Thursday, December 24, 2015

I wish you peace...

The holidays can be so tough when you're reeling from betrayal. My D-Day was Dec. 10 and there was little merry about that particular Christmas nine years ago.
My wish for all of you is that you're able to create even the teensiest bit of peace for yourselves.
I wish you the ability to breathe through the pain, to trust that you are strong enough to weather this, and offer the assurance that you've got a sisterhood of wise, wonderful, whole-hearted women who will guide you through this even as they navigate their own pain.

Here's your holiday to-do list, ladies:
•Be gentle with yourselves.
•Keep your hearts open to look for the slivers of light that show up even when your days feel unbearably dark. Keep a journal of moments that give you hope.
•Stick to your boundaries. They are there to keep you safe and to remind you to always honour yourself and your feelings.
•Steer clear of excessive anything – booze, drugs, food, shopping, exercise, gambling, sex. Strive for simplicity and self-control. I know, not easy. But try.
•Forgive yourself. For being sad when our culture tells us this is a "happy" time of year. For being confused about what's next. For not kicking him out when you said this was a deal-breaker. For kicking him out when you thought you could forgive him. Forgive yourself for hurting. Forgive yourself for yelling at him. Give yourself the gift of forgiveness this holiday.
•Trust that this time next year, you'll be further along in your healing.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Let's Send Steam Our Love

The wise and wonderful Steam, who has given so much to us here, is hurting badly. Not betrayal, thank God. But she just lost her beloved pup – an 18-month-old bundle who helped Steam's heart open when she was going through the hell of betrayal. Her little Chakita got sick suddenly and went downhill quickly.
I hope those of you who know Steam can send her strength and prayers and love.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

This is Gonna Hurt...

Many, many years ago, I decided to become a runner. I was in a miserable relationship that was long past its best-before date. I was working at a low-pay job that showed no signs of ever becoming a high-pay job. I was feeling left behind by friends who were getting married, launching careers, buying homes.
And so I chose to run.
We'll ignore what running meant metaphorically and instead focus on the fact that running was my private version of hell. I had never been an athlete. I didn't believe in sweating on purpose.
And yet, each evening after work, compelled by something I didn't quite understand, I would lace up my running shoes and set out. At first, it was all I could do to run a block without feeling as though my heart was going to pound out of my chest and I was going to die right there on a busy sidewalk, with my new sneakers barely worn in.
So I made it a game: I would force myself to run to something I could see ahead – a certain car parked on the road, a lamp post, a stop sign. Just that far, I would tell myself.
I would run to the car or the lamp post or the stop sign and when I didn't die as soon as I reached it, I would choose another car or lamp post or stop sign and run to it. Always, always I could go further than I believed I could. Some evenings a bit farther, some evenings a lot farther. Eventually I could run 10 kilometres that way. And then, I could run 26 miles that way.
It hurt. It hurt like hell. My legs burned. My feet ached. My back occasionally spasmed. There were many times I honestly thought I might die. I imagined heart attacks. Aneurysms. Strokes.
None of my doomsday scenarios happened. Instead I got strong and lean and powerful. Instead I got brave. Instead, the pain gave way to not pain. To ease. To joy in the running.

When I first learned that my husband had cheated on me, I couldn't imagine how I was going to survive the next five minutes, let alone the days and weeks and months that I knew lay ahead. I wanted to die. Scratch that. I didn't want to die, I wanted the pain to end and I couldn't imagine that happening any other way than for me to end. I fantasized about head injuries that would erase my memories and let me start over. I fantasized terminal illnesses that would let me die without guilt. I lived in darkness, stoking my pain and assuming this was my lot for the rest of my life.
But then I remembered my running strategy. Just get to the next...moment, morning, weekend. And then, when I'd make it, still heartbroken but nonetheless alive, I'd focus on just getting to the next. And the one after that.
It reminds me of the old writing adage from E.L. Doctorow:
"Writing is like driving a car at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make your whole trip that way."
Change writing to "healing" and you've got another truth:
"Healing is like driving a car at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
It's excruciating to not know what's around the corner. Will he cheat again? Is he cheating still? Will I still be in agony? Should I leave him? Will I find someone else? And on and on and round and round we go, asking questions that can only be answered by time. Time feels like the enemy. Night would stretch out like black ink that swallowed me, leaving me alone and terrified. Morning was no better. I was expected to behave like someone capable, someone rational, someone whose world wasn't shattered. How was I supposed to pull that off?
When you, m beloved BWC club members, write in with your pleas – "when will this stop hurting?" – I wish I could give you a date. It will stop hurting on July 13 at 7:12 p.m. Hang in there, sweetie. Instead I can only tell you that it will stop. I don't know when – it's different for each of us – but I know it will stop. But whether healing comes in months or years, it will come. And it will come in moments, not a sudden bolt of lightening. It is happening, moment by moment, even when you can't see it. In the meantime, it hurts like a motherfucker.
And so...this is gonna hurt. And it's gonna hurt for a whole lot longer than we'd like it to.
But each of us has the strength to endure. Even when we feel broken open, when we feel we just can't survive this heartbreak another minute, we can. And we will.
Because what other choice do we have?
We will choose to make it to the next...minute. The next morning. The next weekend. We will choose to cling to the promise of those who've gone before us that the day will come when this is behind us.
And as we heal, as time mends the cracks in our hearts in stitches so delicate but so sure, we will acknowledge the bravery with which we're handling this.
We can trust our headlights to take us as far as we need to see right now. And with that, we can make it the whole way.

Friday, December 4, 2015

What was your moment of transformation?

I was listening, as I often do, to a recent podcast of Dear Sugar, featuring advice givers Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed. I can't recall the question but a comment struck me. It referred to a "moment of transformation".
I got wondering about my moment of transformation. At what point in my healing did I shift from anger and despair to compassion and hope? At what point did I realize that I was going to make it? Be okay? Not only survive but emerge from this in a better place than I'd been?
My transformation, I think, began on Father's Day 2007.

It had been six months of agony. Six months of tears and trauma. Thoughts of suicide. Thoughts of homicide. White-hot rage. Deep sadness. Stomach-churning fear.
We were returning from my nephew's christening in another city. Our three kids had fallen asleep in the back seat. My husband and I were chatting about a co-worker, someone who'd been friends with my husband's work assistant, his "other woman".
For six months, I'd been baffled by the affair. Why? I asked endlessly. Why her? I simply couldn't understand. "It was just sex," he'd tell me, but that answered nothing. I knew he didn't find her physically attractive. Hell, I knew he didn't like her. He'd spent years telling me he wished he could fire her.
And so, while we were talking about this other co-worker, my antennae were up. I didn't like this other co-worker. I didn't trust him. But when my husband made some off-hand remark about the time they were all at a "strip club", alarm bells went off.
Strip club? My husband didn't go to strip clubs. They were exploitive? They were...gross. What the hell?
In the darkness of our car, with our kids asleep in the back seat, I took off my wedding band, placed it on the console between us.  "When we get home and the kids are in bed," I said quietly but with total resolve, "you are going to tell me everything."
And he did.
I learned about the years of sexual acting out that pre-dated our entire relationship. I learned about the many, many other women. And that missing puzzle piece – why? why her? – clicked into place.
My husband told me he was in treatment for sex addiction. That he'd sought treatment immediately after D-Day #1. For the past six months, he'd been working really hard to face up to what he'd done and try to understand why he'd done it. His counsellor consistently told him he needed to tell me everything. My husband consistently said 'not yet', sure that I would leave and he would lose everything that mattered to him.
Curled in a ball on the floor, my husband sobbed. "I am so sorry," he said, over and over and over. I had never seen anyone so broken. This was my children's father. My husband. In spite of everything, my friend.
When he finally stood up, he told me he would pack and leave. Something shifted inside me and I told him, "No. Don't leave. But I can't promise you anything more than that I will be your friend through this." And I meant it.
My moment of transformation.
I can't say that I didn't continue to have periods of anger. I certainly cried many more tears. There were times I hated him. I hated what he'd done. I never have put my wedding band back on, convinced that our marriage vows, offered during a time when he was already violating them, mean nothing.
Nonetheless, transformation began that night. A transformation that opened me to compassion for his pain. A transformation that let light into the cracks of my heart. A transformation that gave me a glimpse of a life beyond this pain – where the two of us rebuilt something amazing.
I resisted. I told myself that I was waiting only to ensure that he was emotionally healthy enough to be a good father to our children. Until I felt strong enough to go it alone. For many more months, I had one foot out the door.
But over time, that moment of transformation became greater. I saw myself differently. I transformed my life in a way that made it so much more my own. I placed greater demands on the people in my life to behave with integrity. I spent my own time and energy and money more carefully on things that gave me joy.
That's not to say things are perfect. Life is full of challenges and I'm constantly learning and growing and considering where I am and where I want to be – as a wife, friend, parent, writer.
Transformation isn't a one-time thing. It's a process.
For those just landing on this site, I want you to  know it's possible to emerge from this changed in a good way. For those who feel stuck, I want you to know you won't always be stuck. Stuck might just be a resting spot along the way. And for those of you transformed? Tell us how it happened. What was your moment – or process – of transformation. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

From the Vault: Five Ways We Hurt Ourselves After His Affair


Infidelity is excruciating. Never in my dreams did I imagine how excruciating. Like most women, I had talked about what I'd do if I found out my husband cheated. My friends and I, when we heard of someone having an affair, would inevitably say to each other, "Well, if my husband ever did that, I'd show him the door so fast..." We imagined we'd wipe our hands of the scumbag, throw his stuff on the front lawn and be done with it. At no point did I imagine years of therapy, anti-depressants, and a stack of books on my bedside table that covered everything from forgiveness to sex addiction.
Life has a way of messing with my plans.
I've learned, however, that though I clearly couldn't control what choices my husband had made (oh, if I could have!!) I could learn to control myself. I say learn to control myself because I'd never really thought of it that way before. I'd always operated from the "I am what I am" school of thought. That my responses to life were the result of some personality lottery, and I received a rather impetuous, emotional, mercurial one. So when I knocked a television off a table to indicate just how angry I was with my husband could I control that? I was fiery.
Over the years following discovery of my husband's cheating, I began to recognize just what I could control (actions). And what I couldn't (feelings). By controlling actions I can so often better manage feelings. I can keep them from galloping away, and taking me with  them. The goal, of course, isn't to turn into some sort of automaton whose feelings are experienced with precision and control. It's to get to a place of healthy healing, where you can feel all your emotions – joy, pain, fear, excitement – without acting in ways that aren't consistent with your values.
Unfortunately when we're in such emotional pain we can lose sight of what we can and cannot control. The part of our brain that performs the so-called executive functions has been hijacked by the part of our brain that focuses on pure survival, our reptilian brain. And by survival, I'm not referring to scrapping it out with our five-year-old over the last piece of pizza because we're starving...but rather emotional survival, a craving to understand just exactly what the threat is that we're dealing with so that we can be prepared for it. It's a rational impulse. But our ways of achieving it can be irrational. Julie Gottman calls at least some of our behaviour PTSD and had this to say in a New York Times story about deception: "When secrets emerge ... the partner suffers profoundly. Post-traumatic stress disorder is the result — being battered by unwanted intrusive thoughts about the betrayal, nightmares, emotional numbing coupled with unpredictable explosions, sleep disturbances and hyper-vigilance as the partner or spouse searches for yet some other betrayal."
Consider these five ways we hurt ourselves in the name of "survival".

Pain shopping (or asking the same questions over and over and over and...): Most of us, when we finally get proof (or an admission) of cheating from our spouses are flooded with questions. How did this happen? When? Where did they meet? What did they do? Did he meet her friends? Did other people know? What does she look like? Where does she work? Does she wear high heels? Is she vegetarian? and on and on and on, until our poor brains simply can't absorb the volume of information and our spouses can't even keep track of the details.
The need to know is crucial and valid. For too long, we've been outside the door of the affair with no awareness of what's going on behind it. In order for a marriage to heal (or you to heal on your own), it really does help to open the door and have the chance to take a look around. But – and it's a big but – at a certain point you have all the information you really need. The rest is pain shopping.

Digging for "evidence" of an affair he's already admitted: My husband came clean fairly quickly about his affair. Within 24 hours I knew pretty much everything I needed to know. Did that stop me from rifling through his drawers, his phone records, his VISA statements and anything else I could get my hands on? Of course it didn't. I was like some sort of crazed forensics expert, pouring over everything as if it could doubly confirm what I already knew. Did I discover anything crucial? Nope. Not a thing. Sure I saw some receipts for dinners out with her. But given that I already knew they'd slept together on a number of occasions, what did it matter that he felt obliged to buy her a steak? I already knew at that point he was a liar and a cheater...everything else was a matter of degree. Do yourself a favor. Find out what you need to know to paint the big picture. Then stop. At this point you're distracting yourself from actually feeling the pain of what you now know. You can't dam up that flood of emotions no matter how long you spend looking at receipts. 

Staying in contact with the Other Woman: I sent the OW a Christmas card (my D-Day was December 11) in which I included a photo of my husband and our kids, along with a note about how I knew how much she'd "done" for our family. It was the type of card that, had she taken it to my husband's and her employer, would make her look insane because on the surface it was innocuous. Almost sweet. But she – and I – knew exactly what I was saying. But that was where the contact stopped. I know too many women who stay in touch with the OW, either via Facebook or mutual friends or even face-to-face, and I can't believe anything good can ever come of it, assuming the OW knew about you. Block her on FB, steer as far out of her way as possible, cut her out of your life. She's poison.

Numbing ourselves with drugs/alcohol/food/shopping/insert-compulsive-behavior-here:'s tempting. So tempting that I didn't take a drink for months after D-Day because, as the daughter of two alcoholics, I was pretty sure it would end badly. But forewarned is forearmed. Recognize that right now you are incredibly vulnerable. And for most of us the discomfort of feeling vulnerable is something we'll do almost anything to stop. Like eat a chocolate cake, buy four pairs of shoes, pop Zoloft like it's candy, even exercise to the point of injury. Whatever your compulsion of choice is, now's the time to put it under a microscope and determine just how much is healthy...and how much is harmful. You need you right now. Not some numbed out zombie with too many shoes.

Maintaining toxic friendships: Infidelity brings up a lot of issues for a lot of people. There are those who will suggest you "get over" this, those who dismiss your angst with impatience that you don't just kick him out, those who avoid you because your experience brings up uncomfortable feels about their own marriage. It's tempting to keep everyone close because you're feeling so alone. But toxic people simply make your pain and loneliness worse. You need compassion and understanding, not blame, frustration, impatience or unsolicited advice. If there's no-one in real life, please remember that we're here, we know your pain and will lovingly guide to toward healing.

That's the short list. Are there things you do that you recognize are only hurting yourself? Share your story here. Others will no doubt recognize themselves. Together we'll heal.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Feeling Each Other's Pain

"It's when you can feel your opponent's pain that the path to reconciliation begins." ~Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi in an interview with Krista Tippet On Being

Being cheated on will never feel "fair". And "fair" is what so many of us are after. "But it's not fair!" I would wail, like a seven-year-old whose brother got a bigger slice of pie. I was right, of course. It wasn't fair.
It wasn't fair that he got the sex and I got the empty bed. It wasn't fair that he got the attention and I got the loneliness. It wasn't fair that he got the ego strokes and the excitement of forbidden relationships while I got the day in-day out mundanity of life with three young children.
It wasn't fair that I was in excruciating pain. That I couldn't eat or sleep or work. It wasn't fair that my entire life was turned upside down because of his choices. It wasn't fair that I couldn't listen to the radio without being triggered. I couldn't see a certain model of car. I couldn't go to certain restaurants or see certain friends or experience certain kinds of weather without doubling over in pain.
It wasn't fair. None of it.
But life, as I so often remind my own children, isn't fair. And all the wishing in the world won't make it so.
Where does that leave us? leaves us accepting that even if we cheat on him and dump his ass and successfully sue the OW for "alienation of affection" and he loses his job and his children hate him and he winds up, sockless and hatless, on a freezing winter day living in a refrigerator box and getting arrested for urinating in a public place, our hearts will still have been broken. It leaves us with a decision: To rave about the unfairness of it all or to move forward with a different understanding.
Because even if we think he somehow got away with something, what did he get away with, really? He got away with hurting the person he vowed to never hurt. He got away with being a lying scumbag. Do we really believe he isn't paying a price for those things?
Those who don't pay a price for betrayal are without a conscience. And if your husband lacks a conscience or is masterful at ignoring his conscience and plans to stay that way, then do yourself a huge favor and lawyer up.
If, however, your husband isn't a narcissist or too divorced from emotion to experience any genuine remorse for his actions, then your husband is paying. He might not be paying enough in your view (would a pound of flesh in the form of his private parts suffice, ladies?). But he's paying.
His self-respect is gone. His belief in himself as a "good guy" is gone. After all, he's that guy – the one who devastated his entire family just so he could screw someone who doesn't mean much to him in the cold light of day.
My husband paid for what he did every day for months when, as he said, he had to see the pain in my eyes and know that he was the one who caused it.
Understanding that our husbands didn't really get away with much goes a long way towards helping us feel their pain. Or at least knowing that it's there. There's plenty of pain to go around. And while the pain of the betrayed is different in that we did nothing to bring it on whereas he was the one making the choices, in the end, perhaps, pain is pain.
Betrayal hurts both partners. It's lose-lose.
Or maybe we win when we can feel each other's pain. Maybe, as Jonathan Sacks says, the path to reconciliation is created when we finally understand that we're each broken by betrayal. Reconciliation doesn't have to mean staying married. It can mean releasing each other to a different future. But regardless of what we want that future to look like, empathy for each other's pain frees us from needing "fairness" and instead offers us the imperfect grace to heal.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The fraught world of post-betrayal sex or "Here's what I know...and it ain't much"

One any given day, my house is filled with my three kids, ages 12 through 17, and a collection of their friends, both male and female, gay and straight. One has to almost wade through hormones in our house. The air crackles with sexual energy. 
Dinner table conversation the other night ran from masturbation to teenage motherhood and the importance of protection ("Abstinence!" insisted my Catholic-schooled husband, who never practiced it much himself). My daughter's boyfriend shook his head in disbelief. "We never have conversations like this at my house," he said, and I wasn't sure whether to feel smug or sheepish.
But while there's plenty of talk about teen sex around our house, there's far less around post-betrayal sex. 
Sex is an arena that, almost nine years after D-Day, seems still dotted with landmines. It has become easier for my husband and I to simply avoid that topic. But, as I know all too well, "easier" can mean avoidant. And avoidant can fast-track us to disengagement and detachment, two signposts on the way to cheating.
That's not to say that I think either of us plans to cheat. It's just to say we should both know better than to ignore our own discomfort.
And sex makes both of us deeply uncomfortable.
It wasn't always this way, at least for me. In fact, I considered my sex life to be a model of agency and maturity and healthy sexuality. I loved sex, which, for me, was within the context of relationships with people I felt safe with and cherished by. I felt comfortable in my body. 
Not too long into my marriage, however, I began to notice that sex with my husband sometimes Though it offered up the expected physical pleasure, on an emotional level he sometimes seemed tuned out. Somewhere else. 
I bought Mars and Venus in the Bedroom and tried to get him to read it with me. In very broad strokes, author John Gray outlined the differences between male and female sexual desires. My husband wanted rough-and-ready sex. I preferred soft and slow. I tried to talk with him about achieving some sort of compromise, along the lines of, sometimes we do it your way, sometimes mine. But not much changed.
During that time, I gave birth to one, two, three children. I was exhausted. I became resentful. He worked longer hours. I was lonely. I freelanced part-time and mothered full-time. Sex waned. I talked myself into believing this was what life with three kids and two tired parents was like. Maybe that's true.
I was happy. Mostly. I loved being a mom. My career was going great. I had deeply fulfilling volunteer activities. I had good friends. So I avoided looking too deeply at what didn't feel right. My relationship with my husband.
We all know where this is going, right?
Dec. 10, 1996, the light in my head finally went on. My husband was cheating. My world collapsed.
For six months, I continued to believe he had cheated with one person: his work assistant. I remained baffled by the affair. It didn't add up – she was so incredibly unpleasant and his relationship with her was constantly strained – but I believed him when he said that was the whole story. And then came the day when he told me the rest: He was a sex addict who was in treatment and who had been carrying on secret sexual relationships for the entirety of our relationship before D-Day. His acting out preceded me – though, without being in a committed relationship, it appeared more as just the sex life of a 20-something than the actions of an addict.
That remaining puzzle piece explained so much that had felt wrong in our relationship. It explained my sense of feeling objectified when we had sense (his sex addiction included a lot of porn). It explained his inappropriateness around sex, sometimes making frat-boy-type jokes that to him were funny but to those around us were beyond the pale. It explained my awareness that he was often elsewhere emotionally when we had sex – present in body but not in spirit. Turns out, he needed fantasy to fuel his desire. A real-life wife – and mother of his children – didn't do the job, so to speak. 
Like so many of you after learning about a spouse's affair, my sexual identity was in tatters. I was so confused about our entire relationship – what was real? what was fake? – but especially our sexual relationship. I had believed myself desirable. I had thought of sex as connection. How could I have been so wrong?
At first, I responded with hysterical bonding. For the first time since very early in our relationship, I felt that intense connection through sex. We looked each other in the eyes, we talked and talked and talked. We tried new things. Our passion was unquenchable. 
And was over. For months and even years, we barely touched. 
In the meantime, my husband was in sexual addiction therapy and learning, for the first time, what healthy sexuality looked and felt like. 
I was just trying to hold myself together. It was enough to get through the day. My bed and my pyjamas signalled to my husband that I was closed for busines. I might as well have had a sign around my neck that read, "Leave me the hell alone." 
I began to wonder about leaving. Not the "to hell with you, you bastard" kind of leaving (which, I wholeheartedly support if that's what you want) but an "I want a healthy sexual relationship with someone who doesn't carry the same baggage" kind of leaving. I toyed with the idea of having a no-strings-attached sexual relationship outside of my marriage, feeling somewhat entitled given what my husband had put me through. But I knew I couldn't look myself in the mirror if I was violating my own value system.
Eventually, we found a therapist who specialized in sex. We saw him for about six months and though we might have inched forward incrementally, he ultimately wasn't moving the needle far enough. His most frequent recommendation was "wine time", which too often turned into "whine time" during which we complained about the kids. It sure as hell didn't lead to sex.
Back to a sexual wasteland for a couple of years.
All this time, however, we were rebuilding a marriage. Though I hold that sex is an important part of a marriage, I've come to recognize that it's not necessarily the glue that I'd always thought it was.
Marriages come in all shapes and forms and I felt no less married in a sex-less relationship than I had when we had frequent sex. In fact, I felt more married because we were so committed to making it work.
And then we found our current couples counsellor. 
We continued to try and avoid talking about sex, but she wouldn't let us off the hook. 
She'd gently remind us that we were starting over with sex. Like shy teens, we had to come together in a way that we hadn't before, or at least not for a very long time. She still reminds us that it will feel uncomfortable and embarrassing at times, and she's right. I've had to do a lot of work around my own body image, especially as my former marathoner's body has settled into middle age. Long-gone are the mind movies that tormented me in the weeks and months post D-Day but I realized that I replaced them with a squeamishness around ordinary people sex, as compared to the soft-light beautiful people sex we see on TV and in movies. Both involve somehow imagining that everybody else is having better sex than you. Both involve convincing ourselves that we're somehow deficient: we have rolls, we don't moan loud enough, we accidentally fart. And both take us out of the experience itself and into our heads, where dangerous thoughts roam and threaten our pleasure.
I've learned from one incredible BWC warrior that my own sexual pleasure isn't given to me by someone else but is mine to claim, a lesson I knew in my twenties but that got unlearned in the rubble of D-Day. I've learned that sex is many things – awkward, fun, amazing, uncomfortable – and that I don't need to feel threatened by any of that. The only person who expects me to constantly delight in bed is me. I've learned that, despite my conviction that I had no sexual hangups, I do. We all do.
I'm still learning. So is my husband.
Which is why I'm not sure if have much to offer you beyond my own story about where I am right now: A middle-aged woman who's realizing that another chapter of her sex life is still being written. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Here's How to Really Respond When a Friend's Spouse is Cheating

One of our BWC sisters recently linked to this recent New York Times column about whether or not to tell a friend his wife is cheating. 
In the summer, O, The Oprah Magazine advice columnist Lisa Kogan (whom I love and generally agree with) also responded to a question from a letter writer wondering about whether to out a cheater. 
Both Lisa and the Times' ethicist gave advice consistent with the response to affairs by our culture at large – which tends to support a "look away" approach. They pointed out that marriages are private and none of us really know what's going on, which is a way of saying that the marriage might make room for other partners in some sort of hedonistic open way that most of us can't imagine. They point out that perhaps the partner does already know and would be embarrassed by any "publicity" around the affair. They mention that sometimes partners don't want to know. They suggest that, perhaps, the partner will smarten up before anyone has to know and the couple can live out the rest of their years in bliss. 
Of course, any of these situations is possible. But probable? Please.
So I'm copying (below) the letter I sent to Lisa Kogan in the hopes that, in some small way, I'm stimulating a conversation that I believe our culture needs to have: a conversation about the true cost of infidelity; an honest, nuanced conversation that acknowledges, as one recent commenter put it, the "act of emotional violence" that is betrayal. But a conversation that also includes the possibility of true reconciliation.
To her credit, Lisa Kogan responded to my letter with a large gulp, a mea culpa and a desire to revisit her advice in a future column.
Baby steps, ladies. Baby steps.

Dear Lisa,

When I was nine years old and out shopping with my mother, I spotted my best friend's dad. "Hey there's Mr. Shannon," I said. And then, faltering, "But that's not Mrs. Shannon." My mom quickly shushed me, making it clear that I saw nothing and was to say nothing.
Back at the Shannon home was Mrs. Shannon, who had no "don't ask, don't tell" policy. There was no "open marriage". Mr. Shannon didn't "come to his senses" before his wife found out.
Instead, there was only a bewildered Mrs. Shannon, wondering why her husband never seemed to be home and why he found fault with everything she did. She had no reason to suspect she should be insisting on protection when she had sex with her husband. She had no reason to speak with a lawyer to ensure her self-employed husband wasn't hiding assets. 
So when he asked for a divorce so he could marry not-Mrs.-Shannon, she was blind-sided.
Fast forward 33 years and I'm in Mrs. Shannon's shoes with a cheating husband in a culture that looks the other way. So are the 2,000 women DAILY who visit my Web site, The Betrayed Wives Club.
Before I'd been cheated on, I would have given exactly the advice you gave. Don't get involved. There might be agreements in place, etc. Which is true. There might be though I doubt it. And while we're looking the other way, the betrayed wife might contract an STD as more than a few women on my site have. One woman, who contracted cervical cancer, will never know if it's because of the STD her husband passed along thanks to one of his extracurricular partners.
A betrayed wife might choose to get pregnant again, go back to school, become a stay-at-home mom. In other words, she might continue to make decisions based on having a solid marriage and a dependable partner, when unbeknownst to her, she has neither.
At the very least, betrayed wives feel utterly humiliated when they learn that others knew of their husband's affair...and said nothing. It compounds the shame we already feel for not knowing it ourselves, for not suspecting. If we do suspect and have no real evidence to back up our suspicions, we're routinely told we're crazy. "Of course not," our husbands scoff. "She's just a friend/just a work colleague/just an old college acquaintance." And so we silence that voice. I don't know a single betrayed wife who doesn't wish some benevolent person – friend, stranger, doesn't matter – hadn't taken them aside or written a letter and gently told them what he/she knew. Something like, "I hope I'm off-base here but I saw your husband having lunch with a woman and it looked a little cozy. I just wanted you to know." Or "I will keep my mouth shut to everybody else, including your mother if you wish, but I recently discovered that your husband is having an affair. I'm here for you in whatever way you need."
Sure the wife might respond with anger. She might insist that you're wrong. Her own head will be spinning. She'll be in shock. If there is some sort of "agreement" (though I highly doubt it), she can respond with "I know about that. But thanks for telling me."
Telling the cheater himself gives him the chance to go underground, to cover up his tracks, to lay low until the coast is clear. To prepare the wife to dismiss anyone else's disclosure with a pre-emptive "oh, I ran into Marilyn when I was out with Joe's girlfriend buying him a gift. She looked at me kinda funny. She's such a gossip."
Being cheated on is one of the loneliest experiences. Everybody pretends it isn't happening while your world is caving in. It's not uncommon for people who've been cheated on to experience post-trauma symptoms: hyper-vigilance, flashbacks, nightmares. 
Nobody should take any pleasure in telling someone her spouse is cheating. You're right that it's a no-win situation. But that doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do. It's just not the easy thing. 

Kind regards,
"Elle", founder of The Betrayed Wives Club

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What Does She Have? Nothing You Would Want...

One sour lemon is pretty much like another.
“Affair choices are usually far more neurotic than marriage choices. When one is chosen to be an affair partner, one should not feel complimented. The most important characteristic of such affairees is their immediate availability.” ~Frank Pittman, Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of Intimacy

I once confided in my friend that I worried my husband was cheating on me with his assistant. Her? my friend scoffed. Ewww. He would never cheat on you. And certainly not with her.
I felt relieved. And, frankly, I thought the same thing. He would never cheat on me. And certainly not with her. She was portly. She was demanding. She was a drunk. She was often unkind. I reassured myself that I was just feeling insecure and neglected because my husband was spending so much time at his new job. 
Turns out, of course, that my suspicions were correct.
But still...her?
Six months later I learned that there were plenty of hers, not just one. And when I asked my husband's counsellor what these women had that I didn't, he told me, "What these women have is nothing you would want." 
While I took some comfort from his words, it was still months before I could wholeheartedly agree. After all, the one thing these women had that I wanted was my husband's attention. It was only when I began to really understand the dynamics of affairs that I understood what the counsellor meant. My husband didn't select women based on their beauty or their charisma or their sexiness or any of the attributes that he might consider in a partner. He selected them because they were willing and able. That was all it took.
On the one hand, that's pretty damn insulting, isn't it? He risked our marriage and family for...what exactly? But that's the thing with affairs. They're not rational choices. Even the language we hear around them – "we couldn't stop ourselves", "it just happened" – speak to a lack of rational thought. It's possible, of course, to argue that love isn't rational. And yet...healthy love is. Healthy love is the product of mutual respect. It's the result of two people who've taken the time to get to know each other, to admire each other, to feel safe with each other. 
Affairs reek of desperation. Unhealthy people seeking what's missing in themselves wherever they think they can find it. In that sense, people who engage in affairs are no different than people who gamble secretly. Or drink. Or snort. Affairs are a distraction from real-life. A parallel world in which the rules don't apply.
In my husband's case, he cheated with his assistant because she made herself available and he was on some self-destructive path that I still don't entirely understand. Sex, for him, meant escape. Thanks to years of porn, he had expectations that weren't necessarily in line with the reality of longtime marriage. Sex was a drug and she was one of his suppliers. It just provided the requisite high that allowed him to ignore all those uncomfortable feelings he couldn't face. Long-buried grief around losing his father. A terror of true intimacy. Years of guilt and shame around sex, thanks to an oppressive childhood. What's more, meaningless sex gave him the freedom to focus exclusively on his own physical pleasure. 
With time, however, it was becoming harder for him to pretend his actions didn't have consequences. For one thing, he was becoming disgusted with himself, less and less able to compartmentalize. His anxiety grew. He became more depressed. He was close to hitting bottom when I finally figured out what was going on – and had been going on for years. He even confessed relief in the week's following D-Day. The jig was up. The sneaking around was over. 
He could lose everything, which suddenly made him see the value in all that he'd been escaping from. He didn't know how to perform all his roles perfectly, which he thought was expected of him: to be a father, to be a husband, to be a provider, a friend. He felt like he was failing at all of them.
Without the affairs to distract him from his pain, it hit him hard. He worked with a therapist to examine and challenge the thought processes behind his actions. He felt enormous guilt and shame. He had never imagined he could be capable of such deception, of so deeply hurting the most loyal friend he had. He fully expected me to leave.
Like my husband, a lot of men have no hesitation in dropping their affair partner because the appeal vanishes when they realize the price they might pay. They're not interested in a relationship with their affair partner. They've been chasing a feeling, not a person. 
Which is why other guys have a hard time letting go. In rare instances, they really have fallen in love with their affair partner though the statistics don't bode well for relationships that start as affairs – fewer than 3% will last. But even the vast majority of those who don't want to lose their wife or their family can have a tough time giving up that feeling – that he's sexy and exciting and interesting. On top of that, our human brain craves novelty.
And yet so many of us, in the days and weeks and months following D-Day wring our hands, stalk the OW on Facebook and try to discern what she had that held our husbands in such thrall. Why would they risk everything for her?
And the answer is as simple as it is confusing to us: They were there. They were willing to participate in deception. They were willing to lie. To manipulate. To hurt.
Nothing we would want. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Come Out From the Shadows: Putting Down Your Story

"Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it."~Brené Brown
Melissa, who frequently comments on this site and who inspires us all with her resilience, her clear-eyed optimism, and her steely determination to heal from betrayal, noted in response to yesterday's post that she's found this community so valuable in helping her through this.
And though I've written often about the value of sharing our stories, I thought I'd, once again, encourage anyone who finds herself on this site to write down her pain. 
If all you hear from us is "me too", then you will have had your pain held by us, which just may reduce its weight on your heart.
And just to show that I walk the talk, here's where I recently shared my story

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

You Are Your Own Teacher

"...everyone has an inner teacher whose authority in his or her life far exceeds my own."
~Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life

So many of you come to this site for answers. Can I get past this? Will he cheat again? Am I a fool for giving him a second chance? How can I stop thinking about the Other Woman? When will I be healed? Why do I want sex with my unfaithful husband? The list goes on. And on.
But I believe that behind the many specific questions is this one: How do I survive this pain?
And though I have plenty of advice to offer, as do a few of my wonderful guest bloggers, the deepest truth is something only you know.
The "how" is personal.
For some of us, the "how" is working to rebuild our marriage.
For others, the "how" is separating to sort things out.
For some, the "how" is by walking away from the marriage.
And within those options, there's plenty of variety around "how".
I confess I feel as if I've been letting some of our newcomers down. I've been busy lately and my responses are, I think, perfunctory. I trot out my usual bromides: I'm so sorry you're here. Please know that his cheating isn't about you but about his own demons. Yes, you can get past this no matter what he does or doesn't do. No it's not going to be quick. And, always, be gentle with yourself. You're walking a tough road and it serves nobody to beat yourself up. 
And while I stand behind every word I say, I wish I had the time to let each of you that I read your words and wish that this was easier for each of us. I want each of you to know that you have found a place where you are welcome and valued and heard.
But what I wish each of us knew from the beginning is that you already know what's right for you. You are your own teacher. This is why it's so important for you to learn to pay attention to what's inside your own heart and mind. You'll no doubt find yourself responding, physically, to some of the comments on this site. Yes! Those are MY feelings, you might think. One woman's approach to her husband's refusal to answer her questions might help you clarify your own thoughts around that. Another's suggestion about how she stopped obsessing about the Other Woman might seem like something you could try.
But you must know that there isn't a one-size-fits-all response to surviving infidelity. Rather by giving ourselves the attention we need, we can begin to cultivate that inner teacher in a way that, perhaps, we haven't.
What's more, it puts the rest of us in the position that we should all and always be: That of compassionate witnesses to your pain. Cheerleaders to your healing. 
I don't have all the answers, nor does anyone else. Whether you should stay or go or sit and think about it for a month or a year is a choice for you to make based on what feels like the next right step for you and your family. None of us has to live with your choice. You do.
And if your teacher needs coaxing out, begin by paying attention to where that wisdom shows up in your body. Your gut? Your head? Your hands? What happens physically when you imagine making certain choices? Notice.
And then acknowledge that wisdom. You've had it all along.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Grief is Not About Giving Up But Giving In

"The other thing I know now is that we survive grief merely and surely by outlasting it – the ongoing fact of the narrative eclipses the heartbreak within..."Gail Caldwell, New Life, No Instructions

Tim Lawrence's recent post has gone viral. Lawrence wrote about how everything doesn't happen for a reason, something most of us know all too well. 

We know that sometimes life sucker punches us. But we also know that, even though we think our husband's affair was the worst thing that could happen to us, we can learn from pain. Even if the something we learn is the human spirit's ability to survive things we didn't think were survivable. And that our ability to refrain from justifiable homicide is awe inspiring.
Tim Lawrence makes the point that, when we're brought to our knees by heartbreak of any kind, the only sane response is grief. It's a point I frequently make too, such as here. And here
It's not a popular opinion to hold. We don't like grief. Grief feels passive and there's little our culture hates more than passivity. We like a can-do attitude. We like stories of triumph over adversity. We want heroes. And we want those heroes to be fierce and formidable.
Grief? That's for old women who wear black. For those who've given up.
Grief is a recognition of our pain, an acknowledgement of our loss. In a culture that offers myriad ways to insulate ourselves from this pain – from drugs to sex to food to cat videos on YouTube – just sitting with it is heroic. And sitting with another in her pain, without trying to fix or reduce it or somehow control it – is downright revolutionary.
We can't fast-track grief. There's no going over it or under it or around it. Those who try will find grief emerges in strange places, baffling us with tears when we think we're happy. Or numbing us from feeling anything at all. 
Grief is a shape-shifter and only when we give in to it do we begin to recognize the many forms it takes. Sometimes tears, sometimes laughter, sometimes a belief that nothing matters, other times a conviction that everything does. And always a deep crack in our hearts.
But to give in to it is also where healing takes root. Tiny seeds of compassion and wisdom are sown in the fertile soil of our pain and nourished with our tears. The day will come – I promise – when the dark cloud of grief becomes the sunlight toward which our healing bends. If we have shown ourselves compassion for our grief, we become better able to extend that compassion to others. If we have been gentle with ourselves in our grief, we become better able to be gentle with others. If we have been merciful with ourselves, we are better able to show mercy to others. Grief has softened us even as it as strengthened.
We haven't outwitted grief, or outsmarted it. But we have endured it. And our life goes on.
What this means for you is that this is going to be a long road. But here you will find those who understand your grief and feel no need to transform it. It's enough to be with you in your grief, and for you to join us in ours.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fear Vs. Intuition

Not so much fear vs. intuition as my two favourite cats! :)
The night before D-Day, the house was quiet. I had just wrapped up a huge project that had consumed me for months. I felt deeply satisfied. The last of the celebrating guests had left. My husband had departed for a two-day work conference. My three kids were asleep. The pets were dozing on the bed and I climbed into it to join them in sleep.
And suddenly I knew that my husband was having an affair with his assistant.
It hit me such clarity. I picked up the phone and told my friend at the other end that I believed my husband was cheating. "Tell me what you know," she said. I laid out my "evidence" which, frankly, didn't amount to much. Some dinners out under the auspices of deadlines that needed to be met. The  contempt the assistant had for me, which included making it clear to me that "you won't be seeing much of your husband for the next while because we have so much work". My husband's skyrocketing anxiety. Not enough to convict a man.
My friend responded with "it doesn't look good".
I tried calling my husband. Over and over, I keyed in his number only to hear his voicemail.
The next morning, I reached him and told him what I "knew". He denied, then minimized, then fell apart when I refused to back down. The usual panicked dance of the cheater.
And then he came home and told me the truth. Well, the truth about her. The truth about the many, many others would come six months later when, again, after a lovely day spent with his family I suddenly knew that there was more to the story. At that point, I calmly took off my wedding ring, placed it between us and said to him: "You are going to tell me everything."

My intuition is one hell of a guide. So is yours. The problem, of course, is that so few of us pay attention to it. We've had a lifetime of being told to ignore it, override it, shut it the hell up for the sake of keeping the peace.
Following D-Day, our fear is in high-gear. We're living post-trauma, terrified of every potentially missed text, suspicious phone call, strange catch in our husband's voice. Clearly we missed signs of infidelity already and we pour over our past like forensic experts, analyzing the "evidence" we might have overlooked.
Fear vs. intuition? God help us.
He swears there's no more contact. He promises it was only that one time. He's full of remorse, begging you to believe him.
That's where our intuition often disappears behind the blind terror of taking a chance on a known cheater.
As the weeks pass, we remain vigilant. Why did he put his phone away so quickly? It's 6:10 and he said he'd be home by 6 so where is he? My texts are unanswered so what is he doing? Fear keeps us hyper-alert. But it also keeps our intuition dormant.
The thing with fear is that it come with panic. It comes with confusion. It floods our senses. Intuition on the other hand, is a quiet voice. It comes in stillness. It's a...knowing. Its companion is calm. Fear's companion is chaos. Fear screams. Intuition whispers.
It might help to do some homework:
•When in your life have you had a strong intuition about something that was true. How did it feel? Where did it show up in your body?
•What does fear feel like for you? When have you felt afraid? Where does it show up in your body?
As you navigate this post-betrayal road and find yourself wondering whether your husband is still cheating, cheating again or thinking of cheating, start by carving out some silence. Journal your thoughts, including what he's doing or not doing that's making your spidey senses tingle. If you have someone you can talk to (who will remain calm and not magnify the drama), then speak with her. Or bring your questions here for the club. Find yourself a therapist who can do some post-trauma work with you.
And then...speak with your husband. The only way you are ever going to rebuild a marriage is to be able to speak honestly and respectfully with each other. Does his response to your pain give you comfort? Or does it fuel your suspicion?

One day, about six months after D-Day 2, I was driving home from out of town when I felt like I "knew" my husband was cheating again. The "evidence" that led me to that conclusion was just a feeling I had but I felt certain.
I walked into the house, calmly told my husband to follow me to the bedroom where I told him, in a hissed whisper, I knew exactly what he was doing and I would NOT be made a fool. He was baffled. He insisted that nothing NOTHING was going on. His bewilderment made it clear to me that I was wrong. I was flooded with relief. I hadn't been guided by my intuition but by my fear. system isn't foolproof. Sometimes fear does a brilliant job of masquerading as intuition. And sometimes we need to go to great lengths to create the quiet necessary to discern the two. I'm glad that, instead of packing my bags that day, I chose to share my suspicion with my husband. I'm glad that I trusted the relief I felt. I had desperately needed his reassurance and it felt authentic and comforting to me.
I've learned through all this to pay closer attention to my intuition in every area of my life, from how to respond to someone asking me to volunteer my time to whether to ask my 17-year-old to show me what's in the backpack she's taking to a party (a beer, incidentally). My intuition always steers me right. My fear? It's the backseat driver that I'm learning to tune out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

There's So Much Power In Owning Our Story

"When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling."
~Brené Brown, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.

There is another Web site devoted to betrayed wives which occasionally delights in skewering this one. I admire the woman who created it for the sanctuary she's created for those facing or seeking the dissolution of a marriage after betrayal. I envy her savviness at marketing, which includes a column in a widely read news site. I sometimes laugh at her smart humour. But I'm weary of her dismissal of this site and the women here as trafficking in fantasy. She might pay lip service to the possibility of reconciliation but her language around it is dismissive and demeaning.
The first time she wrote about me, it tied me in knots. I felt like the fool she was making me out to be. Worse, I feared I was fooling all of you. Was I was leading all of you down the garden path toward a future that would undoubtedly deliver you more pain? Was I peddling some sort of snake oil in the form of unlikely healing? My posts began to reflect this fear. Instead of delivering my clear thoughts, I waffled, afraid of looking like an "affair apologist", afraid of giving you the "wrong" impression.
It didn't take long until I realized that I had let her into the pages of my story. Though I inwardly railed against the caricature she'd constructed of me – naive, pathetic, a New-Age idiot – there was a part of me that wondered if she was right. Frankly, it's easier to insist that all cheaters deserve to be dumped. It follows our cultural script. It satisfies our desire for consequences. But that wasn't my story. I needed to find my own narrative again, to remain true to my story, not hers.
More recently, I noticed she had again linked to one of my posts in order to point out how deluded we all are. This time, however, it didn't faze me. I  know that no matter what she or anyone writes about me, it doesn't change my own story.
It isn't the first time I'm realizing this. I learned it following D-Day after I allowed myself to feel trapped by the story the OW was saying about me: I was pathetic. I was a fool. I deserved this.
Only when I challenged that story – really? What is it about being cheated on that makes ME pathetic? Am I really a fool for being loyal? For expecting people to behave with integrity? What am I satisfying by refusing to give a second chance? What am I denying? And what in the hell did I ever do to deserve this? – was I able to reclaim it as mine to tell. And it goes something like this:
Like all marriages, my husband's and mine had its challenges. Nonetheless, we had built a good life, a wonderful family. When I found out about my husband's betrayals, I was devastated. I wanted to die rather than endure another minute of the pain I was feeling. I wondered if I would ever feel anything close to happiness again. I couldn't imagine staying married to him. But I lacked the strength or conviction at that point in time with three young children to leave. So when he promised me that he would work every day of his life to become the man I had believed he was, I gave him that chance. Just as I had chosen to trust my mother two decades earlier when she promised to work toward sobriety after years of addiction.
That was close to ten years ago. I have no regrets. It has been hard at times. I have had many doubts, especially in the early years. Healing took far longer than I imagined. But the rewards have been greater. My husband has kept his promise. That's no guarantee that he will never break it but I have come to learn that the certainty I had about many things in life were illusions. I am only certain that I made the right choice for me. I continue to make that choice daily. I am neither a fool nor pathetic. I did nothing to deserve this. This is my story. And in my story, I am strong. I have approached the heartbreak of betrayal with courage and integrity (and a whole lot of tears). I have made my healing a story of compassion, no matter whether my husband is beside me or across from me. I have included all of you in my story – fellow travelers on this road, from whom I've gained so much. It has been worth the struggle.
I hope I have never given anyone the impression that my choice to rebuild my marriage is the right one for them. It can be tempting to believe in reconciliation when the alternative feels too painful. And there are many women who choose to offer a second chance to men who don't deserve it. In that sense, I suppose my counterpart's approach to dumping a cheater without a backward glance does remove any possibility he can do it again.
If that's your choice, I applaud you. If it takes you more than one (or two or three) D-Days to get there, then that's what it takes. But if your choice doesn't subscribe to what a Web site, or your sister, or any culture insists is the "right" one, then choose it anyway. If the idea of "choice" is something that doesn't feel available to you right now, then give yourself the time and space to access it. Each of us must recognize our truth, no matter what story others are making up about us. This is our story to tell, nobody else's.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Why Being a Mess is the Perfect Place to Start

"Here is what big life changes pull back the curtain and reveal: we are a mess. We are never the story we construct - whatever that story is - and that’s such good news. Because my story, your story is ALWAYS removed from life itself. Our task, and it’s so hard when comfort is ripped away but that's what makes it good news!, is to shift our allegiance from thinking about our lives to being alive."  ~Jen Louden

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Which Direction is Good for You? Head that way...

"I did what anyone who's ever had to rebuild their life has to do – very slowly, one step at a time, find a way to walk back in the direction that's going to be good for you. That isn't about your sorrow and your suffering but is about your strength and your light. And it's about healing your wounds instead of circling around them neverendingly."
– Cheryl Strayed, Dear Sugar Radio, "The Wounded Child Within"

I ask your forgiveness of me and of what might seem like my relentless insistence that you will heal from this. So often your comments read like my own thoughts in the early days post-betrayal, when I was absolutely certain I would never ever feel anything but agony again. When I might accept that the day would come when I could function but I simply could not accept that this shattered mess where my heart used to be would once again be whole. And so I recognize your agony as my own. I remember as well my inability to recognize my strength, so crippled did I feel by my husband's infidelity. Your insistence that I'm wrong, that you simply can't heal from this, sounds so familiar.
And I'm guilty, I know, of sometimes forgetting the sharp edges of that pain. And so I respond, perhaps unfeelingly, offering up platitudes that healing will come, insisting that whether he introduced his OW to his friends is immaterial and that whether they slept together twice or two hundred times hardly matters. He cheated. That's what matters. It's, really, all you need to know.
Except this. You need to know this also even if it makes you want to punch me in the face: Your healing is possible. No matter how devastating his betrayal. No matter the depths of his depravity. You can heal from this. It will take a whole lot longer than any of us ever imagined it would. It will be really really hard. But, as the two Sugars on Dear Sugar radio told "Wounded Child Within", healing is always possible when we shift our gaze from what happened to what we will do about what happened. Or, as Strayed puts it, when we walk back in a direction that's going to be good for us.
Strayed is talking about her own self-destructive choices in the wake of her mother's death. Wracked by grief, she numbed herself with sex, with drugs, with aimlessness. Her choices felt like no choice at all. No matter which direction she went, her mother was dead. There was no changing that.
Which is a big part of what trips us up, I think. Our choices don't include a good one. Instead, we're given the choice between shitty and shittier. We can stay and keep our children's world relatively intact and not have to tell our dying mother that her son-in-law is a snake and cross our fingers that our "I'll-never-do-this-to-you-again" husband is speaking the truth. Or we can leave a marriage that seems irreparable and unhealthy, model resilience and fortitude to our heartbroken children, and cross our fingers that we can survive every second Christmas by volunteering at the food bank. I used to wail to my husband that my only choices were to sacrifice my happiness or my children's. Shitty. And shittier.
But a funny thing happened when I gave up on happiness. Once I'd resolved that I'd never again ever feel joy but decided that I would at least fight for feeling less horrible, I began to experience slivers of, let's call them, hope. In my pursuit of less horrible, I stopped focussing on my husband and all the ways in which he'd ruined my life and turned instead to what I could do to rebuild it. I still had no idea whether this rebuilding would incorporate my husband or not. I was leaning heavily toward not but was waiting until I felt less emotionally fragile before springing that news on my blissfully ignorant children. And so I shored up myself. With therapy. With long walks alongside my beloved dogs. With meditation. With an intention to notice those slivers of hope and stockpile them. I was, to again borrow Strayed's metaphor, walking in the direction of what was good for me. I was intentionally shifting my gaze from what my husband had done to what I was going to do with that. I had felt my sorrow and suffering – and I think it's crucial to feel your sorrow and suffering. You don't get to skip that step – but I was ready to recast it as strength and light.
I know it's not easy. It will probably be the hardest thing you've ever done. But it will save your life. It will ensure that the life you save is full and rich. There are no guarantees that you will be spared further pain. In fact, I can assure you there will be more heartache, in one form or another, to come. But that heartache will happen to a different you. One that is able to walk in the direction of strength and light. One that can feel her sorrow and suffering without letting it define her. And one that is more compassionate and more open-hearted for having suffered. One that savours every drop of joy that life offers, and I promise you, joy will come.

Friday, October 9, 2015

We Don't Make A Choice, We Make Many Choices. Every. Single. Day.

When the minister or justice of the peace or whomever was chosen to officiate at our wedding uttered the words: "Do you take this man/woman...", most of us recognized that we were making our choice public. We knew, by that point, that we had chosen this person with whom to grow old. A wedding simply formalized and legalized that choice.
And that, we figured, was that.
What most of us didn't understand was that marriage isn't about making a choice, it's about many choices. Each day, we make a heap of choices that affect our marriage. Everything from whether to replace the empty toilet paper roll to whether to leave a little of the almost-finished cream for our spouse's coffee or use it all up. From whether to sit down over dinner, even though he's late, or leave his leftovers in the oven.
There are bigger choices, too. And a zillion compromises.
Do we respond to that Facebook friend request from our old high school boyfriend even though our stomach still gets butterflies at the thought of him? Or do we ignore it, recognizing the potential danger? Do we make jokes at our spouse's expense at the company Christmas party? Do we roll our eyes behind his back with the kids? Or do we stand alongside him as the kids rail against his "unfair" approach to discipline, which strips them of the computer for a full 24 hours?
Do we talk to him when he made the appointment for the vasectomy without telling us, even though we too were pretty sure we were done having children, or do we resent feeling devalued? Do we quietly seethe when he buys himself a convertible while we're stuck with the minivan?
Of course, he's making as many choices: Whether to talk to us about his stress. Whether to admit to his temptation. Whether to examine his mid-life funk or numb himself with TV and a sports car. And on and on and on.
After D-Day, we're faced with yet another choice.
Do we work to rebuild a marriage with a man who betrayed his wedding vows? Do we forgive? Or do we choose instead to walk into our future without him?
It feels particularly cruel that the choice puts us between that proverbial rock and hard place. And even worse – that it's a choice left to us after HIS choice that completely cut us out of his decision to bring someone else into our marriage.
And so we're left with this Catch-22. If we leave, we wonder if we're short-changing ourselves and our kids out of a new, improved version of this idiot we still love. If we stay, we worry we're short-changing ourselves out of the chance to heal without fear that it'll happen again, and to potentially have a relationship with someone who hasn't broken our heart.
But make no mistake: the common denominator in all of this is agency – choice. We get to decide, each and every day, how we behave in our marriage. And we get to decide, when it's revealed that our husbands have not been behaving in our marriage, whether we want out.
It's a choice we don't make simply once but every single day. We choose. To stay and work it out and create boundaries and rebuild on honesty and integrity and a deepened commitment. Or, should we leave, we get to choose how to live the rest of our lives without him: whether to allow this betrayal to color all future relationships and taint all future possibility of happiness, or whether to choose, each day, to live our own lives with integrity and honesty and an open heart.
Choice is, frankly, not for the faint of heart. It can feel easier, when we're so weary and heartbroken, to have that choice made for us. To have it made clear. To know how it's all going to turn out.
It can feel easier to stay...and hate him for it. Or to leave, because our cultural script indicates that's our only option, and to regret it.
But whether you stay in the marriage or leave it – even if that choice is taken from you by his choice to leave – you still have the choice to respond to it in a way that gives you dignity and self-respect, or to betray yourself.
And that, my dear friends, is power.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Guest Post: Post-Betrayal – A Movie Starring You

by Steam

Years ago I suffered a phobia. The one session I had with a coach who dealt with that phobia and only that phobia, changed my life. And though betrayal is, of course, different, I think what I learned might be helpful here:

Picture the future – and who you are in it.

This coach/therapist told me to carry a mental black-and-white photo in my back pocket that I was only allowed to glance at. It was me as a bitter old woman, stuck in my phobia (or in our case, pain), unwilling to move, unwilling to let go of this terrible thing that has happened. In fact we have clung to it because we think, somehow, that to move on will make what has happened see okay and it's not okay.
So there we are 20, 30, 40 years in the future. Still in pain. 

It's a sad photo and it's all crumpled up because we have carried it for years. It's cracking, it's tearing, it's faded, it's beat up. You can only look at it briefly as a reminder of what may become of us if we stay here in pain and bitterness, with no wisdom to share, no stories to tell. 
We didn't try to pick up the pieces of ourselves and move along. We just sat in our pain. Wallowed in it.

However, in my purse, I also carried an imaginary VHS (this therapy was a while ago – we can make it a DVD or a file on a thumbdrive now or on our phones). That movie is of me or of us, of you-of me – moved on through the pain – we kept going, we got better with time, we looked for and found happiness again, we refused to remain paralyzed by this awful event that has happened to us. We did not give up.

We worked it out, we lead full rich lives, we have great stories, and friends, maybe grandkids who want to hear our beautiful stories. Our lives have been fantastic. Maybe in small ways, maybe larger ways. (I had met a woman who raised a few dozen goats humanely for milk and cheese, after her husband passed – she loved working with those goats. She was a huge inspiration at the time.) 

We should watch that imaginary movie over and over and over again. It's hard to believe we can get there, but we can. First step is to take the first step.

We just cannot let ourselves be stuck here in this pain forever. (Look at that old picture again. Don't we look miserable? Now put it away. NOW!) 

Watch your movie again. In that vivid movie, the future you in HD is wiser, stronger, has risen through the muck and left that past (eventually) where it belongs and there you are in that movie, you are the star! Maybe a bit worn from the struggle (who isn't?) but there we are – there you are, happy in a beautiful garden you have planted, you have fruit and flowers for both beauty and sustenance for those in need of it and there's a chair on your beautiful porch to offer others a place to sit – and they love to sit with you because you are amazing and also have wisdom to offer.

Who would you rather be?

Getting through the pain is nothing you can or should rush. But if you can picture a goal, I think it can be helpful. Because I DID conquer that phobia, I lead a life I could never have led had i still been weighted down by it.

In regards to my H's cheating, I do lead a richer (but far from perfect) life, not because of his affair but because of my choices after the worst day of my life. 
I can't change that day. 
I can change what I did after it.
I did, I do and will continue to.
Take the step. Make your movie.


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