Thursday, September 30, 2010

When "Worst" Gets Worse

There were a couple of comments to The Worst Is Over post that gave me pause. Perhaps that's easy for me to say. Three-plus years from D-Day and the dust has pretty much settled. I'm able to see far more clearly that the worst is indeed over.
When you're still navigating the emotional debris wrought by the D-Day bomb, it's not always so clear.
And with the very real possibility that there's more D-Day bombs to follow (men rarely let it all out in one clean sweep. It's called the "trickle truth" because it trickles out, like a faulty faucet over days and weeks and sometimes months). Or the reality of a looming divorce. And when there are kids involved, sometimes the worst (finding out about your spouse's infidelity in the first place) pales in comparison to having to tell children that a divorce is inevitable.
I've dodged that bullet. Thus far, anyway.
Though my marriage is slowly being rebuilt, brick by back-breaking brick, the threat of divorce hangs like a storm cloud just on the horizon. And I know for me that would be the worst. Because it's something I can control – whether to leave or stay – and that it affects my children who wouldn't have a choice in the matter.
So, I'll be honest, there are degrees of worst.
There's the "worst" we can't control – the shocking, devastating news of betrayal. The STD we contracted. The "other child" that's born. The divorce we don't want.
And there's the "worst" we can control – the boundary setting that completely freaks us out because it seems so unnatural to relegate our husbands to the couch until they offer up full disclosure...and a clean bill of health. The "other child" we choose not to acknowledge. The divorce we do want.
Wherever your worst falls on the spectrum, acknowledge it...then let it pass. It won't last forever, even if it feels that way.
You will be able to say, sooner than you expect, that "the worst is over."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Worst Is Over

I recently came across this HuffPo post on dealing with the trauma of betrayal.
Betrayal trauma was a notion I resisted. I remembered all too well my response when a friend asked the hypothetical question, "what would you do if your husband cheated." Back then, I knew exactly what I'd do. Dump him. I was so sure that I'd kick him out the house, march straight to a divorce lawyer, wipe my hands clean of him and move forward into my life. At no point did I imagine trauma. Wasn't that for people who'd been raped? Or prisoners of war? Or abused? A cheating husband might lead to anger, I thought, but not trauma.
File that quaint notion under the "yeah, right" category.
Following D-Day, I couldn't sleep more than a couple of hours at a time, waking to panic. I felt powerless. Enraged. Terrified. One day I would feel numb but fine. The next, I couldn't get out of bed. I became a stranger to myself, entertaining thoughts of suicide. Anything to avoid this pain that I thought was endless.
Then a friend, who worked with adult survivors of sex abuse, suggested I was experiencing post-trauma.
She gently explained to me that betrayal is trauma. Her list of "symptoms" rang true.
I felt guilty, however, putting myself in the same list as rape victims. Or abuse survivors. I felt like my experience didn't warrant being traumatized. I should be able to get over this, I thought. I should be stronger.
But I wasn't.
I wish then that I'd heard those words:
The worst is over.
According to Judith Acosta, who wrote the HuffPo blog piece and a book entitled The Worst is Over, those are the most critical words a terrified and traumatized person needs to hear.
And, with the brilliance of hindsight, I know she's right.
Knowing that the worst is over – that gut-dropping, brain-scrambling discovery that what you thought was...wasn't won't ever be repeated because you'll never be caught so off-guard again – can help you breathe again. It can help you focus on what's ahead, instead of what's behind. It can give you the trust in yourself to know that you survived...and that the worst is, indeed, over.
If you can't believe that, then more trauma work is probably a good idea. If you find yourself hyper-vigilant for any signs of impending pain because you just don't think you could go through it again, find someone to hold your hand and your heart (a therapist is darn good at doing that!) while you heal.
But in the short-term just keep telling yourself the worst is over.
Because it's true.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Guest Blog: Heart broken? Here's how to heal...

by Vikki Stark

[Editor's note: I came across this blog post on and thought it was insightful and compassionate and could help a lot of us betrayed wives. Vikki generously allowed me to reprint it here.]

The fall of 2006 should have been one of the happiest times of my life. My first book, My Sister, My Self, had just been published and I’d just completed a book tour speaking at bookstores and community centers across the United States about sister relationships, the subject of my book. Planning the trip, I’d envisioned how great it would be out there driving the open road alone, listening to local radio stations and getting the chance to talk with dozens of women about a topic dear to their hearts. Although the reality of driving three thousand miles across America proved to be much more challenging than I’d expected, at least I had backup. During our nightly phone calls, my husband of twenty-one years was cheering me on, telling me how proud he was, always encouraging me.
After three sometimes very lonely weeks on the road, I took the red-eye back east from California, stumbled off the plane and fell into my husband’s arms in tears. I was so relieved to be home, so happy to see him. There was only one more event on the book tour later that week, and it was the one I was most eagerly anticipating—my official book launch in Montreal where I live. All my friends were coming (some flying in from New York), as were the press, my colleagues and many of the women who participated in The Sisters Project that formed the basis of my book.  We were expecting close to a hundred people. It was to be my triumphant return—the best day in my life!
When we returned from the airport, my husband dropped me at home and rushed right off to work, which I found a bit odd; usually he loved to stop for coffee and reconnect whenever one of us returned from a trip. I took a shower and noticed a long dark hair in the bathtub but thought little of it. Later, however, when I was on the phone with my longhaired daughter, I asked, as an afterthought, if she’d been at the house recently. She said no, not while I was away. Then I forgot about it.
I spent the day unwinding from the trip and enjoying the anticipation of the upcoming book launch. That evening, when my husband arrived home from work, I threaded my arm through his, gave him a squeeze and said, “I bought fish.” He looked at me rather strangely and said, “It’s over.” I stared at him and asked, “What’s over?” vaguely thinking that that was a weird way to say that he didn’t want to eat fish anymore. He answered, “The marriage. It’s over. I’m leaving you. I’m moving in with my girlfriend.” Horrified, I watched the words take shape in slow motion as they left his mouth and hang in the air before they crumbled. Pow! Shock! I’d spent twenty-three days on the road only to be hit by a Mack truck in my own living room.
My husband had never mentioned that he was unhappy or thinking of leaving me. During the previous months, he’d signed greeting cards with endearments like, “I love you with all of my heart,” “Thank you for the myriad joys you bring me” and “You are the rock of my life – then, now, always!” Until the moment of his revelation, I was deeply in love and believed him to be, too. Had you tapped me on the shoulder five minutes earlier and asked me to describe my marriage, my eyes would have misted up as I rhapsodized about how my husband was the most loving, attentive, and trustworthy man any woman had ever married and how lucky I was to have found him. In other words, I’d had no idea!

Although at the time I felt as though this bizarre event was unique to me, unfortunately, as time went on, I learned that Wife Abandonment Syndrome is reaching epidemic proportions. I started a study of this phenomenon and defined it as a pattern of behavior on the part of a husband who leaves his wife out-of-the-blue without ever having told her that he was unhappy in the marriage. Following his sudden departure, he replaces the caring he’d typically shown her with anger and aggression. He often moves directly in with a girlfriend, leaving his bewildered wife totally devastated. This will undoubtedly be the defining event in her life, and although recovery is a struggle, many women find that it forces them to reinvent themselves in positive and exciting new ways.
The moment of rupture starts an exhausting, painful process and it will take a very long time until life feels normal again. It will, but it will be a “new normal” – unrecognizable from the life you were living till now. In the early stages, you will be desperate to understand what happened and how the man you loved and believed loved you could morph overnight into an angry stranger. Your mind will be spinning relentlessly as you try to make sense of it all. But you can empower yourself to try to fight the negative self-defeating thoughts.

Harnessing your mind requires practice and a willingness to reach for happiness, even in the midst of your misery. Too often people wrap the victim label around themselves like a protective garment, reluctant to remove it. But if you can get in touch with the healthiest part inside of you, the one that knows you need to keep building a life for yourself, then you can boost your recovery from heartbreak. And this goes for any broken relationship.
No doubt, time is the best healer, but while we’re waiting, here are some tricks you can use to make it through the days if you or perhaps someone you know has been effected in this way:

Sweep, Sweep, Sweep
Imagine that your mind is a small, wooden-floored room that keeps getting all dusty and dirty with your negative thoughts. Now visualize a tiny, inch-high cleaning lady snoozing in the corner of the room, an old-fashioned twig broom leaning against her chair. When your thinking drifts back into dangerous territory, wake her up and urge her to “sweep, sweep, sweep” away those pesky thoughts! Imagine her working away furiously, tidying up the floor, sweeping all that unwanted muck out the door and making the place spic ‘n span.

Barking Dog
This simple but effective trick helps you separate yourself from intrusive thoughts.
Imagine that you’re walking down the street and you see a dog chained up to a fence next to the sidewalk, barking wildly at you. Continue on your way down the street knowing that the racket he’s making, which represents the cacophony of thoughts in your head, can’t hurt you. It’s just noise. Hold your head up and keep on walking.

Shake It Off
While we’re on the topic of canines, here’s another very simple option for breaking out of a bad mind-set. You know how a wet dog shakes from head to tail in that goofy way to dry himself off? Well, when you need to lift yourself out of a funk, stand up and literally shake it off. “Shake, shake, shake” from head to toe, good and hard. Waggle your arms, bobble your head (but remember to remove your glasses first!), jiggle your derrière!  It’s guaranteed to break the spell at least a little bit. Try it now!

Paint the Wall
This technique enables you to manage those rotten bad feelings you walk around with. Picture yourself vigorously painting all those angry, hurt, pent-up feelings in strong colors on a great big wall. Use your whole body, jabbing and stroking until the wall is violent with color. Stand back and take a good look at the turmoil exteriorized. Then imagine grabbing a roller, dipping it in a tray of thick white paint and rolling it criss-cross and up and down until the wall is covered all over with a field of pure white. Stand back again and let yourself exhale. Then inhale and breathe in the clean paint smell!
Recovering relatively unscarred from the unwanted end of a relationship requires that you use all your positive energy to fight off those doom and gloom thoughts that hold you back. Happiness is a choice that we have to keep making for ourselves at every twist and turn in our lives – the choice to roll up our sleeves and do whatever it takes to keep moving forward – even if it means shaking from head to toe like a wet cocker spaniel.
– Vikki
I would love your thoughts. Have you been the victim of a runaway husband? Have you been abandoned by a spouse? Has your relationship ended without you truly understanding what went wrong? How have you been coping? I encourage you to share your stories, even anonymously.
Vikki Stark, M.S.W., is a family therapist and the author of Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and RenewalThe book is based both on Stark’s own experience as well as the Sudden Wife Abandonment Project in which she interviewed over 400 women worldwide.
Stark has brought women together through her website,, which is an active resource center for those who have experienced Wife Abandonment Syndrome. It has become a life raft for many women seeking support and counsel. Runaway Husbands is available through the website or from online booksellers.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Myth of Closure

"When will this be over?"
How many times have we asked ourselves that question, in the days, weeks, months...sometimes years following learning of our partners' betrayal? Particularly disheartening is the awareness that, after much hard work and healing, we can still be brought to our knees by a song on a radio. Or a glimpse of the OW at the grocery store. Or stumbling across an old credit card receipt that reminds us.... And suddenly the pain feels so raw it leaves us breathless.
And asking the universe – for the zillionth time – when will this be over.
The unfortunate answer is, likely, never.
We can do everything "right" according to the infidelity experts. We can sign off on the no-contact letter, create boundaries, redefine our relationships, even deal face-to-face with the OW and triumph.
But we're deluding ourselves if we think that we can somehow close the door on what happened. Tuck it away in some box and put it on a shelf where we don't have to think about it.
And, frankly, that wouldn't be wise.
"Pain engraves a deeper memory," says poet Anne Sexton.
Which is why, in spite of years of happiness, one act of betrayal can cut us to the bone.
And yet, pain is often where we find our most valuable lessons. It's where we find our truest selves.
Burying those lessons and the self held within only makes them more determined – and likely – to resurface.
Instead, though the idea of denial is an appealing one (just one more drink! A tiny pill to help me sleep! A new pair of shoes! Another piece of cake!), it's important to examine the pain. To see where life took that unexpected turn. To turn it over in our minds, not for the pain itself but for the lesson it holds.
When that lesson is revealed – we sacrifice too much then feel resentful, we ignore our gut feelings, we  need to create firmer boundaries... – it's far less likely that the pain will have the same bite.
Closure? It's possible, I think, to create rituals that help us move forward in our life. Or to have the necessary conversation. Or burn the letters. Or whatever it is we think is necessary to heal. But to think that we can ever shut the door on betrayal is a myth. We are changed by it...from this day forward.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Are you nice? Or kind? It's NOT the same thing...

I recently read a great post from Danielle Laporte, whose e-mails/blog posts I highly recommend for their thought-provoking and butt-kicking energy. Laporte is a champion of women and a hero to the betrayed -- in large part because of her take-no-prisoners approach to life, something most of us could emulate to move us from victimhood to triumph.
But one thing in particular stood out for me in her post. It was this:
"She knows that playing nice perpetuates irresponsibility, but that kindness is wildly fertile."
I think I've spent far too much of my life being nice...and not nearly enough being kind. Especially to myself. Nice means remembering to send the thank-you note. Kind means only attending if I really want to.
Nice is writing the cheque. Kind is rolling up my sleeves and helping.
Nice is...lukewarm. And forgettable.
Kind is hot-chocolate warm. And memorable.

What does any of this have to do with betrayal?
I used betrayal...after I could manage to get myself out of bed, showered and functioning the real world, to take a long, hard look at my life and figure out what to keep and what to toss. And yes, my husband was up for debate.
Betrayal stripped me bare, which allowed me to start from scratch – rebuilding a life that served me. I figured I'd done enough to make other people happy. Now it was my turn...
The result? The "nice" me is nothing more than a bad memory. The kind me has taken her place.
It's not easy. The "nice" me still tries to jockey her way back into the lead. She whispers recriminations, like "the Parent Association not going to like it if you say "no" to their request". Or chastises me for telling my husband that, yes, I am too busy to pick up his dry-cleaning.
Kind-me, however, is quick (well, okay, sometimes not so quick. Sometimes she's snoozing...) to edge nice-me aside. Kind-me remembers how frustrated I felt by all the demands on my time. How powerless I felt. How desperately I thought I needed everyone's approval.
She remembers the lies I told myself to keep my world intact.
Kind-me knows that nice abdicates responsibility for my own happiness. It fears the type of just-dive-in commitment that creates an authentic life. Kind ensures my happiness is top of the list. Not anyone else's list but my own.
Which is as it should be.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

For the newly betrayed...

Though I'm more than three years out from D-Day #2, lately I've felt as if I'm dealing with it all over again. And though I know this happens (it's called "recycling", says my therapist, and it's NOT to be confused with regressing), it still frightens me that I'll never get past this.
And it reminds me of those first few weeks/months. Perhaps by outlining what happened to me in those hell-filled days, I can help someone else whose days seem too dark to ever see light again.

Or rather lack thereof. Though I'm tossing and turning lately, immediately post D-Day I barely slept a wink. If I was able to fall asleep at all (thank-YOU Gravol!), I would awaken a few hours later with that horrible pit in my stomach and the tears would flow again.
Rest assured (ha!), you will sleep again someday. Melatonin can work wonders -- it's non-addictive, available in the vitamin section of your pharmacy and basically gets your adrenal system under control so that your body isn't sending shots of adrenaline to warn you that you're under attack. The attack is over. Now's time to figure out what the hell happened...

Though I suppose it's possible to turn to food for comfort, every BWC member I know couldn't touch a think – not even Brownie Fudge Meltdown with Skor bars sprinkled on top. The upside was a butt considerably smaller than pre-D-day. The down side was, well, the down side was that I felt like absolute crap, no matter that I looked awesome in skinny jeans.
Eat what you can – a small bowl of soup, a few bites of grilled cheese. Whatever you can get past that lump in your throat. Steer clear of junk food...and alcohol. Both contain the wrong kind of calories and can lead to increased self-loathing. Keep your loathing targeted where it belongs – at your husband.

Staying sane
I'm not exactly an expert on this one. I swear I'm nowhere near as sane as I once considered myself. However, I'm still standing and my children haven't been taken from me so I must be doing something right. The best advice I can give is to keep the focus on you. As much as you can, resist indulging in fantasies of what you'd say to the OW, given the chance. Or what you'd do to her. Or trolling Facebook to find out what she's saying. Or calling her cell phone to leave nasty messages. Or. Or. Or.
It might be a struggle (some days more than others) but focus on what YOU need: a warm bath, a good run, some new clothes, lunch with a trusted friend, a movie marathon... Whatever! Give it to yourself. And when you find yourself thinking of the OW or your husband with the OW, picture a huge  STOP sign. Or put an elastic band around your wrist and give it a good snap when you shift focus off of you.
There's nothing you can do to change what's done. But you can treat yourself with the respect that everyone should treat you with. And, in the process, find your way back to sanity a whole lot faster.

Find help
I was more devastated by my husband's betrayal than I ever dreamed I would be. It, quite literally, killed my spirit and send me spiralling down. If, like me, you find yourself harbouring thoughts of suicide, run, don't walk, to your phone and call a suicide hotline or find yourself a therapist who can pull you back. For me at least, suicide looked like an escape hatch from seemingly insurmountable pain. But the pain is surmountable. It's an illusion that you won't get over it. You will. That I can promise.

Gather strength from those of us who've been there
There are some great online groups with plenty of wonderful, wise people who can assure you that life will get better. is a great site, which saved me from total despair more than once. And please don't hesitate to share your story here (or just lurk, if that's all you're ready for!). We're a great bunch of women. Though the details of our betrayal might vary, we share a strength and a compassion. And a road back to happiness.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Shame on You...For Being Betrayed?

I was amazed and saddened by the comments to my last post. Saddened because so many of us struggle with the notion of shame. As if we're somehow stupid for not knowing our husbands were cheating on us. As if we have something to feel ashamed about. As if we had any part in our own betrayal.
Most of us can accept that we played some role in our marriages – whether for better for worse. I know I had fallen into a bad habit of playing the martyr – then resenting my husband ferociously for not being around much to help out. What did I expect? When he was around, I simply tsked tsked the way he did everything from putting the kids to bed to chew his food. (Passive-aggressive?? Uh, yeah. That was me.)
And there was certainly far too long a period following D-Day when I all too eagerly offered up my shortcomings as evidence that I could control his cheating. In my desperate mind I figured that if my actions caused his cheating, then different actions could prevent it.
For one thing, his sex addiction pre-dated me in his life. It was simply his medication of choice. Life not exactly living up to expectations? Take one blow-job with a stranger and don't call back in the morning. 
So recognizing that I really didn't control his actions then...and I certainly didn't control them now was lesson #1.
Lessons number 2 through...uh, lost count, have related to letting go of shame. Shame that I trusted something untrustworthy. Shame that this didn't happen to other women. Shame that I spent far too many mornings weeping in bed while my kids ate stale Cheerios. Shame for...well...I could pretty much muster up shame for just about anything, whether the fact that I hadn't yet cured cancer to shame that I could barely keep my house clean. 
And so, it would seem from your comments, could you.
So let's give it up, shall we?
We got screwed. Not literally, of course. That was our husbands. Nope, we got screwed by life and circumstance. Just like every person on the planet does as some point or another.
But rather than sit back and wring our hands and point the finger squarely at ourselves, let's take a big step back and remove ourselves from what happened to us. It happened to us. Just like earthquakes happen to people. And cancer happens to people. And other bad things happen to good people.
And let's show shame the door.


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