Monday, January 13, 2014

Getting Past the Fear of Uncertainty

"In truth, we never know our partner as well as we think we do. ...even in the dullest marriages, predictability is a mirage."
From Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel

I would have told you that my husband would never cheat on me. I suspect you would have said the same thing. With very few exceptions, every woman on this site was absolutely shocked when she discovered her husband's affair. Despite statistics that indicate that more marriages are affected by infidelity than aren't affected, we nonetheless think we're among the lucky few. Delusional, yes?
I've long thought that willful blindness is part of the problem around infidelity. It's what happens in other marriages, we believe. If we discuss it at all, it's in absolutes. Don't cheat on me or it's over, we tell our spouse (or our spouse tells us). But, as Perel also says in her fascinating book, "the most complex issues tend to polarize in a flash, and nuance is replaced with caricature."
Infidelity caricature tells us is that cheaters are low-life Casanovas who feel entitled to sex with whomever, whenever. It tells us that wives are frumpy nags who don't like sex. That the Other Woman is a cross between Jessica Rabbit and Glenn Close.
The truth, as too many of us know, is far different. But our culture's adherence to infidelity caricature makes it hard for us to push back...especially when we're reeling from disclosure of our spouse's affair. It makes it difficult to make our own choices within the context of the marriage we're in...rather than the one culture thinks we're in based solely on a spouse's infidelity.
What's more, we're also reeling from the recognition that our spouse, whom we thought we knew inside and out, had a life completely apart from us. It's unnerving. It threatens everything we believe we know about our world.
But, as Perel suggests, it shouldn't. It should be simply understood that we can't ever completely know another person. It's something that I've come up against when I've responded on another Web site, one that purports that all cheaters are narcissists and abusive, and that the best remedy is to cut them from our lives. A one-size-fits-all response to infidelity reduces it to caricature. It disallows nuance from the conversation.
And God knows, we need a conversation around infidelity. We need to acknowledge, publicly, just how rampant it is – and we need that acknowledgement within the context of a non-judgemental conversation. Not a conversation that says, necessarily, that infidelity is okay; simply a conversation that says it is. That says all people who cheat are not bad people. All women who stay with their unfaithful partners are not doormats. And all cheating isn't remedied by throwing the cheater out. Infidelity caricature implies that, by removing the cheater from our lives, we'll somehow be protected from future pain. Or that, by removing the cheater from our lives, we won't have to deal with the pain of healing. We won't have to cope with the  uncertainty of will he do it again? True, perhaps. But the only way to completely protect ourselves is to close our hearts to not just our cheating spouse...but the world.
Life is uncertain. It's messy. It's a truth writ large when we're healing from betrayal.
And by acknowledging that our spouse has parts of him that we don't know, we not only face the possibility of infidelity (again), but we also open ourselves to the pleasure of "new". As Perel writes, that compromise we believe we must make in a long-term monogamous relationship – that in order to have the safety of fidelity, we must give up the excitement of the "new" – isn't necessary. It's possible, she proposes, to have both fidelity and the thrill of "new" by recognizing that our spouse is constantly evolving. That we don't know everything about him.
It's something a lot of us learn post-infidelity but few understand before: healing from betrayal can include the reinvention of the marriage into something exciting and fulfilling. Rather than sounding the death knell, infidelity can be the spark that ignites a new passion. We can see our spouse in a new light. Not always flattering, at least at first. But if we're open to it, we can rediscover our spouse in a way that encourages the rebuilding of our marriage.
That's not to say I'm an advocate for infidelity. The pain it creates is simply too devastating. The cost to families is just too high.
What I am saying, however, is that if we could open ourselves to the recognition that long-term monogamy can be stultifying, that even good spouses can feel deadened by the day-in, day-out demands of marriage and parenthood, we could have that difficult conversation – beyond "if you cheat, I'm outta here" – with a deeper understanding. We can't inoculate ourselves from pain by trying to frighten our spouse into good behaviour.
Being tempted isn't a sign that the marriage is dead. It's a sign that we're alive. Temptation is a warning to turn back toward our partner. To ask ourselves what we can do to make the long-term partnership more appealing than the lure of a new partner. To make the choice, again and again, to work on what we have rather than risk it for what we don't.
To do this is to face our fear of abandonment, a fear that runs deep in many of us. By talking about infidelity, we don't make it more likely, we make it less likely. Pretending we're immune to it doesn't make it so.
Let's agree that we can't possibly know everything about our spouses. And let's allow that to make us curious about them, not frightened. It requires a leap of faith. But choosing to stay with a spouse who has betrayed us is all about faith. In him, yes. But more importantly, in ourselves.
Having that faith in myself, though, is one of the gifts that arose from the pain of my husband's infidelity. I learned, the hard way, that the only person I can ever really trust is myself. At first that struck me as sad. But a deeper look made it clear how liberating that is. I can be the rock upon which I build my life.
And I can open myself to the unpredictability that is everyone else.


35 comments:

  1. I cannot tell you how helpful everything is that I read on this site. I am less than 2 months past D-Day. Still a lot of questions surface and lots of pain but this site provides daily support and hope. Thank you all.

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    1. This site has been my rock as well. I have been following for two years since i found out about my husbands infidelity. Have never posted anything, have been happy just reading and learning from everybody else. Thank you all!!
      The past two years my husband and I have been through much emotionally and have grown into a happy wonderful couple and family. I decided if I was going to stay in this marriage I was going to do everything I could to make it work and so did he = love....so I thought
      ...I may be overreacting as he feels I am, I recently found that he has been calling and texting back and forth with his ex girlfriend. He has been deleting the messages on his phone and claims he did not want me to get mad
      ( that's why he deleted messages and did not tell me he was in contact with her) and they were just catching up.
      Am I a fool? Is this guy for real?
      I am numb once again, have told him to leave, he will not leave, says he will not let this happen over something innocent and I am totally overreacting. I am more distressed this time because we are in love last time we were not!
      (Have a 14 and 18 year old to whom I /we have been trying to not bring into any of this, they know nothing of the past or present problems...I don't want to shake their world but don't feel I can have him here anymore.He is toxic to me, he is a sneak a liar
      I would love some input, like many of you I can't confide with many friends, they think I'm nuts just being here. This is so lonely.

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    2. You are NOT over-reacting. Part of marriage is not having secret conversations with someone, especially someone you cheated with. That he doesn't get this means he's either incredibly stupid or crazy.
      I don't blame you for telling him to leave. What's surprising is that he won 't. I'm sure he's terrified that he really blew it this time. He should be terrified.
      I'm so sorry you're going through this again. And stunned that he thinks you're overreacting.

      Elle

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  2. Infidelity is a complex issue and the more I learn about it the more I realise that ' one cap doesn't fit all'. I am about 15 weeks from day, the fact that I don't exactly know how many weeks it's been is definetly a good sign. I sometimes go back to the days/ weeks before I found out and I was blinded by the obvious, the signs were there but I didn't want to face the truth. It was easier to believe that my husband was a faithful man who would never cheat on me. Boy was I a 'fool'. Having experienced every possible emotion going, I am relieved I found out. I am now in control. I get to choose what I want from this marriage and I'm pleased I gave him a chance he deserved to put right his wrongs and so far he has managed to do all the things he said he would. I've still a lot of work to do on 'me' but I'm pleased how far I/ we have come in such a short space of time. Stay positive and have faith in yourself and your decisions, x x

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  3. I do see my husband differently now. And myself. And life in general. And other marriages.
    I'm glad I'm looking at things/life/people in a different way. I guess more honest or more how things really are, or can be.

    For that I'm grateful!

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  4. Elle, beautifully written article.
    I love the line, and lets make us curious about THEM. Since all this my husband says he's curious about me now. He cannot believe how I handle this, the strength and determination, he sees a side of me he never knew. Yes, I was one mad bad mamma when I found out, but I'm getting there. He hasn't had it easy, but he's fighting alongside me. I cherish his interest in me and the fact I wasn't the person he thought I was.

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  5. This is BRILLIANT. I'm going to print it and re-read it. I hope you will continue to expound on this thought. No one knows, until they are in this situation, what they will do. No you never reallllly know anyone. I believe we have a false sense of security because, we can finish each other's sentences, or the relationship is decades long, or whatever it is that makes you mate predictable. The sad part is the marriages and people who think they are immune to infidelity or betrayal. None of us read or studied anything about this phenomenon until it happens to us. Yes the conversation is always swept under the rug because it's sordid, pathetic, sad, disappointing on so many levels. Anything but infidelity. The affects of infidelity permeates every relationship. People judge subjectively because they don't know any different. They haven't been there. Way too many judgments on all the participants fly around and I have to admit I've been guilty of that and still am!

    Yes I look at my husband through different lens now. Some good, some not so good! I don't really know what he's thinking. Yep I give him the benefit of the doubt but there's also other doubts. I hope he is looking at me through a different lens too because now that I've read about 3 zillion books, become educated on infidelity, and have spent countless hours in therapy I KNOW I will walk before doing this again. I may have to live till I die with all my insecurities and problems but he will not be one of them. I've made it clear to him too so there's none of this "I didn't think you cared.." bullshit line. I agree about the temptation, but he knows he better turn to me this time to discuss it. Leave if you don't like me but don't cheat!

    You do a great job Elle. Thanks so much for sharing your insight.

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  6. Thank you so much for this article and so many of your others. I have read from so many different websites but yours is by far the best for me. It best matches my feelings in terms of being pressured to divorce by society and yet my choice to stay with my husband. I have commented in other places on this website. I am now 5 months post D-day and consider myself lucky. Lucky to have found this website, lucky that the affair ended 2 years ago, lucky that my husband has been doing everything to make amends. And I too am working on us having a better marriage and learning from this whole experience. It sounds strange but I think it has made me appreciate him more, instead of just assuming his fidelity, I want to deserve it, as does he.

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  7. I have been to a funeral today, a friend of mine who died in tragic circumstances. She leaves 3 young children. Words can't express the shock, pain and sadness I feel. In less than a week I have lost my father and a dear friend. Life is uncertain we don't know whats in store for us but one thing is for certain is that whatever comes our way we can and will deal with the most tragic events In our lives. Still trying to remain strong , x x

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    1. Oh Sam, I'm so sorry. For you and for your friend's family, dealing with such a loss. You're certainly proving your mettle with what life is throwing your way. But it sounds also as if you're maintaining your focus on what truly matters in our lives -- those we love and who love us.
      As for "strong", please make sure you have a place where you can just weep for the injustice of it all.

      Elle

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  8. Sam, I am so sad for you and the loved ones of your friend (Ironically, my friend who died close to d-day was also named Sam and she left behind a very young child). Hard stuff keeps happening and we are still standing. There is relief in knowing you can survive and be strong. But when I acknowledge and allow myself to feel defeated and weak, I also find relief in knowing that feeling is not permanent. Hope you can too.

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  9. Have you heard of Michelle Weiner Davis's divorce busting 180 degree list? What do you think of it? MYR

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    1. MYR,
      I don't know of it. I have heard of the "180". It's often referred to on the "Surviving Infidelity" site as a way to jolt a spouse out of the affair fog. I never had to do it myself, though I know of many who insist it worked, if only to make their spouse's feelings clear.

      Elle

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  10. Thank you mbs and Elle I'm so relieved I have somewhere to write and your replies mean so much to me. I'm pleased to say this site is now part of my everyday life x

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    1. I'll be pleased when this site no longer needs to be part of your everyday life. :) Although any betrayed wives who've moved through the pain and triumphed are always welcome back to help guide others along.

      Elle

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  11. CS gas ended things (deciding to call her instead of emailing in the end) with OW and was committed to MC so I think a lot of 180 is extreme. I feel like my crazy mood swings, constant crying and general clinginess is making me look totally un appealing so maybe I should implement some of these measures.

    I've been stalking OW and checking out her FB page, Instagram, Pinterest and Flikr. She's been busy on them in recent weeks and more active on FB in the week since the CS broke up with her then she's ever been, even posting this quote on the day he ended it:

    "There is no disguise which can hide love for long where it exists, or simulate it where it does not."

    It put a knot in my stomach. - MYR

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    1. MYR,
      Stay away from her social media stuff. Wash your hands of her. I wouldn't even be surprised if she posted that quote for your benefit (or rather pain). Please do yourself a favour and don't engage with her in any way. Keeping yourself constantly aware of her is like picking at a scab. It can't heal as long as you're picking away at it.

      Elle

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    2. Thanks Elle. Sometimes you just need for someone to talk you off the ledge. DDay was 4 weeks ago today. I also went to a counselor for the first time today. A woman at my church who is in charge of pastoral care. She's the first person I've told (outside of you ladies) and it truly feels like a weights been lifted off my shoulders. I left the session, went to pick my kids up from school then came home and had a long, deep sleep. I'll see her again in a couple of weeks and hopefully we'll soon have found a MC (we're expats in Europe so the choices of English-speaking marriage counselors are limited).

      I've been keeping notes since DDay and think I'm going to compile them and make them into a blog. If and when I do I'll let you know.

      Thanks again for your support Elle and everyone.

      MYR

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    3. I'm so glad you've found someone to talk to. This can feel so lonely and isolating.
      I hope you'll continue to fight the urge to follow her social media stuff. Nothing good can come of it....

      Elle

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  12. I know that I did alot of the stuff that the 180 recommend you DON'T do. Actually I did most of it. I think because my marraige was going down the tubes before the affair. We were distant and I needed my husband to know that I loved him. I let him know that I realized the ways I harmed the relationship but he would have to answer for his stupid choices and the way he harmed the relationship. I made a conscious decision to be honest, bold, courageous, vulnerable, and not (too) vindictive because of the particular issues of our relationship and our dynamic. It didn't backfire though it wasn't until I started taking on a more self sufficient attitude, showed my strength and stopped being so needy, that I started to feel way better about myself. I was able to see that I could be in or out of the relationship with my self mostly intact and he ended up respecting me more. So I guess, the more you can practice some of the 180, the more you may just feel better for yourself. But it might be hard with all the emotions running high. When my spouse was in the early part of his fog, I couldn't bring myself to practice 180 as a strategy. It felt too manipulative and I really did want him to stay. I couldn't pretend otherwise.
    However, if you can muster as much self-respect and dignity you can, the side effect can be your spouse showing you more respect and treating you with dignity.
    MYR, I found the online stalking was not allowing me to feel into my self-respect and dignity. I had to make myself stop because I felt like shit afterward and people who cheat are so damaged that they need to make themselves feel better by faking who they are and garnering attention online. The OWs are attention seekers and live in a narcissitic bubble. The OW in my life plasters glamour shots of herself and high schoolesque, sentimental quotes all over the place. It did allowed me to see and point out to my husband to see her as the immature, self absorbed wh-re she is. But I had to stop because I was also retraumatizing myself when I knew down deep that the affair wasn't about how "fantastic" she is.
    Be aware the your CS may also be stalking her as well, it can be hard for them to leave it behind, and it may have the effect of stirring the affair fantasy. I suggest you consider being upfront with him and both agree to stay offline (and maybe make him give you access so you can see his search history and passwords). It is nothing to be ashamed of but it harms you.

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  13. Modern technology makes it easier to have an affair, whether it’s a mobile phone, email etc. But it is also the way they get caught!
    I wrote on here that the husband of the OW put a year in his family's life on the internet for all their family and friends to see, with pictures of her smiling on various holidays/occasions, while she was having an affair with my husband. I would love to have five minutes with some of them that saw it and let them into my world. The destruction she’s caused. They all believe she is a beautiful, fun person that lights up the room. That’s not the way I would describe her.
    People need to tell the world that life is fantastic even if it’s false. It makes a ‘vicious circle’ cos we all then think that our lives are rubbish. FB is a brilliant tool for this. She knows you’re reading it! Block her! Or play her at her own game! Post pictures of you and your husband together. Although it’s a dangerous game, but satisfying. A friend posted this the other day which made me laugh.
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151111001323132&set=a.117697263131.122884.16537018131&type=1

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    1. Those of us who believe in the karma bus want to be there when it runs smack into the OW. Unfortunately we're not often granted that particular delight. Trust that one of two things will happen: she'll smarten up and realize how damaging her behaviour was or she'll continue to make a mess of her life. Either way, leave her to live her life...and focus on living yours.

      Elle

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  14. I found this article offers good context for doing 180 or otherwise attempt reconciliation. In honesty, it reflects alot of things I realize AFTER I unwittingly committed my own acts of sabotage.
    http://www.marriageadvocates.com/2012/02/10/the-betrayed-spouses-role-after-an-affair/#.UtwGJ5kDt-A.email

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  15. Just a thought. A friend mentioned about her husbands affair and the mind games that were played on him by the OW in a time that he was in a deep depression and made a big mistake by accepting the offer of a coffee and chat. We laughed that he had Stockholm syndrome.. We thought about it for 5 mins and decided that there are certainly elements. See definition below, what are your thoughts?


    Stockholm syndrome, or capture–bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. The FBI's Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly 8% of victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome.

    Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes "strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other. One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of Stockholm syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individual's response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be a threat

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  16. Elle,
    Good thoughts but I am still so afraid that there is more that I am going to find out. Hubby admits to affairs in 2010 (which I just found out about in August 2013 and in 2011. He only admitted both because he was about to be exposed. I want to believe him and I love him but my heart is so broken. I never thought he would do this. He was a pastor and in seminary during the 2010 affair and in ministry during the 2011. How can I believe him and appreciate what I don't know when it has caused so much pain? Istill cry everyday. We are to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in June...I just don't know how I will make it.

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    1. With time and healing. That's how you'll make it. It's the only way.

      Elle

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  17. My thought is that if an affair is kept secret (perhaps more likely with a man, as women tend to confide in at least one friend) the ONLY person who knows about the intense emotions/kicks/guilt/confusion created by the infidelity is the OW. Sometimes what draws a person back is not exactly that it feels.. good. We all know this. In other words even the most rational person is not always as in control of their decisions as they'd like to think they are.

    It's quite possible, I imagine, to internalise the OW as an aggressor whoever initiated the affair; after all her complicity is destructive not only to a cheater's marriage/family but most of all to himself, to his self-respect. But then he might secretly believe all women are essentially aggressors whose fatal charm undoes a man, where have we heard that before?

    Certainly people take advantage of others at a low ebb and it's very easy to massage the male or female ego. Hard to realise that your ego-booster may have been malign and caused you harm, hard to relinquish the ego-boost. I don't know about Stockholm Syndrome in this case, I hope it wasn't that abusive, although there are of course all kinds of sexual adventures.

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  18. Dearest sweethearts,u gals are amazing keep d gud work. I found out about my husbands affair 7month ago with 2 diff women he was thinking of taking a 2nd wife,what annoy me most was him taking advantage of my trust i don't blame d gals i blame my man. We've been married for 11yrs with 4beautiful kids,2gals 2boys,our 1st is 10yrs,5yrs,2yrs and a 3month old baby. Am a very emotional person i always emphasise how much i love and adore him,i do all my duties as a wife,there is no field that i don't cover all in the name of satisfaying my man but yet he betrayed me. Ever since i found out i could'nt text or tell him i love him,when ever i luk @him i feel unbeleivable coz i never in my dreams thought he will do a thing to hurt me. I confronted him he admited yeah he did it was a mistake friends introduce him to the gals,he refuse to feed me what i wanna know about d relationships in details he was like accept it or not i have nothing to do with any gal now,that d last tym he sees a gal was over a year. I find it hard to beleive him i feel my love for him has gone from 150percent to 20percent. Am just not into sex with him now not in d mood i use to be a whore back then when i trusted him but now he always make the moves

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    1. Anon,
      I'm so sorry for the pain you're in.
      It's virtually impossible to rebuild a marriage with a man unwilling to be honest about what happened and transparent about what he's doing as you go forward.
      You've got a lot to deal with, with four kids including a baby. What is he willing to do to help you heal?
      I'm curious where you live that a second wife is acceptable. Is this something you and your husband ever discussed? Does he think a second wife is something reasonable to ask of his first wife? I understand there are cultural differences, but I can't imagine that a second wife (when the first one expects to be the only one) will ever feel satisfying for you.

      Elle

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  19. A question for Elle or anyone else who wants to weigh in, since I have told no one. Just found out 6 months ago abt husbands affair over 2 years ago. Affair prob lasted abt 1 year. She moved away. So I know that ones over. Since then tho sexting with other women tho that's supposedly done now (I have access to his cell but who REALLY knows? One of the things he admitted was that they were planning to meet up at a conference after she moved away. He went but she never showed up. He hasn't been away to a conference on his own since d day. This morning he asked if he could go to a conference in may. When I hesitated, he thought it was because I would be alone with the kids (his mom will be away then too). But to be honest, if it weren't for the affair I would have been ok alone with the kids. Actually it will be fun. I can't keep him from going to conferences forever. & should I be using something he admitted to on his own (I would have never found out on my own abt their failed rendezvous if he didn't tell me)?

    Any advice would be appreciated. I think I'm going to tell him this weekend the real reason why I hesitated & then I'm going to tell him to go, but any words of encouragement or discouragement would be great.

    -sam

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    1. Hi Sam,

      I think it's crucial to be able to tell your husband exactly how you're feeling about this. It might have been over two years ago for him but for you, this is still pretty new. You need to learn you can trust him again but that requires you to be able to communicate when you're feeling vulnerable and him to be able to help you through that -- either by calling or Skyping you while he's away, not going at all until you feel on more solid ground, or whatever else you two come up with.
      I don't think pretending that we're past something we're not really past serves any of us. By talking to him about it, you're not punishing him, you're sharing your vulnerability. That's how intimacy is created.

      Elle

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  20. Hi ladies
    I was wondering if any of you have gotten to the point where you would just like to pretend the A didn't happen and move forward? The reason I ask is that my H is doing everything right, no contact with the Ow is working and we have not heard from her and the A itself was less than three months from start to finish I am just thinking that the only block to us moving forward is me and my thoughts. Is it realistic to just leave it alone? I have all the info and I am now pain shopping and only burying myself. Somedays I feel like if I just go forward as though it didn't happen I will be happy. Do you think this is really crazy?
    T

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    1. T,
      I don't think there's a right way through this. Only you can know if what you're doing is pain shopping or processing the experience. I do agree that, at a certain point, you need to make a choice to move forward. This, however, will always be a part of your experience and it's important that you're able to talk about it when it does arise -- you're triggered by an anniversary, for example -- without feeling as if that's regressing. It's no different than being able to talk about a horrible car accident, even if that accident was 20 years ago.
      The fact that you can recognize that you're even wearing yourself out with the pain shopping indicates that you're ready to close that chapter.
      And none of this is crazy, except the cheating that precipitated it.

      Elle

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  21. Thank you so much. It is so good to be able to ask others their opinions without the fear of judgement. I really think I want to move forward and stop focussing on this. I feel that if I am triggered I can express myself as I have never been able to keep things in. I guess I am just tired of this being the main focus of my life. I am thankful for this blog and the support I receive here.
    T

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