Friday, July 30, 2010

It's Only Temporary: Heartbreak's Impermanence

I sat the other day in the office of our marriage counsellor. "I just don't know," I admitted, "if I can really get past this."
I know people who do. Who have, in fact, gotten past their partner's infidelity.
I know people who will tell you that their marriage has never been better.
The cynic in me always wants to point out that it's not hard to have a better marriage than the one in which your spouse was cheating on you. But I usually manage to keep my mouth shut.
But even as I said the words to my marriage counsellor – "I just don't know if I can really get past this" – I had to acknowledge that, three years ago, I would have told you I couldn't get past a day without sobbing uncontrollably. Usually somewhere highly public. Grocery stores seemed to be my Waterloo and I inevitably broke into tears somewhere around the cereal aisle. 
Now, I can go weeks without tears, unless I happen to watch some saccharine Nicholas Sparks movie.
My point, of course, is that my heart has healed. Not completely, mind you. And it seems a whole lot more fragile in some ways, stronger in others. 
But it's something I wish I had been able to trust back in the early days post-discovery.
This too shall pass.
Even if I'd known that, I don't think it would have diminished the pain by one iota. But it might have prevented my descent into total despair.
It might have given me the strength to keep on getting out of bed, rather than wishing that I could just go to sleep...forever.
I came across this recently in an e-mail newsletter I receive:
Time may dull the pain of a broken heart, but it is fully feeling your pain and acknowledging it that will truly help you heal. Dealing with your heartache in a healthy way rather than putting it off for tomorrow is the key to repair. Gentleness more than anything else is called for. Most important, open yourself to the possibility of loving, trusting, and believing again. When, someday soon, you emerge from the cushion of your grief, you will see that the universe did not cease to be as you nursed your broken heart. You emerge on the other side of the mending, stronger for all you have experienced. 

My wish for anyone going through this pain is that they, too, trust that they'll come out the other side. Different, for sure. But if you've done the hard work of healing yourself, you'll find gifts that will serve you well, regardless of whether your marriage survives. You, I promise, will survive. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Brick by Brick: Rebuilding a Marriage

"A marriage or any relationship between partners is meant to be created and then re-created. It is an edifice a couple builds until the day the edifice can no longer hold them and they must bring it down and start again from scratch. And without any of the old assumptions... all good marriages are re-marriages."
So says Sue Monk Kidd in her book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. And so it has been with my own marriage. I had felt dissatisfaction for years, a struggle to find my place in my marriage. Long before I learned of the infidelity, I felt constricted by my marriage, by my commitment to a relationship that kept changing shape.
After seven years and three children, I had come to terms with the fact that it would never be what I had dreamed – that he wasn't perfect, nor was I.
And I had determined that a good marriage did change shape, depending on so many things. Career. Children. Aging parents. But I also believed, absolutely, that a commitment meant sticking it out, even if sometimes I had fingers crossed behind my back that we could pull it off.
Sure, as Kidd says, marriages need to be created and re-created. But infidelity doesn't simply bring down the walls of the edifice, it blows them to smithereens. The walls not only needs to be re-built, but the very foundation.
It's something some betrayed wives often lament. That the foundation upon which we'd built our future turned out to be made of sand. Not all betrayed wives feel this. Some of the luckier ones (lucky being a relative term!) are able to find comfort in the strong foundation of their marriage, making it easier (not to be confused with easy...but easier) to get past the betrayal.
But those of us whose spouses' affairs were long, or long past, or involved extensive cover-up often find ourselves looking at the foundation we thought we had...and realize that it never was what we believed it to be.
We thought it was rock. Solid enough to stake a future on.
And it wasn't.
So we set about rebuilding our marriage. Or, in some cases, acknowledging that there just aren't enough building materials there to create something sustainable.
Starting with the foundation...built on trust and transparency and honesty.
Without those, the walls of a marriage edifice don't keep the partners safe within, but create a barrier between them.

Have you been able to rebuild a marriage? If so, how? Was the foundation strong? Share your story here.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Forget Forgiveness...Reach for Reconciliation

Forgiveness, says marriage counsellor and the author of 10 Conversations You Must Have Before You Get Married, is a stupid notion.
Dr. Guy Grenier is referring to our culture's preoccupation with the "forgive and forget" mentality. With betrayal, in particular he says, that's impossible.
What he recommends instead is reconciliation. Accepting what happened as in the past...and determining how you can positively affect your present and work toward a better future.
While I sometimes think it comes down to semantics – personally I've never believed that forgiveness was about saying what happened was "okay" – I nonetheless think he has a good point. And perhaps it's the word "forgiveness" and all that it implies – releasing someone from responsibility, forgetting, suggesting that what they did was okay – is exactly what stops so many of us from being able to do it.
Perhaps if we use a different word – like Dr. Grenier's "reconciliation", for example – it frees us to be able to consider the benefits behind it and apply it to our own lives.
I'm always a bit skeptical of those who, in the early weeks following D-Day, are able to announce that they've "forgiven" their errant spouse. At that point, the betrayed partner has barely absorbed the betrayal...and it's impossible to forgive what hasn't been fully experienced. It reeks, to me, of Christian stoicism – forgiveness because it's the right thing to do. Not the healthiest or the wisest...but the prescribed response to hurt. And, if it isn't truly felt, it will feel like yet another betrayal...of yourself.
I read many books and articles in my search to understand and recover from my husband's betrayal that suggested a lack of forgiveness stood in the way of moving forward in my life. Forgiveness, I read often, was freedom for myself. It was, many suggested, not about saying that what happened was okay but accepting that it had happened – giving up hope of a better past.
Those of us betrayed wives who view it that way are likely able to come to a point of forgiveness. The problem, I've discovered, is often how our partners (ex or otherwise) perceive it.
Forgiveness to them can mean a get-out-of-jail-free card. They can interpret it as being off the hook, freed from purgatory, out of the doghouse.
And that is something we, the betrayed, don't necessarily intend.
Though we may not want our (ex) spouses to feel perpetually chagrined for what they did, we also don't want them, at any point, to think that we're "over it". Or that it's "okay" now. It's not. And it never will be.
And so...reconciliation.
Reconciliation in its most extreme form was played out in the wake of the Rwandan genocide, where an entire country needed to heal.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Africa allowed that. It allowed both sides to voice their pain. To take responsibility where appropriate. And to accept that there was no turning back the clock. There was only the present and the future...and the chance to do their best to ensure what happened in the past never happened again.
And that is where true reconciliation (and forgiveness) lies. In the now.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bidding Farewell to My Fantasy Marriage

My husband would never cheat on me, I would have told you, more than three years ago. I wouldn't have said it arrogantly or smugly. It was simply a fact. Like his hair color. Or height.
Even as I would have been uttering those words, he would have been cheating.
He had, in fact, been cheating on me our entire relationship. When we dated, became engaged, got married, had children.
Stating this to you is bizarre. It's as though I'm talking about someone else. husband would never cheat on me.
Coming to terms with the total annihilation of my reality-turned-fantasy has been one of the hardest things I've had to deal with.
I felt safe in the world I had. I was married to someone who, though we might have our ups and downs, simply wouldn't jeopardize our marriage. Or so I thought. Believed. With every pore of my being. It was one thing that kept me moored, when life threatened to unmoor me.
So when I found out that my rock was actually nothing more than sand, it frightened me, to say the least.
But the past three years have forced me to face that my marriage was nothing like I thought.
Which, of course, completely alters my future. I can never be married to someone who's always been faithful to me...unless I divorce, marry someone else and he doesn't cheat.
I can never completely trust my husband to be telling the truth. Experience has shown me that he's capable of lying and will, if necessary, to protect himself.
So I've not only had to let go of my fantasy past...but my fantasy future too.
We can rebuild...and, in fact, are. We can create a better marriage, a stronger marriage, a more honest marriage. But I can never again have that sense of 100% certainty that my feelings are safely held with him.
It's a helluva compromise. And some days, it seems like one barely worth making.
Other days, when I watch him with our kids, when he sleeps beside me and I imagine life without him, it feels worth it.
The thing about betrayal is that nothing, afterward, is ever the same. Not me, not him...not our marriage.
Cheated, indeed.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Letter to a Cheating Husband

I was listening to Dr. Joy Brown on AM radio as I shuttled kids to day camp. A guy called in with his "problem." He's been unhappy in his marriage. So has a woman he knows at work. They've become friends (you know where this is going, don't you!). They began an affair. And now, he doesn't know what to do.
Forget the fact that maybe he should have given some thought to what to do BEFORE he did it – ya know, kinda like we teach our kids from the time they can toddle over to the electrical outlet. Think BEFORE you act. However, he at least is willing to give his next actions some consideration.
And I find myself incredulous. Yep, even after everything I've gone through, I'm still amazed (and not in a good way) at how just-plain-dumb some people can be.
Should he try and work things out with his wife? Should he confess, anticipating that she'll kick him out, effectively forcing his hand? Should he leave and move in with the other woman, who would also have to leave her husband? Oh, the poor fellow just doesn't know what to do!
While I managed to refrain from yelling at my radio (my kids think I'm crazy enough, thank-you), I did mutter a bit under my breath. Something along the lines of, "you stupid ass..."
But since he asked (though, he technically asked Dr. Joy, whose advice re. cheating generally sucks), I'll give him my opinion:

Dear Stupid Ass Who Called Dr. Joy:
What should you do? Ask yourself a simple question, one everyone even considering an affair should ask himself:
Is my marriage worth saving? 
If so, do everything you can to save it. You'll save yourself grief, heartbreak and a whole heap of lawyer's fees if you can.
For you, however, the question becomes a wee bit more complicated because you've now allowed a third person into your marriage. Even if you think she's completely apart from your relationship with your wife, you're deluding yourself.
So, forgetting for a brief moment that you're a liar and cheat yourself, ask yourself why you want to be with a woman who would lie to and cheat on someone she promised she would NOT do that to (her husband, dumbass!). Then when you've considered that, ask yourself whether any marriage, including yours, has much chance of survival after one of the partners starts sharing intimacy (and I don't mean just sex!) with someone outside of the marriage.
Your marriage is shaky? Of course it is. You're sleeping with someone else...and in order to justify what is dishonest and hurtful behaviour, you've likely cast your wife as a total shrew. Step back and determine whether she's truly as bad as you've convinced yourself (and probably your affair partner) or whether she's still the person you fell in love with...just with a few years on her treads and perhaps a lot of resentment built up because you're either a) wining and dining the OW instead of her or b) emotionally absent or c) nasty to her because you really hate yourself right now.
If you decide your marriage is worth trying to save, you've got a LOT of work ahead of you.
First, you need to come clean. Forget what Dr. Joy said to you about keeping it to yourself. As long as you have a secret of this magnitude in your marriage, you'll never be able to completely relax and give your best self to your wife. And, of course, she deserves total honesty from you in order to determine if she wants to spend the rest of her life with someone capable of such deceit. That's her call, not yours.
If she decides to work through this with you, you'll need to be completely honest and transparent. She'll have a helluva road ahead of her and you can make it smoother by always being where you say you are, with whom you say you're with and not hiding anything from her. Her healing depends on your ability to support her while she rages and sobs. And your marriage's survival depends on your ability to earn back her trust – slowly and steadily.
I ache for your wife. You've betrayed her in the worst possible way. I even feel sorry for you – you've created a real mess that I doubt even you intended to do.
What should you do? should've done it a long time ago. Figure out whether your marriage was a good one, worth working for...or not. Not after you've detonated the betrayal bomb...but before.
But it's a little late for that bit of wisdom.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

When "Time" Feels Like a Four-Letter Word

Anyone who's experienced grief has no doubt been told that "time heals all wounds", "things will get better with time", "time is a wise counsellor" and blah blah f'ing blah.
After my D-day, time felt far more like an enemy than a friend. The thought of dragging myself through another day, another week, another month of this version of hell seemed like far more than I could manage.
And yet, what most of us are seeking in the aftermath of betrayal, is assurance that time will heal. That memories will fade. That mind movies will stop. That our heart will one day beat without pain.
The good news is that's an assurance I can give. Happily, easily and with confidence.
The bad news is that I can't give you a timeline.
That largely depends on your situation (has your husband cut off all contact? is he remorseful? has he or you left the marriage and created a separation agreement? is the OW out of your life? and so on...) and on how you're handling it.
The more you can find support for yourself through this, I believe, the quickly you'll get through it. The better able you are to manage the inevitable pain (running into the OW, explaining to your children, finding more information...), the more quickly you'll move to a place where the pain lessens.
It will take time...that four-letter word.
But with time, you'll be able to hear a certain song, or look at a particular photograph or talk about the affair(s) with a friend without feeling as if your heart is in a vise.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Funny Friday...errr...Monday: Botox for a wrinkle-free life!

Let's face it, infidelity is hard on a girl's looks. Gone is the line-free face, the glowing skin, the smooth forehead unfurrowed by worry or stress.
But despair not, betrayed wives! Botox to the more ways than one.
Turns out that Botox, that lethal injection of toxins that wipes the face clean of emotion, wipes the slate clean of emotion too.
Doctors recently reported their findings – that when our faces can't express strong feeling...our brains don't register it as extreme.
Voila! Relatively pain-free betrayal. Just think of the applications: If you even suspect your mate of cheating, a quick trip to the Botox clinic (where, exactly, does one get Botox?) and, upon hearing the news, your face looks serene and your brain registers nary a blip on the pain scale. Better still, Botox your cheating spouse and erase the drama from his twisted triangle of love.
I jest not! There were days (oh...weeks/months) when I would have given up parts of my brain to erase the pain of discovering betrayal. If only I had known a frontal lobotomy wasn't necessary.
Botox: How I love thee...


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