Friday, September 21, 2018

Beware the Resistance: Five Questions To Stop Asking

This has nothing to do with questions but black cats are the best.
Sure the circumstances of our betrayal vary. For some, the OW was a friend (extra ouch!). For others, their partner confessed. For me, the affair I learned about was the gateway to a hell of many many others that I hadn't a clue about.
However you find yourself here, you're want help. The pain feels endless, each excruciating day rolling into another with no discernible hope. He keeps saying stupid hurtful things, or refusing to say anything at all. Your friends, the few who you've confided in, are growing weary of your need, or they're exasperated that you're not taking their advice to leave, or they're fuelling the drama.
And you've got this nagging fear that's keeping you stuck, this script that won't let up. What if you made the wrong choice? What if he cheats again? What if you're giving up your chance to be happy for the sake of...what exactly? Avoiding conflict? Preserving your family? Fear of the unknown?
I've been there. It has been said that depression is an inability to release the past and anxiety is an inability to release the future. I lived between those two states. Profoundly depressed at how wrong I'd been about my marriage and profoundly anxious about being wrong again. What if...? What if...?What if...?
But most of it boiled down to five questions that I couldn't shake. Questions that woke me up and kept me up. Questions that chased me through my days.
You too? Well...you're not alone.
But here's how to slay those questions and, hopefully, put them to rest for good:
Question #1: Did he cheat because there's something wrong with me?
No, he cheated because there's something wrong with him. Sure there are guys who say they cheated because their wife gained weight. Or lost interest in sex. Or nagged too much. But though they might actually even believe that's true, it's not. Not entirely.
Cause here's the thing. He could have talked to you. He could have shared how he was feeling. Tough? Absolutely. But not nearly as horrible as cheating on someone.
Far more often, though, a guy cheats because he's unhappy with himself. Maybe he's unhappy that he's not more successful at this age. Or because he's getting older. Or because he drinks too much. Or because he knows how resentful his wife is that he's never around. SO MUCH EASIER to blame you for his unhappiness than take responsibility for it.
And, again, if he's truly unhappy with you, with his marriage, then he can share that crucial tidbit of info. And ask for counselling or a divorce. You know...the grown-up way.

Question #2: By staying, aren't I letting him off the hook?
Nope. I hear this one all the time. I FELT this one all the time.
But what, exactly, is "off the hook"? Is it "off the hook" if your husband must attend a 12-step group to deal with his addiction issues? Is it "off the hook" if your husband must hand over any/all passwords, e-mail addresses? Is it "off the hook" if he checks in with you about where he is? By "off the hook", do we mean couples counselling? Reading books about healing from infidelity? Giving up boys' weekends? We don't ask those things of our husbands to punish them for transgressing but to help us heal, to help rebuild trust.
I don't know a single guy who would consider having to look in their wife's eyes and seeing the world of pain there as "off the hook". Rather, by staying and facing the damage caused by cheating, these guys are constantly on the hook. They've chosen that hook, knowing full-well that they put themselves there.

Question #3: What if he cheats again? Or is still cheating?
Well, then, you give some thought to what you'll do if you discover he's still cheating or cheats again in the future. SOME thought. Not daily obsessing. If he cheats again, then I will file for divorce. If he cheats again, I will pack up the children and go to my sister's. Fill it in yourself: If he cheats again, I will...  The key is to have your plan in place so that if you discover he's cheating again or still, you don't have to rely on your brain to formulate rational thought. You can rely on your plan. You can even include others in it. Tell your best friend. Your sister. Him. And then do it.
In the meantime, put conditions in place so that he can show you (or not) that he deserves this second chance. And then, as best you can (and I KNOW how hard it is), let it go. You can only control yourself. Not him. Ever.

Question #4: Does staying make me a doormat?
A loud "hell no". Staying requires an incredible amount of courage and faith and hard work and I don't give a shit what our culture says about women who don't kick him out, nor do I give a flying f#%k about the "once a cheater" crowd who shames women who choose to stay.
But.
But if you are staying because you are afraid of rocking the boat or his anger, then you are absolutely NOT a doormat but you are likely in an abusive relationship. You are likely accustomed to settling for crumbs. And it will take a whole lot of healing and tapping into the strength that's there, buried, in order to realize your own worthiness. It's only when we feel worthy of leaving that we can truly choose to stay.

Question #5: Will our marriage ever be the same?
NO!! At least, I sure as hell hope not. Too often we look back at our "old" life through a distorted lens. Our marriage was perfect, we were soul-mates, he was my best friend. While that might be true, to a point, your marriage wasn't what you thought it was. He wasn't who you thought he was. Hell, he probably wasn't even who HE thought he was. And that's kinda scary, huh? That the people we think we know absolutely can turn out to be...kinda strangers. This person you think you know so well, that you could predict everything about him, has facets that you didn't know. Longings you didn't know about. Fears you didn't know about. Darkness you didn't know about.
So...yeah. Scary.
But, also, interesting. Because you probably have longings you don't know about (or haven't shared). Fears you don't know about (or haven't shared). Darkness you don't know about (or haven't shared). And this crisis, this crack in your marriage is an invitation to explore that – for each of you to explore that and talk about it and get to know each other more deeply. It can be horribly uncomfortable. We don't like to look at people's darkness. But a refusal to allow others to be fully themselves is the opposite of love. A resistance to another's full humanity is an act of aggression, of silencing, or erasure.
I remember once lamenting to my therapist that my eldest daughter, who was behaving in ways that I didn't like, "wasn't herself". My therapist called me out on it. Of course, she's herself, she told me. Who else is she? She's just not someone I liked very much at that point. She was making choices I didn't want her making. And so I told myself that she wasn't herself. In this case, my daughter because unhappy with her own choices and began to choose differently. But that doesn't mean it wasn't "herself" who made those earlier choices. It was just a different "herself".
Our husbands were themselves when they chose to cheat. And we can (and I sure as hell do) HATE that choice. But that was him. He can choose differently. And I hope he will.
Let us hope that your marriage will never be the same. That you both will continue to grow and shift and share that growth with each other, even when it's uncomfortable and squirmy and makes us want to avert our eyes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

"Alternative Facts": When We're Told We're Crazy for Seeing What's in Front of Us

As I write this, there's yet another political scandal, this time involving a nominee for a lifetime Supreme Court appointment.
The Internet is practically on fire with people on both sides but along with my outrage I'm struck by how familiar this all feels. Familiar too, I suspect, for you.
We live in a culture in which women's reality is constantly challenged. Not just women, of course. People who are poor. People who are ethnic minorities. People of color. But living in this culture, in which we are constantly questioning and being questioned about our objective reality is crazy-making.
And it grooms us, to some extent for what is pejoratively (and unironically) called "alternative facts":
"She's just a friend."
"We haven't even met in person."
"Why were you even looking at my phone?"
"What...are you following me now?"
"You're acting crazy."
"I can't talk to you when you're so hysterical."
Etcetera.
Etcetera.
We will find ourselves on the defensive. Forget that you've just presented credible evidence that he's cheating on you, YOU will be the one being challenged.
"Your phone was right there. The message flashed."
"I'm not hysterical. I'm just upset."
"I didn't follow you! I saw your car in a strange driveway."
Etcetera.
Etcetera.
Our culture grooms us for this from childhood. We're too sensitive (for pointing out that people say and do incredibly insensitive things.) We have such an imagination (when we point out something that people would prefer remained hidden).
We're hysterical.
We're crazy.
We're emotional.
We're hormonal.
We're jealous.
But the danger of our culture dismissing us grows more dangerous when we begin gaslighting ourselves. When we agree that we're not credible witnesses.
Consider the ways in which your reality has been challenged throughout your life. Those of us who grew up with addiction or neglect or abuse will have a long list of ways in which we denied reality to not rock the boat.
But even those of you in relatively healthy homes can likely recall incidents in which you were subtly or not-so-subtley told to keep quiet because you won't be believed. It's what our culture does to women. Be quiet about the teacher putting his hand on your knee. You don't want to be responsible for him losing his job, after all, he has a wife and kids. Don't make a fuss about the date who was convinced you wanted it. Instead, question your own conduct – after all, what were you wearing? Why out so late? And you were drinking?
My 15-year-old was waiting on a busy street Friday night to be picked up from a theatre program she's involved in. She mentioned yesterday that some guys were hollering at her from across the street. As she told me this, it was as though she was running it through some cultural brain filter in order to make sense of it. It seemed that she was talking less to me than herself. "I was wearing a long t-shirt over a pair of shorts," she mused, wondering aloud that cultural question: What did I do to invite this unwanted attention?
My heart sank. This is a girl who has been told her entire life that her story matters. That her truth matters. That she's believable.
And she's doubting herself.
For all of you out there being told that your suspicions are somehow "crazy", that what you know in your gut is happening isn't happening, that you're just "jealous", I'm with you.
You're not crazy. You're not a hysterical wife.
Far more likely, you are picking up a zillion tiny clues indicating that something's not right here. As best you can, be still. Pay attention to those clues. Collect evidence, if only to remind yourself that your reality is, in fact, reality.
And brace yourself for the gaslighting. For the pushback. For the minimizing.
There's an army of us behind you who believe every word you're saying. Because it's true.


Monday, September 17, 2018

From the Vault: I Cannot Walk Your Path

"The maps and travelogues left behind by others are great blessings, full of useful information and inspiration, but they cannot take the journey for us."~Author unknown

Many of us knew exactly what we would do if our husbands cheated on us. And then it happened. Suddenly we not only weren't doing what we always said we'd do (almost without fail, throw him out), we were behaving in ways that were confusing to us. That made us wonder if we'd lost our minds. And within that confusion lay such judgement of ourselves. So many of us were ashamed of ourselves for not sticking with what we said we'd do.
Thing is, none of us really knows what we'll do until we're in the situation. And once we're in that situation, the best we can do is treat ourselves with compassion for the challenge we're facing.
And, of course, none of us knows what another woman should do because we're not in her situation.
I bring this up because a BWC member commented a while back that she had taken my "advice" and stuck with her husband only to find out that his affair had never really ended. There she was, another year or so invested in her marriage, and only deeper in pain.
She was leaving him then and only wished I had encouraged her to do so earlier.
I told her I was very sorry for her pain. Sorrier still that her husband wasn't able to accept the deep gift of her desire to rebuild their marriage.
But, I pointed out, I never told her to stay or leave and I felt badly that she had interpreted my response to her as such. I, frankly, haven't a clue whether any of you should stay or leave. Actually that's not true. If there's abuse of any kind, get out. Now. (Though even with that, I know that some women simply can't leave for any number of reasons that I might not understand.)
But beyond that, there's isn't a right way to respond to this. 
Life is messy. Marriages that look hopeless somehow get stitched together to everyone's benefit. Others just don't make it despite valiant attempts. Some survive betrayal only to fall apart down the road for other reasons. 
I wish I had a crystal ball and could therefore predict which marriages were worth fighting for and which should be hastily exited. Of course, I don't. I don't pretend to.
What I do offer here is hard-won wisdom from walking my own path. Though each of us is unique we face similar challenges. Our husbands behave in bizarrely similar ways. We can benefit from each other's experience as long as we recognize that we don't all walk the same path to healing. As long as we understand that what worked for her mightn't work for me and vice versa. 
There are times when I will use such words as "here's what you should do" and then outline the steps a BW can take to, for example, get back on her feet, get some sleep, or regain her self-respect. But I don't have all the answers. I haven't even faced all the questions. I have my own experience and an understanding of what so many of you have faced as you've trusted me with your stories. That's all.
Each of our stories is our own. Each of us walks her own path to healing. I cannot walk yours and you cannot walk mine. But we can hold each other up along the way.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Introducing...

Check out the right margin and you'll see our new Betrayed Wives Club emblem, thanks to StillStanding1, who brought her talent and her love for this site and all of you to the task. She nailed it with her beautiful woman, rooted deeply but reaching for healing. Encircled by the women she is and the others who support her.

You'll also notice that I've linked to Encyclopedia for the Betrayed: Your A - Z Survival Guide for Anyone Who's Ever Been Lied To, Cheated On and Left for Dead. I am so grateful to the women who've ordered the book and those who wrote heartfelt and heartwarming reviews on Amazon. I aim to get this book into the hands of every woman desperate for a voice of calm and wisdom as she deals with the pain of betrayal. Just like I was. Just like you were. Let's make it happen.

xo


Monday, September 10, 2018

When the Pain Is Unbearable


Like a movie I watched years ago, the details are mostly murky except for one vivid scene. There had been crying and yelling. I retreated to the bathroom off our master bedroom – the most private spot I could find to howl with rage and pain – and curled into a ball on the floor. I couldn't take it. Not for another minute, let alone the days, and weeks, and years, and lifetime I imagined stretched out, one agonizing day following another. 
I calculated the the number of pills available to me in a nearby drawer. A doctor had recently prescribed me some anti-anxiety pills and I considered their potential to stop my heart. Maybe if I washed them down with vodka.
I thought of my children downstairs. And of my mother, who spent five years in and out of psychiatric hospitals after various suicide attempts. No. I would not do that do my kids.
The rest of the scene grows vague again. I remember considering driving myself to the emergency room. Eventually I made an appointment with my therapist, which felt like a strong enough rope to hold me until I could see her. At that point in time, she felt, literally, like a lifeline. Her office meant safety. 
She also convinced me to begin taking anti-depressants. I fought against it. Until she explained that chronic stress literally changes our brain chemistry. My brain, she told me, wasn't working like it would under less difficult circumstances. I needed to help it start working properly again. She drew me a picture with neurons and serotonin and dopamine receptors. And so I said yes.
Those pills might have saved my life. 
But I know how tenuous that grip can feel, how tempting to just let it all slip away. To just...sleep. And never wake up.
We don't want to die. Not really. It just feels like the only exit we can imagine for ourselves. We want the pain to stop and we don't believe it ever will. We're suffocated by it. Rendered invisible in the darkness. Who is this stranger who used to be me?
I know. 
I also know this.
It doesn't last forever. 
Slowly, with time, sometimes with medication, and a commitment to not give up (except for those days when we give ourselves permission to rest), the pain begins to recede.
Our culture has such distorted ideas around suicide. Around medication. Around mental health. But let me tell you this: The strongest people I've ever met in my entire life are those who battle invisible demons just to get through a "normal" day. 
My daughter who wished herself dead rather than face another day of paranoia and delusions and terror when she was first experiencing bipolar disorder. Lithium has given her back her life and she's happier than she's ever been.
My younger daughter who wished herself dead rather than face another day of relentless obsessive-compulsive thoughts that had her changing her clothes repeatedly, unable to eat "contaminated" food, terrified of touching "germs". She relies on mindfulness and OCD therapy.
My mother who wished herself dead rather than face another day of failing to resist the vodka and the pills. Twelve-step groups were her saviour.
All survived because all asked for help. 
I asked for help.
It isn't easy. Our health care systems around the world fail far too many. The waits are too long. The medications too unpredictable. The doctors overworked. 
My family is lucky. We live in Canada with a socialized  healthcare system. Our city is noted for its hospitals. We are white middle-class with resources at our disposal. We have friends who are doctors and who gave us a roadmap for navigating the system. 
I'm loud. When my kids are hurting and desperate, I can be very very loud.
Be loud. 
Make your voice heard. You matter. I've never known anything with greater clarity than that. You matter. So do I. We all do. Every single sobbing one of us.
It doesn't matter if he thinks you matter. As I've said before, just because someone else doesn't recognize a diamond doesn't make it any less valuable.
If you need help, ask for it. Demand it. 
If you need medication, get it. There is no shame is using every tool in the toolbox to put yourself back together. 
And if you think you can't hold on another minute, do this: Call a suicide helpline and let them guide you to the resources you need. 

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