|This has nothing to do with questions but black cats are the best.|
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 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.
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.