tagLoving WivesWhat Did I Do that was Wrong? 04

What Did I Do that was Wrong? 04


[Author's Note: Sorry for the delay in posting this chapter--I had an emergency to deal with.]

I spent the rest of the session trying to calm and reassure Leanne.

"Mark doesn't strike me as a particularly rash person. He's obviously very upset, but I don't think he'll get on a plane and just disappear. It's much more likely that he's still in town, and that he'll find a motel for a few days, keep on going to work, and eventually make contact."

"And if he doesn't?" she replied, starting to weep again.

"I've done everything I can think of, Tom! I've told him I love him, and showed him I love him, every possible way there is! What more can I do?"

My answer didn't reassure her. "I don't think there IS anything more, Leanne—at least not right now. This is a struggle that Mark has to work out within himself, and all we can do is support him.

"Look," I said after a minute. "I'm supposed to see Mark again on Thursday afternoon. Let's at least try to be calm until then. If he shows up, and tells me he hasn't been in contact with you, I promise to call you right after the session to let you know he's still around, okay?

"In the meantime, do what you can to go on with life. See a friend, go to a movie—do things to take care of yourself, and to keep from sitting and worrying. Mark loves you very much—we both know that. His emotions got the best of him, but that doesn't mean he's gone for good."

It wasn't much, but it was pretty much all I had to offer in the way of comfort, and Leanne was a little calmer when she left my office.


To my pleasant surprise, Mark walked into my office right on time the following Thursday. His manner was troubled, and a little sheepish.

As he sat down all he said was, "hello, Tom".

"Hi, Mark. Have you been in touch with Leanne since Tuesday?"

The sheepish look deepened. "Yeah, I, uh, left her a message yesterday during the day. Just saying that I was okay, that I'd found a place to stay for a little while, and that I'd be in touch."

"I guess you can imagine that she was pretty upset when I saw her."

"Yes, well, I ..."

He sat up, and looked straight at me. Sheepishness was gone, and seriousness was in its place.

"I just had to leave, Tom—I didn't have any choice. I felt like my head was going to explode."

I nodded, and said, "why don't you tell me about it?"

What followed was pretty predictable in its broad outlines—only the specifics were new to me. A series of incidents, each of them fairly minor in and of itself, kept reminding Mark of the pain and insecurity he was already struggling to work through. Or, rather, I should say "struggling to contain", because he frequently resisted the opportunities to work through it that both Leanne and I offered to him.

The previous Thursday he'd been home alone, because Leanne had a meeting in the evening, and he'd watched "Unfaithful" with Richard Gere and Diane Lane. It's a devastating film about a wife in a seemingly happy marriage who falls into a torrid love-affair; and needless to say it was precisely the wrong thing for Mark's frame of mind.

What made it particularly bad, Mark told me, is that at one point while having sex with her lover Diane Lane's character said something to him that was just like what Leanne liked to say to Mark in bed.

"It just freaked me out, I guess. Nothing but a coincidence, but my mind started careering down the track of Leanne having affair after affair, all the while pretending to love me."

When Leanne came home Mark didn't tell her anything about the movie, but he was uneasy. Unable to sleep, he found himself in his study, playing chess on the computer for half the night.

"By Monday I was feeling better—I'd put it out of my mind, I guess. Leanne and I made love, and it was really great. Long and incredibly satisfying, I think for both of us.

"We were lying in bed afterwards, half-asleep, and I was feeling really happy. Leanne was kissing my neck, just drowsily, you know? And she said, "baby, you're the best—the absolute best". And then she was asleep within another minute; I could feel her breathing change.

"I know she meant to be nice, to be loving. But what she said just started to eat at me! I'm the best? the absolute best? But you had to fuck dozens of other guys—hundreds of other guys? How can I be the best, if I'm not even good enough to satisfy my own wife?!

"I realized that I was being ridiculous, that I was taking Leanne's sweet remark and turning it into a knife to stab myself with—but I just couldn't help it! I lay there, feeling worse and worse, while she slept happily next to me.

"Finally, at about 2 am, I got up and went into the kitchen for a sandwich, and I remembered I hadn't put the trash out for pickup on Tuesday morning. I grabbed the bag out of the kitchen wastebasket and tied it shut, and carried it into the garage to get the big trashcans.

"And on the way I snagged the bag on the edge of a rake and ripped it open, and half the trash spilled out onto the floor of the garage. So I cursed, and got a broom to sweep it back up. And there on the floor I saw an open box of condoms.

"It was a box of a dozen, and there were three left. I went kind of nuts—I had to know exactly how many had been used! I laid down some old newspapers and poured out the entire contents of the trash bag, and sorted through it, but I only found two more. Five condoms. So there had to have been seven used—by one or more of Leanne's fuck-buddies, of course.

"I cleaned up the mess and threw it all out, but the whole time my brain was going a mile a minute. Could Leanne possibly still be fucking other people? I didn't want to believe it, and I really didn't believe it. She made a promise to me, and I honestly trust her, I do."

I must have looked a bit skeptical—not about Leanne, but about the depth of Mark's faith in her.

"You've heard her, Tom. She never cheated on her high school boyfriend, or on her jerk of a first husband, even though she was tempted. And I believe that she wouldn't have lied to me either.

"It's just ... well, it's kind of obvious. Were these condoms she was throwing out because she didn't need them any more? And if so, why throw them away now, nearly three months after she promised to stop fucking other guys? And where were the seven used ones?"

His face reflected the anguish in his voice. "Even if she HAS been faithful to me for those months, the condoms reminded me of all the years when she'd been spreading for ... when she'd been having sex with God knows how many men.

"The more I thought about it, the more I thought I could never feel confident that I was enough for her. Would she spend the rest of her life feeling confined by monogamy, wishing that somehow she could keep having her other lovers but restraining herself just so she wouldn't lose me? That idea hardly made me feel better!

"I stewed about it all night, getting more and more crazy. And at about 5:30 am I gave up—I said, that's it, I'm outta here. I packed a couple of bags, left my ring, wrote her a note, and got the hell out of Dodge."

We both sat for a moment, each of us lost in thought. Mark was tired and emotionally wrung-out. He'd been using his life-long strategy of pushing emotional troubles away rather than facing them, and it was tearing him to pieces.

It was obvious that he loved Leanne. And equally obvious that she loved him, that she was ready and willing to be the monogamous wife he wanted and needed. But I wasn't very confident that he could get past his agonized feelings about her sex with other men—certainly he wouldn't unless he started talking about them, with me and with her.

I said, "Mark, it sounds like you're in a lot of pain—but I don't hear you saying 'I'm done with Leanne, I want a divorce'. Is that right?

"No, I ...." He sat silently for a minute. "I love her. I've never stopped loving her. If only I could...I don't know, erase that scene from my brain..."

More silence.

"Listen, Mark—you experienced something traumatic, saw something that's very hard to see. But you know what? A lot of people have been through something like that in their lives, and gotten over it. Not right away, but in time.

"You're going to get over this, I promise. But not by pretending, not by acting as though it never happened. You have to talk about it."

He nodded, and said wearily, "I know that. I don't want to do it, but I know you're right. But I...."

He sat up straighter in his chair, and looked right at me.

"But I'm not ready yet to go through it all again with Leanne, okay? I'll come and see you, but ... but I still need some time away."

"That's fine," I said. "But do you think you could stay in touch with her, call her every couple of days? She's pretty frightened and upset, you know."

"I know—and I didn't mean to hurt her. Yeah, I'll call her."


My session with Leanne that Friday was difficult. I genuinely felt bad for her, because I had nothing much to offer beyond vague reassurances.

She was calmer—a little tearful, but at least not hysterical and terrified. Mark had called her after seeing me, and they'd talked for a few minutes. Apparently he had promised he wouldn't do anything crazy—no quitting his job, no moving out of town. But he wasn't ready to come back home.

We were going over it and over it, with her saying, "...and I'm just about at the end of my rope," when I interrupted her, firmly.

"No, Leanne, you're not. You're not nearly at the end of your rope."

She blinked at me.

"You have a husband you love, who loves you. Yes, you're going through a hard time right now—but he's not dead, he's not in the hospital in a coma, he hasn't hit you or filed for divorce or moved in with a girlfriend or done any number of awful things that husbands sometimes do.

"I know you're hurting—and so is Mark—but you need to maintain some perspective, okay?"

Leanne looked shocked, and then a little hurt. Finally she nodded her head.

"Okay, Tom. I guess I ... yes, you're right. It's lousy but it could be a lot worse."

She managed a weak smile, and I gave her a big one in return.

"Good! Now let's talk a little about being patient, and giving Tom some time—and about how you can take care of yourself through all this."


Mark's next appearance in my office the following Thursday was a revelation. He seemed relaxed, confident, and a couple of inches taller—not at all the tormented husband of a week before.

"Good morning, Tom, how are you?"

Even his voice was different—richer and more confident.

"Fine, Mark. You seem different today—things are obviously better. Want to tell me about it?

To my surprise he looked away from me for a moment, appearing a little embarrassed.

"Yeah, well I—" He cleared his throat. "You remember a story I told you when we first started coming here, about a diner on the South Side and a waitress named Liz, who tried to pick me up?

I nodded.

"Well, I ... on Friday I stopped in there for lunch again, because it was near a job-site, and Liz was there, as friendly as ever. Even more so, once she noticed I didn't have a wedding-ring on.

"She was flirting with me just like the first time, and I.... Well, I guess I said to myself, 'Why not'?"

"So I met her for dinner, after her shift, and we went to an Italian place I like, and then back to her apartment." He looked at me, a little defiantly.

"And I fucked her. We fucked. Not just once, either—pretty much the whole weekend."

I nodded but didn't comment, just let him tell it the way he wanted to.

"It was ... shit, Tom, it was terrific! Nothing like making love with Leanne, it wasn't making love at all. It was fucking, it was just sex, and it was fantastic.

"Liz is only 23, and she's slim and amazingly firm, and she just loves sex. We did it three times Friday night, and at least five or six more times the rest of the weekend. Except for getting something to eat, we weren't out of bed for more than a couple of hours until Monday morning, when I left early to get some clean clothes for work.

"The first time was very exciting and intense. I have to say I was worried—the first time in years with someone besides Leanne, and would I lose my erection? Could I make it good for Liz, or would I disappoint her?

"But there wasn't any problem at all. She was really eager, really vocal, and she seemed to love everything I did. She kind of screeches when she comes, and squeezes me with her arms and legs."

He grinned at me, pleased but a little embarrassed. "So it was easy to tell I was pleasing her, and I could just relax and enjoy myself.

"That's pretty much what we did, after the first time. Just relax and enjoy ourselves."

To my mild surprise, Tom continued to tell me about his weekend with Liz in considerable detail. Clearly he was going over it in his own mind, confirming to himself that he had performed successfully. He spoke for nearly ten more minutes, about the different positions they'd tried, what Liz had said, what had been the most fun for him.

Finally, anticipating a question I'd been thinking of asking, he said, "I'm not going to see her again, I don't think. At least I told her I wouldn't.

"I made it clear that I still love my wife, even though we're going through a tough time right now. And that I wasn't in the market for a new relationship.

"And she was totally cool about it. Liz is a long way from being ready to settle down. She said she'd just liked my looks the first time we met, and thought we might have a good time together. And man, we did."

He sat back, looking a little sheepish, and waited for me to comment. I marvelled at how resiliant a human being can be, and at how much can change in just a few days.

"It sounds like you had a great time, Mark, and I'm glad.

"So some of the sex with Liz was fast and intense, but some of it was more slow and relaxed, right?"

"Oh yeah, after the first time. On Saturday afternoon we had a real slow one, almost lazy—it probably lasted nearly an hour. She rode me for a while, and then we rolled over and spent a while doing it missionary."

"You're a smart guy, Mark, so I won't try to fool you about where I'm going with this. I'll bet that the sex that afternoon included a lot of kissing, a lot of relaxed, intimate talking and murmuring?

"And I'll bet that if Leanne had been watching you, she might have thought that you and Liz were truly lovers, not just a one-weekend fling?"

I saw his face change, and I quickly finished making my point. "In fact, don't you think that she would have drawn pretty much the same conclusions about you and Liz as the ones you drew about Leanne and Theo in your backyard?"

He looked at me for almost a full minute before he replied. Then, unwillingly, he said, "yes, I guess so."

I pushed him harder. "Imagine Leanne there, looking in through a window and seeing you with Liz. Doing it nice and slow—very affectionate I'll bet. Long kisses, smiles, her arms around your neck, maybe sliding her hands up and down your back. Her legs wrapped around you.

"How do you think that would have looked to her?"

Mark was fighting hard to keep his eyes on mine, but he couldn't do it. His gaze broke away from me and darted off to one side. He seemed to be blushing a little. He got out of his chair and started to pace around the room.

Without looking at me he said, "okay, maybe that's how it would have looked. But that wasn't how it was. It was sex, Tom. Fucking. Sweet, slow, fucking."

He turned and faced me. "With a nice, cute, somewhat interesting, very attractive blonde girl of 23—who I could no more fall in love with than I could fly to the moon.

"It felt great, okay? And at that moment, sure, I felt incredibly close to Liz. But it was just sex."

He kept looking at me. "And I can see where you're heading, of course. I'm supposed to shout 'Eureka!' and be cured, because what Liz and I did is just like what Leanne and Theo did, right?"

I waited, not saying anything. He started to pace around the room again.

"I get it," he said. "I don't like it, but I get it." He went back to his chair and sat down, looking at me with anger on his face.

"But that doesn't mean the feelings just melt away, dammit!"

"No," I said, "it's never that easy. Making a rational connection is one thing—resolving painful feelings is something else.

"But would you agree, Mark, that at least this gives us something to work with? A place to start?"


It was three more weeks before I had both Leanne and Mark in my office together again. We'd been taking it very slow, as I waited for Mark's emotional state to settle a bit.

At my suggestion he'd been calling Leanne regularly, and they'd been talking. He told her that he was all right, that he was looking forward to coming home and being with her again, but that he needed a little more time to himself.

Leanne wasn't happy with this, but at least she wasn't so terrified about losing him as she had been in the first few days after he walked out. She and I had spent our weekly sessions together talking about her feelings—how Mark's absence made her feel, what her hopes were for his return.

"I'm pretty surprised," she said at one point, "but Mark being gone doesn't make me the least bit interested in finding another partner—you know, for casual sex.

"All I want is him—I want sex, but I want it with him, the warmth and love and security all together. The idea of a hard cock attached to some anonymous stranger just seems so empty to me."

She looked at me with a slightly wondering expression on her face. "All these years of thinking about that constantly ... when I'd meet the next guy who would attract me, what the sex would be like. And now it's like that switch is just turned off."

She laughed. "I haven't even been masturbating—well, not very much. It may be several years too late, but my sexual feelings seem to be all tied up with loving Mark, and wanting him back.

"I just wish it hadn't taken all this ... all this SHIT for that to happen."

In my sessions with Mark we talked about sex. About sex with Leanne, with Liz, with various past women in his life. He talked about casual sex, about tender love-making with Leanne, about the difference between lust and the loving desire he felt for her. And we discussed confidence, and the difficulties he had maintaining an erection after he first discovered Leanne with Theo.

This might all seem like pretty obvious ground to cover—but Mark was so used to bottling up his feelings, especially the unpleasant or frightening ones, that it was hard work for him. He had trouble at first believing that he wasn't the only man with erection difficulties—or with confidence difficulties, for that matter.

And it was harder because he'd always been attractive, and an athlete; girls and women had been easy to come by. He was used to feeling good about his interactions with them, both in and out of bed. Unlike most men, he hadn't had much experience of insecurity or failure.

I asked Mark whether he wanted just to go home, when he was ready, or see Leanne first in my office. He thought about it for a week, and I was not surprised when he came back in and said, "I think I should meet her here, Tom. I think it ... it might be emotional, and I'm hoping it will be a little easier here."

Given how many unspoken feelings there were on both sides, I decided in advance that I'd have to choreograph their reunion pretty carefully. I asked Leanne to come ten minutes early, so they wouldn't bump into one another in my waiting room. When I opened the door to let Mark in, she was standing on the far side of the office, looking nervous.

Mark came in and went straight to her. "Hi honey," he said quietly, and put his arms around her. She held him tightly and started to cry.

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