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. Ahem. 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.