Friday, December 16, 2011

Pain in the Neck: A Story with a Happy Ending

My neck was a mess. It had kinks, muscle tightness and a dull pain.
This neck pain was, forgive the pun, a pain in the neck.
It got to the point when I could barely turn my neck to do a shoulder check when riding my bike in the summer.
So I began going to my massage therapist weekly in hopes of working it out. I have periodically visited a cranio-sacral massage therapist ever since she magically banished the migraines I was getting when I was pregnant with my first child. Generally, one or two visits eliminates whatever pain I might have for months.
But after about six weeks of regular visits, it didn't seem to be making any difference. So I asked a logical question: "Why isn't this working?"
To which she responded, "You have a lot of stress in your body. You carry it in your shoulders – the weight of the world. Until you deal with that, I can only offer up mild relief." Then she went further, suggesting I ask myself a question: Is it true that it isn't getting better?
To which I admitted that, well, I could now shoulder check quite easily, though it still ached at time when I sat at my desk.
"So," she said, "it's getting better."
"Yes."
"If it's getting better," she ventured, "then isn't it possible that it can continue to get better."
"Yes."
"And what might you need to do to help it continue to get better."
And so I admitted that I could stretch more, stand up from my desk more often and – here's the key – tell a different story.
This story, rather than focusing on this pain in the neck that won't abate, is about pain that is abating, albeit slowly. It's about letting go of the stress in my life that I don't need to take on (my father's grief over my mom's death, for example). It's about being responsible for my own "stuff" and letting others deal with their own. It's about not managing other's issues (ie. reading to my husband from books I've been reading on addiction in the hopes that he'll "see" the point) and letting them find their own way.
Lo and behold, my neck pain is improving. It even disappeared a few weeks ago.
Now I feel it creeping back but rather than look at it as a setback, I'm viewing it as an early warning system.
I'm taking on more than I should (holiday shopping, planning, mailing gifts – trying to create the "perfect" holiday for my family).
I'm building resentment over my husband's refusal to go to church with me and my kids. (This is fodder for another post but he was raised Catholic and marched into church every Sunday and has a strong visceral reaction to ANY church.)
I'm trying to tell myself a different story around that. I could stick with the script that if he loved me enough, he'd overcome his resistance and go because it's important to me and the kids.
Or I could tell myself that he has such trauma around church and his parents' doctrine of guilt and shame that church triggers trauma all over again (there's also the potential that he's repressing abuse...given his sex addiction). And that he'll either overcome it or not...as he chooses. In the meantime, I have the choice to either go alone with the kids, or not. My choice.
My story.
My healing.

What's yours? And can you reframe it in a way that gives you power?


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Be Willing...

December 10 marked the five-year anti-versary of D-Day.

And those who follow this site will note that I recently shared how far I've come since that day five years ago. That I, as much as anyone, was surprised to find myself healed and happy.

I've given some thought to the path I've walked this past five years. And while thinking about it, I happened upon a radio program about grudges featuring callers with grudges they've carried for decades. A few phoned in with grudges they've managed to let go. One man, whose father (!!!) carried on an affair with his wife (!!!) had managed to forgive both of them and move on with his life. He had relied on a 12-step program and a strong relationship with his "higher power" to heal. Another woman finally recognized, after a decade following a nasty break-up, that she was punishing herself by holding on to the grudge. She, too, let go and forgave.

It can be hard to even conceive of forgiveness in the early days of discovering such a betrayal. And forgiveness is such a fluid concept. It can mean different things to different people. To me, it reeked of absolution. And there was no way I was letting my husband off the hook. He was damn well going to regret what he did every minute of every day.

Until the day that didn't matter anymore. Until the time I was able to see that making him "pay" was only keeping both of us locked into an adversarial relationship based not on mutual respect and caring but on jailor and jailed. The power I felt was an illusion and kept my heart locked up.

What I'm suggesting to all of you – no matter where you are on the path to healing – is that you open yourselves to the possibility of healing. That you be willing to at least consider forgiveness – whatever forgiveness means to you. It doesn't (shouldn't!!) mean that you're saying what he did to you was okay. But how about being willing to forgive if it meant simply that you recognize his pain, even if he still can't recognize yours? It can seem impossible to acknowledge that cheating is a consequence, not just a cause, of pain. But no-one hurts another like that unless they're hurting too. Whether they seem cavalier about it or not, betrayal is borne of pain.

And forgiveness needn't (shouldn't!!) in any way indicate that you will continue to let anyone hurt you. Forgiveness of another doesn't mean abandoning yourself. Your first duty is to protect yourself, emotionally and physically.

But that duty to self must also include a willingness to open up to healing. And that can't happen when your heart is locked up tight.

It doesn't need to happen today. But consider opening up the teensiest bit. To be willing to consider the possibility of the miracle of healing (and believe me, it will feel like a miracle).

And while you're considering it, watch this video about miracles and what can happen when you're willing...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How Fearing Adultery Hurts All of Us

I felt badly for Herman Cain's wife who, when news hit of her husband's 13-year affair, reportedly said, "Here we go again."
But it can't be ignored that it was news of his adultery that derailed his presidential nomination – NOT the reports of sexual harassment.
And this is, I think, part of the problem.
Sexual harassment is a crime. Adultery...is not. Adultery is hurtful absolutely. But it's not criminal.
Yet we live in a society that treats it as more serious...or at least a portion of society treats it as such. And by keeping it in the shadows, we don't talk about it, nor do we discuss how to deal with it if it happens.
Instead, we all pretend it only happens in bad marriages. Or is committed by people of poor character. While I'm not defending those who engage in adultery (though it might sound as if I am), I am saying that we can't tar all adulterers with the same brush (as tempting as it is to tar them with something...especially when you're the hurt party!!).
My overwhelming wish, having survived betrayal, is that society discuss this as something that can, and frequently does, happen in marriage. Even "good" marriages. But bringing it into the open, I'm convinced that, rather than make it more acceptable, we'll make it less attractive. By seeing the pain it causes in relationships, by having honest discussions about the impact and the long, rocky road to recovery, I would hope it would seem a whole lot less tempting.
What do you think? Does treating adultery like the scarlet letter make it more likely? Or less?
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"If Only You Were Different": Owning Up to Resentment

I used to almost choke on my resentment.
I resented washing the dishes while my husband watched TV. I resented getting up for a 3 a.m. feeding while my husband slept. I resented having to shut down my computer in the midst of writing a chapter because a toddler woke up early from a nap. I resented my husband's family, who would arrive with nothing but subtle judgement about my home and children. I resented his freedom. I even resented his resentment.
Around the time I found myself resenting the fact that my husband was using up oxygen that I thought should be mine...I finally acknowledged that my marriage was in serious trouble.
I was about to learn exactly how serious.
By the time I suggested marital counselling, we'd both been simmering for years. Me choking back resentment. Him expressing it in the form of multiple affairs, which I "discovered" just a few weeks into our marital counselling. In hindsight, I'd suspected for months...but only trusted that intuition when I recognized that he was willing to try and save the marriage. But that's another post.
Unlike Kim Kardashian, most of us spend years in marital misery before we take steps to either end the misery by looking outside the marriage for what we need...or ending the marriage altogether.
Which is why so many marriage counsellors note that it's not the affair itself that determines whether or not a marriage is salvageable, but the state of marriage apart from that. It's possible, despite what so many of us previously thought, to view the affair as a symptom of marital distress, rather than the sole cause. But because an affair raises the stakes so dramatically, we tend to focus on it rather than what led to it. We also tend to resist focussing what led to it because it can seem, to those of us feeling "wronged" like we somehow "caused" the affair. We. Did. Not.
But...staying stuck in that victim mode of being wronged serves no-one, least of all ourselves.
So it's important to examine what our marriage was like. Honestly. Which is no easy task when our dreams are strewn around us like a toddler's toys.
I would have told you that my marriage was good. That we were good friends. Sure, we had our issues. But don't all couples?
A few weeks ago, I was able to finally admit to our marriage counsellor – within the context of why I wasn't more affectionate with my husband – that his touch used to infuriate me.
Why? Well...I had to think about it. Then I recalled how often he would hug me from behind when I was doing the dishes. And all I could think was "why aren't you helping me do the dishes rather than hugging me?" Or he would tell me I looked beautiful when I was breastfeeding one our kids...and I would think "why aren't you throwing in a load of laundry instead of staring at me?" And so on.
I had no idea how to ask for the help I needed. He was incapable of hearing any request I made as anything other than criticism (his mind-tape plays only one song: "You're doing it wrong. You're doing it wrong."). And so I was in my corner...and he in his.
And our resentment reached a boiling point.
It's hard to admit that I wasn't the lovely, warm wife I wanted to believe I was.
And he certainly deals with the shame that he was hardly the devoted husband.
But by looking at who we were in the marriage, we're able to more clearly decide who we want to be now...in this new marriage with the same spouse.
It has taken almost five years to get to this point. Five years of which I spent at least two determined to get him to admit that our marriage would have been wonderful if only...
If only he had spent less time at work.
If only he had helped me more.
If only...
If only we had both been capable of being different people. We couldn't then. But we can now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Wanna go public?

If you're interested in telling your story to a zillion viewers (can't disclose the network but it's one noted for sensitivity/compassion):
My name is Patrick Hartz and I'm a producer for True Entertainment in New York.  We are currently producing a series that explores infidelity among couples.I'm very interested in hearing from any couples who have experienced infidelity and have been able to stay married and work past it.  I'm also looking to speak with couples who have divorced as a result, but have been able to remain on decent terms.Please feel free to email me at Hartz@TrueEntertainment.net for more details and a link to a full episode of the show.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Happiness In the Wake of Betrayal

There was a time I doubted it was possible. How could I ever – EVER! – get past what he did. I couldn't, I was sure. I resigned myself to a life half-lived, to gritting my teeth and sacrificing my own happiness so that my kids could remain in an intact home.
The truth is I felt trapped, afraid to actually take steps to end the marriage, and decided to assume the role of martyr. Blech.
In moments of candor I admitted that I believed marriage was a lifetime commitment (that's not to say I blame anyone for walking out of a marriage that kills their soul). And I desperately wanted my family to remain intact. I also, thanks to years of childhood training by alcoholic-turned-former-alcoholic parents, believed in the power of people to change. To become as wonderful as I always thought they could be. And though I'd learned the hard way that this change had to come from their desire not from my wishful thinking, old habits die hard.
I also kept working. As did my husband. On communicating. On healing. On creating true intimacy. On learning who each other really was. On accepting myself and him...just as we are.
It was hard. Exhausting. Demoralizing at times. Wonderful at others.
And, recently,  I realized that I'm something I never thought I could be again. Happy.
I had thought I might achieve contentment. A sort of acceptance that life wasn't so bad. But I never expected to experience the joy I had in the "before" part of my life.
And it's not the same. I'm not sure I'll ever ride those highs again. But then again, perhaps I will. Because I'm well and truly happy. Not just content. But full of joy and hope and eager to watch the rest of my life unfold.
My marriage feels...solid. My husband is someone I'm falling in love with all over again. He's surprised me in ways that are miraculous after 15 years of marriage. He has become, as he promised me he would try, the "man you already believed I was."
To all those wondering if it's possible – wondering as I did if all those reports of a "marriage even better than before" was total Pollyanna BS – I'm happy to report it is indeed possible. Even, with a lot of hard work on both sides, probable.
I told my husband about a week ago that I really feel as if those horrible days/weeks/years following D-Day are now just part of the fabric of our life together. Not the predominant pattern, simply a part.
I'm on the other side.



Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tracing Back Your Feelings to Regain Your Power

I frequently hear women berate themselves for not knowing about their husband's affairs. "I was so stupid!" they rail. "The signs were all there...and I ignored them." "I should have known."
Please: Stop.
Hindsight isn't there to prompt self-flagellation. It's there to teach. And when the lesson is learned, we move on.
The anger, I think, comes from embarrassment. We beat ourselves up for not knowing something that we think others had already figured out. Or that another wife would have figured out if she'd been in our shoes.
However, anger, as I often note, is generally what therapists call a secondary emotion. It masks hurt and fear. And you're likely feeling a whole lot of both of those.
Once you peel the anger away – "I'm such an idiot" – and examine the feelings behind that, it's easier to manage. I, for one, was terrified that since I missed the signs the first time, it could easily happen again – or could be going on RIGHT NOW AND OHMYGOD WHY ISN'T HE HOME FROM THE GROCERY STORE I'M SUCH AN IDIOT AND I HATE HIM AND HOW COULD HE DO THIS TO ME AND AND AND...
It was easy for me to spiral down into total despair.
Our couples therapist recently asked my husband, whom I think has a lot of anger (which I HATE), to trace the feelings back. For example, my husband was furious that a water heater we'd installed didn't seem to be giving him hot water as quickly as he wanted it. So what? was my response. But he was really angry about it. I brought up what I perceive as his rather erratic anger at our session. As my husband traced the anger back, it quickly became clear that his anger stems from feelings that he screwed up. That he bought the wrong water heater, that he hadn't done enough research, that he was being ripped off by the company...that he had done something wrong. Which, if you trace back most of my husband's reactions to just about everything, is where you'll end up: I screwed up and I'm going to be in trouble. Which, if you trace it back further, pretty much sums up my husband's childhood.
It's a fascinating exercise but one that few of us do in the midst of reacting. Taking time, however, to slow down and put the reaction under something of a microscope reveals all the barely discernible micro-reactions taking place. All the split-second conversations we have with ourselves.
Shining a light on my fear – that this could/would happen again and I would be blind-sided and crippled by it – helped me understand that things were different now. I could remind myself that I wasn't as naive or trusting as I was and that I was more alert to signs of cheating. I could comfort myself with my Escape Plan, something I recommend all newly betrayed wives (or oldly betrayed wives) create. I could reassure myself that I would be fine. That I am capable of surviving betrayal and though it doesn't feel good, it won't kill me.
It most definitely won't kill me.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why You Need An Escape Plan...Even If You Don't Plan to Leave

©wfmillar and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Discovering a partner's infidelity can sometimes feel as if you're drowning. In despair. Confusion. Shock. Pain. Most of us experience all of the above and, consequently, an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness. This was done TO us...and now we're left dealing with the fallout.Which is why it's crucial to have an Escape Plan. And Escape Plan is a realistic step-by-step plan of what you'll do if...
a) your husband refuses to end his affair or you have reason to believe he's lying about ending the affair
b) he engages in the crazy-making behaviour common to cheating husbands including but not limited to calling you hysterical, out-of-control, jealous, manipulative, or he otherwise makes YOU the problem
c) he uses Divorce as his trump card, as in, "If you can't just leave the past in the past then we should just get a divorce."
An Escape Plan is your chance to take back your life and put yourself in control of your future. And though you may never act on it, it's paramount to your healing (which includes healing your own battered self-esteem) to have a plan that focuses entirely (though not exclusively) on your well-being.

How do you create an Escape Plan?
•Start by figuring out where you would go if you needed short-term accommodation (ie. your husband refuses to leave/sleep on the couch). It might be your parents' house, a best friend, a neighbour. We're simply thinking short-term here, somewhere you could go to escape for a few days or a week, taking kids if necessary, in order to get your head straight. And allow your spouse to get his head straight and, perhaps, recognize that the New You isn't going to tolerate his bullshit.
•Figure out what logistics need to be in place: For example, if your short-term accommodation involves leaving town, how will this affect getting to your job or getting kids to school? Can you commute for a few days or weeks? Is there somewhere else the kids would need to stay during the week? Would a nearby hotel be a better option?
What will you do for money? Do you have access to your own cash? A credit card that he can't put a stop on? What if your short-term turns into a month or so? Can you afford to pay for a hotel for that long?
Meet with a lawyer to determine what your life would look like if you left the marriage. Again, this is just a dress rehearsal. It's a chance for you to take back the reins of your life and know that you will be okay, no matter what happens. And by okay, I mean that you'll be entitled to what is yours financially.

"But why, if I don't want to separate/divorce?"
Your Escape Plan is as much an insurance policy as an actual plan. It's something to have in place in case things go even more to hell. In case he cheats again. In case his affair never ended. In case the Other Woman announces she's pregnant. It's to ensure you're not blind-sided again. And it's to offer you some security that even if you don't get blind-sided again...you'd be prepared if you were.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Letter to a Newly Betrayed Wife


A woman recently commented on an old post. She shared her story of her husband, who's involved emotionally (and likely physically) with a woman from work. This woman is also a friend of the family. The wife is hurt, bewildered, confused. Like so many of us, she simply can't fathom why her husband, whom she loves, will continue to hurt her like this despite begging him to stop.
I wrote this to her in response and thought it might help other women who are just finding out. It's been almost five years since I found out, but hearing others' stories takes me back to that horrible time when simply breathing was painful. I wish I'd had someone to help me put one foot in front of another... 


Dear Newly Betrayed Wife,
I'm so, so sorry for what you're going through. It's hell, I know. 
Your husband is so far into the fog of an affair (whether emotional or physical) that he can barely register you except as an inconvenience. Affairs are selfish. They are about seeking something in another person that you can't find in yourself. But none of that is your concern, though you'll likely, after the dust has settled, want to determine what exactly your husband was seeking outside the marriage that he didn't think he could find within it.
You say this has been going on for 1 1/2 years? And though he's denying a physical affair, you've certainly got evidence of emotional betrayal. E-mailed "I love you"s certainly constitute betrayal and don't let him hide behind the "but we're not having sex" defense. Who cares! He's intimate with this woman, whether clothes are on or off. And you've asked him to stop because you perceive – correctly – that it threatens your marriage. That's all you need to know right now.
You've got to set some very clear boundaries and – this is key – THAT YOU WILL ENFORCE. You're handing over your power to two people who clearly don't much care if you're being hurt. It's time to take it back. If you want your marriage – and it certainly sounds as if you do – you need to insist that your husband cut ties with this woman immediately and start the hard work of earning back your trust and respect. That means NO CONTACT with this woman. 
He'll likely continue gaslighting: "But I'm helping out a friend," he'll say. "She needs me right now more than you..." etc. DO NOT GET INTO IT WITH HIM. 
And if he gets angry, don't engage. Anger is simply a countermove intended to get you to back down. Take a breath and restate your boundary: "You need to stop seeing her or you need to leave." Or whatever it is you determine is a consequence you will stick with. Decide: Does he leave? Will you leave? Does he sleep on the couch? Do you no longer give him the other privileges of having you in his life -- sex, comfort, companionship. It must be something you will follow through with or you're simply teaching him that you're making empty threats.
This is NOT about manipulating him, it's about taking care of yourself and ensuring that you are treated with respect and dignity and honesty. He won't treat you that way until you start treating yourself that way.
You do NOT deserve this. You are his wife and he made a commitment to you and he's violating that, whether there's sex involved or not (and brace yourself, because I'm guessing there is).

He might walk out of the door. And you might desperately want to call him back and beg for his forgiveness. DO NOT. The only way for him to realize what he's missing by walking out is to...miss you. To truly face the consequences of his choice. If he keeps walking, then it was simply a matter of time before he left anyway. He's already been living with one foot out the door for 1 1/2 years. You either want him IN the marriage or OUT. He can't have it both ways. 
You need to fight like hell for your own dignity and fight like hell for your marriage. And that doesn't mean putting up with being treated like you don't matter. 

I would also advise getting yourself over to survivinginfidelity.com and going into the "Just Found Out" section. You'll find lots of wonderful people who can give you advice and coach you in real time. 

You will get through this, I promise. I hope your husband smartens up before you realize you're better off without him.
You're stronger than you know. And we're here to tell you that whenever you need us.

Elle

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Witness to the Pain of Infidelity

There's much debate raging on another site regarding a post by Wendy Strgar of Good Clean Love, whom I've quoted here before. Wendy offers up much wisdom in her approach to creating solid happy relationships but, from what I know and from what she's revealed, she's never experienced a spouse's sexual betrayal.
As a result, as many commenters have pointed out, her post seems somewhat cavalier. As if getting over betrayal is simply a matter of perspective, of viewing the infidelity through a different lens. She calls an affair a "wake-up call". Yet most of us who've experienced it see it less as a wake-up call than repeated kicks to the head by someone wearing steel-toe boots.
And the commenters clearly do, too.
It's painfully clear which of those commenting are still raw from the incredible sting of betrayal. You can almost hear their wavering voices, angry at what they deem a thoughtless post that dismisses their pain and desperate for someone to acknowledge it.
And having someone acknowledge that pain is, I believe, a critical part of healing.
Like any tragedy in life, we need a witness. Someone who nods their head and agrees with us that, indeed, it happened. And it was terrible. But who also stands as a reminder that from tragedy can come triumph. That tragedy can, sometimes, be a wake-up call. Albeit an excruciating one.
The evolution of tragedy to triumph can only occur if we're willing to loosen our grip on the pain. To no longer hold on to it like a security blanket but to let it go and open ourselves to what comes next. It's a bizarre bit of human nature that we'll often hold on to negative emotion that's familiar than risk another emotion that's not. Healing can feel absolutely out of control. It's not a straight trajectory but rather a slow spiral upwards with occasional slips back. And it can be terrifying.
I've been aware lately that I'm holding my husband's betrayal in front of me like a shield. And behind that is a fear that if I let go of it (which feels uncomfortably like letting him "off the hook"), it'll happen again. As a result, I feel the need to constantly keep it front of mind because then I can control it. Well...guess again, Elle. That control is a total illusion. And it's keeping me locked in a position of defining myself by the tragedy not the triumph.
I'm ready to let go of it. While I refuse to acknowledge that it's ever the cheated-upon spouse's responsibility to keep the other faithful, I'm taking responsibility for my own healing. A healing that's hampered by holding on to the betrayal like a fun-house mirror, constantly reflecting back at my husband what a bastard he was and how lucky he is that I haven't tossed his sorry ass on the streets. Though I haven't said those exact words (at least, not in a long while), the sentiment is there, clear to both of us.
Tragedy to triumph. That's where we headed. And with each of us acknowledging the others' pain and giving all of us the freedom to move forward.

While this site, I believe, can play a role in each of us feeling less alone, I'm increasingly aware that we also need flesh-and-blood people in our lives to witness our pain. Well-intentioned friends who respond with hard-nosed advice ("kick him out" or "it's time to get over it") are generally not too helpful. Try and find someone – anyone – who can witness your pain: therapist, friend, pastor, support group, spouse. And please post your story here. It can help you loosen your grasp on the pain to get it out and onto paper.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tend To the Wound: Your First Step to Healing

I always love to receive e-mails from readers that thank me for "getting it" and for putting their pain into words. I love it because, if I can take what was total agony for me and turn it into something positive, something that helps other people feeling the same agony, then I can almost convince myself that it was worth it. And I love it because I'm so incredibly grateful when someone puts my pain or my experience into words. It makes it real. It makes me feel less alone. It makes me feel less crazy, which is no small thing.
So I was thrilled when I read this post from Bindu Wiles. Wiles is one of those magical writers that takes our messy world and distills it with words into a thing of beauty. In this post, she shares a story that works as a perfect parable, with the moral being we must truly tend to our wounds.
At no point in my life did I need this lesson more than when I first learned of my husband's affair(s). Instead, like so many of us, I focused on the marriage. I needed to save the marriage, I believed. I needed to protect my children. I needed to protect my husband, who was having to face the consequences of his actions at work. I did exactly the opposite of what Wiles recommends. Rather than tend to the arrow in my heart, I made sure that anyone who might even witness the arrow was told that they were imagining it. I was fine. I smiled at acquaintances at the grocery store, though later I couldn't recall a word I'd said. I chatted with my kids' teachers. I assured friends who cautiously asked if I was "alright" that yes, of course I was. Just a bit tired. And each night, I begged and pleaded with my husband to explain to me why he shot the arrow.
In hindsight, I should have closed out the world as best I could and tended to the arrow.
And though it's a lesson I didn't learn then, as fate would have it, I can learn it now. As our new marriage counsellor recently informed my husband and I, we haven't even begun our "recovery work."
For weeks now, we've sat in her office, me with an arrow in my heart, my husband holding the bow...and talked about anything but. We've talked about division of labor. We've talked about respect. We've talked about our renovations until my head was going to explode. And then last week, I brought up the arrow. And at that point she looked at both of us and said, "we haven't even begun..."
No surprise to me. The wound around the arrow has grown tough. But recently it has started to hurt again. I've felt hopeless and helpless. Wounded and weak.
I should have tended my wounds better back then.
But I can tend them now. And I will.
I hope you will, too.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tee-Hee Tuesday: The Ex-Girlfriend Song

Okay...so it's about an ex-girlfriend. But it's pretty easy to imagine your ex (or your not-ex-but-you-re-still-thinking-about-it-so-he'd-better-be-careful) in her place:


Guaranteed to make you giggle...

What do YOU wish on your ex (or your not-ex-but-you-re-still-thinking-about-it-so-he'd-better-be-careful)? Share your worst!

Monday, September 12, 2011

When I Knew...

I recently came across an article in which an Other Woman insisted that wives inevitably know when their husbands are cheating. In this particular OW's view, the fact that we don't do anything about it is a sort of implicit acceptance, if not approval of the affair. It hearkens back to the day where it was assumed that men's appetites were simply different than women's...and if men discreetly satisfied those appetites elsewhere then no harm done. It reminds me far too much of the sense that women are almost grateful to not have to satisfy their husband's desires because, after all, we have laundry to do and children to raise.
Yeah...right.
But it did get me thinking about how much I knew...and how much I knew.
My case is perhaps different in that my husband's sex addiction pre-dated me. In other words, he came to me broken...he didn't break after I knew him.
So as the years rolled by, I didn't really notice a change in him, so long as he stuck to his standard method of operation, which generally included discreet, anonymous encounters long after I'd gone to sleep or when he was out of town. It was when he became involved with his assistant at work that I started to develop suspicions. But even those were easily pushed aside – after all, I believed with my whole heart that he loved me. People who love each other don't do that. At least not in my world, which also includes cheesecake that doesn't make you fat.
But despite the fact that I can now look back and see telltale signs throughout our marriage, like a popcorn trail that leads me to the truth only in hindsight, I only really knew right before I confronted him. And at that point, there was no talking me out of it – though he tried doggedly. I knew. And it was simply a matter of time before he admitted it. It was the difference between knowing something in my head – kind of an "if it looks like a duck" analysis – and knowing it in my heart which is a knowing that floods your body all at once.
What about you? Did you know before you felt you had enough evidence to confront? At what point did you know? And what advice do you have for others who think they know?

Friday, September 9, 2011

"Aren't you over that yet?": How to deal with those who think betrayal should be healed with a pedicure and a night on the town

There comes a time in most betrayed wives' lives when someone gently or not-so asks "aren't you over that yet?"
Which is about the time many of us compound our emotional maelstrom by adding shame for not healing faster. 
Sometimes these others don't put it quite so forthrightly. Instead, they might say, "are you still having trouble with that?" Or "don't you think it's time to put that behind you?" Or, in the case of our spouses, that perennial fave, "We can't move forward if you keep bringing up the past."
However it's phrased, the point is the same: Get over it, already. You're making me uncomfortable.
And that, of course, is the thing. You need to heal on your own timeline, which is likely a whole lot longer than anyone, including us, ever imagined it would be. But healing isn't a straight upward trajectory from total collapse to bright-eyed recovery. Sometimes you gallop along, sometimes you slide backward, sometimes you just sit and stew in your own pain.
But it's all valuable and part of the process. (Well, unless the stewing is becoming some sort of self-serving masochism. How can you tell? Time...that old healer. And the help of a good therapist/counsellor/friend.)
But it will make others uncomfortable. For some, it's the discomfort of seeing a friend in distress and not being able to "fix" things.
For others, it brings up uncomfortable feelings about their own relationship. If you're clearly dealing with the fallout of infidelity, it might conjure up anxiety about their own spouse. Or even guilt if they've committed adultery themselves. I had a friend, who'd left an unfaithful spouse, dismiss my healing because I chose to stay. If I wasn't going to take her advice and leave, went her thinking, well then I deserved what I got.
And, of course, for our spouses – or ex-spouses, as the case may be – it's a lot more complicated. Seeing in you the consequences of their actions can make even the scummiest adulterer feel at least pangs of guilt. And these guys hate to feel guilty. Quickest solution? Tell you to buck up and get over it, already.
Your challenge and it's a tough one given how fragile we are in the wake of betrayal is to stand up for yourself and your healing. You didn't invite this into your life. You're having a normal reaction to an extreme trust violation. And you will heal at your own pace.
It's not fun feeling like crap. You're not doing it to make a point (and if you are, stop!). You'd love, as much as anyone else, to just "get over it." But grieving doesn't work that way. The only way out of this misery is through it. And these others could help you a whole lot more by letting you process your pain surrounded by love and support. The quickest way out of pain is through it. Cramming it down simply makes it seep out of the cracks in your heart, which is a whole lot slower.
So next time someone asks "aren't you over that yet?", look them in the eye and tell them No. You're not.
But someday you will be and you'll be a whole lot more careful about who you let into your heart.

Friday, September 2, 2011

It's Not Enough to Profess Love...It Must Be Practised

Brené Brown, a shame researcher, expert and author of The Gifts of Imperfection, has this to about infidelity:
I don't know if you can love someone and betray them or be cruel to them, but I do know that when you betray someone...you are not practicing love.
I once worked with a woman whose husband seemed like a dream mate. Her desk was constantly crowded with fresh flowers that he had delivered with notes professing his love. She told us stories of arriving home from work, tired and cranky, only to have him pour her a warm bath and massage her feet. I, unmarried at the time, thought her marriage sounded like heaven.
Turns out it was hell.
I found out years later, after she'd left this seeming wunderhusband, that he beat her. The flowers were apologies...and from the blooms on her desk, he clearly had a LOT of apologizing to do.
He told her constantly that he loved her.
But, reeling from his latest blow, what the hell difference did that make?
I'm still pondering Rabbi Gorman's recent post about betrayal as abuse.
It might not leave bruises on our cheek but who among us can say it didn't bruise our souls?
And yet, betrayal so often occurs in "loving" marriages.
My  husband often told me he loved me. He still insists that he did, even when he was lining up his next encounter.
And what I can't seem to get him to understand is that professing love isn't enough. Even feeling it makes absolutely no difference. Practicing it, however, now that's something that counts.
Brené Brown is right. You can't practice love for a partner while you're with someone else. It simply doesn't compute – emotionally or intellectually. If loving someone includes a promise to be sexually and emotionally monogamous – to share intimacy only with that partner – then becoming intimate with another is a denial, or at the very least a neglect, of that love.
So while it's possible to love another and engage in extramarital affairs, it isn't possible to act loving within that context.
And I've spent far too many years accepting professions of love instead of insisting on practice.
How about you?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

You're Getting Warmer...or Not

Martha Beck advises those of us struggling to make tough decisions (like perhaps, whether to forgive a cheating spouse? whether to stay in the marriage? whether to tell people what's happening?) to treat life like a game of "you're getting hotter, you're getting colder..."
My seven-year-old daughter LOVES that game. Ya know the one where one of you think of something or hides something and, as you try and figure out what it is, the other player helps you along by advising you whether or not you're getting close (hotter) or further away (colder).
Beck's approach is a good one for those of us whose minds are so muddled by the shock and trauma of discovering that our lives aren't what we thought they were that we can barely decide what to make for dinner. If we can find someway and somewhere to get still, most of us can identify a physical response to various questions – a sort of internal "you're getting warmer..." reaction.
It will likely take practice. Once dealt the blow of betrayal, your internal radar can often malfunction. Post-trauma, you might find yourself reacting in extreme ways to benign circumstances. The dog barks suddenly, for example, and you respond with a heart-pumping, car-lifting adrenaline surge. Again, that's where you need to be still and get back in touch with your gut/intuition/wisdom/whatever-you-want-to-call-it. It's there. It might need dusting off from years of neglect. You might need to apologize to it for ignoring its sage guidance. But if you take the time to refamiliarize yourself, it will be more than happy to play the game with you.
Do I want to leave? How does that feel in your gut? Terrifying? Liberating? Terrifyingly liberating? If you picture yourself on your own, how does that feel?
Can I forgive him? Getting warmer? Colder? Can you picture a marriage (forget for the moment how you're going to achieve it) in which the two of you are happy and fulfilled? Or is your gut freezing up at the possibility?
Get the idea? Give it a try...and let us know what you find by posting here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dear Elle: A Letter to My Shattered Self on D-Day

Dear Elle,
I. Am. So. Sorry. You've dealt with a lot of pain in your life...but nothing like this. You thought you'd found your safe place in the world. And I ache for you that you believe it's lost. 
It's not. But your world has changed. You're right about that part. Years from now you still won't believe absolutely that you can trust another person. But I've got good news for you. You will learn through this how to trust yourself. And that's a gift that I'm not sure you could have received any other way.
The thing is you've spent your entire marriage trying to make him happy. To create a home that he wants to return to. To create a family that nourishes me. To be pretty. To be smart. To be fun and interesting and a perfect hostess and wife and friend and mother. And... And... And.
And it didn't work, did it? All that work, all those compromises you were making even though he didn't know you were making them. All the words you swallowed. All the dreams you put aside. None of it made a bit of difference, did it? And do you want to know why? Cause you were fine all along without having to try so damn hard. You were enough. You still are. He didn't cheat because you haven't lost that last 10 pounds of baby weight. He didn't cheat because you aren't a gourmet cook. He didn't cheat because you prefer to read over watching his favorite shows. Or because you prefer jeans over tailored suits. He cheated because he was looking for something in himself that's been missing for a long time. And you couldn't give it to him. And she couldn't give it to him. And the other "she" couldn't either. And that's because none of us have it to give to him. It's something only he can give to himself. And it's approval. And it only ever really fills that hole when it comes from within. 
And that's the same lesson you need to learn. You don't need his approval. You never did. And even if he'd given it to you unequivocally (impossible for him because he couldn't even give it to himself), it wouldn't have mattered. Because you've never believed you were enough. Not pretty enough. Not skinny enough. Not smart enough, or interesting enough, or anything enough. Just. Not. Enough. 
And so he sought that feeling in other women. And you sought it in him and in work and in toxic friendships and, too often, in alcohol. 
So while this betrayal by him might seem like yet another kick when you've had so many. It might feel as though your heart is shattered beyond repair. 
But when you begin to re-piece your life, you'll understand that this time it's truly going to be your life. On your terms. A life that's full with or without him in it. A life that's full because you're full. You. Alone. Are enough.
Perhaps there are easier ways to learn that lesson. But this is the lesson you've been given. You are your own safe place in the world. Learn it well and you'll never have to learn it again. 
Enough.









Monday, August 8, 2011

Your Guide to the Classic Cheater...Caught

At first, my husband told me I was just wrong when I said I thought something was "going on" with him and his assistant. I kept pressing. Over the course of the next 12 hours, my husband's confession went from a one-night-stand four years ago to a long-term affair that BEGAN four years ago and had continued up until the moment I confronted him. Six months later, more truth emerged. She wasn't the only partner he'd had -- he was receiving treatment for sex addiction and his acting out had began before I met him...and continued until the day I confronted him about his assistant.
Unfortunately, my husband's trickle truth isn't unusual. Most men, when confronted with their wive's suspicions, don't immediately confess. Instead, depending on how much evidence of their transgression they're faced with, reveal as little as possible. In some cases, they've been caught in flagrante delicto...and still try and convince their wives that they're innocent. It's a sad fact that the information you receive upon first confronting your spouse or upon just discovering their betrayal is generally only a tiny piece of the truth. It's important to demand the whole truth and insist that what they tell you up front had better be the whole story. It's so much worse to keep on finding out more and more with time...it's becomes like a nightmare that won't end.
Many men frequently turn to blame-shifting when confronted. Suddenly you're defending yourself against allegations of everything from being a lousy housekeeper to a workaholic. No matter that you haven't picked up a vacuum since the Clinton administration or that he needs to schedule an appointment with your assistant to see you for dinner. Before you get sucked into the blame-shifting for his affair, remind yourself as often as necessary that you will take inventory of your own contribution to a marriage in trouble...but that the affair is entirely HIS choice.
Gaslighting is another classic response. You're crazy, he suggests. You've got such an imagination. He's just being a good guy, offering support to a work colleague whose husband is abusive. Or he's just been really, really busy with...well...stuff. Before you know it, you're agreeing with him and laughing at how ridiculous you've been. After all, he would never do that. He loves you too much. Right?? Uh...no. Gaslighters are masters at convincing you that your reality isn't...real. That their perception is reality and that yours is crazy. Your memory is faulty. You're over-reacting. You're just stressed out and imagining things. You're determined to ruin a good thing. Except that you're not. You're just in the presence of a gaslighter.
Of course, not all accused men are guilty. And yet...when I look back at how much behaviour I dismissed and how frequently I accepted his gaslighting as reality because I so badly wanted it to be. I silenced that little voice in my head that insisted that something just wasn't right. Ask yourself honestly whether you are over-reacting or being unnecessarily jealous...or whether that little voice is trying to get your attention. And listen to yourself...not all his gas-lighting.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Guest Spouse: Infidelity is Abuse. Period.

       [Rabbi Sean Gorman and I met on this site here, where he commented to a betrayed wife that all cheating is abuse. I disagreed and our conversation began. Though I maintain that, in my case, the infidelity was not a form of abuse (though I can see aspects of it as such), I nonetheless appreciate the expertise and compassion that Rabbi Gorman brings to the issue and invited him to post here. I'm sure many of you will recognize your situation in what he describes...and I hope you'll find his views help clarify and strengthen your understanding. In any case, as always, I invite you to share your story and your thoughts.]


As a married man who has never gone astray and whose spouse has never gone astray, I feel a little out of place writing for betrayed wives.  Elle, the owner of this blog, invited me to write here after we disagreed on another blog.  The invitation is most flattering.

            The disagreement that led to this article has to do with whether or not adultery is spousal abuse, specifically emotional abuse.  I maintain that it is, in all cases.  For now, we can certainly agree that flagrant adultery is.

            What led to this conclusion?  A friend had a husband who was a philanderer.  He made no effort to hide the indiscretion.  Cell phone records and e-mails stayed visible.  Some of those phone calls took place during dinner.  The lightning flash was when I realized it was abusive.  After he physically attacked her, it became easier to point out the adultery as part of a picture of abuse.

            What is abusive about adultery?  Let us take a look at some of the blatant lies adultery attempts to present as truth:

            1.  The other one is better in bed.
            2.  What you give only to me, I can get anywhere.
            3.  You bore me.
            4.  You do not “put out” enough.
            5.  I will come to our bed when I am good and ready.
            6.  Being in someone else’s bed is more important and more meaningful than being in our own.

            The constancy of those statements demoralizes and humiliates the target.  The sneakiness of the tawdry behaviour leaves the betrayed spouse wondering if the perceived reality is correct.  Such demoralization, such humiliation, and such wondering about reality are all constants in abusive situations.

            We would not accept such statements in any other room of the house.  We would not accept constant statements about our cooking or our driving.  No matter what the subject, that type of statement is humiliating and demoralizing.  Nothing has changed just because we are talking about sex.  In fact, the statements are more insidious for being of that subject.  No other piece of our marriages cuts as much to the very essence of who we are. 

            Furthermore, it is a violation of the one room of the house we share with no one else.  We can have guests in the kitchen.  People can sit in the living room.  The marital bedroom has a lock on the door.  No one else is allowed in.  When one member of a couple unlocks that door, it states that the one part of our lives that is not for open consideration means nothing to the one who opened the door.  Sacred intimacies (and more) are thus bared to the world.

            When Elle asked me to write for this blog, she suggested that I write about how people recover.  The first step to any recovery is to label the problem.  Labeling adultery as abuse yields the immediate response.  In a relationship that is physically abusive, the first step is to ascertain safety – stop the immediate abuse.  The second step is accountability – appropriate apologies that mean something.  The third step is taking actions that build trust and prevent future abuse. 

            It applies here.  Stop the adultery.  Make sure that the offending spouse admits guilt and understands the impact of what happened.  Put rules – yes, marriage has rules – put rules in place that prevent it from happening again.  Verify that those rules are being followed and that they are accomplishing what they need to accomplish.

            A wise pastor once taught me that we should not confuse forgiveness with reconciliation.  These are two separate steps.  Forgiving a philandering spouse does not mean that all is better immediately.  As betrayed wives, you should not feel pressured to reset the clock and clean the slate.  That will take time.  Trust is hard to build.  It is even harder to rebuild.  For your husbands to expect that everything will immediately go back to the way it was is naïve, as well as a continuation of the abuse.  It is often difficult for an adulterer to understand that a shower and a couple of counseling sessions cannot wash away the scars of such an injury. 

            In any case of abuse, we do not blame the recipient.  An abused spouse did not fail at various parts of the marital role, thus leading to the next outburst.  Accepting blame for the actions of others is not appropriate here.  Do not fall into the trap of accepting blame for actions you did not commit.

Rabbi Sean Gorman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Pride of Israel in Toronto.  He is also a US Navy Chaplain attached to 218 MEFREL.



           

           

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Who defines cheating? And should we care?

There was much debate, the wake of Anthony Weiner's resignation, regarding whether what he did was, technically, cheating.
And it's a point that has, occasionally, raged here and in our own lives.
Many of us pre-D-Day, would have said that we were comfortable with our husbands having female friends but that any sex outside of our marriage, even a one-night-stand, was "a deal-breaker." Post D-Day, we've often reversed that view, discovering that it's not the sex that's so troublesome but the lying and the intimacy shared with another. Many of us discover that our husband's emotional affair – sharing dreams, hopes and, often, dissatisfaction with his marriage – is excruciating and hard to handle. Making it harder is sometimes the notion of others that "he didn't have sex", therefore he didn't technically break his marriage vows.
But there's nothing technical about healing from an affair. It's complicated and painful and doesn't follow prescribed rules. Most of us muddle through, hair unwashed and heart broken, until the day we feel a sliver of light shine through the dark and we realize that we just might survive this marital apocalypse.
And then comes the process of sifting through the rubble and trying to make sense of what happened...in the hope that if we understand it, we can protect ourselves from it happening to us again.
But I'm not sure, unless we've been tempted ourselves or are capable to truly putting ourselves in our spouse's shoes, we'll ever really understand it. So often I hear the familiar Nancy Reaganesque refrain of the betrayed – "He could have just said 'No'."
Sure he could have. But whether he didn't say "no" to actual sex or didn't say "no" to cyber sex or didn't say "no" to sharing intimate details of his life, all the analysis in the world isn't going to change that. And, oddly, it stops really mattering at some point whether he had actual sex, cyber sex or emotional intimacy. The point is he shared something private – that was supposed to be between you and him – with someone else. And that hurts like hell.
The only people who get caught up in the semantic gymnastics of what cheating really is are those looking for a loophole out of their own guilt...or those who've never had it done to them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Say It Out Loud

I have a framed print beside my bed with the infamous Emile Zola quote:
If you ask me what I came into this world to do
I will tell you:
I am here to live out loud.

It has always resonated with me. I tend toward the apologetic. The people-pleasing. The swallowing of true thoughts. And yet, I desire to live out loud.

Two days ago, I heard a radio documentary about domestic violence. It followed a young man who had been sentenced to community service and counselling following an incident in which he punched his wife. He was telling his story. And when he got to the part where he told the reporter his wife had called the police, he said that the reason was because he punched her. He exhaled audibly. "Wow," he said. "I just said that out loud."
He noted how, for years as their relationship got increasingly abusive, he allowed himself to believe that was how couples dealt with frustration and anger. His parents had. And his wife frequently let him off the hook, by apologizing for making him angry. By agreeing with him that she, too, lost her temper.
And yet, when he spoke the words out loud, all that changed. There was no more hiding the truth in the shadows.

It got me thinking about betrayal. And how frequently we don't speak the words out loud that we're thinking because we fear them being true.
When our friends note that our husbands seem to be working "a lot" and we defend their work ethic, though we feel a kick in our gut. When our parents point out that our husbands seem disengaged with the kids and we defend them, though we frequently feel alone in our parenting.
Not, of course, that workaholism and absent parenting means cheating. My point is simply that we frequently have a narrative in our heads that simply isn't the truth. And by not saying the truth out loud – by hiding it in the shadows of excuses – we lie not only to the world but more importantly to ourselves.

We see it all the time. The parent who refuses to acknowledge that her child's behaviour indicates a serious problem, dismissing it at a "phase". The woman who ignores the lump because she's sure it's "nothing." And the wife who defends her husband's emotional absence instead of saying – out loud – that he's checked out of the marriage.

I don't know what would have been different if I'd been able to say out loud what I feared. I tried. I said I didn't like the late dinners with his assistant. I pointed out that, if she was truly a loyal and valuable employee, she would want him home with his wife and kids. But I didn't say out loud what I truly feared because I also feared looking crazy, or jealous, or hysterical.

These days, I'm living life out loud. Which means talking about a whole lot of things that make me uncomfortable –  from discussing STDs with my newly-teen daughter to talking stuff over with my husband.
But the alternative, hiding truth in darkness and silencing myself, is no longer an option.

Monday, June 27, 2011

How "It Could Be Worse" Keeps You Stuck

I'm the queen of "it could be worse."
No matter  how much my life sucks, I can always (and easily) come up with myriad ways in which it could be worse.
It's a long-held personal tradition.
My mom's in the psych hospital after attempting to kill her self? Well, it could be worse. She could have succeeded.
My dad's passed out most nights? Could be worse. He could be a drug addict. Or simply gone.
Best friend steals boyfriend? Could be worse. I could be dying of cancer.
And so on.
It was a great survival skill. I was like a Weeble who got knocked down but always ALWAYS popped back up, ready for another round.
And it's a skill I use still.
Kids driving me crazy? At least they're healthy enough to drive me crazy. They could be hooked up to machines in a hospital.
Dog poops on new Persian rug? At least I can afford a Persian rug.
Roof leaking? At least I have a roof over my head.
Husband cheats? At least my kids aren't dead (I trotted that one out a LOT. By all means, I told the universe, give me betrayal. But please don't take my children...as if I was bartering with Satan.)
Not that "it could be worse" is necessarily a bad thing. I'm the eternal optimist – always looking on the bright side of life.
The thing is, I'm learning – thanks to all the it-could-be-worse scenarios I've invented in the past few years, that it can also keep me stuck.
It's easy to stay in muck up to your knees when you tell yourself you're lucky it's not up to your neck.
And it's a great way to avoid getting out of the muck altogether.
And, I've decided, I want a muck-free life.
I'm learning (slowly...thanks to those survival skills which served me well as a kid...but now stand in the way) that it's absolutely my prerogative to say, "sure things could be worse...but they could be BETTER, too." Better might mean a husband who not only doesn't cheat on me, but also helps around the house and shares my values. Better might be a fixed roof. It might be a kids who behave more respectfully (let's remind ourselves...no-one will treat us respectfully until we treat ourselves respectfully). It might be a whole heap of things that could be worse...but that I don't want to tolerate any more.
I don't want the pendulum to swing totally the other way (those people are called pessimists/in-laws...and I avoid them the same way I avoid Tea Partiers and the Kardashians). I like seeing the glass as half-full. I'm just going to remind myself with a bit more regularity that, with some self-respect and determination and firm boundaries, the glass can be completely full...ideally with a nice Shiraz.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How Infidelity Messes With Your Mojo

I loved sex. Though I came to the party a little late by some standards, when I got there, I discovered it was my kind o' party.
I fully embraced my sexuality. I believed I was sexy...without relying on stiletto heels and garters.
I had a few lovers – mostly long-term boyfriends with whom I enjoyed frequent and pretty awesome sex. I tried a one-night stand and it left me feeling kinda yucky. The way you feel after you finish a bag of chips you weren't sure you wanted in the first place.
I think my attitude about sex was healthy and open-minded – there were some things that didn't appeal to me (tied to my bedpost? Not for me) but if it turned other people on and was between two consenting adults?? Go for it.
And then...I met and began dating the guy who became my husband.
At first, everything was fine. Sex was fun and fulfilling.
But slowly, things got...weird.
He didn't like my underwear – my used-to-be-white-until-they-aged cotton briefs. He wanted garters and stilettos. I felt comfy in flannels and faded jeans.
I checked out Victoria's Secret and ordered a few things that looked wildly uncomfortable.  They were.
I wore them anyway.
He was only mildly impressed.
And slowly, our sex life withered away. The frequency continued...but the fulfilling part had vanished. Or rather, it was physically fulfilling...but spiritually empty.
It was – simply – sex.
I was mystified. I read books. Tried talking to him. Cried a lot.
Things got worse.
What of course I didn't know through all this was that my husband had a sex addiction. Mixed in with a few longer-term but emotionally vacant affairs were a number of "hookups". Blow jobs in a parking lot.
In the meantime, I'd discovered it was easier to put my sex drive on ice.
I became pregnant. Then pregnant again. And again. (Clearly we were having sex...but it was more like scratching an itch than making love.) My body was preoccupied with either building babies or feeding babies.
By the time the babies no longer needed my body, I had lost touch with it. I certainly didn't feel sexy. And felt incredibly UNsexy to my husband. By then we were fighting a fair bit – mostly about how little he did with the kids. How little support I felt he gave me. How frequently he was absent from the dinner table.
As fate would have it, I met someone else. I found myself intrigued. For the first time in years, I felt desired. Sexy. Interesting.
At no point did I act on this attraction, though I was pretty sure it was mutual. I introduced him, jokingly, as my soon-to-be-second husband. But behind the joke was a desperate plea for someone to notice the pain I was in.
I finally told my husband that I thought our marriage was in trouble. (Ya think??? I'm a bit slow sometimes...). I told him we needed to get counselling to figure out how to reconnect.
So we did.
Two weeks later, it hit me like a brick – hard and painfully – that my husband was having an affair.
I confronted him. He read the customary cheating-husband script. (No I'm not. Well, sorta...but it was only one night. Well, okay it was more than that but it's over. Well, okay, it's not really over, but it didn't mean anything. Well, okay maybe it went on for a few years...blah blah lying blah.)
Fast forward four years and though, in some ways, our marriage is better than it ever was (we talk! we spend time together! his chair isn't empty at the dinner table! we laugh!), our sex life has quite literally died.
It's easier, I've discovered, to simply banish all desire for sex than to wade into the murky waters of sex with a formerly (will I ever truly trust?) unfaithful spouse.
It feels...scary. Terrifying, actually.
So we're starting slowly as per instructions from our truly incredible marriage counsellor.
With full body hugs...NOT leading to sex.
To simply get used to once again having full-body contact. To feel and hear his heart beat and remind myself that he's a human being who majorly messed up. But is doing what he can to make up for it.
To reawaken in myself the awareness that physical touch isn't always a gateway to emotional pain. It can – indeed should – heal.
I'm even starting to feel sexy again. I don't have the marathon-toned body I had when my husband and I started dating. It's got the marks of motherhood and age...which can be sexy in its own right.
A friend recently referred to a 40-plus year old woman, who would NOT be confused with a supermodel, as "juicy". And I loved it. She was juicy. She exuded a confidence and a sexuality that had nothing to do with size 0 jeans and perky breasts.
So I'm talking to myself a lot lately. Telling myself I'm "juicy". Telling myself that my husband isn't a sex addict because I wear cotton briefs. Reminding myself that sex isn't about gymnastics but pleasure.
Somewhere in the pain of emotional rejection and physical infidelity I lost my mojo...but I think I'm hot on its trail.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wanting what's best...

The Redbook article that I cited here continues to weigh on my mind. Though I've known about AshleyMadison.com and have written about it here and here and here, and though I've gained considerable insight into the psyche of cheaters, I nonetheless consoled myself with the belief that these guys were the exception, not the rule.
Now...I'm not so sure.

I've spent a lot of time trying to find the best in myself. When you're raised in a dysfunctional home (alcoholism was the dysfunction of choice in my family....but it, of course, spawns all sorts of others: neglect, abandonment, intimacy issues, for starters), you often feel "bad". As a child you believe that if you were good, then you would be treated well. There's such shame around dysfunction that you grow up convinced that you, too, are shameful.
I tried to get better. I spent years in therapy, struggling to understand what it was about me that made me put up with all manner of neglect, abuse, betrayal.
And then I met my husband. And, for the first time, I felt safe.
And we all know how that turned out for me.

The thing is, we all deserve to feel – indeed to be – safe. When we choose to commit to someone else in this life – whether that commitment looks like marriage or parenthood or friendship – we owe it to that person to provide a basis for their happiness. Not that it's our job to make them happy. But it is our job to want their happiness. And to not stand in the way of that.

Which is why the Redbook story has me feeling so sad. The men featured are themselves sad. And by that I don't mean pathetic, though they're a bit that, too. They feel cheated by life. Their wives aren't who they ultimately feel connected to (though, perhaps, that's because they're trolling sites to hook up with other women rather than actually listening to their wives thoughts and dreams). Their lives haven't measured up to their dreams. So they dip a toe into this fantasy world, where they're sexy and desirable and life is good and exciting.

But where they're so lost is not that they're putting their own happiness before their wives. Indeed, I think we owe it to ourselves to strive for our own happiness. But where they're lost is that they're actively standing in the way of their wives' happiness. How? By not giving their wives the truth about themselves.

We all deserve that truth. We deserve to know who it is we're married to because we deserve to make the choice about whether or not we want to be married to that person. I don't dispute another's right to have sex with whomever will have sex with them. What I object to is the lying and betrayal. If my husband loves me but feels he can't connect intellectually with me and therefore would like to forge a relationship with another woman, fair enough. But let me decide if that's okay with me.

A truly enlightened relationship operates on that level of honesty. I'm not sure I would consider "open marriages" in this category...but perhaps at least some of them are.

As for me, I want a relationship in which my husband wants the best for me. And respects me enough to be honest – which allows me to decide what that "best" is.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tee-hee Tuesday: Shocker! It was Weiner's...ummm...ya know

The scandals are piling as high as the bodies in a Shakespearean tragedy. John Edwards has been indicted for using campaign funds to hide his mistress, their child and his campaign assistant (along with who knows how many skeletons. Honestly, do they make closets this big?), Schwarzenasshole took his own family – the one we knew about – and hit "detonate", and Anthony Weiner, he of the just-so-giggly last name, fessed up that it was indeed his campaign member in the illicit photos.
Besides the incredible lack of judgement these men share, they're also big fat liars. Doesn't anybody, with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar, ever just take a deep breath and admit, "ya caught me"?
Consider this a plea...or rather a couple of pleas. For one, stop with the naked photos. Please. There's enough porn in the world that you don't need to add yours to the mix. You're not that hot. And secondly, when you get caught (because it seems you will, inevitably, get caught), just smile bashfully and nod so we can all get on with our lives.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Scoop on Snooping

A recent article in Redbook magazine offered up the experience of an undercover reporter who met up with men on AshleyMadison.com, the site that sells cheating by reminding us that "Life is short. Have an affair."
At the end of the piece – which basically details a bunch of men who insist that they're wives don't have a clue what they're up to – we're advised that we shouldn't snoop because marriage is about trust. No checking his BlackBerry, his web history for visits to AshleyMadison.com...or even looking for lipstick stains on his collar.
Instead, we are advised to talk to our husbands if we have any niggling suspicions about their...extracurriculars.
Which is, of course, a Catch-22. We generally have those suspicions because they're acting...well...suspicious. Like men who are having an affair. Which, if we're right, isn't generally going to elicit a fit of honesty. If they're like the vast majority of men who are, in fact, cheating, they'll generally deny. Like the guy who, caught in bed with another woman, insisted, "It's not what you think it is." Depending on our approach to our potentially cheating spouses, their level of guilt and their basic personality, we'll get any of a number of responses.
Self-righteous indignation: "I can't believe you think I would do that. What type of man do you think I am?"
Gentle reassurance: "I love you, sweetie. You have nothing to worry about."
Paranoid: "Do you need to know everything about me? Can't you just trust me? Wow...you sure don't think much of me, do you?"
Deflecting: "I'm amazed you bring this up because I've been wondering about you. You seem pretty flirty with your co-worker, Steve."
Etc.
What you likely won't get is, "yeah, in fact I have been thinking of having/am actually having an affair. I feel unappreciated and that life is passing me by and even though I know it's my own insecurity/mid-life crisis/insert-psychological-shortcoming-here, I think that having sex with someone and lying to you about it will distract me enough from own boredom/crises/fear of failure that I'm going to just go ahead and do it."
Ain't gonna happen.
And so...we snoop.
We check their Blackberry when they're not looking. We browse their Web history...or take note when it's wiped clean. We install keyloggers to monitor their online use (though beware, I think this is illegal without the person's consent). We slip recording devices beneath the seat of their car. We check VISA statements. We even follow them to see if they're going where they said they were...and with whom.
No, it's not pretty. And it's generally not our proudest moments.
But you likely wouldn't be reading this if your suspicions hadn't turned out to be true. I often remind readers that those gut feelings that something isn't right are worth paying attention to.
I never dreamed I would recommend snooping. I was one of those wives who thought it was pathetic. But then again, I was also one of those wives who never thought I'd be here.
Though it wasn't snooping that got me the truth, it certainly gave me a more complete picture of the affair than my husband initially gave.
And it just might give you the evidence you need to confront your husband...and know that his denial is total BS. And give you the information you need to protect yourself from STDs.
Snoop? I say that when you've got a gut feeling that won't go away and your husband won't give you a straight answer...yep.
What do you say?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Am I only a "betrayed wife" after I found out? Or was I one all along?

I still, almost five years past D-Day #1, have trouble looking at photographs of "before". My children's babyhoods are now colored with the knowledge that, while I was home changing diapers and mopping up spit, my husband was peeling off panties and swapping spit.
How do I reconcile the past I thought I had with what was going on behind my back? How do I look back at wedding photos/family pictures/celebrations without that happiness-busting sense of "well...we might look happy". The point, of course, being that my reality wasn't...real. Or was it?
It's a sort of philosophical issue. If a tree falls in the forest but you don't know that tree is falling (or more to the point, that your husband is the one chopping it down), does it change the past? Or is your past still your past – memories intact – and it's only your future that's altered?
I'm no philosopher (clearly, given my convoluted example!). But I struggle with my sense of history now. My sense of self is shaky. Am I still the same person I was, even though my life was not what I thought it was?
Am I still the same person even though others' view of me was perhaps colored by information they had...but I didn't?
I want to believe the answer is yes. I am still I. And though my future is certainly altered by the knowledge of my husband's cheating, it doesn't change the mother I was, the wife I was, the daughter/friend/sister/writer I was. I need to stand firmly in my own self. And recognize that another's actions, while they affect me, needn't change me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Country song come true: Shania Twain's comeback

Ya gotta love those country music songs. All the cheatin', the lyin', the cryin'. Beloved country/pop star Shania Twain had plenty of all that. And now that she's through the darkness and back out into the light, she's ready to share her story with the world.
I haven't yet read her newly released autobiography From This Moment On.  Part of me is tired of all the books on cheating I've read. Part of me is tired about hearing of cheating. Good Lord, doesn't any married man keep his damn pants on these days.
However, so much of what Shania has said about discovering the affair – "I really was completely shocked... I didn't want to kill myself, but I didn't want to live" – was exactly how I, and many others, felt. Nothing protected her from the pain – not her beauty, her career, her money. She, like so many of us, desperately wanted to fill in the blanks, something neither her husband nor her friend, with whom he was having the affair, would do. "By...not knowing the details," she explains, "your imagination is left to run wild."
I give Shania Twain credit for sharing her story with the world. It can only help those of us who know her pain intimately to feel part of a wider community of women with the strength to get past such betrayal.
Now, if only I could write a hit-making country song about it....

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