Tag Archives: safety

Toxic Masculinity

I recently read an article discussing toxic masculinity in the context of fatherless South African young men. I was struck by how similar the issues raised are to MindlessCraft’s issues. Except for one difference, Mindless grew-up with a father.

As I read, another thought occurred to me. In Mindless’s case, and so many others I’ve seen on blogs and forums, the case wasn’t so much of a missing father (though, perhaps, an overly quiet one) as it was of a controlling mother; a mother who refused to empower her child to make mistakes, learn from mistakes, and to have a voice of their own. A mother who wanted their son never to grow up, never to be a confident man capable of making his own life choices, a mother who wanted never to let go. Pretty much the opposite of this video by Kristina Kuzmic. I love this video, especially the lines, “you see, the more I treat a child like a competent human being, the more he or she will act like a competent human being. Isn’t it crazy how that works?” And, “we don’t get to decide our children’s strengths and talents, so why don’t you let your child be and go get yourself a puppet.”

This blog post has been sitting as an unfinished draft for some time, in the intervening days since I wrote this, the Gillette ad came out. I must say, I love the Gillette ad. As I read some of the backlash comments, I was stupified by the prevalence of such toxic masculinity that still exists in our society, our American society.

And, it occurs to me once again, how I think the real issue at play is “control.” Men who hold onto notions of toxic masculinity, men who are reacting negatively to the Gillette advertisement are doing so, perhaps, because they sense that many in American society are tired of male dominance being the expectation, these men are losing complete unquestioned control. We are moving to a place where many in our society actually expect RESPECT to be the guiding principle in how we treat others, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. I am astounded that the simple idea of “mutual respect” is receiving such backlash!

And, it brings me back to thinking of MindlessCraft’s issues, which are his to describe and his to heal. However, placing them in a broader, societal context, I cannot help but think that there is a misunderstanding between “aggressiveness” and “assertiveness.” In my opinion, aggressiveness, including passive aggressiveness, seeks to manipulate or control the agency of another. Whereas, assertiveness is merely the recognition and honest expression of self while honoring others also have the right and responsibility to express themselves.

How many of our men refused to be assertive in their daily visible personal lives and resented that fact? How many of our men saw their hidden sexual lives as something they alone controlled? I look at the latter as an aggressive act borne of fear and resentment, while also a fundamental mischaracterization of what it means to be a man. Being a man isn’t about being aggressive and taking what you “deserve.” Being a man is about being an adult, which means being authentic, assertive and respectful of others’ need, right and responsibility to do the same.

I will not give Mindless control over me, I will not give Mindless my agency. On the other hand, damn it, I don’t want him giving over his control and agency to me. Instead, I want an assertive partner. One who has agency and recognizes that each of us has agency in our decisions. One who understands the difference between assertive and aggressive, including passive aggressive. I don’t want to be a human puppet, and I don’t want a human puppet for a partner. I want a partner who discusses all openly and honestly, but also understands that I will be doing the same.

Being a man isn’t about sexual conquests, it is about being an adult. Being an adult isn’t about control, it is about living with courage. Living with courage isn’t about getting rid of fear before being open and honest, living with courage is about being open and honest in spite of the fear.

Since before d-day, I see so many differences on this front with Mindless. It is definitely a work in progress. But, of all of the work he is doing to become a healthy man of integrity, this is probably the one that gives me the most hope and the strongest sense of safety.


How do you dream beyond tomorrow?

So, MindlessCraft and I were talking about how we live in this day-by-day world. He understands my need to take it day-by-day. He understands that I don’t feel safe dreaming of OUR future. He tells me it is very sad that he has caused this to be the way it is. He understands that his not knowing what tomorrow will bring regarding my thoughts of our marriage is a consequence of me not ever again feeling 100% confident that he will continue to be a safe partner for the remainder of our lives.

Can we live this way, day-by-day, without any guarantee of what tomorrow will bring? Is there any way that our marriage can be a safe place, where we can dream of a future together without fear? What would I need to feel that way?

I can never again have blind faith in anything or anyone. I will never be the naive, trusting girl that I was before d-day. Knowing that there are no guarantees for any of us, how do you start again dreaming beyond tomorrow? Whether he is in my life or not, I’m focusing on living today, trying today, and building upon that day-by-day. I wish it were different too. After all that has happened, I just don’t have it in me to trust anything beyond the tangible directly in front me.

I do remember one of our counselors emphasizing the need for near-term plans, mid-term plans, and long-range plans. We do talk about these things in terms of our financial security and jobs, and in terms of helping our boys plan next steps for their education. We plan for logistics. We plan for events in the near future. But, we don’t dream beyond tomorrow. Should we, can we, and if so, how?

Circle of selfish interests

As I see the world around us in peril, as I see so many threats to our country’s policies and way forward, as I see all the progress our American society has made being jeopardized, as I see the increased suffering and lack of humanity encroaching on so many parts of our world, I worry about the future.

I know MC feels as I do about threats against non-white, non-Christians in our country.  These threats directly impact him and our family. He tells me that he feels for the plight of others, but we have so many of our own struggles to focus upon. Yet, I have a worry that perhaps the reality is something different. What if the reality is that he only cares about issues that directly impact him, our kids and our family. What if he actually has no real care in the world for the suffering of others that are unlikely to have any direct impact on him or on our family.

I am a huge fan of Thomas Friedman. I recently saw an interview with him where he was talking about the precipice upon which our society now sits. He explained, it is like the change from an agricultural to an industrial society. It is similar to when we transitioned from horse-drawn carriage to automobiles. As we move to a more technologically advanced society, we must help others to feel protected, connected and respected. In the age of intelligent machines, we must remember that our biggest comparative advantage is our humanity.

I realized, MC now treats me and our children with humanity, focusing on anything he can do now to help us feel protected, connected and respected. But, I cannot help but wonder what if it is not so much that he has tamed the selfish beast, as much as he has simply now included the kids and me in his circle of selfish interests?  Is that what is normal for most of us? Is it enough?

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.

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

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.


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.”

MC: “Travel travails”

The other week I was out of town for three nights, on a business trip. Last week I was out of town for one night on a business trip. That amount and frequency of work-related travel is quite unusual for me. In fact, it seems to be cyclical. I often have a lot of work travel demands in the August through October period. The rest of the year, my travel schedule is only about one or two brief trips per quarter. This quarter, I had three trips, for a total of five nights.

This created two problems for us. The first is the problem TL described in her post: she wanted me to schedule less trips without conferring with her. One thing I learned from the experience was that when I travel, TL sometimes feels like I would rather be working than spending time together, that I would never say “no” to a trip unless she asked me to do so. This tells me I’ve not done enough to let her know she and our family are my top priority.

We talked more about it this morning. I now understand that TL felt that I never wanted to say “no” by myself and that I depended upon her to set the limits. I now understand that her pushing off decisions was her way of showing that she was not comfortable being put in the position of always being the one to set the limits. It was not my intention to make TL feel she had to set limits, that I was not willing or able to do so.

I did not view it as anyone setting limits. I viewed it as the two of us together making these decisions on a case-by-case basis. And if I traveled, it was not because “she let me travel.” And, if I did not travel, it was not because “she wouldn’t let me travel.” Rather, each trip was a single event that I thought the two of us were evaluating together with neither of us having a bias in favor or against. We did agree on a way to deal with that going forward.

The second problem was TL’s fear when I told her I had lunch in an airport with a female co-worker. Here’s the story. I’ll refer to this woman by the initials CW. CW works down the hall from me. She started just a few months ago. She is friendly, but not awkwardly friendly. She usually says “hi.” On two or three occasions she poked her head into my office to comment on some thing she just saw on the news and to ask my opinion. There are several male colleagues at work who do the same thing. I just try to be polite. CW is out of the office more than I am, for travel or projects. So, I can often go for several days without seeing her. Our little interactions have never seemed unprofessional or too friendly to me. I do make a conscious effort to avoid her, when possible.

On my most recent trip, while I waited to board the plane, I was surprised to find CW waiting to board the same plane. It was not a pleasant surprise. I knew TL would be unsettled by it. But, it was a completely unexpected, coincidental occurrence. I said “hi,” thinking it would be weird or rude if I did not. We made small talk while waiting to board the plane. It was completely innocuous, innocent, professional conversation. I made it a point to refer to my wife and children, in the most loving tones, whenever I could work it into the conversation. On the plane, we were seated several rows apart, so there was no need to talk.

At the layover, we were both headed off to separate flights, to separate airports. CW started waiting for me while I waited for my plane side-checked bag. I said, “Don’t feel compelled to wait for me.” I tried to be matter-of-fact about it. I did not want to be rude to a co-worker. I also did not want to be unnecessarily friendly. She walked off. I got my bag and started to look around for a restaurant. I was starved and it was about midday.

By coincidence, CW saw me. She asked, “Will you join me for lunch?”

I thought as quickly as I could. I was going to have lunch anyway. This woman works down the hall from me. I want to be polite but not too friendly. I decided to accept her lunch offer but to commit myself to purely professional conversation, a brief lunch, and an immediate full report to TL.

I did that. We had a brief lunch. We made pleasant small talk about work, family, and stuff in the news. After we paid our separate checks, I said, “Well, I’m going to hit the men’s room and then call my wife.” I proceeded to do that.

As we were leaving, I said, “Safe travels.”

She said, “Yeah, maybe we’ll see each other there.” She was referring to our firm’s second headquarters, which was where both of us were supposed to end our journeys that day. By then, I had forgotten she was going there too.

I said, “Oh, yeah. Maybe.”

“Give me your phone number,” she said.

I felt a little trapped. I gave her my business card. We went our separate ways. A short time later, she texted me, to give me her phone number. I texted back, “Thanks.” We had no further communication, and I have not seen her since then. Last night she sent me a friend request on Facebook. I immediately showed TL and hit “decline.”

This is the type of woman I would have tried to exploit, prior to D-day. I told TL that now I don’t see CW as an opportunity for an affair. Rather, I see her as an opportunity to demonstrate to TL that I continue to be transparent, safe, and motivated by love for TL. TL and I talked about prevention. For example, if I’m confronted by an impromptu lunch invitation again, I can say, “I can’t. I have an FaceTime date with my wife while I eat.” My plan is to continue avoiding CW, to talk about TL when I am confronted by CW, and to keep telling TL everything that happens.

The dog story

MC and I were talking last night and he reminded me of something that we thought would be worth sharing. He’s got a lot on his plate this week, so I thought I would share it as it fits our current theme. . .

Before we had children, while living overseas, we took in an abused dog. She was beautiful, so loving to us and instinctively protective. She had it in her genes to be a guard dog, although all we wanted was her to be a member of our family and a running companion. She could only hang out with people who themselves had dogs. She LOVED other dogs and was therefore loving and friendly to their people. For those without dogs, she did not like them AT ALL.

When we had our first child, I was nervous. But, she was very loving and gentle near the baby. When our oldest was a toddler he ran up to our girl, falling into a big hug with her. She snapped at him and barely broke the skin, but did break the skin. We tried to find her a new home, but couldn’t. We called animal rescue organizations back in the US, telling them we would fly her to them, if they would take her. They wouldn’t. Finally, we decided to take her to the vet to put her down. We loved her so very much, but we thought she wasn’t safe for our child at that point.

Do you see where this is going? Just because you love someone doesn’t mean they are safe for you and that you can keep them in your life. So, while the definition of love is very important to our reconciliation, so is the idea of safety. Love is one thing. Safety is another.

Now, just so you know the end of the dog story. . .

We got our girl to the vet and he found she was infested with something similar to yet-to-be hatched from her skin botflies. No wonder the girl was cranky at being hugged. We got her all fixed-up and she came home to us to live a long and happy life with our growing family, never to snap at our family again. She died a few months before d-day. We still miss her.

A parting thought…It is true, MC was never infested with botfly larvae. And, there were certainly moments I wanted to put him down (ha!). The reality is that in addition to reprioritizing his values and his life; learning to think outside of himself; and learning to love truly, as opposed to only loving on a quid-pro-quo basis; MC also had to focus on becoming a safe partner and providing mechanisms of safety not only to protect me and the kids if I chose to attempt reconciliation with him, but even if I chose to divorce.

Our steps, part two

So, how could I defeat the vampire?  Contrary to myth, this one was not affected by garlic, crosses, holy water, or even sunlight. It was real, and I needed real weapons.  That was step two.  The weapon was values.  No, I’m not yet to the point of talking about abstract values such as honesty, faith, peace, and the like.  I mean, what is valuable to me?  Illicit sex?  Money?  Love?  Family?  Flattery?  Work?

I had been pursuing all those things, even when some contradicted each other.  I had been obsessively pursuing illicit sex and flattery in a way that detracted from my pursuit of family, love and financial responsibility.  With my double-life suddenly exposed, I could no longer pursue all those conflicting things.  One of my two lives had to die, instantly.  I had a split second to decide which life would die.  I decided I wanted the “positive” life to continue — the life with family and self-control.  The “negative” life died instantly — the life of affairs, prostitutes, porn, masturbation, and lies.  It died that instant.  I’ve spent the last almost three years trying to build enough mental health to be sure it never rises again.

Step three, the next weapons were transparency, reducing vulnerabilities, and giving TL safety.  Transparency meant giving TL complete, unfettered access to all my phones, computers, and accounts.  Never again would I be able to send or receive any message without my wife’s knowledge.  We only relax on this when I’m planning surprise gifts or events for TL.  But, even then, she could look if she wanted to look.  Transparency also meant, on my own initiative, consistently informing TL about my location, plans, and activities.  We talk, text, and e-mail often each day.  When I travel, we talk by FaceTime at least twice a day.  I try to minimize my travel.  I do everything I can to show TL that her safety is my top priority.

Transparency also means I have told TL, and you now, every detail of my double-life.  I try to remember more details to share with her.  She asks lots of questions.  I answer them all. On the rare occasion that I remember some detail that previously was lost to me, I volunteer it immediately.  We talk regularly about current events in our lives, including me volunteering whether there are any women or other temptations that could be vulnerabilities.  I have passed at least three polygraph tests.  I’ll take another in a few weeks.  Each time, TL helps develop the questions.

Reducing vulnerabilities means I never let myself be alone with another woman who could potentially be a temptation.  Creating safety for TL means a post-nuptial agreement, with generous protections.  Step four is trying to make amends, trying to give TL all the things I owed her and more, not for the purpose of pleasing, but just because I wanted to do it out of love for her.  We traded in our old wedding rings.  Two years after D-day, and after my religious conversion, we renewed our wedding vows, this time in a beautiful ceremony with friends and family and in the proper religious tradition.