The Beginning of Something Else

On June 1, 2007 I found out my husband and partner of almost two decades had been unfaithful to me since before our marriage, and had been having intercourse with prostitutes for 3 1/2 years. This is what happened next.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Boundaries and Consequences (but I'm not your mother)

In my group therapy last night we brought lists of boundaries and consequences we'd drawn up. Specifically these are boundaries with regard to our sex addicted partners.

Before doing this list, I realized that while there was one clear boundary that I'd communicated (no sexual contact with anybody else while we're married) I hadn't communicated other boundaries around sex addiction issues, nor had I articulated any consequences for broken boundaries.

I've been resisting doing this kind of list because I refuse to draw up a list of rules Husband has to follow. I want my partner to have his own moral compass, and responsibility for his own thoughts and feelings, and to use recovery tools, support groups and therapists to address compulsive behavior - NOT to turn to something I've spelled out to know what is okay and what's not.

I'm not his mother and I don't want to be.

However, knowing my boundaries, thinking them through in detail, is good for me. It's part of my self-definition. What works for me, and what doesn't. So this is my list-in-progress of what doesn't work for me (in other words, boundaries to protect me, not to control him):

It doesn't work for me if Husband:
1) has sexual contact of any kind with anyone else, in person or otherwise.
2) lies, hides or purposely omits anything that I would want to know as his partner.
3) uses porn or media of any kind for sexual activity.
4) visits online prostitution sites, or phones or otherwise contacts prostitutes
5) gets a massage of any kind from a woman (if he needs a theraputic massage, he can get a man)
6) spends large sums of our money without consulting me
7) discontinues weekly 12-step meetings
8) discontinues therapy against the advice of his therapist

He is free to do any of these things, but now he knows that if he chooses to do them he's making a choice that threatens the basic level of comfort and safety I need to feel in our relationship and that there will be consequences for crossing my expressed boundaries.

Even as I write it, it sounds too punishment oriented to me, too much like a list of things not to do if he wants to be a good boy. (Yuk!)

But on the other hand, boundaries without consequences are meaningless, and will get me nowhere in terms of having a strong sense of self.

I never felt the need to establish boundaries with Husband before. At least not about these kinds of things, and not explicitly. (I guess I was assuming wedding vows would count for something.)

But here we are. And that's my recovery work for today.

We agreed that the consequences don't need to be shared, although I did tell him that as long as he's actively participating in recovery I won't end the relationship without discussion. (Though if the boundary crossing is major, we'll have the discussion AFTER he moves out.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Got a sponsor (I think) just in time

Finally after a year I'm ignoring that voice in my head that's telling me I can do the 12 steps on my own. I ignored that voice tonight when it told me that I didn't want to bother someone else and when it told me that I didn't want to ask for help in case that person I asked didn't want to help me but would be uncomfortable saying so. And I asked. And she said yes, maybe, most likely. And I was so nervous afterward that I forgot where I'd parked. And when I told her that she said she was so nervous after I asked her that she'd almost walked out the window instead of the door. And we talked a bit about how just like the sex addicts, we have issues too. Like intimacy issues, for example. That create such anxiety that we forget where we are and walk out windows instead of doors. She'll let me know next week if she accepts.

I realized last night that something very specific I'm grieving over is the loss of the feeling that I'm special to Husband.

I used to feel like the intimate connection we had was private, precious, and something shared only between the two of us. And though intimacy goes beyond just the physical, now that I know he's held, caressed, kissed, and had sex with so many other women during our marriage, it's hard to believe that I'm special - or at least as special as I thought I was. And that makes me sad. Perhaps that need arises from a childish fairy tail picture in my head that doesn't really exist between adults. Perhaps it's my own narcissistic tendencies or my need for validation that leaves me sad that I no longer feel special.

I've always loved the song English Rose, and that's the feeling that I miss. That some one person on the planet loves me so deeply that nothing can come between us.

Husband had a bad day today. He woke up not having slept well (sleep apnea) and went on to have a frustrating day - one little annoying thing after another. I went to meet him this afternoon after he'd discovered he'd left his headlights on and drained his battery. He was cranky and I felt like he was full of contained frustration. What made it worse was that this morning I sat down at the computer to find that he'd created a Resentment List in his Google Docs account. I assume it's part of his work with his sponsor or therapy group or something. And it took everything I had to close that window and not read that list. But this afternoon, and later in the day I couldn't stop myself from feeling like he was resenting me for some reason. When he's tired, I think he resents the world. Anyway...I imagine this is what he felt when he justified sex with prostitutes and the lies he told me. And that scares me. Scares me, scares me. I'm afraid of his resentment.

Why? I can't quite figure it out. What comes to mind is that I'm afraid he'll stop trying, stop loving me, break my heart again. His resentment is a big part of his sickness. I'm afraid of how much it allows him to justify.

I also see this is part of my pattern of being afraid of any bad feelings I think he has because of what they might mean about me. A symptom of my lack of self-definition: In my crazy head I'm constantly defined by the thoughts and feelings of people around me. This leaves Husband feeling absolutely no space for having these kinds of feelings where I'm concerned. He's said many times that he feels he can never express when he's angry with me, and his experience is that I turn his anger into a character flaw while justifying my own so thoroughly that I don't see what I'm doing. "When I'm angry, there's something wrong with me," he says. "When you're angry, there's something wrong with the world."

While I was helping him with his battery, he went back inside his office building to use the restroom and I started looking through for his phone, which he said he thought was lost somewhere in the car. (His car is a pretty big mess, so from time to time he does lose his phone in there.) Suddenly my heart started pounding as I thought about the possibility of finding a porn magazine among all the magazines, papers and other stuff in the back seat.

I didn't find anything. But I did realize that it's still a very strong possibility in my mind. When I sense that resentment, targeted at me or not, I get afraid of what he might justify as a result of that.

I know he has help, I know he has tools, and I know I'm powerless. That helps me stay on my side of the street, but it doesn't help so much with the fear I feel.

This is why I'm so happy to be getting a sponsor and starting on the 12 steps. This is my Year of Self-Definition. This is the year that I will learn to value myself, whether Husband values me, loves me, thinks I'm special or not. So that if things do fall apart, I will still be whole.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The price of feeling comfortable

"Do not ignore reality in order to comfort yourself, for once you do, you make it easy for others to deceive you." - The Dragon Saphira in Christopher Paolini's book Eldest

I was listening to a CD recording of this book with my son today, and was stunned by that line. Dispite his disgruntled protests, I had to rewind and listen to it again. It's such a jarring experience when I get the feeling that the universe (my higher power?) is speaking to me from unexpected places.

The idea fit in so perfectly with a book I've just started, Harriet Lerner's "The Dance of Deception". Lerner has written this book primarily for a female audience, and deals largely with lack of truth in the female experience.

I consider myself a modern woman, as much a feminist as the average forty-something, liberal, college-educated woman might be. But as the tail end of the baby boom, and as one who had until recently felt I'd overcome my personal issues with men, I haven't immersed myself in feminist thought, literature, philosophy, psychology. Honestly, though I know there's still progress to be made, I've felt like the greatest strides of the women's movement were mostly covered by my mother's generation.

But Harriet Lerner's book is causing me to re-examine my experience, my beliefs, my assumptions and the way I've lived my life.

Since this is my Year of Self Definition, calling all of these things into question seems as good a place as any to start.

Where have I ignored reality in order to comfort myself?