Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My Letter to Husbands: Just Talk About It, For F&%#$ Sake

I get letter upon letter from women who are desperate to be heard in the wake of your betrayal. And over and over again they tell me that you won't talk to them about, won't go to therapy with them, don't understand why they're not "over it."
You want to know why we want – why we need – to talk about it? Because you shattered our faith in you as a decent honest man, and the only way we can reconcile our desire to stay with you with our knowledge that you lied and cheated and violated your vows is to try, as best we can, to understand just how you could do that and still be someone worthy of our love. We're begging you to help us love you again. And the best most of you can do is ask, aloud, why we aren't "over it."
There isn't a woman on this site who doesn't desperately wish she could be "over it". We're not a bunch of masochists, revelling in our pain, compulsively picking away at the wound. We are women who are experiencing more pain than we ever imagined.
A lot of us had, perhaps, wondered abstractedly what we might do if our husbands cheated. I always thought I'd just be pissed off. I figured I'd get angry, show him the door and that would be the end of it.
I never ever imagined how emotionally crippled I would be by the realization that my husband had cheated on me. I just never imagined it. Anger? Hell yeah. But a pain so deep I could hardly breathe? Wasn't expecting that.
Psychologists and marriage therapists aren't surprised. They've seen how damaging what they term "trust violations" are. They've seen what a deep primal wound it causes. It's no coincidence that children who experience trust violations, if they aren't given help to heal, go on to experience the world as a terrifying place. In fact, many therapists insist that often what they see in partners who've been betrayed are symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Free-floating anxiety. Fear of what could happen. A lack of trust in our ability to handle things. A feeling of numbness. Sudden rage or terror. Sounds an awful lot like your wife after learning of your affair, doesn't it? And though many of us get better at managing those emotions, the best way to eliminate them is to process them.
And we do that by telling our story. Sometimes over and over again. And we need you to listen. To answer our questions, even if you've already told us (it's amazing how foggy our brains are post-betrayal).
I know it's hard. I know it requires you owning up to, over and over, just how shitty you feel. We know you feel shitty. But that doesn't change how we feel. It just makes this about you and your feelings instead of about us and our feelings. It requires a really brave man who can admit his shortcomings.  Who can face that he made a choice that devastated the one person he promised never to devastate. In means doing the hard work of figuring out just what story you were telling yourself that made cheating okay. And figuring just what part of that story still needs addressing. You don't feel heard in your marriage? That's legitimate. Talk to her about it. You feel like little more than an ATM? Not uncommon. Talk to your wife about it. But talk about it after you've dressed her wound, so to speak. She can't hear you and your pain when she's metaphorically bleeding all over your floor.
Tell her that nothing she did made what you did okay. That you hate that you were that guy. That you are doing everything you can to never be that guy again. That you know how hard it is for her to give you a second chance but that you are going to spend every day of your life deserving it.
Hold her, if that's what she needs. Listen to her, if that's what she needs. Pour her a bath, if that's what she needs.
And know that you may need to do that again tomorrow night. And the night after that.
But please also know that, the more you do this now, the stronger she'll become. It's like depositing into a bank account now and letting the interest accrue so you can simply enjoy it later.
Now will be hell. I get that. Just when you want to forget about this, she wants to go over it. Again.
She's not doing it to punish you. She's not doing it to hurt you. She's doing it because her brain is trying to process something confusing and excruciating. She's doing it to figure out what little clue she missed so that she can be sure she never missed it again. Sometimes she's doing it because she saw something that day that triggered her pain in that deep, deep place. And she felt vulnerable and scared.
She's doing it to heal.
So please, don't dismiss her pain. Don't insist that she should be "over this by now."
The good news? It seems counter-intuitive but the more you talk about it and validate her pain, the more quickly she'll move through it. She'll be better able to replace those fears with the assurance that you're there for her. Maybe not then...but now. Now you are.
Betrayal changes everything. And while you can't undo what you did, you can take steps to show that you've learned from it. That you're a better man than that. That she's worth going through hell for. And that so are you.



24 comments:

  1. Love this. But too scared to show my husband and bring it up. Trying so hard to forgive and forget. This describes it all perfectly.thanks for posting.you are amazing at making me feel better, this is the best support group. I am so embarrassed this happened to me and my family.i am very proud that I'm strong enough to try and fight for us.

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    1. I'm glad this articulated your feelings, but I urge you to explore why you're too scared to talk to him about it. A surprising upside of healing from betrayal is the chance to recreate your marriage -- in which BOTH partners feel heard and valued. I hope you'll take that opportunity. You deserve to have your feelings acknowledged. No partner should be scared to share their thoughts.

      Elle

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    2. Thank you . You are right that the marriage is recreated.I just don't think he can understand what I'm going through. So if I bring it up it has to be the right moment because it always turns into a whole big deal.thank you for being so caring and making so much sense out of all this nonsense. The support you offer is a Godsend. Love this blog.

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    3. He may never understand what you're going through. But he doesn't have to understand it to support you through it. He can simply acknowledge that you're in deep pain...and that he's the reason. He can assure you that he never wants to hurt you again. He can promise you that he wants to become the husband you deserve. He can simply hold you. Or ask you what is it he can do to help you.
      In other words, he can be open to your pain instead of shutting you out.
      It's not easy. For some people, it's intensely uncomfortable. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have to at least try. Given what he's asking you to do, he can try and meet you half way. He might start by meeting you 1/10th of the way, then move incrementally closer. But, ideally, he'll be someone who can hear your pain and not shut it out and not turn it into "a big deal" but rather embrace you and it. See if he'll at least try, acknowledging that you know how difficult it is for him.

      Elle

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    4. The thing is.....if they avoid answering your questions...or try to sweep them under the rug....they will do it again......I do believe they should be open...honest....and mostly accountable ....and I most certainly agree.....that what they are asking for is a much bigger deal....such is your trust has already been broken ....it is their job to earn it back ....and that is through transparency and honesty...my ex did not meet me half way.....he was still secretive....and he blamed my need for answers ...as my fault and not moving forward....however I should have held him to account and not allowed him a second chance with only his surface remorse, which I think was more based
      on the fact he got caught

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  2. Thank you so much. Had a blowout last night on this topic. Just emailed it to him. Lets hope he sees the truth.
    T

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  3. Oh my god. I want to weep reading this. This is 50% of our arguments. I am with the first poster because even though the last contact was 4 months ago, my spouse is resentful when I share articles and essays with him. That alone ends up in a fight. He thinks I am telling him what to do. But this essay so crystalizes what I have been feeling...

    Affair Recovery newsletter wrote about mistakes cheating spouses say they made in the wake of their affair. One thing that stuck out was "Made it [recovery] about me and my guilt and shame rather than my mate's recovery." I imagine this probably happens more often than not.

    FYI-I would recommend that site [affairrecovery.com] because it is a male therapist who had his own affairs so can speak from the healed cheater's perspective. You can subscribe to the newsletter which offers lots of good "nuts and bolts" info about the affair.

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  4. Thank you very much! Just sent the letter to my husband with the question, please help me to love you again. Thank you so much for writing it down in clear words instead. I helps me to communicate better about my mixed emotions. Now I understand what I'm doing. Trying to love him again....

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  5. Elle -

    Beautiful. As always, just what I need, just when I need it.

    My husband has been good about talking, and listening, mostly. He is, usually, that brave man and has, never once, blamed me for his affair. This post reminds me that IT IS OK that I still need to talk about it. I am such a perfectionist that it is ME that keeps telling myself that I should be "through it" by now.

    Our MC has said that I will never get "over it," just "through it." Nine months after D-Day, it is me, more than him, that is beating myself up, about not remembering the answers he has given me to questions and asking them again. It is me, beating myself up, that I can't feel any joy, or when I do, the pain comes with it, and, so, I choose to not feel the joy either. It is me, beating myself up, about the three things he did, that just seem to keep me "stuck" and I know it will be a good day when I can finally let just one of them go.

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  6. Elle, Thank you! I was the member that wrote the post " should I just STFU"
    I showed this to my husband when it appeared, he read it, didn't say anything until last night. We sat down and he asked, " how are you feeling, really feeling" I think that although I had kept quiet for a few months, that inside I was morphing into a woman with anger, frustration, depression and hurt. I wanted to scream, but I'd done the screaming, I'd asked the usual questions , but I feel now that we've moved to another level of trust, that we should open the box and put a few more demons to rest. It is not pain shopping, it is not about making him feel bad, it is about me, my recovery and making sure that the cancer that this affair was is well and truly cut out. I will always remember the events, but I want to remember them and not have anger, doubt, or questions.

    I love my husband, I want to make the best repair possible to this relationship, I want him to learn, I want to have respect back for him. I want him to really feel free of it all.

    So thank you, to you Elle and the lovely supportive women that made comments. I will be heard and understood.

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  7. Once again you open the door to cold, hard truth about healing after DDay. Bravo. I hope this post is shared with every single cheating spouse that feels the need to "get over it" or "move on". Ugh. So short sighted.
    I'd like to add two more elements for the betrayed.
    Even if you have a wayward spouse that gives great effort to answer ALL your questions, over and over, even if he tries his very best to recall even the smallest detail of the affair, (which ain't easy, my broken hearted friends. Their minds turn to mush, too) even if he is in 'give you anything you need mode', there is a good chance you're still gonna want more. You can ask and ask all you want, but why would you believe anything he says anyway?? Hook his lying ass up to a polygraph and there still might not be enough info in his head to quiet your mind.
    My Points - #1
    Regardless of all the questions that rob you of sleep, never, never, never go to the OW for answers. It sounds like a good idea at the time. You know, just to compare notes? She can't help you. She won't help you. She wanted your husband. Turn to him to help you heal. He's the only one that can.
    #2:
    Before you ask anything, take a breath and think about this...once you know it, you can't UN-know it. Is this something you TRULY need to help you heal or will the answers be nothing but nasty brain worms for a long damn time? Triggers suck. You don't need to add more.
    Just two things I wish I had known. Would've saved me an extra world of hurt.
    Hope & Hugs, Shawn

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    1. So right Shawn. #1-I made the mistake of trying to appeal to the OWs sense of decency for both our young children's sake (her son and mine were preschool friends). Ha, she doesn't have a sense of decency. She wanted what she thought she deserved. Couldn't leave my husband alone until he decided if he wanted to leave me or not.
      #2 I don't think I can handle knowing anything else. As long as I can believe that it is over and he feels remorse and truly wants to change. I don't need more "Brain worms." I know he was a dirtbag for atleast a year and sadly I am finding out the truth about how more messed up he was before the affair (no affairs but he is admitting to other kinds of acting out.) But he doesn't want to be the person he was--and immature, selfish child, before he is finally awakening... hopefully.

      MBS

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    2. Shawn, thanks for emphasizing those two points. #2 is also something I wish I'd learned much, much sooner -- "once you know it, you can't UN-know it." Almost three years out, questions about certain little things still pop up in my mind sometimes, but now I know enough to observe the question first and ask myself if knowing the answer would really help make things better or just add another potential trigger.

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  8. Perfect timing once more. We were just talking about this last night - another late night "discussion." Shawn, I love your points - so true. I sent the post to my husband today, and I added these comments:
    "I shared because of the timing and also because so much of it was true, at least the part about how I'm feeling, and I hope and mostly know that you get that. The article focuses mainly on men who don't want to talk about it, cause apparently there are some of those out there. I know you get it, and I know you are trying, and that you are a very "brave man" for enduring this with me. I really don't know why I keep reliving this when I don't even want to, and it doesn't help me in any way that I can tell. i don't want to think about her. I don't want to think about all the things you said to her or the hospital/appendix/ banff thing, or any of it. I don't want to be a part of this anymore, but it's now a part of me, and you, and too many memories and triggers here. What is the point, really, in going over this over and over again, in my head or with you? What exactly do I expect you're going to say or do that will make it any different? Probably nothing. I guess that's the dumb part and the confusing part and the hump I can't get past right now. It's not you that's going to say or do something to make me all better. It's just me who needs to work through my thoughts and feelings and decide what's next... "
    Love this blog. Thank you, again :)

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  9. OMG Ramona,

    You took the words right out of my mouth! My husband DOES talk about it too. & Shawn is right too: when I ask for details & get them, like where did they eat dinner, it doesn't make things better but yet provides another trigger for me. & Ramona, u r right too. I don't know what I hope to accomplish by having the same conversations over & over & by repeating the same sometimes asinine questions. At this point I really feel I know whatever matters-- that he made a mistake, he's sorry, he's putting up with a lot of crap from my end, he's changed & become very supportive of my efforts to move on, he's doing more with the kids & me (which actually started after the A ended but before d-day).

    I just think by going over it repeatedly it will finally not hurt to think about it or talk about it. It won't be fresh anymore; just history. (It has already started after 7 months)

    At least that's what I'm hoping!

    -sam

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    1. Shawn does make a really important point. And it's why, at a certain point, you need to ask yourself whether you're simply pain shopping (there's lots on this blog and others about that). Sometimes we fear getting over it on some level because it feels tantamount to letting him off the hook. Our goal shouldn't be to keep our husbands forever making amends. It should be to create a marriage in which both partners feel respected and safe and loved.
      That said, this post was for the women who don't feel heard. Whose husbands shut them out. Who are expected to be "over it".

      Elle

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  10. My mom had a subdural hematoma last year and now has brain damage similar to a stroke. She gets fixated on things like wanting to see my son. I think we go over it and over it and over it because, in some sense, we've had a brain injury, too. I truly believe that the primal wound causes some physical damage - we acknowledge the PTSD, I suspect this is also symptomatic of some type of biological self-protection. And now the brain is trying to rewire itself.

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  11. I've done everything possibly to to try to get through this... From talking about it with my husband from details to even going through counseling with our pasture from church about this .. But even whime trying to heal from this he just continued to betray me. I dint have my parents around anymore to comfort me so I feel all alone and isolated so I just stay ... I don't know what else to do and I feel so stuck... I've been with him for 28 yrs now married right out of high school so this is all I know ... I've never reached out to anyone other then my pasture and one friend who told me to leave .. I'm a string Christian and I believe in forgiveness and working things out but what do you do when he continues to look and google and undress women stoll in front of you while holding his hand ... I've been stuck with this since 2007 .. Maybe someone here has an answer or has gone through the sa

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  12. Thank you, From a husband who has cheated, I feel like the shit I am. However this is not about how I feel now. Its about how the one I love feels after what i have done to her. This is so true, Listening brings healing. If may not rebuild our marriage, but it does help my wife rebuild her life. I am hopeful, sad, and trying talk and listen.

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  13. For me, it is still about than what questions am I missing? He will only answer the questions that I ask and no more. I still feel like there is a big elephant in the room...

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    1. Mamie,
      It sounds as if he's still in protection mode -- trying to ensure he doesn't dig himself in deeper than he is. Would he read this post? It might help him understand just how important it is that you see him learning to be more open. That he needs to shut the door on the affair, while opening a window for you to "see" how it deveoped. It's how trust is rebuilt.

      Elle

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  14. The letter said all the things I've been trying to say to my husband 1 1/2 years post Dday. I appreciate that. I am lucky to have a husband who still listens and is still willing to talk and answer questions even at midnight and he has to be up at 4 am; however, he still slips into the mindset of why I can't "just get over it".

    For me, the heart of the letter is this: "She's doing it to figure out what little clue she missed so that she can be sure she never missed it again." I want to understand what part I played in his decision to have an affair and make sure I never push him to that point again. I realize he made the choice and it is entirely on his shoulders, but I am not naive in thinking that I did "nothing" to bring him to that choice. Marriage is a two person relationship. I need to understand my part.

    I do want to re-emphasize the wisdom about asking too many questions. The answers do create triggers in the mind that one cannot always avoid. For instance I cannot pass by a Panera Bread without wishing it would burn down and the company would go bankrupt. And I still battle the need to know details about their conversations, especially texts. I often have considered getting court ordered print outs of their cell phone conversations. My goal, I tell myself, is to understand how their relationship developed from a casual old-friend acquaintance to the level of planning to spend the rest of their lives together and convincing themselves that everything would be ok, even the lives of the children involved in the situation.

    It is an ever spiraling emotional battle to keep those questions at bay. Even when we have approached the subject his prime answer is "I don't know." Which frustrates and baffles me, but probably frustrates and baffles him as well. He never thought he would allow himself to be in that situation just as I had always trusted him and never believed he would ever cheat on me.

    While the pain and devastation seem universally similar, each affair situation has it's own uniqueness. My husband's affair lasted all of 4 months if you include the beginning stages of them re-acquainting themselves after not having been around each other since childhood (some 20 years). She was a childhood sweetheart that he looked up on FaceBook (another trigger). They met in person three times; twice spending the night with each other. My husband was an OTR truck driver and traveled through or nearby her home town. I found out via accidental text. Dday was exactly 1 week after our 15th anniversary.

    The affair not only changed my outlook on life, but I allowed it to damage my faith in God. I don't see a lot mentioned (in the few blogs I've read) of how people's faith was affected by an affair. I've read a few books, but those people must have had a purer faith than I did. I struggle with finding joy or interest in daily life. I still struggle with conflicting emotions. I still deal with triggers. The worst thing I deal with now (besides the loss of my faith) is whether we really love each other or we just feel obligated to the life we've made. Still underwater here but grateful for the blog.

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    1. Infidel's Wife,
      So much of what you're describing is familiar to so many of us. Have you considered that you're experiencing post-trauma/depression? The hopelessness, the lack of any sense of hope, the disinterest in day-to-day life. Betrayal is devastating. It does change our outlook but that shouldn't be permanent.
      Do you have a faith leader you can speak with? Someone who can help you navigate your way back to faith?
      You've experienced trauma, which can threaten our beliefs about life and purpose and meaning. But a challenge like this can also deepen our faith if we use this to challenge the foundation upon which our faith is built. Faith that hasn't been challenged isn't so strong. But faith that's been shaken can become even stronger. Give in to your questions. Examine them. Ask what you can learn from all this. And, perhaps, find someone to help you.

      Elle

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  15. This is one of the best articles I've read, it's perfect. Just sent it to my husband. I don't think I could have written it better myself! Thank you!

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