Monday, May 30, 2016

Dealing with D-Day: Unleash the outrage

I recently gave this advice to my 17-year-old daughter:
"Tell them to go f*#k themselves. Not those words, necessarily. But instead of apologizing. Instead of wondering what's wrong with you that your "friends" are excluding you, or talking about you, get outraged. How dare they treat you like this? How dare they judge you? How dare they presume to determine your worth? How dare they! They can just go f*#k themselves."
Ahem.
While nowhere in any of the zillion parenting books I read when my kids were young did I find this advice to a teen daughter, I stand by it. I've watched as my formerly self-possessed eldest, the girl who routinely stands up for the downtrodden and maligned, has become the girl most likely to apologize for things she hasn't done. She has no trouble defending her friends. She just can't seem to muster that same sense of outrage for herself. Instead, she doubts herself. She shames herself. She beats herself up for imagined personality flaws.
She assumes that if someone is mad at her, she must have done something wrong. She accepts that it's her job to keep people happy. To not outshine or outperform anyone. To be...nice. To be...likeable.
Yeah? F*#k that!
Remind you of anyone you know? Because it sure sounds like me in my teens. And my twenties. And, well, my thirties.
It wasn't until my husband cheated on me that I found my own sense of outrage. Like my daughter, I'd long been able to champion anyone I felt unfairly treated. I easily found my voice on their behalf. But on my own? Crickets. After all, I didn't want to offend anyone. I didn't want to make a big deal of something. I didn't want to be rejected.
And so...I did nothing when a "friend" moved in on my barely-ex-boyfriend when I was 20. I did nothing when room-mates trashed the apartment I was financially on the hook for. I did nothing when my new mother-in-law started changing the seating arrangement at my wedding to favor her friends and family.
I swallowed my outrage.
And then...he cheated.
Suddenly, I found my voice.
How dare you, I screamed at him. How dare you do this to me? How dare you disrespect me like this? How dare you put my health at risk? How dare you put my children's happiness at risk? How? Dare? You?
Oh, and by the way: F*#k you!
I can't say it felt good. Absolutely nothing felt good for a very long time. But I can say it put me on a path that has, literally, changed my life. While I used to simmer in resentment as people mistook me for a welcome mat, I don't any longer.
And though it felt counter-intuitive to me – I assumed being a friend meant never expecting them to say "I'm sorry" – my relationships are so much better for me having a voice. I recently told a friend that I thought her comments about refugees were racist and misguided. I told another friend that I thought his ideas around spanking children were archaic and harmful. Neither friend has written me off. But if they do, I'm okay with that. Because having a voice and expressing myself respectfully (I only imply "f*#k you" rather than say it outright) has given me deeper relationships based on a mutual appreciation of who we are. I can handle someone disagreeing with me without assuming it's a wholesale rejection of me.
Not long past D-Day, I read a book in which a marriage counsellor wrote that it wasn't the angry betrayed wives he worried about, it was the ones who didn't get angry. The ones who turned their anger inward so that it showed up as depression or shame. While not everyone will express their anger with my particular enthusiasm for four-letter expletives, it's crucial toward our healing to feel it. We should be outraged that our partners – the people we trusted to NOT do this to us – were so cavalier with our hearts and our bodies and our families.
I'm not advocating for anything that will get you arrested. And I'm actively discouraging anything that will terrify your children. What I am encouraging is that you point your outrage toward the person responsible for your pain. That you recognize that, while the time will come to do a post-mortem on your marriage as it was and see where you do things differently going forward, the betrayal is on your partner's shoulders right now and he can darn well deal with it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"Getting Away with It": How Our Desire for Revenge Gets in the Way of Our Healing

If there's one roadblock on the path to healing that trips up pretty much all of us, it's that the Other Woman often, to our eyes, "gets away with it."
"She gets to walk away with no impact on her life," one of us wrote.
"There's no accountability," bemoaned another.
"I'm here in pieces and on her Facebook page are photos of her laughing and showing off a new ring and having fun," raged another.
Ah, the lament of the truly wronged. We not only want karma to hit her hard, we want a front-row seat for it. We want to witness her misery. To relish her pain.

It's a normal impulse. We're hard-wired to want fairness. Ever listened to a five-year-old who's been cheated out of her share of birthday cake? The outrage! The sense of injustice! So it's not at all surprising that when we feel someone has helped herself to something (or someone!) that is ours, we scream for our pound of flesh.
And, yeah, there might be some satisfaction over discovering that her husband tossed her out. Or she lost her job. Or her children hate her guts. Or that she was just diagnosed with cancer. Or got a DUI. But, if you're anything like me, you over-estimated the satisfaction you thought you'd feel from seeing the karma bus run her over. And under-estimated the pain that still sat like an elephant on your heart.
What's more, surely the one overwhelming lesson we can take from a partner's betrayal is that life isn't fair.
I watched the OW get fired, though she negotiated a hefty severance package thanks to my husband's desire to make her go quietly. ("Money earned on her back," I was heard to mutter). But even knowing she felt humiliated and disappointed at losing a job she liked didn't really change anything. Getting fired was the logical consequence for someone who spent more time at her job looking for men to screw than clients to sign so, in that sense, she didn't "get away with it." Her pain didn't make mine any more bearable. It simply kept me hooked into her life, connected to her by bitterness.
Besides, a few years later, I heard she had found a new job, gotten married and was pregnant. So much for payback.
By then, however, I was able to respond in a way I couldn't have imagined closer to D-Day. I was able to hope she'd done some real reckoning with her choices and was able to be a good wife, a good mother. I knew her own parents had sucked and I hoped she was able to create a better home than the one she'd been raised in.
That ability to offer up even the teensiest bit of compassion for her was a big part of my own healing. By letting go of my focus on her and her life, I was free to focus on me and how the hell I was going to get through this agony. Besides, her life was a mess. Had always been. And that's the thing with so many of these Other Woman. There are exceptions to the train-wreck OWs that populate our lives, sure. But, c'mon, people who get involved with married men are, almost by definition, people who lack healthy boundaries, a moral compass, and self-respect. While we may not see them pay for their transgressions, they pretty much write their own endings. And they're rarely "happily ever after."
So no matter how much it looks like they "got away with it", know this: If they are capable of the smallest bit of self-examination, they didn't get away with a thing. They know exactly what they did and the deception and pain they helped create is something they will live with for the rest of their lives. Those who are incapable or unwilling to take responsibility for the role they played? They can play all the moral gymnastics they want to convince themselves – and others – that they weren't the ones who did anything wrong. ("I wasn't the one who made any vows"; "We didn't intend to hurt anyone." "It just happened." "We're free to love who we want" and blah blah bullshit blah). But those who go through life without any regard or respect for anyone's feelings but their own will inevitably live lives that are small and sad and lonely.
Most of us won't get that front-row seat for the OW's pain. We' won't be there for their 3 a.m. moments of reckoning when the weight of their choices sits on our chests.
All we can do is focus on our own healing. Trust in our own strength. And continue to be guided by our own integrity. There's no shortcut through the pain of betrayal. But refusing to remain hooked into the messy lives of these OW will ensure that our own path toward healing has fewer roadblocks.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Time Conceals All Wounds: Why Waiting Out the Pain Isn't Enough

Over on the Multiple Affairs thread, there's a common story. A husband cheated, "I forgave him" and now, here she is again. It's chilling to those of us who've chosen to give our husband's a second chance. It feeds our fear that he'll cheat again and we'll have nobody to blame but our stupid selves for trusting him.
But here's the thing. The "I forgave him" narrative rarely includes the blood, sweat and buckets of tears that we know needs to precede forgiveness. Forgiveness isn't a willingness to pretend the betrayal never happened. It's a decision to no longer let that betrayal hold us hostage.
It can be tempting, if your husband is of the "I'm sorry. It won't happen again. But I can't live with you constantly harping about my affair" variety, to let time work magic. Sure there might be a pit in your stomach when he comes home late and, sure, you may have nagging fears, but those feelings are manageable. They're not that I-can't-breathe down on your knees agony of first finding out. Time hasn't so much healed your pain but concealed it. Tucking our pain away allows us to function in our lives. It can mimic healing in a way that fools even us.
My heart still thuds when I remember the agonizing gut-punch of D-Day. It felt crippling. Our impulse is to run from pain. To make promises, to rush to forgiveness, to minimize – anything to reduce the heartbreak, anything to make the pain even slightly more bearable.
But pain will hide in the shadows. It will show up as irritability. It will show up as headaches, stomach issues, chronic illness. It will show up as self-harm. Too much drinking. Too much eating. Too much exercise. Too much Facebook. Too little gentleness or kindness with yourself. Too little stillness. Too little consideration for your own wants and needs.
We need to avoid that impulse to rush toward healing. We need to keep our pain somewhere we can continue to chip away at it. To let ourselves really feel it. To trust that our pain has something important to teach us about our worth, our boundaries, our hearts and that, if we'll let it, it can also show us the way forward.
When we look at the stories of our lives – stories that include heartbreak of all kinds: illnesses, losses, betrayals – we discover that within those times of being broken open, we reinvent ourselves. We draw clearer lines around what we want in our lives, we re-examine behaviour patterns that are no longer serving us, we reconsider the people we surround ourselves with and become more discerning.
Time is no magical elixir without a willingness to go deep into it in order to emerge stronger.
Don't fear the darkness because without it, you wouldn't be able to see the light ahead calling you forward. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Love yourself like a mother

I've watched my Facebook page fill with photos of smiling mothers, heartfelt posts by children who love their mothers, and wistful posts by those who miss their mothers or miss their children.
What comes through is the fierceness of that love.
And that, my warrior sisters in this club none of us wanted to join, is what I wish for you. That you take that fierce mother love that you feel for your children, that you felt from your mother or what you SHOULD have felt from your mother, and wrap yourself in it. Arm yourself with it.
You are enough.
That your partner or parent or sister or boss or whomever can't see your value doesn't make you worth less. A diamond unrecognized is still a diamond.
Love yourselves like a mother. Ferociously. Fiercely. Forever.

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