We went to see the counselor together Monday evening. There were some good thoughts exchanged, but the time is too brief to get everything out, and I still didn't feel as comfortable talking as I do when seeing the counselor alone (or when typing here).
I said that I had been feeling like I needed to walk on eggshells after having shocked her so badly, and that I felt like she was fragile, so I didn't want to push; I wanted to take it easy. She responded that she did not want me to think of her as fragile. If something's on my mind, I should tell her. The counselor affirmed that thoughts such as these can be self-fulfilling: by treating her as fragile, I could inadvertently make her fragile.
My wife said that she "never signed up for this," referring to the notion of me seeing other women. The counselor said that it was likely that I'd never signed up for it either, and I agreed. When I was a young man, I never thought I'd feel this way.
People drift apart, little by little, without even noticing, and it becomes all too easy to just go with it, and adapt to it little by little, until the closeness that used to be there is missing. That had quite clearly happened to us, and I believe that, in large part, it had been due to the guilt I'd had over keeping the secret of my (unacted upon and undisclosed to anyone) feelings for other women. That secret is gone, and there have been fabulous moments of closeness between my wife and I since, but read on.
The counselor raised (for the second time--the first time was a session with me alone) the notion that perhaps the feelings I've had for others have grown as a result of the growing separation between my wife and I. I'm not entirely sure that is so, but I cannot discount it out of hand. Later in the evening, I told my wife that while we were working on our relationship, I would not seek anyone else (and truthfully, I never have), and we would see if the hypothesis that my feelings are a symptom and not a characteristic is correct. She appreciated that, and said that if they turned out to be real, at least we tried. I told her that even if that was so, we needn't throw in the towel, but I think she is still stuck on "one man, one woman, that is marriage." I also think that is a mechanism she's using to avoid having to confront jealousy, fear, and insecurity.
The counselor made a point to let us know that we should tell each other, every day, something we like about each other. That's a good point, and we did so tonight. Conversations cannot always be negative. I've been telling my wife constantly how desirable I find her (and truthfully, I think she's hawt), and I thank her all the time for the things she does for me. During the session, she let on that she thought my remarks about her meant that I wanted more sex. I do, but that was not my intent--I want her to know that I still want her, I still desire her, I still think she's beautiful, and that I in no way am looking to make up for any kind of perceived shortcoming.
My wife told me that it was okay to have friends who were women (more on that below). I don't think she appreciates what that could mean for me, despite my having told her why I've avoided it.
In the session, we practiced telling each other something and then repeating it back, to make sure that what was heard was what was meant. I suspect we'll be doing more of that.
I ended the day feeling pretty good, and started Tuesday OK, but as the day wore on, it struck me that I have already been trying, for more than a decade, to not develop feelings for others, having gone so far as to avoid close friendships with women altogether out of fear that they would develop into something more. (For those of you out there following, that strategy DOES NOT WORK. If you meet someone whom you admire, even if you only interact with her briefly and courteously, as in professional behavior at the office, you can still fall for her without even expecting it.) Now, I have agreed to keep trying, to see if the feelings go away, but I fear that what I am also doing is enabling my wife to avoid having to deal with or prepare for "what if?" What if these feelings are real and won't go away? What if the current crush fades, but in making friends with women, I fall in love with one of them? I think she thinks that merely by telling me not to, that it won't happen, or if it does, by telling me to stop it, that I can turn it off like a light switch. Emotions don't work that way.
I want to help her to understand how much it hurts to fall for someone, yet keep that entirely to yourself, over and over. I want to help her to understand that I've never looked for love elsewhere; my heart betrays me at unexpected times. I want to help her to understand that, although we made a promise to forsake all others when we were young, I have to hurt myself over and over to keep it. I want her to consider if that is what she really wants from the man she loves, and I want her to ask herself if she really, honestly, thinks it would be worse to share me, even a little, than to push me away altogether? I want to convince her to begin the "what if" process, and to look her fears in the eye and stare them down. I want her to know that I am here to reassure her and to help her. I want her to know that falling for someone else does not mean that I've stopped loving her, and I don't want to give up our marriage just because of some traditional notion that "that's what marriage means." Marriage means whatever we want it to mean, dammit, and commitment means that we don't give up on it; it doesn't mean "exclude all others." She defines it that way, but I believe, as I said above, that she does so to avoid having to face her feelings.
So here I am, ready to give traditional monogamy the old college try (guess nearly two decades isn't enough) one more time for her sake, to really examine the hypothesis that I might not actually be poly, but might be compensating for a lack of closeness between us; however, I'm worried that the effort is all one-sided, and if I don't give her the answer she wants, I lose my marriage. In that kind of environment, I fear that the "forbidden fruit" aspect of having feelings for others will prevent the experiment from having any chance of succeeding (as she would define "success").
Some choice, huh? Repress my feelings and suffer heartache after heartache on the one hand, or lose my marriage on the other because she will not consider any other alternative.