Monday, July 21, 2014

The Next Right Thing...Will Bring You Home

This...on Momastery:

In the midst of the pain, find some time to Be Still every day. Turn off the voices of friends and family and media and church and blogs and books and listen there for the voice of wisdom that arises in stillness. Because right now – making decisions is not about doing the right thing or the wrong thing. It’s about doing the PRECISE thing. The PRECISE thing is always incredibly personal and unique and often makes no sense to the people in your life. That doesn’t matter right now. You answer to no one except yourself in the quiet.Don’t get too excited, because this voice will never offer you a five year plan: just the Next Right Thing. It will never tell you what’s at the end of the path – just where to step next. Luckily – this is always good enough. The Next Right Thing – One Thing At A Time – Will Bring You All the Way Home.

Monday, July 14, 2014

More on Judgement...

"Secrets are the spots in our lives where we are most devoted to being preachy." ~Penelope Trunk 

Certain people in my life seem heavily invested in convincing me about their life choices. For instance, a stay-at-home mom I know frequently points out that the reason her children are thriving is because she's been so dedicated to their well-being, as if women who've chosen to work outside the home have not.
Another friend whose husband cheated (before I realized mine was too) defended her choice to divorce (though I wasn't judging her for it. I figured I'd divorce too) by citing all the ways in which it was impossible to reconcile with someone who had done such a thing. She later, in a moment of candor and after I'd decided to reconcile, admitted that she regretted the divorce.
In other words, the people who most vehemently defend their life choices are generally the ones most unsure about them. Please agree with me, their words say. Please tell me I'm doing the right thing. 
We all fear making mistakes. I think the so-called Mommy Wars are nothing more than women at their most vulnerable trying to convince themselves that their way is the best way. Those who feel safe in their choices don't have a need to convince anyone else. Those who trust their own experience – and response to it – aren't threatened by someone choosing differently.
Life is messy. Husbands do sometimes cheat again (or never stop). Ex-husbands sometimes turn out to have learned a painful lesson that positively impacts their future relationships. Careers don't work out. Kids rebel. For all our best intentions, life generally doesn't go exactly how we'd like it to go.
Which is why it's so crucial that we make our choices based on what feels best for us, regardless of what those around us are telling us. They aren't the ones who have to live our choices.
If we're unsure what's best? We need to give ourselves some time to get clear. Or at least clearer. It might help to solicit advice from those who've proven wise and compassionate.
But everyone else? Especially those who don't know us, or are most certain that they know how everyone should be living their lives – and that includes headline writers for tabloid magazines? Know that their secret is that they're terrified. Acting certain is nothing more than a masquerade for fear. Judgement is insecurity with a megaphone.
The truly brave among us admit that they don't know what's right for anyone but themselves...and sometimes not even that.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Other People's Judgement

...too often we aren’t willing to do the hard work of feeling where the weight of that pain resides in us. Instead, we get stuck, carrying around other people’s judgments of us and then having to figure out how to shield ourselves from this unhealthy residue left inside of us. This is the root of a lot of physical ailments – from weight gain, to anxiety disorders to chronic health conditions. The effort to silence our pain requires so much attention and, like a dog at our heels, continues to attract more relationships to us which confirm our worst fears about ourselves.
~Wendy Strgar, creator of Good Clean Love

I had to pick up my children at school just hours after having my suspicions of an affair confirmed by my husband. I felt shaky. Stunned. Nonetheless, I put on my Mommy mask, made small-talk with the teachers, deflected a casual friend's inquiry into whether I was "okay" (of course, just tired, I told her) and acted to my children as if it was just another normal day.
It's an act I've kept up to some extent every day since.
I have my reasons, of course. We all do. I wanted time to figure out what I was going to do. I didn't want to upset my young children. I didn't want acquaintances to know about my private life.
But mostly? I didn't want others' judgement.
Judgement never feels good. Some of us are, of course, more susceptible than others. Those who, like me, grew up in a shame-filled home seem acutely sensitive to the sting of judgement. But even the thicker-skinned among us aren't impervious.
D-Day, with its nuclear-bomb-like destruction, can make even the most confident of us feel as vulnerable as a newborn.
And it's then, when our very sense of reality is shaken, that judgement threatens us the most.
Judgement around infidelity is harsh. Our culture responds harshly.
Among the most vocal are those who've a) never experienced it personally but think they know all about it from watching Dynasty or b) those who have experienced it personally but never really healed from it. And those are the people who aren't the least bit shy about sharing their opinions.
And their opinions generally consist of extremes. Either you leave the cheating bastard or you pretend it never happened and "leave it in the past". It's judgement based on blame. Either he's a total jerk and you're better off without him, or you somehow brought this on and it's best to just move on from it.
But no matter that it's judgement based on little understanding of the dynamics of an affair (or of marriage, for that matter), it still hurts. It's an assault on our already shaken confidence. And, too often, it's judgement that silences us.
While I long for the day when we can discuss infidelity with the openness that we've come to discuss other challenges, such as cancer or even alcoholism (though there's still some shame around addiction), we're nowhere close right now. Infidelity's power remains its ability to evoke strong opinions that effectively shut down any possibility for discussion. We need nuance. The chance to say, here's my story. What's yours? and actually listen to each other's experience without judgement.
We're off to a good start on this site. I love the compassion with which so many of you support each other's experiences.
But we need to be able to take that compassion into the larger world. And to respond to others' judgement with trust in our own experience. Maybe not right away, not right when you're feeling your most vulnerable. But someday, when you can respond to that "once a cheater, always a cheater" with a confident "not true. At least not for me."
In the meantime, try and recognize others' judgement for what it is: fear, an unhealed wound, false bravado, emotional disconnect. A way to silence their own pain.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Guest Post: When He Cheats with Your "Best" Friend

A woman recently posted about how to deal with the pain of her husband's affair with her (former) best friend.
Iris, who many of  you have come to know on this site for her compassion, wisdom, and humour (in equal parts), offered up such a lovely reply that I asked to post it here for everyone. Iris graciously said yes.

Dear Doubly Betrayed Wife,

How would it be if people – even a couple of people who know both of you – did know what happened?

When this happened to a friend of mine involving a close family friend of long-standing my friend told mutual acquaintances why the two couples would no longer be socialising. She wondered what reasons they'd think up for a sudden split and she preferred to be honest. It did mean that she had a lot of support from those around her, rather as if there had been a bereavement. And many of us were able to support her and her husband when we saw how remorseful he was and how hard he worked to understand his behaviour and make amends. There will always be casualties as far as friendships go when betrayals like this happen, but asking for help is one way of finding out who your real friends are.

Make sure you're not isolated. Remember these were your husband's choices – they don't reflect poorly on you. I know it can feel as if they do. 

As for the best friend – there can hardly be a worse betrayal of trust. We expect so much more from the friends we share our lives with as mothers. I would hate her too. But hate is such a heavy burden for you to carry. It doesn't help that there's a commonly held idea that somehow only the cheating spouse is to blame, as if we shouldn't have anger toward someone who has violated our boundaries in the worst possible way. In your case she knows intimately the children who will suffer through her behaviour. We're supposed to be somehow 'dignified' about this.

One of the five precepts of mindfulness is helpful here (and mindfulness generally can be very helpful – as someone who breaks the other precepts by drinking alcohol, eating meat and killing clothes moths, so don't worry about MY spiritual superiority). This is by a lovely man, a Buddhist monk called Thich Nhat Hanh:

'Sexual expression should not take place without love and commitment. Be fully aware of the sufferings you may cause others as a result of your misconduct. To preserve the happiness of yourself and others, respect the rights and commitments of others. 

It is quite clear. This is not just Buddhist; it is universal. It is the right medicine for our illness. When we and our children take the precepts, it means we accept the medicine to protect us.'

'I will do everything in my power to prevent couples and families being broken by sexual misconduct'. 

We should all 'respect the rights and commitments of others' out of basic decency, and we should ask that others do so too. It needn't be a question of outdated morality suggesting property rights, but an understanding that we're all responsible for each other and especially for the well-being of children. I see it as a humanist stance. Be confident that there's nothing wrong with your continued suffering, it's understandable, and extend compassion to yourself for being placed in a position (like so many others) of feeling anger toward someone you trusted and liked. You didn't seek out this hatred.

She has caused you a great deal of pain but much more damage to herself. Even if no one points out to her how badly she's behaved (and personally I don't think that would be a bad thing) she will have to carry the consequences of her actions for the rest of her life. No karma required. You can let your anger wear itself out with time and you can be stronger trusting that for all the faults you do have, as we all do, you haven't abandoned integrity and kindness. She will have to work very hard to recover the integrity she's lost, whether she understands this now or has yet to realise. I wouldn't want to experience such remorse. 

I suppose the bottom line is that you can't make yourself forget (I think I would move house, but that's another issue). You have to learn to hold yourself through this ordeal, to breathe through it, to 'stay in your back' and not lose yourself. It could be the making of you. 


Thursday, June 5, 2014

News Alert: Life Isn't Fair (and the sooner you accept that, the faster you can heal from infidelity)

I was like a five-year-old whose friend had broken my favourite toy and not been punished for it. "But it's not fair!" I would wail after discovering my husband had cheated with a woman who worked for him. "I don't deserve this!" I would moan.
I'd like to go back in time and smack myself. Or introduce myself to the millions who have endured far worse (Holocaust, Rwanda, sadly the list goes on). Damn right, life's not fair. What made me think it was?
But that was the premise under which I operated: If I did things right (see the makings of a control-freak here?), life would unfold perfectly and predictably. I would never be hurt. I would never be scared. I would die happy, surrounded by my loving family who appreciated every single time I sacrificed my own desires for them.
Clearly my life plan had a few flaws.
For starters, life isn't safe. It's something I knew all too well, thanks to a childhood populated by parents who could barely hold themselves together let alone offer me any guidance. Because I felt so out of control as a kid – hurtling from crisis to crisis created by my parents – I came to crave it. At the same time, I felt somewhat stifled by it and it took me some time to recognize that stability is not the same as stagnation.
But once I'd settled in to stability – my mother was no longer drinking, I was married to a man I loved and who I believed adored me, I gave birth to three healthy children, I was moving ahead in my career goals – I realized that it allowed me to take greater chances. Without feeling as though I had to be constantly vigilant against potential threats to my well-being, I could focus on other things. My family, the work I loved, friendships.
I'd worked hard for my peace of mind.
I'd battled demons to feel safe.
I hadn't bargained for the fact that my husband had his own demons to slay. Demons he had always insisted (and I'd believed him!) didn't exist.
Not fair? Damn right it wasn't fair.
Of course, life never is. Life doesn't operate on a quota system, whereby we each get our share of pain and disappointment.
Instead, we each, to some degree, create our life path. And sometimes – too often for my taste – horrible things happen to people who don't deserve it. Just ask the parents of the kids at UCSB after the recent shooting.
The quicker we can recognize that life's not fair, the quicker we can move toward healing. It's about, as Laura S. so wisely put it in this post, asking not "why did this happen to me?" but "why did this happen?" It's about curiosity not victimhood.
It's about acknowledging your pain without feeling persecuted. Because, as crazy as it sounds, affairs aren't really personal.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Infidelity as Retrauma: Why some of us take longer to heal

Over the five years I've had this blog and the hundreds (thousands?) of letters I've received, I've noticed that though many of us experience the same emotions post-betrayal, we don't all heal equally. Put another way, some of us are harder hit by infidelity than others.
That's not to say any of us get off easy. Infidelity is excruciating. It is to say, however, that some of us are devastated. And others of us are absolutely crippled by it.
My own working theory is that, for those of us who brought certain wounds into our marriage, infidelity re-opens those wounds. And we all know that re-opened wounds take longer to heal.
In my case, having grown up with alcoholic parents in an emotionally unsafe home, marriage (specifically my husband) became my safe place. I believed that I'd created a safe zone in a highly unsafe world. I let my guard down. Whew.
And then...
I wasn't safe at all, I found out. The guy I thought had my back was cheating behind my back. And all those feelings I thought had been exorcised – my anxiety, my shame, my fear of abandonment, my deep deep hurt from all those broken promises – came back with a vengeance. I couldn't trust anyone, I deduced. But underneath it all was that childhood conviction that I wasn't worth loving. I wasn't enough.
Turns out my working theory is supported by some pretty smart people. Shirley Glass, who can be credited with writing the definitive guide to affairs, Not Just Friends, has this to say about it:
Individuals who did not develop basic trust during childhood are especially vulnerable to deception by a loved one. Infidelity brings back all of those childhood wounds for a person who was lied to or whose parents made promises they didn't keep. Those who were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused in previous relationships may be retraumatized when someone they have counted on betrays their trust and dependency. Judith Herman writes, "Trauma forces the survivor to relive all her earlier struggles.... Traumatic life events, like other misfortunes, are especially merciless to those who are already troubled."
Wow. And yeah.
We might have thought those wounds were healed but if we're so destroyed by infidelity that we immediately go the "we're not worthy" mindset, then we had just done a really good job of dressing those wounds up as healed.
Thanks to infidelity, they're once again exposed to us. And though they might have been healing, we might have been on our way to that magical place called "healed", infidelity rips them wide open and we're left, again, with evidence of our injury.
I had been in therapy. I thought I'd slain those particular dragons. Turns out, I'd kept the dragons at bay but there were very much alive. And at the first sign of a crack in my own armor, they were back, with their dragon eyes of judgement, and their dragon fire of shame and disgust.
The dragons, of course, are my own worst critics. The dragons, of course, are me.
My conversations with myself were more like indictments about everything I was doing wrong, from the careless remark I made at a cocktail party to the dust behind my refrigerator.
But I didn't recognize my own pain. I thought I'd healed.
I thought healed looked like a perfect marriage and well-behaved children and lots of friends and a busy social life. Add in a successful writing career to show the world how accomplished I was. Turns out "healed" looked an awful lot like perfection. And perfection, I've come to learn, looks an awful lot like a pretty band-aid over a festering wound of shame.
Perfection covered a need to prove to the world that "see, I am worthy! I am smart. I am pretty. I am successful." Thing is, if I'd actually believed those things, I wouldn't have needed to prove it to anyone.
There are gifts in betrayal, if we're willing to look for them. For me, the retrauma of infidelity revealed just how shaky my sense of worth was – a worth based on achievement. Consequently, learning how to be kind to myself, which was nothing I'd ever allowed myself before, has transformed me.
I now know that healed is compassion and kindness and lack of judgement. Healed is about giving myself permission to be who I am, flaws and all. More than that, it's about giving everyone else permission too. It's knowing that I'll never be fully healed and that's okay because none of us are.
It's about forgiveness. Of those who've hurt me. But mostly, it's about forgiveness of myself.
Which is pretty much the same thing.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Letter to a Betrayed (and Abandoned) Wife

A BWC member recently posted on one of the Share Your Story pages. She's experiencing what so many of us experience, and she asked a question that so many of us ask: When does the crazy end?
Here's a part of her letter...

I've read so many blogs and boards about giving things time. I know time is the only thing that will work but I feel like I may never heal. I am afraid I am always going to be this new version of myself, the bitter, angry, b**** who is depressed one minute and mad the next. I want my WH to feel the pain I feel, to understand the devastation and loss I feel. He doesn't and I am afraid he never will. I'm afraid there will be no consequences for him- he gets to be happy and move on. Everyone keeps telling me that his day will come, he will regret this, he will someday realize what he is throwing away. But, I don't believe it. I don't think it will ever happen and that makes me mad too. Wouldn't it be nice if all adulterers got what they 'deserve?' If they had to feel the crap we feel?? I like to think it would help me feel a bit better if he had consequences too. I have to deal with the consequences of HIS actions, HIS choices; it would be nice if he had to deal with them too.
I keep praying for strength. I keep praying that God will hear me and see my suffering and bring me out of this darkness. Thanks to everyone else who have shared their stories- it brings me comfort knowing I am not the only one dealing with this and helps me feel a bit 'normal' and not so much like a crazy person. When does the "crazy" end??

...and my response:
Dear "Crazy",
Let me start by telling you how sorry I am for what you're going through. Here you are with two young children and a husband who's suddenly AWOL. Your poor heart has been through the wringer.
You're right that you're having to deal with the fallout from HIS choices. This absolutely isn't fair. And that notion of "fair" was what tripped me up so often in the early days. "But this isn't FAIR," I would scream, night and day. Nothing about betrayal is "fair" so the sooner you can stop obsessing about what you can't control, the sooner you can move on to what you can control, which is yourself.
Yes, you need to give yourself time. This has been a huge shock to your head, your heart...and the practical part of your life (bills, mortgage, how you spend your time...). You need to grieve the loss of the life you thought you had. Anger is a pretty standard emotion for what's happened. But I want you to think about what's behind that anger. Anger, as my therapist often reminded me, is a secondary emotion. It generally masks hurt and fear, and I would guess you're feeling both in spades. The thing is, hurt and fear make us feel vulnerable. Anger makes us feel powerful. It's an illusion though. Anger isn't power. And usually the only person we hurt with anger is ourselves. So exorcise it. Get it out. Punch a pillow, take kickboxing, go for a run, park your car somewhere in the country and scream until you're hoarse. Write a horrible scathing letter to your jerk husband and his icky girlfriend (don't send it).
And then...let it go. Do this as often as you need to. The anger won't disappear. But it will slowly dissipate. It will slowly give way to what's beneath it -- the deep hurt you feel from what you perceive as his rejection of you, and the fear of what's ahead. Both are legitimate emotions that all of us feel post-betrayal. But, I want you to know, you can get through this. We want to help you get through it without turning into a bitter shell of yourself.
Your prayers for strength are working, though you may not be able to see that yet. You are strong. You are upright. You are taking care of your children. That in itself shows Herculean strength. Getting out of bed takes strength. Acknowledge yourself for the strength you're showing. Be kind to yourself. None of this is easy. Acknowledge that right now, just getting by is enough.
Focus on you and take the focus on him and his "new" life. Nothing is as good as it appears on the surface. No matter how it looks on the outside, he has left his wife and his babies. That can't possibly feel good. He has chosen escape rather than facing his issues. Lots of people do, through affairs, addiction, distraction. It seems easier in the short term but will undoubtedly bite him in the ass as time moves on. No matter, that's his problem, not yours.
Figure out what you want going forward. You're going to lose parts of your life that you enjoyed, but you can gain things you never thought of. Make a list of all the things he did that drove you completely crazy...and take a moment of gratitude for no longer having to deal with it. 
I would strongly urge you to find a therapist to help you process your grief and loss and guide you forward.
Your husband won't understand your pain but I assure you he isn't "happy" in the way you think he is. He has to live with himself as a liar and a cheat. If he's the kind of guy who thinks that's okay, then he's NOT the kind of guy you want in your life. He might regret it, he might not. But by the time he figures that out, you'll likely be able to see him for the half-man he is, who runs from his emotions rather than deals with them honestly and with integrity.
As so many of us discover, the karma bus will hit him...but we don't always get to be around to see it happen.

Please know that the darkness doesn't last forever. Begin to pay attention to those tiny slivers of light. The sound of your children's laughter. A friend's kindness. The taste of coffee in the morning. The women here who share your pain and want you to know that you'll get through this, wiser, stronger, more compassionate. That your children will benefit from your strength. That you'll teach them to keep their hearts open but share their hearts only with those who respect them and show them kindness and compassion.
"Crazy" will end the day you recognize that you're just fine. That you've always been fine. That even though you've experienced deep betrayal, you're fine. That even on days you thought you couldn't face on more minute, you're fine.

Him? Not so fine.
I think adulterers, those who never acknowledge or grow from their betrayal, do get what they deserve. Relationships devoid of true commitment. Never knowing the deep satisfaction of fighting through hell and coming out the other side or the peace that comes with integrity and self-respect. They settle for a life of always running – from commitment, from pain, from loss, from themselves. Sounds exhausting to me. Frankly, it sounds crazy.



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