I'll Never Get My Life Back

I'm in conversation with my fourth wife who is feeling betrayed because of secrets I kept about my acting out behavior over the last 24 years. She asked earlier this year to know everything and I told her. I'd told her everything I knew before we were married, but it was during our years together that I opened pandora's box by doing EMDR and uncovering sexual abuse at the hand of neighbor boys and adults who were all part of an extended family that lived on three sides of our home. Those discoveries, which I shared with her at the time were very destabilizing. When she felt the need to move from the studio cottage we'd lived in for six years i felt frozen. i couldn't move, which led to a separation and a couple of years later a divorce. In the midst of that process I turned to sexual acting out to soothe myself and didn't tell her what I was doing. Of course, we were separated and it seemed we would never be anything but friends. Over the next fifteen years we did get closer, though we never resumed a sexual relationship which had always been problematic for me. Of course, my EMDR work helped me understand the terror I associated with sexual arousal. As we got closer I didn't mention my occasional use of porn, which was one item on the list I gave her this Spring.

I've apologized for not being truthful. She has been reading some of the same material I have about complex trauma and on one level understands that everything I've done was a product of the sexual abuse, including my acting out. But she still feels the bond between us has been damaged. I'm not trying to convince her of anything but rather am encouraging her to take care of herself. As I've reflected on all of this today, I'm vividly aware that none of the pain I've caused others can be undone. Yes, I can say I'm sorry, but I can't take any of it back. Yes, I can continue to invest in healing to claim the best life I can for myself going forward, but I can't go back and make any of it right. My former wife may conclude this is too difficult for her to carry. She said she can be no more than friends, but it is possible even that will be too much for her. It breaks my heart... but I understand. This is the wreckage that comes with having been sexually abused and incapable of real intimacy. I may be more available now, but at least for her that may not matter. I love this woman. Losing her would be deeply painful... but I have no control over any of it.
Sorry to hear this. The fallout from our abuse has caused many of us to act out in ways we never would have if there had been no abuse. And, for many of us, the damage that has been done decade after decade is something we cannot reverse.

But, speaking from experience, we CAN get to a place where we no longer have to repeat it. For me, that was when life fully started.

Be gentle with yourself. Forgive yourself. That is important,


While it's painful to say the least, the positive aspect is you can now write your own ending. You have the insight to see how the actions of abuse have caused you to act out and can re-wire the abuse imprinting to have a healthier, fuller life. Its great that you can see, you (unfortunately) cannot undo the pain you have caused others. Facing it and accepting it is the first part.
As Jaxson stated, self forgiveness is key!

Keep doing YOU!
Thanks guys... I'm writing this through tears because the loss of this woman would be devastating. Years ago she gave me a birthday card that still sits on the altar across the room from where I'm sitting. She was thrilled to find it. The card reads... "You are my very greatest earthly blessing." And that has been the quality of our relationship at its best. I've tried to the best of my ability to love her and to care for her and I believe I've done a very good job at that. It is true that to sustain that level of commitment, I occasionally used alcohol, food and pornography to soothe myself when away from her. I was never a drunk, pornography use was intermittent rather than life consuming, the food carried my weight up and down as I grappled with it. This made me less emotionally available at times, something she's commented on as we've had this conversation, but I never hurt her, never took advantage for her, always tried hard to care for her. On some level, the damaged person who prayed mom would be nice, thought if I tried hard enough to do it right, that I wouldn't be hurt and may be loved, has operated in this relationship since it has been a major theme of my life. But I've had some awareness of this pattern for many years and have worked to release it. I can say honestly, that what I've learned about love during this lifetime, I've learned with her.

I'm doing my best to hold myself with compassion. I'll stay engaged with her if she wants engagement. I won't fault her for what is happening AND most importantly I won't abandon myself. This is the irony, of course. This painful dance she and I have been doing for the last eight months is precisely the sort of experience that would lead me to acting out but I've felt no desire to do so. I'm convince since being on this website and doing this round of healing work that I'll NEVER take back the trauma and allow it to drive my life. I want my aliveness... hopefully with my much loved friend, but without her if that is what she choses. Having the support of men on this website makes ALL the difference. We really do have one another's back. Thanks Jaxson and Brennan.


Visitor, you are doing a lot of good, hard work. You are a caring person who is very thoughtful of other people. I wish you the best with this difficult situation.
Thank you for your kind words. On this website we don't have to be ensnared by shame and are able to bring all of ourselves to the board. I can be thoughtful and kind, even generous with people in my lives. These are parts of me I aspire to cultivate. Sadly, in relationships the shame has usually predominated and my better qualities don't have as much room to grow. Part of this conversation with my former wife is taking in the truth of how my trauma and my response to that trauma has in reality traumatized her. It is as though she was standing near the railroad track when the train wreck happened. Nothing about it was her fault. Truth is I've spent most of my energy in our relationship trying to get her understanding of my pain, while not paying close enough attention to her pain. In the past, when the shit hit the fan in a relationship I'd tell my partner she'd better leave me because i was so damaged. That meant I was wallowing in shame and not wanting to look at any of it. This time I'm called upon to honor her pain, her feeling of betrayal while at the same time not shaming or abandoning myself. I need to make the shift from seeking understanding, to looking squarely at her trauma and doing what I can both to acknowledge it and respond kindly to it.

She wrote a lovely email in response to my last message, not offering anything more than friendship, but also acknowledging that she was triggered by our last conversation. She suggested, if I'm willing, that we have a structured conversation so each of us can share what we're feeling while the other person reflects their understanding of the message... reflective listening to make certain there is no misunderstanding of where we each are. I believe this is a wonderful opportunity to do healing work with her... for me stepping out of the shame and honestly attending to her need, for her to feel heard and possibly to find some trust in our relationship again. No more running away for me, which definitely is a mark of healing.
that is nice - a lot of "Divorce Care" ministries at churches try to get to the point where such reconciliations can happen, even if either party has moved on to other relationships. Healing the former marriage is healthy for both. Kudos!!
Thanks Kal. I'm a bit frightened and a bit excited about the prospect of doing this work. Having four failed marriages in my past is testament to the fact I COULDN'T face the truth and talk about it. My fourth wife is willing to have this conversation and I think it will be healing for us both. And you're right, this is a good thing to do regardless of the shape our relationship takes in the future. I still hope for a very close friendship but I have no control over that. Divorce Care make good sense. I'm glad to hear churches are attending to this matter since divorces happen so frequently in our modern world. Of course, we read horror stories about marriages that held together only to facilitate sexual abuse, so I won't glamorize the past. Being here now is the best we'll ever be able to do.