Friday, December 9, 2016

The Affair was a Fantasy. And Not a Very Good One.

I sometimes look at the search terms that bring women to my site. It's common to see such searches as "things women say during sex" or "is cheating sex better".
And my heart aches.
Because I know that there's a woman in pain at the keyboard, desperately seeking answers for why her husband has betrayed her. Wondering just what it is that's wrong about her, or at least what's better about the other woman, that made her husband hurt her so profoundly.
Almost ten years ago, I was that woman. Googling my heart out for answers.
They came. Eventually. Not nearly as quickly as I would have liked. But, no doubt, they came when I was ready to recognize them.
It's hard to be patient. And it's hard to understand that what our culture tells us about affairs – that they're exciting, that the sex is always outrageously good, that the other woman is enticing and empowered – is complete and utter bullshit.
For a start, make anything forbidden and it will suddenly consume every waking thought. If you don't believe me, you've never tried to give up sugar. Or caffeine. Or bread. THAT is what an affair is. The sudden conviction that this one thing is what you've been missing. That this one thing makes you more you than anything else. And the more forbidden it is, the more you want it. Need it. 
But an affair is more than that. An affair is a distorted mirror that only reflects back what we want to see. Gone are our flaws, replaced by an idealized image of ourselves as sexy and interesting and vibrant. It conveniently shrinks guilt or shame. It refuses to acknowledge the pain created for others. In fact, there's little room is this mirror for others. They're inconvenient. They get in the way of this intoxicating image we see reflected. Even the Other Woman isn't reflected so much as what she represents. A reflection of who we wish we were, instead of the real-life version we really are, one with insecurities and a bald spot. One with fears and disappointments. One that hides behind a mask for a relative stranger rather than show our true face to the person with whom we've committed to spend our life.
An affair is where cowards hide. It's a curtain that obscures deeply broken people.
Which is why I refuse to accept that the only response to a partner's cheating is to walk away. If they're unwilling to acknowledge their brokenness, then yes, it makes sense to mitigate your own future suffering by walking away now. And if they show no awareness or remorse for the pain they've caused, then yes, it makes sense to remove such a sociopath from your life.
But the others, the ones who feel deep guilt for the pain they've caused, who are willing to do the hard work of looking into a true mirror and seeing their mistakes in full, can be worth the time and the pain and the effort it takes to rekindle your love.
Because the other thing I've learned through this is that we only really grow through experiences that challenge us to look more deeply at ourselves. Our pain has lessons for us, about who we are, about what we stand for, about what we value and how we show that – or don't, as the case may be – in our lives.
He might have escaped into an affair to avoid his own pain. And yes, he betrayed you but, if he has any scruples at all, he also betrayed himself. And there's a mountain of pain in that hard truth.
I often say that there is no right way through the agony of betrayal. My response is no more "right" than another's choice to head straight to the divorce lawyer. I have friends who've been cheated on who've done exactly that. Even with a repentant spouse who begged for a second chance, one friend of mine said 'nope'. She's remarried (so is her ex to the OW who doesn't seem to mind that she was first runner-up) and they have an amicable relationship as co-parents to their son. She's mentioned that she thinks they could have rebuilt their marriage. That she doesn't think he would have cheated again, after the devastation he caused. But, she shrugs, doesn't matter now. Things have worked out just fine.
And that's the thing. If you make your healing your goal, it will matter far less whether your marriage survives. Because you will be okay. No matter what. 
And that gives you the freedom to really understand that your husband's affair will never define you. That nothing in that other woman is anything you really want. 
She was a fantasy. The real-life her is just a broken woman willing to settle for second runner-up. You, on the other hand, are in the process of becoming your own number one. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

What do we really know about why our husbands cheated?

we need to NOT know what the person meant,
so we can ask.
we need to NOT know why someone does something,
so we can ask.
we need to NOT know someone’s thoughts and
feelings, so we can ask.
we need to NOT know how to fix something so we can
work with others and include other ideas and come up
with things together.

~Terri St. Cloud

I knew exactly why my husband cheated. It was because she was a porn star in bed. It was because he was raised in a sexually repressive family that trafficked in shame. It was because he didn't love me. Or his kids. It was because he felt entitled. It was because of the alpha male "locker room" atmosphere in his stock-jocky office.
I knew. 
It was because I wasn't pretty enough. Or interesting enough. I nagged too much. I didn't cook the foods that he liked. He hated the color I painted our bedroom.
The list went on.
But I knew.
Nonetheless, I continued to ask him. Why would you do this? What's wrong with you? What's wrong with me? What does she have that I don't. Why? Why? Why?
He told me. It's not you, he said. There's nothing wrong with you. It's me, he said. There's something wrong with me.
But I wasn't listening to him. I was only listening to me and my long list of reasons. I was listening to our culture and its long list of reasons. Men cheat because they like sex more than wives do. Men cheat because they're dogs. Men cheat because they're hard-wired to spead their seed. Men cheat because sex isn't about love. 
I couldn't hear what my husband was saying over the noise of everybody else.
There's something wrong with me. 
The problem with "knowing" is it closes our ears to answers that don't line up with what we've already decided to be true. By "knowing", we can't learn. By "knowing", we aren't open to other thoughts, other truths, others' experiences.
It gets in the way of really understanding, or at least moving toward understanding. 
My husband tried to tell me his truth for months, even as he continued to hide the extent of his cheating. There's something wrong with me, he said. I hurt too, he said. 
But I was so busy telling him who he was and why he did what he did, oh! and reminding him daily (minute by minute!) of the price I was paying for his cheating. 
It was a normal response to the worst pain I've ever experienced. 
But it wasn't helpful. 
If I could go back and have a do-over, I would try and stop myself from knowing quite so much. I would urge myself to listen a bit more. To ask myself, when my mind was racing with the infinite reasons why my husband cheated on me, what was my source of information
Knowing can sometimes get in the way of finding a deeper truth that can move us toward healing. Knowing is the enemy of learning more, of allowing another to tell his story.
Not everyone can tell his story, for lots of different reasons. He doesn't understand himself why he made such a painful choice. Although, "I don't know..." is a valid part of his story too, at least until he's willing to learn more. Or maybe he accepts what our culture tells us: it's "normal" for guys to want sex all the time. Monogamy is unnatural. And on and on. 
Some prefer the fiction they've been telling themselves that absolves them of any real responsibility for what they've done. She nags all the time. She's not interested in sex. She doesn't love me anymore.
Sometimes, as I've said before, a dog is a dog. And they're not worth the heartbreak of trying to rebuild a relationship because they see nothing wrong with what they did (except they got caught) and have no plans to really change their behaviour. It's that old "locker room" defence. Guys will be guys, right? And, eyeroll, women...amirite?
Yeah but those aren't the guys we want to be with. They're not the guys willing to dig deep to discover what's driving their hurtful behaviour. They're not the guys worth gambling your future on.
But the others can be. The ones who, though it might take a little while, are willing to recognize that they alone are responsible for the damage they've caused. The ones who hate what they did and hate the pain they've caused us. The ones who want to understand who they are and how they can become a better person. Who want to like the guy they see in the mirror.
My husband was one of those guys. But I couldn't see it until I stopped "knowing" quite so much. It was only when I challenged my own "facts" that I was able to see my own fiction. 
I was right about a few things but wrong about plenty. 
And I continue to be wrong. Just ask my kids. 
Opening my mind to others' perspectives has changed how I interact with everyone in my life. I can no longer presume to understand what's driving anyone's behaviour. Truth is, I don't know. Sometimes they don't even know. But being willing to listen, to take the time to challenge not only my own version of events but others' versions too, gets us all to a place where we better understand ourselves and them.
It's tough. We hate not knowing. But not knowing gives us the opening into knowing better. 


Monday, November 28, 2016

Don't Let His Affair Change Who You Are

A.J. Muste, a Dutch-born American clergyman and civil rights activist would stand in front of the White House each night during the Vietnam War holding a candle. A reporter asked him, "Mr. Muste, do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle?"
To which Muste replied, "Oh, I don't do it to change the country, I do it so the country won't change me."

On the inside of my left wrist is new tattoo of a safety pin. You might know that this safety pin movement has gained steam in recent weeks after the election of Donald Trump as a way of signalling to frightened, vulnerable people that they have allies among us. That not all of us see them as "others".
It's my first tattoo and, likely, my last. It's not my only way of reaching out to the marginalized. I also roll up my sleeves to work. But my tattoo's purpose is to remind me, every single day, that kindness matters. That decency matters. That every single one of us matters. And it's to remind me not to let this bully culture change who I am. To hold tight to what I believe even when my beliefs seem drowned out by the angry mobs. 
I feel a vulnerability and anxiety that I haven't felt since the weeks and months and year following D-Day. This sense that the world is unsafe. That there is a darkness that goes deeper than I realized. 
It can be so hard to remember who we are in those moments. When we're confronted with the realization that we were lied to, that the person we trusted with our hearts didn't deserve that trust, it's especially hard to hold on to who we are. Fear lies to us. It tells us that we're a fool. It tells us that we're not good enough and that's why this is happening to us. Which is why it's crucial to stand in the truth of who we are. To remember that we don't deserve this or any betrayal. That, no matter what he or the OW or our "friends" or anyone else is saying, we are not fools. It can be hard to remember what's in our own hearts when those hearts are shattered.
But don't change. I'm not, of course, referring to changing the things that might make you happier, the things that are part of radical self-love and self-care. Develop an exercise program if that makes you feel better. Change your job if you're miserable and unappreciated. Change your drinking habits if they're contributing to problems in your life. Change your clothing if it's time to remind yourself that you're beautiful beneath those sweatpants and stained t-shirt. Change your husband is he continues to reveal himself as someone incapable of or unwilling to become a better person. 
But remember who you are. Remember that you are worthy. That you deserve love and kindness and respect and honesty from anyone you let into your life. 
I'm not suggesting you get a tattoo (although...it didn't hurt as much as I thought it would), but find some way of reminding yourself, all day, every day, who you are. 
It will matter far less what other people say you are if you know better. You can withstand hurtful words when you know those words are simply untrue. 
Healing from betrayal, if there is a silver lining to this coal-black cloud, can offer us a doorway into a deeper relationship with ourselves. It can help us find our way back to who we were before we lost ourselves in serving everyone else's needs.
My safety pin is a symbol to others that I'm an ally but it's also a reminder to be an ally to myself. That kindness doesn't only extend outwards. That we all matter. Including me. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thank-you

For those of you who donate to this site, please know how grateful I am. Creating and curating Betrayed Wives Club has long been a labour of love but the support I receive is so affirming and appreciated. (And to those who often ask, the book is coming...)
Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. members. And happy Thursday to the rest of us. We're on the path toward healing, my wonderful warrior wives. 
thank you

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