Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Price of Working It Out

To those who are in the middle of what I can only call a painful shit storm: You will laugh again.  You will be better than before. You will be even more committed to your relationship if you go through a painful time together; you’re never going to forget what it cost you to work things out.
~Ruth Pennebaker, author of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough

What it cost, indeed.

If there's one area that frequently trips up those of us betrayed wives who decide to stay and work it out (or like me, decide to stay, hoping it'll work itself out. Hard-won wisdom: It won't. You're going to have to some heavy lifting), it's the notion that we feel as if we're weak or pathetic for not leaving. Far too many of us pay the price for staying in terms of shame and self-blame. If we were strong, we seem to think, we'd kick him out. We say, "the thing is I still love him" as if that's a character flaw, instead of a solid foundation on which to rebuild our crumbled marriage. 
And there's the issue of the price. It feels to so many of us that we're the ones paying in dignity...and he's the one who's somehow saving face.
Which is unfair. No question about it. 
And I'm not sure it ever gets easier.

When my kids accuse me of being "mean" to Daddy for, to give an example, being annoyed with him for coming home late for dinner (again!), I have to bite my tongue rather than make it clear that, actually, I've been exceedingly nice to their father and the least he could do is showupontimeforthegoddamneddinner. 
When my father, who knows about the first OW, rhapsodizes about what a great guy my husband is I silence that inner voice that wants to say to my dad, "but you're supposed to be on my side"...and instead agree that my husband is, indeed, a great guy.
When my mother-in-law makes a snide judgement about me, my children, my pets...my life, I want to scream at her that I'm a freaking SAINT for putting up with the mess-of-a-person she raised.
And then, in my more transcendent moments, I recognize that the problem isn't what people out there think...it's what I think.
Would I be happier if the world knew about the betrayal and my commitment to move past it? Do I need to feel like a martyr in order to not feel like a wimp? Truth is, I'm neither saint nor sinner but, like everyone else, a combination of both.

Life is messy, or as Ruth Pennebaker puts it, sometimes serves up "painful shit storms". How we navigate those defines who we are, and matters only to us. We can't be defined by others' judgements – doormat, pathetic, saint – unless we choose to agree with them.
Challenge those statements next time you find yourself wondering if you're a coward for staying...or a martyr. Ask yourself the unanswerable but necessary question: What is the truth? 
Or perhaps, more accurately, what are the truths? The truths, in my life, include a dedication to my family in all its imperfection. A loyalty to my husband in spite of his flaws. A profound love for my children. An abiding faith that if I just keep moving in the direction that feels right, moment by moment, day by day, I'll arrive at a place where it all makes sense.
And the cost? Worth it.


  1. It has been 2 years since my D-day. I am still with my husband. I made the decision 2 years ago to fight for my marriage. And believe me it is not a fight for the faint hearted!

    I have felt beat-up, tired, discouraged and angry but I have never felt pathetic or weak. I think this is because I view my husband as the weak, pathetic one. He is the one who took a 24 year marriage and ran it over a cliff. We have all been faced with temptation but he is the one who gave in. Let’s face it; it doesn’t take any strength to give in to what makes you feel good at this moment.

    After the initial few weeks of pain and confusion he “decided” he wanted to be with me. I think he thought life would be as it was before. He was somewhat shocked to learn that staying with me had some conditions. No contact, complete transparency, etc. I see the same things in the notes from other women on this site. You are not weak, you are the heroes of your families and you should be proud of yourselves. You are standing up for yourselves and your family. Leaving or tossing the bum out are always options and some day it may come to that, but I think staying and fighting requires more bravery.

    As for my marriage it isn’t perfect but it is strong, my husband is committed to making our lives happy, and I am still healing but I know I will be fine.

  2. Kathy,
    Thanks for your comment. I love your notion of us as "heroes of our family". It's tough. My 12-year-old daughter is daddy's little girl...and none too crazy about me at the moment. And it hurts that she can't know what I went through so that she didn't have to. She's a child and deserves to be protected from "adult" problems, of course. But when she's flinging hurtful words my way and all I can do is remind her to treat me with dignity...I resent the position I'm in.

  3. This post sure hits close to home!! At the time of my husband's affair, I was wrapping up a touch and go pregnancy and premie newborn in the NICU. While my husband was being absolutely impossible to live with and making the entire family's (kids included) life unbearable at home, I had to listen to our older daughter's preschool teachers gush about what a good father he was. I had to endure his mother coming to "help" with the baby and blather on and on about how she raised him to be such a good father.

    I get wrapped up in the unfairness of this; I was the one doing all the hard work emotionally and physically and he was getting praise for having an affair and telling me to not expect any help from him when he was home.

    I need to remind myself that it serves no purpose for these people to know what he was actually like then; he isn't that way now and that's the man I have chosen to stay with. I love the "heroes of our family" idea; I guess I just want some outward recognition for being so!!

  4. Oh it's awful isn't it, having to grit our teeth and get on with it. I'm 18 months since D-day, and have been preoccupied for the past few days by the realisation that my in-laws are never going to make him account for himself.

    He told them his marriage was over before he told me (even though it wasn't over), and they rallied to his side and took him back to the family home (400 miles away from me), where he stayed for two weeks without contacting me (but plenty of contact with her). I think his parents grieve for the grandchild they'd have had if she hadn't had an abortion, and it feels as though he's just got away with it.

    Anyone else want to scream and shout "IT'S NOT FAIR!!" today? Because I feel like I'm the bad guy, and as though I'm being blamed by them for making him so miserable that he had to screw another woman and get her pregnant.

  5. Julia,
    I certainly want to scream "IT'S NOT FAIR!" and I would venture that a few other BWC members do too. And that's because it really IS NOT FAIR.
    However, I think this is one of those things we have to file under "it sucks" and then be grown-ups about it. I can imagine how hurtful it must feel to have your in-laws essentially turn their backs on you. But I assume from your post that you and your husband have reconciled? Has he taken reponsibility for the pain he caused you and made it clear to them that HE's the culprit?
    Of course, no-one can ever control what someone else thinks...and I think you'd do yourself a huge favor if you could accept that they kinda acted like jerks and what they do or do not think of you is really just the opinion of a couple of jerks.
    I can also imagine how painful it is to know that the OW got pregnant. I think that somehow makes the whole thing more...real. There was an actual consequence to his affair that couldn't be ignored.
    At 18 months out, I still had a fair bit to work through. I think, at that point, the dust had pretty much settled, but all that did was reveal the devastation.
    However, at that point, too, I could better see the work that needed to be done...and my own boundaries became a whole lot clearer (which is why I only occasionally see my in-laws anymore).

  6. I too want to scream "IT IS NOT FAIR!!!" but then a little voice inside my head says "yeah... so what else is new?" I just counted, I am only 7 weeks from my DDay and I think I can already start a doctoral dissertation from all the stuff I have read. I am trying so hard not to think all sorts of horrible things about him like he was weak, pathetic, spineless.. even though he was all these things. I want to be able to fall in love with him again! He is saying and doing all the right things. But then that little voice inside my head keeps talking to me... is he only trying to woo me so that I will erase all the 'evidence' in the form of all all his email exchanges with his trists? Is he going to 'get away with it' because no one knows and I am suffering in silence? Is he going to do it again? I say now that this would be a deal breaker.. BUT, I have read so much, so many horrible stories, far worse than mine, so many broken men and women out there, so many overlooked what they thought would be dealbreakers. It breaks my heart. And it is just not fair. Hard to file it in the 'it sucks' drawer and be adult about it.

  7. Almost every day there is a movie or show on tv in which a woman finds out her man is cheating and she drops him immediately. And she walks away with her head held high proving that SHE would never be able to live with a lying weasel. I feel so weak and crummy about myself when I see these scenarios, and they seem to be everywhere I look.

  8. Anonymous,
    It does seem as if adultery is everywhere -- movies, TV, tabloids. And it's often presented as exciting, sexy, titillating. Which makes it even harder to endure because the truth is it's hurtful, pathetic, spineless.
    And yes, when the betrayed kicks him to the curb, it does serve up a satisfying "conclusion", except that it's not the conclusion. We don't see whether or not that self-righteous satisfaction gives way to regret. Sometimes it's absolutely the right decision for the betrayed to just dumb the jerk...but sometimes it's not. And the truly courageous make the right decision for themselves and their family...regardless of how it might look to the outside world.
    As long as you feel (for the most part) that you made the right choice, then that's what's truly important. The rest will become far less important with time.

  9. I'm only 7 weeks from D-day tomorrow (of course that jerk had to ruin my favorite day of the week by confessing on a Friday)

    I hate this. I hate this shit show that my life has become. I hate him sometimes. I hate myself sometimes. I've gotten past the OW. She knew better but man karma really came through in the end. She had been pregnant which killed me inside because we have no children because of our economic situation. But then she got hit with awful morning sickness, she miscarried and then my husband broke off all contact and she got fired from her job on the same day.

    But back to the point no this is not fair. I wasn't exactly dancing through fields of flowers throughout our marriage. My concerns and feelings weren't always taken as seriously as they should have been (exactly like his!) and somehow he gets to go forget his problems between the legs of someone who "loves him" while I was sitting at home crying over how to get that loving feeling back into our relationship.

    Now he's broken inside by his shame and fear and anxiety and wants my comfort but he is closed off and "doesn't know what he wants because he's lost that spark and isn't IN love with me even though he loves me". Can I just run him over already? THAT would be fair. Life insurance to get me back on my feet and heal and he will have gotten his just desserts. The worst part is I still love him and want to work on it and hope that's he's still just in the fog and confused because he only cut off contact less than two weeks ago... Life why are you so cruel sometimes?!



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