Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Devil is in the Details

A woman came recently to Betrayed Wives Club with a dilemma. She knew the broad strokes of her husband's cheating. It was the details that were making her crazy. She wanted to know every single thing. Where did they have dinner? What color was her dress? Did he text her before or after?
His answers changed. Not dramatically but enough to feed her conviction that there was more, plenty more, that she didn't know. So she kept asking. He kept answering. She challenged those answers. And round and round they went, her convinced he was being dishonest. Him convinced she would never move past this.
And then, on Twitter, which is where there's an active and vocal infidelity tribe, another woman asked me: How can I get him to talk to me when I'm triggered? She was relentless, she admitted. Insisting that he tell her everything, while he, growing more defensive, insisted he had.
Round and round they'd go. 
It's a dance I know well.
For me, it began long before I knew of the cheating. My husband and I had great communication, I believed. Until, of course, our communication wasn't great. Until we weren't communicating about where to have dinner and were, instead, communicating about why his family was so toxic and why did he insist on defending their behaviour?
He would get defensive. I would get more furious. He would shut me out. I would metaphorically bang on those walls.
He'd call me "hysterical" and "crazy". Which would make me hysterical and crazy.
And round and round we'd go.
I've got some bad news.
Sure, some guys have a radical transformation after being revealed as a cheating bastard and turn over a new leaf – listening to our pain, holding us close, and whispering promises – that they keep! – about how sorry they are and how they will never do this again. Others, however, most perhaps, take a bit longer to get there. And by "there" I mean better. They will probably never be masterful communicators. They will likely always struggle with shame and self-criticism and defensiveness. 
Count my husband among the latter.
So here's the bad news: You don't create an honest marriage in which each partner feels valued and valuable by bullying.
I know, I know. In those early days, I didn't give a shit if my husband felt bullied. He had hurt me! I was the injured party! "My heartbreak, my rules" right?
Well...yes. 
But.
But, at a certain point, we either need to accept that we simply cannot remain married to someone who refuses to be fully honest with us (or is incapable of honesty and uninterested in battling those demons) or we need to accept that we know everything we need to know.
Broad strokes.
He cheated.
He lied.
He broke his vows to us.
The color of her dress really, truly doesn't matter.
Now, I understand that sometimes those small lies are symptomatic of a much larger problem. They are evidence that this isn't a guy who just doesn't pay attention but rather a guy who lies as easily as he breathes.
In which case...he either heals himself or you show him the door.
But if, like my husband, he's spent a lifetime creating armour so that his own heart can't be hurt, if, like my husband, lies ARE his armour and he's willing to learn how to take it off, then it's a job we accept to give him the time to figure out how to do that.
Not easy, I know.
It means walking away at the moments when you figuratively have him by the lapels and have a mountain of evidence that shows he's lying. "It wasn't December 1, your honour, that the defendant ordered caesar salad with his homewrecking whore, it was December 2. The defendant is....Not. Telling. The. Truth."
It means recognizing when you've spiralled into crazy (which is hard because, well, you've spiralled into crazy). Which means, instead of having this discussion now, you go for a run. You call a friend. You watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
It means coming up with a plan to tackle those questions that truly are important to you...but releasing those that don't matter. Perhaps that looks like a "disclosure" session with a therapist. Perhaps you need him to write a letter responding to your questions. Perhaps you set a timer so that he agrees to 10 minute increments with both of you agreeing to walk away for a breather when it gets too heated, or abusive, or counterproductive.
If you're going to rebuild your marriage and remain sane while doing so, you're going to need to assess what's happening right now – is he committed to doing the work necessary and are you? – and begin imagining your future together and what that looks like, which means you setting clear boundaries to keep yourself emotionally safe. 
Why does he lie? you ask: It's likely something he's been doing his whole life. To avoid conflict, to keep the peace, to make himself look better. He probably doesn't realize he's doing it half the time.

None of that makes it okay. But it does mean it's going to take some time to unlearn those old habits.
Assuming you're trying to rebuild a marriage with this person, you need to learn how to do this. Together. Without humiliating or shaming.
I understand the impulse to know. It's a way of trying to regain control of a situation that feels completely out of our control.
But here's how you truly regain control of the only thing you can control, which is you: You work on your own healing. You work on controlling your anger. You work on recognizing when you're no longer helping yourself but hurting yourself. You seek therapy. Or yoga. Or meditation. Or all of the above.
You need to learn how to trust yourself and, to a lesser extent, him.
In the meantime, he is fixing himself. 
I actually believe a lot of these guys when they say they don't remember. Maybe not for every single detail but for a lot of them. It's not uncommon for these guys to sort of compartmentalize – to lock away the affair to avoid the moral discomfort. Clearly, they were liars. So what are they doing to learn how to NOT be one.

Friday, January 10, 2020

How to Tell the Truth

This program is a truth-telling program. That’s how it turns us into free people.
~Ron H., Centre for Action and Contemplation, referring to Alcoholics Anonymous

The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off.

~Anonymous

I'm 55 years old. I've lived through plenty of heartbreak and betrayal. I'm currently living in a political climate in which it's more likely that leaders are lying than telling the truth. I operate in a profession that is mistrusted and cast as "enemy of the people" though I don't know a single journalist colleague who isn't committed to truth-telling. 

I struggle to understand how people lie. I just don't get it, how to look someone in the face – or straight into a camera – and unleash a whopper. Or even a white lie.
I often hear women say that it wasn't so much the extramarital sex they struggle with post-infidelity but the lying. (We're not crazy about the extramarital sex, for the record.) That our partners could lie to us turns out world upside down. It makes us doubt everything and everyone. It makes us doubt reality. It is gaslighting and can take years for us to recover from. 
My husband was a consummate liar, though I wouldn't have framed it that way back when we were first building a life together. He told "white lies". Harmless right? H'mmm...
For instance, we moved in together after months of lugging our stuff back and forth to each other's apartments and realizing that we were paying rent in one of the most expensive cities in the world on two apartments but essentially living in one. We were engaged so...made sense to move in and get rid of one of the apartments. But then my husband insisted I keep mine (which was the cheaper one) along with continuing to pay for my phone (pre-cell phone). He told me it would upset his mother too much. That she was "traditional" and that he wanted to "respect that". I went along with it even as I thought it was nuts. I even thought it was mildly quaint that he respected her traditional sensibilities so much. Except...
Except it was a lie. I wasn't living in my apartment. I wasn't answering my phone. I was somewhere else. With him. 
But, I ignored my discomfort. I prioritized what I believed was HER comfort over my own desire to live honestly. 
Years later, after I discovered that my husband hadn't just been lying to his mother but to ME for YEARS, I realized that he had given me important information and that I had overlooked it.
He had shown me that he would easily lie rather than live honestly. That lying was a way not of respecting someone else's views but of making them complicit in the lie. That lying was about HIS comfort, his desire to avoid others' judgement.
I should have known.
But, as the saying goes, when we know better, we do better.
And when I knew better, I not only insisted on total honesty from my husband, I demanded it from myself. 
No more, "I'm sorry, I'm busy that day" when the truth was that I didn't want to volunteer at the pizza lunch.
No more, white lies, no more "sparing others' feelings, no more lying to avoid conflict. 
And no more lying to myself. 
It's easier said than done, of course. And I haven't become some sort of monster who tells people that I hate their haircuts, or that their kids are monsters, or that the meal they lovingly made tastes horrible.
But I have bit my tongue when I'm tempted to lie to get out of something I don't want to do and instead left it as simply, "No," even if I was squirming with discomfort. (As my therapist used to remind me, "No" is a complete sentence.) 
I have told friends some uncomfortable truths and also heard some. I was able to appreciate others' ability to be honest with me.
Being honest has made me braver. My friendships have easily survived some difficult conversations. Other friendships withered because I realized they were rooted less in genuine caring than in convenience. 
Honesty is liberating. Not at first, perhaps. At first, it's squirmy. And sometimes infuriating. And often painful.
But there is no other healthy way to live than within relationships that demand and dispense honesty. Anyone telling you otherwise is asking you to participate in a charade. And is prioritizing their own comfort over anything else. 

Monday, January 6, 2020

Is it normal to feel this way after betrayal?

If there's one question I get asked the most often it's this one: Is it normal to feel this way?
The question follows some concern about anger or about crying or about sex with an unfaithful spouse. It might be about a wedding ring or in-laws or friends.
And the answer, almost invariably, is yes. It's normal.
Normal is, of course, a relative term. What's 'normal' changes dramatically after discovering a partner's affair. Suddenly, normal means crying jags in the employee bathroom. It means sleeping all day, or not at all. It means wanting to punch people in the face. It means not having the strength to make dinner.
It's all 'normal'.
Cause betrayal changes everything. I'm not sure I understood that before it happened to me. Yes, it would change my marriage...but everything?
Yes. Everything.
Because infidelity changes the lens through which we see ourselves and our world. And that changes everything.
Take our friends, for instance. Our "best" friend might not be able to support us as we consider staying with a spouse who cheated. Even those who try to help can end up hurting us further, as they insist we file for divorce, or insist we work it out ("think of your children," we're often told, as if we're not). Helping a friend through betrayal takes skills and diplomacy that many lack.
Take our families, as well. My husband's betrayal broke open old ruptures in my relationship with my mom. In the years after she got sober, we had painstakingly built up a really great mother-daughter relationship. But in my pain, I lashed out at my mom, blaming her. She was the reason I chose a  lying cheat, I told her. She had damaged me and so I had chosen a damaged man. And, honestly, my logic wasn't wrong. But if it wasn't for my mother's ability to hear the deep pain behind my words and, rather than get defensive show up for me with compassion, I could have done some real damage.
Take our children. It pains me to consider the ways in which I didn't show up for my kids during that horrible time. There's little to be gained by thinking about it – I cannot, after all, relive the past – but there's no doubt that they were hurt by my husband's betrayal and my response to it, even if they're unaware of it.
Take our careers. I was in the process of publishing a book when D-Day hit. When I could least handle it, I was offered radio shows, TV shows, speaking tours. I did my best to dress up, put on lipstick and consider my options. But I absolutely know that my heart wasn't in it. It was all I could to function let alone unleash my ambition.
The list goes on, of course.
See what I mean? Betrayal changes everything.
But here's the thing: My husband cannot undo what he did. I cannot undo the pain I was in and how I responded.
I can only look forward and learn from the past.
And what I've learned is this: It's all normal.
The crying. The anger. The shock. The confusion. The wanting to leave. The desperation to stay. The wish to turn back the clock. The desire to catapult into the future.
It's all normal.
You are a normal woman responding to, perhaps, the worst pain of her life.
And with that understanding you are free to feel all of it. To, as best you can, not worry if you're backsliding, or minimizing, or dramatizing. To trust that wherever you are today is okay, even if it hurts like hell. To trust the no feeling is forever – not the awful ones, and not the great ones.
And to know that you are stronger than whatever you're feeling right now. That there's a core you deep inside that will carry you into an uncertain future.
It's all normal.
And tomorrow will bring a different normal. And so will the day after that.



Friday, December 27, 2019

From the Vault: Lessons from Christmas – Getting Un-Stuck

by StillStanding1


I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations. With 2017 over (saints be praised), I find myself looking ahead with hope that things will be better, that I will feel better in 2018. Christmas was a bear. Nothing seemed to go quite right. After years of Currier & Ives-meets-Pottery Barn-level holiday execution at great expenditure of energy and money, I had kind of a shitty, half-assed, not at all Pinteresty holiday. 
The tree was wonky and fell over three times before I got it sorted. I almost gave up and threw the whole damn thing out. Because of this, it wasn’t even decorated until a few days before the actual holiday. This felt bad. My daughter was low-grade angry and walking around with a chip on her shoulder, particularly where her younger brother was concerned. This also felt bad. I didn’t have the energy or desire to do the full holiday decorating to the house. My brother-in-law drank too much and my niece was a bully to her future sister-in-law at our family gathering. It was supremely uncomfortable. Money was tight and getting gifts for all the people I was somehow still responsible for (how does this happen?) was really stressful. I didn’t get to see people I wanted to, some parties didn’t happen, and I couldn’t go to a volunteer event I really wanted to. And work exploded. And… and… and… Everything just kind of sucked. And I wondered why nothing was like it used to be and why I was totally lacking in that warm fuzzy Christmas feeling. Why wasn’t I doing better?
I had promised myself that when Christmas Day came, I was just going to relax and enjoy the day however it played out, knowing that the kids were going to spend part of the day with their dad at his place. That I was going to be cooking on my own. That hordes of family weren’t going to descend on me with noise and silliness and togetherness. Knowing all that, I was going to take things as they were. And, as it turns out, I had a good day.
After Christmas dinner with just me and the kids, I sat back over a glass of wine and realized no one was going to clean up the food or do the dishes or invite me to go sit down because I had worked so hard to make everything so nice. I was sulking to myself about this. I wanted it to be different. I missed “the good old days.” And it hit me. Everything wrong about my holiday was about my expectations.
I was probably expecting too much of myself to think I’d be able to charge through the holidays with my historical energy and enthusiasm just a few weeks after my divorce was finalized while simultaneously covering some of the worst of the affair history ground. Even without those two enormous factors, this was my first year with a child in college. All the normal things we would do together leading up to the big holiday were pretty much out the window because we weren’t together.  Change can be hard sometimes. Despite thinking I was giving myself a pass and generally planning on letting myself off the hook, I was still hanging on to the idea that I had to slay at Christmas in order to prove (to who? My ex? Anyone watching? Myself?) that I was doing GREAT!
I was probably expecting too much of my daughter to think that this time of year would be any easier for her than for me. She knew her dad was cheating before I did. Why should she be okay or over it when I wasn’t? And this was new for her. The same issues around not being home to get ready for Christmas had piled stress on her and now she had somehow become responsible for buying gifts for each of her parents. Something that would have happened anyway, as she transitioned to adulthood but was additionally laden with her own perfectionist tendencies to make sure we each had a “good” Christmas, post-divorce. So not fair, goddamn it.
I was probably expecting too much of all the other people in my life who have their own shit going on, to keep things exactly as they have been or to know I could use a phone call or a hug or whatever, without me telling them.
I just wasn’t in the Christmas spirit. And why should I be? I’m nice to everyone all the goddamn time. Why do I have to be even more nice now? Why was I buying in to the pressure to spend, spend, spend? I was depressed but I felt like I shouldn’t be, just because it was Christmas. I’m not allowed to be depressed at Christmas. How was all that Chrsitmassy shit going to get done?  But wow, have I been depressed. And I was searching for the elusive feeling I used to have this time of year of doing something special, the glow of lights and magic (and there was magic. I truly miss this) and snow and stories and eggnog and wassail, and fires, and homemade shortbread, of being part of something bigger, a family, of being loved. 
And there it was. I was not feeling loved. Probably because I had fallen off the self-care wagon a couple of miles back and hadn’t noticed until that moment.  And way down deep under that was my old saw. I was not being loved because I was not lovable. No one is ever going to love me. There’s always something more important or more worth choosing than me. I know it's bullshit. It still gets me when I’m not paying attention.
Every time I get stuck it comes back to that. And that stuckness is why I’m telling you my Christmas expectations story. Because I think those expectations for ourselves and for others – that we should be over it, that we should be feeling better, that we should be stronger, that we should still be able to do and think and be like we used to “before” it all went down – that they should be able to understand how we are feeling, that they should know we need help even if we don’t ask, that they should just know how to help even though they have the emotional range of a filing cabinet. I think the holidays, which are so laden with expectation, brings that conflict into relief. I find I struggle most when I resist reality as it is or when I wish for or expect people or situations to be different.  (Expectation: Christmas should be magical. Reality: I am too fucking tired to Christmas this year.)
When I look closely at my own expectations, hidden deep down is the old, old fear: I am not enough. If I make this crazy, amazing Christmas, then my family will have to see I’m lovable. They’ll have to love me. My husband can’t give me what I need emotionally because I probably don’t deserve it.  Sounds crazy when you state it out loud in a complete sentence, doesn’t it? If I prove myself in these ways, they will HAVE to love me. It's nutty, magical thinking. And I think it's in there because we first learned these things when we were little kids. If you grew up in any kind of dysfunctional family system (and if you are here, chances are you did) you learned that love was conditional upon you performing in some way or that it was unpredictable or that people you cared about didn’t ever care about you quite as much. Those stories (or agreements) stay with us. We play them out over and over until we see them for what they are. 
Turns out Christmas sucking and getting stuck is a gift. It’s a chance to look at the stories I am telling myself and the magical thinking I am laying on myself about my worth and maybe getting somewhere different with it. I get mad about it. How am I back here? How am I still fighting this? When will I finally be over this? When will I finally believe I am enough for good and all? Well. This stuff, the trauma of infidelity, the hurts from our childhood that infidelity reminds us of, the expectations of the holidays and the ways we think we’ve failed are all pointing to the soft spots, the wounds we need to tend.
Christmas isn’t the same. That’s ok. I can make new traditions. I can still remember that I have people in my life who love me and value me, even when I don’t do that so well myself. My marriage, my life isn’t the same. That’s OK. I can make a new path for myself. I can still remember that I have people in my life who love me and value me. I’m not that same.  That’s OK. In fact, I think that’s a really good thing. That goes for you too. Things are not the same. If you are rebuilding, your marriage will not be the same. You are not the same. He’s not the same. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that this is ok. That it is, in fact, a good thing. And don’t forget that there are people in your life who love you and value you, who see you, even when you can’t do that so well yourself.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

From the Vault: Finally! The recovering perfectionist's all-you-need guide to surviving the holidays

by StillStanding1

The holidays can be tough, what with families and history and people in our lives expecting unrealistic things of us and our own selves expecting unrealistic things of us. Add in post-trauma from betrayal and you have got a seriously heavy load to carry.
I am a recovering perfectionist. Being a perfectionist sucks. You think no one will love you unless you do everything absolutely right. This always comes back to my “enough-ness”, that softest of all my soft spots. You destroy yourself through over achieving, you hustle for worthiness, trying to make everything just right for everyone else and losing yourself in the process. 
At this time of year, it takes on an even deeper level of intensity. Christmas (that’s the holiday I do. Feel free to insert your holiday loaded with expectations and desperation here) must look like the love child of Currier & Ives and Pottery Barn. Everything must sparkle and glow (decorate every room in the house and do the outside lights by myself). Mince pies perfectly dusted with powdered sugar (stay up till midnight baking because everyone will be disappointed if you bring something store-bought). All presents on list purchased and wrapped (everyone must have piles of things to open. Everything for the kids must be fair and equal. I must make sure I get presents for my friends and my kids' friends despite my dwindling budget). All parties attended and dressed in appropriately festive attire and everyone well brushed and behaved (crap, my son needs a haircut. Does he have clean pants that aren’t athletic?! WTF am I going to wear?). Fake that smile as if my life depended on it (even as I’m triggered watching other people’s husbands over-indulge in alcohol and breathe the fumes on me). Visit out-of-town relatives for parties I dislike and sleep in uncomfortable rooms or on slowly deflating air mattresses (but don’t dare suggest we say “no” because someone might be disappointed. Gasp). A frenzy of shopping and shipping and wrapping and cooking and visiting and trying so hard to make sure all the people in my life have all their needs met. Even needs they didn’t know they had. Wow. I’m exhausted just writing that.
With the discovery that I don’t have to be perfect to be loveable and these amazing things called boundaries (what is and is not okay with me), the holidays get just a little bit easier.
1.      Give yourself a break. You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to sit through movies or music or anything that upsets you or just makes you feel lousy. You don’t have to be strong for others. You don’t have to be strong at all. You don’t have to be super mom or Mrs. Claus.
2.     Say no.  To invitations that don’t fit your schedule.  To doing things for other people that you don’t want to do. To anything that feels like a bad idea. To your husband wanting to go out for drinks with his pals, if that doesn’t suit you just now. To anything your gut tells you is not good for you right now. There’s so much pressure to be nice and do all these things we don’t want to do. You can say no and still be nice. They are not mutually exclusive. Resist the urge to explain or justify your no. “Thanks for thinking of me, but no thank you.” Repeat as necessary.
3.     Let go of expectations. For yourself, that you get everything done, that all the boxes are checked off, that you feel a certain way.  Don’t expect that you should feel happy or joyful or forgiving just because some arbitrary holiday season says you should be feeling those things. Let go of expectations for others; that they do more or be more capable of something or different than they are. When you can start seeing and accepting people where they are, you don’t get disappointed. And those people can tell when there is a new room for them to show up in.  Let go of the idea that things need to go a certain way or look a certain way or be a certain way.
4.     Say yes to self-care. Sleep, eat to take care of yourself, exercise, meditate, read, make time for you. See #2 above. Get your nails done. Visit with friends. Call your mom/sister/other reliable support person.
5.     Whenever possible don’t engage with toxic relatives. Don’t take the bait when one tries to get a rise out of you. Let the complainer’s complaints roll off you. They are about her, not you. Don’t bite when individuals question your life choices. Don’t sit next to people who set you off or are emotionally risky for you. Have an escape plan. You are allowed to leave early.
6.     Boundaries. Boundaries. Boundaries.  A well-meaning relative may pressure you to eat more because they have made something “especially for you.” You can say thank you and then go ahead and eat or not eat what you had intended. Your husband wants to go to a work holiday party after hours. Does that make you uncomfortable? Does he get to go but needs to check in? Or do you go with him? You decide what works for you. That’s your boundary.
7.     Drop the judgement. You are not a bad person for not wanting to spend more time with relatives or in-laws. You are, rather, putting yourself first and that makes a lot of us (and others) supremely uncomfortable. You are not a failure because you did not make 800 lbs of shortbread cookies. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself.
8.     Remind yourself that you are doing an awesome fucking job. At showing up. At breathing. At getting through each day. Maybe you made your bed. Win! Maybe you had tea with a friend. Win! Maybe you decided the laundry could wait another day. More winning!
9.     Ask. For. Help. Really. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Refer to #1. Delegate decorating to kids or ask your partner to help you this year. Maybe you go to the grocery store to get the dinner fixings together. Maybe your husband can be in charge of buying the gifts for his side of the family if that usually falls to you. Make a list. Assign to your team. Kick back with your tea and watch people actually rise to the occassion. 
10.  Resist the urge to swoop in and make sure they do it your way. Reference #3. I think the reason so many of us go in to fix it mode after betrayal is because it was our go-to coping strategy to begin with. When in doubt, take over, be busy, don’t think, don’t feel.  And also make sure everything is just so because perfection makes everything better (#sarcasm). Once you’ve delegated a task, trust that the person doing the task will get it done. It may not be your way but there is more than one “right” way. Let go.
11.  Be grateful. For whatever you can muster gratitude for. Your health. Your kids. The roof over your head. Your dog. For friends and family that love and support you. For sunshine. For the smell of snow. For a chance to live another day. Whatever you can feel gratitude for, keep your eyes on that. Its hard, in the wake of betrayal to feel grateful for anything. But over time, remembering what you have, the good stuff, helps you get past or let go of what no longer serves you or what you feel you’ve lost.
12.  Be sad. If you need to. The overarching glory of the holidays tends to silence or erase our sad feelings.  And like so much of our experience as betrayed wives, we just need room to feel our stuff all the way through. We see others being happy, normal, living lives not marred by this weight and we think why not me? We think of what’s missing and it takes our breath away. Ideally, share your sadness with someone who understands and can love you through your sadness. But even on your own, sadness won’t kill you. I promise. Let yourself have it, if that’s what you need right now. 
13.  You have permission to change your mind. You can feel like you want to go to a party when you get the invitation but when the time comes, you may just have had a bad day. You may be too tired and sad. You are allowed to stay home and take care of yourself.
14.  Be happy. Give yourself permission for this too. There’s a lot going on right now. If you find yourself surprised in the moment by some happiness, wrap your arms around that shit and enjoy it. Post-betrayal, some of us feel like good feelings are not permitted. That if we feel happy, even for split second, we are letting him off the hook. Our happiness is just that. Ours. Let yourself have it.
Holidays can be tough for so many reasons. Remember that you are not alone. We are all standing here with you. And if you feel overwhelmed, stuck in depression or like you just can’t take another day please call 1-800-273-8255It’s for everyone, open 24/7 and free.

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