Thursday, June 5, 2014

News Alert: Life Isn't Fair (and the sooner you accept that, the faster you can heal from infidelity)

I was like a five-year-old whose friend had broken my favourite toy and not been punished for it. "But it's not fair!" I would wail after discovering my husband had cheated with a woman who worked for him. "I don't deserve this!" I would moan.
I'd like to go back in time and smack myself. Or introduce myself to the millions who have endured far worse (Holocaust, Rwanda, sadly the list goes on). Damn right, life's not fair. What made me think it was?
But that was the premise under which I operated: If I did things right (see the makings of a control-freak here?), life would unfold perfectly and predictably. I would never be hurt. I would never be scared. I would die happy, surrounded by my loving family who appreciated every single time I sacrificed my own desires for them.
Clearly my life plan had a few flaws.
For starters, life isn't safe. It's something I knew all too well, thanks to a childhood populated by parents who could barely hold themselves together let alone offer me any guidance. Because I felt so out of control as a kid – hurtling from crisis to crisis created by my parents – I came to crave it. At the same time, I felt somewhat stifled by it and it took me some time to recognize that stability is not the same as stagnation.
But once I'd settled in to stability – my mother was no longer drinking, I was married to a man I loved and who I believed adored me, I gave birth to three healthy children, I was moving ahead in my career goals – I realized that it allowed me to take greater chances. Without feeling as though I had to be constantly vigilant against potential threats to my well-being, I could focus on other things. My family, the work I loved, friendships.
I'd worked hard for my peace of mind.
I'd battled demons to feel safe.
I hadn't bargained for the fact that my husband had his own demons to slay. Demons he had always insisted (and I'd believed him!) didn't exist.
Not fair? Damn right it wasn't fair.
Of course, life never is. Life doesn't operate on a quota system, whereby we each get our share of pain and disappointment.
Instead, we each, to some degree, create our life path. And sometimes – too often for my taste – horrible things happen to people who don't deserve it. Just ask the parents of the kids at UCSB after the recent shooting.
The quicker we can recognize that life's not fair, the quicker we can move toward healing. It's about, as Laura S. so wisely put it in this post, asking not "why did this happen to me?" but "why did this happen?" It's about curiosity not victimhood.
It's about acknowledging your pain without feeling persecuted. Because, as crazy as it sounds, affairs aren't really personal.


  1. 'affairs aren't really personal.' A hard one to get your head round, nevertheless, true.

    You have huge kindness, Elle - you're amazing. Thank you for everything you do here.


  2. This is so true but in the beginning for about the first 6 months you can't wrap your head around this. This is only a conclusion you come to much later.

    I know early in discovery I would watch the news and see something awful happen to someone and I thought gee I don't have anything to complain about. Then after about 2 hours I'd be back to my depressed self.

    I never thought "why did this happen to me" though. I also never blamed myself so maybe I had a foot up on recovery and healing. I never felt victimized. LOL I did however go straight to the Pissed Off as Hell mode pretty fast!

    Good post Elle.

    1. Trying,
      I remember reading early on that one infidelity "expert" said that he didn't worry about the women who got angry -- he knew they would be fine. It was the women who blamed themselves who knew they were in for a l-o-n-g recovery. Glad you skipped that stepped!
      And yes, I think that's true. But if you can accelerate your "it's not fair" stage, then you get to the roll-up-your-sleeves stage faster. Life isn't fair. Now what are you going to do about it?


    2. I, too, hit the pissed-off stage. When my husband asked if I wanted him to move out (passive aggressive, make *me* be the bad guy who kicked him out), I said no, you don't run away from your problems - you address them. Seems to me that the wayward spouse is the one who thinks life isn't fair and then seeks to sooth that ache.

    3. I could've been the angry poster child for that "expert"!! He would not have had to worry about me one little bit!! LOL!
      I got over the "it's not fair" thing real quick. I always say..."A fair is where they judge sheep." It's not real life. Fair?? If only life was really that easy.

  3. I came to this conclusion early on. Like you, Elle, from and early age I thought that if I do certain things, pain won't befall me. I never had emotionally present parents who could help me through painful experiences. So I developed this "fixer" persona that could could prevent difficulty by fixing problems. The bombshell of infidelity sure was a wakeup call from that delusion.
    However, even though I recognized that I could no longer prevent pain from bypassing me, the fixer in me kept trying to take responsibility for him. Ugh. I struggled not to "make" him do stuff but still making myself clear about what I do need from him. I recognize that it isn't about fairness but I still feel like shit alot but hopefully I am not wallowing in "poor me." Sometimes it is hard to tell.
    We are getting to a better place where I can share what I need without trying to fix things on my own.

    1. Anonymous,
      My therapist would remind me that I was "responsible to" my husband to be honest and respectful with him but not "responsible for" him. I'm responsible FOR myself -- take keep myself safe. It really helped me get clear on when I was trying to be responsible for him -- i.e. make him do things that I wanted him to do. Another good reminder is "help is the sunny side of control." I was the Queen of "helping". Even now, I have a friend in a horrible relationship and I have to resist the urge to "help" her. She's an adult. It's not my job to live her life for her. I can offer guidance when asked, I can offer support when she needs it...but ultimately the choices are hers. Even when I think her choices are stupid. :)


  4. I too missed the " life isn't fair" stage and went to anger, disbelief and hurt. However, when our kids found out about their father and our parents too, I felt that it wasn't fair on them. How can you possibly tell an 11 year old whose world has fallen apart that the sooner you realise life isn't fair, especially when you see school work affected; something so transient for the AP could end up a life time of under achieving for a child. Saying that, I have worked hard on getting some counselling for my son and things are moving on but I still see the deep sadness in his eyes. After my parents went through tough times and a father that fought for his country, to see these good people in depression in their twilight years, I really do feel, its not fair for them. His mother had a mild stoke 48hrs after finding out the news, she still says the shock was the worst thing for her and is convinced her sons actions brought this on.

    So, whilst I'm firmly in the mind set that life isn't fair for me , I cannot feel the same for those nearest and dearest. What a terrible way to start a young life and a terrible way to end the last part of your life for our parents. My empathy for them is more than my own. Do what you will to me, but don't ever put my family at risk. As I write this its becoming clearer that my anger is for them more than myself.

    1. It is sometimes easier to get angry on another's behalf than our own. But the point of my post is that life isn't fair for anyone. It's never fair. If life was fair, then there wouldn't be girls getting raped because it's their job to walk four miles to get clean water for their families.
      I'm not minimizing what your family is going through. And I'm know it's excruciating to watch the people you love suffer.
      What I hope this site provides, however, is the recognition that we can get through this pain in a way that makes us stronger and more resilient and with a deeper trust in ourselves. Your son, for example, can learn to recognize that even those people we love can make really damaging choices. And it's OUR choice how we respond to that. We can love them (and I hope he does still love his father) even with their flaws, without allowing them to violate our own boundaries. We can learn that we have a deep well of strength to draw on when live throws us difficulties. Your 11-year-old son shouldn't be taught to believe that the pain he's going through right now could result in a "lifetime of underachieving." I hope you're teaching him that he'll get through this. That you support and believe in him.
      Your husband's actions were hurtful to many people. I'm not clear on whether you've chosen to stay with him or separate/divorce. I'm also not clear on how far out you are from D-Day. But it's so important with children to assure them that even though life isn't fair, we can handle things in a healthy way. By finding support, by relying on our faith and by trusting that whatever life throws our way, we have the strength to face it.


    2. Elle, Thank you for responding. Our son has no idea that we feel he will under achieve, we've done everything to support and encourage, along with helping him understand he will have " off " days and perhaps not be able to concentrate as well on his work, we've even come up with ideas on how he can try to re-focus. I mentioned your elastic band trick to him when he's in classes. It was his teachers that noticed the most dramatic change in his academic work, his behaviour, thankfully, is always exemplary albeit he seems very sullen at times.

      The past couple of days I've picked out some items, just in a general conversation about tragedies all over the world that we discuss in the hope that he will feel, life isn't so bad and there are people far worse off. We haven't implied that his pain is nothing or made comparisons, we've just put the idea out there.

      He still loves his father very much and I have never let him see the disgust that I had. I've always put over the view that I was very upset and surprised but these things do happen.

      We are still together and things are going well. 4 years out.

      Perhaps we should stop with the, Life ain't fair and change it for, Life's a bugger!

      Elle, you've got me over some of my toughest moments, I hope that there has been someone there for you. xx

  5. I think that the "unfairness" of it comes from the fact that this experience was willfully implemented by my husband. I was not a random victim; just collateral damage.

  6. listening to a programme on tv today, talking about energy prices being so high and that the wholesale prices have gone down but they have not passed onto the customers. The presenters where saying how 'unfair' and wrong this is.

    miss placing your car keys making you late for work! or forgetting your pin number to your debit card and not able to get cash out...makes your day difficult and stressful. so unfair!

    Oh life is unfair. Yes understand that we all go through these days.

    Finding out the person that stood in the church promising to Love, Honor and Obey you 30 years ago, the father of your three children and when your 1st Grandchild was born can go away on holiday with you, while spending over 7 months of having new experiences with another women and then come home and lay down beside you in bed making love to you, kisses you! is a completely different level/different type of unfair!

    I asked him the other day what was it like to kiss and touch, speak sweetly and sexy and sit opposite another women in a restaurant after so long? The last time I did it was 1981 before I meet him. Am I wrong to feel jealous that he has experienced this? At 59 he must have been flattered that someone fancied him enough to take a risk with her own marriage? and she was 10 years younger. How did he manage to keep it from me? he must have thought all his Christmases had come at once. guess because to show would be the end of a magical ego booster moment and his selfish self never wanted it to end.
    Oh yes this is a new level of 'lifes not fair'


    1. Jane,
      I can remember feeling that same sense of "it's not fair" when I imagined the excitement that comes with a new relationship. Now, with a few more years under the bridge however, and with a deep appreciation for the family we've kept intact, I'm aware of the beauty in a long-time couple sitting across from each other in a restaurant. A couple that knows each other's shadows...and chooses still to be together.


  7. Jane I know how u feel. I also sometimes get jealous of my husband. That's part of what is so maddening. I was also sometimes feeling taken for granted, unappreciated, stuck in a rut if a marriage. I would also like to experience the passion of a new romance, the adrenalin rush of a new love. Yes I'm jealous but I'm also mature enough to know that it's a calculated risk. In medicine we talk about a cost benefit ratio. Everything comes at a price & nothing is free. It's why I never tried/used drugs. I didn't want to risk my family or my integrity/my self. Believe me, my husbands experience cost him plenty, as did yours.


  8. Dear Elle,
    I wrote to you a while back and you, as usual, gave great advice and immediately identified my husband as a sex addict, which he definitely is. Thanks for pointing me to the Carnes’ books, they have definitely helped with making my situation understandable and bearable. As an aside, it’s really interesting to note that a number of movies coming out lately seem to deal with issues of sex and porn addiction (Don Jon, Thanks for Sharing etc). Unfortunately these issues aren’t quite so recognized where I live and the culture here practically promotes practices that render both men and women unconscious “functioning” sex and porn addicts. So it is definitely refreshing to have a forum where I can engage on the issue without being seen as “strange”. Anyway getting back to where I am in this very long journey, we’ve been seeing counselors (individually and jointly) for the last eight months and unfortunately as much as I would like to have a disclosure session I don’t think the counselors are aware or know how to conduct one. (As I said I live in a culture where “such things don’t exist”/ “it’s a western concept that does not apply to us”). We had a joint session recently in which my husband started to chronologically detail his exploits but kept getting interrupted by the male counselor who kept giving his perspective on things. I’d have much preferred for my husband to keep telling his side of things because at some point and after a number of “interruptions” he sort of clammed up. We are going to try yet another session of this later this week but I’m not sure I even want to go through with it. I had initially thought that I’d want to get the honest nitty gritty details from him but I have come to the realization that this whole journey may be an exercise in futility. My husband still does not seem to quite understand the gravity of the issue, i.e. that he is a sex addict. Perhaps he does and thinks that avoidance of the real issues (childhood trauma etc…) while going through the motions of therapy and counseling will somehow absolve him and pull the wool over my eyes. Nevertheless I have decided that I've had enough of what I feel is a charade on his part and have acknowledged the fact it will be a very long time before he learns to tell the truth and will, in the meantime, continue to lie about his actions and activities. An agreement we had early on in this process was that absolute honesty is essential I don’t care if he’s been watching porn, if any of his sex partners have been in touch etc., but he’d have to come clean if I did ask him. I know for sure on the two occasions that I have confronted him about these issues he has denied them categorically even when he knew I knew he was lying.
    In view of this, I've resolved to stop engaging and expecting more of my husband than he is able to give me at this point. It's not a statement of defeat or admission of giving up. It's just the realization that perhaps in relation to the emotional and sexual we are not on the same wavelength. I think that I’ve finally given up my need to control this process and will let him and the counselors know this at the next session. I will no longer be attending the joint sessions but focus on my own therapy to help me get through the anger and pain that I currently feel. Which I must say has become a LOT more manageable than it was 8 months ago when I made the discovery. What I’ve established in going through this so far is that; a) My husband loves me very much b) My husband’s sexual addiction has nothing to do with me. He has carried these demons with him since his childhood and has learned to use sex as a way to deal with his stress and to create some sort of emotional detachment; c) my husband is struggling to understand his issues and is afraid to delve deeper and thus his process may take a long time; d) I truly love my husband and will continue to work on taking care of myself and my family until he is ready to truly engage in the process.
    Just thought I’d share,

    1. Roxy,
      You simply can't manage his recovery and it sounds as if you realize this. You'll go crazy and lose yourself trying.
      What you can do, and it sounds as if you're doing, is focus on yourself.
      As for disclosure, anyone treating sex addicts generally insists it's crucial. I actually resisted because I felt like I knew everything I wanted to know (I certainly knew enough). But I recognize how important it can be in recovery with a spouse who isn't so forthcoming. It's a part of any addiction recovery -- admitting everything the addict has done and then systematically making amends.
      I ended up asking my husband to write his disclosure to me. I figured that way I could read it if I wanted to, all at once or in increments. I felt more in control of the info that way.
      However, if your husband isn't able to do that, you certainly can't make him.
      Sex addiction is a beast. It's misunderstood and often mistreated by clueless therapists. That's why Carnes' books can help so much.
      Keep us posted, Roxy.




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