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Any tips on working through massive guilt?


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Old 7th January 2018, 9:20 AM   #1
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Any tips on working through massive guilt?

I hope this is the right forum. For the past six months or so, I've been dealing with incredibly intense guilt following the breakup of my relationship. It's dominated my life and is hindering my ability to address the problems that caused the problem in the first place. I'm wondering if maybe any of you have had similar moments in your lives and how you've worked through them.

I'm not going to go into the story extensively, but basically at some point during my last relationship, my ex told me a story about past trauma and I reacted with a huge lack of empathy and respect. There were circumstances that made me confused about what she needed/wanted that day and my intentions were not malicious, but I can objectively look at my behavior and know that I did everything wrong and made her feel betrayed, uncomfortable, and hurt. She stopped seeing me for a week or so after, but we talked and got back together. She eventually broke up with me two months later.

As time has gone on, this day is literally the only thing I can think about when it comes to our relationship. I feel incredibly angry at myself, not only because I feel this day ruined our relationship and cost me a life with her, but also because I know how much it hurt and disappointed her. Despite how I acted that day, I loved her very much and had always tried to be the best partner/friend I could be. The cruel irony is that, at almost every other point during the three years I had known her, I had succeeded. To have failed in her miserably at the time it mattered most just makes me feel like an absolute monster.

I've been going to therapy twice a week since our break up, but hadn't been going during our relationship. Prior to getting together with her, I had only had one relationship, which I basically sabotaged due to heavy depression and anxiety. Afterwards, I went to therapy for five years before dating again and worked on strategies to manage my thinking and behavior. I committed everything I had to it and, though I had setbacks, I think I grew immeasurably over that time. By the time I entered into this relationship, I felt like I was prepared to be stable, supportive and logical. I made a list of all the things I was afraid of, and I made action plans for overcoming those fears so that the relationship could succeed. I felt like I was totally in control of my own psyche and really believed I could live up to my standards for a good partner. For a long time, I did.

Unfortunately, the new relationship presented a bunch of problems I couldn't have expected. Due to my partner's aforementioned trauma, she was often evasive and incommunicative. Throughout the whole relationship she regularly stood me up, refused to communicate and sometimes didn't even acknowledge me for days on end. She would insist I was going to leave her and didn't love her, and wouldn't believe me when I told her otherwise. She once stopped seeing me for three weeks after our first sexual encounter, which was my first sexual encounter ever. I told her I wasn't comfortable because I was worried I'd disappoint her and so, to have her vanish afterward, made me feel incredibly insecure, abandoned and scared. Around the same time, I learned I was losing my job and was in a car accident that totaled my car and almost killed me. I felt like everything was falling apart. My response to this was to try to push it to the back of my mind and keep adapting to her needs, which was a huge mistake.

This is not to put any blame on her or anyone else, but to outline the triggers to which I responded terribly. I think at some point I was so overwhelmed by my feelings of insecurity and fear in our relationship, that I was no longer thinking clearly. The day I reference at the beginning of the post - and many others - feel like a blur in memory. I was doing the best I could second to second, but my ability to be calm and think of things in a bigger, more overarching way had obviously eroded. I couldn't see it at the time, but I had lapsed back into the same anxious state of being that I had often succumbed to during my prior relationship.

I'm trying to work through this again, but it's harder this time. The guilt is a huge stumbling block. While I can identify my mindset and the factors that made me feel so frenzied psychologically, it still doesn't change how I behaved or that I hurt my girlfriend. My biggest goal in life was to not hurt her, and I did. That is blocking me from working on my own health.

I also feel discouraged because I felt like I had grown SO much as a person and progressed so much in my battle with anxiety and depression and then, when it came time for it to matter, I couldn't control my thinking. It makes me slightly less able to enthusiastically invest in the whole process.

Still, I have learned a lot from the mistakes I've made. I've learned that I need to be more honest about my feelings rather than trying to stay silent; that only contributed to my anxiety. I learned that I need to advocate for what I need more, so that I'm not always feeling totally dependent on other people for my happiness. I learned that I need to learn to recognize the feeling of being anxious, so that - even if I can't reason things out enough - I can at least extricate myself from situations where I'm not thinking clearly.

I want to work to implement these things, but I just can't get over the guilt. It always comes back to that day and the way I made my girlfriend feel. There's no way of fixing it, so I'm not really sure how to move beyond it and truly make the progress I need to in order to ensure nothing similar ever happens again.

My questions are:

- What are some strategies that you guys have found effective in dealing with extreme guilt. Particularly situations in which you are objectively at fault and there's no element of "looking at a different angle" that might absolve you from blame.

- What are some therapeutic techniques that you've found to be successful in dealing with intense anxiety or clouded thinking? I'm always on the lookout for strategies I can request from my therapist or that I might find in another therapist, if need be.

Thank you.
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Old 7th January 2018, 1:26 PM   #2
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- What are some strategies that you guys have found effective in dealing with extreme guilt. Particularly situations in which you are objectively at fault and there's no element of "looking at a different angle" that might absolve you from blame.

The world isn't black and white. It's all shades of gray so there are always hundreds of ways of looking at things even if you can't think of them all your self. Your no more than human, just like the rest of us and we all screw up. We all screw up all the time. All you can do is realize it, try not to next time. That's it. Anything else will destroy you and prevent you from living your life just like it already has. Beating your self for being an imperfect human is NOT your answer. It hasn't worked so far, it won't work in the furture either.

- What are some therapeutic techniques that you've found to be successful in dealing with intense anxiety or clouded thinking? I'm always on the lookout for strategies I can request from my therapist or that I might find in another therapist, if need be.

For me it's immersing myself into my hobbies. Spending a day or and hour or minute just thinking about what I want to design and make next.
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Old 7th January 2018, 2:27 PM   #3
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Counseling. Taking ownership AND APOLOGIZING.
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Old 7th January 2018, 2:34 PM   #4
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Counseling. Taking ownership AND APOLOGIZING.
I've already apologized many times. I apologized when it first happened, and again later. One the day we broke up, I apologized again, as it had been something that stuck with me for the duration of the relationship. I tried to be as contrite as possible and never placed responsibility on her. I owned it completely in all the apologies and told her how sorry I was to have hurt her.

I have this weird need to keep apologizing. I often want to reach out to her just to say "I'm sorry" again, but I know at some point repeated apologies become self serving and am trying to leave her alone to move on with her life.

I suppose beyond that, all I can do is keep going to counseling.
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Old 8th January 2018, 1:59 PM   #5
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I've already apologized many times. I apologized when it first happened, and again later. One the day we broke up, I apologized again, as it had been something that stuck with me for the duration of the relationship. I tried to be as contrite as possible and never placed responsibility on her. I owned it completely in all the apologies and told her how sorry I was to have hurt her.

I have this weird need to keep apologizing. I often want to reach out to her just to say "I'm sorry" again, but I know at some point repeated apologies become self serving and am trying to leave her alone to move on with her life.

I suppose beyond that, all I can do is keep going to counseling.
My friend, you are on your way!

I was where you are just a few days ago! Phew! I'm in total NC with my ex-wife now! I had to be the one to force her to let me go as she didn't want to pull the trigger. I feel horrible at times, but I did the best thing for both of us. She was in turmoil and not thinking straight. Wow, hardest thing to do to let go...

I learned through my therapy to apologize for what I am responsible for and not more or less. Don't take on more than you ought to. It makes it hard to recover at times and can create some resentment when you start thinking straight again.

Go into therapy or continue with it to get YOU ready for your next relationship. Don't make it about her. About you. Getting better!

Good luck! It is no picnic as you know!
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Old 9th January 2018, 6:37 PM   #6
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Hey man! Thanks for sharing here! I am sorry that you had to go through this!
- What are some strategies that you guys have found effective in dealing with extreme guilt? I would recommend that you work with your therapist in owning and apologizing for what you did that was your responsibility and not taking blame for things that you cannot control, like your GFs reaction to the situation and her current state. I know it can be hard but offering apologies and reparation is what you can do, the rest is on the other person. If you feel that, you need to explain yourself in a better way, maybe write a letter and keep some distance while she recovers as well. Every person heals in different ways and at a different pace

- What are some therapeutic techniques that you have found to be successful in dealing with intense anxiety or clouded thinking? Set some boundaries for yourself to be used when you are not feeling in control. Know your emotional triggers and try to avoid them to anticipate to your own behavior. Keep yourself active and busy and surrounded by supportive people that can hold you accountable to your own boundaries.
Move forward my friend!
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Old 9th January 2018, 8:09 PM   #7
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i live with anxiety and depression and therapy talk therapy in particular helped me.....i deal with guilt a lot......i have the habit of repeatedly apologising but in my case the situations and people i am apologising too dont warrant me apologising....i am an empath so i feel others pain....and then feel responsible for it...to fix it.......i apologise for others who dont apologise often knowing the person i am apologising to needs one but wont get it ..........

i am a walking sorry......:0)...the first thing i picked up from therapy is that i should not take on others and feel responsible for them and their well being that the people who don't give apologies ....i am not responsible for them either ...i should concentrate on myself more and not put myself down....instead of picking myself apart with all my flaws i should concentrate on whats good about me and work on making that good even better.

my ways are stemming from childhood you are in therapy.....you need to explore you......find out why you react the way you do ...as far as past trauma goes is there a defined way to react to someone telling you a traumatic experience that you don't relate too....you werent ready for it.....werent expecting it....i know you own it.......and that you reacted in a way that you feel wasnt right......thats good but what is also good is that you apologised.....some people wouldnt apologise or take ownership......and then some people wouldnt go ahead and go to therapy wanting to make themselves better peoples.....


bringing up past trauma there's a wrong time you know to say something right....there's a time to prepare to say something that's hard to deal with in that prep time....you think about how that person might react to your past......and be prepared either way...i have in my past some horrors.....and i have regretted disclosing that past in certain situations.....because sometimes i get that feeling of disbelief from people......which in turn ......makes me remember how i felt when disbelieved as a child and what happened...my mum had to verify i was telling the truth to my teacher so that this lady would stop spreading rumors about me being evil and a dirty minded girl...the damage however was done.......no one would even sit near me in class or give me lifts to school camp...but my teacher took me under his wing and i am so grateful he did,....

....there's a right time and a wrong time to disclose trauma.....and i have disclosed trauma when i shouldnt have ...my mum and dad tol dem not to tell when i was a child and they were right.....theres been times as an adult i have also regretted disclosing

one.... because i wasnt ready to share that and deal with the consequences of disclosing abuse.......and two because the people i shared it with werent ready to deal with the way my past made them feel and i wasnt ready to deal with disbelief.....still cant handle it......makes me feel horrible.....dirty......

i know you took ownership.......i don't feel your gf was ready to disclose her trauma to you either just like you weren't ready to hear it...now you have had time to think and you see how you reacted hurt her...do you realise thats a good thing....its personal growth on your behalf....


another thing i will say is that maybe your gf because of her past trauma hasn't dealt with it sufficiently to be in a relationship that is close...maybe she felt you were too close...you may have been the first person she has disclosed too.........it might not just be your fault the relationship didnt work.....

to deal with guilt.....keep working on yourself......stop taking full responsibility .....communication is a two way street...know that apologies you have given them you have recognised you rpart and done what you could let her heal enough and she will probably contact you again...

what i have found is guys feel helpless when you tell them trauma they dont know what to say or do .....guys tend to want to fix things and a woman with past trauma ...cant be fixed by them.....a lot of guys cant deal with on girls or women.....its alien to them .....anger can come out.....disbelief.....lots fo different emotions....my stepdad couldnt handle my trauma......i believe now he felt anger .....guilt...and how it ended up with was anger towards me.....he coudl hardly look at me...stopped hugging me....would brush me away if i went to kiss him good night and go enough...he became harsh with me....came down hard on me........from a girl of five.....this hurt me more than anything ever had or could.....
as a woman/.....

i understand him and i love him still...it wasnt his fault.......i see what was......your gf isnt here yet...at this place of knowledge and acceptance...and neither were you then or even now.....you werent ready to deal with it......


give yourself a break stop feeling guilt......theres nothing that will make the abuse or trauma go away or ever be forgotten...you cant fix her..it is with her for life ..its part of her past but it isnt who she is now.....i twill however affect the way she sees the world and reacts in it...how she reacts to triggers she might get...............keep up your therapy........and if you ever talk to this girl again.....and become her friend...encourage her to do some therapy herself even do it with her......i wish you well......deb
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Last edited by todreaminblue; 9th January 2018 at 8:11 PM..
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Old 9th January 2018, 9:14 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by todreaminblue View Post
i live with anxiety and depression and therapy talk therapy in particular helped me.....i deal with guilt a lot......i have the habit of repeatedly apologising but in my case the situations and people i am apologising too dont warrant me apologising....i am an empath so i feel others pain....and then feel responsible for it...to fix it.......i apologise for others who dont apologise often knowing the person i am apologising to needs one but wont get it ..........

i am a walking sorry......:0)...the first thing i picked up from therapy is that i should not take on others and feel responsible for them and their well being that the people who don't give apologies ....i am not responsible for them either ...i should concentrate on myself more and not put myself down....instead of picking myself apart with all my flaws i should concentrate on whats good about me and work on making that good even better.

my ways are stemming from childhood you are in therapy.....you need to explore you......find out why you react the way you do ...as far as past trauma goes is there a defined way to react to someone telling you a traumatic experience that you don't relate too....you werent ready for it.....werent expecting it....i know you own it.......and that you reacted in a way that you feel wasnt right......thats good but what is also good is that you apologised.....some people wouldnt apologise or take ownership......and then some people wouldnt go ahead and go to therapy wanting to make themselves better peoples.....


bringing up past trauma there's a wrong time you know to say something right....there's a time to prepare to say something that's hard to deal with in that prep time....you think about how that person might react to your past......and be prepared either way...i have in my past some horrors.....and i have regretted disclosing that past in certain situations.....because sometimes i get that feeling of disbelief from people......which in turn ......makes me remember how i felt when disbelieved as a child and what happened...my mum had to verify i was telling the truth to my teacher so that this lady would stop spreading rumors about me being evil and a dirty minded girl...the damage however was done.......no one would even sit near me in class or give me lifts to school camp...but my teacher took me under his wing and i am so grateful he did,....

....there's a right time and a wrong time to disclose trauma.....and i have disclosed trauma when i shouldnt have ...my mum and dad tol dem not to tell when i was a child and they were right.....theres been times as an adult i have also regretted disclosing

one.... because i wasnt ready to share that and deal with the consequences of disclosing abuse.......and two because the people i shared it with werent ready to deal with the way my past made them feel and i wasnt ready to deal with disbelief.....still cant handle it......makes me feel horrible.....dirty......

i know you took ownership.......i don't feel your gf was ready to disclose her trauma to you either just like you weren't ready to hear it...now you have had time to think and you see how you reacted hurt her...do you realise thats a good thing....its personal growth on your behalf....


another thing i will say is that maybe your gf because of her past trauma hasn't dealt with it sufficiently to be in a relationship that is close...maybe she felt you were too close...you may have been the first person she has disclosed too.........it might not just be your fault the relationship didnt work.....

to deal with guilt.....keep working on yourself......stop taking full responsibility .....communication is a two way street...know that apologies you have given them you have recognised you rpart and done what you could let her heal enough and she will probably contact you again...

what i have found is guys feel helpless when you tell them trauma they dont know what to say or do .....guys tend to want to fix things and a woman with past trauma ...cant be fixed by them.....a lot of guys cant deal with on girls or women.....its alien to them .....anger can come out.....disbelief.....lots fo different emotions....my stepdad couldnt handle my trauma......i believe now he felt anger .....guilt...and how it ended up with was anger towards me.....he coudl hardly look at me...stopped hugging me....would brush me away if i went to kiss him good night and go enough...he became harsh with me....came down hard on me........from a girl of five.....this hurt me more than anything ever had or could.....
as a woman/.....

i understand him and i love him still...it wasnt his fault.......i see what was......your gf isnt here yet...at this place of knowledge and acceptance...and neither were you then or even now.....you werent ready to deal with it......


give yourself a break stop feeling guilt......theres nothing that will make the abuse or trauma go away or ever be forgotten...you cant fix her..it is with her for life ..its part of her past but it isnt who she is now.....i twill however affect the way she sees the world and reacts in it...how she reacts to triggers she might get...............keep up your therapy........and if you ever talk to this girl again.....and become her friend...encourage her to do some therapy herself even do it with her......i wish you well......deb
Oh dear todreaminblue, thank you so much for this! You are a complicated and so beautiful of a person! I wish we were friends!
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Old 9th January 2018, 10:24 PM   #9
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Oh dear todreaminblue, thank you so much for this! You are a complicated and so beautiful of a person! I wish we were friends!
thanks simples......for your lovely thoughts and also for appreciating my post..i appreciate you too..deb
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Old 12th January 2018, 4:44 PM   #10
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Thanks for the posts everyone. I'm continuing therapy and have made a conscious effort to be more honest than ever before while there, in hopes making sure I can be a more empathetic and thoughtful person. I've always considered myself to be loving, caring and empathetic, but I was not any of those things that day. I was dominated by my own anxiety and wasn't thinking at ALL of what my girlfriend needed, beyond making minute by minute judgments that were totally inadequate given the complexity of the situation.

I would like to be more specific about the situation here, but I promised my ex on the day in question that I would never reveal details of what I was told, so I have to be vague in describing the fallout.

I have tried to be consciously more empathetic about people I meet in every day life - not only in a general sense (ie: acting out of homogenous "consideration" like holding doors and listening) but trying to think actively about how each person might be experiencing each and every interaction, including how people's needs and wants might change from moment to moment. During conversations I often try to put myself in the other person's head and figure out what they might need from me at the moment or how they might be feeling based on the circumstances we're mutually experiencing. I believe it's making me a better listener and more sympathetic to subtlety and communication cues that I haven't been great at picking up on before. I hope that if I keep reminding myself to do this, it will eventually become a habit and I will be able to better read people accurately.

I think I'm at a point where I'm sort of almost healed from the breakup itself, and that is why bettering myself has become a priority. I still miss and love my ex-girlfriend, but I think I'm able to move on now and see myself as being happy and healthy without her. When that happens, in my experience, you try to look at yourself in a way that is newly affirming and positive - but I find it hard to do that because this one day always sticks out in my mind. I feel like a horrible person, not because it (likely) cost me my relationship with her, but because it hurt her.

I think often of how she must have felt leading up to this day. I think of the nervousness she must have felt when thinking about telling me. I think of how her avoidance - which I mistakenly interpreted at the time as a judgment on me - was unavoidable because of how completely petrified she was of disclosing this information to me. I imagine how she likely talked it out with friends, and tried to believe in the most optimistic version of events. Then I realize how shattered and disappointed she must have felt when I failed her and behaved carelessly, brutishly and without true empathy.

For the past two months I've just been trying to feel and accept the weight of all these truths, but now I know I have to begin the work of figuring out how I could genuinely go into something with complete commitment to helping her and being there for her and somehow mess up so badly. I'm trying to bridge that gap with the use of therapy and a greater control of my own behavior, but I know there's still loads of work ahead.

I may never overcome the guilt, but I guess that's not the goal. The goal is to use the guilt as best I can. I need to not perceive the guilt as a burden, but rather as a marker of past behavior that is unacceptable moving forward, and therefore an opportunity for growth. What's in the past is in the past and, much as I would like to, I can't change that. I thank God for the guilt, then, because it is the only thing that may allow me to at least change my present and end up a better man somewhere down the road.
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Old 12th January 2018, 9:22 PM   #11
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Thanks for the posts everyone. I'm continuing therapy and have made a conscious effort to be more honest than ever before while there, in hopes making sure I can be a more empathetic and thoughtful person. I've always considered myself to be loving, caring and empathetic, but I was not any of those things that day. I was dominated by my own anxiety and wasn't thinking at ALL of what my girlfriend needed, beyond making minute by minute judgments that were totally inadequate given the complexity of the situation.

I would like to be more specific about the situation here, but I promised my ex on the day in question that I would never reveal details of what I was told, so I have to be vague in describing the fallout.

I have tried to be consciously more empathetic about people I meet in every day life - not only in a general sense (ie: acting out of homogenous "consideration" like holding doors and listening) but trying to think actively about how each person might be experiencing each and every interaction, including how people's needs and wants might change from moment to moment. During conversations I often try to put myself in the other person's head and figure out what they might need from me at the moment or how they might be feeling based on the circumstances we're mutually experiencing. I believe it's making me a better listener and more sympathetic to subtlety and communication cues that I haven't been great at picking up on before. I hope that if I keep reminding myself to do this, it will eventually become a habit and I will be able to better read people accurately.

I think I'm at a point where I'm sort of almost healed from the breakup itself, and that is why bettering myself has become a priority. I still miss and love my ex-girlfriend, but I think I'm able to move on now and see myself as being happy and healthy without her. When that happens, in my experience, you try to look at yourself in a way that is newly affirming and positive - but I find it hard to do that because this one day always sticks out in my mind. I feel like a horrible person, not because it (likely) cost me my relationship with her, but because it hurt her.

I think often of how she must have felt leading up to this day. I think of the nervousness she must have felt when thinking about telling me. I think of how her avoidance - which I mistakenly interpreted at the time as a judgment on me - was unavoidable because of how completely petrified she was of disclosing this information to me. I imagine how she likely talked it out with friends, and tried to believe in the most optimistic version of events. Then I realize how shattered and disappointed she must have felt when I failed her and behaved carelessly, brutishly and without true empathy.

For the past two months I've just been trying to feel and accept the weight of all these truths, but now I know I have to begin the work of figuring out how I could genuinely go into something with complete commitment to helping her and being there for her and somehow mess up so badly. I'm trying to bridge that gap with the use of therapy and a greater control of my own behavior, but I know there's still loads of work ahead.

I may never overcome the guilt, but I guess that's not the goal. The goal is to use the guilt as best I can. I need to not perceive the guilt as a burden, but rather as a marker of past behavior that is unacceptable moving forward, and therefore an opportunity for growth. What's in the past is in the past and, much as I would like to, I can't change that. I thank God for the guilt, then, because it is the only thing that may allow me to at least change my present and end up a better man somewhere down the road.
Well said. I feel for you, my friend. During the dissolution of my relationship with my ex, I closed her off in a manner that I truly regret today. But, as you say, the guilt is a reminder and perhaps a perpetual reminder or brand or our past. A past that needs to be acknowledged, taken ownership of and pushed behind us so that we are able to heal. I have a similar burden and deal with it daily in my own way. I wish I could change the past, but, alas, this is not possible. One of my saving graces is that my ex realizes that I am regretful and currently mourns with me in our mutual loss. We are both healing. This is very important for us both, of course.

BUT, I've said this before, DO NOT TAKE ON MORE RESPONSIBILITY AND THUS, GUILT, than you are entitled. Keep it objective and 'real.'
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