My imagination goes wild. What if, when he's driving with some friends, one of them is joking and distracting him and he takes his eyes off the road and his car rolls and explodes in a fiery tragedy? What if he's driving and another driver is drunk and veers into his lane and he's pushed into a telephone pole? What if... What if... What if...
I'm not the only parent, of course, to face their own fear around their child's increasing independence. Long after the plastic outlet protectors and cut-up grapes and car seats are history, we discover that our control only extends so far. And it's not nearly far enough.
It's a sobering realization, isn't it? And it's at the root of so much of our misery. It has taken me years of parenting three incredibly strong-minded children to really get through my head that I cannot make other people into who I want them to be. And, when I really stop to think about it, I don't want to. I just want to spare myself (and them) the consequences of bad choices. Or, on a larger scale, I want to spare them any pain.
It's fear behind my desire to control.
And that's what we need to wrestle with after infidelity.
It's often behind our anger.
It's always behind our desire to control.
It wears a lot of masks.
But it grows weaker when you look at it head on. It shrinks when you respond to it with compassion. Imagine the unclenching if you were to say to yourself, gently: I know you're afraid right now. I know this feels frightening. But you're okay. I've got your back. I'm a grown woman who can keep you safe. I can keep you warm. I can keep you fed. You are scared. That is all.
It won't be easy. Those thoughts will creep in on quiet pussy-cat feet: What if he's still talking to her? What if he's not at work right now? What if there's another one? What if he leaves? And so on.
If you can accept the fear behind those questions, you rob them of their power to paralyze you and you respond matter-of-factly. What if he's still talking to her? What does that mean for you and how you'll respond? Come up with a plan. What if he's lying to you about where he is, even if he's not cheating? Well...what does that mean for you and how you'll respond. Come up with a plan. And so on.
Separating the fear behind your concerns from the concerns themselves can help you respond to them as a grown-up and not as a frightened child who's feeling rejected and abandoned. Those are legitimate feelings, of course. And they affect some of us worse than others (particularly those of us who had childhoods of rejection and abandonment). But you're a grown woman now. A strong, beautiful woman with agency and power. Don't ever forget that. You can be scared and still that is true. Strong beautiful women with agency and power can still experience fear. Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
Take care of yourself. Recognize your power.
And strip fear of its ability to make you think you're powerless. You hold all the power you need to heal.
Note re. retreat: Lots of response, which is wonderful. So give me some time to sift through and get a sense of what works for the majority of people. And, if anyone with more experience than I wants to help me with this, please let me know. Send me an e-mail address (which I won't publish). This is shaping up to be bigger than I imagined.