...too often we aren’t willing to do the hard work of feeling where the weight of that pain resides in us. Instead, we get stuck, carrying around other people’s judgments of us and then having to figure out how to shield ourselves from this unhealthy residue left inside of us. This is the root of a lot of physical ailments – from weight gain, to anxiety disorders to chronic health conditions. The effort to silence our pain requires so much attention and, like a dog at our heels, continues to attract more relationships to us which confirm our worst fears about ourselves.~Wendy Strgar, creator of Good Clean Love
I had to pick up my children at school just hours after having my suspicions of an affair confirmed by my husband. I felt shaky. Stunned. Nonetheless, I put on my Mommy mask, made small-talk with the teachers, deflected a casual friend's inquiry into whether I was "okay" (of course, just tired, I told her) and acted to my children as if it was just another normal day.
It's an act I've kept up to some extent every day since.
I have my reasons, of course. We all do. I wanted time to figure out what I was going to do. I didn't want to upset my young children. I didn't want acquaintances to know about my private life.
But mostly? I didn't want others' judgement.
Judgement never feels good. Some of us are, of course, more susceptible than others. Those who, like me, grew up in a shame-filled home seem acutely sensitive to the sting of judgement. But even the thicker-skinned among us aren't impervious.
D-Day, with its nuclear-bomb-like destruction, can make even the most confident of us feel as vulnerable as a newborn.
And it's then, when our very sense of reality is shaken, that judgement threatens us the most.
Judgement around infidelity is harsh. Our culture responds harshly.
Among the most vocal are those who've a) never experienced it personally but think they know all about it from watching Dynasty or b) those who have experienced it personally but never really healed from it. And those are the people who aren't the least bit shy about sharing their opinions.
And their opinions generally consist of extremes. Either you leave the cheating bastard or you pretend it never happened and "leave it in the past". It's judgement based on blame. Either he's a total jerk and you're better off without him, or you somehow brought this on and it's best to just move on from it.
But no matter that it's judgement based on little understanding of the dynamics of an affair (or of marriage, for that matter), it still hurts. It's an assault on our already shaken confidence. And, too often, it's judgement that silences us.
While I long for the day when we can discuss infidelity with the openness that we've come to discuss other challenges, such as cancer or even alcoholism (though there's still some shame around addiction), we're nowhere close right now. Infidelity's power remains its ability to evoke strong opinions that effectively shut down any possibility for discussion. We need nuance. The chance to say, here's my story. What's yours? and actually listen to each other's experience without judgement.
We're off to a good start on this site. I love the compassion with which so many of you support each other's experiences.
But we need to be able to take that compassion into the larger world. And to respond to others' judgement with trust in our own experience. Maybe not right away, not right when you're feeling your most vulnerable. But someday, when you can respond to that "once a cheater, always a cheater" with a confident "not true. At least not for me."
In the meantime, try and recognize others' judgement for what it is: fear, an unhealed wound, false bravado, emotional disconnect. A way to silence their own pain.