Chapter 23 - Pop-up Ads
Here we are, nearly 6 years into recovery. It is rare that I think about the affair. Somethimes, though, something happens or comes up and it is a real struggle to take control of my thoughts, even this far into the battle.
Sometimes it is good to think about the affair. Say you find yourself in a situation where a person of the opposite sex is flirting with you, and you are married and have survived an affair. That would be a very good time to remember the affair as a reminder that no good, and a lot of pain, can result from a bad decision.
Or, like something we are going through right now, when you have friends who are going through marriage problems and you can see the train wreck coming. Someone says they just aren't happy with their spouse, he/she loves her/him but is not "in love" anymore (what the heck does that mean, anyway?), and so forth. That's a good time to think about the affair, because our experience can help someone. We can tell them that we've been there; they aren't alone; they are in a very dangerous spot and need to pay attention to the warning signs; but that with hard work, counseling, and faith, they can get back on track.
But most of the time, it just isn't helpful to think about the affair. It robs you of your joy and keeps you from seeing the good things about your wife, your marriage, your life.
When those thoughts come up, I call them "pop-up ads." Those blasted ads come up all the time on my computer. Buy this; get a loan; find your classmates. Is anything more annoying? When those pop-up adds come up, I immediately close them. Click - no thank you. Click - no thank you. Click - no thank you.
I do the same thing when thoughts of the affair come up. "She's going back to work -- she'll cheat again." Click - no thank you. I don't need that. "Your bad day at work happened because you aren't good enough - you're worthless and that's why she cheated." Click - no thank you.
You get the picture. With unwanted thoughts, like unwanted ads, it takes an act of the will to say, "That's not true - I don't need that thought and I'm not going to feed it or let it in." It is so much easier now than it was at first, and to this day some unwanted thoughts are stubborn and persistent.
I had what you might call a setback this week. My wife is late, as in she might be pregnant. We've sort of let nature take its course, not really trying to get pregnant and not really trying not to get pregnant. We have one child, and my wife's post-partem depression after his birth was a key event that led up to our marriage problems and the affair (that wasn't the only reason, mind you, and I contributed mightily to the marriage problems that made it too easy for one of us to decide to have an affair).
When she told me that she was late, I felt panicky inside. It was a "here we go again" feeling, and I'm having trouble shaking it. It may be more accurate to say that I became aware of my feelings, but they've actually been lingering for a while. They were lingering to the point, I realize now, that I was probably avoiding sex -- not completely, obviously, but I think part of me has been pulling away because (1) no sex means no pregnancy, and in my unacknowledged, flawed logic, no pregnancy meant no affair; and (2) if you put walls around your heart, you don't get hurt.
Once I became aware of these feelings, I could begin knocking them down. I knock them down by reminding myself of the truth: We want another baby. If she gets pregnant again, that does not mean she will have an affair. We're stronger now, and history is not going to repeat itself. And avoiding intimacy, and putting up the walls, is not the way to avoid pain. It causes its own kind of pain and cheats you of the joy of a good relationship. I repeat these truths to myself, sometimes even writing them down, and fight my bad logic with good logic. Fight lies with truth. Click, no thank you.
I'll keep at it for a while, making these unwanted thoughts a matter of prayer. If the pop-up ads just won't go away, I'll make an appointment with our counselor (the equivalent of running a virus scan?).
The point is this: Even after a long time, and even when things are going really well, I still have to be vigilant against hurt, anger, and resentment. I have to remind myself occasionally that I have forgiven my wife, and certain thoughts are no longer welcome. Over time, I have learned to deal with these in what I think is a healthy way, but it is a skill that I had to develop. You can control your thoughts and you can choose not to be weighed down by the past.
Soon it will be time to take a pregnancy test. Those pop-ups may come up again, but I choose not to let the distant past rob me of happiness today. Maybe, just maybe, we are about to enter another great chapter of our lives, and I absolutely refuse to miss it.
EDIT: Nope, not pregnant. Maybe next time.