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.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Trust is scary...even if you're merely considering it

For the second night in a row last night, I felt like Husband wasn't interested in sex with me.

Now I have plenty of nights where I'm not interested in sex. I'm tired. I'm stressed out about work. Things that have nothing to do with Husband.

But as I said to him last night, it's been so many years since I've been the only sex partner in his life. It's easy to start thinking that maybe I'm not enough. And that's especially painful because our relationship was one of the few places in my life where I really did feel like I was enough.

We talked about it. About my anger, how it's still hard for me to accept sometimes that he could lie to me. I feel like I could never lie to him, even now. We talked about my sadness about him lying.

I talked about how sometimes I still feel like I just want to level the playing field. Sometimes I feel like going out and doing to him what he did to me. Cheating, lying. But for one thing I couldn't face my son after that, because it would feel like a betrayal of his trust as well. And I've never been interested in casual sex, so I doubt it would satisfy anything for me. I know in my gut that it would be nothing more than an attempt to protect myself, and would do nothing but harden me and put distance between us. I would never be the same person, and that would be my loss. And I've already lost enough because of this.

But I feel so powerless. And that's the root of the fear. So I tried to think about the tools I have to face this. The first one that came to mind was prayer. Allowing myself to turn to a higher power for strength. Praying for the strength to surrender to my inability to control, to protect myself, if I really want deep intimacy.

I feel like if I take the chance of trusting him, I run the risk of being lied to again. What if he loses interest in a single partner? What if his apathy becomes a justification for thinking about others, fantasizing about others, turing to the internet for stimulation, and then who knows what else?

I hate this feeling of powerlessness. But I think surrendering to powerlessness comes hand in hand with trust. That is what is so when you really trust someone. You open yourself up to being hurt by them. I'm not powerless to put an end to a relationship. But as I've learned, I'm powerless to prevent someone I love, and someone who says he loves me, from hurting me.

So I'm glad to be on this uneasy path. Glad to be feeling that trust is a possibility. Considering trust now brings up fears. And as I think about it, that's not surprising. And on the other side of this part of my journey, hopefully I'll have grown.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Duchovny, Spitzer, Murray, (Clinton, etc...hello?)

Surfing the comments out there it's evident that dispite some very public revelations this year, sex addiction continues to ride very below the radar and be misunderstood. And I don't read anything about people connecting the dots between addicts - seems like it's just another story about a man cheating on his wife, and of course people can't understand why because "she's so hot."

Of course, if your wife isn't hot, I guess everybody would understand then, huh?

This time around the story doesn't bring edge of pain that it did with Spitzer, which is good progress to report at the 1-year-and-3-months-since-discovery mark.

I really feel like I've turned the corner in my ability to consider that Husband is a different person. He says that he is, and intellectually I understand how that would be possible given the research I've done. But my body has resisted until recently. Not that I've resisted having sex, but I haven't felt anything close to the trust I had before in my gut.

Lately I feel as though I've let go of something physically. I can't name it, but it was something I was holding on to, or something that was gripping me.

Whatever it is, it feels like a gateway to the next level of healing.

That feels like a good place to be.

Thoughts about true love

I'm beginning to understand that despite the lies and infidelity, love has always been present in my relationship with Husband. It just didn't look the way I thought it would. I wish I could change that, but I can't. Love is not perfect because Husband and I are not perfect, because we are human. But it is there. And for my growing ability to trust that, I'm grateful.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Insidious codependency

I am terrified of my husband's resentment. Most of Husband's resentment has been toward others, but that resentment is what allowed him to justify his infidelity and betrayal of my trust. He "deserved" something to compensate him for the injustices and disappointments in his life.

The other day we were in the car and I asked him if he was beginning to be unhappy in his job. When he replied yes, I said I was sorry to hear that he was feeling unhappy. And then I proceeded to "speak from my own experience" (as I've learned to do in my 12-step group)about finding that life is not what you thought or wished it would be.

I was surprised when he seemed angry, and I thought I'd hurt his feelings because I'd been speaking to him about my experience with him in a way that may have been hurtful.

We talked about it in therapy, and it came out that Husband actually felt like it wasn't okay with me for him to be dissatisfied in his job, and that was what upset him.

As we talked I realized that, because I'm so terrified about Husband's resentment because of what it might mean for and about me, I do a lot to manage his happiness level. I get anxious and terribly uncomfortable when he's unhappy because I feel that this leads to resentment, and try to "help" him. Or if I think he's upset with me, I try to correct what I think are misunderstandings he has with respect to me. I need to fix misperceptions immediately lest they result in unwarranted resentment toward me. And this dynamic is something I never recognized. And I do this because I feel threatened by his resentment on a very deep level.

So we worked out a code. When Husband really just needs me to be there and listen, he'll break through my advice by saying, "I really need your help." I'll know that I need to get a grip on my own anxiety, with the understanding that we will talk about what I need to talk about, but not just at that moment. And I can do the same.

We have yet to try this, but discovering this pattern is a great breakthrough for me.

I was reminded by a woman from my therapy group about how much opportunity there is in leaning toward what is uncomfortable and scary.

What will happen when I stop trying to control Husband's feelings, stop trying to manage against resentment, and allow for the possibilty that he'll develop those feelings? Who will I be when I have to face that head on, instead of resisting it?

I look forward to finding out.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Images in my head obstruct intimacy

Last night Husband and I were making love, and I couldn't get certain thoughts and images out of my head. I opened my eyes, and kept my gaze fixed on him, my eyes on his eyes, and still I could not feel a connection. The images and the fear they brought up were pulling me out of the moment and I couldn't stop it.

Thinking about it this morning, I felt a deep sadness at not being able to connect with him. Sometimes my lack of ability to connect is worse than others, but it's always sad because Husband used to be the person I felt most deeply connected to.

I got up earlier than I expected to this morning, and so had time to jump on the treadmill for half an hour and do some reading.

Finishing an article I'd printed out from Buddhadarma, The Wondrous Path of Difficulties, I came across exactly what would be helpful to me right now.

Jack Kornfield talked about making a human connection. "There has to be a willingness to go to the place of vulnerability...we have difficulty making a human connection because we don't trust our heart. We don't trust that our heart has the capacity to open to the sorrows as well as to the beauty of the world...We have within us buddhanature, the capacity to hold all the sorrows and joys of the world."

He described not being reactive to others as "being present with a lot of courage," and quoted Martin Luther King. "King said to his adversaries, "We will wear you down by our capacity to suffer, to face suffering and still not stop, still march, still tell the truth, still do what's necessary to make the change.""

Fear is my adversary. Perhaps I can wear it down by expanding my capacity to face suffering and pain.

I can practice expanding my capacity to be open to suffering and sorrow, as well as to joy and happiness; not to resist those things, not to react to the fear I feel in the face of those things; but to take a deep breath and turn toward those things with open arms as I would welcome a beloved friend or a beautiful day. And on that path I'll find intimacy with Husband. That practice of being open to pain and fear will allow me closer to that which has been the source of pain and fear, but also the source of happiness and joy.

My instinct is to run from pain and fear, but maybe to run from that is to run from life. To cut off pain and fear, maybe I also have to cut off joy and intimacy, and that's not the path I choose. To have the quarter, I must take the heads with the tails. There is no tails without heads. So maybe life is joy and sorrow, happiness and pain, and there is not one without the other.

Not a new discovery for me, but one I must think about and practice daily or it will disappear and survival instincts will take over.

I think survival is about protecting yourself (an instinct), and living is about making yourself vulnerable (a practice), and those two things, safety and risk, seem to go against each other. Perhaps this is why it's just a one-day-at-a-time thing, moment by moment giving up instinct for practice.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Notes to self

In group therapy I noted two things tonight that I don't want to forget:

1) Husband's sex addiction could be my higher power's way of providing me with the opportunity to deal with unresolved issues with my father. Perhaps I'm ready now in a way that I wasn't before.

2) My attempts to manage other people's experiences result me not seeking support from others and missing out on making connections. The issue is rooted in my lack of boundaries, and my fear that others can't set boundaries. While it may be true that others can't set boundaries, that's not my responsibility to manage. I can manage my own boundaries, but I can't (and miss out on intimacy in some cases) when I try to do that for others. It holds me back from a lot.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A chance to practice, or how recovery can seep into other areas of life

Mark Twain once described a man who died and met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. He said, “I have been interested in military history for many years, who was the greatest general of all time?”

Saint Peter responded, “Oh that’s a simple question. It’s that man right over there.”

“You must be mistaken,” responded the man, now very perplexed. “I knew that man on earth, and he was just a common laborer.”

“That’s right my friend,” assured Saint Peter. “He would have been the greatest general of all time, if he had been a general.”

This story illustrates a truth that is, unfortunately, all too common. Far too many people spend a lifetime headed in the wrong direction. They go not only from the cradle to the cubicle, but then to the casket, without uncovering their greatest talents and potential." - (T.Rath, Strength Finder 2.0 (Gallup Press, 2007) 29.)

I had a long talk today with a colleague about my professional future. As in many areas of my life, I'm learning that I find it incredibly hard to value myself. I don't naturally or easily give value to anything I bring to the table. Which makes committing to consulting full-time very frightening. (Sadly, I can take on creating my professional "story" much more easily as a task or assignment from my colleague than I can as a simple, honest self-assessment of my skills, talents and abilities.) Not that I don't want to have a career as a consultant, but I'm afraid that I'm somehow unqualified and unworthy of the rate I ask for my services, and that people will discover this.

But, because of the growth I've had this past year, I recognize that fear now as something to lean toward. Part of the reason I know I need to take this on is because it makes me nervous and uncomfortable.

So I'm raising a bowl of Ben & Jerry's to my Year of Self Definition, and committing to doing everything I can to succeed at this in spite of all the self-doubt that's plaguing me right now.

If it weren't for what I've learned about myself in therapy, and the reading I've done, and the spiritual growth I've had, I think I'd miss this opportunity.

This is my chance to practice acknowledging and accepting myself, all that I am. It's my chance to focus on my strengths instead of feeling guilty and unworthy because of my weaknesses; to take joy in what is there, rather than to suffer over what I perceive as missing. It's my chance to let myself be enough, even though I'm not everything...even though I'm not perfect.

I'm scared, but it's my Year of Self Definition, right? And I've learned that I can lean into the fear and be okay.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

What is healthy?

I'm still trying to figure out for myself how I feel about pornography in general.

I don't believe sex between consenting adults is dirty or shameful. I don't object on principle to love scenes in movies, though watching them with Husband has made me uncomfortable over the past year. I'd rather my son see healthy love scenes than violence in the media he's exposed to (although that's an uphill battle in our culture where violence and the objectified female form are on billboards and in cartoons, while depictions of healthy sexuality between loving adults seem scarce and tend to be "R" rated.)

My views on prostitution have certainly changed. I don't think it's within the range of healthy sexuality for either the prostitute or the customer.

But as far as porn...sexual images of naked people...I don't know. I find artistic images of naked people beautiful. But they can be used for sexual fantasy and masturbation just like porn magazines.

My immediate reaction is that no sexual activity without intimacy, or activity that avoids intimacy by going into fantasy, is not healthy. Maybe it depends on what is depicted and how it's used?

I need to figure these kinds of things out so I pass the right values on to my son. I want him to have a healthy sexuality, and now I'm highly aware of how easy it is for sex to become part of an unhealthy pattern. And with an addict for a father, it feels even more important for me to impart strong, healthy values.