Tag Archives: sick obsessions

Retroactive jealousy 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For RJ, ERP goes like this:

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

Here’s an example ERP:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Creating loneliness 

The next John Baker question is:  What ways have I tried to escape my past pain?  Long time readers will recognize that this is not really a new question.  I think before D-day I was pained, irrationally, by my perceived lack of experience.  So, I tried to compensate for it, taking irrational risks and disregarding TL’s feelings in a desperate attempt to rack up more experience.  That turned out to be self-destructive as well as hurtful to TL.  How, Baker continues, has hanging on to my anger and resentments affected me?  That’s a restatement of the previous question.  The answer is the same.

Baker asks whether I believe loneliness is a choice.  He asks how denial has isolated me from important relationships.  He says to describe the emptiness I feel and talk about new ways to fill it.

Sure, loneliness is a choice.  I created unnecessary distance between TL and me.  What could I have done differently, on this issue specifically?  That’s not an easy question.  Sure, I could have not obsessed on jealousy and my inferiority complex related to sex.  I’ve stopped obsessing on those things now.  But, today I’ve arrived at that point only through the shock of almost losing TL.  Today, when I’m tempted to feel jealous, I stop it in its tracks by realizing how terribly hurt TL is.  It’s not so tempting to feel jealous of her when considering what desperate pain I’ve caused her.  Today, when I’m tempted to bemoan my feelings of inferiority regarding sex, I can quash the feeling by recalling how insignificant that question is compared to questions like whether I can stay with TL at all.

Catastrophe has taught me to stop thinking things that create loneliness for me.  I should have reached that point before causing a catastrophe.  Why didn’t I?  Let’s go back to the first year of my marriage.  I didn’t feel emptiness.  I felt inadequacy, self-doubt, and envy.  (The feelings were unfounded and irrational.)  The role of denial was to hide, from myself, the fact that my obsessive quest to increase my sexual experience would ultimately hurt TL.  I created loneliness for myself and TL by pursuing a double-life.  The fact that my double-life was secret from TL created an unnecessary distance between us.

I chose loneliness by choosing to keep secrets.  I think that’s the bottom line.  Secrecy isolated me from TL.  Now, in contrast, my goal is to reveal everything to her, in real time.

Separately, but related, in the early years of our marriage I often agonized aloud to TL about my feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and envy.  I harassed her with pleas for her to change the past.  I began to see my irrational pleas from two disparate angles.  On one hand, I saw that I was focusing too much of my happiness and self-worth on hopes of changing the past, and that I was causing TL great distress by frequently moaning, crying, or getting angry about the past.  On the other hand, I could not stop myself from obsessing on the past.

I should have cut off one of those two conflicting parts of me.  I should have either calmly and fully accepted the past and put it into perspective, or chosen to leave TL and accept that I could not be at peace with the past.  As we know, I didn’t really choose.  I tried to take a middle road.  I wonder now whether any sort of therapy might have better prepared me for that middle road.  Could a therapist have helped me put the past into perspective?  Could a therapist have convinced me not to risk everything through adultery?  Would a therapist have dissuaded me from adultery?

Would I have listened?  Probably not.

I had four options:  accept the past and put it in perspective, leave TL, accept therapy and believe that I could accept the past and put it into perspective, or choose the middle road, the road to adultery and double-life.  I chose the latter.  I chose loneliness.  (This statement is not self-pity.  It’s just my response to Baker’s questions and acknowledgment of my errors.)

I’m sorry, but it’s over

I recently re-read my May 3 post, “Sick obsessions.”  A little over 40 months ago, I e-mailed my last affair partner to say the affair was over.  At the same time I was dedicating myself to becoming a better, faithful husband, and re-dedicating myself to TL.  That was 40 months ago, and TL and I have come a long way since then.  But, occasionally, like the other night, TL still recalls the injustice, disappointment, and anger over the idea that I wrote, “I’m sorry . . .”

I should have written something less ambiguous.  I was not sorry that I was breaking it off with the affair partner, and it was pointless to claim that I was.

I should have just said something such as:  “This is over.  Don’t contact me.  I was a fool to betray my wife.  She is the only woman I ever loved.”  I could have said that.  Everything therein was and is true.  Why didn’t I?  Why did I soften it?

To me, this goes back to one of the reasons I chose the pseudonym “Mindless” on this blog.  It really sums up my pathological behavior.  There are some things in life you say deliberately and with meaning, things like:  “Yes, I will buy this car,” “I’m certain that man is the murderer,” or “He’s dead.”  You put a lot of thought, emotion, or both into it before you pronounce such things.  They don’t spill out of your mouth thoughtlessly or inadvertently.

Then there are statements like:  “I’m fine,” “Bless you,” or “Sure, no problem.”  A lot of times such statements roll off our tongues instinctively.  We don’t really attribute much meaning to them.  We don’t say them deliberately or with great forethought or emotion.  It’s probably better for our relationships if more of our remarks are in the former category and fewer are in the latter.  Prior to D-day, I let a lot of my remarks fall into the latter category.  In short, I said stupid stuff  without giving it much thought.  I just went through the motions.

So, why mindlessly say, “I’m sorry . . . ” to an unimportant person who didn’t mean anything to me?  I had spent forty-two years practicing the bad habit of speaking in a cowardly manner.  I said, “Oh, I can’t go to that activity.  Maybe next time.”  What I meant to say was, “No thanks. I’m not interested.”  I said, “Yeah, maybe.”  What I meant to say was, “No, I respectfully disagree.”  I said, “I’m sorry.  I’m afraid I really have to leave now.”  What I meant to say was, “It was a nice party.  Thanks for inviting me.”

None of those statements needed all the explanation, apologetic tone, hesitation, and deference.  I should know what I’m saying, feel confident about saying it, and say it clearly. When I began that note with “I’m sorry,” was I not sure I was ending the affair?  No, I was sure I was ending it.  I was sure I wanted to end it.  I did not regret that I was ending it, even at that moment.  Was I afraid — afraid that the affair partner would push back, judge me, be angry, or be hurt?  No.  No, I wasn’t.

So, what was the meaning of “I’m sorry?”  Nothing.  It was mindless.  It was a cowardly reflex.

I’m not sorry I won’t buy what you’re selling.  I’m not sorry I won’t spend time responding to your survey.  I’m not sorry I won’t give the panhandler a dollar.  I’m not sorry I am not interested in attending your party, meeting, or activity.  I’m not sorry I’m ready to leave your event or activity.  I’m not sorry you dialed the wrong number. I’m annoyed, but polite.  And, I’m not sorry.

I’m not sorry I’m leaving a life of adultery behind.  Even on D-day itself, I was not sorry I was cutting ties with an affair partner.  I did not care about her or her feelings.  I was only sorry that I had done such a terrible thing to TL.

My “I’m sorry” that day was equivalent to picking at my fingernails, overeating, failing to confront my mother when she made hurtful comments, being inflexible, and being inattentive. It was part of a mindless, pathological, pointless, self-defeating bad habit.  It was the habit of talking like a coward, of talking without honesty.

One of my goals is to be more mindful: to be in the moment, to do things thoughtfully and deliberately, to say what I mean and only what I mean.  I’m practicing that.

My other goal, or perhaps hope, is to prove to TL that I never doubted my decision to immediately cut ties with the affair partner.  Faced with a clear choice between TL and the other woman, the choice was easy and instantaneous.  When it became clear my double life was over, I knew immediately which individual life I wanted.  I’m sorry I said “I’m sorry” to that woman.  I was not.  I am, however, very sorry to TL

TL: “My own shame”

I wrote this a while ago, but have been afraid to post it, afraid of MC’s reaction. Though, I really did not understand or recognize it as the basis of my fear. I think our recent discussion about Train Wreck brought it to the forefront. After seeing MC’s latest post, I shared this with him. He said it is the same thing we’ve talked about a few times before, but seeing it in writing is a bit of a trigger. I admitted hearing him say that scared me to death. We talked.

He talked to me as his friend, not in the obsessive, pouty, angry and/or distant manner of the past, but truly as a friend. It brought us closer instead of pushing us away from each other in fear. He also encouraged me to not be afraid, to share these thoughts. So here it goes.

A few sessions ago I spoke with B about the movie too. I’m sure it is hard to understand why this is such a big deal to MC and to me. It was the crux of his self-pity. B wanted to talk to me about my pre-marital sexual experiences, how I felt about them, how I was impacted by MC’s obsessive nature about my past and his own.

Though I had some regret and sadness over some of my pre-MC past, I didn’t really have any overwhelming shame about it. I realized that my shame over my past experiences really started and grew with each day I was with MC, after he began to get down on me over my past before him. I had sexual relations with one partner more than MC had been with pre marriage. MC had been sexually active for much longer than me, had sexual experiences that I had never had and certainly had more experience with sex in general. But, I did have more “hook-ups” than MC during our college years (after my dad died, I went from being a virgin to having about an 18-month time-span of. . .let me just call it what it was. . .promiscuity). Luckily I ended that time of my life physically unscathed. I ended that time of my life knowing that it was not who I wanted to be and knowing it was not how I wanted to live my life.

I was always upfront with MC about this. I really thought he was my friend and understood that it came from an unhealthy, self-medicating kind of place, something I regretted, something I had faced and worked through. I wanted him to know because I wanted an honest relationship, no secrets between us. After we married, I was confronted with MC’s obsessive insecurities over my past and his own. It was then that I started to beat myself up over the past, perhaps in some way I hoped it would appease MC.

The reality is finally again I don’t feel shame over my past. Yes, it was based on some immature choices that ultimately were not healthy for me, and I am glad I learned the lessons I needed to learn as a young person, on that front anyway. But, it was never a betrayal of MC, he wasn’t even in my life during that time. I feel good now being able to look back at that time and not be consumed in shame over it. Now I just need to get over my fear of his self-pity. The talk the other night was reassuring, but admittedly the fear still exists within me.

Why I regret cheating

Here’s a conversation TL and I sometimes have.  She asks if I regret cheating.  I say, “Of course.”  She asks why. I say because it hurt her terribly, I regret my cruelty and selfishness, and the damage to TL and our relationship is immeasurable.  She asks, “Is that all?”  “If you only regret it because it hurt me” she says, “One day you might randomly change your mind about that and go back to lying and cheating.  If you only regret it because it hurt me, you might still harbor some joy, pride, fondness, or lack of remorse about the affair.”  I don’t really follow that logic.  But, no, I totally regret the affairs.  The only time I ever think about the affairs is when TL asks me to think about them.  And, those thoughts are negative.

Here’s the other things I regret about the affairs.  First, I regret the way I was during those affairs.  I was selfish and distracted.  This made me a bad husband, bad father, bad employee, bad colleague, and bad person.  I hurt my children.  I deprived myself of the full joy of marriage and fatherhood.  I deprived myself of full, meaningful relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.  I deprived myself of smart dedication to success in career, health, and other endeavors. I was amoral. I was a liar and a cheater.  My behavior and thinking during those times will be a source of regret for me until I die, even if TL leaves me.

Second, my behavior in those affairs was pathological.  I was desperately seeking an antidote to my low self-esteem.  I didn’t get the antidote.  The affairs ultimately made my self-esteem worse, knowing I could only get shallow flattery through illicit acts.

“But, wait,” TL says, “What about all those great things about affairs that Esther Perel and all sorts of cheaters describe?”  The list is long.  Was it thrilling?  Was it exciting?  Was it a source of adrenaline rush?  Yes, there is an adrenaline rush from doing something illicit.  But, that’s not a pleasant memory.  It’s not joyous, like the adrenaline rush from skydiving. It’s sick, like I imagine the rush from shoplifting would be.  It’s sick, shameful, and something that will never bring me anything but remorse. It’s not like butterflies in your stomach. It’s more like spiders, crawling up your spine. I regret it, for its own sake.

Did I love the APs?  No.  I wasn’t capable of loving anyone back then — not TL, not myself, not parents, not children, and certainly not APs.  To me, the APs were just blow-up dolls that could talk.  Had they gotten hit by a car after I orgasmed in them, I wouldn’t have given a damn.  And, yes, that too says something pretty awful about me.  I never missed those women and never will.

Was the sex enjoyable?  It was sex.  That’s all I wanted at the time — sex and flattery.  Any sex was good enough.  But, was it good sex?  Not really.  In a few cases, APs or prostitutes performed a certain sex act that TL and I did not do.  That doesn’t mean they gave me better sex.  I thought of them as whores.

Would I contact the AP in the future if TL died or divorced me?  No.  I would have no desire to do so.  Those women were as flawed as I was.  Now, they would just be time-wasting reminders of my flaws.  I’m trying to move forward as a man, adult, father, employee, and friend.  Those women have nothing to offer me.

Did I ever reminisce about the APs or the affairs in my mind?  No.  I did wish for a certain sex act. But, that was about the act, not the person. I was not open to talking about sexual desires with TL, I was too occupied with my sick obsessions.

Would I have dated those women in a hypothetical past where TL and I were not together?  I don’t know.  With TL, I was a desperate man — desperate for sex, without being haunted by my sick obsessions, and for flattery as an antidote to my low self-esteem.  Without TL, in some hypothetical past reality, I would have been even more desperate — desperate for sex and self-esteem, and lacking friendship too.  I would have possibly dated any woman who gave me attention.

Were the APs more attractive than TL?  No. They were all flat-chested and unremarkable.  TL is really a beautiful woman, inside and outside.  And, honestly, even the quality of the actual sex with TL has always been better.

Did I value the APs more than I valued TL?  No.  They could fall off the face of the earth and I wouldn’t care.  TL, on the other hand, has always been the most important woman in my life.  Yes, I arrived at lying and cheating by putting myself before TL.  But, aside from my selfish self, TL was always the most important person for me.

If my view of women was so self-centered and shallow, what was special to me about TL?  Despite my terrible lack of understanding about love and relationships, I was always supremely impressed by TL, proud of her, attracted to her, and drawn to her friendship in a way I’ve never experienced with anyone else.  I only recently learned to love properly.  But, I have always felt limerence for TL.  Yes, TL and I believe loving is more important than limerence.  The former is real, while the latter is insufficient for a lasting, healthy relationship.  But, I really have always felt limerence for her.

MC: “Sick obsessions.”

Of course, I should have just gotten rid of the AP’s things and not looked back.  I feared she would harass me about returning her things if I did not.  I feared she would do something, careless or otherwise, that would tip off TL to the affair.  So, I planned to hide the things until I could sneak away and mail them to the AP.  It wasn’t a great plan.  It was simply the only plan I had.

I arrived at our vacation apartment and tried to pretend nothing was wrong.  I e-mailed the AP to find out her mailing address.  The next afternoon, TL confronted me with questions about why I had missed our child’s birthday, been so rude and distant, and had so many stories that didn’t add up.  It was one of the most awful moments of my life.  I found myself running and hiding in the bathroom when TL asked to see my e-mails.  It didn’t work.  She saw messages that were evidence of the affair.  I tried several lies to hide.  It all failed.

I told TL I would break off contact with the AP.  Then and there I wrote an e-mail to the AP saying, “I’m sorry, it’s over . . .”  I don’t recall what else I wrote.  It was brief, and it was something like, “I now see that I made the right decision returning to my family.  I hope you go back to your family.”  I showed it to TL and sent it.

TL is still hurt, I think, by the way I worded that e-mail.  It showed significant concern for the AP’s feelings. I did not have concern for the AP’s feelings.  I never did.  I just had this terrible, lifelong habit of faking concern for others’ feelings.  And, in a situation  where I was supposed to be solely focused on TL, I should have been far less concerned about the AP.  I did not love the AP and I never had.  In fact, I had never really known the meaning of the word “love” and had never really loved anyone but myself.  More on that later.

The whole e-mail note to the AP was a failure, in terms of showing love for TL.  I told myself I wrote such a gentle farewell note to the AP so the AP would know it was really from me.  That’s only part of the reason.  I think the main reason was that sick habit I had, of faking emotions and trying to make everyone think well of me, at any cost.  It was selfish and it was a form of trying to stroke my own ego, trying to leave the AP thinking well of me, even after the affair.  When I think about it, that’s the main thing I wanted from the affair in the first place.  More than just sex, I wanted other women to think well of me.  That’s what I wanted, as a substitute for my missing self-esteem.

From that point, everything blurred together into a terrible crisis for TL and me.  She packed my bags and told me to get out.  I begged and pleaded her to allow me to stay.  I really did commit, on that first day, to never cheat again.  Gradually, I told her more and more about the affair.  I gradually became more open about what had happened.  We talked about ways to make her feel safe and make me be accountable to her.  This was a process that continues to this day.

I found a marriage counselor who could see us right away.  I did more and more to try to help.  One big obstacle remained:  I was desperately trying to hide the fact that I had had two previous affairs and a long series of other illicit encounters.

Similarly, I wanted to hide the fact that I had herpes, something I had probably gotten from a prostitute seven years earlier.  I had hidden it from TL all those years, hoping that abstaining from sex during outbreaks would be sufficient to keep her from contracting it.  How could I take such risks with TL’s health?  The answer:  on my list of priorities, protecting myself and my secrets was my first and most important instinct.  Yes, it was cowardly and selfish.

That day, the day TL discovered my affair, is what we call D-day.  In fact, we call it first D-day.  Second and final D-day came nearly two months later.  Beginning with first D-day, I knew I wanted TL and only TL.  I knew I never again wanted my double life.  I was convinced I would never again intentionally hurt TL.  I did continue to hurt her, unintentionally, by continuing to hide things from her.  That was due to cowardice on my part, not malice.

Our first marriage counselor gave us urgent care.  He helped TL see that she had the power to decide how to deal with our situation, but that she did not have to rush to decide.  He helped me see that I had to change my selfish, self-centered ways, be deeply remorseful, continuously express my remorse, and put TL’s need to heal above all else.

Here’s the most important thing he gave me.  We talked about how I came to be so insecure, jealous, and self-centered.  I revealed a problem with which I had struggled our whole marriage.   From the first year of our courtship and marriage, I struggled with insecurities about how I compared with TL’s previous lovers.  It actually reminded me a bit of that Ben Affleck movie called Chasing Amy.  I admitted that I knew it was not right for me to think that way.  Before I could continue, our counselor interrupted and said clearly, “That’s sick.  That’s a sick obsession.”

I had long suspected there was something wrong with my thinking in that regard.  But, hearing it from a licensed counselor helped me believe it.  At that moment, I learned I could come back to our counselor’s words, as a touchstone.  When the sick obsessions would creep toward my consciousness, I confronted them head-on and called them what they were.  Then I was able to tell myself that TL is too important to be lost, especially on account of sick obsessions.

MC: “I again chose my sick obsessions.”

We drove to the resort.  It took a couple hours to get there.  I let her badger me into letting her drive part of the way.  I had to argue with her to get her not to smoke in the car.  At the resort we spent some time at the swimming pool.  I don’t recall whether it was that day or the following day that I bought her a massage treatment while I lifted weights.  Later, we went out to some restaurant for dinner.  Here’s another particularly painful admission.  As sometimes happens at some restaurants, a guy came around selling roses.  I bought one for her.

Just before I did, I had this thought:  “I want to seduce this woman, so the right strategy is to buy her the rose.”  I also thought, “Wow, if TL learned of this she would be crushed.  She’ll recall another time, 15 years before, when we were out at a restaurant with couples friends and a flower seller came around.  Without asking, every guy but me bought their wife a flower.  I, completely failing to empathize with TL and completely failing to stoke our romance and friendship with a small thoughtful gesture, asked TL whether she too wanted a rose.”  She replied, “not if you have to ask.”  I failed to buy her the rose.  I told myself all sorts of stupid things like, “She knows I love her, she does not need a trite gesture,” and “If I buy her the rose after stupidly asking about it, it will appear I’m just doing it because I was asked to do it.”  In any case, even if I had otherwise been a good husband, this would have been a painful experience for TL.  It showed that not only was I not a good husband — I had so many selfish thoughts and selfish ways — but I was also miles off course in terms of understanding love and truly loving my wife.  And, to rub salt in the wound, there I was choosing to give a rose to an affair partner, as a way to seduce her, after failing to do that for TL.

The AP and I went back to the hotel, had sex, and slept.  That is when I should have been calling my child with birthday wishes.  Since I was so obsessed with seducing the AP and not reminding her of my marriage, I was too cowardly to stand up, pick up the phone, and call my family.  I could have walked out the door, even briefly, to call my family.  I chose not to do so.  I said to myself, “Maybe I’ll have a moment alone to do that in a few hours.”  A few hours went by.  I told myself to wait a few more hours.  And so it went, until the time had rolled away and I had hidden in my double-life until I missed my child’s birthday.

I wasn’t enamored with the other woman.  I wasn’t unhappy with my child or my wife — not specifically, acutely unhappy, but only my chronic, pathological habit of looking at each glass as half-empty.  I was hiding in my illicit life, hoping for more sex and flattery, even when it was clearly insufficient, and too damned cowardly to step away from my illicit life even for a moment.  In my weakness, selfishness, and cowardice, I again chose my sick obsessions instead of my family.