Monday, January 18, 2010

Surviving to Thriving: How to Get from There

"Survival," my wise and wonderful friend Merri said, "is a good skill. But it's not a good life skill."
So often, she explained, we behave in ways that serve us well in a crisis...but do us a disservice once the crisis dies down. For example, surviving in the early days of discovering a spouse's betrayal can enable you to function in your job and ensure that your kids don't go hungry or get abandoned. It can prevent you from seeking continually seeking solace at the bottom of a wine bottle or bag of Oreos. But it's no way to live the rest of your life.
Betrayal, however, can be so devastating that it triggers a crisis response that doesn't go away with time – especially if a spouse continues with his gaslighting ("you're crazy", "you're just being jealous", "you're trying to control who I'm friends with" blah blah blah) or openly continues the affair.
When it goes on too long, our survival coping strategies – minimizing, denial, compartmentalization – start to feel normal to us. We stop noticing the knot in our stomach when our spouse comes home late without explanation. We ignore our feelings of powerlessness in favor of keeping the peace.
And it's not a bad thing...during a crisis. Sometimes it's all we can do to keep ourselves functioning until we can figure out a plan. Perhaps we need to go back to school to ensure we're employable if we decide to separate or divorce. Maybe we need to upgrade our skills. Put aside some money. Find somewhere else to live. See a lawyer and learn our rights. Get therapy for ourselves and insist that your spouse does too.
The key is recognizing that our crisis response only works in the short-term. Our goal in life shouldn't be to survive...but to thrive. And if you aren't thriving in your marriage then it's time to come up with a plan.
And that, wives of betrayal, is why an affair can sometimes be a good thing. It can force us to face the fact that, on some level, our marriages aren't working. Likely not just for one partner, but both.
Yes, an affair is an immature and wildly selfish response on our husband's part. Yes, it's brutally painful.
But if it means we take a hard look at our lives and spurs us to action, then perhaps it's a painful lesson. Survival is for reality show contestants. Thriving is for real life.

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