Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Forgiveness is the Wrong Word. How about "transformation"?

A recent radio program about the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa got me thinking about the idea of forgiveness.
A woman, involved in the TRC related to apartheid told a reporter that she was able to come to a place of empathy for her former enemy because he had shown remorse and was as disgusted by his actions as others were. In that moment, she said, he stopped being an "other" and become "one of us".
Forgiveness, she said, was the wrong word. Instead, she called it "transformation".
That's what we're after, isn't it?
We aren't after apologies and promises, though they don't hurt if they're heartfelt. We're after the point where our husbands are as disgusted by what they did as we are. As disappointed in themselves.
We don't want them crippled by it, we want them inspired by it. To be better. To learn from this.
It's within that disgust and disappointment where transformation occurs. It's the place where the seed is planted in soil rich with the determination that allows them to choose another path. To be a better person.
I'm always a bit nervous when I use terms like "better" or "compassion" because it's too easy when you're the betrayed wife of an unfaithful spouse, to fall into the trap of believing yourself ethically superior. To position yourself as someone who would "never" do such a thing, who can't imagine making that choice.
And by doing that, we position our spouses as forever after an "other". Even if they use their painful choices to transform themselves, we nonetheless hold ourselves on the moral high ground.
But as our South African teacher is trying to explain to us, our goal is to invite the transgressor to be "one of us". To release any moral hold on him. To celebrate his transformation as integral to our own.
It's the only way, I believe, of creating a truly healthy relationship going forward. As long as we hold on to forgiveness as if it's a magic wand that only we are capable of using to wipe the slate clean, we remain in a power position, which puts our spouse in a subordinate spot. It's a relationship that's ultimately going to fail. Or at least fail to make each partner happy.
And though I believe that, as betrayed partners, we get to dictate the terms of healing because it is, after all, our healing, I nonetheless think it should be our goal to create space for our partners to become exactly that – our partners.
It's the only way to rebuild a relationship of equals. A relationship in which it's acknowledged that none of us is infallible. That even people deserving of our love can make incredibly hurtful choices.
It's the only way to achieve transformation. His and our own.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cheating...ugh: Here's what you need to know

This is another post by BWC member Steam. As usual...she's nailed it.

by Steam

If you are here, it probably has happened to you, maybe you just found out.
Well..there are some things you might not believe, but you need to know.

You are going to be okay and this was not your fault.

Your husband may come around or he may not but you are going to be okay.
Not today,  probably not tomorrow but one day you will be okay. No, even better than okay.

You don't have to believe it, how can you believe it?  I remember how you feel.  
You feel that you will never get over this, never get through this, never ever ever. How can you?

But if you work with the pain and not against the pain eventually, eventually the pain will give up, having nothing to resist. Maybe pain eventually gets bored and moves along and something else, something better, will take its place, for the most part.
Little by little by little.

Pain does one thing better than anything else.
It breaks your heart wide open.
And there will be room for more and better and well-earned things. Rich beautiful things that belong in there, that might have been trying to get in there for a very long time but you thought your heart was full enough.
A heart can never be too full.
Good things can move into an open heart even if it is stomped on, bleeding and in pieces. Good and beautiful things help it piece back together. Stitch by stitch, second by second, tear by tear. 
It will heal.  
You will heal.

When you work out, your muscle tears a bit and it is rebuilt bigger and stronger, thanks to scar tissue. 

Your heart, I believe, metaphysically does something similar.
You don't feel it now, you only feel the burn but something is happening, something good.

Your fault? No. I don't care what you did. Unless you chose a woman, got her number, got an address, drove your husband over there, made him get an erection and then you inserted his penis somewhere in her body, you did NOT drive your husband to an affair.

Okay? Got that?

I don't care if you put on 50 pounds, let the house fall apart, ignored him, were a bitch, spent too much time at work, turned your attention to the kids, didn't shave your legs every day. Forgot to be his girlfriend and laugh at all his jokes.
You did not make him have an affair.
Maybe you thought you had the perfect relationship and you were both happy! 
Well that sure didn't make him have an affair!

What he should have done is talk to you. 
Sure, okay you should have been talking too.  
We all should have been talking, I am guilty as charged but we weren't talking, at least not about the right, important things.

You are in the same marriage as he is but you didn't cheat, right?
You are in the exact same marraige!
So your marriage did not drive anyone to an affair. 
You did not and I did not have the affair.
He did.
He chose it.
He should have talked to you but he chose not to.  
Nope. He took the easy way out to avoid talking.

Talking honestly is a LOT harder than pulling your pants down for a stranger.
Try it sometime, some time later – the honest talk part, not taking your pants off.

It's hard but you can do it because you are strong.
You had the strength and smarts to Google and find this place, to remember how to use a computer. You got off the floor. That was a good start.
You are so strong.

So, again, look at you!
You'll be ok and this was not your fault.

These are hard concepts, I know.  
And I don't know why it is so hard to get through our heads.  

But it's been said on this site before –  and in a million other places we did not know existed until right now in these terrible times of agony – we did not put a gun to our husband's head and force him to go have sex somewhere else.

The more you read, share discreetly and discover. The more you learn, the more you will see, and hopefully you will hear it from your husband...this was not your fault.
And no matter how you feel right now, my bet is, you don't feel good.
You don't have to believe it but try just a little
You will make it through and you will be okay.
And it was not your fault.
You had a heart big enough to love a flawed person.
So did he and hopefully he remembers that too.
And hopefully he tells you that when you get to talking honestly again or for the very first time.

I promise you. Work at it, work with it, and you will be okay.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pain: Learning to shut the hell up

...Pain comes from the darkness
And we call it wisdom. It is pain.
~Randall Jarell, from 90 North

It can feel an affront, in the wake of discovering a spouse's betrayal, to be offered up platitudes. "We aren't given more than we can handle," we are told by well-meaning friends. "There's a reason for everything," we hear, knowing full well that the reason that particular armchair philosopher has in mind isn't that our husband is a morally-challenged idiot. Or, perhaps you're told, that within all this pain is wisdom. Um...gulp...that one might have been from me.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran "Pastrix" who has this to say about platitudes:
"...when I've experienced loss and felt so much pain that it feels like nothing else ever existed, the last thing I need is a well-meaning but vapid person saying that when God closes a door he opens a window. It makes me want to ask where exactly the window is so I can push him the fuck out of it."
Feel familiar?
Bolz-Weber goes on to explain, however, what she's figured out from working as a hospital chaplain, and being with people when they're in the worst pain of their lives – losing a child, a parent, a spouse:
 "...when...someone says something senselessly optimistic to you, it's about them. Either they want to feel like they can say something helpful, or they simply cannot allow themselves to entertain...pain, so instead they turn it into a Precious Moments greeting card.... As a chaplain, I felt that people really just needed me to mostly shut the hell up and deal with the reality of how painful it all is."
It's something so few of us understand about pain until we've experienced it ourselves. The cancer diagnosis. The death. The betrayal. And even then, some of us never learn. The continue to try and soothe us with well-meaning advice. Or quote-of-the-day wisdom.
Help, as my counsellor loved to remind me, is the sunny side of control. And control, many of us haven't quite yet learned, is what anxious people cling to because the alternative – that we're all just hanging on for dear life – is just too much to bear.
Those of us experiencing it right now? We don't expect others to fix it. We know they can't. But so much of the pain of betrayal is feeling as though we need to hide it.
Which is why those friends – in real life and in the virtual world – who can simply be with us in our pain are so valuable. They see us. Our pain is visible to them. And they respond not necessarily with advice (unless requested) but with compassion. They remind us gently that we won't always feel this way. They nudge us toward the tiniest bit of light.
As for me, I'll continue to write my experience. Some of what I've learned will sound like bullshit to you. Feel free to skip past it. As always on this site, take what works for you and leave the rest. There is no right or wrong way toward healing. There is only the way that takes each of us out of pain. If you want to share your own path, we're all ears.
Now I'll "shut the hell up" and listen.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Guest post: A Post-Betrayal Guide to Surviving the Holidays (or Just Surviving)

"Steam" often comments on posts and shares her hard-won wisdom with others on this site. She's got such compassion and common sense that I invited her to contribute more regularly. Here's her inaugural post:

There are many of us on this site who have been in this state of knowing what we know for many years; there are others, like me, approaching my first holiday season armed with a lot more sad knowledge than I had last Christmas. I am prepared in case I take a nosedive but I don't feel like I will.

It seems, though it might just be that I notice, that a lot of us find out about our spouse’s affair close to the holidays. Why, I don't know (there is a lot I don't know): new phones? New devices left unlocked? Too much holiday cheer leading to carelessness on the cheaters’ part or boldness on the part of the OW.

With a new year looming and, for many, without the “happy” to preface it, maybe it's time for a refresher course. Or for those just finding out…a how-to guide. Survival 101.
Not definitive, and your suggestions and thoughts are totally welcome.

You, in the moment of discovery, may stay focused in the moment, that moment your knees buckled and you ended up on the floor, or you opened your mouth but no sound came out and you quite literally could not breathe...or you may have immediately jumped to thoughts of your life alone, your first homicide (kidding) your 2nd (kidding) and how you are going to make though it at all – so let’s just look at what you can do to get through right now, and then maybe one more day.

This is how it happened for me: My H had gone to the store and I needed to download photos onto the laptop we were sharing (as I spent most of my time with a tablet.) As my photos were downloading, many many others were quickly drawn from the laptop into the photo program I was using. Due to the nature of my H's business, none of them really shocked me –they were going by me at a rapid blur. It was logging onto my OWN Facebook page to post when a dropdown menu appeared with a name I had never seen before, and a saved password. That led me to snoop for the first time ever, in 14 years, only to find an e-mail under the same name also with a saved password. Wow, was he screaming to get caught or what?

I demanded, within one hour of finding out (longest hour of my life waiting for him to get back) that my H write ONE last e-mail to the woman he cheated with. Telling her that I knew (she didn't even think he had a GIRLFRIEND) and that this was OVER, he was deleting the e-mail account (which he did) and that I would have passwords to all of his accounts online (which I did). Ha! I'm writing like I did this all very rationally. I am leaving out my complete and utter insanity, profanity, slaps, threats of destruction of the laptop held high over my head.

Do Not Expect to Think Rationally
 What do you do if your husband is not ON HIS KNEES begging forgiveness, crying, swearing he never meant to hurt you, telling you he wasn't thinking clearly? I don't know. That was not my experience, but let’s just say, by the time he got home, I all but had his bags packed, I was ready to kick him out without a doubt. I had made arrangements in my head already that I would without a doubt, have carried out that day. I also would have taken his phone, work laptop and Kindle. 

This was a deal-breaker for me. It might not be for you. But if I thought for one second that he was going to spend one more minute online with her as he had that last two months, he was not going to do it while he was under the same roof as me.

What do you do then – what do you do after that first fitful night when you sleep or you don't, and the sun rises and you know it was – sigh – not just a bad dream.
I wish there was a one-size-fits-all fix.
I guess much of your survival depends on your situation.

Excuse yourself
Do you have kids? Is there ANYWAY at all you can fake the flu, and give them to a relative for a day or two? I really don't know because I am not a mother. 

Maybe being mom can help you feel grounded and give you something to keep you out of your head and all of those horrible thoughts that you cannot control.
If you have those thoughts, BTW, you are completely normal. 

I don't have kids, but I faked the flu anyway. I looked like HELL frozen and then boiled over. My eyes were puffy, there was no way to hide the history of tears and sleepless nights. So I said I had the flu. Everyone bought it.
I canceled New Year’s plans. I could not be festive.

While I was breathing via hyperventilating, I really did have to stop and really breathe – those big breaths everyone tells you about? Take them. 

Do your best to count to 10 before lashing out because chances are good you are going to lash out. I was lucky if I got to 3, but at least it got me somewhere.

You might think about next week or six months from now but it's really not the time. You will have emotions you did not know you had in you and just making it through the day, or the next hour should be your biggest concern.

You might want to stay away from the “once a cheater always a cheater” websites. I was angry as HELL and I could not even tolerate them THEN. I had enough anger to last my own lifetime and I did not need more. 

Avoid most 'reformed cheaters' websites, although you might be surprised at what you learn – that cheaters have a LOT of shame and remorse, they even take responsibility and don't blame their spouse but you might also read accounts of how much a cheater misses their co-cheater, and that's about the last thing you want to hear. You have enough fuel in your fire already. And watch out if you Google celebrity cheater’s names in the comments sections – EVERYONE has an opinion on EVERYTHING and it was probably, in the end, Obama or Bush's fault anyway. :o)
Download or buy a copy of “After theAffair” and start reading NOW.

Come to websites like this and realize you are NOT alone. It's amazing the compassion you might feel for others. It's nice to know you can feel something other than anger.

Take your anger and do something with it, even if it means just writing it down. Journal your broken heart out...put that unanswerable question on there – the WHY in big bold letters. Maybe when you get your emotions down on paper they will come to you, the questions you really want to ask.

 This next one is going to seem impossible... 

Be nice to someone
I don't know where it came from but suddenly I was connected to the great suffering of people around the world (I know – hard to believe there was suffering greater than mine) and realized that I never knew really what was going on with perfect strangers, acquaintances and even friends.

When I left my house after two days, it was the night of New Year’s day and I saw a few acquaintances coming into a restaurant, each alone, where I had agreed to go out to dinner with my husband (after of course, spending New Year’s Eve NOT celebrating). I had the urge to go over and wish every one of them a happy new year as they came in. These were all acquaintances, not people I would normally hug. I still don't know what they thought about it or me, but I remember a huge sense of gratitude that I was able to give something when I felt that I had nothing at all to give.

Again, it was a horrible way to spend the remainder of a vacation, but my D-Day was during a vacation, so I was able to sleep in and answer to no-one.
Grab sleep whenever you can.
I can't give medical advice of course but there are over-the-counter remedies that can help. I was fortunate enough to have the Big Guns due to a slight insomnia issue. They are not Ambien but I will add, do NOT try to stay awake on Ambien. You will most likely live to regret your actions, and you have enough going on. Please be careful how you use any medication as the temptation to overuse them was incredibly strong.

Be careful who you tell
I wanted to shout it from the rooftops! I wanted to tell his family! I wanted to tell my FRIENDS. Selfishly though, I worried that they might secretly wonder just what it was that I DID to “drive” him to this.
That ended up being a great self-defense mechanism because now, almost a year later, only two people know and that was one too many. Unless someone has been through this, his/her automatic reaction is to think your husband is scum and you might be teetering on the edge of foolishness to stay. You know, the way YOU might have reacted had the same been done to them prior to your own D-Day and they told you. You don't need to defend your actions to anyone and, one way or another, you will be asked to in blatant or subtle ways

It's good if you are able to lean on and cry on your friend’s shoulder. Friends can be a godsend, but they are sometimes going to give you advice and a bunch of platitudes and sometimes it feels like they are patting you on your poor little head. They cannot always know what to do...not only with your life in general but NOW.

By the way, what you will find out is if you choose to stay is that it is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength, compassion, forgiveness and even love. Not now – you don't need to feel compassion or forgiveness or love now – but love is probably the deeply hidden driving force that eventually leads to compassion and forgiveness.

Strength, you have always had, it just probably has never been tested like this. Women who get that surge of adrenalin to pick cars up that have rolled onto their kids? Yup, we're strong like that.

Don't make long-term plans right now.
 Everyone who has gone on this unplanned journey or studied the travelers on this well-beaten but rarely-spoken-of-rationally-in-public road says to wait. Wait six months to a year before making this big decision or any other big decisions.
Things will change. He will change, you will change. And the 3rd entity in this – your relationship will change. The one you thought was going pretty well can thrive and MUST change so that you are not in this situation again.
I often say “if you're lucky” these things will happen, but it's not luck. It's work. You will eventually have to work (and so will he!)  but right now…

You have just received a terrible blow. You can rest a while. You need to. This was like a surgery to rip your soul out. Your doctor would tell you to rest after having a tooth removed. This is a lot more painful than that.

Find help for your recovery
I am sure there are people who can make it through without therapy. I don’t know any of those people. Nothing in your life, hopefully, has prepared you for this. What do you do with the anger, sadness, not to mention that shame that is NOT yours (so stop feeling ashamed)? How do you eventually learn to talk without screaming and crying? A good marital counselor will gently help you regain your balance and remind you that this was not your fault (I mean, come on, did he tell you he was doing this ahead of time? Or even considering it? Or perhaps mentioning he was a bit bored or restless? Give you a chance to 'fix' what needed fixing? No? There ya go, no wonder you felt like you were slapped upside the head.) Your spouse should go, of course your spouse should go, not that you asked me but that's a must in my book. If he won’t go, then YOU go. None of this “but he refuses and gets upset if I go”. To this I say “too effing bad.” Does he not realize if he doesn’t go that he's going to be talked ABOUT behind his back for an hour at a time? Come on – he's got to go. But if he doesn’t, you MUST. You might cry your way through the hour but you may be doing that anyway, and every counselor’s office has already paid for the big box of Kleenex. Take advantage of at least that. 

You do not have to accept that time heals all wounds. That’s just something people say when they have no idea what else to say. The reality is that the more time between you and discovery, the less and less it hurts. I'm not saying there won’t be a scar, I'm saying that time will somehow work some magic, like it or not.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Mid-Life Cheating Crisis

"In 1974, in her best-selling book Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, Gail Sheehy depicted midlife crisis with the example of a 40-year-old man who
'...has reached his professional goal but feels depressed and unappreciated. He blames his job or his wife or his physical surroundings for imprisoning him in this rut. Fantasies of breaking out begin to dominate his thoughts. An interesting woman he has met, another field of work, an Elysian part of the country—any or all of these become magnets for his wishes of deliverance. But once these objects of desire become accessible, the picture often begins to reverse itself. The new situation appears to be the dangerous trap from which he longs to take flight by returning to his old home base and the wife and children whose loss suddenly makes them dear.No wonder many wives stand aghast.'"

This passage was included in a great article about the so-called mid-life crisis, a period during which many men (and women) experience depression, disappointment, a sense that life has passed them by.
I suspect it might also read as an account of events regarding many of our adulterous husbands (and, for the betrayed men among us, wives). 
It speaks to our confusion when our spouse offers up the "I love you but I'm not in love with you" speech. Or our bafflement when our husbands, whom we genuinely thought had it pretty good with us, suddenly find fault with our very existence and seek distraction in the arms of women whose allure is just that they aren't us.
Oh how I wish our culture had a deeper understanding of the drivers of affairs! Instead we deal with the myths – that men are fleeing shrewish wives, that men are seeking mind-blowing sex, that men are simply not monogamous by nature.
Well, maybe not "myths" necessarily. Sometimes those things are very true. Sometimes men are miserable in their marriage and lack the courage to leave until they have someone to leave to. Some men are led around by their penises. And some men don't see the point of monogamy, believing that a variety of sex partners is preferable to a one-partner commitment. And to those men I say...vive la difference. And...stay away from my daughters!
To the rest of us, however, I say that we need a far deeper acknowledgement of how impacted we are by life changes. I also say that our primary relationship, which we've been culturally told should fulfill all our needs, takes the brunt of our disappointment in many other arenas of life. 
How often I've read, on this site, of women who've been cheated on by men dealing with sick or recently deceased parents, a wife's illness, disabled children, job loss, chronic illness, or – how cliché – middle age. 
If our society did better to educate us about what middle age feels like and how to prepare ourselves for the typical angst, we might recognize when we're tempted to flee something good for something...different. 
My father, something of a wise old man, commented recently on a phenomenon he noticed at his newspaper job (which he worked at for close to 50 years): Men, he said, would leave their wives in middle age. And then, he told me, they'd remarry women who were pretty much carbon copies of the wives they left. A few years later, he said, these men would claim to be miserable again.
Perhaps they just married the wrong women (repeatedly) or perhaps, if we isolate the variable, the problem wasn't the women, it was the men.
Then again, given what research is showing about a cross-cultural tendency in middle-age to weigh our lives in the balance and find them wanting, maybe the problem is that so many seek change when wisdom dictates that patience is far more likely to deliver happiness in the form of perspective. And gratitude.
This is not to advocate for doing nothing when doing something is prudent. Sometimes we do need to stir life's pot now and again, to challenge ourselves, to leave unhealthy relationships. But perhaps mid-life isn't a problem to be solved but a stage to be endured. Perhaps it doesn't need to be a crisis...as long as we don't create one by cheating. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Guest post: Awesome advice from a betrayed wife

"Steam" often comments to this site, offering up her experience as a guide to others, and supporting those who aren't as far along the path as she. 
She wrote this awhile back and it's so succinct and compassionate, that I requested her permission to re-post it so that more can read it.
I love that this site has become a hub for so many who feel isolated and confused. I love how respectful we all are of each other's experiences, always recognizing that we each need to walk our own paths.
Thanks, Steam, for helping make this such a great space.

I was immediatly diagnoised with PTSD in our 1st MC session. Our counselor made it very clear to my husband that my reaction to his selfish and fucked up action was completely NORMAL, not that that makes you feel instantly better, but it was good to have a name for it. Reliving it over and over again is hard to avoid when you cannot stop thinking about it. I am 10 months out this week and I have done my best to "reclaim" the places and things that gave me joy, that he stole, that I thought he had stolen forever. Since most of his affair was online with only three in-person meetings – when they met (in another country) and two months later when they had sex twice (in another country) –  there is not much to reclaim. All I have asked is that he NOT take me to the place they had their one dinner. He said it was bad anyway and he would never go again, good I dont need to go there, it was never mine to begin with. I am starting to feel safe again, and although I cannot ever trust him again like I did when I was blind, I do trust him a lot more. I no longer hit every e-mail address and social media page of his every day or even every week, I no longer search for her online. But I watch the cell phone bill like a madwoman. Something I never ever checked which had all I ever needed to know.
I feel a lot more like a better me, and our relationship has changed so drastically it's almost a miracle. And the hardest part to admit? It was not just him who had to change. I had to do my part too.  

If you are brand new to this, don't think YOU need to do that immediately. You need to heal and he needs to help. It's only then that you can find a better version of yourself...she is in there, I promise. 

It's not your fault, it was never your fault, you are not the one who cheated. You are not the one who risked everytihng, so just take it minute by minute – don't rush it – go through it, not around or over or under it, and if you have a new relationship with your partner (we could never have found one without counseling, relish it. 
BTW, I had EMDR about 20 years ago and it was quite astonishing. If I was still living in the land of PTSD I would not hesitate, but first I wanted to beat my H up in counseling for a while. 
Look at that, I just laughed. You will too...you will get through this unless your husband is an absolute a-hole and you are with a bad man, not a good man with issues and mistakes. Hang in there if he is worth staying with – and he will show you if he is – and thrive.  

All I have wanted to do other than save my own relationship was to be able to help others who have been through this. The spark came while I was googling within hours of finding out on that horrible d-day. I was of the school "once a cheater, always a cheater" and "if anyone ever did that to ME, he would be gone SO fast".  

Arent we all?

But when he DID do that to me, I gave him an immediate (and I add, loud and hysterical) choice he had to make – her or me. When I saw the absolute devestation in HIS eyes, seeing what he had done to ME, seeing his tears, hearing his words, feeling his absolute remorse, sadness, and looking into an opening into his soul I had never ever ever seen before. When I locked myself in the bedroom and he sat outside talking to me through the window, I surprised mySELF when I realized that even though I could not touch him or look at him right NOW, I wanted him to stay.
I wanted to know if we could survive this.  
I wanted to know I would be ok (because how could I EVER be ok again??) 
I wanted HOPE. 
and this was the only place I found it.  

I hated the name "club" – lol. I thought it would be just another husband bashing site, but it was not. [Elle's] words, as someone who had been through this, gave me HOPE – her essays and her links and her answers to others – so much wisdom and compassion, smart funny and sarcastic, but not bitter – it gave me what I needed. I wanted to get "there" where [she is], and I am on my way.  

No one could have told me that I would ever get through this, but honestly, somewhere on this blog that very first day – [Elle] actually did.


Friday, November 14, 2014

No Path by David Whyte

came across this poem by the incredible David Whyte and it describes so perfectly those paralyzing moments when you just can't imagine which direction your life will take. Nothing seems right any more. Nobody seems who you thought they were. But as Whyte reminds us, "there is no path that goes all the way". Instead, focus on breathing. Focus on that first step – nobody's step but your own. Whyte, I believe, is talking about death, but betrayal is a death. Of our hopes. Of our "reality". Of our perceived future. Mourn that. And then recreate your life.


No Path by David Whyte

There is no path that goes all the way

Not that it stops us looking

for the full continuation.

The one line in the poem
we can start and follow
straight to the end.
The fixed belief we can hold,
facing a stranger that saves
us the trouble
of a real conversation.
But one day you are not
just imagining an empty chair
where your loved one sat.
You are not just telling a story
where the bridge is down and there’s
nowhere to cross.
You are not just trying
to pray to a God you imagined
would keep you safe.
No you’ve come to the place
where nothing you’ve done
will impress and nothing you
can promise will avert
the silent confrontation,
the place where
your body already seems to know
the way having kept
to the last its own secret
But still, there is no path
that goes all the way
one conversation leads
to another
one breath to the next
there’s no breath at all
the inevitable
final release
of the burden.
And then
your life will
have to start
all over again
for you to know
even a little
of who you had been.
~David Whyte

Friday, October 24, 2014

When Remembering Becomes Reliving

I was listening to a radio program recently about PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder.
I talk a lot about PTSD on this site because it was the paradigm that felt the most right to me after D-Day. After a friend of mine, who counsels those with PTSD from childhood sex abuse, suggested I was experiencing post-trauma, my response to my husband's infidelity began to make sense. Well, as much sense as PTSD ever makes.
It was a tough sell at first. As I've noted on this site before, PTSD seemed so...dramatic. As if I was exaggerating my experience. PTSD was for veterans and rape victims, domestic abuse survivors and people who fled the Twin Towers.
There's increasing research, however, that PTSD is more common than that. That those of us who experience a sudden, shocking event (infidelity anyone?) can come away with PTSD. Not all of us, of course. But some of us. Too many of us.
PTSD is created, explained the doctor on the radio program, when the feeling we experience during trauma (fear, grief, shame, for instance) becomes linked with certain stimuli (a sight, a smell, a sound).
As the doctor on the radio program put it, the neurons that "fire together, wire together."
It explains why a certain song can suddenly transport us back to that moment of finding out and suddenly our heart is racing, our blood pressure is skyrocketing, our hands are tingling. We're not just remembering the trauma, we're re-living it.
Maybe it's the sight of a certain model car. The voicemail message on a husband's cell phone (which I'd listened to roughly 30 times as I tried to reach him, knowing he was with her). A certain time of year. A snowstorm.
At first, it's normal for the entire experience to feel like a nightmare from which you can't awake. For some of us, however, that feeling lingers...and sometimes gets worse.
While we might become more functional in some ways, we have periods of the day when we're immobilized. When we're flashing back. When we're not remembering what we know but reliving it.
The most important thing to know is that this, under the circumstances is normal. Know also, that it's surmountable. Life will not always feel like a war-zone in which you're unsafe and insecure.
But it's important to get treated so that you can begin to heal. To have memories, including bad ones, without trauma.
Infidelity is so much more devastating than most of us could have imagined. Far more devastating than our culture understands. Unless, of course, you've lived through it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Healing from Betrayal: Grief is Part of the Process

"My custom has always been to ponder grief; that is, to follow it through ventricle and aorta to find out its lurking places. That old weight in the chest, telling me there is something I must dwell on, because I know more than I know and must learn it from myself..."
~from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Ah grief, that foe. Grief, that makes our bodies rock with deep, deep sadness. Grief, that we'll do almost anything to avoid because it's so consuming, so exhausting, so bottomless.
As John Ames, however, the character in Robinson's novel Gilead points out, grief has secrets and if we sit with it, allow it to illuminate those dark corners of our heart where we "know more than I know and must learn from it myself," then grief can be our teacher.
It runs counter to our instincts, this sitting with grief. Especially in these times of quick fixes, of escape hatches. Why sit with grief when we can lose ourselves in television? Why sit with grief when there's a tub of ice cream or a box of donuts? Why sit with grief when there's Facebook, Twitter, cat videos? When there's an OW to stalk online?
Why? Because grief isn't going anywhere. Grief waits beneath the anger and anxiety. It makes itself known when your friend announces she's pregnant and you burst into tears. It makes itself known when you can barely get out of bed even though you know you need to get outside. It makes itself known when the mere act of making dinner feels like too much. It makes itself known when you move the wedding album to a bottom drawer because you can't bear to be reminded.
But grief is cagey. It can't be experienced on the fly. It requires that we truly sit still with it. That we don't try and "solve" it. We can't think our way out of grief. We need to feel our way through it, like a blind man in an unfamiliar place.
The beauty of grief is that when we allow ourselves to feel such deep pain and loss we open ourselves up to being able, eventually, to feel the highs too.
It's not easy, opening up to grief. It feels huge. We fear being swallowed alive.
But like our character in Gilead, that weight is our cue that it needs our attention. I spent far too long living life with the feeling of an elephant on my chest. Sure I was functional. But I sure as hell wasn't having fun. Perhaps "fun" is too much to expect of anyone going through the pain of infidelity. Perhaps we should lower our expectations to feeling a bit...lighter. Being able to smile sincerely. To hold, for even a moment, the beauty in a child's smile, or the trust in a friend's hug, or the joy in a pet's wagging tail, alongside our pain. To make room for something other than hurt and fear (disguised as anger).
I've been asked how to open up to the pain with the expectation that it also opens us up to life's joy again. The only real answer I have is to sit with it. When it comes – and it will, so be patient – let it wash over you. We're so terrified of our grief that we push it away. We busy ourselves. We shift focus.
But that only pushes grief into the shadows of our heart; it only leaves our hearts restricted.
Sit with your grief and discover that you know more than you know, including where to take your next step. Grief, especially, is wisdom that guides the way toward healing.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How Trauma Breaks Open Our Story

People usually only come to this frontier when they have had a terrible loss in their life or they've been fired or some other trauma breaks open their story.  Then they can't tell that story anymore... they hit present reality with such impact that they break apart on contact with the true circumstance."
~David Whyte

They hit present reality with such impact that they break apart on contact. Sound like you? It sure as hell sounds like me.
I hit the reality of my husband's cheating with such impact that I shattered.
And it's hard, when you're shattered, to recognize that this breaking apart might, one day, be exactly what you needed. It's damn near impossible to understand that it's only when trauma has broken open your story that you're able to write a new chapter.
From my stop farther down the road, however, I can see that my husband's cheating – the trauma from that betrayal – meant that I couldn't keep telling myself the story I had been. It meant that, once I was able to pull myself back together, I had to admit that my story wasn't entirely based on fact. It was up to me to begin writing my own rather than let others dictate it to me.
Until then, my story had gone something like this:
I married a wonderful, principled man who adored me. We had three wonderful healthy children. Life was good, better than I expected or, frankly, deserved. The end.
What I tended to ignore because it didn't fit with the storyline I wanted desperately to believe was that it disappointed me when he wasn't able to acknowledge the casual cruelty of his family towards me.
It hurt me when I felt emotionally abandoned after the birth of our first child.
I felt invisible when I would express fairly mundane needs (please walk the dogs in the morning, please have breakfast with me instead of sleeping in...) and he wouldn't. (His modus operandi, which he'd used for years with his own family, was to agree to whatever they wanted and then do what HE wanted. I, a firm believer in taking people at their word, took years to see what he was doing. Which might mean I'm either a) a hopeless optimist or b) kinda stupid.)
And it was confusing to me when, sometimes, I felt like a blow-up doll during sex. As if I – a fully present human me – wasn't supposed to be there, and certainly wasn't supposed to have my own needs.
But by not allowing those truths to be part of my story, I was living a fiction. The fiction of my adoring wonderful husband who would never-not-EVER cheat on me.

Broken Open.

In the wake of that breaking open, we begin writing our new story.
I realized fairly quickly that my marriage hadn't been quite so polished and perfect as I had wanted to believe. I could see just how broken I was even before his betrayal completely shattered me. One of the hugest revelations for me was to recognize just how much I'd already betrayed myself.
I had assumed that my needs were less important than everyone else in the family.
I had accepted that, if his family rejected me on some level, it was because I wasn't deserving of their love.
I had been living my long-held deep conviction that I wasn't enough.
I accepted love that was, frankly, not so great and told myself it was more than I deserved.

As I healed, I began writing my true story.
And in this new story that has emerged, I am learning that I am enough. Have always been. Always will be.
I am learning that, in a healthy relationship, nobody's needs trump another's. That we all matter and can negotiate a family in which that's the guiding principle.
I can now spot the myriad ways in which I betray myself. My clue is a spark of resentment (which, left unexamined, grows to a roaring house fire of anger). When I begin to hear the voice in my head muttering "look how much I do", and "I'm exhausted!", and "why doesn't he...", and "why won't they...", I know it's time to take good look at how I'm NOT taking care of myself. When you hear yourself saying one thing when your heart and soul are screaming another, you're betraying yourself.
But what's clear to me is that all of this stuff, these rich lessons that have shaped my life in wonderful ways and deepened my relationships to friends and family and my children, arose out of my shattered self, my broken story.
It can be hard to see when you're surrounded by wreckage. It can feel like warmed-over platitudes ("out of suffering comes wisdom") that make you want to bash in the face of anyone offering them up.
But it was through my broken story that I gained the control to change the narrative of my own life into something that is far more likely to give me a satisfying ending. An ending, of course, to be determined.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Coming Back to Life After Betrayal

I've lived a lifetime being told that I'm "too sensitive."
As a kid, it seemed to mean I cried too easily.
As a teen, it seemed to mean that I cared too much.
As an adult, I finally cracked the code: Telling me I'm "too sensitive" really means "your emotions make me uncomfortable and I'd like you to stop displaying them."
I am, admittedly, intense. My highs are high and my lows are low. Which is why feeling nothing – roughly eight months post-betrayal – felt so alien to me. And, at first, such a relief.
At first, slipping into numbness felt like progress.
I had learned of my husband's affair. Six months later came news of his sex addiction. Then, three weeks after that, I buried my mother.
Feeling nothing allowed me to function. To go about my life. To mother my children. To act friendly with friends. To stay dry-eyed. To promote my new book on radio and television. To do speaking engagements at crowded consumer shows.
Look at me, folks. I'm fine. 
After about six months of that, however, it dawned on me that this wasn't healing at all.
I felt...dull. Like I was living life wrapped in gauze. Like all my shine and sparkle was gone.
A friend who knew nothing of what was going on put it this way: "The light is gone from your eyes," he said.
Some call it the "dead zone". Others "the plain of lethal flatness".
It's a sort of flattening out of our emotions. No longer the roller coaster of post-betrayal. That ride is freaking exhausting. The constant shift in altitude is unsustainable.
So, yeah, at first, flat feels good.
Whew, we think. Glad that's over.
But the day comes when we realize that though we might be avoiding the deep dark valleys, we're also missing out on the view from the peaks. It might be respite from pain, perhaps. But it's also respite from joy.
We're existing, not living.
I became aware that I felt like an observer of my life, not a participant. My heart felt detached from what was going on around me.
My too-sensitive heart.

I wish I could tell you it was easy to come back to life. I wish I could provide a link to some pill you could take. Or some book you could read. Some magic elixir you could down that would allow your heart to beat again with hope and promise.
But as you know, this site is not about selling snake oil.
As far as I can figure, the only way back to life is the scariest. 
Walk through the fear. Allow yourself the full-body experience of pain. The tingling hands, the pounding heart, the churning stomach.
You might only be able to tolerate a bit at a time. Sometimes, when we've been flooded with pain, our bodies and brains respond by turning off the tap.
Coming back to life means turning that tap back on, even just a drip, drip, drip.
What you'll learn if you allow yourself to feel it is that the pain won't sweep you away. It might feel like it will. It might feel like you'd better start bailing as if your life depended on it.
But pain and fear are just feelings. They're transient. Nobody ever feels one way all the time. If you let them, the feelings will wash over you, leaving you rooted where you are.
You'll discover is that you can feel that deep deep pain and that paralyzing fear, and survive.
And by discovering that, you'll open yourself up to all those other feelings as well: Peace. Joy. Desire. Pride. Disappointment. Love.
You'll come back to life. To all of life. The good bits...and the shitty ones.
Might you get hurt again? Yep. In fact, I can guarantee that you will get hurt again. Not necessarily by your spouse (let's hope he's learned his lesson!). But by someone.
That's okay. You'll have learned that you can feel hurt...and survive.
That you can feel joy, without fearing that it will be snatched from you.
That you can...feel. Which is, after all, so much better than playing dead.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Finding Stillness to Cope with Sadness or Depression

Susan Piver, author of The Wisdom of a Broken Heart and guide to the gifts of meditation, has this to say about how meditating can help you navigate sadness and depression (which are not the same thing. As Gloria Steinem famously said, "In depression, nothing matters; in sadness, everything matters.")
To those of you who I know struggle with sadness or depression, and are certainly trying to find the wisdom in your broken heart (which is pretty much all of us), I offer you Susan with The Dharma of Depression.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Care and Feeding of a Betrayed Spouse

A betrayed wife (thanks Jane!) sent this link, which does an amazing job of outlining just how we betrayeds respond to the crap-fest of betrayal. Read it. Feel validated. And then insist that your spouse have the guidelines tattooed on his body.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Without a Doubt: Coping with Indecision

The overwhelming question once we've learned about our husband's affair (apart from "what the HELL was he thinking?" and "how can I make it look like an accident") is whether we should stay in the marriage, or toss him out.
Oh, to have a crystal ball. Or even a Magic 8 ball that offers up something more decisive than "Ask again later".
Perhaps better than relying on outside oracles is to learn to tap into our own. Problem is, mine often seems to be dozing. I can sometimes nudge her awake with meditation or a solitary walk.
But too often, if she's offering up any answers, I can't hear them over the sound of my critic. The one who reminds me how often I'm wrong about things. The one who urges me to rely on others' advice instead. The one who whispers "you'll regret this".
Iyanla Vanzant, who writes "Iyanla, Fix My Life!" in O Magazine, recently tackled the "stay or go" question. Phrased as "How Do I Know When I'm Settling for Less?" it might as well have read "How Do I Know Whether to Stay With My Cheating Bastard of a Husband? because "settling for less" is what we often feel we're being asked to do.
Iyanla is a wise woman who knows a thing or two about betrayal. She also knows a thing or two about nudging that sleeping inner oracle awake. Her approach is to make some observations.
For instance, when your focus is on the time and energy you've invested in an endeavour [or person] rather than the love, joy, and gratification you've gained, you're probably settling. It doesn't matter if you've spent five years or thirty with someone if many of those years have been unfulfilling. But if you can honestly say that, within the time you've invested, you've experienced much joy and contentment, then it might be worth a second chance. The emphasis isn't on the investment but on the returns you've already experienced.
When you're making excuses about why you should stay put rather than going for what you truly want, you're probably settling. Sometimes we truly need to stay put in order to create circumstances that allow us to leave safely. But it's important to be honest with yourself about whether those reasons for staying are legitimate or simply excuses to allow indecision. If you stay, make sure that's a choice and not an abdication of choice. Similarly, if you leave, make sure it's a choice and not something you feel you should do because that's what our culture would have you believe.
Perhaps the wisest question we can ask is that age-old Ann Landers nugget: Am I better off with him or without him? 
If you can't hear your inner oracle over the deafening sound of your own breaking heart and our culture's collective roar to kick him to the curb, then the wisest course of action might be what the Magic 8 Ball recommends: Ask again later.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How to Put Yourself Back Together

We often turn to disaster metaphors to describe what betrayal feels like. It's a nuclear bomb, a tornado, a hurricane. Our lives feel destroyed, reduced to ruins, blown up. And we ourselves feel torn apart, broken, a wreck.
They're apt, these metaphors. And they speak to the truth that betrayal changes everything. Just like a natural disaster, nothing is left untouched in some way. Not ourselves, our children, our jobs, our friends.
Surrounded by rubble – whether literal or metaphorical – we're left with the task of rebuilding. How?

Fall apart: Well, that part might have happened on its own. But don't fight it. Even when others around you are insisting that you DO something, resist that urge. This is the time for extreme self-care. Eat what you can (smoothies, toast, soup...), sleep when you can, shut out the world if necessary, especially anyone without your best interests at heart. Watch hours of television. Go for long walks. Cry. Then cry some more. Breathe. Deeply.
Sometimes it's when we're stripped of everything we thought mattered that we come to see what truly does. And sometimes when the only thing we can trust is that we're still breathing, we understand that's all we need to know. At least for now.

But don't make yourself crazier: Here's what NOT to do:
•Stalk your husband's OW on Facebook.
•Drink/drug/shop/gamble to escape the pain.
•Have a revenge affair.
•Seek revenge against the OW.
•Track down an ex just to reminisce.
•Go to any event or spend time with any person that will make you feel worse.
•Do anything that could lead to you having your own parole officer.
•Hurt yourself physically.

Sift through the rubble to determine what's worth saving: Your marriage looks like a wreck. You have no idea whether to give him a second chance or not. Your kids are frightened. Your parents are wringing their hands. Your friends are wondering why you're not answering their texts. You haven't showered in eight days. Now's the time to take a good long look at what really isn't working in your life.
That friend you're avoiding because she always makes you feel lousy? Time to delete her from your life.
That job you hate? Time to consider your options. Back to school? Dust off the resumé? No need to DO anything yet, just be open to possibility.
Those toxic in-laws? Maybe now the is time to figure out your boundaries and learn ways of taking care of yourself that leads to self-love, not resentment.
That extra weight you're carrying? Start by walking off your pain. Those schlumpy clothes? Buy yourself something that makes you feel beautiful.
You get the idea. Open yourself to the possibility of a you who's ultimately healthier, inside and out.

Find support: I made haste to a therapist who could hold my head above water until I could tread water myself and/or make my way to shore. But support goes beyond simply the paid kind (though it's generally Worth. Every. Penny.). Surround yourself with those who love you unconditionally. Avoid those who think they know exactly what you should do, unless they're suggesting a long, hot bath. Steer clear of those with an axe to grind (their own nasty divorce/cheating husband/miserable life). This can be hard on those who love you though. So recognize that sometimes they'll step in it. That sometimes they'll get frustrated with you for not healing fast enough (it's hard to watch those we love in pain). But no matter. Explain to your trusted inner circle that you need their support and compassion, not their advice. That you need a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold and, perhaps, a casserole or two left by the front door. Sometimes you might need a gentle kick in the pants to remind you that there's a big beautiful world out there that needs your presence.
Seek out online support that's based on self-compassion...and compassion for others. There's a lot of cruelty on the Web. Don't support it, don't take it personally, and don't contribute to it.

Practice gratitude: Ugh. This can be a tough one. But study after study has shown that practising gratitude leads to a happier life. Today you might be grateful that you didn't follow through on your plans to smother your husband in his sleep. You might be grateful that your four-year-old doesn't know what as asshole her father is. You might be grateful you still have all your limbs. With time, you'll begin to notice that gratitude will creep into your life in bigger ways. And it will give you a platform on which to build a better life.

Hold tight to your values: Betrayal is such a primal wound that it pulls to the surface our most primal responses. We want to kill someone. We want to curl into the fetal position. We want to retreat to a cave and never show our face again. Feeling all that is absolutely fine...and to be expected. Acting on it? Not so fine. Once this shit-storm is over, you want to be able to hold your head high. You want your self-respect intact. You don't want to be wearing an orange jumpsuit (orange, frankly, is NOT the new black). Continue to live a life of honesty and compassion and kindness, even when it seems you're the only person who does. The day will come when you'll look back with pride on how you handled yourself.

Share your story: Whether in the pages of a journal, in e-mails to yourself or to a trusted friend, or on sites such as this one, sharing our story is a powerful way of putting ourselves back together. It allows us to see our stories from the outside, which can give us perspective. It is cathartic, giving us the chance to offload our fury, our pain and our confusion. And it's an important and scientifically proven way to heal from trauma.

Trust the process: It takes a long time to heal from betrayal and it can often seem as if you're stuck. Assuming you're taking steps to heal (counselling, self-care, boundary setting...), you are getting there. Trust that the day will come when this is simply part of your life story, not THE story.

Extend a healing hand: It's enormously healing to guide others along the path. None of us want to be in this club, yet here we are. And extending a hand to those who are feeling the same pain, struggling with the same confusion, reminds us that we're not alone. That we've healed, even just a bit. And if we've healed a bit, then we can heal a bit more. And bit by bit, we become whole.


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