Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"Getting Away with It": How Our Desire for Revenge Gets in the Way of Our Healing

If there's one roadblock on the path to healing that trips up pretty much all of us, it's that the Other Woman often, to our eyes, "gets away with it."
"She gets to walk away with no impact on her life," one of us wrote.
"There's no accountability," bemoaned another.
"I'm here in pieces and on her Facebook page are photos of her laughing and showing off a new ring and having fun," raged another.
Ah, the lament of the truly wronged. We not only want karma to hit her hard, we want a front-row seat for it. We want to witness her misery. To relish her pain.

It's a normal impulse. We're hard-wired to want fairness. Ever listened to a five-year-old who's been cheated out of her share of birthday cake? The outrage! The sense of injustice! So it's not at all surprising that when we feel someone has helped herself to something (or someone!) that is ours, we scream for our pound of flesh.
And, yeah, there might be some satisfaction over discovering that her husband tossed her out. Or she lost her job. Or her children hate her guts. Or that she was just diagnosed with cancer. Or got a DUI. But, if you're anything like me, you over-estimated the satisfaction you thought you'd feel from seeing the karma bus run her over. And under-estimated the pain that still sat like an elephant on your heart.
What's more, surely the one overwhelming lesson we can take from a partner's betrayal is that life isn't fair.
I watched the OW get fired, though she negotiated a hefty severance package thanks to my husband's desire to make her go quietly. ("Money earned on her back," I was heard to mutter). But even knowing she felt humiliated and disappointed at losing a job she liked didn't really change anything. Getting fired was the logical consequence for someone who spent more time at her job looking for men to screw than clients to sign so, in that sense, she didn't "get away with it." Her pain didn't make mine any more bearable. It simply kept me hooked into her life, connected to her by bitterness.
Besides, a few years later, I heard she had found a new job, gotten married and was pregnant. So much for payback.
By then, however, I was able to respond in a way I couldn't have imagined closer to D-Day. I was able to hope she'd done some real reckoning with her choices and was able to be a good wife, a good mother. I knew her own parents had sucked and I hoped she was able to create a better home than the one she'd been raised in.
That ability to offer up even the teensiest bit of compassion for her was a big part of my own healing. By letting go of my focus on her and her life, I was free to focus on me and how the hell I was going to get through this agony. Besides, her life was a mess. Had always been. And that's the thing with so many of these Other Woman. There are exceptions to the train-wreck OWs that populate our lives, sure. But, c'mon, people who get involved with married men are, almost by definition, people who lack healthy boundaries, a moral compass, and self-respect. While we may not see them pay for their transgressions, they pretty much write their own endings. And they're rarely "happily ever after."
So no matter how much it looks like they "got away with it", know this: If they are capable of the smallest bit of self-examination, they didn't get away with a thing. They know exactly what they did and the deception and pain they helped create is something they will live with for the rest of their lives. Those who are incapable or unwilling to take responsibility for the role they played? They can play all the moral gymnastics they want to convince themselves – and others – that they weren't the ones who did anything wrong. ("I wasn't the one who made any vows"; "We didn't intend to hurt anyone." "It just happened." "We're free to love who we want" and blah blah bullshit blah). But those who go through life without any regard or respect for anyone's feelings but their own will inevitably live lives that are small and sad and lonely.
Most of us won't get that front-row seat for the OW's pain. We' won't be there for their 3 a.m. moments of reckoning when the weight of their choices sits on our chests.
All we can do is focus on our own healing. Trust in our own strength. And continue to be guided by our own integrity. There's no shortcut through the pain of betrayal. But refusing to remain hooked into the messy lives of these OW will ensure that our own path toward healing has fewer roadblocks.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Time Conceals All Wounds: Why Waiting Out the Pain Isn't Enough

Over on the Multiple Affairs thread, there's a common story. A husband cheated, "I forgave him" and now, here she is again. It's chilling to those of us who've chosen to give our husband's a second chance. It feeds our fear that he'll cheat again and we'll have nobody to blame but our stupid selves for trusting him.
But here's the thing. The "I forgave him" narrative rarely includes the blood, sweat and buckets of tears that we know needs to precede forgiveness. Forgiveness isn't a willingness to pretend the betrayal never happened. It's a decision to no longer let that betrayal hold us hostage.
It can be tempting, if your husband is of the "I'm sorry. It won't happen again. But I can't live with you constantly harping about my affair" variety, to let time work magic. Sure there might be a pit in your stomach when he comes home late and, sure, you may have nagging fears, but those feelings are manageable. They're not that I-can't-breathe down on your knees agony of first finding out. Time hasn't so much healed your pain but concealed it. Tucking our pain away allows us to function in our lives. It can mimic healing in a way that fools even us.
My heart still thuds when I remember the agonizing gut-punch of D-Day. It felt crippling. Our impulse is to run from pain. To make promises, to rush to forgiveness, to minimize – anything to reduce the heartbreak, anything to make the pain even slightly more bearable.
But pain will hide in the shadows. It will show up as irritability. It will show up as headaches, stomach issues, chronic illness. It will show up as self-harm. Too much drinking. Too much eating. Too much exercise. Too much Facebook. Too little gentleness or kindness with yourself. Too little stillness. Too little consideration for your own wants and needs.
We need to avoid that impulse to rush toward healing. We need to keep our pain somewhere we can continue to chip away at it. To let ourselves really feel it. To trust that our pain has something important to teach us about our worth, our boundaries, our hearts and that, if we'll let it, it can also show us the way forward.
When we look at the stories of our lives – stories that include heartbreak of all kinds: illnesses, losses, betrayals – we discover that within those times of being broken open, we reinvent ourselves. We draw clearer lines around what we want in our lives, we re-examine behaviour patterns that are no longer serving us, we reconsider the people we surround ourselves with and become more discerning.
Time is no magical elixir without a willingness to go deep into it in order to emerge stronger.
Don't fear the darkness because without it, you wouldn't be able to see the light ahead calling you forward. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Love yourself like a mother

I've watched my Facebook page fill with photos of smiling mothers, heartfelt posts by children who love their mothers, and wistful posts by those who miss their mothers or miss their children.
What comes through is the fierceness of that love.
And that, my warrior sisters in this club none of us wanted to join, is what I wish for you. That you take that fierce mother love that you feel for your children, that you felt from your mother or what you SHOULD have felt from your mother, and wrap yourself in it. Arm yourself with it.
You are enough.
That your partner or parent or sister or boss or whomever can't see your value doesn't make you worth less. A diamond unrecognized is still a diamond.
Love yourselves like a mother. Ferociously. Fiercely. Forever.

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