BWC member Liz recently commented on a blog post about her husband's affair, which went hand-in-hand with drug use and out-of-the-park sex acts. How, she wondered, could she ever know that she was "enough", especially since she felt uncomfortable engaging in some of the things her husband was doing?
It's a question that just about all of us struggle with at some point in our lives. Whether it's a boyfriend who rejects us, a school we don't gain admission to, a job we lose out on, a team we don't make...the question we're left with is, far too often, why weren't we "_______enough"? (Feel free to fill in the adjective you most often insert: pretty, sexy, thin, smart, funny, outgoing, athletic, talented...)
I can't say it's never worth asking. Sometimes it is. Sometimes we can learn from life's painful lessons to be more of what we want to be and less of what we don't. We can take classes, for example, to learn how to better market ourselves or network. We can train harder to improve our chances of making that sports team or performing better. We can read books to learn how to better communicate with our teens or our spouses.
But sometimes, indeed quite often, the question isn't about constructively learning how to be a better us, it's about beating ourselves up for being who we are.
And that's the category where Liz's question falls. She's wondering what her husband's choices say about her. And she's wondering whether what they're saying is that she's "boring" or not sexy enough.
We've all been there. Especially after learning of a spouse's affair.
It's almost like we're reading from the same script. "What does she have that I don't have?" we wail, desperate to understand just what we're missing that made our husbands stray.
But, as I said to Liz, I think we're asking the wrong question. We shining the spotlight on ourselves when it's our husbands who need to answer for their transgression.
The morning after learning that my husband had been engaging in sex with a wide variety of partners, I was on the phone with his sex addiction counsellor. "What do they have that I don't?" I asked him, desperate to figure it out.
His response? "What those people have, you don't want." He was referring, of course, to their lack of self-esteem. Their addictions. Their lack of boundaries. Their willingness to be used by a virtual stranger for sex. Their fear of intimacy. Their lack of trust. Their inability to handle negative emotions such as anxiety, loneliness, fear, without desperately seeking a distraction. All of which my husband also had.
People don't generally have affairs because of what their spouse doesn't have, they have affairs because of what THEY don't have. They have affairs because it's so much easier than doing the hard work of figuring out what they need to give themselves. They have affairs because it's easier than facing the truth that life hasn't exactly turned out the way they expected: Hard work isn't always rewarded. Kids aren't always born healthy. Elderly parents are demanding. Money is tight. Wives can't read our minds.
And, when we're able to be honest with ourselves, we realize that we're not always our best selves for our families. Life's about compromise. It's about balancing our needs and wants with others' needs and wants and coming up with something that approximates happiness for the largest number of people we care about.
And that's where affairs wreak their havoc. Affairs are selfish. They're about ignoring others' needs and wants in favor of the high that comes with the reflection of ourselves we see in another's eyes – someone who doesn't wash our dirty underwear, know that we fart in our sleep and hate our nasty critical mother.
So to Liz and everyone else who's ever wondered if she's "enough" to keep her straying husband happy, I say you're asking the wrong question. Ask instead what he can do that's "enough" to deserve your forgiveness for causing such pain. Ask yourself whether his plans for reparation are "enough" to allow you to open your heart again to him.
And, if it seems wise and kind to yourself, examine how you both might learn from this to rebuild a marriage that fills you both.