Monday, November 28, 2016

Don't Let His Affair Change Who You Are

A.J. Muste, a Dutch-born American clergyman and civil rights activist would stand in front of the White House each night during the Vietnam War holding a candle. A reporter asked him, "Mr. Muste, do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle?"
To which Muste replied, "Oh, I don't do it to change the country, I do it so the country won't change me."

On the inside of my left wrist is new tattoo of a safety pin. You might know that this safety pin movement has gained steam in recent weeks after the election of Donald Trump as a way of signalling to frightened, vulnerable people that they have allies among us. That not all of us see them as "others".
It's my first tattoo and, likely, my last. It's not my only way of reaching out to the marginalized. I also roll up my sleeves to work. But my tattoo's purpose is to remind me, every single day, that kindness matters. That decency matters. That every single one of us matters. And it's to remind me not to let this bully culture change who I am. To hold tight to what I believe even when my beliefs seem drowned out by the angry mobs. 
I feel a vulnerability and anxiety that I haven't felt since the weeks and months and year following D-Day. This sense that the world is unsafe. That there is a darkness that goes deeper than I realized. 
It can be so hard to remember who we are in those moments. When we're confronted with the realization that we were lied to, that the person we trusted with our hearts didn't deserve that trust, it's especially hard to hold on to who we are. Fear lies to us. It tells us that we're a fool. It tells us that we're not good enough and that's why this is happening to us. Which is why it's crucial to stand in the truth of who we are. To remember that we don't deserve this or any betrayal. That, no matter what he or the OW or our "friends" or anyone else is saying, we are not fools. It can be hard to remember what's in our own hearts when those hearts are shattered.
But don't change. I'm not, of course, referring to changing the things that might make you happier, the things that are part of radical self-love and self-care. Develop an exercise program if that makes you feel better. Change your job if you're miserable and unappreciated. Change your drinking habits if they're contributing to problems in your life. Change your clothing if it's time to remind yourself that you're beautiful beneath those sweatpants and stained t-shirt. Change your husband is he continues to reveal himself as someone incapable of or unwilling to become a better person. 
But remember who you are. Remember that you are worthy. That you deserve love and kindness and respect and honesty from anyone you let into your life. 
I'm not suggesting you get a tattoo (although...it didn't hurt as much as I thought it would), but find some way of reminding yourself, all day, every day, who you are. 
It will matter far less what other people say you are if you know better. You can withstand hurtful words when you know those words are simply untrue. 
Healing from betrayal, if there is a silver lining to this coal-black cloud, can offer us a doorway into a deeper relationship with ourselves. It can help us find our way back to who we were before we lost ourselves in serving everyone else's needs.
My safety pin is a symbol to others that I'm an ally but it's also a reminder to be an ally to myself. That kindness doesn't only extend outwards. That we all matter. Including me. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thank-you

For those of you who donate to this site, please know how grateful I am. Creating and curating Betrayed Wives Club has long been a labour of love but the support I receive is so affirming and appreciated. (And to those who often ask, the book is coming...)
Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. members. And happy Thursday to the rest of us. We're on the path toward healing, my wonderful warrior wives. 
thank you

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.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Reimagining: The Holidays

You can color in your holidays however you choose. 
D-Day blows up our world as we know it. Even if others don't see the damage, we do and it impacts every part of our lives, from whether we continue to display wedding photos on a bedside table to whether we start driving a different route to work to whether we put our house up for sale. Changes big and small become our new normal.
And though change can be tough, especially change that we didn't invite into our lives, it can also create renewal. It can spur growth. It can remind us to look around with fresh eyes and examine our lives, to do some metaphorical decluttering.
It's with that intention that I'll be writing some blog posts under the headline: Reimagining...
There's much we can reimagine following a partner's betrayal. Within the darkness, we can shine a light selectively on those parts of our lives that we want to change, whether wholesale reinventions or smaller tweaks that lead us back to our authentic selves.
Let's start with a time of year that's often the source of stress at the best of times, but that also tends to be rooted in deep traditions: The Holidays.

My D-Day was December 10, 1996 so you can probably imagine that Christmas. Merry, it was not. My parents, who were incredibly supportive of me in my agony, nonetheless bore the brunt of my pain. I screamed at my mother for her alcoholism in my childhood, casting my current pain as an extension of the pain I'd felt much of my life and for which I blamed others without self-control. Like her.
My kids, unaware of what was really going on, were on the receiving end of some of my wrath too. Early Boxing Day morning, as I tried to sleep, my year-old son began a fight with his little sister. I stomped downstairs, told him to stop and when did it again, I picked up a discarded box and bonked him on the head with it. He wailed with outrage more than any pain. And to this day, despite sincere apologies by me for losing my temper and "using my hands instead of my words", he reminds me of the "child abuse" he suffered early that morning.
I don't remember much else of that Christmas season beyond misery and anger and a profound disappointment that one of my favorite times of years was "ruined".
I hear that word a lot on this site, especially about the holidays. Birthdays are "ruined", Thanksgiving "ruined", Christmas or Hanukkah "ruined".
And yes, in the short term, there's so much pain and so much disappointment that a holiday pressuring us to put on a happy face and "celebrate" is inevitably going to feel "ruined."
But what if we gave ourselves permission to do things differently? What if, under the circumstances, we gave up this idea that things always had to look a certain way, or include a certain tradition, or involve certain people? Does that seem frightening? At a time when so much feels uncertain, we might want to cling even more tightly to rituals we can trust. But if those rituals are creating more pain, maybe it's time to reinvent them. To remind ourselves that human survival does not depend on whether the turkey includes homemade stuffing, or if our passive-aggressive mother-in-law is at the table, or if we celebrate on a certain calendar day or the day after.
You are in crisis mode. And when you're in crisis mode, old norms don't hold. When you're in crisis mode, you get to make the rules. You get to decide just how much you can handle and how your energy is best expended. Maybe, just maybe, it's more important for you to build in time for a long hike in the woods on Thanksgiving than it is to host your annual gathering of extended family. Maybe, if a separation is part of your post-D-Day world, you can sit down with your kids and redesign this year's holiday, holding on to what brings joy and tossing out what doesn't. If you're going to be alone, maybe this year's holiday includes a volunteer stint at a soup kitchen (don't underestimate the power of realizing that there are many kinds of pain and many opportunities to experience compassion) or maybe what the doctor ordered is a day of watching movies and crying into a bowl of Doritos.
Let me tell you, as someone who reinvented my own holidays in the years since D-Day, the sky is not going to fall. Trust me on this. The laws of nature will hold. One day will follow another. Nothing is worth hurting yourself further when you've already been so hurt.
But there are some rules I'll ask you to adhere to:
Be honest. Start with yourself and figure out what you honestly want given your situation. This isn't about wishful thinking and falling into an abyss of how you shouldn't even have to be dealing with this. You're right. You shouldn't. But you are dealing with it and you can deal with it from a place of honesty with yourself.
Then extend that honesty to everyone around you who will be affected by any changes. Be prepared for backlash because people are freaking crazy about tradition. Be prepared for tears. Be prepared for blame. Be prepared for passive-aggression, for all the countermoves we talk about on this site. Because you're likely doing something you don't often do, which is put yourself first. It's high time people discovered that you are entitled to your feelings too. And if it matters so much to them that the Thanksgiving dinner include your secret gravy, then tell them you'll happily pass that tradition along and that you'll be delighted to savor their version.
If all this seems daunting, then tweak it in ways that serve you. Carve out some alone time with a friend who knows what you're going through. Take that walk with the dog and let everyone else clean up. Or do whatever you can to create a tiny space of peace for you. Changes, big and small.
Check your motives. Don't wreak havoc as a way of expressing your pain. Don't throw out things that genuinely matter to you just to make someone else hurt.
Check your expectations. This year will be different. There's no way around that. Expecting it to feel like "good" years is destined to leave you deflated and disheartened.
Watch for moments of grace: Make it your task to mentally catalogue at least five moments of grace. Maybe it's someone squeezing your hand because they know how hard this is for you. Maybe it's your child or grandchild climbing into your lap and giving you a hug. Maybe it's an overcooked turkey that everyone eats anyway because what's on the plate doesn't matter so much after all and you all realize, more than ever, that hearts are fragile and we need to be gentle with each other. Maybe it's gratitude that you're not in jail for killing your husband. If you're watching for moments of grace, it will be easier to overlook the moments of disappointment, which will be there too.
At the risk of being a silver-linings thinker (though I'm guilty as charged!), the incredible pain of betrayal can also be an opening into another life, one in which we learn to be gentle with ourselves, to hold our hearts in high regard and to create space in our lives only for those who show us they deserve to be there, by treating us with honesty and dignity and respect.
And we can start reimagining that future today.




Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Donald Trump Can Teach Us About Ourselves

Well, it's official. The United States is now being led by a bully, a misogynist, a philanderer.
And while this election has been deeply painful to so many for so many reasons, Trump's victory can be particularly agonizing for those of us who know those behaviours well because we've seen them up close.
My divorced friend Jamie put it this way: "It's like living in my marriage all over again."
It might feel familiar to you too.
The gas-lighting for instance. The insistence that you didn't see what you say you did, that what you think is going on isn't. You're being hysterical. You're over-reacting. You're jealous. Men like this are masters at manipulation. At making you doubt yourself. Doubt is a reasonable response to such insistence that you are the one that has it wrong: well, did I see that? Did he actually say that? And before long, you've walked it back. Maybe I am over-reacting. I have been over-tired lately... What's more, we want to believe we're wrong. We want things to be okay. And so we silence our inner observer who knows damn well that something is going on.
If the gas-lighting doesn't work, the bully shows up. Shut up. Look at you, you're pathetic. I'll walk out that door and never look back. You don't deserve me. You're lucky I'm even here. 
Too often, those words have taken root in our heads and we agree with them. Thing is, none of us "deserves" a guy like this. On the contrary, we deserve respect and kindness and honesty. A bully is only effective is we agree with him, if the words he's flinging at us are words we're telling ourselves. Watch your self-talk. How kind are you to yourself or does your inner dialogue sound more like an abuse: You're such an idiot. How could you be so stupid. What's wrong with you? Pay attention to what you're saying and then talk back in words that speak the real truth. You are worthy. You are a person, like anyone else, who makes mistakes. You deserve love and compassion. 
The misogynist, of course, wants us to believe that objectifying women normal behaviour, "locker room" behaviour. Guys will be guys. That sexual assault – grabbing, groping, unwanted touching, is actually flattering, that we're attractive, we're desirable, he can't keep his hands off of us.
As for cheating, guys are wired this way. It's harmless. A little fun on the side.
It's agonizingly familiar. I don't know a single woman who hasn't been exposed to this type of twisted language and behaviour. If we resist it, we're frigid, bitches and worse. If we give in, we erode our humanity. We detach our bodies from our hearts. We lose our agency.
But just because this behaviour is so god-damned common, it's NOT normal. And it's certainly not harmless.
Part of what keeps us stuck in relationships with these guys is that the behaviour devolves over time. We might slowly become aware that we get a knot in our stomach if he's had a bad day because we're somehow going to be in the line of fire. We might notice that we avoid bringing up certain things because we can predict his response. The accusations, the anger.
We might find ourselves having sex out of a fear that he'll go elsewhere. That we "owe" it to him to make our bodies available. Guys have needs, right?
We might find ourselves wondering, abstractedly, where the "old" us has gone. What's happened to our hobbies? Our friends? Our joy? Our sense that we were okay just the way we were?
Why are we so skittish all the time? So anxious? Why does our mood depend so heavily on his mood? Sure it's natural to want the people we love to be happy but to need them to be happy? That's a sign that something is not right.
Trump is, clearly, a narcissist on a scale that would be comical if it wasn't so dangerous. He's managed to gaslight millions of people. To convince them that his worldview is the accurate one, despite clear factual evidence that he's wrong.
And it's deeply painful to see someone rewarded for such a con when we've lived our lives with the belief that good things happen to good people, that integrity matters. It's not unrelated to our desire to see the OW somehow punished for what she's done when, often, her life goes on pretty much undisturbed by the relationship that has devastated our own. That's not fair, we wail in vain.
But these people can be our teachers. They can make us acutely aware of where, in our relationships, we're not taking care of ourselves. Where we're denying what we know to be true in favor of another's alternate (and crazy) reality. It's not okay, for instance, for your husband to "stay friends" with the person he was cheating with. You being NOT okay with this isn't you being hysterical, it's you setting clear and healthy boundaries. It's you refusing to allow toxic behaviour into your life.
And that's the ultimate – and painful – lesson we can learn from the hell of betrayal and from watching a misogynistic bully on the world stage: We get to build our own lives. We get to parcel out pieces of our hearts only to those people who have shown themselves deserving of them and who value and respect our hearts.
Once you get there, the world becomes so much clearer. That muddy thinking, the but what if I'm over-reacting, what if I'm wrong turns into this is what I know and this is how I'll respond. We become much more self-focussed than other-focussed. We're coming at life from a place of self-respect rather than fear of the other's response.
If you're not there yet, you'll get there. Pay attention to how you've reacted to much of Trump's rhetoric. His "grab them by the pussy" talk, his doubling down on statements that have been easily proven to be lies, his discussion of women based on their faces, their bodies, their availability to him. And then ask yourself when you've felt like that in your marriage, when the knot in the stomach shows up, when the helpless rage begins to simmer, when you feel devalued, unheard, disrespected.
You are none of those things: Not helpless. Not worthless. Not hysterical or crazy or jealous.
You are a woman responding to a situation that is inherently emotionally abusive and arming herself with the tools that are going to help her heal.



Monday, November 7, 2016

Color Our World

My 18-year-old daughter, who's two hours away at university, called me on the weekend. She needed to talk, she said. There's this guy, she said. She likes him.
But? I said.
She's afraid, she said. Every time she likes someone, it ends in heartbreak. Even when she's breaking the other's heart, it hurts too much, she said.
Better, she told me, to just not take the chance.

I remember teen heartbreak. I remember being so shattered by a longtime boyfriend who took up with my best (ha!) friend. I remember realizing that heart+break was the perfect description, so sure was I that I had felt my heart literally shatter. The pain was physical as much as emotional. It hurt to breathe.
And it hurt for a long time.
Even years later, my stomach would twist at mention of either of their names, at a chance encounter with either though they had long since broken up.
And though I fell in love with another, my not-quite-healed heart left me vulnerable to choosing someone else who wasn't, in hindsight, the best choice. Relying on another to heal my broken heart was a mistake, I've learned. Heart healing is an inside job.
It's also part of life, I said to my daughter.
Sure she could simply avoid making herself vulnerable in any way and, therefore, avoid heartbreak, I said.
But at what cost? It's possible this boy isn't interested in her. But, after the sting of rejection fades, she'll be fine as long as she reminds herself that another's assessment of our worth is inherently untrustworthy. Like asking a coal miner to gauge the value of a diamond.
Of course, they might fall madly in love. They might experience that incredible feeling when someone you think is just awesome thinks the exact same thing about you. And together you experience that mad rush of new love that makes the world seem so beautiful that your heart can't contain it all.
And it might end, leaving them with shattered hearts.
But, I reminded her, she's been hurt before. And she survived it. People she felt deeply wounded by inspire little more than a "meh, whatever" from her now.
Hearts are resilient, I told her. Especially hearts as huge as hers is, hearts that make room for so much and so many. 
And the risk is so worth it.
But it starts with stripping ourselves of armour, of fear that we'll be hurt, of that deep shame that tells us we're unlovable. It starts with recognizing, as BrenĂ© Brown says, that being alive means being vulnerable. 
And it starts with understanding that the very thing we think makes us vulnerable, emotional exposure, is also what fuels a beautiful life. Being willing to stand exposed, to be seen with all our flaws and trust that we are lovable, is the whole point. 
Yes, it's scary but that's what courage is. Being scared and doing it anyway.
Yes, it's hard when we know the pain of heartbreak but that's what resilience is. Remembering the pain but being willing to try again. Trusting in our rusty old tool box, the one filled with self-compassion, with kindness, with self-respect, to tend to a heart that gets bruised or battered again.
And yes, it's worth it. Even this formerly shattered wife who, at one point, imagined death as preferable to another moment of the pain of betrayal, would risk it all again. Is risking it all again. There are no guarantees, save one: Closing ourselves off from connection ensures a smaller greyer life.



Thursday, November 3, 2016

Our post-dragon lives

Anyone can slay a dragon
he told me, but try waking up
every morning & loving
the world all over again.

That's what takes a real hero

(From Traveling Light by Brian Andreas)

The crisis is over. The dragon is slain. You've got the details. The decision is made to either stay or go. You've told anyone you're going to tell and hidden your pain from anyone else. All that's left now is...the rest of your life.
Scary huh? The rest of your life. Carrying the knowledge of just how deeply you can be hurt. Understanding just how wrong you can be about your own life and the people in it. But knowing too that maybe you did sorta kinda did know. That maybe that dragon had been circling for a while and you didn't want to see it. Or maybe that damn dragon really was cagey and clever and cunning.
No matter. It's slain.
And now's the time for heroism because it turns out it's not enough to just slay the dragon. We need to carry on, careful to strip ourselves of armour so that our hearts are exposed, but knowing that dragons are real. And that one might show up again.
The rest of our life can seem like a long time when it's dark. When we can barely make out what's around the corner let alone what's far ahead on the road.
And yet, thinking we could see decades ahead was a lie. A delusion that made our world seem safer.
It's not just us whose future is uncertain. None of us really knows what's coming. And for those of us who've been blindsided by any pain, including betrayal, that's particularly terrifying.
And yet, we have our toolbox. The same one we've always had. The one that can hold what we need to get through the days and years ahead: Compassion for ourselves. Boundaries. Self-care. Self-respect.
If we lack those tools, then now is the time to discover them. If we've lost them, now is the time to recover them.
We need them. We've always needed them. If we weren't using them, it's probably because we were relying on somebody else's tools. But somebody else can't build our lives. Only we can do that.
And we do it by being the heroes poet Brian Andreas refers to. By slaying the dragon, sure. But then by waking up every morning afterward and walking forward into our life. By removing the armour that protected us short-term but shields us from open-hearted living. By loving the world even when we know the suffering it can hold. By trusting ourselves to hold that love and that suffering in the same wide-open heart.
Anyone can slay a dragon though I take issue with Andreas' suggestion that it's easy. I think we do it simply because we have little choice when a dragon picks a fight with us but to battle like hell. And it's tempting to reach for our armour rather than our toolbox. To close ourselves from pain rather than arm ourselves with boundaries and self-care and radical compassion.
But the hero isn't the one who slays the dragon so much as the one who lives with the knowledge of them in the world and loves anyway. 

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