Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Mid-Life Cheating Crisis

"In 1974, in her best-selling book Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, Gail Sheehy depicted midlife crisis with the example of a 40-year-old man who
'...has reached his professional goal but feels depressed and unappreciated. He blames his job or his wife or his physical surroundings for imprisoning him in this rut. Fantasies of breaking out begin to dominate his thoughts. An interesting woman he has met, another field of work, an Elysian part of the country—any or all of these become magnets for his wishes of deliverance. But once these objects of desire become accessible, the picture often begins to reverse itself. The new situation appears to be the dangerous trap from which he longs to take flight by returning to his old home base and the wife and children whose loss suddenly makes them dear.No wonder many wives stand aghast.'"

This passage was included in a great article about the so-called mid-life crisis, a period during which many men (and women) experience depression, disappointment, a sense that life has passed them by.
I suspect it might also read as an account of events regarding many of our adulterous husbands (and, for the betrayed men among us, wives). 
It speaks to our confusion when our spouse offers up the "I love you but I'm not in love with you" speech. Or our bafflement when our husbands, whom we genuinely thought had it pretty good with us, suddenly find fault with our very existence and seek distraction in the arms of women whose allure is just that they aren't us.
Oh how I wish our culture had a deeper understanding of the drivers of affairs! Instead we deal with the myths – that men are fleeing shrewish wives, that men are seeking mind-blowing sex, that men are simply not monogamous by nature.
Well, maybe not "myths" necessarily. Sometimes those things are very true. Sometimes men are miserable in their marriage and lack the courage to leave until they have someone to leave to. Some men are led around by their penises. And some men don't see the point of monogamy, believing that a variety of sex partners is preferable to a one-partner commitment. And to those men I say...vive la difference. And...stay away from my daughters!
To the rest of us, however, I say that we need a far deeper acknowledgement of how impacted we are by life changes. I also say that our primary relationship, which we've been culturally told should fulfill all our needs, takes the brunt of our disappointment in many other arenas of life. 
How often I've read, on this site, of women who've been cheated on by men dealing with sick or recently deceased parents, a wife's illness, disabled children, job loss, chronic illness, or – how cliché – middle age. 
If our society did better to educate us about what middle age feels like and how to prepare ourselves for the typical angst, we might recognize when we're tempted to flee something good for something...different. 
My father, something of a wise old man, commented recently on a phenomenon he noticed at his newspaper job (which he worked at for close to 50 years): Men, he said, would leave their wives in middle age. And then, he told me, they'd remarry women who were pretty much carbon copies of the wives they left. A few years later, he said, these men would claim to be miserable again.
Perhaps they just married the wrong women (repeatedly) or perhaps, if we isolate the variable, the problem wasn't the women, it was the men.
Then again, given what research is showing about a cross-cultural tendency in middle-age to weigh our lives in the balance and find them wanting, maybe the problem is that so many seek change when wisdom dictates that patience is far more likely to deliver happiness in the form of perspective. And gratitude.
This is not to advocate for doing nothing when doing something is prudent. Sometimes we do need to stir life's pot now and again, to challenge ourselves, to leave unhealthy relationships. But perhaps mid-life isn't a problem to be solved but a stage to be endured. Perhaps it doesn't need to be a crisis...as long as we don't create one by cheating. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Guest post: Awesome advice from a betrayed wife

"Steam" often comments to this site, offering up her experience as a guide to others, and supporting those who aren't as far along the path as she. 
She wrote this awhile back and it's so succinct and compassionate, that I requested her permission to re-post it so that more can read it.
I love that this site has become a hub for so many who feel isolated and confused. I love how respectful we all are of each other's experiences, always recognizing that we each need to walk our own paths.
Thanks, Steam, for helping make this such a great space.

I was immediatly diagnoised with PTSD in our 1st MC session. Our counselor made it very clear to my husband that my reaction to his selfish and fucked up action was completely NORMAL, not that that makes you feel instantly better, but it was good to have a name for it. Reliving it over and over again is hard to avoid when you cannot stop thinking about it. I am 10 months out this week and I have done my best to "reclaim" the places and things that gave me joy, that he stole, that I thought he had stolen forever. Since most of his affair was online with only three in-person meetings – when they met (in another country) and two months later when they had sex twice (in another country) –  there is not much to reclaim. All I have asked is that he NOT take me to the place they had their one dinner. He said it was bad anyway and he would never go again, good I dont need to go there, it was never mine to begin with. I am starting to feel safe again, and although I cannot ever trust him again like I did when I was blind, I do trust him a lot more. I no longer hit every e-mail address and social media page of his every day or even every week, I no longer search for her online. But I watch the cell phone bill like a madwoman. Something I never ever checked which had all I ever needed to know.
I feel a lot more like a better me, and our relationship has changed so drastically it's almost a miracle. And the hardest part to admit? It was not just him who had to change. I had to do my part too.  

If you are brand new to this, don't think YOU need to do that immediately. You need to heal and he needs to help. It's only then that you can find a better version of yourself...she is in there, I promise. 

It's not your fault, it was never your fault, you are not the one who cheated. You are not the one who risked everytihng, so just take it minute by minute – don't rush it – go through it, not around or over or under it, and if you have a new relationship with your partner (we could never have found one without counseling, relish it. 
BTW, I had EMDR about 20 years ago and it was quite astonishing. If I was still living in the land of PTSD I would not hesitate, but first I wanted to beat my H up in counseling for a while. 
Look at that, I just laughed. You will too...you will get through this unless your husband is an absolute a-hole and you are with a bad man, not a good man with issues and mistakes. Hang in there if he is worth staying with – and he will show you if he is – and thrive.  

All I have wanted to do other than save my own relationship was to be able to help others who have been through this. The spark came while I was googling within hours of finding out on that horrible d-day. I was of the school "once a cheater, always a cheater" and "if anyone ever did that to ME, he would be gone SO fast".  

Arent we all?

But when he DID do that to me, I gave him an immediate (and I add, loud and hysterical) choice he had to make – her or me. When I saw the absolute devestation in HIS eyes, seeing what he had done to ME, seeing his tears, hearing his words, feeling his absolute remorse, sadness, and looking into an opening into his soul I had never ever ever seen before. When I locked myself in the bedroom and he sat outside talking to me through the window, I surprised mySELF when I realized that even though I could not touch him or look at him right NOW, I wanted him to stay.
I wanted to know if we could survive this.  
I wanted to know I would be ok (because how could I EVER be ok again??) 
I wanted HOPE. 
and this was the only place I found it.  

I hated the name "club" – lol. I thought it would be just another husband bashing site, but it was not. [Elle's] words, as someone who had been through this, gave me HOPE – her essays and her links and her answers to others – so much wisdom and compassion, smart funny and sarcastic, but not bitter – it gave me what I needed. I wanted to get "there" where [she is], and I am on my way.  

No one could have told me that I would ever get through this, but honestly, somewhere on this blog that very first day – [Elle] actually did.


Friday, November 14, 2014

No Path by David Whyte

came across this poem by the incredible David Whyte and it describes so perfectly those paralyzing moments when you just can't imagine which direction your life will take. Nothing seems right any more. Nobody seems who you thought they were. But as Whyte reminds us, "there is no path that goes all the way". Instead, focus on breathing. Focus on that first step – nobody's step but your own. Whyte, I believe, is talking about death, but betrayal is a death. Of our hopes. Of our "reality". Of our perceived future. Mourn that. And then recreate your life.


No Path by David Whyte

There is no path that goes all the way

Not that it stops us looking

for the full continuation.

The one line in the poem
we can start and follow
straight to the end.
The fixed belief we can hold,
facing a stranger that saves
us the trouble
of a real conversation.
But one day you are not
just imagining an empty chair
where your loved one sat.
You are not just telling a story
where the bridge is down and there’s
nowhere to cross.
You are not just trying
to pray to a God you imagined
would keep you safe.
No you’ve come to the place
where nothing you’ve done
will impress and nothing you
can promise will avert
the silent confrontation,
the place where
your body already seems to know
the way having kept
to the last its own secret
But still, there is no path
that goes all the way
one conversation leads
to another
one breath to the next
there’s no breath at all
the inevitable
final release
of the burden.
And then
your life will
have to start
all over again
for you to know
even a little
of who you had been.
~David Whyte

Friday, October 24, 2014

When Remembering Becomes Reliving

I was listening to a radio program recently about PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder.
I talk a lot about PTSD on this site because it was the paradigm that felt the most right to me after D-Day. After a friend of mine, who counsels those with PTSD from childhood sex abuse, suggested I was experiencing post-trauma, my response to my husband's infidelity began to make sense. Well, as much sense as PTSD ever makes.
It was a tough sell at first. As I've noted on this site before, PTSD seemed so...dramatic. As if I was exaggerating my experience. PTSD was for veterans and rape victims, domestic abuse survivors and people who fled the Twin Towers.
There's increasing research, however, that PTSD is more common than that. That those of us who experience a sudden, shocking event (infidelity anyone?) can come away with PTSD. Not all of us, of course. But some of us. Too many of us.
PTSD is created, explained the doctor on the radio program, when the feeling we experience during trauma (fear, grief, shame, for instance) becomes linked with certain stimuli (a sight, a smell, a sound).
As the doctor on the radio program put it, the neurons that "fire together, wire together."
It explains why a certain song can suddenly transport us back to that moment of finding out and suddenly our heart is racing, our blood pressure is skyrocketing, our hands are tingling. We're not just remembering the trauma, we're re-living it.
Maybe it's the sight of a certain model car. The voicemail message on a husband's cell phone (which I'd listened to roughly 30 times as I tried to reach him, knowing he was with her). A certain time of year. A snowstorm.
At first, it's normal for the entire experience to feel like a nightmare from which you can't awake. For some of us, however, that feeling lingers...and sometimes gets worse.
While we might become more functional in some ways, we have periods of the day when we're immobilized. When we're flashing back. When we're not remembering what we know but reliving it.
The most important thing to know is that this, under the circumstances is normal. Know also, that it's surmountable. Life will not always feel like a war-zone in which you're unsafe and insecure.
But it's important to get treated so that you can begin to heal. To have memories, including bad ones, without trauma.
Infidelity is so much more devastating than most of us could have imagined. Far more devastating than our culture understands. Unless, of course, you've lived through it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Healing from Betrayal: Grief is Part of the Process

"My custom has always been to ponder grief; that is, to follow it through ventricle and aorta to find out its lurking places. That old weight in the chest, telling me there is something I must dwell on, because I know more than I know and must learn it from myself..."
~from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Ah grief, that foe. Grief, that makes our bodies rock with deep, deep sadness. Grief, that we'll do almost anything to avoid because it's so consuming, so exhausting, so bottomless.
As John Ames, however, the character in Robinson's novel Gilead points out, grief has secrets and if we sit with it, allow it to illuminate those dark corners of our heart where we "know more than I know and must learn from it myself," then grief can be our teacher.
It runs counter to our instincts, this sitting with grief. Especially in these times of quick fixes, of escape hatches. Why sit with grief when we can lose ourselves in television? Why sit with grief when there's a tub of ice cream or a box of donuts? Why sit with grief when there's Facebook, Twitter, cat videos? When there's an OW to stalk online?
Why? Because grief isn't going anywhere. Grief waits beneath the anger and anxiety. It makes itself known when your friend announces she's pregnant and you burst into tears. It makes itself known when you can barely get out of bed even though you know you need to get outside. It makes itself known when the mere act of making dinner feels like too much. It makes itself known when you move the wedding album to a bottom drawer because you can't bear to be reminded.
But grief is cagey. It can't be experienced on the fly. It requires that we truly sit still with it. That we don't try and "solve" it. We can't think our way out of grief. We need to feel our way through it, like a blind man in an unfamiliar place.
The beauty of grief is that when we allow ourselves to feel such deep pain and loss we open ourselves up to being able, eventually, to feel the highs too.
It's not easy, opening up to grief. It feels huge. We fear being swallowed alive.
But like our character in Gilead, that weight is our cue that it needs our attention. I spent far too long living life with the feeling of an elephant on my chest. Sure I was functional. But I sure as hell wasn't having fun. Perhaps "fun" is too much to expect of anyone going through the pain of infidelity. Perhaps we should lower our expectations to feeling a bit...lighter. Being able to smile sincerely. To hold, for even a moment, the beauty in a child's smile, or the trust in a friend's hug, or the joy in a pet's wagging tail, alongside our pain. To make room for something other than hurt and fear (disguised as anger).
I've been asked how to open up to the pain with the expectation that it also opens us up to life's joy again. The only real answer I have is to sit with it. When it comes – and it will, so be patient – let it wash over you. We're so terrified of our grief that we push it away. We busy ourselves. We shift focus.
But that only pushes grief into the shadows of our heart; it only leaves our hearts restricted.
Sit with your grief and discover that you know more than you know, including where to take your next step. Grief, especially, is wisdom that guides the way toward healing.


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