How badly we crave what we don’t really have…the allure of our lovers

I am always astonished by my mom’s insightfulness.  We were speaking recently about how desire inevitably ebbs and flows in long term relationships.  During the conversation I mentioned that in my relationship with my ex-boyfriend the physical desire for him never wavered.  In fact, I said, it grew and grew over the years and when we finally broke up it was at it’s height.  I used this personal example to ‘prove’ that the curse of long term relationships to destroy passion wasn’t always the rule.

Once I finished telling her my thoughts she responded with an observation that had never crossed my rose colored mind.  She said “the passion lasted because you never really had him”.  Wow.  That is absolutely true and it took me over 20 years to learn it.

This is the ex I have written of before.  We met when I was 23 and were together off and on for 12 years.  We were serious for long stretches of time, then would break up, and eventually would find our way back to one another.  Sometimes the break up lasted a day, sometimes a few weeks, and once it lasted almost 2 years.  This is also the ex that I had an affair with once I learned of my husbands infidelity.  This “affair” was mostly emotional since he lives in another state but it had it’s physical moments as well.  I finally ended it for good almost 2 years ago.  21 years after I met him.  But my mom was right – I never really had him.  I always knew that he could walk out the door the next day.  I felt insecure in the status of our union and anxious about our future.  I never truly was able to depend on him and when I did he usually let me down.  It was that thrill and that uncertainty that kept the flame alive.

I think this is the case with most affairs as well.  We feel a heightened sense of passion because we know at any time the person is going to be pulled from our grasps.  We desperately cling to the moments we can hold them, touch them, see them.  And we are left longing for him/her in those long lonely nights when they are not with us.

This is a horrible way to live.  Always worrying that it’s the last time you will be together, wondering if the feelings are true, imagining them with their spouse and their families, knowing deep down that if they really wanted to be with us they would be.   We go days without hearing from them and our anxiety builds with each hour -then comes the thrill when they reach out again and this act calms all of our insecurities while setting us up for yet another round of passion followed by loss.  It’s a painful cycle.  We want so badly to believe in the fairy tale ending.  But at some point in our adult lives we need to accept that fairy tales are not true.  We do not have them.

Meetings of Two – rebuilding after an affair.

My husband and I have a weekend ritual when we sit down for a ‘check up’ with one another.  During this time we talk about how we are feeling about our relationship and ourselves.  We tell one another if we have struggled with trust, anger or resentment.  We announce the thing we did during that week that most improved our relationship and on the flip side the one thing we each did that hurt our relationship.  Sometimes the conversations are stimulating and go on forever – other times they are a little lackluster and neither of us have much to talk about.   I never know where these meetings will take us.

We like to go to our favorite coffee shop for these weekly discussions – it makes it feel more like an event or a date.  Since we had brunch plans with friends later this morning we decided to hold this weeks meeting at home, giving us the perfect opportunity to watch Esther Perel’s TED talk entitled “Rethinking Infidelity” about why people cheat.  This talk was such a great catalyst to conversation.  Both my husband and I found so much of what she said to be of interest.  It raised incredibly interesting points and questions and led to another very honest discussion about my husbands addiction-related infidelities as well as my own affair and what the two had in common.   We talked about how we felt during and after our trysts, we talked about the fantasy aspect of our actions, we talked about the power of our disclosures, we talked about anxiety and longing and desire and regret and sex.

Seeking out sources of smart, insightful information is so important when confronted with an issue such as marital infidelity.  I have gotten a lot of help from books and therapists in the past – but somehow, Eshter Perel can cut to the quick in a riveting 20 minute video.  If you haven’t already seen it, and are in a relationship, it’s worth watching.  I highly recommend watching with your spouse and see where the conversation takes you.

privacy in a marriage: what are the rules?

Their are a lot of definitions of privacy.  Freedom from the state of being observed.  Being apart from other people.  Solitude.  The state of being concealed.  Secrecy.  How does this multi-dimensional word fit into a marriage that has lost it’s footing through a series of lies and deceits?  Maybe it doesn’t.

I ate 2 chocolate bars yesterday.  This is my right.  This has no bearing on my husband.  It’s not a great nutritional decision but I don’t have compromised health so it won’t affect my life, nor my husbands.  I find it somewhat embarrassing that I couldn’t control my desires.  I couldn’t stop at one…or bet yet at one half.  I devoured two.  It is no one’s business but my own.  I struggled with an eating disorder in college so I find the fact that I lost control to be rather shameful. Yet, told my husband.

The reason why I told him is simply because we are practicing what it feels like to have complete transparency in our relationship.  It’s not always easy to do, and truth be told it took me 24 hours to tell him what I had done with the chocolate bars.  But I did it – and it felt good.  Of course, chocolate is the easy part.

After our infidelities, both my husband and I needed to come clean to one another about our betrayals of each other.  In the presence of my amazing therapist, we told one another all of our secrets.  This was one of the hardest exercises we have ever done.  My husband went so far as to take a lie detector (his idea) so I could be confident there were no other secrets.  Even one morsel of a lie is a foundation for another.  Once we came clean, we truly don’t want to dirty ourselves again.  It’s like a shiny new car – the first speck of dirt is noticed and examined and wiped away quickly.  But once you let it go, you barely notice when it’s become weeks since it’s been washed.  My husband and I are hyper vigilant to keep that first speck of dirt from landing on our marriage.

Is this the right path for everyone?  Honestly, I don’t know why it’s not.  What is the point of keeping a secret from the person you love most in the world.  How does that honor him/her?  How does that show respect for their ability to be empathetic?  I argue that it doesn’t.  For a relationship to be truly honored, it needs to be free of lies and the pain that comes with them.

There is, of course, a flip side.  There are rules.  1.  Each partner needs to willingly give the other space.  There is no benefit to listening to every call, reading every email and otherwise controlling all of their communication.  Maybe in the immediate aftermath of an affair discovery this would be the case – but that needs to be eliminated or reduced as quickly as possible.  If it’s not, the betrayed will become obsessive and this will hurt them.  2.  If the spouse judges everything that they are told – this is also disrespectful and won’t further the relationship.  This will make the person who is trying to share want to revert back into their shell of secrecy.  If you are being respected with the truth, then you need to be mature enough to handle it.  3.  Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.  This isn’t an exercise for those who aren’t committed to rebuilding a healthy, happy marriage.  It’s not a way to get ammunition to use against them.  4.  This is a two way street.  You can’t expect honesty if you aren’t willing to give it back.  What did you do this week that you didn’t share with your mate?  Did you say something disrespectful about them to someone they know?  Did you act inappropriately in any manner?  Did you eat 2 chocolate bars and hide the wrappers?

Once the one who was hurt by a secret or a lie learns that they have access, when needed, to any information they require – then hopefully they can become less concerned with it.  Once this fight for knowledge is put to rest – a more open, loving, intimate, equal relationship can start to grow again.  More importantly, once they witness their spouse telling them their inner most truths – then, and only then, can trust begin to reemerge.

This is how progress feels. It feels like freedom.

My husband, being a sex addict, had countless liaisons with people over the years.  95% of these acting out partners were strangers.  He didn’t know their names, didn’t care who they were, and probably wouldn’t recognize most of them in a crowd.  Of course, there were a couple of women who he did know.  They weren’t close friends, just acquaintances who made it clear they had loose boundaries and he ended up having sex with them.  Never more than 2 or 3 times – the thrill would wear off for him by then and he would move on.

I’ve written before about this one person who still contacts him.  The emails from her are few and far between – maybe twice a year – but every time she reached out to him in the past it really triggered me.  I felt sick to my stomach and got angry with my husband and started to ask questions that had already been answered.  Until now.

A few days ago, my husband saw an email from this person.  she sent it late at night so he received it when he got up in the morning.  He needed to leave for work before I got up so he came to wake me.  He said “I didn’t want to wake you but I need to tell you that I got an email from that lunatic”.  At first I didn’t know who he meant, but I figured it out pretty quickly.  I asked him what it said and he said he hadn’t read it yet.  He asked if I would like to get up so we could read it together.  I rose and we read the stupid email.  It was just a sentence or two of no consequence.  I don’t understand why she writes to him especially since he hasn’t had contact with her in 2 years.  From her emails, it doesn’t appear to be romantic or with a desire to see him.  The simplest explanation is that she is afraid of him being her enemy since they work in the same industry.

I don’t know her reasons, but still she writes.  Every time she does, we read it (and delete it) together.  But one thing changed this time.  I didn’t have a negative physical reaction.  I didn’t dwell on it all day.  I didn’t feel anger toward my husband.  I saw this for exactly what it was.  I’m not talking about this woman and her motivations.  I am talking about my husbands actions.  He isn’t hiding anything from me.  He didn’t pre-read her message to find out what it said before alerting me to it.  He loves me and wants me to learn to completely trust him again.  This is the truth.

My husband has offered for me to put a rule on his account so that her emails will forward to me, or will be immediately deleted, or bounce back to her.  Anything I want.  Anything that makes me feel comfortable.  I used to want to read them for some clue about his relationship with her.  I thought perhaps there were secrets I didn’t know.  But that’s not the case.  I know everything I need to know.  I know he is sick and acted out with her and others.  I also know that he is recovering and changed and worthy of my love and trust.  I don’t need to control his emails to know all of this.

This gal may write again, she may not.  I don’t really care.  I couldn’t much control it if I did.  But, from here on out, it won’t affect my relationship with my husband if and when she does.  This is freedom.