Monday, February 28, 2011

How to Define "Deal-Breaker"...and What to Do If He Does

I'm sure just about every one of us considered an affair a "deal-breaker". I even had a conversation with my husband when I was pregnant with my first child. I couldn't have been more clear:
Me: Having a baby is a big deal. We owe it to her to keep our marriage strong. We'll probably be tempted - maybe you already have – but let's promise each other we won't give in. And that we'll get help for our marriage if we find ourselves attracted to someone else. If our marriage can't be saved, then at least we won't have adultery to deal with.
Him: H'mmmm. [Which I interpreted as "Of course, darling! I would NEVER do that. And NEVER will.]
And, with that, I thought the matter was taken care of.
Oh, how wrong I was.

Fast forward roughly a decade and I was forced to eat my words. Well, not forced, actually. I willingly decided to sit down, pick up a knife and fork, and swallow then, word by excruciating word. And with that, I vowed that if he ever, EVER cheated on me again, it was a deal-breaker. "And I mean it this time!!!" I insisted.
And I do.
To be honest, however, if he had cheated on me again shortly after D-Day, I don't know that I would have been able to stick with my vow. Not because I didn't mean it. But simply because I was having trouble breathing. The idea of packing my bags, loading up three kids and finding somewhere to go was more than I could manage.
Which is why I think it's so important to have a plan in place – a sort of auto-pilot that you can turn to when your brain is mush and your heart is in pieces.
All the threats in the world mean nothing if you can't enforce with them consequences. So...before you start throwing those threats around, take some time to work out some meaningful boundaries and consequences.
For example, one BWC member, whose husband is a sex addict, made attending his 12-step meetings part of her non-negotiables when she opted to give him a second chance. If he doesn't attend regularly, any and all intimacy between the two of them comes to a grinding (no pun intended) stop. He moves to the guest room (or she will, if he refuses) and, after a certain period of time if he hasn't resumed his meetings, she begins the separation process. At that point, she figures, it's clear he's unwilling to hold up his end of the she has no choice but to honor her own boundaries (that he attend meetings that support his recovery) and keep herself safe.
Sure, these guys can lie. They've done it before. But we're wiser now. We know what to look out for. If, at any time, we get that uneasy feeling in our gut, we enact our new mantra: trust, but verify. He says he was late at the office? Who else was there that you can check with? Will he show you his computer with the work he was doing? Why not install a keylogger on the computer to check any Web sites, e-mails, etc.? Check his cell phone so you can see all activity. Etc. Etc.
And have your pre-determined boundaries and consequences in place.
You, for example, find out he had contact with the OW? Well, what does that mean to you? What consequences are in place?: he moves to the couch? He moves out? You contact his family? You contact her family? Ensure that they're enforceable...and that they don't create additional problems for you. And ensure that you stick with them. As Barbara Coloroso, parenting guru, is forever reminding us, it isn't the severity of the consequence, it's the inevitability. You need to stick to boundaries/consequences that you will enforce. Not to punish him but to protect yourself.
And if you can state unequivocally that certain behaviour is a deal-breaker, then that's exactly what it is.

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 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'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.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

D-Day 101: Is he worth keeping?

I've heard the stories from women who vowed to save their marriage and shake their husband back to sanity. Frankly, I couldn't do it. Though there's little doubt in my mind that a whole lotta these guys completely lose their minds in the midst of an affair, I don't think it's up to the betrayed wife to try and convince them to smarten up.
The way I see it, you likely don't have the energy or the motivation to bring him back from Crazyville. He hopped that train and it's up to him to find his way back.
Your only job is to figure out whether you want him back once he arrives. And most of them will arrive. Most of these guys weren't looking for a way out of their marriage...just out of their doldrums. Or their emotional isolation. Or their crappy childhoods. But that's for them to sort through with a good therapist.
Your simple task (beyond hauling your betrayed butt out of bed every morning and attempting to get through your day) is to really think about whether he's worth giving another chance. Some of 'em are. Plenty aren't.
How do you know? give him some tests, kinda like multiple choice, except there are no "guesses". This isn't about anger or revenge or "an eye for an eye." It's about treating yourself with respect...and demanding the same from him. Whether he can answer these things right away or he needs to sift through his own confusion doesn't necessarily indicate whether he's a good guy who screwed up or a total scumbag. Some of these guys have this ass backward. They figure that, 'if I had an affair, I must be unhappy with my wife'. When the truth is, they had an affair because they're unhappy with themselves. But it's so much more convenient to blame someone else. And it can take time to come to that unpleasant but ultimately true conclusion.
Choice #1: Does he want his marriage or doesn't he? If he picks yes, then he's got some homework. Starting with a No Contact letter to his OW. No emotional good-byes. No "just one more meeting to let her down easy." No, "but she didn't know I was married. She got hurt, too." Simple, straightforward and vetted by you. Along the lines of "I made a terrible mistake getting involved with you and I've chosen to try and save my marriage. I will no longer have any contact with you. I insist that you respect his." You could ask that he threaten legal action if she violates this, but that might be unnecessarily inflammatory. Depends on just how stalkerish his OW is. His loyalty needs to be to you, right now. Your feelings are the ones that trump anyone else's. 
Choice #2: Is he willing to accept responsibility for the pain and betrayal he's caused you. That's not to say responsibility for the fact that your marriage likely had its issues. But total responsibility for lying, deceiving you and potentially risking your physical health. If so...good. But he still needs to work with a counsellor to uncover why he made this choice...and put boundaries into place to ensure it doesn't happen again.
If not? Well...don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out, buddy.
Choice #3: Is he willing to offer complete transparency in order to regain your trust: access to any and all e-mail accounts, texts, cell phones, computer passwords, credit card bills and so on. Trust is tough to earn...and easy to lose. It's going to take time and steady proof that he's being honest with you. "Trust...but verify" is your new motto.
Choice #4: Is he willing to do whatever it takes to be the man you thought he was (assuming you thought he was a decent, loving husband. If you thought he was a total jerk even pre-D-Day, then your marriage has more issues than infidelity). This means answering your questions even if you've asked them a dozen times, holding you while you cry, listening while you scream...and supporting you through likely the most painful experience of your life.
Then – and only then – does he deserve his second chance. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Politics of Public Shame

The lesson is if you’re going to do dirt, do it anonymously. People cheat everyday, but only dumb people get caught.
~Anonymous woman on Craigslist who revealed Christopher Lee to

Not exactly the advice I would give my children. 
The above quote came from this interview here in which the woman who posted on Craigslist, was contacted by Congressman Christopher Lee and then told shared her thoughts on what transpired...and offered up a few nuggets of wisdom on cheating men. Except her nuggets weren't particularly wise. Cynical, yes, which sometimes masquerades as wise. But ultimately bitter and judgemental (see above quote for evidence).
Lest you think I'm going soft on cheaters, let me assure you I'm not. There's just something so...vicious...about exposing people publicly. 
Admittedly, public figures leave themselves vulnerable to public humiliation when they commit such transgressions.
But what are your thoughts? Did he get his just desserts? What about his wife? Does she deserve any consideration from this OW? Or his child? Or does considering them instead of outing public figures give the cheater a free pass he doesn't deserve?
This whole situation leaves me blech. And a bit confused.
Share your thoughts...and help me clarify my own.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Funny Friday: Another round of "Stupidest Things The Cheater Ever Said"

A radio station in my city is having a Valentine's contest in which it's promoting the most romantic thing your partner/spouse has ever said.
I'm perhaps, the least romantic person on the planet and can't help but giggle at so many of these utterances. I honestly think if someone said these romantic things to me, I would die laughing. My husband has tried, former boyfriends have tried...and I've generally gone into hysterics (though I've tried to disguise my laughter by pretending I'm weeping with joy). Instead my husband I resort to showing affection to each other the way eight-year-old boys do – we hit each other in the arm, we tease each other mercilessly... and we laugh. A lot.
In fact, laughter is undoubtedly part of what gave me seconds of joy when I was at my darkest point. And much of that laughter came courtesy of my husband and the OW, who said such stupid things to me...and allowed me, for a brief period of cruel, un-enlightened time, to laugh, figuratively, in their faces. Felt rather empowering, come to think of it.
So...let's laugh.
I'm bringing back that perennial fave: What's the stupidest thing your partner/spouse/ex/OW said to you in the wake of the affair.
Some I've already heard include, "You'd really like her if you got to know her." And, "Under different circumstances, I think you two could really be friends."
My husband tossed out this little gem, in defence of his honesty: "I've never lied to my clients." Made it clear I should have put my business with him...just not my heart.
So...c'mon ladies. Give us your best, your funniest, your most shockingly stupid comments. And let's have a laugh!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Moment-by-Moment Survival Guide for the Heartbroken

So often I hear of betrayed women feeling "stuck". They don't want to leave their marriages, at least not yet. But they just can't seem to move past their pain. And though I wish there was an easy fix for such "stuck-ness", I know of none. I do, however, know of a not-so-easy fix. At least it wasn't easy for me.
It's a matter of focusing on the "now".
It's perhaps no coincidence that, perusing the bookshelves for something – anything – that would help me cope with my maelstrom of pain, I picked up a little book called The Power of Now, by a guy named Eckhart Tolle. (This was in his pre-Oprah days and I'd never heard of him.)
I began reading through my tears. And though it's not a simple read, I managed to discern this: Pain comes from focussing on the past. And anxiety comes from focussing on the future.
Yet we live in the present. All we ever have is this precise moment.
Consider that so much of the pain surrounding betrayal is about focusing on what happened (the mind movies imagining the two of them together, the reading and re-reading of text messages and e-mails, the triggers that transport us back to the moment when we first discovered or that remind us of what was happening one week/month/year ago) or on what might happen (he could do it again, I could wind up destitute and alone, they could be laughing at me from their yacht...). In both cases, however, you're not focusing on the now. Right now, for example, you're reading this post. Whether or not he is or is not still having an affair isn't the point. You, right now, are okay.
That's not to say you're not hurting. Probably a lot.
But you're alive. You're breathing and functional and able to read. So, for all intents and purposes, you're okay. Stay focussed on that simple truth.
You are okay. I am okay.
And guess what? What happened is over. All the hand-wringing and finger-pointing in the world is not going to undo what's already occurred. And about what might happen? Well, you likely have a lot less control over that than you realize. You can control yourself. And that's about it. The rest, you have to take on faith.
It's not easy. Certainly not for a reform(ing) control freak like I. To give up the long-held notion that I can magically control those around me was tough. But the evidence that I couldn't – for all my best intents – was all around me.
I had "now". So I held on tight.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What Does Healing Look Like?

A BWC member recently asked the question "How do you know when you've started to heal?"
It's a good question...and a tough one to answer.
I would guess healing might look different to each of us. I recognized my healing one day in particular when I was walking my dogs and noticed  how pretty the snow looked sparkling in the bright sun. Prior to that moment, the world had looked utterly bleak – almost apocalyptic. I saw nothing but a ruined world and I, honestly, wished my children had never been born into such a world. (Clearly, I was in a pretty bad place. I also considered suicide, quite seriously. Which is when I finally acquiesced to anti-depressants.)
I was lucky enough to have a wise and compassionate friend who worked with survivors of childhood sexual abuse and she recognized what I'd been going through as post-trauma. She encouraged me to hold on to that moment of dog-walking in the sun and play it back in my head as a reminder that life was also capable of delivering beauty and peace, however fleeting right now.
She also encouraged me to look for more of those moments. Lying in bed reading to my children. Feeling their tiny hands in mine. Disappearing into a good book (that didn't have anything to do with adultery, sex addiction, forgiveness or any of the zillion other affair-related topics I had on my bedside table). Anything that I could hold on to. She even suggested I take photos of things that made me happy (she's an artist...and very visual. I never actually did this but it's still a great idea) and put them around the house to offer up visual reminders of joy.
But essentially, it was by paying attention to the slivers of joy in my life that helped open my world up to more.
So healing, for me, came in slices. Slowly, over a lot of time (three to five years as you're no doubt getting sick of hearing me say), I was able to put what happened in the past and open myself to the possibility that I could still have a good marriage. And that, no matter what, I could create a life that gave me joy. Healing wasn't so much an event as a process. One that could easily be missed because it happened incrementally. But could be sped up by simply noticing.
How about others? My commenter and I would both love to hear your stories of healing...even if you've only just begun, even if you're not sure you ever completely will. What's working for you? What's not working? Share your story...


Related Posts with Thumbnails