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Objectification, Violence, and Self-Worth

14 Apr

CONSTRUCTION WORKERS EYEING UP LONG LEGGED GIRL AS SHE WALKS PAS

The specific topic weighing on my mind tonight is the objectification of women.  Not porn actresses or movie stars, but real women on the street.  Sex addicts often look (or rather gawk, gape, ogle, stare…) at regular women who happen to be unlucky enough to walk across their path, then objectify, fantasize and masturbate or act out in other ways.  Sometimes it stays there, but other times it leads to flashing, stalking, rape, or other forms of sexual assault.  That type of activity is out of control and harmful.

My ex was in construction for a while.  He would watch women walking down the street on the job site and talk to other men about it in explicit detail.  Often times he would go to the porta-potty and jack off while thinking of them.  Sometimes he might even do it right there in the vehicle while they were walking by just a few feet away.  I wonder if anyone ever saw him or felt awkward and uncomfortable and picked up their pace.  I know the sensation of having unwelcome eyes on you, inching over your body.  I wonder how many women my ex made feel dirty and creeped out.  I felt that and more when I caught his gaze lingering too long on a woman’s body.

Right before we got married (maybe 2 months before, tops), we had our worst fight.  We were in a new country bar in our city with a few of his friends.  It was maybe the second time I’d ever been to a nightclub before – this place had a DJ, huge areas just set up for dancing upstairs and down, several bars on the outskirts, and a mechanical bull in the front.  That’s usually not my scene.   That night he started blatantly making sexual gestures and comments about women, right in front of me, with no regard to my feelings whatsoever.  His facial expressions and lewd manner set me off.  It’s one thing to notice attractive people, that’s only natural no matter how much you love your partner.  It’s a completely different thing to be crude about it, and continue the behavior when you can see the person you’re with is uncomfortable.

I made a comment to him about it, then stormed away.  In true narcissistic sociopath fashion, he wouldn’t let me get away.  He came after me, dragged me off of the dance floor (where I had joined a group of women line dancing to blow off some steam and pretend he didn’t exist).  I tried to walk away and go downstairs to the ground floor of the club (we were upstairs on a balcony area), and he cornered me, trying to intimidate me and tell me that I hadn’t seen what I had just seen.

I told him that he was being disrespectful, and I wasn’t going to stand for it.  He kept putting his hands on me, grabbing my arms, wrenching me around, getting in my face.  He said that I saw things wrong, that he was checking women out for his friend, that he was just fantasizing about the women he was ogling, he wasn’t going to do anything, and that I needed to come back and hang out with him.  His excuses were contradictory and insulting.  I didn’t want to hear them.  I tried to jerk away several times, and he would grab me again, tighter.  I was spitting mad.  When I get like that, I also cry.  I hate that about myself sometimes.  We must have been making enough of a scene that someone got a bouncer to come up.  They dragged him off of me, and I was able to make my escape while he turned his arguments and justifications that he wasn’t doing anything wrong onto them.  Thankfully, they didn’t buy it, and kept him away from me.

I remember walking downstairs and out of the club.  I stood just outside of the building looking at the line of people trying to get in.  I had been drinking that night, my emotions were out of control, and I was shaking.  I leaned back against the building trying to get myself together and breathe.  I might have been hyperventilating a little bit.  I don’t know how long I stood there, just sucking in air.  My mind was blank.  I might have been in shock a little bit because he hadn’t gotten physical like that with me before.

Finally, I started walking back toward the parking deck where my car was parked.  The city has these cobble stone sidewalks, and I focused on carefully placing my feet on the uneven ground to keep myself from breaking down into tears again.  It was only a few blocks, and the weather was nice.  It was the summer of 2010, somewhere between April when we got engaged and September when we got married.  There were so many happy people on the streets, laughing, holding hands, and doing stupid drunken things.  I tried to focus on them, not what just happened.  It’s all a bit of a blur, though.

When I got to the parking deck I turned on the car, cranked up the air conditioning and the radio and just sat there.  I didn’t know what to do.  I just stared out the windshield at the concrete walls.  The entire time my phone had been going off.  I could have texted him back, but I don’t really remember.  I do know that he called me.  I don’t recall what he said, but I distinctly remember two of his friends in the background yelling and cussing and calling me names.  I got out of the car and started pacing, crying again.  I was so hurt and angry that he was letting them talk about me that way, and agreeing.  I asked him why he was letting his friends talk for him, didn’t he have a mind of his own?  In hindsight, I shouldn’t have engaged at all.

Next thing I knew, he was at the car.  His friends didn’t come along, so maybe he told them he was going to “handle me.”  Who knows…?  Not me.  He started yelling at me again, immediately.  He got right back in my face, grabbing my wrist and upper arm.  I tried to push him away, and his face contorted with rage.  He pushed me as hard as he could, and I fell back against the car.  I banged my arm, scuffed my knee, and twisted my ankle.  My tears of anger turned to tears of pain.  I paused and took a deep breath, assessing my injuries, which were relatively minor.  I tried to get myself composed, hating the feeling that things were spiraling even faster out of control.

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Then he came at me again.  I felt a primal instinct to attack that I had never felt before and never have since.  I launched myself at him, a sound that was half scream, half growl coming out of my throat.  I kicked at him and swung, my hand connecting with his jaw.  He grabbed my wrist and twisted hard, then pinned me against the car.  I know I was yelling, telling him to get off of me.  The noise must have caught someone’s attention.

Two officers showed up.  They separated us.  One took me to the other side of my car, where I nearly collapsed, shaking and sobbing, but trying to pull myself together.  The other walked him a few yards away, and had a conversation.  The officer asked if I was okay, I told him I was.  He said that someone had complained about the fighting, and it looked like there might have been some violence involved.  To this day I don’t know why, but I down-played it.  He asked if I had someone who could come pick me up because I wasn’t in any state to drive.  I told him that I did – that I could call my sister.

My key was still in my car, and it was still running from earlier.  I asked if I could just sit there for a second to gather myself.  He said yes, then he stayed there while I called my sister and asked her to come get me.  She was so great.  It was late – at least midnight – and I told her where I was, and asked if she could pick me up.  She said yes, and asked me how to get there.  I gave her really bad directions (I told her the wrong exit accidentally because I was so shaken up).  She asked where Chris was.  I told her he was with his friends, and left it at that.  She didn’t ask any more questions.

In the meantime, I heard Chris with the other officer.  It sounded like he was blaming me for the whole thing (of course).  They asked if he could find a ride somewhere, and told him not to go to my house that night.  He must have said okay, and they let him walk away.  Not 5 minutes after he sauntered away all cocky and self-assured, I got another text from him.  Then he called again.  More yelling and name-calling in the background and from him.  That time he told me the police told him that HE could press charges against ME since he was bleeding from where I hit his lip and I wasn’t.  He made it seem like he was doing me a big favor.  I hung up on him and just sat there in my car staring at the concrete again, rubbing my arms and wrists where they were still stinging and throbbing from his grip.

My sister finally showed up.  She called me when she was close (after she got lost taking the wrong exit).  I walked out to the corner to meet her.  I got in her car, and she drove me home.  By that point I had gathered myself enough to stop crying.  I had grabbed a light cardigan or jacket from my trunk, I think.  I had it wrapped tightly around me like I had a chill, even though it was a warm night.  She didn’t really talk much on the way to my house.  I thanked her, walked inside like a drone, and turned off my phone.

That night I couldn’t even bear to sleep in my bed.  The bed he usually slept in with me.  I couldn’t handle his scent or the idea that his head had just been there.  I grabbed a blanket and laid down on the couch.  I cried.  I was in a state of semi-shock, just staring at the blue numbers on the Comcast box for hours and hours.  I watched the red marks on my arms darken and turn into bruises.  I couldn’t sleep.

eliana_lopez_bruise_022412

Somewhere around 4 am I turned my phone on again.  I had numerous voicemails from him.  Some were the drunken, angry ones with his friends calling me a stupid bitch in the background.  A few were more pathetic and apologetic.  Those sounded like they were made from outside somewhere.  He had texted me that he was staying at his friend’s house.  The friend who I couldn’t really stand that he was “checking out the girls for.”  Along with the other ass who had been screaming at me.

By 6 am he had called and texted some more.  I actually answered.  He begged me to come pick him up.  He said he was so sorry.  Whatever.  I’m sure you can all write the script if you’ve seen any bad Lifetime movie.  The really sad thing is that I bought it.  I agreed.  I got into his vehicle, drove to his friend’s house, and he snuck out the back while the other two were still sleeping.  He got in the SUV with me, and we went to pick up my car from the parking garage.  I don’t even know if I spoke to him during that ride.  He may have started to talk and make excuses, but I just cut him off.

DV_Day_1_Bruise_(2)When we got to the parking deck where my car was, I pulled into another lot right next to it, parked, and told him that I was ready to talk.  I showed him the newly developing bruises.  He looked stricken.  He looked like hell in general.  He had bags under his eyes, his lip was a little puffy, and his hair was sticking up in 50 different directions.  I told him that I cannot and will not tolerate the behavior that he displayed the night before (even as I was tolerating it by allowing him back into my life in any capacity).

He kept saying he was sorry for hurting me, but stuck to his guns that he didn’t do anything wrong before, that I shouldn’t have gotten upset with him blatantly ogling other women in front of me like a total perv (my words, of course), and that he had eyes and was going to notice other women.  I said, yeah… but you don’t have to make faces and gestures and obviously point them out and objectify them right in front of me.  Noticing and behaving in a over the top, offensive way are two totally different things.

We went around and around like that for I don’t know how long.  Somehow the violence was completely disregarded.  He still made it seem like I was the aggressor and he was the one doing me a favor by not pressing charges.  I don’t know how I bought that bullshit.  I’m a strong woman.  I know about domestic abuse.  Just like cheating, I had told myself if a man put his hands on me that would be it, the end.  But it seemed so subtle in that moment, with the blur of the night before still making me dizzy, and his justifications and excuses pounding in my ears…  He didn’t mean to grab me so hard, he was just angry when I tried to push him away, I was the one who pushed first, he just pushed me back, I happened to fall against the car because of my heels, I was the one who hit him, and on and on it went.

I do vividly remember telling him that if that was the way he felt, if he thought what he did was okay and he didn’t see anything wrong with his actions, then we should just call the whole thing off.  In my mind I was planning how to let people know that the wedding wasn’t going to happen.  We had already sent invitations, so it would be embarrassing, but I couldn’t live like that.  I told him that I wanted someone who would love me and treasure me and only want ME.  We already had disclosures of his cheating, secret porn use (while he rejected me), and lying about strip clubs.  This leering at women who were in the same room as me was something new, though.  That and the violence had me emotionally overwhelmed.  My face was splotchy and red and puffy from sobbing, my voice was hoarse from yelling the night before, and most of all, my entire spirit felt crushed.  I wanted out.

I have looked back at that moment, in that car, over and over and over again.  How I wish I had followed through.  Or not even gone to pick him up.  There are times I have fantasized about getting out of that car, walking to mine, and driving home to change the locks.  I would have still been broken and emotionally and physically bruised, but I wouldn’t have been married to him.  There still would have been things to divide up and pride to swallow and therapy, but the next 2 1/2 years of torture wouldn’t have happened.  We all know that I didn’t do that, though.

Seeing how serious I was, he backtracked.  He told me that he would never do anything like that “for his friends” again.  He swore up and down that he wouldn’t lay a hand on me ever.  He said that he loved me and couldn’t imagine his life without me.  He told me that I was the only woman for him, the only person he wanted.  He begged me to still marry him.  I don’t think I answered right then.  I did get in my car and drive home, but I let him follow me.

Over the next few days I let him apologize and tenderly touch my bruises with a look of contrition on his face.  I listened to him swear off drinking.  I let him tell me how his friend egged him on, and how he was never going to talk to one of them again.  He also swore that the other friend wasn’t the one calling me names, that he tried to calm him down.  He blamed the alcohol.  He blamed his one friend.  He blamed his anger for getting out of control.  He stopped blaming me directly, but there was always a certain air about him, a haughtiness that would flicker over his face and quickly disappear.  That was the sociopath showing itself, gleeful at pulling the whole thing off.  Back then I mistook that for resentment over his lip (which he made sure to play up).

That example is an extreme one.  I didn’t even intend to share it when I started writing.  However, it’s just one scenario of how out of control his behavior got.  The objectification of women, the justification, the blaming, the violence, the escalating pattern…  From that point forward he tried to be much more subtle about checking out other women in front of me.  I recently came across a picture from a work convention that he attended with me about 6 months after we were married, just before the last affair discovery.  In the photo, I am talking to a colleague at the table with me, and he is standing behind me staring at a woman at the bar with a pervy smirk on his face.  The corporate photographer, snapping pictures of the room, obviously happened to catch that particular moment on film.  I’m not sure why it surprised me when I saw it this week while looking through photos on the company website to see if I could find a good head shot.  For a moment I wondered if he actively pursued anyone at that convention when I was in meetings and seminars.  Then I realized that it doesn’t matter.

In retrospect, I don’t really know how I coped with it.  I think I internalized it a lot.  Seeing him objectify women and knowing that he would jack off to thoughts of other people and think of those fantasies while having sex with me (which he disclosed later), made me feel less than and insignificant.  He told me that he just “didn’t have” that issue anymore once I discovered things.  I call bullshit on that.  I know that he lied to me all of the time.  There is no way for me to know how often he lied or what about.

I do know that it really damaged my image of myself.  I grew up the ugly duckling, and he made it obvious that I still was because I wasn’t even enough for my boyfriend/fiance/husband.  Finding my own self-worth outside of men is still a struggle for me, but I’m trying.  I am shocked when people say that they find me beautiful.  Honestly and truly stunned.  Then, for a little while, I feel wanted and good and sexy.  The doubts and issues start to creep back in, though.  My own adolescence plays a part, as does the bullying in school, but my ex emotionally scarred me deeply.  The bruises faded, but the memory of that night probably never will.  I still feel shame and guilt and a touch of nausea when I think about it.  And no matter how much I tell myself otherwise, there is still nagging doubt that maybe it was all my fault.  Maybe I was being unreasonable in expecting him not to gawk at other women.  He’s a man, right?  Isn’t that supposed to be expected?  The real question is, should it be?

That night wasn’t the only incident of him checking out other women in front of me.  It happened all of the time, even if you don’t count all of the hidden porn discoveries.  Each incident wore on me, carving the message that I wasn’t enough deeper and deeper into my subconscious.  He would deny, say I was imagining things, tell me I am jealous and blowing things out of proportion, and that “every man” does that.  Somehow I doubt that every man jacks off to women who are walking down the street in a porta-potty at work or in his car 5 feet away, but I digress.  Even without the violence, what he did to me and to those unwitting women is wrong.  Plain and simple.

A friend of mine has a tattoo that says “I am enough.”  More and more that is sounding like a brilliant idea.  For now, I try to tell myself that as much as possible.  I am beautiful.  I am worthy.  I do not need the validation of a man.  I am enough.  You are, too.  No matter what has happened to you, what you have been through, or who has told you that you are not.

i am enough teal

I’m Getting Tired of Talking About Lying

28 Oct

This time the lie I uncovered was another long-term one. Remember my post about Judge Judy? It turns out that the “truth” I uncovered then was just another lie. I didn’t share the entire story then, and I’m honestly feeling exhausted thinking about telling it now.  You will probably be exhausted, too, after reading it all.  I suppose that I need to for my sanity, though, to clear my head and get everything out there so I can’t delude myself again.

It all started in July of 2011.  My husband was fired from his job.  As far as I know, he was fired for being sloppy (not cleaning up his work truck) and having a bad attitude. There was a little more to it, but it doesn’t really relate to this story. After he lost his job it was important that he have insurance because he also had a surgery the week after he was fired. His previous health insurance was good through the end of the month, but he also had follow-ups and other things health-wise that needed to be taken care of. Plus, I am a huge believer that everyone needs health insurance. You just never know what might happen.

Naturally, we went ahead and added him to my insurance at work. It was a much better deal than anything he could get on his own, and it was convenient to just have it come out of my check. We worked out a budget together to compensate for his lack of a job and the additional money coming out of my paycheck. It was a little tight, but we were actually doing just fine. In October he got a new job, and told me that he would be eligible for health insurance in 3 months.

Things at that job progressed, but not as well as he had hoped. He had just barely 32 hours per week due to his school schedule, which they worked around for him. The building he was working at was also being shut down, so he was going to transfer to another building with a different manager. He said that he made sure to talk to the HR people about the insurance situation so that he would still be eligible. He assured me that he would be.

In January at the end of the 3 month period, I asked about the insurance situation. We were planning to compare the pricing through his work to the pricing through mine to see what the best option would be. He told me that he wouldn’t be eligible until February – eligibility begins on the 1st of the month after 3 full months of employment, and he started in mid-October. That made sense since that’s how we do it at my work.

Then February came, and no insurance… He told me that he dropped the ball. He had forgotten to talk to the HR department to get the paperwork, fill it out, and get it back on time. I was disappointed, but that is my husband. He is horribly lazy about things like that. It was his responsibility to take care of everything, and he didn’t. I wasn’t pleased, but I wasn’t surprised. I asked him to get the pricing and information so that we could compare it together and make a decision. He said he would. Of course he didn’t.

As March approached, I still hadn’t seen anything about the insurance. I didn’t want to nag, so I only mentioned it once. He said he had the information at work, but kept forgetting to bring it home. Then March was here, and there was no extra time. He called me and said that he looked at everything and it was better for him to go through his work. He said that he had to get the paperwork in, so he was going to fax it from his job. I said that is fine with me – he should take care of it.

He told me that the new insurance was going to be the same as the insurance he had through his old company – United Healthcare.  That was doubly fantastic.  You see, his individual therapist was part of the United network, but not Anthem, which is what I have through work.  That meant we would save money twice – cheaper insurance and no more $90 a week out-of-pocket expense for his therapy session.  Yay!  This letting him take care of things seemed to be working out really great.

Around mid-April or early May I started feeling like something was off.  It is something one of my readers dubbed a “knowing” (you can read about that here).   No matter what I did I couldn’t shake that feeling… BUT things seemed to be going so well, so I tried to push that feeling away.

My “knowing” was not to be ignored, though.  Sometime around this point I found charges for several hundred dollars on our joint account from a company I didn’t recognize.  After some research I discovered it was an online health insurance company.  I was completely confused…

Mr. Mess spun some story about looking for health insurance through his school in January when he was uncertain what would happen at work.  He said that he signed up for health insurance through a company, then changed his mind the next day after speaking to someone at work.  He claimed that he called and cancelled, and he had no idea why they would be charging him now, several months later.  He called the company and told me that the woman he dealt with was gone, and someone else had taken over her accounts.  He claimed someone found his application, saw it wasn’t processed, and put it through (without calling or verifying anything with him first).  Once he explained that he had cancelled, they agreed to refund his money.  Sure enough, the money did come back.

Still, I was hurt and felt betrayed that he would make a decision like signing up for insurance without talking to me at all.  The other crazy thing is that it was MORE expensive than the health insurance through my work, so it didn’t even make sense.  He rationalized that he was going to tell me, but then he cancelled it before anything happened so he figured it didn’t matter.  Huh…?

I also started noticing that my husband’s story about his copay kept changing.  First he told me the copay for therapy was $30 (the same as mine), then he said it was $35.  Either way, we decided to change our marriage counseling over to my insurance while he was waiting for his new insurance information.

It took us a few weeks to come to that decision and probably another one or two to get it taken care of because we see our therapist on Saturdays when no one is in the office.  That meant there were still a few sessions under his expired insurance that had to be resubmitted to his new insurance.  That created a bit of a problem for me because they kept trying to charge me for those sessions that should be going through his new insurance company.  We finally got things clarified with that so my account and his were separate, and I just had to pay for the sessions moving forward.

Part of the delay in getting the old charges taken care of (according to my husband) is that he hadn’t gotten his new insurance card yet.  He told me when it was supposed to be mailed, and since it hadn’t come he was trying to get with the HR department to have the card resent and get a temporary one in the meantime.  He said he would take care of it, so I trusted that he would.

Then I found more money discrepancies… charges for about $155 or so from his therapist’s office split over several different payment methods.  First he said that he was paying a past due bill plus his copay.  The numbers he gave me just did not add up.  His copay amounts kept changing.  The past due amount kept changing.  It made absolutely no sense to me.  That is when I relied on Judge Judy’s wisdom and told him if it didn’t make sense it wasn’t true.

He kept lying for a bit, then finally admitted that his therapist was NOT covered through his new insurance.  He said that he thought it was United Healthcare, but it was really US Health (or something like that).  When he found out he had been mistaken he was worried that he told me the wrong thing.  He said that he panicked and lied about it.  We talked about it extensively in therapy.

The unpaid back bills from our joint therapy sessions also remained an issue.  He would tell me that he was going to take care of it.  He kept not taking care of it.  At the beginning of July he lied to me about it, then admitted his lie when I pushed a little bit (I talked about that here).  Week after week passed with excuse after excuse until I just stopped asking.  It was his bill.  It was his credit being ruined.  I decided to just let him worry about that bill on his own.

It didn’t come up again for a few more weeks, at the end of July, when our therapist asked about it.  I mean, seriously, these bills were from March or April (I really can’t remember the month, but it was a while back).  He was going to be out to deal with prostate cancer for about 6 weeks.  He asked that my husband make a point of taking care of the bill during that time because he doesn’t get paid if he doesn’t work, so having that money come in would be helpful.  Mr. Mess promised he would take care of it and ensure the office had his new insurance to submit those old charges to.

Again, the matter fell off of my radar.  Then we had the issue with him not taking his meds in August (that story is here).  He got gout in September.  Finally, there was the STD testing fiasco (the very long story of that is here).  That was the last straw for me.  I asked him for a separation.  He has been out of the house now for 2 weeks.

This past week a bill came for an X-Ray he got in September when they were diagnosing his gout (and ruling out other possible causes).  It clearly stated that there was no insurance company to submit the charges to.  Suddenly it all clicked.  MY HUSBAND NEVER GOT HEALTH INSURANCE!!!

Everything for at least the past 7 months has been a lie.  I can’t even count the number of times he has lied to me about this subject.  The above summary is only the beginning.  I don’t even know when the lying started.  In March when he said he submitted the information?  In January or February when he should have been eligible?  As far back as October when he first got the job and told me he would eligible for insurance in 3 months?

I think back on all of the times he lied, and I feel empty inside.  In marriage counseling more than once.  In bed when we talked at night.  When he was telling me the “truth” about his new health insurance company.  All the times he was reassuring me that he cares about me, wants to be 100% honest, and is committed to earning my trust.  It was all a farce.  He even looked a man in the face who was worried about his upcoming cancer operation and lied to him.  Shamelessly.  How low can you go?

I really don’t know.  I’m sure it can and probably would have gotten much worse.  I don’t know if he can ever change.  I do know that I am SO over talking about lies.  I’m tired of being lied to.  I’m tired of wondering what is the truth.  I’m done expending any more emotional energy on this topic.  Either he figures it out and fixes it, or he doesn’t.  I don’t even know how I will ever be able to tell.

What I do know is that I will not accept lies as a regular part of my relationship anymore.  I’m done believing in his “higher potential.”  I am not going to let my optimism cripple me anymore.  My eyes are wide open.

Forgiveness in the Face of Turmoil

13 Oct

Forgiveness lesson from flowers

Today has been a very difficult day for me.  Rather than blog about that, I’m going to add my commentary to another Rick Reynolds article – Forgiving Infidelity: Practical Suggestions to Move Toward Forgiveness.  He and his wife worked together to provide their own suggestions about how to forgive.  They both have very insightful advice.  It is definitely an article worth reading in full.

However, I am not going to address the entire thing here.  The only thing I will respond to right now are the tips for the hurt spouse.  Below is an excerpt from the article.  I’m also including the portion before the tips that distinguishes between forgiveness and reconciliation because I think it is crucial.  In pink are my comments and feelings as they stand tonight.

At Affair Recovery we believe there are two components to forgiveness as it pertains to forgiving infidelity. First is the internal aspect of forgiveness, which has little or nothing to do with the other person. It is a personal choice to release the other person from retribution or harm as a result of their offence; it’s coming to the point where you can wish them well. It’s not based on their repentance or merit, since it’s an internal matter. It is a gift you give yourself, which sets you free and allows you to live at peace with your memories. The internal aspect of forgiveness in marriage where infidelity is involved is important in that failing to achieve this type of forgiveness leaves you forever the victim.

The second aspect of forgiving infidelity is about reconciliation. This component of forgiveness is primarily based on safety. Does the unfaithful spouse see what they’ve done, do they take responsibility for their actions and are they grieved over what their actions have cost others? Anything short of that response potentially makes them unsafe for reconciliation. This aspect of forgiveness determines whether the relationship will continue. If they are willing to make amends for their failure, then reconciliation might be a good choice.

Practical Suggestions For Forgiving Infidelity For The Hurt Spouse:  (These are from his spouse)

1.  Separate forgiveness from the process of reconciliation. Make reconciliation optional and forgiveness not optional. People often do this backwards, choosing to reconcile rather than forgive. This leaves them trapped in the pain of the betrayal, never able to move forward to a new life. If your mate isn’t safe don’t reconcile. In the first year of recovery don’t pressure yourself to decide about reconciliation. It may take over a year before you know whether it’s safe to reconcile. Reconciliation depends on your mate’s ongoing recovery and your ability to heal from the trauma of the betrayal.

This is something I am just realizing: forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things.  I like this concept, and it rings very true to me.  I know that I did this part backwards because I decided to reconcile before I was able to forgive.  I chose to stay with my husband and work on the marriage before he was a safe person to recover with.  I can now see the wisdom in this method.  You truly have to be able to forgive before you can know whether reconciliation is an option.

2.  Make a conscious choice to forgive. For freedom’s sake don’t hang on to bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness is always in your best interest and in the interest of those you love. Only time will tell whether reconciliation has a place in your relationship.

“For freedom’s sake don’t hang on to bitterness and resentment.”  I had to type that again.  Forgiveness, or at least acceptance, is the only way to move forward – with or without the relationship intact.  Hanging onto bitterness and resentment can eat a hole in your soul.  I don’t want to be that person.  I have to let those things go.  I don’t feel bitter or resentful towards my husband.  I sometimes feel sad.  I feel hurt, especially when he lies to me.

I am actively trying to not let those feelings run my life, though.  I don’t want to resent him for his actions.  I have been an active participant in this relationship – I stayed after I found the porn, I stayed after he lied to me about strip clubs, I stayed after I discovered his cyber affair, I stayed through more and more lies and revelations, I stayed when he was diagnosed as a sex addict, and I stayed as much for myself and due to my own issues (codependent much?) as because of his lies.

I am partially responsible for where we are.  I can’t resent him for his part unless I am also willing to resent myself – and I can’t do that.  I have to keep moving forward.  I can’t become bitter and jaded, as easy as that would be.  I can’t wallow in self-pity.  I have to heal for me.  I am worthy of healing.  It is in my best interest to let go and forgive.

3.  Choose to focus on what’s helpful. Once you know what’s happened there may be diminishing benefit in continuing to focus on the past. Have the sense to ask yourself if how you’re spending your time (conversation, thought life) is helping to move you forward in your recovery. If it’s something that’s keeping you stuck, let it go. You want to choose life, not death.

Okay, what has been helpful?  Loving myself has been helpful.  Going to S-Anon has been helpful.  Being aware of my codependent tendencies has been helpful.  Going to therapy has been helpful.  Blogging and journaling has been helpful (writing my thoughts down, commenting, stretching my view of myself and others, working to really understand what makes me tick, getting thoughts out of my head and onto a computer screen where I can examine them, etc.).   Those things have all been focused on bettering myself, increasing my self-awareness, and changing – as painful as it can be.

The things that have not been helpful – shopping, eating, obsessing about things I can’t change, fighting, yelling, arguing, threatening, trying to control.  Going around and around in circles saying the same things is also not helpful.  Holding onto anger has not been helpful.  Contacting the OW at the beginning of all this was definitely not helpful.  Thinking of myself as perfect – or at least trying to be that way – didn’t help, and actually made things worse.  I do want to choose life, not death and certainly not an excruciating limbo.

4.  Maintain an attitude of compassion. If you can look at your mate through a lens of compassion and concern you may find it easier to let go of the offence. Forgiving infidelity is not a sign of weakness and it doesn’t minimize the magnitude of the betrayal, rather it allows you to move forward, free from the hurtful actions of another. Forgiveness in marriage, even without infidelity, requires compassion.

This is something that my Mom really helps me with.  I also think that when I started feeling compassion and concern for him and his addiction I also started down the path of forgiveness.  If forgiveness truly is about wishing the other person well, then I’m definitely there.  I want him to get better.  I can imagine how horrible it must be to be trapped in lies and compulsive behavior.  My heart aches for him.

I already know that forgiving someone is not weak and doesn’t take away from what was done.  Forgiveness doesn’t negate hurt.  It doesn’t discount fear.  It doesn’t exist separately from sadness.  Instead, it coexists with them.  It dulls the pain.  It acknowledges that there is another dimension to everything.  It complicates things while also making them simpler – adding different viewpoints and angles to the situation to add clarity – much the way multiple camera views of a play can make the proper call easier to determine.  Compassion and empathy are the aspects of forgiveness that make that possible.

5.  Don’t hang on to entitlements. As Charles Dickens says, “In every life, no matter how full or empty one’s purse, there is tragedy. It is the one promise life always fulfils. Thus, happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it but to delight in it when it comes and to add to other people’s store of it.” Your mate may have destroyed your happiness, but life is hard and often unjust. Try to keep realistic expectations.

Here is an area where I can definitely use work.  I am very guilty of hanging on to the idea that life should be fair, that I should get what I want, and that I deserve happiness…  That quote is completely true, though.  It is profound in its honesty.  It shatters my preconceived notions about myself and about life in general.  I consider myself a realist, yet I somehow allow myself to forget the simple fact that life is hard and full of tragedy.

6.  Take care of yourself. A lack of sleep, isolation, or severe depression only makes forgiving infidelity more difficult. It’s not fair since you aren’t the one who cheated, but you’re the only one who can take the necessary steps to heal from the wounds created by others. Be willing to get help.

This is really fantastic advice for anyone going through a difficult time – betrayal, loss, sickness, or anything else you can think of.  Sleep.  Eat.  Talk to someone.  Do everything in moderation, nothing to excess.  If you are on medication, take it.  Focus on yourself.

Today I had a really rough time.  I am sick on top of a number of other things.  Still, I took my antidepressants and vitamins, remembered my cold medicine every 4 hours, put 2 different types of drops in my ear for an infection, and got a moderate amount of rest.  I ate, and although it wasn’t particularly healthy (pizza) I did limit myself to only 2 pieces.  I also made sure to have carrots and other healthy snacks throughout the day.  I didn’t isolate myself – I called a friend, talked to my Mom and Dad (separately), cuddled with my dogs, and made it outside at least 3 or 4 times.  I also cleaned the house some and took time for myself to write this.  I will be going to bed at a decent hour.

As for getting help, that is definitely a must.  I look forward to my weekly sessions with the therapist.  I enjoy my S-Anon meetings.  I am going to make time to go to the doctor very, very soon.  I am finally realizing that I can’t do it all on my own, and that is okay.  It is actually quite a relief.

7.  Be aware of your own humanity. As CS Lewis says, “All saints must keep one nostril keenly attuned to their own inner cesspool.” Be willing to consider what you’ve been forgiven. Maintaining an awareness of what others have had to forgo for your sake will help you find patience for others. A self-righteous attitude will cut you off from the very thing you seek.

I have a lot of faults.  I make a lot of mistakes.  I require a lot of forgiveness.  This list isn’t even close to complete, but I can name so many things off the top of my head that need to be improved in me.  I am stubborn to a fault.  I am competitive – I always want to win, even when it has gone past the point of being enjoyable or productive.  I am disorganized most of the time – my clothes are thrown around in piles, my shoes clutter up the house, I am horrible about leaving things sitting on any flat surface available, and when I do organize it is by my own system, which is nearly indecipherable to others.  I tend to put things off (I have several t-shirts about procrastination to proudly declare that to the world, too). 

I can be petty.  I curse way too much.  I eat unhealthy things and sabotage my own weight-loss.  I say mean things to people, sometimes aimed purposefully at what I know are their weakest spots.  I yell.  I over-think.  I am a horrible pet owner.  When I am happy I get complacent and lazy, disregarding all my other responsibilities to revel in the happiness.  I lose myself in other people, especially when I am in a romantic relationship. 

I am controlling.  I am a perfectionist.  I have a really bad image of myself.  I smile at the most inappropriate times – like when I’m uncomfortable, when I’m feeling insecure, at funerals, etc.  I cry when I get really angry, which makes me angrier, which in turn makes me cry more.

I often take a holier-than-thou attitude.  When I do that it usually indicates an area that I need to examine further in myself.  I have a lot of things to figure out.  I have started working on my issues, and I will continue to do so – maybe for the rest of my life.

So there it is…  another glimpse into my mess.  It really isn’t beautiful at all.

if ever there was a time, let it be here, let ...

His “Rules” About Cheating

8 Oct

The last few days I have been trying really hard to process things.  I am realizing that it is harder to get into the mind of a serial cheater than the average person could ever understand.  I don’t recommend it at all, actually.

One of the things that shocked me are all of the non-sensical “rules” he had about things.  The way that he justified his behavior is absurd to me.  For instance, once he found a new woman to sex chat with online, he was only with her.  He didn’t seek out more than one sex chatting partner at a time.  He said that would have been too much for him…  Really?  If I wanted random, fairly anonymous sexual contact online, I would diversify.  Why only have one skank I could run to online?  Why not 5 or 6?  More chances to wank off!  More diversity!  More options!  Nope…  Not him.  He had exclusive, monogamous relationships with his random internet sex hookups.

He also had a fairly standard progression to things.  Go to chat room.  Seek out women to talk to.  Make sexual advances.  Attach to the first person to respond positively (yeah, that’s right… just the first sad, pathetic woman with no self-esteem and loose morals).  Escalate your chatting activity, phone sex, and virtual sexual contact for 3-6 months.  Verbally abuse the woman to the extent she would allow – the more often you could call her a bitch, whore, slut, cunt, etc. the better.  Once that got boring, choose a spot to meet up for in person contact.   Drive (sometimes hours) to see her.  Get drunk and high.  Fuck her a few times (as often as he could get it up).  Leave.  Never speak to her again.  Ignore all contact.  Repeat.

Yeah…  that was basically his pattern for 20 years.

Except… for when he was in a relationship.  Then the rules were different.  Don’t get me wrong, the above pattern was still basically the same.  Actually, exactly the same.  The only difference is that he had an “exclusive” girlfriend as well.  He wouldn’t see the girlfriend and the internet sex buddy on the same day.

So, if you keep following that logic…  He was more exclusive with them than he ever was with me!  That’s right!  He couldn’t have two internet skanks at the same time, but he could have one of them AND one of me.

Or, in fact, 4 of them and me.  Never all at once – THAT would be going too far, of course.

I discovered that the entire time we were dating he was maybe exclusive with me for 6 months.  He was involved in one of his fairly anonymous sexual “relationships” when we met.  He slept with his latest internet whore in the beginning of us dating.  That means he was probably close to the point in his cycle with the new harlot where he was getting bored.  Luckily, since he started dating me, he changed that plan and just kept cyber-fucking women in chat rooms.

When he asked me to be exclusive with him he got rid of his latest internet flavor of the month.  What followed was the 6 month period when he didn’t have a fuck buddy.  Don’t worry, though, he was still hiding pornography and jacking off to that multiple times a day while denying me sex, and there were at least one or two visits to strip clubs in there.  I still wasn’t alone in his head.

He can’t tell me a timeline for the other 3 – or at least he hasn’t tried to yet.  I do know that they followed a similar cycle to above except at some point he would realized how fucked up his action were, feel guilty, and stop.  He said the fact that he cared for me would trigger his guilt until at some point he felt worse about himself than good from what he was doing (as the buzz was fading).

Except for the last one.  Apparently there was nothing disgusting, nasty or mean enough that he could say to her.  And apparently knowing that our relationship was more solid and comfortable pushed him farther into his fantasy with her.  He thought I would forgive him if he was caught.  I’m so glad I lived up my part of that pathetic expectation.

When he made that revelation, I asked him  why feeling solid and safe with me would cause him to act out more.  He said in his mind he knew I would be there.  I had already discovered him hiding and lying about pornography, which crashed my laptop, and seen a few chats accidentally, and hadn’t kicked him out yet.  The more likely he could get caught, the more excited he was.  He also said it was easier for him to lie to me than to come to me and express any fantasies.  So in his mind, forgiveness = the ability to do anything he wanted to do and license to keep lying.

So how can I not expect the same behavior now?  How does that not mean that forgiving him won’t just lead to the same thing?  I thought I was at that point with the information I had, then all of this new information has again left me feeling devastated and on shaky ground.  My entire picture of our relationship has shifted.  Now I know that I was never his only “girlfriend,” although he never called the online skanks that.  Now I know that he has had about 5 times more sexual partners than I thought.  Now I know that only a week before our wedding he wasn’t committed to me.  He wasn’t committed to us.  He didn’t care about my feelings.  He lied to my face, and asked his best man to do the same (I just found that out last night).  If I forgive all of that am I just setting myself up for something much, much worse? (I think yes!)

To his credit, he did try to help me through this.  He told me all of the things that have changed for him from then to now.  He said that one key is that he knows he has a problem now.  Before (as incredibly difficult as it is for me to grasp), he didn’t think any of his behavior was a problem.  He would feel guilty and stop, yet somehow that wasn’t a problem.  When he started back up because he couldn’t help himself, that wasn’t a problem in his mind.  When I caught him, and he continued lying, he didn’t see the problem.  Now he does.

He also had medication to help him think clearer since he had undiagnosed mental conditions before.  Now he said he can think in the more linear process that the rest of us use.  He has accepted what he is, and he is going to therapy to correct it.  He also said that he knows forgiveness isn’t a given – that maybe I won’t be able to forgive him – or if I do that it will cause a lot of pain and hurt.

I still have a lot of concerns.  I still have a lot of fears.  I have a lot of questions, a lot of worries, a lot of problems with the things that he revealed.  I’m not sure what to do with them all right now, but I’m trying my best to hold on and keep going.

1 Other Woman Became 4…

5 Oct

That’s about all I’m emotionally able to say right now.  I’m still processing…

I am glad that I have a therapy appointment today at 11.  I really need it.

More Details About Disclosure

4 Oct

The two most shocking things from disclosure concerned his bachelor party and his history with chat rooms and anonymous sexual partners.  I am still processing some things from the bachelor party and waiting on the answer to a few questions that he was unsure of (mostly concerning the timeline, when the plan was made to do what happened, and who was involving in the planning).  His best man came to me well in advance of his bachelor party, and ask me what would make me feel comfortable and what was off-limits.  I asked that the party not entail strippers or live, naked women of any kind (you have to be specific sometimes with that bunch).   My husband was also adamant about that before-hand.  I say this to clarify that I didn’t have to volunteer the information that I didn’t want strippers – I was asked about what would make me comfortable, then promised that my feelings would be respected.

It turns out there were strippers involved with his bachelor party, complete with multiple lap dances and naked lady parts all over my soon-to-be husband.  There was a trip to the “back room.”  He said he wasn’t aware of what was going to happen until after the got there and had already been drinking.  By that point he wasn’t able (willing, whatever word you want to use) to say no.  He said if he knew ahead of time he wouldn’t even have gone to the party.  Not going at all and putting his foot down in advance would have been easier for him than saying no face-to-face with the peer pressure of his friends, especially once he was already drunk and high.  He didn’t have the balls to say no because he didn’t want to look “pussy whipped.”  Gag!

I believe him that he didn’t know in advance, but I am so incredibly hurt that he didn’t stand up for me, for himself, for the promise he made to me, for our soon-to-be marriage.  I am very hurt about all of the lies he told me afterwards, all the way up to 2 days ago.  I feel sick thinking about it.  I also get flashes of anger.  We had talked about strip clubs extensively.  He had lied to me about going to strip clubs on several occasions in the past, so it wasn’t a secret in any way, shape, or form that I already felt betrayed by him in regard to strippers.

A month or so before his bachelor party we also had a HUGE blow-up incident because he was blatantly checking out another woman at a bar in front of me in a very disrespectful way.  The wedding almost didn’t happen because of that, and we had a very long, very emotional conversation about my boundaries.  I told him then that I feel disrespected and devalued when he does those things, and I will not accept that in my relationship.  I can say with absolute certainty that I wouldn’t have married him if I was aware of what happened that night.  We aren’t in the past, though.  I think I can move beyond that now.  I am upset, though.  I don’t know what to do.

However, I would really like to know whether his best man lied to my face to give me a false sense of security, or whether the planning was done by someone else and materialized after that conversation.  That distinction is very important to me.  It doesn’t make a difference in my marriage, but it does make a difference regarding his best man, who has recently made a re-entry into our lives on a very regular basis.

He didn’t owe me anything, really – my husband was the one who made commitments and promises to me that I had the right to trust in.  Still, I always thought he was a friend of our relationship – one of Mr. Mess’s only decent friends (there is only one other friend of his that I have felt close and safe with besides his best man).  It’s possible that he didn’t plan things to go the way they did.

The best man’s younger brother has been a constant thorn in the side of our relationship since the beginning.  He was the one “responsible for” the strippers.  I have no illusions about him, and wouldn’t trust a single word that ever came out of his mouth.  He is Bad News in every way I can think of – alcoholic, drug addict, sex addict, immature, pushy, an overall bully, and someone who hasn’t had a real relationship or commitment to another person in his adult life (except for a married stripper that he was dating for a bit).

I didn’t think his best man was like that, though.  I always thought he had more integrity than his brother.  He has been married for ages, and he always struck me as an upstanding, honest person.  He is the only person who could have convinced me that my boundaries were going to be respected.  His word to me before the bachelor party is the only reason I have held onto a shred of hope that what my husband told me happened (or didn’t happen) was the truth.  At this moment I don’t know how much he knew about the strippers or when.  If he lied to my face to make me feel safe while planning all along to disregard what we talked about, I don’t know how I will react.  It may also ruin a new sport that I have grown to love.

I am trying not to live in “what ifs.”  I am trying to put my feelings in perspective.  I am trying to reconcile whether he can still be a part of our lives – whether I should let it go until or unless another situation comes up where I would have to trust him or his integrity.  I am trying to figure out why that betrayal hurts worse than anything else I heard.  I am trying, trying, trying to wrap my brain around this.  I think I will post an article later that really resonated with me on this topic.

As for the other information… I discovered my husband has been visiting chat rooms for the purpose of having sexual encounters since the invention of the internet (basically).  I also discovered that he has slept with somewhere in the ballpark of 50 women off of those chat rooms (he isn’t certain of the number).  That activity – sex chatting, phone sex, pictures, then finally culminating in an in-person encounter – was a constant pattern in his life, happening at least 2-3 times per year.  When he had slept with one woman he ignored her from that point forward and the cycle repeated itself.   That happened four times during our relationship.

After revealing his random sex partners off of the internet over the course of almost 20 years, he said that he “always” used protection with them. Later I asked what sexual activities they engaged in (just the basics, no details). When he mentioned oral and anal sex, I had to ask again… So you always used a condom with all sexual contact? He said yes. Then I clarified a third time – including oral and anal? Suddenly, the story changed, and he realized that NO, he in fact did NOT use protection every time.  He only concerned himself with condoms for vaginal sex, even though STDs can also be transmitted through other sexual contact.

In that circumstance, I needed to ask those questions to feel safe. I don’t know how long some sexually transmitted diseases can stay dormant or which ones he could be a carrier of without recent symptoms.  I do know that he hasn’t been tested since 2003, and I have never been.  That makes me worried, especially because his last sex hookup off of a chat room was 6 months before we met.  So that question was one I needed to be triple sure of.

So far, those have been the two areas of his disclosure where I asked for more details than he provided (for the most part, with the exception of basic clarification).  I really have to make the distinction – what will help me heal and what will keep me stagnant? What do I NEED to know, and what will keep me from moving forward?

There will be plenty of other details that I won’t be asking. There will be many things I don’t want to know.  There may be things that come up that I realize are important.  We shall see.  For now, I’m looking forward to getting a resolution on those few things, and to talking to the MC in an individual session tomorrow.

Anniversary Memories: Camping in Shenandoah

1 Oct

My husband and I recently celebrated our 2 year wedding anniversary.  It was a good experience.  Last year was nice, but the shadow of everything I had discovered just 6 months before was hanging around.  We had great moments, but sadness creeped in every now and then.  I distracted myself through lots of planned activities and experiences that would take my mind off of anything negative.

This year was almost the opposite.  We had no distractions, nothing really planned beyond where we would be camping, and nothing over the top.  It was just him and me… and a tent.  I left my laptop and tablet at home, he left his phone.  Mr. Mess had picked out and reserved a camp site in Shenandoah National Park, we had a rough idea of when we wanted to leave, and he had a few general plans of what we could do in the area.  When we arrived at the entrance to Skyline Drive they gave us a map, a brochure, and told us that there was an apple butter festival happening that afternoon.  Fun!

We picked up some firewood and a few supplies, then got right to the business of setting up our tent.  The campsite was perfect.  It was right at the end of a road and there was an area set back from the fire pit and picnic table that was surrounded on 3 sides with trees.  That is where we set up our tent.  It was the only moment where things got a little hairy…  We had a small tiff over getting the tent staked down, but it didn’t linger.  We were both able to see how completely useless it would be to argue over something that minor, so we moved on and had a nice time.

Once the camp was established, we headed down Skyline Drive and made our way to the apple butter festival.  30 miles doesn’t seem like far, but at 30 miles per hour, it takes an hour… not counting stops along the way to check out breathtaking views like this one:

By the time we made it down to the area where the festival was located we were quite hungry.  The parking was also about a mile or so away from the festival area.  My husband’s knee started really bothering him (it was probably his gout flaring up, but he didn’t know that he had gout at that point).  Then out of the blue a very nice gentleman stopped and let us hop on his tailgate.  Yay for helpful strangers!

The festival itself was somewhat disappointing, but we managed to connect with each other over the horrible food and cheesy items for sale.  One really neat aspect was two large vats of boiling apples over open fires.  There were large, long-handled stirrers to keep the boiling liquid mixed and evenly heated.  The smells were amazing.  There was also great music and several acts, including cloggers.  There were pony rides for kids, a wine tasting booth, and plenty of cute doggies.

When we had our fill of that environment I was able to get us another ride back up the mountain (sometimes you just gotta ask).  We then exited onto Route 33 to head into town.  The pump for the queen air mattress that we brought was useless – some moisture must have gotten in when it was stored, and the batteries were corroded.  On the way to Wally World we stopped by the ABC store to get some yummy local wine (we already had some favorites from previous trips to this area).  We also picked up a knee-brace for hubby, and a few other things – including wonderful cheese (blue cheese, gouda, and an herbed cheddar), bakery-made Asiago focaccia bread (the best bread in the world – I stand by that statement), and contact solution (which I had forgotten to pack).

On the way back to our campsite we caught this phenomenal view of the sun starting to descend behind the mountaintops.

That evening my husband cooked us one of the best dinners I have ever had.  First, we started up the fire.  I have to add here that I find the smell of a camp fire incredibly amazing.  It’s one of my favorite smells in the entire world.  We worked together to prep the items to cook – sliced Portobello mushrooms and onions, filet mignon, the various cheeses, the wonderful bread, and a beautiful bottle of wine.

He heated up the cast iron skillet, we loaded it up with butter, and sautéed the veggies.  The steaks soon followed (in the same pan), then a thin layer of blue cheese was applied over everything.  We enjoyed the wine as things cooked, then shared a dinner that can only be described as scrumptious.  I wish I had pictures to share, but that meal lives only in our memories.

That evening we drank quite a bit, played with the fire, lounged around the campsite, and snuggled.  When the stars came out I could swear there were a million of them.  Our tent has a mesh top with an optional cover, which we left off.  As we lay in each others arms on our comfy mattress under a thick comforter, we laughed, kissed, and stared in wonder at the beauty of nature.

The next morning it was COLD!!  30 degrees, frost on the picnic table, can see our breath cold!  Mr. Mess tried to start our fire back up, but it was so windy that all we could create was a smoke monster (we joked that it could have been an extra in Lost).  I wrapped myself up from head to toe in our huge comforter and watched him try to make breakfast over our pseudo fire.  It resulted in a somewhat edible breakfast that was nothing compared to our dinner.  We quickly decided to pack everything up, get in the warm car, and start our day of adventure early.

Without any specific plan in mind, we drove in the direction of the closest winery, according to our GPS.  We should have known better.  That thing is evil.  I really think it hates me.  The first thing it tried to do was take us down an old fire lane that was overgrown with grass and blocked off by the park rangers.  It refused to detour us – according to evil GPS that was the only way to get to said winery.  We decided to continue to the exit that we were closest to, then try again.  We should have just given up on that winery, but for some reason we were stuck on finding it.

After we got to Route 33, we tried again.  It said the winery was 2.6 miles away…  Not too bad.  All of a sudden, that 2 miles turned into 6.  Then 11 more.  Apparently this was the magically moving winery.  Still we continued on.  Next thing we knew, we were in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  The paved road was ending and a gravel road stretched out ahead.  Our GPS told us to turn left.  The problem is there was no road.  Just a little grassy clearing that ended in a ditch.  We wandered around a bit trying to find anything close to a winery.  No luck.  We finally decided to give up, while laughing and cursing our evil British GPS (I gave him a funny accent to make him more bearable).

Not to be dissuaded, we picked up some food and chose a more easily located winery that we had visited in the past.  The weather was beautiful, the windows were down, and our car and all of our belongings smelled like the wonderful camp fire (smoke monster).  Life was great!  On the way to said winery, we passed this beautiful, inquisitive cow, and my husband stopped to allow me to snap a few pictures.

The first winery was simply stunning.  The wine was good, but the view was better.

The chatty woman who went over the wine tasting with us also gave us a map of all of the wineries in Virginia.  (Funnily enough, she knew about the winery we were trying to find earlier…  She said it was like 2 miles farther up the winding gravel road.  When we checked out the winery on said map, we discovered in large, bold letters the warning NOT to use a GPS to get there.  Oh well.)  We picked a few wineries on the map that were on the way home, and took off with the wind in our hair.  Here’s the view from the next one we hit:

We picked the final winery based solely on the fact that free wine glasses came with each tasting.  It was a fantastic choice!  Not only were the wines fantastic, they have a weekly polo match there every Sunday!  There were hundreds of people there, the energy was fabulous, and they had a cooler full of great cheeses.  We grabbed our glasses, a few warm baguettes, some cheese, and a bottle of wine and headed down to the polo field.  The sun was shining, the grass was soft, and the food and wine were delicious.  We couldn’t have planned things this perfect if we had tried!

Our last stop on the anniversary celebration was apple picking in Charlottesville.  It was the first time Mr. Mess had ever been, and we had a good time.  He bought some ice cream, I got a few cinnamon donuts, and we filled a bag with apples that we climbed trees to salvage.  I will leave you with a picture of the orchard we wandered through together.

I (Was) Married to My Polar Opposite (ISTJ & ENFP)

24 Sep

Today I wanted to share one of my previous posts about how my husband and I are complete opposites.  I find it very interesting how complete opposites can be attracted to one another and then learn to live with their differences.   I always knew that my husband and I were opposites in many ways.  I never realized that we were complete and total opposites, at least psychologically, until we took the Myers-Briggs Test together and examined our results with our marriage counselor.  What follows is a summary of our different personality types and how they mesh in a relationship.  Things are difficult sometimes, but we are making it work!

A while ago I briefly posted about my husband and I taking the Myers-Briggs Personality Test (See Being Thankful).  Two weeks ago we got our results and a sheet that breaks down the joys and struggles of a couple with those two personality types.  What we discovered is that we are actually polar opposites. We literally do not have one type in common.  I am an ISTJ (Introvert, Sensing, Thinking, Judging) and he is an ENFP (Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving).

If you aren’t familiar with the test or the concept, it uses 4 different scales to identify personality traits.  There are 16 different combinations of these 4 traits which form the basis for your overall personality.  The four different scales are (as broken down by about.com Psychology at http://psychology.about.com/od/psychologicaltesting/a/myers-briggs-type-indicator.htm):

  1. Extraversion (E) – Introversion (I):  The extraversion-introversion dichotomy was first explored by Jung in his theory of personality types as a way to describe how people respond and interact with the world around them.  While these terms are familiar to most people, the way in which they are used here differs somewhat from their popular usage. Extroverts are “outward-turning” and tend to be action-oriented, enjoy more frequent social interaction and feel energized after spending time with other people. Introverts are “inward-turning” and tend to be thought-oriented, enjoy deep and meaningful social interactions and feel recharged after spending time alone. We all exhibit extraversion and introversion to some degree, but most of us tend have an overall preference for one or the other.
  2. Sensing (S) – Intuition (N): This scale involves looking at how people gather information from the world around them. Just like with extraversion and introversion, all people spend some time sensing and intuiting depending on the situation. According to the MBTI, people tend be dominant in one area or the other. People who prefer sensing tend to pay a great deal of attention to reality, particularly to what they can learn from their own senses. They tend to focus on facts and details and enjoy getting hands-on experience. Those who prefer intuition pay more attention to things like patterns and impressions. They enjoy thinking about possibilities, imagining the future and abstract theories.
  3. Thinking (T) – Feeling (F): This scale focuses on how people make decisions based on the information that they gathered from their sensing or intuition functions. People who prefer thinking place a greater emphasis on facts and objective data. They tend to be consistent, logical and impersonal when weighing a decision. Those to prefer feeling are more likely to consider people and emotions when arriving at a conclusion.
  4. Judging (J) – Perceiving (P): The final scale involves how people tend to deal with the outside world. Those who lean toward judging prefer structure and firm decisions. People who lean toward perceiving are more open, flexible and adaptable. These two tendencies interact with the other scales. Remember, all people at least spend some time extraverting. The judging-perceiving scale helps describe whether you extrovert when you are taking in new information (sensing and intuition) or when you are making decisions (thinking and feeling).

Every person has some combination of those 4 scales. Each combination has inherent value and its own set of positive attributes and challenges. Here’s a quick summary of the our two personality types:

  • ISTJ (me) – People with an ISTJ personality type tend to be reserved, practical and quiet. They enjoy order and organization in all areas of their lives including their home, work, family and projects. Because of this need for order, they tend to do better in learning and work environments that have clearly defined schedules, clear-cut assignments and a strong focus on the task at hand. ISTJs value loyalty in themselves and others, and place an emphasis on traditions. ISTJs are both responsible and realistic. They are able to ignore distractions in order to focus on the task at hand and are often described as dependable and trustworthy. Some of the main characteristics of the ISTJ personality include:
    • Focused on details and facts
    • Realistic
    • Interested in the present more than the future
    • Observant, but slightly subjective
    • Interested in the internal world
    • Logical and practical
    • Orderly and organized
  • ENFP (him) – People with this type of personality are often described as enthusiastic, charismatic, and creative. ENFPs are flexible and like to keep their options open. They can be spontaneous and are highly adaptable to change. They also dislike routine and may have problems with disorganization and procrastination. When making decisions, ENFPs place a greater value on feelings and values rather than on logic and objective criteria. People with this personality type strongly dislike routine and prefer to focus on the future. While they are great at generating new ideas, they sometimes put off important tasks until the last minute. Dreaming up ideas but not seeing them through to completion is a common problem. ENFPs can also become easily distracted, particularly when they are working on something that seems boring or uninspiring.Some common ENFP characteristics include:
    • Warm and enthusiastic
    • Empathetic and caring
    • Strong people skills; relates well to others
    • Able to think abstractly and understand difficult, complex concepts
    • Needs approval from others
    • Disorganized
    • Strong communication skills
    • Fun and spontaneous
    • Highly creative

You can probably tell already just how completely different we are.  Now imagine making that work in a marriage.  It is hard work.  But it is also very rewarding.  We literally have the traits that the other lacks.  Here is a portion of what our marriage counselor gave us regarding a marriage between an ISTJ and an ENFP:

The Joys

Since ISTJs and ENFPs have no type preference in common, they often seem like polar opposites. But many couples experience a strong attraction, as each has what the other lacks. ISTJs are often attracted to ENFPs’ high energy, enthusiasm, optimism, and creativity. ENFPs bring a fun and adventurous element to everyday living, often saying and doing things that are irreverent, clever, and original (very true). ENFPs are often drawn to ISTJs’ steadiness, responsibility, and calm. ISTJs have a focus and maturity that ENFPs long to have themselves, and ISTJs are generally down-to-earth, unflappable, and superdependable (also very true).

Because of these differences, ENFPs and ISTJs have a great opportunity to help each other grow and develop in important ways. ISTJs help their partners focus more carefully on the facts, details, and individual steps of their projects so they make fewer mistakes. ENFPs often credit their partners with helping them be more direct, assertive, and willing to confront conflicts head-on. ENFPs also say that their ISTJ partners help them become more organized, accountable, and realistic (true again). For their part, ENFPs often help their serious and hardworking partners relax, have fun, and take occasional risks (so incredibly dead-on). ISTJs credit their partners with cultivating their gentler and more patient sides and with helping them be more flexible and open to new ideas.

The Frustrations

Their many differences give most ISTJ and ENFP couples sizable hurdles to clear on a daily basis, especially in the area of communication (okay, have these people been spying on us?!). ISTJs crave structure and predictability in their daily lives and are more traditional than the nonconforming and liberal-minded ENFPs. Whereas ISTJs are not bothered by, and are perhaps even stimulated by, the tug of a good argument, ENFPs generally avoid anything too contentious or confrontational (spot-on). Otherwise, ENFPs typically like lots of stimulation and are always eager to meet new people and explore new areas of work and play. Meanwhile, ISTJs are often exhausted by the high level of interaction their partners stir up and prefer to stick with established routines or to spend quiet time with their partners pursuing an interest they share (that is so me).

Generally, one of the most difficult challenges for this couple stems from their views of change. ENFPs like and need to talk about limitless possibilities, and they love to think creatively. Because most ISTJs find constant change unsettling and stressful, their natural reaction is to resist it. ENFPs often feel that their enthusiasm for possibilities is being squelched by the realism of their ISTJ partners. For their part, ISTJs find the endless chatter about things that might never actually happen and the repeated leaps in logic frustrating and even threatening to the calm they prefer (AMEN!).

During conflicts, ISTJs tend to withdraw into silence so they can carefully think through their positions, opinions, and feelings before sharing them. By contrast, most ENFPs want to work things out spontaneously in an effort to reestablish harmony immediately (actually, these two sentences happen but in the exact reverse. He is the one who withdraws into silence and needs time to think things out while I want to immediately talk through our various feelings). The end result is that both partners feel misunderstood and unappreciated. Rather than talking through issues with respect and compromise, couples tend to fall into a pattern of arguing and blaming, followed by periods of silence and distance (this part is the same). To maintain trust and connection, it is imperative that ENFPs stay calm and focused and ISTJs commit to sharing their emotions while remaining open and supportive (again, we need to do that but in reverse).

So, now we know a little bit more about each other. I feel like every day we are taking steps in the right direction to strengthen our marriage. Each little step brings us closer to being able to live in peace and harmony together. I know there will always be differences, and that’s one thing I really like about us. We are able to force each other to grow and make changes. Hopefully they can be positive ones. My desire is that we will find ways to balance each other out, smooth away the rough edges, and still maintain our individuality and unique perspectives on life. As just a little step in that direction, I asked my husband to help me pick out a good picture to add at the end of this blog.  Below is his choice.

Update: My 2013 stats summary showed that this is still my most-read post. I thought I should provide an update in this post for those that come here just to read about how two opposite types in a marriage work out. I can’t speak for every “opposites attract” couple, but mine didn’t work out well at all. We are now divorced. Our Myers-Briggs types weren’t the main reason for the marriage failure (the near constant lies did that). I do think that our vast differences contributed to the breakdown and eventual decline of our relationship, though. It got tiring being the “responsible one,” always dealing with his unrealistic ideas, and being married to someone who was so deeply conflict avoidant and approval-seeking.

Let me add at this point that I have nothing against ENFP types. I just would never be in a romantic relationship with one again. We don’t see eye-to-eye. Every little thing was more of a struggle than it should have been. We hobbled along and tried to make it work for a while, but it was like having octagons for wheels instead of circles – jumpy, bumpy, and not quite right. It wasn’t good for him or for me. Growth is inevitable, and partners should challenge one another, but things shouldn’t be that difficult. That much change and compromise isn’t healthy for either partner. Common ground is vital.

I’m now in a very healthy relationship with someone who tests either ISTJ or ISFJ, depending on the test and the day. We aren’t carbon copies of each other by any stretch of the imagination, and we don’t have a conflict-free relationship. However, things just work so much more smoothly. We have similar goals, focus, thought-processes, ideas, and philosophies about what is important in life. We are on the same team, working toward the same things instead of in a constant tug-of-war. Most importantly, our communication is clear, calm, and conflicts are resolved quickly and with maturity. It makes a world of difference.

One other small note, I really hate that picture my ex-husband chose. It’s so cheesy. Horrible, just horrible. I hated it then, and I think I hate it even more now.

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Our 2-Year Wedding Anniversary…

17 Sep

… is tomorrow.  Wow!  That really snuck up on me.  I still remember last year when we took an extended weekend to a cabin in wine country.  We started a fire, lounged in the hot tub, snacked on our complimentary wine and cheese package, and visited an airplane show, a casino, and a wine festival.  It was a really nice weekend.  There was a little hitch when an airplane crashed at the airshow…

The smoke plume from the crash…

We weren’t sure what it was at first when we heard the big boom and saw the smoke cloud.  We were on the way to our car after having watched several cool planes, stunts, and lots of formations.  We had eaten all of the free food and drinks that we cared for from the VIP tent we were in, and decided to head back to the cabin.  After the boom, no one else seemed to be doing anything differently.  There were no sirens, so we got in the car and turned on the radio.  Nothing.  We proceeded to the exit, and all of the flag guys didn’t know anything.  So we just headed back.  Later that night at the little restaurant/bar run by the establishment we found out it was a plane crash, and there was a fatality.  Very sad.

Back to the wonderful recollecting.  That weekend my husband and I reconnected in a way that had been very difficult for us up to that point.  Our 1 year wedding anniversary was less than 6 months after DDay.  Still, none of that seemed to cloud us that weekend.  At least not that I can remember now.  What I do remember is rolling hills, green grass, wine, grapes, good food, snuggling up together on a cold night, the smell of the fireplace, and the super soft blanket on the bed.  I remember the warm jacuzzi tub, the woods, watching football from the casino’s sport’s bar, drinking wine out of our souvenir glasses from the wine festival, driving in the car, and just enjoying the scenery.

The beautiful area where our cabin was situated

The fireplace in our cabin, wine glasses, and a fruit and cheese plate that were waiting for us when we arrived.

In addition to all of those wonderful activities and views, we also visited one of our favorite restaurants – Bryan Voltaggio‘s Volt in Frederick, Maryland.  We don’t get there much, but I happened to get a coveted spot at his Table 21 experience!  If you aren’t familiar with the restaurant or that experience (and if you aren’t a foodie you may very well have no idea), Bryan Voltaggio is a completely A-M-A-Z-I-N-G chef and Table 21 is a 21 course tasting menu in the kitchen.  It gets booked up over a year in advance.  I happened to be a Twitter follower of Mr. Voltaggio, and swooped up a last-minute cancellation.  Fate was really on our side – we were only about 2 hours from the area and the time and date were perfect for our anniversary getaway.

We were sitting right here… just a few inches from the kitchen, everything in view, separated by just a small sneeze-guard.

A beautifully arranged beet salad. Like a cute little garden.

The experience was beyond my imagination… Spectacular.  The food was interesting, artsy, and very, very good.  The seating was unbeatable – right there in the kitchen, observing everything that goes on behind the scenes at a top restaurant.  The service was the best I will probably ever experience.  We got a new place setting and silverware between every single course.  There were 8 of us sitting around an L-shaped table, and we were all served at once.  It was like a beautiful, synchronized dance.  Each course was announced and explained in detail.  We had a private sommalier who suggested wines to pair with each dish or the overall direction of the meal.  At the end of the night we received a detailed, pretty menu that listed all of the 21 courses along with a goodie bag to go with some home-made candy and biscuits.

Just a little small visual of one of our 21 courses.

This year things won’t be as extravagant.  But I think they will be just as amazing.  We are going to a nice dinner tomorrow night at one of the first places we ever had a real date.  At least, according to my husband.  I remember several “real dates” before this particular one, but I guess he doesn’t want to count bars or friends’ houses.  It is also a restaurant that has some special memories for him over the course of our 5 years together.  Of course, they are positive memories for me, too.  Best of all, their food is so, so yummy.  I’m salivating just thinking about it.

On Friday we will be going out to dinner again.  This time to a local farm to table restaurant that has won several awards.  I have been hinting and hinting to my husband for months that I want to go there.  I finally just came right out and told him – I want to go there very soon.  He called me a few minutes ago to tell me that he got us reservations.  It turns out that when you ask for what you want, you get it sometimes.  🙂  Go figure!

Finally, this weekend we are going camping.  Yep.  Camping.  Like in an actual tent.  I’m really looking forward to it.  We are going to a national park in the mountains.  We have our camping spot reserved, our tent packed up, our sleeping bags and air mattress set aside, and a few trails picked out.  Mr. Mess actually planned and booked it all.  I didn’t have to do a thing, which is fantastic!  We plan to do some wine tastings, hiking to take pictures of a few waterfalls, and cooking out over a fire!  Yay!!  I can’t wait!  We won’t have a hot tub or fancy 21 course meal this year, but we will have each other, great views of the mountains, and a cozy place to snuggle up together.

***All photos courtesy of moi!

Our Retrouvaille Couple’s Introduction

6 Sep

*I wrote earlier today about the process of penning our personal couple’s introduction.  You can catch up on that here if you haven’t read it yet.  The only changes I made were to remove our names and replace them with the pseudonyms I use on my blog.  Beautiful Mess is me, and my husband is Mr. Mess.  This is a fairly long introduction to who we are, how me met and fell in love, where things went wrong, and where we are now in recovery as a couple.  For that reason, I will not include a lengthy introduction.  Enjoy our story. 

I.  The Beginning

Intro (Mr. Mess):

Hello, my name is Mr. Mess and this is my wife, Beautiful Mess.  We have been together for five years, and married for the last two.  Both of us were born in Virginia.  We have no children.  We made our Retrouvaille weekend on July 13th, 2012.

When my wife and I met I was just getting back on my feet from losing my job and my prior relationship.  It was a weekend night in the fall of 2007, and I was out to celebrate my new job.  We met at a local bar, and hit it off from the beginning.  We started talking to and texting each other on a regular basis.  Our first date was at one of our favorite night spots.

We started doing a lot of things together.  Two months into our relationship New Year’s Eve was upon us, and I invited her mother to my house for a party that I was throwing for my family and friends.  I was very nervous because I knew that Beautiful Mess’s mother was religious and I was not.  Neither were the people that were going to be at the party.  To make a long story short, the party went off without a hitch, and I was given her mother’s approval to date her daughter.

Not long after that, Beautiful Mess was over my house and we were outside in my front yard.  As we were heading into the house, Beautiful Mess stepped into a hole that was concealed by grass.  I heard something crack.  I immediately got her up and took her to Patient First, where it was determined that she had severely sprained her ankle.  Prior to this we had made reservations at one of Beautiful Mess’s favorite restaurants, and I was sure that it would have to be cancelled.  However, she was determined to keep our date, and went to the restaurant on crutches.  That was special to me because it showed that she was really committed to our relationship.

Me:

The beginning of our relationship progressed somewhat slowly.  Both of us had come from long-term relationships that had ended badly, and we didn’t want to jump into anything without really getting to know one another.  We enjoyed each other’s company a few nights per week, and started opening up and having great conversations.  I was in college at the time, about 3 semesters into a demanding course of study.  I remember bringing the exam questions for my Japanese and Chinese History course over to his house, and working on all of my essay outlines and rough drafts while he watched TV.  After my spring exams were finished the two of us decided on a whim to take a weekend trip to Atlantic City as a reward for my hard work.

That trip was the first time I thought I could be in love.  It was about six months into our relationship.  I remember walking down the boardwalk as a slight drizzle started.  We huddled together on a bench and watched a street performer and an artist who were both on the other side of the street.  Even without talking, I felt close to him.  I wanted so much to tell him how I was feeling, but then the rain picked up and the moment was lost as we sprinted into a nearby casino.  There, he taught me how to play Blackjack, and we walked away with $1200.

The next weekend I finally got up my nerve and blurted out “I love you” rather unceremoniously after watching a movie together.  To my relief, he felt the same way.  He declared his love for me to his brother and best friend on a camping trip the next week.

From that point forward we spent more time together.  We shared activities and attended family events together.  Late that summer I had to attend a conference for work, and he offered to stay at my house to care for my dogs.  He did a good job, and after I returned the things he had brought over for that week never left.  Soon after, about a year into our relationship, we had a formal discussion and decided to take the next step and move in together.


II. Trouble that led you to Retrouvaille

Mr. Mess:

It was during our dating that I showed my ugly side to Beautiful Mess.  She had seen glimpses of my addictions, but I had done everything in my power to keep the real me covered and hidden.  It was after we had moved in with each other and started to combine our lives that she discovered my dirty secret.  I was an addict on multiple levels.  Not only did I use drugs and alcohol excessively, but I was also involved in pornography, sexting and online chatting with other women.

When this blew up on me I promised to stop and never do it again.  I was very convincing, and she forgave me.  We moved forward.  I was a master liar.  I lied to everyone.  I lied to Beautiful Mess, and most of all, to myself.  I did stop with the online chatting and sexting for a while.  However, I never stopped my use of porn, and I hid it from her.  Instead of being open or turning to her sexually, I isolated and pushed her away.  I even went so far as to go to strip clubs several times and spend large amounts of money, then lie about it.

I kept up the lies for many months.  It wasn’t until after we were married that my lies caught up to me and ruined my marriage.  My wife had started to suspect something was up due to my secretive actions.  As she started to investigate she found out that I had been using my phone to access online porn and chat sites and to sext other women.  When asked about it, I went straight into lying mode.  It was at this point that my new wife gave me a choice.  Get help or get out.

Out of pure fear of losing everything, I agreed to do whatever it would take.  However, I was still lying to myself and Beautiful Mess.  I didn’t believe I had a problem, so I did what I thought would make her happy while not really believing I needed to change.  It has been a long road for me to admit openly and honestly to myself that I have a problem.

When Beautiful Mess mentioned the Retrouvaille program to me, I was all for it.  I knew that I needed help with communication, and this seemed like the right start.  As the time of our weekend came closer, I started to become afraid.  Was I going to be able to share my problems with complete strangers who by their own admission were not professionals?  I remember arriving at the hotel where our weekend took place, and wondering what I had gotten myself into.

Me:

Once Mr. Mess and I moved in together I started noticing a few things that made me uncomfortable.  I discovered that he was viewing pornography a lot online and then trying to hide it from me by clearing the history.  I tried to watch it with him, to have an open discussion, to figure out if something was lacking in our relationship.  He kept lying and hiding and using every opportunity to push me away.  Literally every opportunity – he would reject me in the morning, then surf porn when I ran to the store for15 minutes to pick up eggs.  When I tried to confront him about it, he denied that he was doing anything, and I chose to let it go.

After discovering that Mr. Mess was having an online, phone and text affair with another woman I was devastated.  When I realized he had stayed in her area for work several times, I felt literally sick to my stomach, helpless, inadequate and incredibly heartbroken.  I sat across the living room from him in a chair, asked a few questions, and listened to his responses in a calm, disconnected way.  I was in shock.

My reaction to the situation was to try to “fix” things.  I now realize that I was deeply codependent.  I asked Mr. Mess to go to therapy and do a few other things, but when he didn’t, I again let it go.  I convinced myself that if I were better somehow he would be, too.  I felt panicked and uncertain, but I kept those feelings contained, thinking that if I showed too much of my hurt it would drive him away.  I tried to control the situation in very unhealthy ways – like trying to monitor his phone and computer use, obsessively checking behind him, and bottling my feelings up inside.

After a while, things returned to “pretend normal.”  Our relationship seemed happy.  We went out with friends together, watched movies, and talked about all sorts of things, except the elephant in the room.  My intense fear and anxiety about his behavior started to fade over time, but I still felt a tightness inside my chest every time I thought about the possibility that he could be engaging in behavior that made me uncomfortable.  I went on a vacation with my family that August, about 6 months after the affair discovery.  I was nervous about going, but thought we had built up trust and that I should be more positive about our relationship.  I rationalized that one week away wouldn’t be a big deal.

We had talked about my feelings on strip clubs – how I was uncomfortable about him going to them and how it had hurt my feelings the times I knew he went with his friends and lied about it.  He quickly agreed that he wouldn’t go, and said that he could understand my concerns.  Unfortunately, upon my return I found a $300 charge on our bank statement from a strip club while I was gone.  On a night where he (of course) said he was somewhere else.  I was thrown back into that despair from 6 months prior, but this time I was also furious.  I woke him out of a dead sleep, and after an hour or so of screaming, yelling and crying, I threw him out.

Once things calmed down a few days later and I was more emotionally stable, he said that he had gone for a friend’s birthday.  He apologized for lying to me that night and swore that the money was spent for his friend, not for himself.  Despite my misgivings and doubt, I again pushed my feelings aside.  I let him back in the house, and continued our relationship.

About 7 months later things seemed to be going smoothly.  We hadn’t gone to counseling or really addressed our deeper issues.  However, it had been several months since I caught him in a lie, and we had grown comfortable.  Those problems seemed like a distant memory, and even if our relationship wasn’t perfect I thought we had grown from those experiences.  It was around this time that we started seriously considering marriage.  It was a topic that was brought up on more than one occasion, and in April of 2010 he proposed.

What followed was a whirlwind.  We made our wedding plans together – picking out the cake, choosing invitations and decorations, and going over our wedding vows.  Mr. Mess was very involved in the process.  We even had premarital counseling sessions with the pastor performing the ceremony.  Our wedding occurred on September 18th, 2010.  Mr. Mess cried more than I did.  Our honeymoon was fun, and we settled into marital bliss.

Or did we?  Just six months into our marriage those nagging feelings that something was off returned.  I tried to ignore them, but one night I picked up his phone on a whim.  What I found there wounded me to the core.  There were pages and pages of pornographic websites, some of them highly disturbing to me, pictures, and messages.  I felt like our marriage was hopeless and broken.  I wondered how this could be happening to me, to our marriage, after only 6 months.  I decided that I just could not go through this unhealthy cycle for the rest of my life.  This time I put my foot down.  The only way I could continue in this marriage is if he got help for himself and we sought counseling as a couple.

During the next year we both went to therapy off and on.  He found a specialist.  I found a group for betrayed wives, and started finding support.  I realized that this issue wasn’t about me, but that I did have issues on my own.  The unhealthy coping mechanisms I had developed contributed to our communication breakdown, and made my life unmanageable.  I started addressing my behavior and learning to find my confidence and self-worth.  During that time I joined an online forum dealing with infidelity, where I learned about Retrouvaille.  Although things were improving slowly in our relationship, I realized that we really needed to work on communication.  We decided together that this program was vital to the continuation of our marriage.


Life Now

Mr. Mess:

Both Beautiful Mess and I knew that we needed work on our communication.  As we settled into the first phase of our weekend we found out just how intense this was going to be.  We worked late into the night that weekend.  We were taught the process of dialoging and told that everyone is entitled to their feelings.  As we worked our way through our weekend I could feel us moving closer to each other emotionally and physically.  It was on this weekend that my wife and I started to understand how each of us was feeling about certain aspects of our marriage.

We are now doing the work needed to better our marriage.  I am now seeing an individual counselor to help me deal with my issues.  We are going to a marriage counselor to work on us as a couple.  I have become much better at communicating how I feel, even when I think I don’t deserve those feelings.  I am better able to empathize with my wife, and I think she can see the change in me.  We are still a work in progress, but thanks to this program we are on our way to a happier and more harmonious life together.

After our weekend we made the decision to go to the post sessions.  On the night of our first post session I got angry at the fact that we had to drive for hours through heavy traffic to get to the session.  Half-way through the drive I turned around to go home.  It was at that time that I knew if I did not go to this first session it would be the beginning of me reverting back to my old behaviors.  So, I turned back around and arrived at our first post session about an hour late.

As we worked through the post sessions we learned a lot about what have been the major things in our lives that have made us who we are.  We also learned how to work through our differences and find ways to accept or change whatever it is causing our difficulties.

Me:

The Retrouvaille weekend was positive experience.  We were coming off of a rather heated fight, but decided to put that aside and focus on rebuilding our marriage, connecting, and building our communication skills.  I was surprised that the first night went so long, and apprehensive about what the rest of the weekend might hold.  I have always enjoyed writing, though, so I dove right in.  Very quickly I discovered that this process made me feel closer to Mr. Mess.  I found that I understood things about him and his feelings that I didn’t know before.  We left the weekend feeling renewed hope.

Even though the post sessions were a long drive from our home – at least 2 and a half hours, but sometimes much longer in traffic – we committed to going.  It was in that part of the program that we saw progress.  Continuing to dialog and learning the additional tools from the post-sessions improved our communication skills by leaps and bounds.  Understanding the feelings behind the other’s actions diffused arguments before they began.  I could empathize with his feelings and see things from his point of view, without immediately jumping to the conclusions that I had already formed based on assumptions.

Many of our original marital problems still exist.  Retrouvaille is not a cure-all or a quick fix.  It does help us to deal with obstacles better, though.  Rather than blaming each other or getting sucked into unproductive cycles we are reaching out and supporting one another.  Learning to communicate honestly and share our feelings is the way to do that.  Who knows what may be ahead.

Last Retrouvaille Post Session – Writing to Heal

6 Sep

The writing is on the wall!
© Copyright Alan Bowring and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

I know that I have been absolutely horrible with describing our Retrouvaille experience.  So far I have only told you about our first night.  Bad me!  The main reason is that there is just so much involved with the program.  I have literally filled an entire notebook with notes, writing, and letters.  I will try to go back and give more details.

However, today I want to share a bit about the last post-session.  It was a long session that took place on August 25th beginning at 9:00 am.  Since we have a long drive to the post-session location, Mr. Mess and I had quite an early morning.  We decided that it was a good investment in our marriage, though, and worth a little lost sleep on a Saturday morning.

The entire first half of this post-session was called “Writing to Heal.”  I have pulled information from the Retrouvaille of Northern Virginia blog about what this day entails:

Purpose and Goals of the Writing to Heal Day
• Promote personal and couple healing through deeper exploration of our stories and a deeper understanding of the Retrouvaille concepts.
• Provide an environment for spiritual growth
• Experience the healing power of our unique story

The session will focus on helping couples write their Personal Introduction, but couples who are working on other presentations–including Weekend and Post Weekend Presentations–will have individual help and time to write as well.

The “spiritual growth” bullet point makes me want to throw up a little in my mouth, but the actual day was great.  There wasn’t anything religious about it at all.  In fact, it was all about coming up with your personal story as a couple.

We were asked to create an outline with one another, decide who would write what parts of our story, and work together to create a snapshot of our life together so far.  They provided us with a general idea of the various sections we should include as well as guidelines for how to write the personal introduction.  The outline they provided us with was:

Couple’s Personal Introduction

I.        The Beginning

A.    Start by telling your names, where you are from, how you met.  (Husband or Wife)
Include the number of years married, children, when you made your weekend, etc.
B.    Talk about how you felt in the beginning of your relations.  (Husband and Wife)
This could include the romantic stage

II.        Trouble that led you to Retrouvaille
Remember to be brief and to the point, but give sufficient information so that the couples can connect with you and realize you have something to share.  This is a very important part where you need to be sure to share deeply and honestly enough for the couples to get a believable connection with you.

A.    Briefly talk about how your marriage deteriorated and how you were led to Retrouvaille.  (Husband or Wife)
Remember here – the one who did it, says it!
B.    Other spouse shared how they felt about their relationship before going to Retrouvaille.
Share your feelings here and describe them fully: abandonment, devastation, crushed, etc.

III.        Life Now
Share about your weekend and post sessions.
  (Husband and Wife)
Share your vision and inspire the couples to continue working at their marriages.  Tell what you learned during the weekend and post sessions and what happened in your relationship.  Share your struggles.  What kept you going?  Share your feelings and desires. State that you will share your journey since the weekend during the rest of these post sessions.  Explain that you continue working on your relationship and remind the couples that it is a continuous journey, and the journey is made much easier with support and dialog!

The great thing about the Writing to Heal day is that we were allowed to bring laptops.  Score!  I can type waaayy faster than I can hand write.  Typing our story also meant that it would be much, much easier to blog about.  Instead of having to type and format pages of hand-written notes, I could just copy and paste.  If laptops has been allowed during the weekend and other post-sessions you would already have those details.

So, Mr. Mess and I went about the task of trying to summarize our relationship so far.  We talked about what to put in each section, and I have to admit that we had some disagreements.  He thought everything before we were married should be in “the beginning.”  I felt that since our troubles started before we were married, they should be included in Section II.  He didn’t understand me.  I couldn’t picture how we could make his idea fit into the outline they gave us.  Finally, he went and asked the instructor.  He confirmed what I thought – the point of the first section was to stick to the gushy, romantic, happy memories.  If the trouble started before the marriage, then it should be discussed in Section II, but Section I should be all about the butterflies.  Unfortunately, there weren’t a whole lot of those.

We also had a few formatting hitches when it came to who was going to write which section.  Since the person who “did it” was also supposed to “say it,” that meant we had to work the back and forth so that he introduced the topic of his affair and addiction.  He wanted to do the very beginning of our story, so we were able to make that work pretty well by picking a half-way point in “the beginning” and having him write about everything before that and me write about everything after that up to our “trouble.”  From there the back and forth story-telling really worked itself out.

Just to make sure that this is clear, the personal story we were writing was intended to be read out loud by both of us.  It can be used if you want to be a couple who leads a Retrouvaille weekend or post-session.  It can also just be done for the two of you and kept private.  Whatever the final purpose, the initial goal is to interact with one another, collaborate, remember the positive memories and great things that brought you together, open up about what went wrong, and see how far you have come as a couple through better communication.

During our writing to heal day, I typed my section, and Mr. Mess gave me his as he finished them.  I then added them into my sections to complete the outline with indications of who wrote and was to read each part.  By the end of the post-session, we were done.  We had added all of the sections, figured out a way to make them flow, and edited it together.  All of the couples were given the opportunity to share their personal story at the end, but no one volunteered.  I was ready, but Mr. Mess felt a little more reserved, so we held back as well.

What we did do, however, was approach the lead couple at the end of the day.  They were one of our weekend presenting couples, had led a few post-sessions, and helped to coordinate the entire thing.  We had been emailing with them from the beginning.  We asked if we could email them a copy of our outline and get their feedback.  They said they would certainly be willing to do that.  In fact, they did that with most of the presenting couples before they came to the weekend, so they already had a process down for recommending edits, areas that should be elaborated on more, etc.  Mr. Mess was very willing to do that, so when we got home we sent them our personal story.

So far I haven’t heard back from them.  I’m sure they’ve been busy with the holiday and preparing for the upcoming Retrouvaille weekend.  I was going to wait for them to give their feedback before I posted it here on my blog, but I’m starting to get antsy.  You guys have seen some works-in-progress before, and I haven’t been beat up too much.  This post has already become much too long to also include our detailed personal story, but I will be publishing it very, very soon for you all to read.  I look forward to your honest opinions.

Retrouvaille Weekend – Friday Night, Part 2

17 Jul

As promised, I will now continue with the experience on Friday night.  I already told you how we got there, what our first experience was like, the initial notes I made on the program, and the initial three questions that they asked us to write about.  Here they are again with my answer following each question.

1.    Why did I come here this weekend, and what do I hope to gain?
2.    How can I make this weekend a disappointment for us?
3.    What can I do to make this weekend a positive experience?


My answers (completely unedited except for names):

1.    I came here this weekend because I really want this marriage to work.  I am willing to put in the work, and I like the idea of having a program that can help.  I am hoping that we will both learn tools for communicating that will make that goal easier to reach.

I am also sincerely hoping that something we learn here will make it easier for Mr. Mess to talk to me.  I want to find a way that helps him be more comfortable sharing.  I feel like if that can be achieved out battle is more than half-way over.

I heard that this weekend involved a lot of writing, and that is the best way that I communicate (at least I think so).  Mr. Mess has also said he was going to start journaling but he never did.  I know that my blog helps me to process my thoughts and feelings so I can make sense of what is going on.  I want that clarity and release for Mr. Mess as well.

2.    First, I have to say that I really dislike the negative phrasing of this questions.  Maybe analyzing things like that is something I do that could impede progress here.  Complaining is not really productive and could take away from this experience.  I can’t help thinking that I really, really, really wish I had a computer and keyboard right now, though, because my hand is already killing me.

But I digress.  If I want to make this weekend a disappointment I suppose I could mock, whine, moan and refuse to participate.  I don’t see the point in wasting our time and money by doing that, though.

3.    Participate!  Not be sarcastic or mocking.  Try to be open.  Stop judging.

If you can’t tell already, I ran out of time for the last question.  I jotted down a few quick thoughts as Mr. Mess was coming through the hotel room door.  It turns out they only gave us like 10 minutes to write down our thoughts.  The time varied throughout the rest of the weekend, but we discovered that writing for 10 minutes, then dialoguing for 10 minutes is the goal.  20 minutes total.  At first we felt incredibly rushed and like this definitely couldn’t accomplish anything with such strict time limits.

The process isn’t about “accomplishing something” in the traditional sense of things, thought.  It is designed so that we can each understand the other’s feelings.  Dialoguing is NOT about solving a problem.  It isn’t supposed to be the last word on an issue or topic.  It can be the foundation for truly resolving conflict, though, because it allows each person to be open and unreserved with their emotions so that the other person can really try to understand what those feelings are.  In this way, when we actually do try to solve the problem our defensiveness will hopefully be disarmed since we will know the other person’s heart – their feelings, fears, desires, hopes, and all of the other emotions surrounding the topic.

Photo Credit – I have to say that I love, love, love this picture!

But we weren’t there yet.  We still didn’t really understand the process.  Now that I do know the process, my answer above shows that.  Still, that first discussion (because that’s what it was at that time) went well.  We were able to read and accept each other’s answers.  I also discovered that the second question was helpful to him, even though it seemed like an entirely pointless, negative and rhetorical question to me.  That helped me to actually let go of my judgments and go for the rest of the ride.

As I mentioned earlier, we certainly weren’t done there for the night.  I think the most productive thing for me to do is recount and describe each presentation we received and the dialog that followed.  I do this NOT so that you can try to follow the program from my directions.  I wouldn’t recommend that at all.  It really works much better as an experience and process that the couple shares as intended.

However, I do think it will help me to really absorb the information by re-telling the events as I remember and using the extensive notes that I wrote down.  I will also be glad to share my part of the dialoguing as well as additional thoughts, feelings, and experiences I had during this process.  My hope is that it could influence someone to give the program a shot if they feel this format and process could work in their marriage.  Remember, I am still early on in this program, so I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination.  I simply intend to share my insight and how the weekend (and later the post-sessions) affected me and my marriage.

Retrouvaille Weekend – Friday Night, Part 1

17 Jul

The Retrouvaille logo – It was at the top of our name tags with the slogan “We are not alone.” Mr. Mess and I quickly decided that was due to the aliens – a running joke that got us past all of the religious propaganda.

This weekend Mr. Mess and I attended the Retrouvaille program.  It was intense.  It was looonnng.  It was immeasurably helpful.  By the end of the first night we already felt closer.  It helped us both to understand one another’s feelings.  The process they taught us was like a light-bulb coming on for Mr. Mess.  Even the super-religious sessions brought us closer as we came up with an inside joke to help us laugh at their fundamental perspective instead of getting frustrated.  I would highly recommend it to any couple who needs help communicating effectively with one another and understanding their partner’s point of view.

Let me back up just a bit.  We are about 2 hours away from where the program was being held – provided there is no traffic.  I was convinced it was going to take us at least 3 hours to get there because of the direction we were headed.  We left in plenty of time and surprisingly hit only one stretch that was significantly slow.  The car ride was somewhat awkward, but there was only one incident where I got frustrated.  He handled himself well, and we got there with almost an hour to spare and no major issues.  That left us time to have a nice dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Dinner was already a step in the right direction.  We talked about the Boundary Agreement.  He went over the items I had put down, asked a few questions, and said that he doesn’t have any problem with agreeing to any of my boundaries.  There were a few that he didn’t understand why they would be necessary – like not keeping a secret email account or phone.  He has never done that before, but I have fear surrounding it.  I will take a look at those items and really examine my feelings about them.  Part of the boundary agreement will be really deciding what is an actual boundary and what is an unrealistic fear or attempt to control him.  I think I can pare down the list a bit and still be true to myself.  He also said that he will think of a few things that he would like to add to the agreement.

Back to the original point of this post.  We got to the hotel during the designated “check in” time, and headed over to the Retrouvaille table.  The couple there handed us our room key and said to be back down by 8:00 pm.  That’s it.  I asked if we were going to get an agenda or anything to help us know what to expect.  He said “No” and that we should just “trust the process.”  Already I was feeling leery and apprehensive.  As a planner, I do not do well with a “just trust us” mentality.  I wanted to know what we were going to be doing, what time I could expect to get to bed, when I would have to get up, and what I should expect.  Challenge #1 to my controlling mentality was not well-received.  Mr. Mess, however, was already stepping up.  He told me that we would figure out what to expect when we got down there, and that all we were giving up was one weekend if it didn’t go well.  I agreed, calmed down a bit, and said that he was right – I could commit to let go for one weekend and see what happened.

Down in the conference room at 8:00 we found tables set up with two notebooks and pens for each couple.  We choose a table and sat down…  Looking around the room at the other couples, they also seemed just as nervous and unsure of themselves.  None of them appeared to me to be “troubled.”  I found myself wondering what had brought them here.  I was almost convinced that we were the only ones there with real, hard-core marital problems.  Everyone else seemed so normal.  I’m sure we seemed normal, too, though.  On second inspection, I noticed that no one seemed to be holding hands or even touching.  There was an air of tension and questioning in the air.  After a few minutes the room settled down into almost absolutely silence.  In the front of the room was a table with sound equipment and three chairs – two were filled by an elderly couple and in the third sat a tall middle-aged man.

Finally it was time to begin.  The people at the front of the room introduced themselves.  The elderly couple had gone through the Retrouvaille program several years earlier.  The middle-aged gentleman was a priest.  The couple introduced themselves individually, gave the name of their spouse, and one positive quality about their husband/wife.  Then they asked everyone in the room to do the same thing.

Panic set in immediately.  My brain was completely blank…  What was one positive quality about Mr. Mess?  I know the answer to this, I told myself, yet I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.  The train of introductions was winding itself through the room.  We were in the second row of tables directly in the middle.  There were just enough couples in front of us for me to get a chance to breathe, hear a few of the other people’s answers, and allow myself to get even more worked up.  The first couple had raised the ante and said TWO positive things about their spouse.  Everyone else after had felt pressured into doing the same.  Now I needed two things?!?  Oh gosh!  I couldn’t be the only person who said nothing, staring blankly at the presenters like a deer in headlights…  A few couples before us the presenters chimed in that we only have to say one thing, not two.  Phew!  But I still had no idea what I would pick.

All too soon, it was out turn.  Mr. Mess had to go first because of the direction these intros were headed.  He said that my best quality was that I am forgiving.  I felt a little embarrassed that he would be airing our problems so soon… everyone else said things like “kind, generous, a good mother, etc.”  I am just forgiving?!  Doesn’t that say more about you than me?  I didn’t have much time to think about his answer, though, because it was my turn.  I mumbled that he is hard-working and has a good sense of humor.  I thought of two after all.  I let out the breath and tension that I had unconsciously been holding in.  The introduction train continued, so I must have done okay…  I tuned out the other answers in the room, too caught up in my relief and simultaneous fear that we would be put on the spot like this the entire weekend.

At the end of the introductions, the presenters said that would be the only time we were asked to speak to the group.  I let out a huge sigh of gratitude.  They then went on to read from papers in front of them to describe the program.  I took some notes in my newly, provided notebook.  After a few minutes I wrote a note to Mr. Mess that said, “These people have no personality!”  It was double underlined.  The woman of the couple was reading from her paper in a monotone voice, not making any eye contact.  They explained that they are not professionals, and it is easier for them to read from prepared statements because it ensures that they don’t forget anything.  It also helps with their nerves.  Okay…  I could understand that.  I vowed to give them the benefit of the doubt and try to curb my sarcastic tendencies.

Here are some of the things I wrote on my first page of notes:

  • We will be learning dialog communication technique
  • Writing is the best was to get your thoughts and ideas down! (my blog)
  • Other Rules:
    • You will receive a question after the presentation.
    • Answer and reflect (separately, then swap)
    • Read your spouse’s answer twice.
    • Silent time is silent: no talking, socializing, distractions, etc.
    • No snacks during presentations, writing or silent time
    • No maid service
    • No cell phones
    • No right or wrong answers, just honest ones (don’t hide things)
    • Be gentle (no attacking)

I did not know then, but this was the first of nearly 60 pages I would write that weekend.  I thought I had the rules down pretty well after that first session, but I learned later that I had plenty to learn and absorb.  We were given our first dialog questions:

  1. Why did I come here this weekend, and what do I hope to gain?
  2. How can I make this weekend a disappointment for us?
  3. What can I do to make this weekend a positive experience?

The women were asked to go up to our rooms to write while the men stayed in the conference room.  We weren’t told how long we would have to write.  We were just told to write for as long as we needed on each topic.  We were also given a little booklet that had an outline of the dialog process and some good “feeling words.”  There were two pages, one for positive and one for negative feelings, and basic headings under each like angry, sad, happy, and loved.  Under each heading were more feelings and words that express specific, more descriptive emotions such as furious, despondent, ecstatic, and tender.  We were to use those to help us find the correct words for our feelings.

I will share my answers and more about the process later.  I also need to talk to Mr. Mess to see how much he is comfortable with me sharing on my blog.  I would like to say that right off the bat, once I allowed myself to participate and leave my judgments at the door, we started being more connected.  I will also add that I wasn’t nearly prepared for what was to come – including sessions that lasted until 11:00 pm that first night!

Photo Credit

Minding Your P’s and Q’s

13 Jul

Photo Credit

Mr. Mess and I had a marriage counseling session on Wednesday.  It was very emotional, so I’m warning you now that this will be very long.  We touched on quite a few things.  It was the first time we had sat down in the same room and talked about the lying incident and its aftermath.  The entire session is a bit of a blur.  Unlike the way I can usually recall conversations in very specific details from beginning to end, my memories of that hour are jumbled.  They pop up in my brain in small segments.  I recall things in the order of impact they had on me instead of their chronological order.  That is a new experience for me, and has made it very difficult to write about.  I have started and stopped, erased sentences and entire paragraphs, re-arranged my thoughts over and over, and given up more than once.

Today I decided that it is important to do my best to catalog my emotions and the topics covered.  One big reason is that we are going away for the weekend.  More about that later.  I think I need to put a period on this in my mind so that I can move on and fully engage.

Just about the only thing I didn’t go back and forth with about this post is its title.  Since I’m not sure where to start, I will start there.  Wednesday night as I was lying in bed sifting through my emotions and thoughts, I began trying to form a general outline of this blog post.  It’s something I find myself doing unconsciously now.  It’s a way to organize my thoughts and process them.  If I can start forming them into a logical order that would make sense to a reader, then they also start to make more sense to me.

Photo Credit – Writer’s Block

The very first thing that popped into my head during that process was “Minding Your P’s and Q’s.”  I like titles that play off of socially recognized phrases or ideas, but mean something different.  That title was a natural choice because of the direction our therapy session went.  Our counselor asked a lot of questions, and so did Mr. Mess and I – hence the “Qs.”  Other topics that we discussed started with the letter P.  In fact, at one point our counselor said something to the effect of, “I have two words for you, and they both start with the letter P.  They represent two ways you can look at this situation.  I want to tell you the difference.”

Now that I have explained my title and gotten the first few words on the page, I can feel my brain loosening up.  Thank you for bearing with me up to this point.  Here we go.

There are a few different posts about how my husband lied to me regarding his work schedule two Sundays ago and how I discovered those lies (Setting Boundaries).  I have shared how the fact of a lie wasn’t as bad as the fact that he continued to lie, tried to cover his lies with half-truths, and kept lying once I found evidence that countered his story (Lies, Lies, Go Away… Come again NEVER!).  I talked about detaching and the things I have done for myself since (Farting on the Massage Table and A Holiday, a Tattoo and a Piercing).  Hopefully you now know enough of the story from my perspective.

What I discovered in counseling was Mr. Mess’s perspective.  After giving a brief description of events (Mr. Mess lied, then kept lying, then gaslighted, and now we are sleeping in separate rooms), our therapist jumped right in with the questions.  His first one was whether Mr. Mess lied intentionally or unconsciously.  My husband then plainly stated that he made the conscious choice to lie.  It wasn’t a gut reaction.  It wasn’t a slip.  He lied because he had intended to lie to me all along.  That was a punch in the gut!  But at least I knew the truth.  It wasn’t a mistake.  It wasn’t an instinct.  I am not crazy.  He wanted to lie to me, so he did.

Let me tell you, in that moment I felt all hope slip away.  I was thinking so many things simultaneously – “How could he?  After everything we have been through and all of the progress we have made, he just decided to throw it out the window?  I married a monster!  He is pathological!  What could he possibly get out of lying that my feelings mean absolutely NOTHING to him?”  The overriding thought was “I don’t think I can deal with this.”  I didn’t say any of that.  I just sat there staring at the floor.  I don’t know if I could have gotten up and left if the thought had entered my mind – which for some reason it didn’t.

The next question from the therapist was something to the effect of “what was the goal of lying” or “what did you get out of it” or “why did you make the choice to lie.”  I obviously can’t remember the exact wording.  Either way the answer was that he wanted control.  He wanted to feel like he had control over something completely – that there was something that was just “his.”  He didn’t want to share with me.  He didn’t want me to know about it.  He wanted me to just leave him alone and not bother with caring what his work schedule was or when he would be leaving the house.

He continued by saying that he doesn’t feel like he has had any control since this “whole thing” started.  I was baffled.  Completely.  I think I actually snorted.  “Are you serious?” I threw out, exasperated.  “Come on!  You are driving this crazy bus and dragging me along behind you!  I didn’t pick this, you did!”  Our therapist gently stepped in and said that we probably don’t have the same perspective (there’s a P-word), but it is still important to hear where Mr. Mess is coming from.  He asked for a clarification, more information about the how he feels he lacks control.

Again, Mr. Mess said that from the beginning of this “whole thing,” he didn’t feel like he had any say in how things happened.  I had to cut in to ask what he thinks of as the “beginning” – the start of our relationship, the affair discovery, his childhood, this lie, what?  He said May 2011.  I asked, do you mean March 31, 2011 (side note – he doesn’t even remember the date?  What the hell?!?!?)?  He said, sure, whatever – from this last discovery forward.  I said okay, then sat back to hear what he could possibly have to say.

I may not do justice to this part because I don’t remember what he said word for word.  By this point I also had so many different swirling emotions, thoughts, and crazy feelings that my head was literally buzzing.  The general gist is that when I discovered the last time he was viewing and hiding porn on his phone I told him he was a sex addict and made him go to therapy.  Yeah…  that’s what he said.  I (not so kindly or graciously) cut in to say that, yes, when I found teen porn on his phone it was the last straw and I said go to therapy or leave.  Period.

He took my outburst in stride and continued with his version of events where I diagnosed him with sex addiction, something his current therapist said that he “might have.”  Again, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing and had to jump in.  I said something like “Seriously?  I didn’t diagnose you, and that’s not what he said to me when I met with him.”  What I should have added (but didn’t) is, “You ended up going to him after you described your own issues to several therapists who said it was over their head and you need to go see him because he specializes in problems like that – a.k.a. porn addictions.”

He (rather sarcastically) asked what Dr. C told me then.  I said something like, “We both sat down in his office and he said point-blank that you have a sex addiction problem, but he was going to help you through it.  He said that you need to use a 3 pronged approach – medication, therapy (including a sex addiction workbook) and SA meetings.”  Our MC asked if he remembers that.  Mr. Mess said yes, but…  This is the point where my brain gets fuzzy because I just couldn’t accept one more excuse, justification, denial, or re-writing of history.  I think he said something to the effect of – I just went along to get along because she told me I had to.

I know I nearly yelled that I did not MAKE him do anything.  I just said that this time I wasn’t going to just sweep it under the rug.  I told him what I needed in order to continue this relationship.  If he didn’t want to do it, he was free to walk out of the door.  I told him that then and reiterated it more than once.  I think at that point he may have agreed with me, but said that he didn’t have any control over what he had to do in order to stay with me.  He said that he “loved” me, then quickly corrected himself and said that he still does.  He didn’t want to lose me, so he did things that he didn’t really want to do in order to keep our marriage going.

I can’t remember if there was any resolution to that or how we got on a different topic, but I do know that we started talking about my response to his lie this time.  He said that I shut him out completely.  He felt I was saying that I was done and the relationship was over, and that I was going to show him by doing things just to “spite” him.

I asked what he was talking about.  He brought up my tattoo and piercing, saying how I did those things to hurt him.  Huh?  I said, “No, I did those things for myself.  It had nothing to do with you.”  He said that the timing and the fact that I didn’t talk to him about it first makes him think I was trying to make him angry – that he had no idea I wanted to do that.  What??  I asked, “Don’t you remember us bicycling to the tattoo parlor in the 100 degree weather to see about a piercing and tattoo before our fight?  That should tell you that I was serious about getting something done.”  He countered that I was talking about a different piercing (the face one that I found out is permanent) and a tattoo in a different place.  He didn’t know what I wanted specifically.  So??  Was he looking for me to ask permission (another P-word)?  Would it really have changed anything if I asked him before I went instead of telling him when I was there?  He said yes, it would have.  There was more back and forth which was petty and not important to this summary.

Thankfully at this point our wonderful MC got involved again to referee this issue and get us back on track.  He said that in a healthy marriage I probably would have talked to him about what I wanted to get done more specifically before I just did it.  However, I didn’t feel safe enough to do that.  This relationship wasn’t in a healthy place.

Again, the movie in my head skips here.  I know that we started talking about Mr. Mess’s past and how he relates to people in his life.  Yesterday I talked briefly about his lack of empathy for others – or at least how it takes him a lot of effort to consider how his actions could make another person feel and actually care about those feelings.  He admitted that he has negatively affected the lives of every single friend, family member, or person who has loved him.  Every. Single. One.  Wow!  That must have taken a lot to admit.  He talked about regrets he has, especially that he can’t apologize to his parents, who are both passed away.

He also said that he has always done whatever he wanted, right or wrong, consequences be damned.  He has never had another person be so affected by the things he chooses to do.  He has never “answered” to anyone for his actions, or had to worry about having another person tied to the outcome of his decisions.  He is afraid that he can’t be the kind of person who thinks or cares about how he will affect someone else.

Our MC then asked the next logical question – “Then why did you decide to get married?”  He said that he is not trying to be flippant or sarcastic, but getting married is the ultimate act of tying your life to another person’s.  It requires selflessness, sacrifice, compromise – the exact opposite of what he just finished describing.  Mr. Mess said something like “Yeah, that’s true.  I didn’t think about it that way, though.  I proposed because I didn’t want to lose her.”

MC then asked if he had thought about it then, does he think he would have done it?  Mr. Mess said no.  He wouldn’t have proposed to me.  He wouldn’t have gotten married.  If he had thought things through back then, if he knew what he knows now, then he would never have married me.  I didn’t (and still don’t) know what to do with that.  I don’t know where that leaves us now.  I don’t even know why our MC asked that.  What’s the point?  We can’t change the past.  So why torture me with the fact that my husband wouldn’t even be my husband if he had put any kind of thought into things?  Maybe to point out that he loved(s?) me enough to try to change his own nature?  Maybe to tell me to run?  Maybe because he likes to see people squirm?  Okay, those last two probably weren’t entirely fair, but still…  That was pretty messed up!

I have another mind jump here…  I think that last thing just put me in stunned mode for a little bit.  The next thing I remember we were back to the aftermath of this last lie.  I know at some point during the visit Mr. Mess asked if I am done.  I asked him a question right back – can you tell me you won’t lie to me.  He said no.  And I said, then I guess maybe we are.  Neither one of us was giving.  He was still stubbornly tied to the idea that I abandoned him, was acting out to “spite” him, and had already decided I was out of the door.  I couldn’t get past the hurt of his intentional lie.  It was a stalemate.

Then our therapist gave his “two P-words” speech.  Those two P-words were protection and punishment.  He said that my withdrawal after his lie felt to Mr. Mess like a punishment.  Mr. Mess indicated his firm agreement in that.  He then said that what it actually was is a way to protect myself.  He asked me if he was correct.  I said absolutely.  I just know that I absolutely cannot handle another lie.  That I don’t know what it would do to me emotionally or physically.  That I felt like my head might actually implode.  That meant I couldn’t open myself up to him because it would be disastrous if he hurt me again.  It might cause irreparable damage.  So I had to do the only thing I could do – focus on me.  Do things that made me feel good, that made me happy.  Be my own rescuer for once.

Mr. Mess still didn’t get it.  He said something like, “yeah, but all of that was about me – she was doing it to spite me or in spite of me.  I feel like she was throwing it in my face.”  I said, no – I wasn’t thinking about him at all.  I was only thinking about me for once.  Our MC interjected to say that it is a boundary.  That in order to protect my emotions and keep myself from any additional pain I had to set a firm boundary and take care of myself.  He also said that there is a difference between a boundary and an ultimatum – just like when I said I need him to be in therapy working on his issues in order to continue with the marriage.

Mr. Mess said that sure sounds like an ultimatum to him.  MC said, no, it isn’t.  She is asking for what she needs to feel safe.  You have the option to do it or not.  I said that I think the big difference between an ultimatum and a boundary is that it has nothing to do with the other person.  I don’t set a boundary to manipulate him, make him “do what I want” or get a certain result (like an ultimatum).  I set a boundary because it is something I have to have.  It’s not tied to him or anyone else – it’s all about my limits and what I can accept in my life.

He then said that he might have to move out.  He said that he knows himself, and if he keeps sleeping on the couch and seeing me doing my own thing he will grow to resent me.  He said that the more time I am detached the more it will make him bitter.  Because he knows himself he also knows that he will probably end up doing something stupid and cruel to purposefully hurt me.  I told him that he doesn’t have to sleep on the couch.  We have 3 rooms, and one could easily be a spare room if he just set up his bed again.  He said he isn’t going to sleep in a boiling hot room.  I said he could always buy a window A/C… they aren’t that expensive.  He said he would think about it.

Then I made sure he knows that whatever he decides I am fine with it.  I have set my boundary, now he needs to choose what to do in response to that.  The MC concurred.  He said that Mr. Mess needs to do what is best for him as well.  If that means leaving so that he can work on himself outside of the home, then he should do that.  It is up to each of us to decide how we respond to the things and people around us.

Our MC explained it like this – he said that when couples come in to see him he often asks them to do an exercise where they list their needs and wants in two separate columns.  He tells him that the only things that should go under the needs column are the non-negotiables.  Most things in a marriage are negotiable – are up for debate, can be compromised and worked around.  Some things can’t be.  They are the necessities.  Those are the things that boundaries are there to protect.

I said exactly!  And at the very tippy top of my list is honesty.  If he thinks that he can’t give that to me then it will be a deal-breaker because it is something I can’t compromise.  I don’t know for sure, but I think that might have been the point that Mr. Mess understood, at least a little bit.  He said that if he promised me he will never lie to me again that would be a lie.  But, what he can tell me is that he is going to work on his lying problem.  He is going to try his best not to lie.  He is going to keep going to Dr. C because he admits he has an addiction problem and an issue with lying that he needs IC to address.  He also said that he would keep coming to MC with me for as long as I was willing.  He even said he would keep going to SA.  I told him that is something I can accept.  I also said that I will have to stay detached for a bit until I see real progress.  That my boundaries are now firmly in place, and I have to keep protecting myself.

So that’s where we are.  We returned from MC and actually continued talking – at least much more than what we had done in the week and a half between.  I told him that I am stepping back and it is now up to him to decide whether to step up.  I told him that I can’t be the one bringing up everything, initiating our discussions, coming to him to figure out his feelings, etc., etc.  We had some heated words in the middle, but I think we left things in a pretty good place.

Since then he has gone to work at 3am and gone to his night class.  I went out with a woman from work to see our co-worker’s band perform.  We played pool.  I listened to heavy metal, which is so not my style but was still somehow enjoyable.  I caught up with some old school friends (high school and college) who happened to be at the bar.  I had fun.  Who knows what is to come down the road, but I have decided that I’m going to enjoy the journey no matter where it takes me.

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