Wednesday, September 4, 2013

He is I, and I am He

Okay, so my title is a bit oblique.
But bear with me as I explain.
I'm writing this post in response to something I've noticed among many commenters, indeed in many betrayed wives (including this one).
It's the practice of "othering". By "othering", I'm referring to the very human (but not always humane) tendency to distance ourselves from those whose behaviour we judge as bad. We "other" drug addicts. We "other" homeless people. We even "other" rape victims ("did you see what she was wearing?") and obese people and mothers who breastfeed their kids until kindergarten. And, oh yes, we "other" the Other Woman.
But, in the wake of betrayal, we also "other" our spouses. We describe our husbands' betrayals as "selfish". We insist that we could never be so "cruel".
Our husbands are bastards who have ruined us. Their selfish acts jeopardized our physical health, our families, our emotional stability.
They're weak. They're self-centred. They're self-absorbed with the discipline of a toddler.
They're, let's be honest, not as good as us.
Because we would never do such a thing. We would never cheat.
Or would we?
What if we had lived our husband's lives? What if we had walked their path? What if our brains were wired differently? What if we had a Y chromosome? What if?
My point isn't that men are more likely to cheat (though there is some evidence that's true) or that certain life experiences lead inevitably to cheating.
And – please – I am not being an apologist for cheating. It's wrong. It's dishonest. And it's so excruciatingly painful for the betrayed.
But I've noticed something within my own healing and from listening to so many stories from betrayed wives: Seeing our husbands (or exes) as the "other" stands in the way. Looking at their actions as utterly abhorrent prevents us from seeing ourselves in them.
Which brings me to my title. It's only when we can see ourselves in others and them in us that we can truly begin to heal. I'll go even further. It's only when we can see ourselves in others and them in us that we can truly begin to live a life with compassion. And isn't that the whole point?
I didn't make the same choices as my husband but I haven't lived his life.
Nor has he lived mine.
My healing truly began the day I finally understood that while I might not have been the one who cheated, I could understand why he did.
None of this is to say you should stay with someone who cheated. Or who won't acknowledge the pain they've caused. You get to decide where you go from here.
But whether you stay or go, you're going to need to walk through some pretty dark places. Places that expose so many of our own wounds, around our worthiness, our ability to trust, our sense of who we are. By refusing to look deeply into those wounds – and into what behaviour we might engage in to avoid seeing them – we close ourselves off from compassion. For him, but also for ourselves.
Compassion isn't about saying it's okay that he hurt you. It isn't about saying you're going to stick around to see if he wages war with his demons. It's understanding that his choices were based on HIS life experience. That his betrayal wasn't about you. Not at all.
Compassion does the exact opposite of "othering". It opens our hearts instead of nailing them shut.


  1. Yikes! Elle, it's as if you read my mind today. I was going to ask if anyone has read the monogamy myth by Peggy Vaughn . Her whole focus was that we don't necessarily need to forgive because the act was not done to us, we need to heal because their act caused us pain. As you mention that we have not walked in their shoes, so would we have done the same? Her theory is that society plays a large part in these behaviors. I just wonder, when has it become wrong to know and love yourself when we know in our hearts that we would not do the same as our spouses. It feels like because it happens so much that it must be somewhat excepted or at least excepted that everyone is capable of the act. I don't believe so. Why don't all us hurt wives go live it up for some new excitement!? I believe we don't because we believe in a higher standard for our families. Plain and simple we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and keep life moving forward for our kids ect. Could the guy who tells us we are beautiful and that he would never cause us that pain be tempting? Hell yea. But we stick to our choices of fighting for family and keeping it together or moving towards a new beginning of keeping life safe for our children. I don't mean to sound bitter, but we all get lonely, we all get tempted now and then, but yes we think of how this all effects others first, or at least some of us do. We don't miss our child's soccer game to enjoy time with friends and claim that I'm sorry it wasn't about you, the thought just never crossed my mind! I'm sorry for the sharp edge, I just get tired of trying to make wrong somewhat ok just as a way to heal. Thanks for being here.

    1. Surprisingly I didn't read The Monogamy Myth in my wake-of-betrayal readathon, though I've heard it's good. Interesting re. forgiveness because I don't think I've "forgiven" my spouse so much as healed (or am healing) from his betrayal.
      I think society gives us mixed messages. On the one hand, it tells us that everybody cheats and what's the big deal. On the other, it responds as if someone's shot a baby with HUGE headlines across tabloids when a celebrity does it.
      And yes, I agree that some of us simply can't do it (or haven't done it) due to some inviolable personal code. But, as I note in my post, my personal code is the result of having seen my parents deal with it. It's the result of having made the very conscious choice (after cheating on a boyfriend) that I did NOT want to be that person. So my life has been about being aware of the possibility and saying 'no'.
      Plenty of people don't think about it. Or don't recognize how damaging it is. Or don't have the years of therapy I had (to deal with parents' alcoholism) that led to enough self-awareness to make a conscious choice.
      But I get your point and I'm certainly not advocating pretending that what they did was "ok" in order to heal. Quite the contrary. You can't heal until both of you acknowledge just how damaging that choice was. What he did was devastating to you and to your marriage. And he's responsible for cleaning up the mess and coming to terms with that choice. But a big part of your healing is recognizing that he made that choice as a consequence of a lifetime of experiences. And by admitting that, perhaps, you might have made that same choice given the same lifetime allows you to open your heart to him. To acknowledge that he's not a monster even if he made a monstrous choice.
      You don't have to stay. But even if you leave, opening your heart to him as a human being who screwed up rather than a total asshole will take you further along your path to healing then making him a terminal enemy.


  2. I don't think people who "other" others are unable to understand what caused their pain and their actions. "Hurt people hurt", as they say, and I think most people are aware of this.
    To me, it is exactly the opposite. People who other others UNDERSTAND how deeply hurt these "others" are and UNDERSTAND what that fully means.
    I got cheated on and I left, because I understood how broken he was and also that I cannot heal him. If he heals or not is completely independent of my being there. It is like an alcohol addiction or anything else that is caused by brokenness. The support and love is always around us but the tragedy is these hurt people are not able to make use of it (like they have been with a great wife but could never appreciate the love they were given, although it was always there in abundance). It is their choice to recover and use the resources of love always around us in abundance being offered to us all the time.
    I left my ex because I understood that and I also understood that I don't need HIM for love. There are plenty of men. The love we receive doesn't depend on one. It is our responsibility to choose a partner who fulfills us and not cling to one who is in a process we cannot force and thus unable to really love us the way we need it.
    And this is what in my opinion betrayed people who stay do. They think receiving love depends on one person. They misunderstand that people who want them to leave their spouses do not mean to let down the wayward spouse but know that his or her healing is independent of the betrayed spouse staying or not.

    1. I don't think you've "othered" your ex at all. You sound extremely compassionate and able to open yourself to his experience. By "othering", I'm referring to that disgust or disdain be put between ourselves and others whose behaviour...well...disgusts us. Or gives us something we can point to insist that THAT could never happen to us because we would never do such a thing.
      It seems to me that you made a wise decision for yourself based on a clear-eyed understanding of the situation.
      However, I don't think you can lump all betrayed spouses together. Sure, some think they have to stay because they'll never find love elsewhere. But those people's issues go beyond betrayal and would exist whether their spouse was faithful or not. There are many of us who recognize that love in many forms is available to us.
      My mother wisely pointed out to me that my husband had loved me the best he could. His betrayal of me led him to a deep examination into his behaviour and greater insight and an ability to love me better. I could have left. I don't doubt that he would have come to the same insights without me because he was sick of his own behaviour and ready for change. And I don't doubt that I might have found love elsewhere, though I'm convinced that any relationship brings with it challenges and issues.
      But many of us choose to rebuild relationships with men (or women) who've recognized the devastation of their choice and want better. And, for us, that's a healthy choice too.


  3. Elle, I kind of understand where you're coming from and I agree mostly with everything you've said, but it has to be a balanced set of scales. I have looked back into my husbands background and can see perhaps why he did what he did. Low self esteem when I was carrying the home and financial burden, parents that indulged him and never set any ground rules and he could do no wrong. However, he has been with me for the same amount of time he was with his parents and almost like training a child, he knows from us being a family that certain things are not acceptable.

    Its almost as if he was just paying lip service to the right and wrong way to lead a life. When is something just plain wrong without any justification. My father always says " you have to walk a mile in someone's shoes before we can make any judgement" What if I had walked in his shoes, had the same internal wiring but something deep inside just held me back from doing what he did. I really would like to have been in my husbands position to see what moral code I would have followed. If I had of gone ahead, would I blame it on the past or stick my hands up and say, I just felt like it so I did it?

    Going to enjoy reading this blog as its something I've thought about so many times and I'm trying to organise my thoughts.

    1. Let me clarify: I'm absolutely not saying that this gives our spouses carte blanche to blame their cheating on the fact their mother never baked them cookies after school and they interpreted that as withholding love. NO SIR!
      And I'm certainly not proposing that we pour over their pasts like forensic psychiatrists looking for the reason their moral code lost True North. Leave that to the professionals.
      Instead, what I'm suggesting is that we recognize that their choice to cheat is the result of a great many things that have nothing to do with us (society's messages, childhood experiences and their interpretation of those, friends' attitudes, opportunity...) but that by "othering" our spouses, we put distance and animosity in the way of healing.
      I'm advocating for a compassionate response that acknowledges that cheating carries with it its own pain. It's, to some degree, self-sabotage. It's morally compromising.
      There are those guys who simply don't care. Those aren't primarily who I'm talking about. Toss those ones back (though extending compassion even to them simply expands your own ability to heal).
      I'm referring to the guys who feel remorse for what they did, who don't want to be "those guys", who want better for themselves.
      Accepting that you might have made a similar choice changes your spouse from the enemy to someone who could be you. Which opens your heart and lets light in.


    2. Elle, I do wonder though, why do you stay? Why put up with not being able to fully trust your significant other. What makes you stay in a hurtful situation when you could find someone who would not be able to hurt you to that extent. I know there are people who wouldn't lie and cheat because I am one of them. This doesn't make me any better than others, it just lets me know there are safe people. You sound like such a smart woman, why do you accept crumbs when you could be getting the entire cake? Why be with someone who needs healing? Why not choose someone you treats you in a healthy way without any struggle (before I am getting attacked, I know every relationship involves some type of hurt, but the extents vary GREATLY, and I mean a healthy extent).
      To be able to cheat on somebody, especially in an affair, is extremely selfish and shows a huge lack of empathy. To recover from whatever has caused that may never happen. What is inside you that makes you want to stick around? This is what makes me feel so curious, it is like an addictive way of self-harm to me. You saw what he was capable of doing, you didn't leave, although it must mean emotional neglect in many other areas as well. So why do you stay? I would love to know!


    3. Lisa,
      I've no doubt there are many factors that play into why I stay -- some healthy, others not so much. I grew up with an alcoholic mother who spent 10 years at the bottom of a bottle...but had managed 25 years of sobriety and become my closest friend when she died. So I had clear evidence that people could change. I also clearly had boundary issues around sticking around people who hurt me.
      You can read more at this post here:
      There's also the very important issue to me of my children. I didn't want my children to shuttle between two homes, always missing whichever parent wasn't there. At first, that was important enough to overlook my own dissatisfaction with my situation.
      But eventually that simply became a bonus. My husband is a good man. He's a great father. We have a wonderful life. By any measure, our marriage is a great one. The fact that it wasn't always great becomes less important by the day. The fact that we work harder at it than many couples is a source of pride. Our love has deepened for the storms it has weathered.
      Your point that there are men out there who haven't hurt me is true. But have they never hurt anyone? Have they never made choices about which they're disappointed?
      Because I cheated on my boyfriend whom I professed to love (and wanted to marry), does that mean that I'm not considered worthy by a potential mate because I'm capable of cheating? That I'm "unsafe"?
      You're absolutely right that my husband's behaviour was selfish and lacked empathy. He admits it absolutely. But to say that HE is selfish and lacks empathy is to ignore his potential to learn from mistakes. He has become a more open-hearted person. There is no emotional neglect.
      So...there isn't really a short answer to this. What I know is that my husband loves me deeply and has become a man who deserves my loyalty. My family is intact. I don't have to share my children with anyone but my husband. I am more open-minded now about the choices of others because I'm aware that I simply won't always understand why any of us make the choices we do. I live a life of integrity and honesty and joy. I am where I want to be.

    4. Thanks for this friendly and open reply. I get you, you feel like your husband is able to give you what you need, this is why you stay. I just see so many cheaters who, as much as they try, keep failing to provide their spouses or bf/gf with complete and true love and cheating just brings that inability in the open, in my opinion. So this is why I wondered why anyony would put up with a continuing lack of love.
      When I got cheated on by my ex-bf, when he confessed it to me, I realized our relationship had been lacking in so many areas I always tried to overlook. With that ultimate betrayal in the open, there was no way I would keep putting up with the dominance and selfish behaviour he would sometimes show in other areas as well, as much as we had real wonderful times together.
      And yes, having cheated did make you an "unsafe" person. Again, it just meant you needed healing in some areas. I cheated too before I got cheated on :(. Unsafeness attracts unsafeness, and it was when he broke my heart I knew I needed to break the cycle and heal myself first to be able to attract a "healthy" mate.
      Anyway, I wish you the best of luck and would finally recommend one book to you:
      You really are a great person and you write really well! Keep it going :).

    5. Lisa,
      Read that one in my 20s! I'm a work in progress. :)

  4. This is all very interesting and I have gotten a lot from each person's comments. When all this started I went back to the spiritual training of my youth. It was all I knew and I had personally witnessed many healings. I knew in order to heal I needed to pray and love all involved from the Divine point of view. Gee was this and has this been hard but this is exactly what we are talking about here. I asked my spiritual advisor how to pray for such obvious sinners and she quickly said what you are saying here. We have to see all Gods children as Divine regardless of their sins. It takes a long time to get there and maybe it's forgiveness I don't know but when I actually pray for healing God shows me the divine in all. The rest is just mortal judgement. This is much easier said than done because evil keeps trying to interfere in the healing process. We don't just pray for ourselves or see the Divine in our selves we must see the Divine in all to experience true healing. This is true whether you stay or go. Just because you divorce doesn't mean you've gotten the true healing you need and deserve.

  5. Hi Elle,
    I wrote a comment that I somehow just erased..
    but essentially just wanted to say thank you again for all you do, for reaching out to so many of us
    who are so much craving a connection with a compassionate woman who gets it.
    This is the anniversary of my DDay #! (there were 2) and it feels good to just be here on this site right now.
    I thought your response to the Sept 5th comment about "Why do you stay?" was so respectful and open and not at all the scathing response I think many people would write. YOu don't react, Elle, you share and you inform. And that is a gift to us all. Ten years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea that I would have stayed, yet here I am, struggling through with the man I love and the father of my four kids after his devastating actions -- truly self-destructive more than anything -- that have almost put an end to us. And yet here we are, firmly committed to staying together and doing this work together.

    Our marriage is stronger today -- it is honest and authentic and while it is painful work, learning to forgive my husband (over and over and over again) and myself (for everything I didn't see and boundaries we never set) has taught me so much about myself. I truly believe the journey forward is yes, about rebuilding a marriage, but can also be a journey into yourself. It breaks you open for sure and if you are willing to examine your own little pieces than this healing goes way beyond a marriage and can become so much about you and growing yourself as a person and human being, if you will let it.
    A million thank you's for every single one of your posts -- especially the last one (sept 7) ...
    You truly get it and as I have said before you seem to have this incredible ability to speak from my own heart. Much gratitude, Elle.

    1. Anjali,
      I'm glad this site provides support for you when you need it. Sounds as if you're doing really great. I absolutely agree that we can use this otherwise brutal experience as a chance to grow ourselves. I love your comment about it "breaking us open". In my case, it led to me dealing with a lot of childhood trauma that I'd tucked away but that was affecting my adult relationships. So, yes, this experience has taken me to a place where I'm happier than I think I otherwise would have been. Crazy huh?
      And thank-you for all your kind words. The readers are this site are incredible and so generous with their own wisdom. I've learned so much from others who post here. It has been integral to my own healing.
      As for the "why do you stay?" question: I felt that Lisa was genuinely curious. It didn't strike me as a judgemental question but someone interested in understanding more deeply something that stuck her as a bit nuts. So...fair question, I think. What's more, it made me ask myself again, which is a good thing. :)


  6. I actually ask myself over and over again, why am I staying? I don't love him anymore. He told me he doesn't love me, and is not attracted to me anymore, but he wants to work it out.

    2 months ago he had approached me saying he's in love with the OW and doesn't want to be with me anymore. Somehow that never happened and he came back. He wants me back, and us as a family!!!

    I'm struggling to find out why am I staying, when deep in my heart I want to move out.

    We have a 8 year old daughter and a lot of time I'm afraid to leave with her to an uncertain future.

    1. There's a quote that goes something like: Many of us prefer the certainty of misery over the uncertainty of change. Sort of like, "the devil you know..."
      You write that "deep in my heart I want to move out."
      There it is. Your answer.
      I think the problem is that we think, once we've made our decision, the tough part is over. But it's not. Change is really difficult, even positive change. We're hard-wired to seek "safe" and predictable. But your marriage is no longer safe. Or predictable. But you can offer yourself safe. You can create your own safe. But you need the freedom to do that. And the time.
      Take that leap and trust that the net will appear.


    2. I am trying to work out the courage to move out!!! Why is it so hard???

      I always thought if I ever found out he's cheating, I would walk out, but now it just seems so difficult.

      Silly question, but is there a time limit as to when you are allowed to say enough's enough, its not working for me, I quit!!! I wonder!

    3. I think it's important to get clear on whether you want to move out because you really want to move on...or whether you want to move out because you believe that if someone cheats, then it's a deal-breaker.
      In any case, you always get to be the one who decide when enough's enough. I think what trips a lot of people up is that think if leaving is the right thing to do, then it should "feel" right, or be easy. It won't. It will be incredibly difficult. You will grieve the loss of the relationship. But that doesn't make it the wrong choice for you.
      Determine why you want to leave. And if it's because enough is enough, then even though it's difficult, move forward and trust that with time it will become easier and the path more clear.


  7. I found this site the day after d day and it has brought me so much comfort. I'm now into week 4 post d day, I decided to reconcile with my husband and I feel that this was the right decision based on the many factors that marriage and life brings. He is remorseful and truly sorry for his behaviour, his actions are proving this and I am thankful for this site and the comments given to ensure that all we are going through is normal and healthy. My healing has come along way in just 3 weeks I believe this is due partly to me understanding and digesting the situation and seeking help and also the fact that my husband is doing all he can to show me that he can be the husband and father we need him to be. I've also recognised and accept my part in changing for the better for our marriage and hopefully this will make our marriage a more stronger and meaningful one. Thank you so much for all your helpful and supportive comments they are worth their weight in gold �� x x



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