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.


  1. I think part of "ignoring the signs" is a protective measure. You know how horrific it's going to be if it's true so your mind almost plays tricks on you and allows you to cling to the 'reasonable explanations' as possible. That whole "he just wouldn't _________ (fill in the blank)" . . . be so stupid . . . so heartless . . . so arrogant . . . so cavalier with our marriage, is a protective measure. Because until you have proof and KNOW, who would want to believe that their husband was capable of inflicting such pain and agony.

    Most want to believe the best about people especially those in their own family. That's not a bad thing. But, now that we know the ugly truth and we realize what our husbands are capable of, I think it would be very difficult to fool us again. Not impossible but much harder a second time around. And, there is a morsel of comfort in that for me.

  2. Tracing back the pain was what finally got to the root of my husband's porn addiction and led to him finally being able to be in recovery after decades of trying to fight it. He was trying to deal with only the addiction. But his psychologist finally helped him to realize that his addiction was only a symptom of deeper pain. When he dealt with the pain that was leading to him acting out sexually to self-medicate, only then was he able to stay clean.




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