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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: November 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Do Men Know Why They Cheat?

“It takes two to speak truth, one to speak and another to hear.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Yes, I know...the next post (or at least a future one) will be "Do Women Know Why They Cheat." I am just starting with the men because...well I just am.

On a regular basis I sit with couples who are facing the aftermath of infidelity. I listen to the hurt partner's pain, frustration, confusion, anger and shock. I listen to the acting partner's pain, frustration, confusion, anger and shock. Everyone has their feelings. But more often than not, neither one really knows too much about what happened. Or why.

I hear about all the sleuthing that the hurt partner has done, is doing. I hear all about looking at cell phone bills, text messages, emails, web site histories. I hear about the demand for the whole truth, the lying, the fudging, the "I don't want to her hurt hers." And I hear about the hurt partner's insistence (often, but not always) on wanting to know every down and dirty detail. "How many times?" "What position?" "Did you hold her afterwards?" "Was she better than me?" "Do you love her?" "Was it just sex?" "What was she wearing?" "Who initiated?" "What did you eat?" "Why that bar?" "Was it during work, or only after hours?" On and on.

And the tedium of constant reminders on TV, in casual conversations, on certain days of the week or dates of the month. Reminders everywhere like little knives shooting through the hurt partner's heart. And the answers, all the reminders, are like little jack hammers sending up pieces of concrete into the face of the relationship. And the asking itself, by the hurt spouse, causing the acting partner all kinds of guilt and shame, and sometimes, annoyance and agitation. Further damage, "She is constantly nagging me now. She won't leave me alone." "I know I hurt her, but I can't stand the bombarding."

And then, underneath the pain, the thick layer of real confusion. Why did this happen. Why did I really do this? Who's fault is it? Am I a cheat? A liar? A creep? Do I love her? Am I doing what my father did? Is it her fault? Why can't I stop myself? Am I allowed to be angry with my wife/partner?
Many men do not really know why they go outside their marriage for sex or love. There are the old guesses of course....the looking to feel more potent, connected, desired, tended to. The physical drive for more interesting, better, or more exciting sex. Or perhaps the need to send a message to their wife/partner or even themselves, that they are suffering in some way and have no way to say it. They have no words to use to name the problem. Or feel they have no ears to speak them to. A potent combo of feelings and drives.
I think also, that we humans find ourselves wanting to hurt or punish those who frustrate us or hurt us. We don't want to be told what we can or can't do, and we look for ways to feel powerful, stable and satisfied. When we send messages through actions rather than words, things can get very messy indeed.
Sometimes, its just not easy, or even possible for a man to let his wife know that he is struggling with their sex life. Or their home life. Or the feelings he gets from her. Or his own unidentified but nagging restlessness. Perhaps he really does not want to hurt her. Perhaps on some level, he does. Perhaps he thinks she will get offended, or critical, demeaning or defensive if he tells her his thougths about their relationship, his needs, his fears. Maybe he himself does not really know much, except that he is looking, wanting. Perhaps his male wired drives are fueling his pain and frustration. Perhaps he believes he is out of control with his desires. Or that he has no options. Or that he will not be heard, or helped. He may see on the horizon, only deprivation and ridicule for his thoughts, not understanding, interest and willingness to find new paths. Maybe he feels entitled, but uncertain underneath, about this too.
I often wonder what would happen if couples would talk about wanting to cheat before they actually did. I see in my office that there is abundant hope when this happens. Yes, it can be painful. Yes, it takes time. Yes it means sorting through things a bit. But when there is dialogue there is hope. When there is insight there can be healing. And there can be better sex and more love too, for everyone.
Many couples actually report better sex after an affair. For some women the wake up call rings loud and a woman's instinct to compete and fight for her man kicks in. She is mad, hurt, betrayed, but she is not down and out.
Of course the pain runs deep for many. But I think we have choices, both before and after the act and the hurt. Couples can rebuild and recoup. Sometimes it seems like no amount of understanding or apology will good enough. That past wounds will always keep popping back open and poisoning the present. These moments can be hard to negotiate for everyone. They can bring up more bad feelings of inadequacy, failure, rejection, hate, shame and frustration....the worst of the worst for many folks. Tolerating these feelings and staying the course can sometimes seem impossible. Not repeating past mistakes can seem un-doable. The temptation to withhold current praise, love, appreciation for the good can loom large, and giving good feelings of acceptance, tolerance, love and hope can seem overly generous, risky, and undeserved.
But when men are willing to take a look inside themselves and the relationship, and women are willing to hang in there and let them, help them, (gulp) reward them even...then everyone benefits. On some level, perhaps, it is better to stay married than to stay angry. It is better to live without trust for a while than to live without the person that you love. It depends on the situation, of course, but I am a believer in talking. And I am a believer curiosity, in studying the situation and learning about what happened and why.

There are always choices. The right dialogue can bring relief and grace and new possibilities. I see it all the time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

67 Beliefs about Getting Help (Know Yourself or Not: About Addiction, Affairs and Civil Wars of the Psyche)

"I speak truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." ~Michel de Montaigne, translated

I have long been a student of motivation. I love to study stuckness and ambivalence and sort through, talk through the deep beliefs, reasons, ideas, why we don't or can't move forward. I love to understand deeply what our actions communicate to others, to ourselves. What kind of statements they make. What is obvious, and what is subtle. And what keeps us from really being curious about why we do what we do, or why we don't. What makes us willing to learn more, to get sober, to get help? What keeps us stuck?

I am deeply familiar with civil wars of the psyche. With the debating, ignoring, struggling with what to do, how, why to try to make some movement when you have done something, are doing something that seems to gratify in one way, and kick like hell in another. So below I bring you the following list of beliefs (Excuses, Ideas, Reasons), toward unpacking whats in the way of willingness, and whats in the way of taking steps that may help us to understand ourselves better, and maybe make changes for the good.

They can be applied to understanding what we may think/feel/believe regarding the wide range of human vices and needs, and controversial behavior, or situations with side effects (addictions, affairs, habits, obsessions, compulsions...) and why taking action toward change is often so very difficult. They are often the answer to the questions: Why don't you go to therapy, or a 12 step meeting or get help? In some instances they are the top layer of the onion, and in others, the very core. Please feel free to add any that I have missed:

I don't believe it will help

I should not have to do this

Its not that bad

I am entitled to have my ... food, wine, fun, secret sex life, spending spree...etc.

I earned it

I work hard

I am a professional

My life is great

I look fine

I don't mind dying young

I did not cause this

Everyone should accept and love me the way I am

S/he is not perfect either

I don't need a good sex life

I am too old to change

I am too young to change

I already know what "they" will say

I don't want to be judged

Its too expensive

I don't have time

Its too far away

It won't help

S/he, they, will judge me

S/he, they won't understand

I will have to change

You can't teach an old dog new tricks

I already know what to do

I already know why I do this

Its not my mother's fault

It is my mother's fault but so what

I don't want to talk about my past

It has nothing to do with being angry at my spouse/mother/father/partner/children/boss...

I am not that unhappy

I am not that uncomfortable

What s/he, they don't know won't hurt them

I am only hurting myself so who cares

I am not worth the trouble

S/he, they won't change or work on themselves, so why should I?

I will do it soon

I am good at everything else

This is only a small part of me

My job is not affected

My spouse/parents/kids/boss/partner doesn't care

I should know how to do this on my own

I feel like an idiot

I have no idea where to begin

I hate being new

I hate not knowing what to do

I am used to being the expert

I should know better

I like my, drug, drink, fun,....

I can't live without it

Its my only pleasure

I am not capable of stopping

Its chemical anyway

I can stop anytime I want

I need this

Its better than telling him/her the truth or expressing my feelings directly

Its my only vice

S/he they did it (or do it)

Everyone does it

I will only do it until I find something better

I am functioning just fine

Its the only way to get my message across

I forgot. Its that simple

I don't know what got into me, came over me

I am a complete screw up

I am a loser

My life is stupid

They will only ask more of me if I take care of this

I don't care about the risks

I don't mind if I am all alone with my food, drink, cards, drug......

I can't stand the loneliness

I'd rather be alone

I hate feeling dependant

I didn't mean to hurt him/her

It just happened

There is nothing more to it

Its so much bigger than me

It works for others, but they are not me

I know a lot of people it does not work for

Anger has nothing to do with this

It has nothing to do with my past

I hate public meetings

I am afraid

I don't want to give my spouse, parent....the satisfaction

They won't care

I won't be able to keep up

I like myself this way

I don't know why, I just don't want to

Its not up to me

What about what I need?

He/she they need more help than I do

Don't tell me what to do

I wouldn't know what to do with myself

Those places are for losers

My spouse hardly ever has sex with me anyway

If s/he paid more attention to me, I would not have to do this

Knowing/saying how I really feel is worse than what I am doing

Its my body

This is just the way I am

I don't want to hear other people's stories

I want this more than I want that

Its as bad as it seems, but so what

Its not as bad as it seems

I don't really mind it

My insanity is still acceptable to me

Others should learn to live it

S/he, they should not pay so much attention to me

It does not effect them that much

I put up with their stuff

They deserve it

Its better than hurting them directly

I can't face the truth about myself

I can't not do it

If I don't do this..or use this...or have this...I will be nothing...

The void will be too big

I will fail at this too

I am already a failure, so who cares

Its too deep to fix

Talking about it won't help

Talking about it will be too painful

It won't be fast enough

It will be too fast

It will be too slow

Its still the only way I can get through

I don't want to grow up

I don't want to be the parent, spouse, adult, sane one

I don't want to know

I don't want to, that's why

I am ashamed

If I start to know myself, I will have to change things

There might be too much pain

I couldn't face it

I am scared

Okay, so there may not be exactly 67, and there may be some repeats, but I could go on and on...Here's how I see it: It does sometimes hurt to start....but I know, I believe, I really really do...that its worth it. Small steps. Easy does it. Next right thing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don't give up. ~ Anne Lamott

A friend of mine recently told me that she was sick of reading peppy quotes and hearing from happy chipper people who were feeling better inside. Whose dark holes were filling up with Gd, and joy and the color of relief. She did not want to read inspirational or self help books; She did not want to sit her sad frustrated self down in a 12 step meeting, a therapist's office or yoga class.

She was tired of being told that she has to tend to her crazy brain, learn about her moods, her fears, her resentments and treat her tired mind. Phewy on all of it. And to me, she said, she did not want to see my serious, empathic, understanding face. She is tired of hearing that adversity can be overcome, hurts can be healed, and that even the worst of depressive disorders, anxiety, addiction and emotional pain can be treated if the sufferer is willing to move a bit in the right direction. She is tired of being down, and everyone else being up. Life is a see-saw and she is on the bottom.

In my office I hear this kind of hopelessness frequently. I come face to face with the angry, clueless, frustrated part of people that is seeking a different feeling, a different marriage, a different job, life, body. The same part just does not believe better is possible. I talk all the time, and I listen all the time, to the objections to pushing past the prison of addiction or pain, of steadfast beliefs. I am engaged on a regular basis with the hesitations of plunging into something new. Something that may lead to better.

What is the difference between wanting and willing? Really. How badly do we have to want something to be willing to go to any lengths to get it? And what happens when we want two things that are direct opposites? Like endless food and thin body. Or wine and sobriety. A buzz and the ability to make good decisions. Or drive a car. Sexual contact with someone other than a spouse and a monogamous marriage.

How and when do we say no to ourselves when the craving is overwhelming? When it is physical? When we are absolutely pulled to keep going after what we want, when we know that somehow, somewhere, there is an undesirable side effect?

My friend does not believe that the work it takes to feel better is worth it. That there is a higher order of wants and satisfactions. She does not know that she can be successful without someone else getting hurt or lost or deprived. She does not know this because she has been in competition with her older brother for most of her life, and he is a shining star. He has achieved more than she thinks she ever could. He is rich, famous and enormously popular. But most especially with her parents. No success she has had can seem to match his. She sits at the bottom of the see saw and looks up at him. Jealous, frustrated and stuck.

When it come time to consider choosing to give up some of the vices that soothe her when she thinks about her brother, she gets quiet. She knows deep down, as we all do, that life is really not a see-saw, that she can have her own successes, without bringing down her brother. Her accomplishments can count on their own merit. Jealousy, painful as it can be, is just another distraction from doing her part. A lot of the things she wants, like a successful career in photography or freedom from her obsessive shopping, she can actually have, if she is willing to take on the job of getting it. And get off the see saw and walk into the places where many folks are finding hope and making progress.