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 now...it'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.