Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How to Avoid Rehearsing Tragedy

Frequent visitors to this site know I'm a big fan of Brené Brown, author of the most recent Daring Greatly. Brown is a researcher on vulnerability and shame and much of what she says is soothing balm to the betrayed wife's soul. It also sheds much light on the behaviour of cheating men (and women!).
But a recent letter to this site by a woman contemplating suicide in the conviction that her spouse was cheating on her (though she hadn't confronted and he hadn't confessed) got me thinking about one of Brown's own admissions. That she "rehearses tragedy".
We rehearse tragedy, Brown explains, when we don't allow ourselves to fully enjoy a moment because in the split second we allow ourselves happiness we also allow in fear. Fear that it won't last. Fear that tragedy will strike and we'll lose what we love.
Think about it. Have you ever lain in your loved one's arms, feeling content and at peace only to suddenly wonder where was last Saturday night when he didn't respond to your text? Have you ever tucked your child in at night, gazed at her gorgeous sleeping face and then been seized by the terror a life without her should she get hit by a car, or contract meningitis, or..., or..., or...
What about getting a job offer and then, seconds later, anticipating failure at this new job?
That, my friends, is rehearsing tragedy.
And we betrayed wives often become very adept at it.
In our defence, tragedy has struck. The foundation upon which we've built our lives has crumbled. So it seems only reasonable to us to anticipate tragedy striking again. We become hyper-vigilant  to signs of impending doom. We'll be damned if we're going to be caught off-guard again!
The thing is, by rehearsing tragedy, we're missing out on those moments of joy that can save us. By living in a constant state of anticipated doom, we eclipse our current peace.
As one master rehearser said, "You sacrifice joy, but you suffer less pain."
Is that the life you want? One with less joy and less pain?
Probably not. But even if you want more joy, our ability to tolerate the uncertainty in life is severely compromised. We tried that. And got knocked down so hard we wondered if we'd ever get back on our feet.
The key, says Brown, is gratitude. She put it this way: "I learned the most about gratitude practices and the relationship between scarcity and joy that plays out in the vulnerability from the men and women who had experienced some of the most profound losses or survived the greatest traumas."
When you've lost so much, you often gain something incredible. The knowledge that you can not only survive but be grateful for what joy you have in your life. And guess what? The times I worried about losing my mom (she had a longtime lung disorder), didn't lessen the pain I felt when she died. It simply diminished the time I had with her when she was alive.
And here's another thought, courtesy of Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert. She recently reported that she'd sought help from her therapist because of recurring fears that she'd get divorced. Her marriage was solid but that didn't prevent her from rehearsing the tragedy of divorce.
Her therapist reminded her of something important. She'd gone through divorce. She'd experienced the tragedy. Most importantly, it was over.
Too many of us, post-betrayal, life a sort of half-life where we're so fearful of experiencing that pain again that we try to pre-empt it. Less joy but less pain becomes our motto.
But let's try another way. Let's try gratitude. Allowing ourselves to fully experience what joy is in our lives, no matter how small. A good cup of coffee. The warmth of a friend's support. The delight of a child's laugh. Fitting into our skinny jeans. Whatever joy is in your life, count it. Use it as guideposts to take you to healing.
And remember: It's over. Being hurt again is possible. Our marriages might not survive. But for's over. And you're here.

Let's start a list of things that give us joy. Perhaps we can inspire each other to acknowledge that it is the small things that can save us. Please share yours... 
I'll start: The joy of a quiet house so that I can finally write a post without being interrupted. Bliss.


  1. Things that have given me joy... Post D Day.

    A trip to the park with my husband with a glass of wine and watching the sun go down. We're only out for 30-40 mins but that time has been soothing and felt like a whole day.

    Having the house to myself to listen to music from way back.

    Buying a new fountain pen and notebook and writing feelings and memories down. Sorting out old photographs and re-reading my daughters school reports.

    Going into town and people watching at a café with a good strong coffee.

    Cranky girl.

  2. You don't sound too cranky to me!
    Great ideas...and simple. That was one of the big lessons for me: how it was the little things that made me feel joy.

  3. OMG this is the single most best post I've read so far!!! (ok not good sentence structure:/) Going directly to Amazon to get the book. Elle THIS IS ME!!! I've done this all my life. Oh yeah happiness starts sneaking in and boy do I kick it out the door because you know, something bad is just right around the corner!!! I have always felt that proverbial shoe hanging over my head ready to drop. UGH how could I not have seen this??? How could my marriage counselor not have know about this??? Yes everything is good now and who knows maybe it won't be and maybe it will be in the future. Love it.

    You Rock!!! Thank you

    1. TryingHard,
      Thank-you. I'm glad it resonated. I spent much of my life rehearsing tragedy too. The car accident which explained why someone was 10 minutes late, the imagined conversations that took place after I'd left a job interview in which they snickered at my resumé. I led a rich-but-crazy fantasy life.
      But now I catch myself doing it...and remind myself that enjoying the moment is simply enjoying the moment. There isn't some master accountant who keeps a ledger to ensure that I don't get more than my fair share of joy.
      A quick note, though: Brown's book isn't about cheating per se. It's about understanding shame and vulnerability (two key issues around infidelity, of course). It's a wonderful book. You'll love it.


  4. Well if I never read another book about infidelity it will be fine with me. Actually got a couple pages into it tonight.

    I have refused to let myself be vulnerable for two years now. It's going to be hard to give up but even just two pages in it does resonate. Thanks

  5. I remember the day I "got" this truth. My stbxH was cheating and would not stop. We were divorcing. For months I basically wallowed in it all: the pain, the betrayal, being a victim...the whole nine yards. And then I went with the kids to the park, and they were young. They wanted to swing and they said "Swing with us, Mommy!" so I did. And I felt JOY!!

    WHOA! Wait. My husband cheated on me! I wasn't supposed to feel JOY! But there it was. I felt JOY at the wind in my hair and the giggles of my children and the speed of swinging.

    Then, I did it again. I bought blatantly red satin pillows and threw them all over the living room furniture, to add a bit of "me"...and I felt JOY AGAIN!! Joy at the smoothness of the fabric, and the little jolt of color, and the declaration that made this MY room in MY house.

    1. Those are GREAT examples. Reminds me of my friend who, after her husband moved out (following an affair), painted her formerly white-walled kitchen bright red. He ex loved neutrals. So she made the kitchen a valentine to herself.


  6. I love the rain and feel so much joy whenever our high desert city starts to get sprinkled with it. I am also grateful for my yoga teacher who pushes me past what I think are my limits, reminding me that in spite of pain I can still push further, it makes me tired, but physically stronger. -Kate

  7. I am just now going back through these posts and rereading them. It's been nearly 4 months from D-Day, and I'm very aware of the joy that is missing in my life. In fact, aside from the sense of anger and hurt that is slowly abating - but keeps me anchored to this experience - a lack of joy is the other thing I find myself struggling with. The things that used to bring me joy (like creativity) were the exact things my husband used against me and told me made him unhappy ... Hence the affair. So former, joyful experiences like creating or spending time with my friends have become triggers. When I am creative, I am triggered. When I think about spending time with my friends, I remember he used the times I was gone to have his affair. Rebuilding those things WITHOUT HIS PRESENCE ATTACHED TO THEM has been very hard because those are still good things, and still things I deserve, and things that I want to experience again. Has anyone else experienced this?



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