Chapter 22

My wife knew I was starting therapy, because I told her before my first appointment last month. However, she forgot, and so I’ve been going along the past few weeks without mentioning it to her. I admit to experiencing a somewhat passive-aggressive vindication in her not remembering, as though it allowed me to think “see, she doesn’t even care about this big important thing that’s happening in my life”. This was pointed out by the therapist and it made me smile at my own unconsciously petty behaviour. So I sought to remedy that by telling her.

She laughed when I said the therapist said I’m a perfectionist, as though the notion was ludicrous. I explained that she meant less a person for whom everything had to be done to exacting standards, and more along the lines of Spud-from-Trainspotting perfectionism – which is to say I want everything to be perfect and if it isn’t then I can’t really be bothered. She didn’t laugh at that, because it’s true.

My approach on so much of my life is to cause “perfect” to be the enemy of “good enough”. This all-or-nothing mentality pervades every aspect of who I am, and explains the reason for my periodic swings between eating healthily and working out, and binging junk and avoiding exercise. In those cases, I initially stick to a routine with military rigour, but all it ever takes is a wobble in that routine – a missed gym session, a calorific take-away – for me to think “oh well, I screwed up, may as well give up and succumb to the slobbery”. You know, the old “I ate one biscuit, may as well finish the packet” style of thinking.

I told her about focusing on my needs and trying to understand what they really are. How and if they could be met. She remained silent for a long time after this. Three times I asked her what was on her mind. Each time she replied about what she was doing, such as “I’m just sitting here”. The third time, I gently said that I didn’t ask her what she was doing, but what she was thinking about. She diverted, made up something; I could tell by the way she averted her eyes. And something else: I saw fear there.

I suggested that she could work out her needs too. I talked to her about non-violent communication, which isn’t about avoiding hitting people while you interact with them, but about using non-confrontational language that means people are less likely to become defensive when you discuss things with them. She was quite blasé about this, given she has a degree in psychology; and besides, she claims, that’s just common sense. I bit my tongue because my immediate cruel response was to say well if you know so much about it why the fuck do you speak to me like you do. Of course, that would not have benefited either of us, and probably would have made things worse. So instead I reiterated the value I’m finding in trying to take that non-confrontational approach where before responding you try to consider what the person’s needs are.

It didn’t feel productive. It felt like me sharing what was going on but getting nothing back. However I won’t let that phase me. I’ve hurt her. She’s going to need time to let her guard down.

The way things are right now, I don’t know how we’re going to get to the point when we have a truly open, honest discussion. The tentative steps I’m taking towards that seem almost laughable. However I must persist. I will figure out my needs. I’ll figure out hers too, with or without her help, though with would be easier. And in doing that I will work out whether or not either of us really stand a chance of meeting one another’s needs.

There are things I want the person I spend my life with to know. My passions. The things I’m good at. That I get satisfaction from. Yet to do that would be to devastate her. I know this. What I don’t know is how to reconcile this need to be transparent with her against the knowledge that fulfilling this need could destroy her.

On the other hand, to live the rest of my life suppressing so many things that I derive pleasure and satisfaction from would be to destroy myself.

 

Chapter 21

Words don’t often fail me. I can usually get something down on the page. This is one of those days where each keystroke is an effort, each line something slow and pondered.

You see, I lost my lover. The most wonderful person I’ve ever known. Our end was kind and gentle and loving and heartbreaking. There was no lashing out, only two people who desperately want the best for one another and knowing that right now, that what is best means not being together.

I’ve taken everything from her except the last vestiges of her pride. I’m thoroughly ashamed of myself for that. In the end she had to beg me to let her go because if I asked her to stay she’d be unable to resist, despite herself. And ultimately that would break her.

Her mental strength is phenomenal. She has endured things that would have broken other people twice over, and still she smiles. That beautiful, heartbreaking smile.

In spite of my desire for her, my love for her, my yearning to utterly consume her, mind and body, I knew it had to be done. I’ve danced around it long enough, but the fact is I am having an emotional affair that would definitely be physical were it not for the ocean between us. Yet at the same time I’ve told myself – and my lover, for hard as it may be to believe, she has encouraged me more than anyone, even friends and family, to try for the sake of my children – that I will live in the present moment and try to make my marriage work.

I don’t really need to elaborate on the ludicrous contradiction of this situation, but just to be clear: if she’s in my life, I can’t make an honest attempt at making my marriage work. Likewise, I have no right to expect her to simply hang around for me while I do that. What options does that leave her? Either she waits for me to say “yes I want to be with you” or “no I can’t because I think I can get my marriage working”, or she walks away with some dignity intact and lives her life unencumbered by such a selfish conceit. It’s a no-brainer.

Yet: I know how much it hurts her to go, just as I’m agonised to let her go. We must accept that this is a necessary thing. To live honestly and with as much integrity as we can muster. To make decisions for the right reasons.

And here’s the thing. It still doesn’t feel like our story is done. This person who crashed into my life from nowhere and suddenly became the missing piece of me, the piece I never even realised had been missing from my life until it appeared and fit so perfectly into place – she and I can endure this, and worse. This? This is easy compared to what she’s been though. She knows I will always love her. She knows that there is more to us than good sex or conversation or having superficial things in common; this is about an intrinsic understanding of one another’s innermost needs, and being absolutely committed to helping to satisfy them. Not because we feel we must, but because we want to, willingly, without feeling emotionally coerced.

For now, we simply have to accept that someone like that exists out there, and having acknowledged that, honour that someone by keeping focused on the reality we find ourselves in, and doing the best we can with our situations. In doing that we can look to the future – whatever it may hold – with a clear conscience, instead of being burdened by the guilt of secrets and lies.

We can do this. We will do this. We will honour one another by doing what we promised. Let the chips fall where they may.

 

Chapter 20

There is a moment when every man is at his most honest. When his defences are down and he can do nothing but succumb to his true thoughts and feelings. In this moment, gone are the thoughts and fantasies of what propelled him to erupt in ecstasy mere seconds ago (unless, of course, he’s actually with the object of these thoughts and fantasies). In this moment, he thinks about what he truly wants, how his needs can truly be met, well beyond the pale of ephemeral sexual satisfaction, his mind unclouded by biological urges.

I refer of course to the moment just after orgasm, when, spent and satiated, a man lies back and allows his mind to drift to the places it truly wants to go. When truths he can normally suppress come floating to the surface and he’s both powerless to prevent it and disinterested in doing so.

It’s a perfect time for him to acknowledge who he truly loves.

My wife is trying very hard. In every way, she’s trying to be the wife I didn’t have for many years. At first that angered me, made me resentful for the fact that it took me telling her I was leaving before she was willing to do this. I’m not angry anymore. I can see how much effort she is putting in and I’m torn between feeling incredibly appreciative of what she’s doing and desperately sad because I think it’s too late. Things that should be touching me deeply are recognised and acknowledged but there is a vacuum where my feelings should be.

She says she is going to make me fall in love with her again. The thing is, nobody can make anybody do anything. I’m trying to be open to that possibility, but when I lay there catching my breath, the endorphins rushing through me and my heart rate returning to normal, when the daytime filter drops away and I let myself acknowledge what I really want, who I really love, it is not her.

Regardless, that is neither here nor there. Thinking about what I want is jumping the gun. Needs must be my focus. Not just mine. As much as I need to understand my own needs, I also need to consider those of the people closest to me, and whether or not I’m truly the person who can help to meet them. Currently, I’m functioning as a good husband and father, outwardly doing all the right things. Still, that vacuum where my feelings should be persists. I wonder if I can trick myself into having the feelings she wants me to have for her again. Then I remind myself that that’s exactly how we got here in the first place. No. Not again.

For my children, there is no need for trickery. I’m their father and I will do whatever I must to meet their needs. It’s everything beyond them that I must consider.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the notion that my relationship with my wife was never really given an option to fail. The stakes were simply too high, right from the start. Holiday romance. Long distance relationship. Moving countries to be together. Moving in together immediately. At no point along that time line was there ever the option to say hold up, I need some time and space to figure out if this is the right thing for me. If this is really a person who helps meet my needs.

To have done that would have left the other person alone and isolated in a place they knew nobody. First her. Then me, when I moved.

Outside of a single month (June 1999), I haven’t been single since I was 18 years old. I’ve spent my entire adult life in relationships. I don’t actually know what life is like standing on my own two feet. True, I moved out of home as soon as I could, and have worked continuously since I was 15, but I’ve always had some kind of partner along the way. A crutch, maybe? Did I think I couldn’t do life on my own? I’m not sure. Maybe. Probably.

I know I can now. As to whether or not I should, again, I don’t know. Right now it’s one day at a time. Maintain positivity in my outlook. Address negativity with composure and patience and without compromising my integrity. (Well, no more than I have already.) That all has to come from in me. I can’t lay responsibility for my behaviour on anyone but me. The rest, working things out, will come.

 

Chapter 19

Just ten more minutes. I’ll give it ten more, in case she appears. And if ten minutes happens to pass without her appearing, what’s another ten? It would be worth it for a chance to talk to her. And so it goes on.

I always thought that if things ended, they would end with our respect for one another intact, and a fondness, a soft spot when we thought of one another. I didn’t think it would end like this, with poisonous words not even spoken in anger, but with calculated intent.

Not a man. Must grow up. Adolescent, narcissistic, pathetic and childlike. Lacking joy and happiness and light. A black cloud of misery, guilt, resentment, anger and shame encompassing everything I touch.

These are the things she says, among many others. There was a time when she wanted to know things – the things I shared that ultimately ruined us. When she came to me, soft-voiced and gentle in the early hours and asked me to tell her what was going on, and instead of telling her no, instead of just keeping it to myself, I opened my fool mouth.

I should have known better. She just wanted to know that I was hers, and she was mine, and fuck everyone else. Safe in our bubble.

Of course, bubbles burst. It’s not possible to maintain the kind of suspended animation we existed in when it was us and only us. Reality has a way of seeping in.

Ten more minutes have passed. There’s no sign of her. Of course, it’s Saturday night, and deep down I wasn’t expecting her to be around. She messaged me today to correct what I wrote in the previous chapter. To confirm that I am, in fact, definitely a selfish cunt. A selfish, selfish cunt, to be precise. And to throw a few fuck you’s my way. Not out of anger. To speak the truth.

I never had a chance to get to know her properly. Now, I have to let her go. This woman I am in love with. The first thing on my mind each morning, and the last thing each night. Because she’s right. I couldn’t provide the things I wanted to give her. The happiness. The safety, security and sunshine. Maybe early on, for a while. Before we got into the excessive detail of my life, and the lack of detail of hers. The reality we’re in.

Reality has once again taken over, and it’s pretty much the only place to be. The only show in town. Bubbles are only ever temporary.

 

Chapter 18

I have been called selfish often, especially by those closest to me. I had an interesting discussion about this yesterday, when I was told that my behaviour is not selfish, but self-centred.

My immediate reaction to that was, what’s the bloody difference? They’re both terrible traits.

The difference, I was told, is with regard to intent. Selfish people don’t care about the ramifications of their behaviour on others as long as they get what they want, whereas self- centred people care too much about what other people think about them, so much so that they are fearful of saying anything that might upset others, to the point that they will mask what they want or need if they think it might upset another person.

I’m not denying there are aspects of selfishness in my behaviour, but I am inclined to agree that I’m self-centred to a greater degree than I am selfish. I get so caught up in worrying that I’ve wronged people that my immediate reaction in almost every situation is “what have I done to cause them to react like this?”.

I need to reframe this tendency, so when someone responds to me, regardless of how, I should ask myself why are they reacting to me in this way? How likely is it to be because of something I’ve done? How much more likely is it to be because of something they’ve got going on that has nothing to do with me?

It sounds ludicrous, but this is going to be extremely challenging for me. I’m so self-centred that my comfort zone is to expect the behaviour in every interaction to be about something I have done, or failed to do. It’s going to take a lot of effort to pause and recognise this, then deal with it as it crops up. However, I expect as that behaviour is repeated, it becomes normalised and my brain eventually will become accustomed to reacting like that, instead of the self-centred way it currently reacts. That’s my working theory, anyway.

Something I found slightly mind-blowing this week is the notion that in order to change your future, you don’t necessarily need to understand your past. I’d always believed that in order to change I needed to analyse my past to understand why I am how I am, and in turn to allow me to change. Not so. In fact focusing on my past has done approximately fuck all for my development, so I think it’s safe to say that dwelling on one’s past is not a particularly productive course of action.

Another challenge to face is how I communicate with the world, and like most effective behavioural traits, it is actually simple to understand, but many of us fail to put into practice. To communicate effectively, we only need to know three things about any given topic:

  1. How I/you feel.
  2. What I/you need.
  3. What to request to obtain what I/you need.

At its most basic:

I feel exhausted. I need a rest. I want to take a nap for an hour.

Or:

I feel hungry. I need food. I want to eat a ham sandwich.

And so on. Obviously complexity grows with competing and often contradictory needs but the basic premise for how to communicate is there. I must be clear about my needs and what I want to address them.

I also need to be specific. It’s not enough to say, for example “I want sex” or “I want food”. Being specific is crucial to effective communication. So those statements become “I want to make love to you tonight as soon as The Blacklist is over” or “I want two poached eggs with some lightly toasted brown bread and a venti blonde roast four and four”.

I’m actually enjoying this, finding the flaws in my behaviour and trying to fix them. I just need the right tools to do it.

Chapter 17

My Needs: Redux.

I need to understand and address why I can’t let go of things from my past.

I need to understand and address why I won’t allow myself to be happy.

I need to understand and address why I am self-destructive with my personal life.

I need to understand and address why I have allowed my financial situation to get into the state it’s in.

I need to understand and address why I use food as a coping mechanism.

I need to understand and address why I’m locked into the same patterns of thinking even when I fully believe I’ve moved on.

I need to understand and address – one way or another – my part in the slow disintegration of my marriage.

Following on from that, I need to make a decision on my future with my wife.

I need to understand and address why I am weak.

Chapter 16

This is an extract from something that I received today. I’m documenting it here because it gives me a reminder of how I appear to the world when I let my guard down. Everything that is being said here, it wounds, very deeply. Which most likely means that it is true. I hope to digest what is said in the following and work out how I can use it to improve myself.

Here it is:

(removed)

It makes my throat close up and my eyes water each time I read it (which is often). I can’t work out if it’s because the words are truthful or because they were used to inflict the maximum possible damage. Probably it’s both.

However. That’s short term. I’ll get over it. What I’m trying to take away from this is how to handle my priorities. What my true needs are. My next post was going to be analysing the needs I recorded in Chapter 14 to understand which are needs and which are just the ramblings of a confused man. Then, when I had a condensed list of genuine needs, I wanted to understand which of them my wife helps me to meet.

First though. First I need to parse through this feedback. Get my head around it. Separate out what was said to hurt from what is true. I’m fucking terrified to do this, because I think there’s a lot of truth there. It’s necessary though.