If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past thirteen years, it’s this: Just because someone isn’t willing or able to love us, it doesn’t mean that we are unlovable.~Brené Brown, "Rising Strong"
I was not an athlete. Though I tried many sports, I excelled at none. I was cut from every team, eventually giving up entirely and accepting that I simply wasn't an athlete.
In my late twenties, however, I decided to run a marathon. I trained, starting with short races and moving up to longer ones. I was never first over the finish line. But I wasn't last.
The day of the marathon, I had a lot of time to think (roughly four hours of time, mostly spent hoping I wasn't going to die). And during that time, it dawned on me that I couldn't be doing what I was doing if I wasn't an "athlete". I realized how much of my life I had spent on the sidelines because I'd accepted that role – the non-athlete role – that was bestowed on me when I was a child.
Maybe you were told that you were the "pretty sister" or the "bad student". That you were "irresponsible" or "flighty". Or that you were "too serious". Maybe you heard that you "weren't an athlete".
We wear those stories like a cloak. Even when that cloak has long stopped fitting us (if it ever did), we continue to support the narrative around it.
And we cloak the people in our lives with similar stories.
"She thinks she's so smart," we say inside our heads about our impatient boss. "He thinks he's better than everybody else," we tell ourselves about our brother-in-law.
Really? Does she really think she's so smart or does she simply lack interpersonal skills? Does he really think he's better than everybody else is quite the opposite true: that he's deeply insecure?
Stories are just that: Stories. Parts might be true...but much is likely conjecture. Most of us are barely aware of our own motivations and behaviour, let alone able to know what's going on in someone else's internal world.
Our culture supports a narrative around betrayal: If we have been cheated on, it must be because we are: lousy in bed, getting old, not thin enough, etc. If he cheated, it must be because: he couldn't resist a sexy Other Woman, he's a total dog who cares for no-one but himself, his wife is a nag. Etcetera.
At first, we buy into the stories. He cheated because we got fat. He cheated because we stopped wanting sex 24/7. He cheated because we got old.
Or, the story that brings most of us to our knees: He cheated because we're not worth being faithful to. We are not worth loving.
Given that our number one question post-betrayal is "why", subscribing to these stories gives us an answer. It hardly matters that it's rarely the right answer. It's the cloak that fits. At least right now.
But, if our spouse is able to be insightful about his choice to cheat, if we're able to peel back the layers and really examine what was happening, we often discover that the cultural narrative (and the one we've often supported ourselves) doesn't fit our situation.
He didn't cheat because we got fat. In fact, he loves our body.
He didn't cheat because we got old. In fact, he's grateful for the chance to grow older with us.
He didn't cheat because we nag. In fact, the OW was a far greater nag than we've ever been.
But as long as we hold onto the long-held stories without challenging them, we don't delve deeper into what's really going on in our marriage – and outside of it.
A few posts ago, I suggested walking our way out of the trauma of betrayal. I hope you're still doing that (I am...and I feel fantastic!). Now I'm going to suggest that anytime you find yourself agreeing with a long-held (or a newly constructed) story about your marriage, about yourself, about your spouse...you pause and challenge it.
Does he really "always" dismiss your views? Are you really "never" interested in sex? Do your parents "constantly" interfere?
Who we are is constantly changing. It's one of the great things about us that we can adapt and evolve. When we know better, we can do better.
But it starts with challenging the stories we believe.