiding something, I started bringing up every hurtful thing that happened, from his skipping workouts to be with APs, to pretty much all of the other stuff he missed out on to be with APs. It wasn’t pretty.

We have come so far, I do see this. But, statements like “sorry I brought it up” made me fear that he filters his topics with me. He had to face that possibility and we are working on finding ways to ensure he does not filter out of fear, or for any other reason. We both are committed to being fully open and honest with each other. But, the hard things are hard things and that means they take work and constant attention. We would love to hear ideas from others on how they have confronted this issue.

As for me, I hate the “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve and if onlys” path. I’ve worked so hard on myself to not allow those types of thoughts to eat away at me because there is no going back, no changing the past. And, yet, sometimes they still get the better of me, but I can often pull myself out of it much quicker than I used to do.

For all my asking him to work on emotional honesty and maturity, I do see that I need to take responsibility for choosing to live in self-pity or choosing to find happiness within myself. It just doesn’t take much to set me off down that pity path. And, I do see, this is not just on him to fix, it is on me too. We are making progress, but it is certainly not easy. Then again, nobody said it would be.

Measures of safety

We talk a lot about the unfaithful building safety for their betrayed spouse. Here is what that looked like to us.

However you get there, full disclosure is so important.

1. Polygraph, with follow-ups on the table if ever desired. Our counselor was able to recommend an examiner based on his experience and knowledge of the examiner, who he met while working as a volunteer helping youth within the criminal justice system. The polygraph examiner had years of experience working with the police on cases involving sexual offenders.

Questions were few and tailored to be objective. No subjective emotional type questions allowed. MindlessCraft (MC) wrote a timeline before the polygraph of every physical and/or intimate relationship he has had since the start of our marriage. He then shared it with TigerLily (TL). He had already told TL all on the timeline before it was ever written, but the examiner needed it all written out.

Then, the questions for the polygraph were simply based on the timeline. The questions were worded appropriately by the examiner to accurately, specifically and objectively get at the idea. . .”is he still hiding, omitting or lying to TL about any information regarding his relationships with others since the beginning of the marriage.” Only the examiner and MC were allowed to be in the test. However, before the test, the examiner went over the questions with both MC and TL.  The test took about three hours. MC sometimes has extended travel for work, because of this, and the level of his betrayals, he has taken three polygraphs and passed each time. We do not want a marriage based on polygraph, but for now TL needs this as a back-up measure of safety. With time, consistency, and evidence that MC is a healthy person and safe partner, we will need it less and less.

2. Post-nuptial agreement with infidelity clause drawn-up. MC hired an attorney to draw-up the document. The idea was to give TL as much as possible, without it going to the level of likely being deemed unconscionable by some future judge. MC initiated it and by so doing helps to show this was done on his initiative, of his own free will, free from coercion. Also, we were told that in contract law, any questions of interpretation will be decided in favor of the person who did NOT initiate and present the contract (check with an attorney on all of this though). TL then hired an attorney to review the contract, suggest a few amendments and then we all signed it.

3. Vasectomy. TL already could not have more children, but this measure was MC’s way of trying to show TL that our children are and will always be MC’s top priority. His time, energy and resources will never be diverted from them, no matter what happens with us.

4. Access to all. Open and free access to all devices, accounts, passwords, etc. . .TL prefers the polygraph because it puts the onus of proving MC is being honest on him, instead of the onus of proving he is lying on TL. Still, free access is there at all times.

Attempting to reconcile is a risky proposition. So, it is incumbent upon the unfaithful spouse, if s/he truly wants reconciliation for the sake of a healthy marriage, to take on as much of that risk as possible and get it off the shoulders of their betrayed in any way they can.

What measures of safety have you found useful? Please share what you have found to be helpful and healing.

The past can never be better

One statement that means very different things to each of us.

TL: So, here’s the thing, it got to a point with me and Mindless where I kept wanting, hoping, praying there was something, anything he could do to take the pain away, to make it all better. He was doing everything and anything he could think of doing, and no matter what he did, it never did work. And, then I figured out why, because the one thing I wanted above all else was for him to take all of the pain away by changing the past. And, that just cannot happen. As much as I knew that in my head, I could not accept it in my heart.

In another way, I also kept wanting to change the past. I kept wanting to go back and do something different so I would have figured out what was going on so much sooner. I spent a lot of time with “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve and/or if only I had” done, said, questioned, seen anything, something different and discovered what was really going on so much sooner. But, the past can never be different. As much as I knew that in my head, again I could not accept it in my heart.

I now have this mantra that I tell myself “the past can never be different, the past can never be better.” And, I just repeat it to myself when I start wishing that the past could be different or that there was just some magic silver bullet that could make everything better.

While Mindless continues do everything he can to help me through, I know it has come to the point where I need to find happiness within myself, letting go of self-pity and instead finding self-fulfillment. It is a work in progress, but it is my work in progress.

MC: For me, I think this is about two things:  unhealthy self-soothing versus taking responsibility.  I spent most of my life wishing I could change the past.  It was beyond wishing. It was daydreaming, even fantasizing.  Similarly, I wished I could change reality and the present, but not through action, only through magic, only through God, Santa Claus, or the Tooth Fairy magically altering reality. I wished I could change my mother so she would not be so controlling, judgmental, demanding, patronizing, jealous, envious, and self-centered, so I wouldn’t be immobilized with fear of how she would judge me as I grew, explored, relaxed, and became more independent.  As an older child I wished I could change my past temperament and choices.  I wished I hadn’t been so timid and insular as a younger child.  I wished I had been bigger, more physical, and more active and aggressive as a younger child.  I wished I had learned each lesson in life earlier and with less trial and error.  As I moved on through high school, college, and beyond, I looked back on my recent past and wished I had been more attractive to girls; less awkward and afraid; more athletic; more focused and serious academically; more experienced with sex, drugs, and worldly things; more travelled; better read; and any number of other, often conflicting, things that I suspected would have made me more happy and successful.

With a pre-marriage long-term girlfriend and again with my wife, I began wishing to change their past.  I wished they were less sexually experienced than me.  In many ways they were, but that’s not how I saw it. In all this obsessive wishing I felt sorry for myself.  I felt the world owed me better.  I soothed myself with self-pity.  Instead of focusing on the present, the future, and realistic courses of action, I looked backwards, telling myself the present was bad because the past was bad. I failed to take responsibility for my own happiness, my own view of reality, and my own path to the future.  I obsessed on wanting a better past.  It immobilized me.

Refusing to summon up the courage to accept the past, plan for the future, and embrace the present, I took refuge in a double life, a hidden life of affairs, porn, prostitutes, and lies.  I used my self-pity as a permission slip for this double-life.  I told myself it was fair to do illicit selfish things today to compensate for my perceived inequities of yesterday. When my wife learned of all my sins, I almost lost everything that really mattered to me.  Only then did I realize what mattered most and what folly it was to think  I could pursue the life of satisfying marriage and family alongside the hidden life of affairs, porn, prostitutes, and wishing for a better past.

As I struggle to help us recover from my sins, struggling to become a safe husband and a better man, I know that I can only succeed by being courageous and not retreating into the refuge of self-pity and fantasizing of a better past.  I can only succeed by taking responsibility for my own behavior, happiness, and expectations of life. The past can never be better.  As an unfaithful spouse who emotionally destroyed my wife, I do wish I could go back and undo my selfish behavior and my wrong-headed thinking.  But, I have finally learned the importance of not obsessing on that wish and of focusing on real options, real choices, and real actions.

Ego vs. self-esteem

If you ask me, and I know you didn’t, here is what I think is at the core of cheaters and cheating: a completely fucked-up misunderstanding on the difference between ego and self-esteem. Building ego is validating oneself through the eyes of others. This is an exceptionally stupid, volatile and noxious way to feel good about yourself causing one to need a constant supply of “kibbles” in order to maintain a false sense of feeling good. Self-esteem is validating yourself from within and does not seek or need others to stroke your. . .whatever. . .to feel good about yourself.

I wrote that a while ago, on another blog, before we created our own. That thought has evolved with time. It evolved to include that it does not just apply to the unfaithful spouse, but can apply to all of us. Though the unfaithful clearly, for reasons they must identify, took that to levels that the betrayed did not.

So, let’s put this into more neutral terms, though admittedly, the original is far more catchy.

We both now understand that ego compares itself to others. Self-esteem compares itself to itself. This is true for both of us. I now understand that my “need to be needed” was also ego-based, dependent upon external sources for validation.

One seeks to build their ego through external sources of validation. If external sources are the majority of sources, then you are setting yourself up for an unending desperate search just to sustain your ego. Dependency on external sources of validation is exceptionally volatile. It is like a bottomless pit. It is constantly searching for and needing more sources of validation just to sustain itself.

One seeks to build self-esteem through internal sources of validation. It is solely and wholly dependent upon internal sources. Self-esteem asks, “Am I improving from where I was before? Am I contributing to the world around me, not to get something in return, but simply to leave the world a bit better than I found it? Am I maintaining and/or improving my health?” Whether it is a “need to be needed” or a “need to be stroked,” both are forms of external validation that never end well.

Guilt, shame, and triggers

We just think it is a good idea to clarify how we use terms here, since so many people use similar words to mean such different things. When we refer to a “trigger” here at Reconcile4Life, we mean one of two things:

  1. In the betrayed spouse, it is an event that evokes a strong emotional and/or physical reaction, sending the BS into an unhealthy tailspin.
  2. In the unfaithful spouse, it is an event that evokes a desire to escape and/or avoid life in its reality, increasing the desire to turn to unhealthy choices.

We understand that unfaithful spouses will have reminders that elicit guilt, sadness, and remorse. At Reconcile4Life, we do NOT refer to these events as “triggers” because we feel these are simply a healthy response to understanding the consequences of one’s actions. Now, if these feelings are so focused upon by the unfaithful as to send them into a tailspin, then we are discussing something else entirely, being entrapped in one’s own shame. And, so we have yet another difference, the difference between healthy guilt that instigates change and unhealthy shame that leads to further destruction. Rick Reynolds, from Affair Recovery, has a nice piece describing the difference between guilt and shame.

 What Is Shame?

It’s easy to confuse guilt with shame. Guilt is that rock in your stomach when you know you’ve done something wrong. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; typically guilt means we are aware of our responsibility for an action we regret.  Hopefully when we feel guilty, we  take responsibility for our actions and then work to make amends (when possible) with the offended party. Shame, however, is a far more entrenched mindset about ourselves. Shame says “I am bad” rather than “I’ve done something bad”; it changes your identity instead of simply accepting responsibility. We feel guilt for what we have done, but when we’ve done something we feel is shameful we take that on as our identity. Shame continues to instill the idea within which says, “I am not worthy.” Shame loves to instill feelings of inadequacy, self-contempt and a deep sense of inferiority.

The problem with shame is that it is completely self-centered. Shame continues to make everything about me and prevents recovery. When I’m dealing with shame and playing the “I’m such a horrible person” card, I can’t focus on the damage I’ve done to others and experience empathy for them because my focus remains on me. It selfishly puts my betrayed spouse in the position of trying to build me back up and give me a new identity, or at the very least to curb some of their recovery to acquiesce to my needs. As long as the unfaithful spouse continues to remain paralyzed by his or her own self-absorption, their mate can’t truly heal. Shame doesn’t accept responsibility for the choices made, it is just another form of justification: “I can’t help my bad choices if I’m a bad person.”

Reference:

Reynolds, R. (n.d.), Understanding the paralysis of shame. Affair Recovery Healing Library. Retrieved from: https://www.affairrecovery.com/newsletter/founder/infidelity-recovery-understanding-the-paralysis-of-shame