Monday, November 21, 2016

What I Learned from Love Warrior

Image result for Love Warrior, imageI recently finished reading Glennon Doyle Melton's Love Warrior, her account of rebuilding her marriage after her husband confessed to sex addiction. (And before the recent announcement that Melton has found love with soccer star Abby Wambach.)
H'mmm...where to begin. I didn't love Love Warrior and I really wanted to. I thought it started out strong but the second half devolved into a laundry list of coping strategies that, clearly, changed her life but that seemed almost perfunctory.
Yoga: check.
Therapy: check.
Meditation: check.
Positive church community: check.
Dare I suggest that it seemed as though her heart wasn't really in it? That she was telling her story because that's what she does but that she kinda sorta wished she wasn't? In hindsight, I wonder if she knew she was leaving the marriage even then and was hoping to write another ending in real life. Who knows. And, frankly, no matter.
Because, nonetheless, there is some sound advice in Love Warrior that I think we'd do well to look at more closely. She learned valuable lessons that changed how she viewed her place in the world and, consequently, how she showed up in her marriage and that, no doubt, also gave her the clarity and courage to ultimate make the choice to leave. And whether you stay or you leave, you want to do it with as much clarity as possible. You want, as much as possible, for your response to be a choice.

Let's start with
Giving your insides a voice: Melton learns, as she's trying to find her way back to her husband, that she has spent a lifetime silencing her insides (as she refers to her inner thoughts). And I don't know about you but, wow, me too. In fact, I still do it. Maybe not as much as I used to but still...time to pay attention to that.
Case in point: My husband and I are both in the market for new vehicles. Mine has recently adopted a death rattle to let me know that it's about to start costing me a lot more money at the repair shop.
This past weekend, we visited a dealership and my husband encouraged me to test-drive a car that, I figured, was out of the price range. He makes more money than I do and I've historically deferred to his budget setting. But I drove it. And loved it. Right size. Right fuel economy. Drove like a dream.
But...I found myself afraid to say so. Money remains a point of power in our relationship. And though, intellectually, I believe that my contribution to our family – not just what I earn but the hours I put in as primary caregiver, meal-preparer, homemaker, pet carer (the list goes on. And on) – puts us on equal footing, the fact that he largely pays the bills creates feelings of disempowerment in me.
However, reading about Melton's consciousness around giving voice to her insides reminded me that I must do the same.
So I did. And now we're negotiating with the car dealership. The sky didn't fall. I didn't stutter or die of shame. Instead, I said I would really like that car if we decide we can afford it. My insides were given voice. And you know what? It feels really good. You know what else? It reminded me that, when I'm afraid to give my insides voice, it rarely has anything to do with the right now and instead is about way back when. Way back when I was told my needs weren't important. Way back when I learned, from my alcoholic mother, that wanting nice things made me selfish.
Lesson learned: Give voice to your insides. Or at the very least, challenge your thoughts about silencing them. Is it really about now? Or are you still being the good girl who doesn't want to rock the boat?

"Maybe, for now, the only right decision is to stop making decisions." There are plenty of sites out there for betrayed wives that offer up a prescription for a marriage in crisis. Some insist the only option is to dump the guy. Others push a marriage-is-sacred agenda. As you all know, I don't presume to know what's right for anyone but me (and I'm often not so sure about me). But this idea that we need to immediately do something in the wake of betrayal forces so many of us who are paralyzed by anxiety, or reeling from the shock to wonder what's wrong with us. Surely this is a no-brainer, right? We should stay. Or go. Or...something. Anything but just sit with our pain and see if the right path reveals itself with time and consideration and a gentle tending to our own hearts.
Lesson Learned: As Doyle Melton writes, "I'm trying to fix my pain with certainty, as if I'm one right choice away from relief. I'm stuck in anxiety quicksand: The harder I try to climb my way out, the lower I sink. The only way to survive is to make no sudden movements, to get comfortable with discomfort, and to find peace without answers."

"We started out as ultrasensitive truth-tellers. We saw everyone around us smiling and repeating "I'm fine! I'm fine! I'm fine!" and we found ourselves unable to join them in all the pretending." This passage stopped me cold. I know there are plenty of emotionally healthy women on this site who's husbands are less so but I cast my lot in with the ultrasensitive truth-tellers who've spent a great deal of their lives being told they're "too sensitive", that they expect "too much", that they should just sit there and look pretty and not expect anyone to care about what's going on inside. My 20s were dedicated to numbing my own anxiety with booze and a crappy boyfriend because admitting my pain sounded self-indulgent. I was a white, middle-class, university-educated woman. What did I have to feel sorry for myself about? I went to therapy, which certainly helped but I buried so much of that pain that it didn't emerge until my husband's affair. And then, it emerged with the thunderous roar of a wounded animal. All that fear – that I wasn't worth loving, that there was something wrong with me, that I didn't deserve good things to happen, that I couldn't trust anyone, that I would always be left for something/someone better – refused to stay buried any longer.
Lesson Learned: And so my healing wasn't just about my husband's betrayal, but my mother's and my father's. And, most of us, the ways in which I'd betrayed myself.

And that's the best part of Love Warrior. It's a love story to ourselves. It's about learning to value our own voice. It's about paying attention to our own hearts. It's about all the things we talk about on this site – holding ourselves with the deepest compassion.

14 comments:

  1. I did not love the book, but felt compelled to read it due to the topic and relevance to my situation. I totally understand it is her story but it was heavy on the eating disorder and alcoholism. I totally get it and am not complaining or criticizing her but I did not connect to much of that content. Also it was heavy on the Christian/religion content. Again I understand she can write what she wants and is known for this. I did not know that going into reading the book so it was a lot for me from my perspective.

    I do think you are right Elle and she had some good thoughts/insights. I think you highlighted some good points in your post. In the end I relate more to you Elle and the other women on this board. What you wrote in your post above is a lot of times how I feel. Especially related to the money. You stated it perfectly. And being betrayed and the possibility of our marriage not lasting made me feel even more insecure financially. It brought that issue to the forefront immediately. Thank you for all you do Elle and all of the other women on this site. You all are so helpful in this journey.

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  2. Elle - Check. Check. Check. I checked same boxes as you. Different circumstances but the same feelings and behaviors. This was a great reminder because it is too easy to slip back in what is comfortable. My self esteem downers are automatic. It isn't like a light switch that I can turn off. It takes everyday and a conscious effort not to go back in that toxic comfortable state. I'm got very good at being in a constant threat mode it is how I survived all my life. But it isn't very good if I want to be happy. I enlisted the help of my husband. Some responses are so automatic I ask him to tell me when I start being negative or overly critical without reason. He feels like he doing something to help me which helps with his issues. It is hard to be vulnerable again. Great advice Elle. Thank you for taking the time out of your life to help someone else.

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  3. Elle
    I came very close to ordering the book and hesitated for fear of the triggers I may have. I'm with Hopeful 30, I have received so much from you and your blog that I'm not sure if reading someone else's story at this point in my healing process would be beneficial. I did read some of her blog and there are a lot of uplifting things in there but ultimately I have learned that it's up to me and my h to decide what is best for us and if we're going to make it a better marriage now is the time to make this happen. One day at a time! Thank you for continuing to give us a safe place to land, wallow if we need to, and just vent out our feelings!

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  4. Great post. Great reminder to be gentle and to listen to our insides. I am starting therapy and just discovering my huge lack of boundaries, that means I frequently ignore my insides. As you also point out for a lot of us in this situation, it is often more than the betrayal, there is other stuff in our stories. At the moment I keep feeling that I want out, but I know deep down I need to work through my issues as they will follow me round if I don't deal with them. Journeying in your personal love story gently, is so needed for us all.

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  5. I will admit to being a bit triggered when I saw her photo with her new partner along with the story about how perfect they are for each other. It seemed to me a bit soon to have developed that close of a relationship with a new person only three months after announcing a separation. And only two months since the divorce of her new partner. Not my business, I know, just triggering about it...

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    1. Anonymous, There's a part of me that thought the exact same thing though I suspect her awareness of her sexuality has been simmering a long time. However, none of us really knows what was going on behind the scenes. I imagine if you've been denying your sexuality for years and then, suddenly, you're free to express it, that's got to be pretty liberating.

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    2. Yes. Same here.
      I actually remember hearing about Abby Wambauch's book earlier this year, and wondering how someone who just recently had incidents of alcoholism, violence, and divorce-- managed to get marketed as a self help guru just a few months later. Not that I discount her, but it also seemed so recent and not nearly enough time to process through and heal. Then I was shocked to hear GMD profess this to be a perfect love. Having gone through the wringer with an addict--I am very cautious and suspicious of perfect love, addicts, and impulsivity. But I know enough not to claim that I know anything about other people's lives and how they live it. And I don't think GMD is blind to the fact that life is hard and relationships are hard and its not all roses.

      That said, most of what GMD proclaims as truths about how she has chosen to live her life, have resonated with me deeply. I understand myself way more, and have gained some steps forward in my life. I am still very, very greatful for this book and GMD's life lessons.

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  6. Liberating yes. But I don't give her a pass either. I feel for her kids. That is a whole boatload of emotional mess she has just handed her kids, who cannot possibly have had time to process their parents recent divorce. And then to have their mother's new relationship go so public. Very gently here, but to me she is talking out of both sides of her mouth. And I'm sad about that, because I truly esteemed her as a writer and a thinker. Having said and finished with that, I loved your thoughts in your post. Gave me much about which to ponder, thank you.

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    1. Anonymous,
      Thanks for your kind words.

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  7. I really like the quicksand analogy and the need not to make any sudden movements. I'm just off a very good weekend with my H. We had lots of alone time and felt very connected. Just like a quick reaction to leave my marriage didn't feel right to me, a quick reaction to stay and lose my constant concern doesn't feel right either. I'm letting go of many things that are allowing my happiness to return, but I want to move very slowly. One fantastic thing that happened to me this week is one of the OW that I obsessed over checking on via social media (she posted about 10 things a day. Seriously, if her dog barfed on the floor, it was posted!) -She made her Instagram account private. Not feeling the need to check on her several times a day and worry over how she looks or if I should confront her or tell her husband has freed me to pursue so many things I'd rather do! I seriously have enough time and energy to pick up a new hobby or run an extra 3 miles a day. These little things propel me forward, and I am thankful that it thickens the quicksand a bit allowing me to move a bit more freely.

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  8. Hello Sisters. Since D-Day I scroll through facebook for hours--marvelling that all of these people "get it". That apparently being happy, financially prudent, raising children with no burdensome mental health concerns--that is something they all figured out. Since D-Day I read style blogs by young women who do things like face "contouring" (it legit looks like they just draw on a new face in tones of salmon, pearl highlight and a weird shitty brown), they look so happy and put together. They clearly have it figured out. They link all the items they are wearing and I buy loads of them--leaving them in boxes in my closet, shuddering at the cost, realizing now that I'm 49 and me, but in the moment--I was THEM and not ME. I was smiling in photos, longing to have my face captured once again to be admired and envied... The truth is I haven't allowed myself to be photographed in years. There is literally no "record" of my existence since the birth of my first child. That is how much the words from my childhood have instructed my life. I wonder if really seeing the true me through the white noise and haze is possible. Is it necessary ? If I place too much importance on knowing and liking myself and it turns out that in fact I am a worthless asshole--well what on Earth do I do then ?

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    1. OAPM, Oh sweetie, you are hurting yourself. You are NOT a worthless asshole. You are smart and funny and beautiful. And it's heartbreaking that you can't see that. All of these people who curate their lives online? It's an illusion. Nobody has it all. Nobody. And frankly, the more someone needs to "contour" themselves or their lives, the emptier they feel inside.
      You are 49 years old! That's awesome. They're going to be 49 someday too. None us stays young. And hallelujah because I'm a whole lot happier than I used to be. A whole lot wrinklier and rounder. But undoubtedly happier.
      Cause here's the thing OAPM: All that "it's what inside that counts" stuff that sounds like bullshit? It's not. It's real. You didn't get cheated on because you weren't pretty enough or young enough or sexy enough. You got cheated on because he wasn't man enough to face his own bullshit stories. C'mon...think of the spectacularly gorgeous women who've been cheated on. It's not about looks or youth or sex appeal. It's just not.
      So...what are you going to do today that feeds your soul rather than the hole in your heart? What can you do to get to know yourself and life yourself? Not something that's intended to improve the outside package but something that feels good inside. That makes you feel happy and alive and grateful. Think about it. I'm sure some of the others can share their ideas. Here's what I do: I hike in the woods and realize how small I am in this big beautiful world but also how integral I am to the people who love me. I read books by smart interesting women (and men) who remind me that every single life will have some heartbreak. I share delicious food with the people I love. I share my privilege with people who have less by volunteering at a soup kitchen and by helping sponsor refugee families fleeing war.
      The people in my world who don't think I'm pretty enough or young enough or sexy enough? I don't pay them any attention because none of that matters. When I'm on my deathbed, I guarantee you I won't wish I'd spent more time in front of the mirror analyzing my crow's feet.
      OAPM, you're comparing your insides to other people's outsides. It's a losing game. Our insides never seem as good as other people's outsides, ESPECIALLY outsides that have been polished and perfected for mass consumption. None of it is real. But you are. And that's beautiful.

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    2. Oh, Elle, this may have been the best thing you have ever written, and OAPM, my heart goes out to you. I'm one of those people who people comment (in person) to me that they think I have the best experiences, the best of everything, only because that is just what happens to be what I post. or what they view as my life is actually like. I don't let anyone know about the betrayal and the sadness which has been major part of my life for a year and a half. Its all an illusion. I only keep it all to myself because of my husband's career and my children, who I hope to shield from all of this mess.
      -Morgan

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    3. One armed pie maker
      I can tell that you much like me have self esteem issues planted from childhood. I'm sorry you're struggling with this too! Just so you know, I found myself becoming a full blown asshole during the time I was processing my pain. In the beginning, I bought make up thinking if I looked beautiful, he wouldn't care about her feelings so much! I'm allergic to eye makeup and using it left my eyes swollen more than my tears! However, this was during the time we were battling for her to leave us alone and she wouldn't so I was left believing for months that her feelings were more important than mine. My self esteem was in the gutter! I was lonely and feeling much unlovable. But with the help of Elle building me up and showing me a better path through this, I found myself believing in me again! I'm almost 60 and realize I will never be that beautiful young woman my h fell in love with but I'm becoming a beautiful mature woman who is good enough and sexy enough for my h to be proud to call his wife. YOU are so not just an asshole and YOU are beautiful inside and out! Give yourself a hug and please know that deep down I think all women feel like this at one time or another! Hugs!

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