Thursday, January 7, 2016
Yes but...how does he treat you?
In my twenties I loved a guy who was, to put it charitably, confused. He loved me, he said. I was an "addiction", he said. He wrote me poetry. He sent me long, loving letters when I was at school overseas. Especially when he had been drinking, he regaled me with words of devotion and love.
I loved him madly. Despite his infidelities. Despite his consistent backing away from me when our relationship seemed heading toward more intimacy. Despite the ex-girlfriends he kept hanging around like groupies.
After seven ridiculously long years of this, we finally and eternally broke up, which surprised nobody but me.
As my friends no doubt put it with me out of earshot, "Thank the bloody hell THAT is over because I can't listen to another minute of their star-crossed bullshit."
I know I would have said that if I'd had to endure a friend's seven-year "but we love each other" saga.
My friends and I laugh about it now. At the time, however, I swear I could feel my heart break. Actually break.
In hindsight, we were ridiculous. We paid lip service to loving each other while we behaved in ways that completely undermined our relationship. He cheated on me. As soon as we broke up (which we did routinely, every few months or so), I would date somebody else. We moved in together and fought about things like who was supposed to buy orange juice. We moved out because maybe our relationship just needed "space". We weren't married. We were young. Frankly, we were doing exactly what we should have been doing at that stage in our lives. But our actions made it abundantly clear that our priorities were ourselves, not each other. We should have walked away from the relationship years before we did. But we stupidly convinced ourselves that our "love" was enough.
Love is a feeling that ebbs and flows. One day, our face is buried in our beloved's t-shirt because he's on a business trip and we can't stand not having him beside us. The next, we're gritting our teeth and mentally filing divorce papers because he got up from the dinner table, turned on the TV and left us with the mess. We might "love" our spouse and he us but what do our actions say?
Before D-Day, I was so filled with resentment at my husband's long absences and emotional detachment that I would literally stiffen when he tried to hug me. I didn't talk to him because it fell on deaf ears and made me feel worse.
He claimed to love me but had spent our entire relationship cheating. He had convinced himself that nobody was getting hurt. He had deluded himself into believing that his sexual desires were different than mine and that he was doing me some kind of favor by not subjecting me to them. He was so far down that rabbit hole that he compulsively turned to online chat rooms when he was feeling lonely or neglected or like a failure, which was often. And yet...he loved me.
Lots of good that did us.
It was only when we had a choice to make – either rebuild our marriage or walk away from it – that we really began to understand that loving someone isn't enough. We needed to behave in a loving way. We needed to make choices in our lives that put each other's needs and wants on the same level as ours. That doesn't mean we were each responsible for meeting each other's needs and wants, simply that we needed to make room for them in the relationship. We needed to love each other enough to do things that made us really uncomfortable – like listen to each other's feelings without judgement. We needed to honor each other. We needed to love each other with our actions, not just our words.
What a world of difference.
We all have that choice, every single day but especially when we're dealing with a partner's betrayal. Are we going to stay and rebuild our marriage or are we going to walk away?
To figure that out, we need to get clear on what our spouse's actions are telling us. The betrayal is part of that, of course. But, as crazy as it sounds, putting that aside, what is he doing about it? Is he accepting full responsibility for the pain he's caused us? If he loves us, then he will accept No Contact and stick to it. If he loves us, then he will accept our offer of a second chance as the incredible gift it is and he will cherish it and determine to spend his life deserving it. If he loves us, then he will include us in every part of his life. We will know where he is, who he's with and when he'll return. His word will be worth something.
Most people who cheat have unhealthy ideas around love and relationships. They'll moan about "loving both of you." They'll whine about being "confused."
It's up to you, of course, whether you give them time to seek treatment and begin to understand why they betrayed the person they claim and vowed to "love". We each bring our own baggage into any relationship and it can take time to unpack it all. But ultimately we're looking for someone who treats us as valuable. Who sees our worth.
Healing from betrayal gives us all the chance to revisit how we love other. Betrayal doesn't have to be the end, it can be a beginning. But only if each partner is willing to stop paying lip service to love and start living it.