Saturday, May 30, 2015

It's Infidelity Awareness Day (And We All Thought EVERY Day was Infidelity Awareness Day!)

Kudos to Christina Ferguson, a Washington, D.C. woman who aims to pull our culture's romanticized notions of infidelity into the spotlight and reveal cheating as the destructive and devastating choice it is. Declaring today – May 30 – Infidelity SPeaKS Awareness Day, she's working hard to change what she calls the normalizing of infidelity.
Check out her site.
And tell your story, whether to a trusted person in your life and here, among so many of us who've experienced your pain.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Guest Post: Everything Your Therapist Needs to Know to Help You

Merilee Lane, one of our BWC sisters, posted this the other day in response to some discussion on another post around how a therapist can help...or harm. She has beautifully articulated what every therapist should know about betrayal, and what each of us needs to know in order to benefit from therapy. 
She's given me permission to re-post her comments here so that they're more widely read.

by Merilee Lane

I would like to begin by stating that I have the utmost respect for this field of study. Those of you who put your hearts and souls into your work and studies make huge contributions to your patients. For those of you truly dedicated and who wish to reach out to the betrayed, I would like for you to know, understand and be perfectly clear on the following:

First of all, beginning any conversation with the words, "I don't mean to minimize your pain, but..." is designed to do nothing more than exactly what it says...minimize our pain. Never, ever say these words. I understand that you may be trying to diffuse the situation, but that cannot be done. When feelings are raw they are intense and that intensity cannot be extinguished until it has completely burned itself out.

Secondly, in treating patients, do not work from the out-dated theory that an affair is a symptom of existing marital problems. Here is the truth: affairs happen in good marriages, bad marriages and every marriage in between. An affair is not necessarily a symptom of existing marital problems; it is a symptom of existing issues within the perpetrator.

Asking us to "take responsibility for our part in the affair" is like telling a rape victim that she is somehow responsible for enticing the rape. Perhaps she wore provocative clothing or flirted with the perpetrator? NO! A woman is in NO WAY responsible for being raped, just as a wife is in NO WAY responsible for the actions of her straying husband. Infidelity is a CHOICE on the part of the unfaithful and has NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH THE BETRAYED.

I don’t know a woman who isn’t willing to take responsibility for her part in an existing unhealthy relationship between she and her husband. However, whatever issues may exist in a marriage are in no way responsible for his choice to stray. The choice to stray is about sex, not existing marital issues. The choice to stray is due to deep emotional issues within him, not existing marital issues. The choice to stray is exactly that — a choice. Don’t read into it something that doesn’t exist just so you have a logical basis from which to begin a healing plan. There is nothing complicated about infidelity. It is quite simply at its core a selfish, self-centered decision to please himself. There may be existing emotional issues, but the act itself is just that — a selfish act.

Do not tell the betrayed that she has asked enough questions and needs no further information. Do not advise the unfaithful not to participate in or to be anything less than 100% honest and upfront about every single thing. The betrayed is trying desperately to process the information. Is the information crushing her soul? Absolutely! Is it causing great pain for the unfaithful to relive his transgressions? Absolutely! But full disclosure and constant conversation is VITAL to both parties in order to heal. He needs to take complete responsibility for his actions. He needs to feel his wife’s pain and take an active role in her healing. He needs to feel remorse for his actions and show that remorse openly to his wife. She needs to hear things over and over again until she has finally desensitized it. She needs to be shocked over and over in order to accept the full scope of what happened and make an informed decision as to her future. She will not stop asking questions until she has processed the entire matter. She needs and deserves his full cooperation if she is to heal her relationship with him. His cooperation is VITAL in honoring his wife and helping her to restore her self-respect and dignity. And his cooperation and participation is VITAL in learning to respect and honor his wife.

I am no authority on counseling, but I AM an authority on infidelity. I AM an authority on what the betrayed is living through and how hard she is working to come out on the other side as a whole human being. I can also tell you in great detail of my husband’s pain in all of this. He is finally talking to me without hiding behind fear and shame and he is suffering greatly. I understand his pain, and I also see immense growth as a direct result. There is nothing easy about this. Sharing the details and reliving the pain is the only way the unfaithful comes to the realization of just how far-reaching his actions were. My husband had absolutely no idea the full impact of his decisions. It never even occurred to him. He knows now and he is having a very tough time living with himself as a result.

The ironic thing here is that there will be no healing unless the unfaithful takes a full and active role in the healing of the betrayed. He must be there 100% to support his wife or she cannot heal within the marriage. It seems odd to me that her healing would be so reliant on him after what he did but if the marriage is to survive with a strong relationship intact, that is exactly what is required. She needs his unwavering support in order to regain her sense of self and get the closure she needs. And, just as she needs her husband’s support in her healing, he, too, cannot heal without her 100% participation in his recovery process. This is something unique of marital relationships — a couple truly does become one in a marriage and healing from life’s blows really is a joint effort. True healing can only take place when both parties are fully participating in one another’s lives.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Shedding the Weight of Betrayal

"The first step toward getting somewhere is to decide that you're not going to stay where you are."
~J.P. Morgan

I listened recently to a woman speak about how she'd lost 150 pounds off her 300-pound frame. It wasn't the first time she'd lost weight. She spoke about drastic diets that led to drastic weight lost which led, drastically, to more gain. She spoke about exercise plans that started off strong but waned after a few months. She spoke of her daily weigh-ins, which felt alternately hopeful and humiliating. And she spoke, mostly, of the crushing shame of wanting something that seemed easy for everyone else...but impossible for her.
So what worked? Being gentle with herself. Instead of grand plans, she implemented a one-small-step strategy. Each day she did...something...that fed her goal. It might be a walk. It might be a healthy meal. It might be saying 'no' to dessert. But each day, she nourished her goal in a meaningful way.
And her body responded to these thoughtful choices by becoming more healthy. By shedding the shame, along with the weight.
We carry so much weight after betrayal, even as many of our bodies shrink from lack of eating and too much stress. We often carry deep shame. That this happened to us. That it says something horrible about us. That our marriages are now somehow marked as deficient. Less than.
Some of us are emotionally paralyzed. We can't imagine leaving but staying seems equally impossible. Others vacillate wildly between resolutely packing our  bags and dissolving into tears in the front hall, with our hand on the doorknob.
We lose faith in our perception of the world, which seems huge and frightening and filled with people whose intentions we can no longer trust. Our future looks foggy. Our past, foggier still.
But the constant in the midst of all these whirling emotions is often one thing: shame.
Shame makes us crazy. It makes us desperate. It separates us from the world. It paralyzes us.
The woman desperate to lose weight (her doctor made it clear there was no other option) discovered something amazing. Shame cannot survive alongside self-care. By refusing to participate in her own humiliation and emotional battering, she learned to care for herself. She found her value, apart from her physical shell. And that's what allowed her to inch forward. She had decided, as J.P. Morgan notes above, that she was not going to stay where she was.
None of us wants to stay in the swirling hell of betrayal. But even when we don't know which direction to head, we do know how to care for ourselves. We do know how to be gentle with ourselves.
It begins with our story. It begins with letting ourselves off the hook for a choice made without our knowledge or input. It begins with doing something kind and meaningful for ourselves each day. It begins when we assume agency for our lives. As Carl Jung said, "I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become." 
Maybe your step is refusing to back down when he tells us to "let it go". Maybe it's going for a walk and counting the daffodils instead of pulling the covers over our head. Maybe it's calling up a compassionate friend and beginning the conversation with "I need to tell you something and I just want you to listen and be my friend..." Maybe it's making an appointment with a therapist who understands PTSD and betrayal. Maybe it's a three-day-weekend by yourself to clear your head. Maybe it's putting his bags at the front door and changing the locks. But whatever it is, make sure it honours you.
To get to a place of self-love and self-respect, a place where shame no longer lives, you need to decide that you no longer want to be where you are. That it's time for change.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sharing our Secret Selves: How to Save Your Own Life

"I still think it's vital for a girl to share her truthful, secret self somewhere.... Every little girl is told at some point that the world does not want to see the ugly, afraid, secret version of her. Sometimes the people who tell her this are advertisers, sometimes they're people close to her, and sometimes they're just her own demons.
And so she must be told by someone she trusts that this hiding is both necessary and unnecessary.
She must be taught that, in fact, some people will want and need to hear about her secret self as badly as they need to inhale. Because reading her truth will make them less afraid of their own secret selves. And she must be taught that telling her truth will make her less afraid too. Because maybe her secret self is actually her own personal prophet.
She also must be warned that her truth will undoubtedly make some people uneasy and angry, so she'll need to share it strategically..."
~Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On, Warrior

This site has been difficult reading lately. So much heartbreak. So much anguish. So much desperation. And such frantic calls for a lifeline.
I wish I had the expertise and resources to respond. I wish I had the magic words that could restore your will to live when you're drowning in sorrow.
I do know that some women will make that irretrievable choice to end their lives, though I pray that it's never anyone whom we had the chance of reaching on this site. I pray that the words here, by me and so many others, can act as a tether, keeping women rooted in this world until the pain inevitably subsides and they realize the strength they've always had to carry on, to wait until tomorrow reveals its beauty.
I considered ending my life. I simply didn't think I could live with the pain a second longer. I was exhausted. Out of hope. I couldn't imagine a future that didn't include this level of agony.
I didn't do it because I had children. And because I had been a child when my own mother attempted suicide. I know now that she attempted suicide for the same reason that I considered it. The pain felt greater than her ability to carry it. Her imagined tomorrow held only more pain.
But to the child me, my mother's attempted suicide wasn't about her rejecting her pain but about her rejecting me. I concluded that I wasn't worth living for. It has taken me many, many years to value myself. To value my own life.
No matter how deep my pain following D-Day, I wouldn't risk putting that on my children.
I might not have valued my own life but I valued theirs.
And then an interesting thing happened.
I asked myself what it was about them that made them valuable. Was it their beauty? Their intelligence? Their ability to make me smile? Their creativity? What did they do that made their lives worthy?
And I realized, it wasn't anything they did. It was their being.  My children's lives had value simply because they existed.
And I realized that my own life had value simply because I existed.
Yes, I was in a horribly dark place. Darker than I'd ever been. But some of that darkness came from my own secret self. Some of that darkness came not just from what my husband had done but from the story I was telling myself about what he had done. The story that included me not being pretty enough, not being sexy enough, not being worth loving.
And by admitting those secrets to myself I was able to examine them and see that they were untrue. Just as my children are worth loving because they just am I worth loving because I am. And so, my beloved BWC members, are you.
I can imagine all the protestations. But you don't know me, you might be thinking. You don't know how bitchy I can be. You don't know how fat I've become. You don't know how many mistakes I've made in life. 
How often I've failed. 
No, I don't. But I know how often I have...and that's the very same thing.
So while I don't have a hotline or a lifeline or any other way to reach you when you are in that dark, scary place where your secret self is longing for an escape from the pain, I do have this site, which is here 24/7 full of the support and wisdom and compassion that we all deserve.
And I have this: I'm not in that place anymore where it hurts to breathe. My kids showed me that all life is sacred. That we are enough.
I hope you can remember that. I hope you can begin to let that secret self out to express her pain, to tell the story of her long journey to this place, and to know that the story isn't over. That it will include healing.
Your secret self will make some people uncomfortable and they will wish you would shut up about it. But your secret self is a prophet, leading you out of the darkness...and lighting the way for countless others.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Looking for answers? New reality TV show looking for betrayed wives...

Okay...I'm just putting this info out there: I was contacted by a producer looking for wives who want answers about their husbands'...ummm...extracurriculars. If you're interested in being paired with a private investigator, contact Dana at

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Letting Go of Heavy: Sometimes healing means putting down the pain

You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.  ~ C. JoyBell C.

At first, when we realize the pain has dulled, that pleasure, even slivers of it, have returned to our days, we rejoice. This, we figure, is what all those people were talking about. A new marriage. A better one. A partner whose awareness that he almost lost it all has invigorated his dedication, his determination to deserve the second chance we're offering.
But then we settle into a new normal. No longer the high highs or the devastating lows, life has regained its equilibrium. Our husband has shown himself worthy again of trust. We're often grateful for things that, perhaps, we weren't before.
The longer we go, however, without the drama and the intensity of D-Day and its aftermath, the more space there is for doubt to creep in.
He's 20 minutes late coming home for picking up pizza. Where was he really? He quickly puts down his phone when we enter the room. He shuts his laptop. The waitress at a restaurant seems to give him a look.
Or maybe he gets annoyed at us for moving some papers of his that he now can't find. Or frustrated that we forgot to fill the car up with gas.
Wait a minute, we think. He cheated on us! How dare he make me feel bad for, well, anything. He owes me bliss!!
And, frankly, yes, yes he does. But you ain't gonna get it. None of us is. The universe doesn't operate that way. Bliss comes in moments, not lifetimes.
The problem is that many of us think that, if we do the incredibly hard work of rebuilding our marriage, of giving him a second chance, of facing down our friends and family who think we're crazy for sticking it out, that we'll be rewarded with a better-than-ever marriage. Many betrayed wives have sites that essentially promise that an affair has actually made their marriage better. And while I'm on board with the possibility that rebuilding a marriage is just as viable an option post-infidelity as leaving the marriage, we have to be careful that we don't gloss over just how difficult marriage – any marriage! – is. To expect that marriage, post-betrayal, is going to be sunshine and roses is to set all of us up for disappointment.
And disappointment can feel crushing after all we've been through. Disappointment can feel like a dagger after so many indignities.
Preparing for it, though, can help us through its inevitable appearance.
I don't mean disappointment because he lied. Or disappointment because he went out with his buddies on your birthday. Or disappointment that he can't keep his temper in check. There are valid reasons to call  him out for being disrespectful and dishonest and giving you reason to reconsider your choice to stay.
No, I'm referring to the routine disappointments of life. He forgets to ask how your day was. He doesn't bother to compliment you on your haircut or the great meal you cooked. He makes it clear that he'd rather stick needles in his eyes than go to your mothers for dinner.
Routine disappointments that deserve to be noted and your hurt shared...but are hardly deal-breakers.
Disappointments that all of us are guilty of because we get tired. We get grumpy. We take those we love for granted now and again.
Disappointments that we need to let go because they're part of the ebb and flow of life. Because we're human.
A big part of healing from betrayal is learning what we need to let go, what weight we need to put down. It can be tricky. And it can be helpful to have friends, either in real life or virtual, that you can trust to help you with this. Should I have lambasted him when he was 10 minutes late because of a train? Or am I over-reacting? Is it reasonable for him to have dinner with his new female work colleague because they're on a project together or should he have said 'no'?
There are going to be bumps and missteps. You're going to over-react to some things and, sometimes,  under-react to legitimate red flags. You're going to have to figure some of this out as you go along.
But the more you can begin to let go, the more you can put down some of the weight you've been carrying, the more quickly you can move into a future that will have its share of downs, but also plenty of ups. Ups that you'll be better able to appreciate because you'll be present for them.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Words to Consider...

"But here's the thing: It's not whether somebody loves you that matters – it's how he treats you."
~Lisa Kogan, O Magazine (June 2015 issue)

Friday, May 8, 2015

From the Vault: I'm About to Wage War Over My Boundaries

I just discovered this never-published post that I wrote in 2012. I didn't post it because it seemed to have little to do with infidelity. Now, of course, I can see that boundary setting has TONS to do with infidelity. The good news is that, while I recognize the "me" in this post, she's not around so much now. The new "me" is so much better at this stuff. Whattaya know, huh? Change is possible...the war is won.

I'm severely pissed off these days.
At my husband. At my 12-year-old daughter. At my thousand-year-old cat. At the government. The list goes on.
I'm sick – sick to death, I tell you! – of feeling disrespected and unappreciated. I cook, I clean, I pick up cat feces that always miss the litter box by just enough. Does anyone thank me? Appreciate me? Treat me with the kindness and compassion I deserve??
And that, of course, is the problem.
No-one can take advantage of you without your permission, my mother often reminded me as I lamented yet another situation from which I couldn't seem to extricate myself.
Of course, like generations of daughters before and yet-to-come, I shrugged it off. After all, what the hell did my mother know?
Turns out, quite a lot. And given her own experience with betrayal, I should definitely have listened a bit more closely to her advice.
If anyone knew boundaries, it was my mother.
Me? Not so much.
But boundaries aren't just for keeping ourselves from volunteering too often at the school bake sale. They're an integral part of healing from betrayal. They're an integral part of living a healthy life.
They are, in fact, like a rulebook for how to live our lives. They remind us that we matter...even when other aren't treating us like we do. Make that especially when others aren't treating us like we do.
Wendy Strgar, whom I've cited on this site before, notes in this blog post that "boundaries are the truest measure of how we love ourselves."
And I haven't been loving myself too well these days (or, come to think of it, ever).
Maybe you haven't been either.
Instead, my boundaries are like Silly String. They're hang in threads...and no-one takes them seriously.
The result, of course, is that I do a whole lot of stuff for everyone else and very little for myself. Which (see above) makes me really pissed off.
Well, I'm tired of feeling pissed off.
So I'm spending some time figuring out where my boundaries are. No easy task. In some cases, they don't exist so I'm creating them. Based on nothing more than a feeling in my gut that advises me whether or not what I'm about to do or say "yes" to makes me feel yucky (that's a technical term).
I can't always feel it. I've become something of an expert at sending that little gut feeling to her room where she's completely silent. And so I'm learning to invite her back out and to offer up her advice.
When I listen, it's usually something like this:
"Why are you picking up your son's backpack when you've told him REPEATEDLY to do it himself. Instead, let him know that if he doesn't put them away himself, it'll be tossed in a bin in the garage. And that's where he can find his homework next time he's looking for it."
Wow. My gut is a bitch you don't want to mess with.
And while I don't want to be a bitch, I do want to be respected. Which is, sometimes, the same thing.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Word Hug...

"When you've been through an unexpected change, the old you dies and a new one is born. And therefore you must allow yourself to be a baby. Get emotional and moral support any way you can. Give yourself a limited time each day (at least an hour) to do nothing but focus on this adjustment. And don't make big decisions until you've got your legs under you. You don't even know who the new you will grow up to be, so postpone large commitments, giving yourself time and love. Everything else will take care of itself."
~Martha Beck, author and O Magazine columnist

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Falling Apart...Together

I remember so vividly a day in early spring when my whole reality gave out on me. Although it was before I had heard any Buddhist teachings, it was what some would call a genuine spiritual experience. It happened when my husband told me he was having an affair.

We lived in northern New Mexico. I was standing in front of our adobe house drinking a cup of tea. I heard the car drive up and the door bang shut. Then he walked around the corner, and without warning he told me that he was having an affair and he wanted a divorce.

I remember the sky and how huge it was. I remember the sound of the river and the steam rising up from my tea. There was no time, no thought, there was nothing - just the light and a profound, limitless stillness. Then I regrouped and picked up a stone and threw it at him.

When anyone asks how I got involved in Buddhism, I always say it was because I was so angry with my husband. The truth is that he saved my life. When that marriage fell apart, I tried hard - very, very hard - to go back to some kind of comfort, some kind of security, some kind of familiar resting place. Fortunately for me, I could never pull it off.  

Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. . . . To stay with that shakiness - to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge - that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic - this is the spiritual path.
~Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

It begs disbelief that the moment of our deepest pain can become the moment of our deepest transformation. How in the world can something that makes it hard to breathe, that makes it hard to see, that slams into our consciousness obliterating everything else possibly lead us to a greater joy, a greater compassion, a greater understanding?
Call me a cynic but though I desperately wanted to believe that, I thought it was a bunch of woo-woo nonsense. Maybe other people, those who burned incense and danced under a full moon, might fall for that "out of suffering comes transformation" hokey, but not me. Pain was pain. Suffering sucked. And people who inflicted it deserved to die in the most excruciating way possible. Besides, I had a book due, three young children who required me to feed them and tuck them into bed, and a mother on her deathbed. I hardly had time for transformation. I barely had time to make breakfast.
I wasn't successful in holding myself together, though I tried mightily. I fell apart routinely. Being a total control freak, I sorta managed to schedule my falling apart. It happened at night after kids were asleep. Or it happened on the weekends when my husband (the rat-bastard responsible for my falling apart) was around to ensure my children weren't juggling knives while I sobbed on my bathroom floor into the warm body of my devoted dog. But it happened. Often. Sometimes it happened in the grocery store.
I can't pinpoint the exact moment when, into those cracks in my heart, compassion crept in. I know I felt it when my husband fully confessed (D-Day #2), curling into a fetal ball on the floor, expecting nothing from me beyond a swift kick in his ass and the promise that he'd hear from my lawyer. But then compassion took a back seat to rage for a few months at least. would surface. After a few months of taking my rage on the road, pounding the pavement with my sneakers and fantasizing of the ways in which I'd humiliate and destroy the OW, I began to feel something different for her. Pity. Sadness. A recognition that she was injured and unable to heal herself. My disgust with her likely paled in comparison to her disgust with herself, though she hid it behind bravado and armour.
And then I noticed that I was able to feel compassion even for myself, something I'd never allowed. If I'd messed up in the past, I beat myself up. I stewed in shame, though I'd never realized it. I knew no other way but to hide the "real" me behind a polished-to-perfection exterior.
Stripped of all that – it's hard to feel perfect wearing a filthy bathrobe and convinced that my husband cheated because there was something wrong with ME – I saw myself differently. Not as flawed but as injured. A wounded warrior in a terrycloth robe and slippers. Someone who'd always hid her pain. Whose desire to be seen was only outstripped by her fear of it.
I tried something new. Compassion toward myself. I gave myself kudos for getting up each day. I patted myself on the back for not murdering my husband. I congratulated myself for having kept my children alive when I didn't even want to be alive.
Where before I kept a running critique of all the ways in which I was "less": not a good enough cook, kids don't behave well enough (bad mother!), not thin enough, house messy...the list was endless.
Transformation, I've discovered, isn't a bolt of lightning from the sky. It wasn't magic.
For me, transformation was showing up each day, slowly opening my heart to the possibility that I could handle this. That I was worth fighting for. Not someone else fighting for me but ME fighting for me. That I was enough, just as I was. That I had always been.
And within that transformation, there were many many gifts. Much suffering too. But that, it seems, is where transformation takes root.
I still don't burn incense and though I won't dance under the moon I always admire it. It reminds me that we're each so small. Small but enough, guided toward a deeper understanding that none of us escapes this life without pain. And that pain itself can transform.


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