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Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
I think I have a disorder and I am desperate for some help. I developed a sexual affinity for my younger sister-in-law who lives with us.
I am happily married for 9 years with a loving wife and 3 sons. I fantasized about my sister in law and recently I attempted to peep on her while she was showering.
I got caught.
I have lost all my self-respect and dignity. I sincerely apologized to her and told her that, if she feels uncomfortable, she can stop living with us.
She said she will go back to her house and think about it since she was traumatized and has lost all her respect for me. I completely understand.
I am not a sex addict and I think I can change at will. It’s just that I am so ashamed of myself and I do not know what to do. I know if I tell my wife, it will be the end of my career and my happy marriage. BTW, my sex life with my wife is good.
I am in deep regret right now and cannot function properly.
I treated her like my own sister and family. It’s just that all our time together has made me have sexual intentions toward her. I get squeamish every time I recall what I did and how I betrayed everyone’s trust.
Thank you for your email.
I have to say from the outset that based on the little you have told us your reaction appears a tad extreme. You say you have lost all respect and dignity, you feel it is the end of your career and marriage. Admittedly peeping is very wrong yet this extreme reaction suggests that there is more at play here.
Of course, there is peeping, and there is peeping. For example, walking down the corridor and glancing into the bathroom hoping to catch sight of your sister-in-law (let’s call her Liz) without her clothes on is one thing; drilling peepholes into walls or setting up hidden cameras is quite another. Unfortunately you do not give any details but the strength of your reaction, not to mention Liz’s “traumatization”, suggests something more than a casual glance or two.
You have concluded that you have a disorder. This suggests that your desire to peep is not confined to Liz but extends to others as well. If this is so, you should definitely seek treatment because otherwise the problem will possibly dog you for the rest of your life.
As it is, you are already in trouble. Quite apart from having desires which apparently you are unable to control, you also have a sword of Damocles hanging over your head. Your sister-in-law could at any time reveal your behavior and denounce you to your wife (and others) though from your account she doesn’t sound like the sort of person who would use this advantage for her own benefit. This must however be a real predicament, particularly since it is entirely of your own making.
Now you are faced with deciding how to deal with your past peeping, how to resolve matters with Liz, and how to prevent recidivism. All require careful handling and you will need to give serious consideration to discussing your situation with your wife (our columns here and here may be of interest in this respect).
Wishing you all the best.
Thank you very much for your letter, though I found it quite difficult to answer. I think that is because I can’t quite get a handle on you.
As Mr Baer said: “Admittedly peeping is very wrong yet this extreme reaction suggests that there is more at play here,” so I can’t help wondering if all this: “I have lost all my self respect and dignity,” and “I get squeamish every time I recall what I did and how I betrayed everyone’s trust” and “I am in deep regret right now and cannot function properly” are all a ploy.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think you are doing it on purpose. But whether you are doing it on purpose or not, the result is still the same. … or rather would be if you had not written to a – ahem – clinical psychologist and her very sensitive and bright co-columnist.
You see, when you moan about how you cannot function properly because of the terrible thing you’ve done, the natural reaction is to jump in there as quickly as possible, reassure you that things (and you) are not as bad as you think, and be as gentle with you as possible because, “poor dear, he’s already judged himself so horrible, no one else needs to tell him what a horrible person he is.”
No one needs to tell you what you’ve done, but perhaps it’s time to focus on what responsible people do after they’ve done similar things. They make amends.
I commiserate with you, Dan, as many others will when they read about your plight. But in addition, it would be a good idea to start thinking about how moving on means not focusing only on your shame and guilt but making sure the people you’ve hurt (in addition to yourself) – your sister-in-law and wife – are also helped.
However, it is not only worth it, but imperative for healthy relationships.
In my opinion, two of the most helpful steps in AA’s 12 steps are:
- Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
- Step 9: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Right now, you have not made any attempts to make amends. But I have no doubt you will do so in the (hopefully) near future.
All you are doing when you tell your sister in law she “can stop living with you if she’s uncomfortable” is merely giving her permission to do what she would’ve done anyway, with or without your permission.
All you have done regarding your wife is to conclude that “if I tell my wife it will be the end of my career and my happy marriage”; unilaterally deciding that what is best for your marriage (and hers) is not taking responsibility for what you’ve done.
Some people may disagree with me about your telling your wife and they too may have valid points. But, in my clinical experience, because the “other woman” is her sister, you have no other option.
I will write more about this in a future clinical notes but, at the moment, please take a look at the links Mr Baer provided? At the very least, it might be an example of how we sometimes underestimate our wives’ capacity to understand, support and even forgive us.
I am sorry, dearest Dan, if my words are not what you expected. I do feel for you, honest. In fact, I feel for you so much that at the risk of coming across as judgmental and non supportive, I have called it as I see it.
Please write us again if you want to, but even if you don’t, please, please make sure that, in taking care of yourself, you also take care of others who have been hurt by your actions.
All the best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED.Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.