Thursday, March 31, 2016

How do we go on?

"You go on by doing the best you can. You go on by being generous. You go on by being true. You go on by offering comfort to others who can't go on. You go on by allowing the unbearable days to pass and allowing the pleasure in other days."
~Cheryl Strayed, from "The Obliterated Place" in Tiny Beautiful Things

The first person I called was my mother. I don't remember the words I used to tell her I'd just found out my husband was having an affair. But I do remember asking her how to go on. How to go on when I'd just found out the person I'd built my life with was a liar. How to go on when my entire world felt shattered. How to go on when I couldn't imagine getting through the next five minutes, let alone the next week, or month, or year, or lifetime.
So many of you arrive here, on the shores of the Betrayed Wives Club with that same question: How to go on. So many of us are surprised by the depth of our pain. We might have imagined anger. We might have anticipated hurt. But this existential agony? This inability to imagine a future for ourselves free of pain? How does one prepare for that?
We cling to the experts who tell us that it takes anywhere from three to five years to heal from betrayal. We remind ourselves of the stages of grief. We look to those ahead of us who promise us that healing will come. But How to go on?
Strayed's advice is wise. "You go on by doing the best you can." Some days that "best" might be pulling the covers over your head. It might be sitting in your car sobbing after work. But other days...other days it might be noticing that the birds have returned outside your window. It might be laughing at something your child said and realizing that you had a split second where you weren't consumed with fear of what's next.
"You go on by being generous. You go on by being true." We can let betrayal make us bitter. It's all too easy to allow our anger to consume us and color the whole world black. But anger is hurt and fear wearing false armor. Anger needs your attention, absolutely. But we go on by acknowledging the hurt and fear we feel...and then being our better selves. Being generous with ourselves and those around us. Being true to ourselves and those around us.
"You go on by offering comfort to others who can't go on." This site, this "club" of me-too warriors of betrayal, has given me so much. Every day I'm struck by the kindness of all of you, the compassion with which you respond to each others' pain. By extending that hand to another, we strengthen ourselves too. By comforting each other, we heal ourselves.
"You go on by allowing the unbearable days to pass and allowing the pleasure in other days." Feelings are not facts. None of us will feel this pain forever if we take the steps to heal. We can endure the pain, knowing that it will pass.
How to go on? We go on by trusting in our ability to get through this. We go on by knowing that we don't deserve this but that many of us face pain in our lives we don't deserve. We go on because the alternative is to not go on and that's a permanent response to temporary pain.
We go on because life is beautiful and exquisite and pain is part of that. And pain can be forged into healing that contributes to our wisdom and our compassion and our own beauty.
We go on.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Guest Post: Quick tips on how to survive betrayal hell

Awhile back, Iris, who's a longtime member of our club, responded to a newcomer wondering just how to proceed with a husband who didn't seem committed to reconciling.
As usual, Iris offered up her perfect blend of common sense alongside compassion and encouragement.
I asked if I could reprint her comment as a short post so more can benefit from it. Here it is:

Quick tips on how to survive betrayal hell
by Iris

Wondering whether to stay or go? Not sure he's committed to reconciliation? 
He's dragging his feet?
Get a free half hour with a family law firm, more than one if uncertain who would be best. Find out what your rights are and if this is new to you and you are not actually a lawyer yourself, what the process of divorce would look like. Doing this makes these huge decisions less frightening. You don't have to start proceedings. Make it clear to your husband that you will not tolerate him staying in contact with this third party and that if he wants to stay married he must be prepared to share his passwords with you and recommit to your marriage. Sadly there's no guarantee that he won't take his behaviour further underground, but you will have stated your position. He should know that you're prepared to move on if he continues to disrespect you. If you're able to, explain this calmly and without getting angry or upset. I know this is hard but it makes things easier for him to hear and understand and is less exhausting for you. Realising that you're prepared to walk away may well wake him up to the reality he's created. 

But I'm doing "okay"...
You can do better than 'bumping along ok', frankly. Not worth staying around to return to that. Look at what YOU want, at who you want to be. Make a mental inventory of your skills and successes and all the things your family and friends love about you (I know, we don't do this) and award yourself your full attention.

Should we be in couples counselling?
Hard to have couples counselling until he's firmly out of the fog and committed to transparency. Your counsellor sounds good but it may be better if your husband sees someone individually. I think you'd do well to insist on this, however painful he finds it. You too. You will need to know the full extent of his activities (better for him to be honest, trickle truth is so destructive). Recovery after these blows takes real courage. I hope he realises what a gift you're giving him even considering it.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Feelings are not facts and they are not forever

I think one of the issues that we have is that we don't necessarily recognize that a thought is just a thought. We have a certain thought, we take it to heart, we build a future on it, we think, "This is the only thing I'll ever feel", "I'm an angry person and I always will be", "I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life", and that process happens pretty quickly.
~Sharon Salzberg

My life is in transition. Or more accurately, the lives of those around me – three teenagers – are in transition and therefore mine is too. My eldest is thinking about colleges and careers, my middle one is embracing high school, and my youngest, just turned 13, has discovered the mirror and the face she sees reflected back at her. 
And I am increasingly relegated to the sidelines. Having been the first person my kids turned to for anything, whether for dinner, help with homework, or an aching heart, these days I'm more often on the outside of conversations between my kids and their friends. It's developmentally appropriate, of course. I know this. I understand the power of the peer group and know that my young adults need to venture forth to test out their wings while the nest is still near enough for retreat when necessary.
But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.
And so I find myself, more than I'd like to admit, convinced that this sadness will follow me the rest of my life. That the best days are behind me. That I spent the potentially best years of my career focussed on raising children. That I squandered years nursing my broken heart post D-Day. 
I wallow in maudlin thoughts. That's probably the last time I'll ever push my child on a swing, I think. I've probably run my last 10K race, I figure. I doubt I'll ever write a bestselling book, I tell myself.
I feel old. Tossed aside. My best years behind me.
I felt that way after D-Day, of course. I couldn't imagine that I would ever EVER feel okay again. I was sure that the rest of my life, whether I stayed in my marriage or threw him out, would be misery.
I laugh at that now, grateful to have been so wrong.
But here I am, learning the lesson again. I'm sad and sadness can feel like a heavy blanket that we can't imagine getting out from beneath.

But that's today. Today I'm overtired having entertained 20 guests for dinner last night. Today I ate carrot cake for lunch so feel kinda gross. Today I decided not to go for a hike, which always makes me feel better, and instead to focus on the many ways in which my children are breaking my heart. 
I have to remind myself that today is not forever. Today is A week ago, I felt on top of the world. A week ago, I was in love with my life. A week ago, I felt certain that my career was on an upward trajectory, that many of the seeds I've sown are taking root. I felt adored by my children, cherished by my husband.
My wonderful therapist whose words stay with me long since we've stopped seeing each other used to remind me, gently and consistently, that "feelings are not facts." This was usually in response to some declaration I would make. "I'm miserable," I would say. "I can't live like this for another minute."
"Feelings are not facts," she would say and, at first, I was annoyed. What the hell did that mean? If I don't follow my feelings, then how do I know which course to take?
Her point, of course, was that feelings change. Sometimes over years, sometimes over a day. She wasn't advising against following my feelings, she was advising against making life-altering decisions based on what I was feeling at that exact moment. Sit with them, she would suggest. See if you feel the same way tomorrow. See if you feel the same way after you initiate a difficult conversation. See if these are feelings or facts. 
I try to remember this as I'm called upon to drive my 17-year-old to her boyfriend's place. I'm reminded that just six months ago she felt sure she would never, ever like another boy again, after the one who'd been careless with her heart. And yet, here she is. Smitten. The other boy relegated to the well-that-was-a-mistake pile. 
And even though all she needs from me right now is a drive and I feel small and purposeless, I know that tomorrow will be different. Each day will take my kids further away from me, which is as it should be. But each day can take me deeper into my relationship with my husband. It can open up the time I've long sought to devote to my work. It can provide the space to revive friendships that have languished during the busy years of parenting, interests I've wanted to pursue. 
Today I'm sad.
But tomorrow and the many tomorrows to come can be different. Just like the many yesterdays have been. A blend of sad and happy and confused and hopeful and a zillion other feelings that make up life. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

One question that changes everything: Is it true?

"Perhaps the most important revelation is precisely this: that the left cerebral hemisphere of humans is prone to fabricating verbal narratives that do not necessarily accord with the truth."
~Antonio Damasio, neuroscientist
We all have a story we tell ourselves. Our story might change over the years or it might not. We might be aware of the story or, often the case, we might not have a clue. Most of us go through life with no awareness that our perception is a construct, a story we make up as we go along, editing out things that don't fit with our overall narrative, misreading others' behaviour or otherwise fictionalizing our story.

My story was this: My parents drink too much and don't care about me enough to stop. If anyone finds out about my parents, I'll be rejected. I am not as good as other people. My family is to be hidden. My pain is to be hidden.

I lived that story for many, many years – well into adulthood. I hid behind a smile and a caustic wit. I dressed the part, all the while feeling a total fraud about to be exposed at any moment.
No matter that, as time went on, there was plenty of evidence that it wasn't true. I was doing well in my career. I had many friends.

By the time I met my husband, I was rewriting my story. Thanks to therapy, I'd come to terms with my parents' drinking and my messed up childhood. I had forgiven myself for being...myself. I'd learned to challenge my story with one question that changed everything:
Is it true?
Is it true? is a question that pulls our stories from the shadows of our minds and, like an interrogation by the KGB, shines a cold light on them and asks them to 'fess up.
And it's a crucial question to ask in the wake of betrayal when what we're telling ourselves – and sometimes what we're being told by a delusional cheating spouse – is total fiction.
When I first figure out that my husband was cheating, I immediately reverted to my long-held story about my own inadequacy. I wasn't beautiful enough. I wasn't sexy enough. I wasn't interesting enough. No matter that the OW was none of those things, I remained convinced that it was my own failings that led to his cheating.
Challenging those things was the healthiest thing I could have done. Is it true that he cheated because I wasn't beautiful enough? Or sexy enough? Or fill-in-the-blank-enough? Well...

I learned all I could about affairs. About why people stray, why they lie, why they risk their marriages – marriages that many of them actually cherish. And I learned that affairs rarely have anything to do with trying to trade up, particularly affairs in which the cheating partner has no intention of leaving his wife. Instead, I learned that affairs are about escape. They're about avoiding uncomfortable feelings about one's own failings. In other words, he doesn't cheat because of what's wrong with you, he cheats because of what's wrong with him.

But too many of us stay locked in our story about affairs, urged on by a culture that still thinks men cheat because wives are frigid, or fat, or too busy with the children, or too focussed on our careers. We blame ourselves when the blame belongs squarely on the shoulders of the cheater.

Take a close look at what story you're telling yourself. Listen closely because our stories are whispers more often than shouts. Pay attention and challenge what you're telling yourself with one question:
Is it true?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

How to Make Couples Therapy Work

Couples therapy taught me that no one can change someone else’s habits (which is pretty much the only goal anyone has when they go to couples therapy,) but you can shake things up for the other person. Just change what you do yourself—it’s like a system of inter-locking gears. If you turn one gear, all the gears respond. Small changes you make to one habit ripple through to others in unexpected ways.
~Penelope Trunk

The first couples therapist my husband and I went to was a jerk. We were there because I felt detached from my marriage. My husband and I were busy with three kids and two careers. I had found myself attracted to a guy I met through work. I recognized this as unhealthy for my marriage, which I nonetheless thought was pretty solid. 
The therapist told me I had rose-colored glasses about my marriage. He told me I was angry. He suggested I was full of resentment.
I told him he was wrong. 
He wasn't. I just wasn't ready to admit it yet, even to myself.
What I didn't know what that my husband was already cheating on me. Had been cheating on me since pretty much day one of our relationship. And while I'm not convinced the therapist knew, he sensed something wasn't right. So while he might have been a jerk, he wasn't an idiot.
Nonetheless, once I found out about the cheating, I found this therapist's confrontational attitude more than I could stand in my fragile state. What's more, I wasn't sure I wanted to stay married. It seemed dumb to spend time with a gruff, unsympathetic therapist to save a marriage I thought wasn't worth saving.
So I fired him and put my husband on notice.
The next guy, about two years later, suggested that my husband was bisexual, though my husband insisted (and continues to insist) he wasn't. His most frequent recommendation for our marital distress was "wine time" – an hour or so at day's end during which we were supposed to decompress and reconnect (and, apparently, polish off a bottle of wine). Might work for garden-variety relationship issues but we felt little incentive. It felt like we were skating on the surface of a pond that still held some monsters.
We waited another couple of years – during which we continued to, sporadically, have individual counselling. 
By the time we found our current couples therapist, we were on solid ground individually. We were through the agony of the early post-D-Day period, had made our way through the plain of lethal flatness, and felt fully committed to being in our marriage. We were looking for someone to help us clean up some residual stuff, like my trust issues. Like my husband's desire to pretend I didn't have trust issues. 
From the beginning, she was wonderful. She made it clear that she wasn't there to pick sides. Nonetheless, I thought she was secretly on my side and my husband felt that she was secretly on his side. She has a masterful way of getting each of us to really examine our behaviour within the relationship, and ask ourselves whether it's getting us what we claim we want – a deeper intimacy with each other. Suddenly, fighting over who did the dishes more often seemed a distraction more than the problem itself. She was equally masterful at getting us to peel back the layers of our problems to get to the root beneath it. For me, usually, it was about fear. For my husband, usually, it was about fear. I suspect, for most of us, our problems are rooted in fear. Fear of abandonment. Fear of not measuring up. Fear of intimacy. Fear, fear, fear.
Thing is, once you pull that fear into the light, it loses its power. Put under the microscope, it seemed easy to see that fear was stopping me from getting what I wanted. Stopping my husband from getting what he wanted. It was a wall between us that prevented us from letting each other into the most vulnerable parts of ourselves. It held us back from a deeper compassion for each other but especially for ourselves.
And that is what Penelope Trunk is getting at in the quote above. 
Couples therapy might seem like the chance to get an ally in your battle to prove that you're right and your husband is wrong. It's so tempting, especially if you've long felt silenced in your marriage, to give voice to your complaints and be rewarded with someone who agrees with you that your husband is an ass. And sometimes, it's necessary to point out when either partner is truly being an ass, especially when one of those partners has betrayed the other. There's no way to split the guilt with that. He cheated. That's on him.
But if we're genuinely interested in rebuilding a marriage, couples therapy is the chance for each of us to examine the role we play, which gear we turn by our actions. And by shifting our own behaviour within the relationship, we can often move the whole relationship closer to one that serves our needs and feeds our soul.
You can never change another person. Going into therapy with the desire for that person to suddenly see the light is a waste of everybody's time. That might happen, absolutely. But it more likely won't.
However, going into couples therapy with the goal of learning where you fit in, what role you've played and even whether or not this relationship is is worth saving, can absolutely change your life.


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