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.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Schwarzenegger's behavior catches up with him

Question of the day: Do politicians become narcissists or do narcissists become politicians?

I'm not a mental health professional or sex addiction specialist, but IMHO the characteristics are there.

Arnold Schwarzenegger finally comes clean about decades of rumors.

Will the term "sex addict" get introduced into the discussion in a helpful way this time around? Let's hope so.

Feeling so over sex addicts today.

Prayers for Maria Shriver and their kids.

Addicts lie. Now what?

We went to a benefit for Son's school last weekend, and as soon as we got there Husband ordered a double scotch on the rocks.

Okay. It's Saturday, it's a party. You're not an alcoholic in recovery. Fine.

I think Husband drinks too much, and he knows that. The addict / narcissist in him feels justified on some level, and he is annoyed by my (in his words) judgment of his tendency.

A short while later, I decide to have a drink, too, and we head to the bar to get me something. Husband orders another double.

"You're getting another one?" I ask. "That's eight bucks a shot, you know."

"I know," he says with an annoyed look on his face.

"So we paid $150 at the door, and now we've spent $40 on alcohol." Even though we have two incomes now, the financial hole we dug still leaves us essentially paycheck to paycheck. I assumed maybe we'd each have one cocktail, hang out to be supportive of the cause, and get out the door early.

I should have been clear and stated my concern outright, instead of implying it. I should have said, "I don't think we have the budget to buy any more drinks." But I didn't. My bad for passing on direct communication. I don't want to be the parent or police in our relationship. And so often in the moment I'll make my displeasure known, but not make a direct request or set a boundary. I'm getting better at this, but there's still work for me to do.

About an hour later toward the end of the event, I saw Husband with another drink in hand.

"How many of those have you had?"

"Two." he replied.

"This is the same one you had before?" I asked, feeling bad for making the assumption that he'd continued to buy $16 doubles after I'd expressed my concern about it. (A common experience of partners of addicts - that feeling that you've done something wrong by questioning the addict's questionable behavior.)

"Yes," he said. I gave him a hug, and a "good job" for making it last.

But I had a sneaking suspicion just the same. So yesterday I checked the bank account and sure enough, the charge to our card was much more than it should have been had he been telling me the truth.

Last night I asked him about it. He tried to spin it, but finally admitted that he'd deliberately lied to me about how many drinks he'd bought.

"I didn't want to get in trouble," he explained.

He knew as well as I the flaw in that thinking. But I spelled out for him that trust is a large, critical piece of true intimacy, and that the options are that he get help for this fear of getting in trouble, because I won't accept the role of scary mommy in our marriage, or we figure out how to gracefully end our relationship.

I can fake it as part of the work toward making it, but don't want to fake it if the situation feels hopeless because I can't perpetuate that lie to my son. That would be as big a betrayal as my husband's lies to me. I've been willing to work hard while doing my best to keep our grown-up issues between me and Husband, so that Son can feel secure in our family unit. But that's been because I've been working toward authentic intimacy with the feeling that it's possible. If I pretend to my son that we have an Ozzie and Harriet relationship when I feel hopeless and firmly disconnected in the relationship, that's gone from keeping grown-up issues between grown-ups to lying to Son about what healthy relationships are, how they work, and what they look like. I'm not willing to do that.

This lie is a huge setback for the state of our relationship.

Lying about a cocktail is the same as lying about a prostitute. It is a firm indicator that Husband is an unsafe person to be vulnerable with. This does not do much for the intimacy quotient in our marriage.

In addition to the general numbness I'm experiencing, I know I have a lot of feelings.

I feel disrespected. He took the cowardly way out and lied to me because it was better for him. What about for me? What about the trust I've been trying with all my fucking might to develop? Ask me to trust you and then lie to me AGAIN? That's not what I want from a partner, nor will I continue to accept it.

For whatever reason (and I've met his mother so I'm sure he has good ones,) he gives me this power and won't man up and take responsibility for his actions, won't jump into conflict with me. I get that it's difficult because I'm a major conflict avoider, too. But I've been working hard at taking risks and communicating without knowing what the result will be, and without sacrificing saying what needs to be said to avoid negative outcomes.

I feel hurt. Aren't I worthy of basic respect and truthfulness? Don't you value me and our relationship enough to tell me the truth? Because, regardless of whether you lie out of malice or fear, the impact on me is THE SAME! I feel kicked in the stomach, I feel like you don't value me, I feel betrayed by someone I'm trying hard to trust, I feel like it's not safe to love you, I begin to wonder if trusting anyone at all is a joke.

I feel disconnected. Safety mechanism, and I know it. It's also a consequence. Trust is EARNED. So he has work to do if he wants that from me.

I feel sad. This is not what I want. I don't want a relationship that feels 75%. I want trust, intimacy, respect. I'm willing to go through hard stuff. I don't expect him to be perfect. But I do expect him to respect my boundaries. DON'T LIE TO ME is not an unreasonable boundary. If it feels too demanding to him, he's married to the wrong person.

I'm fucking angry. WHY is it easy to lie to me? WHY does he choose to do that? WHY did I end up with a self-righteous asshole with narcissistic tendencies? WHY is he so fucked up? WHY doesn't he treat me like like a valuable gift? WHY is he afraid of me? I have a lot of questions like this that I'm angry about. And I know the answers to many of them. But knowing the answers doesn't help right now. I'm pissed.

The hard thing is that I actually like Husband. There are lots of things I love and value about him. Maybe we should just be good friends. That way we'd have less at stake with each other, I'd have the distance to protect my mental and emotional health from his lying, and he'd probably have no reason to lie to me. I wouldn't have to worry about sex (because frankly, sex with Husband when I can't get to intimacy is fine at best, but often echoes with emptiness which is painful when compared to how I know sex with him used to be.)

So we did talk about all of this last night. And we're going back to therapy. He to his sex-addiction group, and us to couples therapy with a sex-addiction specialist. And he still goes to SA and OA meetings (although many by phone now.)

I'm willing to keep trying because at the bottom of this, Husband is a wonderful person - smart, funny, creative, gentle, compassionate, thoughtful, a fantastic, loving dad. He's fucked up by his fear, and I know it.

But I'm not willing to continue trying if I don't see progress. He needs to become willing to "get in trouble" with me and see where that goes, or I'm going to have to figure out a plan B.

Because this is my promise to myself: I will not stay in a relationship with someone who isn't capable of being truthful.

This is a hard one, since because of our history there is little room in my mind or tolerance in my heart for even little white lies that many couples use to smooth out the sometimes dangerous, frightening and rocky road of a long-term relationship. But complete integrity around truthfulness is what I need to feel safe in this relationship. I don't expect perfect, but expect him to have the courage to choose to respond to his fear differently, and to call himself out when he makes a mistake, rather than to feel relieved that he escaped his mother's wrath, and satisfied by that. Our willingness to have courage in the face of fear will create a path toward restored trust.

I still believe there's hope, because Husband's willing to dive in and work this issue head-on. And I have work to do, too, because right now I can feel that I'm very disengaged.

And I know we can only make progress if we're both willing.

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one's fear. The timid presume it is lack of fear that allows the brave to act when the timid do not. But to take action when one is not afraid is easy. To refrain when afraid is also easy. To take action regardless of fear is brave."
— Ambrose Hollingworth Redmoon, from No Peaceful Warriors!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pain and joy

"...though we will inevitably experience pain, joy is our true destination..." - Jillian Michaels, Unlimited

When I read that my heart skipped a beat.

True? I don't know. But as a context for processing pain, betrayal, loss...if I make the assumption that joy is my true destination despite circumstances and evidence to the contrary, then I have a reason to continue facing what's in front of me when the going gets rough.

This context allows for light at the end of the tunnel
, for a future that serves as my foothold on the face of the cliff, as the rope I can use to keep my head above the swirling dark pit of fear and despair until I have the strength to use that rope to pull myself up. Whether or not I believe it to be true in any given moment, if I base my actions on the assumption that my pain is an experience on this journey, much like each course is only part of a meal (so perhaps pain is the brussel sprout course,) and that joy is my true destination, I can reclaim or at least move myself toward peace and happiness.

I've made the mistake in my life of believing that I could avoid pain. I've followed rules, done things the right way, been a good person, had integrity, done unto others as I'd have them do unto me, etc. I've done all of that. And, truth be told, I expected payback.

I saw Marianne Williamson speak for the first time last night. The topic was relationships. She suggested that, from a spiritual perspective, we are in relationship with the people who will afford us the most growth.

That has certainly been true in my case, although it looks nothing like what I would have expected or chosen.

Thinking about my life as that kind of opportunity, perhaps I'm not here for payback for my good deeds. And if pain is inevitable, unpreventable, unavoidable, then it's not just about figuring out how to do everything I've already been doing better.

With the goal of avoiding pain out of the way
, operating in the context that pain is one of the aspects of a joyful life, I have space for a new goal.

If I'm born for joy, so to speak, what do I want to do with my life that affirms that? And what next action can I take in that direction? (Important note to self: Thinking is not an action.)

Maybe from there it's just a small leap to waking up every day knowing that, in fact I have arrived, and that joy is simply available.