Monday, April 24, 2017

Feeling all the feels

"Human emotions are a package deal. Repressing unpleasant feelings anesthetizes us, rendering us numb to joy as well as to pain. The only way out of numbness is to plow directly through the very emotional hell we hope to avoid. And if we can help one another through this process, our lives become infinitely richer in purpose, meaning, and peace."
~Martha Beck, O columnist and author 

Isn't that pretty much why we're all here? To help each other through this process? And yet, I wonder how many of us use this site as a way of distracting themselves from their emotional hell. How many of us in the midst of a full-body collapse – sobbing, heaving, kick-in-the-gut agony – lurch to our computers, punch in a Google search and find themselves here or on another site. Reading, scrolling. Obsessively. Searching for a way out.
While it's wonderful (and indeed the whole point of this site) that women recognize themselves on the screen and – hallelujah! – realize they're not alone in their pain, there is an army of soul warriors waging war on the same foe, it's not a substitute for the battle itself. In other words, you've got company but you still have to show up to the battle. And by that I mean, feel those feelings. Those horrible awful nasty feelings. That "emotional hell", as Martha Beck puts it.
It is, indeed, hell. It's dark and ugly and angry and sad. It's thoughts like I'm worthless or nobody will ever love me or there's something wrong with me. It's fears like I'll always be alone, I'll be destitute, living in a refrigerator carton or my children will like the OW more than me. Even if those thoughts aren't fully articulated, they're there. Dancing at the edge of your clouded brain. Taunting you with their cruelty. 
And so, who wouldn't want to distract themselves? To turn on the computer and read about others' pain instead of feeling your own? Post a few "chin up" comments or "I'm with you" remarks. All well and good and kind and thoughtful. Misery mitigated by company.
But it's no substitute for feeling your own feelings. For being engulfed by the pain until it gives way and you can spot joy in the distance.
I wish I had better news. I wish I could tell that if you just help enough other people, your own pain will dissipate (it helps...but isn't magic).
I wish I could point to a certain book or a certain exercise or a certain meditation as the panacea for dealing with betrayal. All those things help. They really do. Writing down your pain, walking through your pain, meditating through your pain, sharing your pain. But they help because they force you to focus on your pain. To feel all the feels, as the cool kids on social media put it. In the end, that is the key. Feeling your pain. Not going around it, or ducking under it, or numbing yourself to it. Feeling it. I know. Sucks, right?
But here's a secret: You're strong enough. You're smart enough. You're warrior enough. You can feel those horrible, awful, nasty feelings – you can withstand those thoughts so dark you can't even whisper them to another person. 
And that darkness will give way to joy. Eventually. Not today, maybe not tomorrow. But eventually. And when you do, you'll carry that secret inside: That you're strong enough. 
Smart enough. 
Warrior enough. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

How-to Apologize for Breaking Your Wife's Heart: A guide for husbands

Often I hear something like, “I told you I was sorry about the affair ten times so let’s drop it already.”  That won’t cut it. High-stakes situations calls for an apology that’s a long distance run—where we open our heart and listen to the feelings of the hurt party on more than one occasion. There’s no greater gift, or one more difficult to offer, than the gift of wholehearted listening to that kind of anger and pain when we are being accused of causing it.
~Harriet Lerner, author of The Dance of Anger and Why Won't You Apologize: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts

Okay husbands, this one's for you.

Most of you likely didn't respond to your wife's pain around your betrayal the way renowned relationship expert Harriet Lerner suggests, above. If you're like most guys, you said you were sorry, promised it would never happen again, it meant nothing for chrissakes, can we drop it already? And then you really really hoped that she would forgive you, you'd have makeup sex and then move forward into the rest of your lives. She might even be a little bit more appreciative of you now that she knew you had other options, right?
If you were a bit more realistic than that, you figured you'd go to a marriage counsellor a half-dozen times, let her cry, bow your head with genuine remorse and even endure the insults she'd throw at you. And then, thank god, move forward into the rest of your lives.
It likely hasn't worked out like that. 
But here's the thing: It hasn't worked out like we hoped it would either. Never did we imagine how excruciating betrayal was. Never did we think we'd come as unhinged as we did. We figured we'd be mad. We might execute some funny but biting revenge, like in the movies. We might meet our girlfriends and sob into a martini. But we didn't imagine there would be days we couldn't get out of bed. We didn't anticipate the confusion, the mental fog, the dull dread that took root in our stomachs or the stabbing pain in which, we swear, we could feel our hearts actually breaking. 
We didn't think that, even months later, a song on the radio could reduce us to a sobbing ball on the floor. Or that a chance encounter with your affair partner could unleash in us a fury that threatened to swallow us (and you!) whole. 
I've been there. So has my (still) husband. Ten years later, we know a thing or two about getting through this.
You? My guess is you're in uncharted water. Well, so is your wife. So, in the interest in helping you help her through these treacherous days, weeks, months, here's your guide to apologizing for breaking her heart:
1. Apologize. Sounds simple, right? It's not. Do everything you can to imagine her pain. Look directly into her eyes and don't look away. See just how deep that agony goes. And then tell her how sorry you are that you weren't the husband you should have been. That she did nothing to deserve this betrayal. Repeat, as often as necessary.
2. Be transparent. Here's the thing about asking us to "trust me again because I've learned my lesson": Ain't gonna happen. She's sad, not stupid. You've shown her you aren't to be trusted. That's the problem with lying and cheating. It's easy to squander trust. It's really hard to earn it back. And that's what you're doing now. Earning it back. Bit by bit. By showing her, not telling her but showing her, that you are where you say you are, that you're with who you say you're with. I know you feel like a child. I know it's humiliating to have no privacy. Do this right and you won't live like this forever. But for now, you need to prove that you're worth taking another gamble on. And you prove that by being willing to sacrifice your privacy. If she's not worth it to you, then do yourselves a favor and leave. 
3. Work really hard to understand why you did what you did. Face your demons. You wouldn't have done such harm if you weren't struggling with your own self-worth. Go to a therapist. Doesn't matter if you don't "believe" in therapy. There's a reason you risked everything that mattered to you for someone who didn't. Figure out what it is with someone who's been trained to help you. You're no good to us until you've worked out your own shame around what you've done. Until then, you're going to try and deflect, you're going to minimize, you're going to defend. None of which moves us toward healing. All of which compounds our own pain and isolation. Fix yourself first. Oh, and by the way, don't ever cheat on her again. Ever. 
4. When she tells you what she needs, give it to her. If she wants you to read a certain book, then read it. If she wants you to call home if you're going to be late, do it. If she needs space, give it to her. If she needs closeness, give it to her. Understand that you're asking her to do the hardest thing she's ever had to do: Forgive her best friend for lying to her, for jeopardizing her physical and mental health, for subjecting her to humiliation and gossip, for betrayed the promise you made to her. What is she asking you to do? Bring her flowers. Make a bit more effort to select a Mother's Day card. Compliment her. Make yourself uncomfortable by talking about your shame. Doesn't seem like too much after all, does it?
5. Help her carry the pain. You do this by understanding it. You do this by really listening to her, over and over and over. Yes, it gets exhausting (it is for us, too). It doesn't mean you have to endure abuse, emotional or physical. Its just means that, by listening to us, by answering our questions even if we've asked the same ones repeatedly (you'd be amazed at how fuzzy our brains are), you're helping us process our pain. You're shouldering a bit of the burden for us. You're showing us that our hearts can be safe with you again. We're grateful for that, though it might be a few months before we can show it. 
6. Be patient. Healing takes a long time. Three to five years, by many experts' calculus. That doesn't mean you'll both be miserable for that long. But it does mean that there will be setbacks. There will be triggers, large and small, that reduce her to a sobbing mess, that feel as though you're back where you started. You aren't. It's a setback. And it can even be a chance for you two to remember you're on the same team, that you're working together to rebuild your marriage. Double down on the genuine remorse for creating this pain. Remind her again that you're working hard to make sure she never goes through that pain. And then, for good measure, tell her that you're the luckiest guy in the world and that you're going to spend the rest of your life earning the second chance she gave you. And that she'll never have to give you a third.

None of this is easy. But it is worth it. If rebuilding your marriage is what you want, I guarantee that following these steps will get you a whole lot closer to that goal. I can't guarantee that your wife will be able to move past the pain. I can't promise that she will forgive you. I have no idea whether she'll respond with a revenge affair, or file for divorce anyway, or just make your life miserable for eternity. But I do know that you will have done what you could to begin to make reparations for the damage you caused. And I also know that, no matter what happens, you will have begun to live your life with integrity. Which means that, whatever happens next, you're going to be a better man for it. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The cost of staying silent

"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard."
~Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions

I had the pleasure, on Saturday morning, of speaking with Christina Ferguson, a betrayed wife and creator of an event to help betrayed wives heal. And one of the things we both lamented was the silencing of our stories. 

It's a big part of why she created this upcoming event and, of course, a big part of why I created this site. I absolutely am convinced that by telling our stories, we begin to heal. By claiming our experience as real, as important, as ours to tell, it begins a powershift, in which our story no longer controls us but rather, the other way around. 
The world does not make it easy. There are plenty of barriers in the way. Whether it's our own desire to protect our partner from others' judgement, our own fear of judgement, a determination to protect our children or simply a lifetime of believing that we shouldn't air our dirty laundry, staying silent often becomes our default response.
 But what Rebecca Solnit reminds us with her quote is that there's a price we pay for our silence. Indeed, silence IS the price. Silence is repression, it is an eraser of our experience (though it magnifies our pain), it is the cry that goes unheard and therefore, unresponded to. Making our cry audible says that we exist, that we matter. It insists on a response.
And that, too, can be troublesome. By making our cry audible and calling out for a response, we risk blame, judgment, rejection.
And yet, can anything the world says to us be worse than what we're saying to ourselves? As my brilliant therapist used to remind me, it isn't what others are saying that's the problem, it's that I'm agreeing with them, it's what I'm saying.
What's more, despite our fears, if we choose whom to trust with our stories, we're far more likely to be greeted with compassion, warmth, and a genuine appreciation for being trusted with our pain. As I am lucky enough to see every single day on this site, sharing our stories creates community. It lets us lay down our pain, even just for a few minutes while others pick it up and carry it for us. "Me too," they say. Or "I've  been thinking about you and hoping you're okay." 
And in that moment, with our story trusted to those who know better than anyone just how badly we're hurting, we exhale. The vise around our hearts loosens just a bit. And, for a moment, we sense the power of our stories to help us heal, and to help others heal too.

If you want to share your story, there's no "right" way to do it. Post it in the comments, or find one of the threads that suits and post there. I read every single story and hold it in my heart, even if I don't have time to respond to every one. And the others will pull you close. You are welcome here. You have found a safe space. You are among friends.

Monday, April 10, 2017

I'm certain about uncertainty

We have, says the brilliant Rebecca Solnit, “a desire to make certain what is uncertain, to know what is unknowable, to turn the flight across the sky into the roast upon the plate, to classify and contain.” 
She's referring to art and culture but her observation, of course, applies to life. 
Humans hate uncertainty.
And we betrayed wives especially hate uncertainty. It dogs us as we try to move through the pain.
"But what if I stay and he cheats again?" 
"What if I regret staying?" 
"What if I leave and then regret it?" 
"What if I leave and he ends up with her?"
Oh, for a crystal ball that will make our choice clear.

We're not alone, of course. My 18-year-old, finishing up her first year at university, is desperate for certainty. She wants to know that her major will lead to a good job. She wants to know that the guy she likes likes her back. She wants to know that she'll succeed at the summer job she's landed. She, like all of us, just wants to know. Certainty.
For her, of course, the stakes feel impossibly high. "This is the rest of my life!" she points out to me in frustration, in response to my "take it one step at a time" urging. 
Thing is, it's not the rest of her life. It's right now.
Five years from now, her life might look very different. One year from now, her like might look very different. Opportunities will have come her way that she can't imagine. Doors might have shut that seemed like sure things. Friends will have come and gone. Dreams will have been shaped.
And the same holds true for you.
Betrayal exposes something we had cleverly hidden from ourselves: Life is uncertain. People are unpredictable. Promises can be broken.
And while betrayal's impact extends far beyond garden-variety disappointment, it's an impact that many many of us experience. There are, literally, millions of us going through the same pain. 
There's comfort in that, whether we see it or not. The millions surviving this are proceeding to live despite the realization of how uncertain any of our futures are. 
For me, learning to proceed in the face of such uncertainty, meant getting comfortable with it. It meant understanding that I'd really been living with it all along. That this idea I had –that a marriage vow was intractable – was an illusion. Had always been. We can never ever be certain about anyone, even when that person is standing in front of us promising fidelity and honesty and 'til death do us part.' 
Sounds harsh, I know. But it's become a form of liberation for me. Understanding that being with my husband is a choice, every single day, makes me more grateful for his presence. Knowing that I could leave tomorrow, and so could he, makes our time more precious. 
And that understanding has held for so many of life's uncertainties. My 88-year-old father is on borrowed time, despite his health. But I have him today.
Journalism, my chosen career, is a shaky field at the moment. But I have work today. 
I only need to know where I want to be today. I only need to know what I want today. And then to set about living that choice. 
Nobody can promise you anything further because people are complicated. We're unpredictable. Life is complicated and unpredictable. And certainty is an illusion no matter how real we thought it was. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Do you need to be "reasonable" after betrayal?

There was a conversation on this site in one of the threads about what's "reasonable" for us to expect of our partners after discovering his affair(s). It was phrased something along the lines of "what's reasonable for me to be able to ask him to do."
I responded with something like this: when someone is asking for your forgiveness, then you get to set the terms of that.
But what I think I should have written was:
"He's asking you to forgive a choice he made, in which you weren't consulted, and that was a direct threat to you, your marriage, your family and your health. It's "reasonable" to expect you not to kill him. Anything else is on the table."
Or, as Steam puts it,

"My heartbreak, my rules."

I sometimes think that all our discussion on this site (damn, we're mature!) around boundaries, around acknowledging his pain, around learning to listen to each other, being curious rather than judgemental can eclipse this basic rule of rebuilding a marriage after betrayal: You get to set the terms of reconciliation. He's asking you to forgive something that is a brutal violation of the promise you made to each other. Why shouldn't you get to decide what you need in order to do that.
Do you need to read every single text that comes in? Do you need him to let you know where he is throughout the day? Do you need a GPS on his phone that you can monitor? Do you need proof that he's established No Contact with the OW? This isn't about setting up a police state, it IS about creating an atmosphere in which you begin to feel safe and in which you begin to rebuild trust.
Let's say it again: He's asking you to forgive him for lying to you, for being deceptive, for jeopardizing everything that matters to you and for jeopardizing your health.
If the price he has to pay is to feel like an errant 8-year-old for a few months, strikes me that he's getting off pretty easy.
Infidelity remains one of the most misunderstood issues in our culture. Nobody thinks it will affect them as profoundly as it does. It kicks us hard and leaves us for dead. And while the world blithely goes on with "well, if my husband ever cheated on me blah blah blah" or "maybe they just have an open marriage" or "I think she's a real nag to him", the rest of us are dealing with the real-life consequences of discovering that the one person in the world you thought would always have your back was, in fact, stabbing you in it.
Reasonable? Let's say it again, it's reasonable to expect you not to kill him. Everything else is on the table.
Your heartbreak, your rules. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Be Curious: Part 2 of "How to have a tough conversation"

Curiosity might kill the cat. But it won't kill you. 
My husband and I often walk our dogs at night, after the dinner dishes have been cleared away and kids are busy with homework. Sometimes we talk about our day. My eyes glaze over as he talks about the economic indicators in China or some such. I suspect his do the same as I express my outrage with 45's latest attack on climate science or women's reproductive rights or basic human decency.
Other times we broach tougher topics and then he says something...stupid. Wrong. Woefully uninformed. Or at least that's my assessment of it. My heart beats faster. My voice goes up a pitch. I wonder, briefly, what I'm doing with this idiot.
It might have been about how to manage our daughter's struggles at school. It might have been about a bathroom renovation we're planning. It might have been about something on this site that I mentioned in order to get his input.
Whatever it was, he gave me a stupid answer.
Or was it?
When others present me with information that differs from my own views of things, I become curious instead of angry. In fact, I make my living as a journalist and I'm often confronted with people who hold different opinions than I. I don't immediately write them off as losers. Instead, I ask questions. "Why do you think that?" I might ask. "How did you reach that conclusion?" I might ask. "Where do you get your information?" I might probe. "That's interesting," I might say. "Tell me more."
I began to wonder if that approach might work with my husband. I wanted to be able to talk with him about things – all things – without the immediate impulse to call a divorce lawyer.
It was hard at first. I had to bite my tongue. Hard.
But the more I learned about his thinking, the more I realized that those "stupid" opinions he had weren't so stupid because I understood how he'd reached them. His "dumb" response to problems wasn't so dumb when I discovered that he was struggling too, that he didn't have all the answers and he was just searching in the dark like the rest of us.
And when I was able to just be curious with him, I gave him the freedom to not have all the answers, which has always been his own issue. He has trouble saying "I don't know" so he rarely does. With my probing, he sometimes had to own up to the truth that he didn't know. That he couldn't know because he didn't have all the information he needed. We began to collaborate more on solutions. I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he said something "stupid" and gave him the opportunity to explain his point of view.
And...whattaya know? Turns out he's a decent, smart, open-minded guy with some great ideas, something I had sometimes forgotten about him.
Whether you're staying together or moving on separately after betrayal, chances are there are going to be some tough conversations in your future. It can feel like a minefield. You lay your heart on the line and he says something "stupid". You share your pain and he shuts you down. Our knee jerk response is to withdraw. Or to lash out. Or to put a divorce lawyer on speed dial.
But what if you tried curiosity? Do your best to detach and not take it so personally (I know, I know. It takes a lot of practice!)  "Why do you say that?" you might say. "What makes you think that?" you might say. "Why is it hard for you to hear that?" you might ask. "What is you need from me right now?" Even "can we set a time to talk about this later? I think it's important."
He might not have the answers. But you've opened the door to them.
And if his responses reveal a decent guy who's confused, then that's good to know. Even if they reveal a not-so-decent guy who isn't the least bit interested in learning more, that's good information to have. Get the lawyer on speed dial.
But no matter how it turns out, you'll have more information than you started with. And you can use that information to help you navigate your path through this pain.

Monday, March 27, 2017

How to have a tough conversation

Our trip had not started off well. My husband was overworked and grumpy. I was overtired and resentful. I had a laundry list of things that had been building up that I wanted to talk to him about but hadn't found the time.
Neither of us had been doing any self-care and our attitudes showed it.
We snarked at each other in the airport. He snapped at the kids. I chastised him for snapping at the kids.
We might have been heading to a tropical paradise but none of us seemed very happy about it.
Two days in, we finally found ourselves alone on the beach. It would have been easy to tell myself that now wasn't the time. That I should just enjoy the breeze and the sunshine.
I swallowed hard. "I need you to listen to me," I said.

So often on this site, I read your stories of being triggered. You suddenly find yourself in a situation that takes you right back to a terrible moment. You hear a song. You spot a certain make of car. You pass a restaurant or a motel or a massage parlour. And it feels like a kick in the gut. You have trouble breathing. Your throat constricts. Your heart, literally, aches.
There's not much we can do about triggers but wait them out. But what we can do is have those tough conversations with our partners about them.
It's tempting to not bring them up. Our partners, especially if they're still new to this "tough conversation" stuff, will almost inevitably disappoint us with their response. They'll get defensive. They'll try and shut us down. They'll ask us if we're ever going to "get over this". They'll get silent. They might get angry.
All of those are countermoves and are the response of someone feeling deep shame. Someone who just wants this to go away.
We know that doesn't work.
Have the tough conversation anyway.
Even if you're the only one talking, have the tough conversation.
"I need you to listen to me."
"I want you to know something."
"It matters to me that you know this because I need support."
"I'm hurting and I need to share that with you."
However you phrase it, give words to your pain.
Not to make him feel bad (though that might be an inevitable part of this) but because he's your partner and you're going through this together.
Not to cast blame but to seek support and compassion.
It takes practice. If he responds in a way that's disappointing or hurtful, talk about it. Tell him you don't want to hear excuses. That you don't want to be talked out of your feelings. Tell him he doesn't even need to say a thing. Tell him that this was tough for you and that you need a friend right now. That's it. A friend. Not a therapist and certainly not a defence attorney.
It's fraught, of course. The person you most want to help you through is the person responsible for the pain you're in.
But that's the reality of it. And you can both use these tough conversations to pull closer to each other. Or you can avoid them and leave the wall up between your hearts.
But you cannot rebuild a healthy marriage without, eventually, learning how to have these tough conversations. Without learning to really hear each other's pain.

Fighting back tears, I proceeded to tell my husband how his attitude sometimes hurts me and the kids. I stuck to "me" statements. "I feel hurt when..." "The kids feel frustrated when..."
I pointed out that he seemed so annoyed with me. That I feel small and stupid.
He listened. He simply didn't realize how his stress came out as annoyance with me. That wasn't at all how he felt.
He shared some of his own frustrations with work, with our kids, with me. I listened to him.
By the time he got up to get us a couple of margaritas a half-hour later, I felt 20 pounds lighter.
Pain is heavy.
It doesn't always work out quickly easily. Sometimes we need to take a break and walk away and come back to the conversation a day or two later. Sometimes it takes each of us some time to really digest what the other is saying. Old habits die hard and we get defensive. Simple truth is we don't want to hear about the other's pain, especially when it triggers our own shame in creating it.

But...marriage is tough. Marriage after betrayal is especially tough. And having these tough conversations can create a foundation beneath you that will hold you both up as you move forward. Being able to listen and say little more than "I'm so sorry you had to go through that" or "If I could go back in time and un-do this, I would" or "Thank you for sharing that with me. What do you need from me?" goes a long way toward shoring up that foundation.
It takes courage on your part to start that tough conversation. You will feel unbearably vulnerable. You will feel naked. Your heart will be exposed.
But the alternative is a cop out that only disguises your pain but does nothing to validate it.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Changing our Minds

"Change is not painful; resistance to change is." 

Raise your hand if you were part of the "if he ever cheats, it's over" club. Yep. Me too. Our culture casts infidelity as unforgivable. I've said it before. Women who leave get a high-five and a "hell yeah" from the sisterhood. Women who stay? Well, if they know about us at all (we tend to keep our choice private), we're viewed as kinda sad. Doormats. After all, cheating is a deal-breaker, right?
And keep your hand raised if, even now that you've decided to stay, even with clear evidence that he's genuinely devastated by what he's done and committed to rebuilding your marriage, you still hear that nagging voice in your head that you're a sucker for staying?
Yeah, me too.
Those messages are powerful. And they're everywhere. Despite the fact that most marriages will experience infidelity (though the cheated-on partner might never find out), our culture holds onto this one-size-fits-all response. Kick him to the curb. Only suckers stay. Or "chumps" in the parlance of a site that often traffics in absolutes.
Thing is, we're the ones who have to live with our choice. Whatever that choice is, we need to own it. And we need to make it based on what's the best thing for us. And, for those of us with kids, it's impossible not to factor in what's best for them too. I refuse to believe that I can ever know what that choice should be for anyone but myself.
That was never more clear to me than the weeks following D-Day. I thought back to all my conviction about other people's marriages. I was so sure about what I would and would not tolerate as I watched other people muddle through. I'd heard the whispers about who was cheating on whom and mentally calculated whether he or she "deserved" it by being nasty, or travelling to much for work, or whatever other ridiculous reason I surmised.
But when I discovered that my own marriage wasn't what I thought it was, it was a pretty short leap to the realization that I didn't have a damn clue what was going on in other people's marriages and I should stop being so sure I did. Gulp. That humility was a hard slap in the face but I needed it.
And yet...I can still judge myself harshly. I suspect you do too.
That voice that says I should have done things differently, should have left, should have made him beg. That voice that says strong women leave. It's a helluva lot quieter than it used to be. But, now and again, I still hear it.
These days, though I talk back. I remind myself that I did the best I could under brutal circumstances. I know, in a way I never did before, the courage it takes to get your feet back under you when betrayal has crippled you. I see, every day on this site, the power of the compassion we show each other and the strength as we each fight our way through the pain.
Changing our minds is an act of courage. If we know differently, we can choose differently. If we learn better, we can do better.
Holding on to those old messages, which were lies even then, keeps us stuck. Giving ourselves permission to change – our minds, our choices, our lives – isn't where the pain lives. Rather the pain arises when we're resisting what we know and instead caving into cultural messages that tell us our worth is in following the script rather than writing our own.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Light Inside You

"Thank-you for seeing the light inside of me," said a teenager to the woman had welcomed her to the family dinner table.
It's what we all want, isn't it? For the world to recognize and value the light inside us? The one that burns with our fiercest dreams, our deepest love, our most creative impulses.
Over the years, that light can grow dim. Under the burden of caring for everyone else, we can forget to feed that fire.
And then, hit by betrayal, it's easy for that light to get extinguished altogether. For everything to go dark, including our heart.
But healing from betrayal can do something too. It can breathe on those dying embers and bring them back to a flame. It can reignite that fire inside, the one that had been ignored for so long.
It can remind us that we are not just a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, an employee. It can, if we give it the chance, bring us back to life.
I would have told you I was happy back before D-Day. And, if I put aside a simmering resentment about everything I did that I felt unappreciated for, I was happy. Or happy-ish. Or rather, I thought I should be happy. After all, I had three healthy kids, a beautiful home, work that I enjoyed. I had friends. I even loved my husband, with a side of resentment. To not be happy felt ungrateful. Like tempting fate. There were people, I knew, who envied my life.
Looking back, however, I was performing. Trying so hard to be the perfect...everything...that I had nothing left for me. Rather than try new things, I stuck with what felt safe. I didn't venture out of my comfort zone because, well, what if I failed? What if that long-held but barely acknowledged fear I had – that I wasn't good enough – turned out to be true? What if all the smoke and mirrors I had created to fool everyone into thinking I was more than I was, fell away and I was left, naked and exposed? A fraud. I could almost imagine the gasps. And the laughter.
And so I played it safe. And in the process, my inner light grew dim.
You know what happened next. What I thought was "safe" was anything but. My marriage became a minefield. Turned out, my husband's role of dedicated husband was a total fraud.
And I came face to face with some uncomfortable truths. If I was going to carry on with my life, I was going to do things differently. I've written elsewhere about going into something of a cocoon. Much of that was pure survival but it also led to a transformation. Having stripped away so much of what didn't matter in my life, or what had become toxic, I was left to figure out what did matter. How was I going to shape my life – far more consciously this time – into one that fed my inner light?
And that, ultimately, is the question facing all of us. Betrayal just shakes us out of our complacency sometimes. It forces some of us to realize that our inner light was almost dead.
How are you going to shape your marriage into one that nourishes your soul? How are you going to shape your work into something that fuels your inner light? What about your friendships? Your caregiving? Your hobbies?
If we approach life with that single goal – how do we tend our inner light? – no matter how external circumstances change, we will be living an authentic, rich life.
Thank you all for seeing the light inside of me. This site has helped me fuel it, to get back in touch with what delights me.
And thank-you for sharing your light with all of us. Even those of you just embarking on this tough tough road to healing have something to share with us. You might not yet see it. But we do. And we're grateful for it.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Do we ever heal from infidelity?

"The truth about healing is that you don't need to heal to be whole. And by whole, I mean damaged, missing pieces of who you were, your heart—missing what feels like some of your most important parts. And yet, not missing any part of you at all. Being, in truth, larger than you were before."
~Augusten Burroughs, from Running with Scissors

I speak a lot on this site about healing because, frankly, it's more important that we heal ourselves than that we heal our marriage. But I wonder how many of you assume from my words that healing is a sort of destination. A place that you will arrive at and feel whole and happy and "whew, glad that's over".

Though I hate to disabuse you of this lovely fantasy, the truth is far less straightforward. Healing isn't so much a destination as a process. And though we absolutely come to a point where the pain is largely absent, where trust is largely restored, where we come at life from self-love and self-respect, the wound will always be there. 
Case in point: My husband recently went out of town on business. It was to an exotic locale. Good food and good wine. Waves lapping at the shore. And me, home with our kids. An empty seat beside him at the dinner table, the pool, the bar.
He's gone away many times since D-Day. But this time was different. We'd been bickering. Stupid things. Where to take the kids for March Break – he wanted snow, I wanted sunshine. Who does more work around the house. Too little sleep, too much nitpicking.
And so, when he left for holiday, fear took root. What was to stop him, after all? He was free as a bird. And I had been anything but loving recently. Why wouldn't he seize the opportunity to spend time with someone else?
Forgotten in that moment was the years of work he'd done to get to the root of his infidelity. Forgotten were the many many promises he's made to me since, that he will do everything he can to never hurt me like that again. That he doesn't want to be the person. That he's happier than he's been in his life. 
I don't know if I'd have the same fears of betrayal I hadn't already discovered, a decade ago, what he was capable of doing. I might. I know a lot of marriages that have been shattered by infidelity. Even without personal experience, it's not impossible that I'd wonder.
But it's different when you've gone through it. You know it's possible. And you know it's excruciating. 
So here I was, ten years of healing, and I felt vulnerable and sad.
The wound was still there.
As much as I wish healing was complete, it's not.
As much as I wish that what happened to me, to you, to all of us could be erased by years of it not happening, it can't be. It's always there, sometimes buried deep, sometimes breaking the surface.
And no amount of wishing will change that.
Does that mean healing is a myth? 
Not at all.
But it does mean that our healing is never really over. It means that there will be times when we're triggered. It means that we can never un-know the pain of betrayal. And it means that we will always be more sensitive to the possibility of it happening again. Once bitten, after all.
But, and here's where I acknowledge the silver lining part of this dark cloud, it also means that I've spent years learning self-care and self-respect. How to develop and enforce boundaries. How to talk about difficult things. How to love a man who hurt me. How to give second chances without giving away my soul. 
In other words, in many many ways, I've healed myself. 
And I continue to heal, not only from this but from so many hurts in my lifetime. My parents' addictions. My brother's anger. Friends who betrayed me.
I'm changed by those experiences. To paraphrase Rainer Maria Rilke, sadness is life holding you in its hands and shaping you. 
My heartbreaks and my healing have made me who I am.
And that's fine with me. If you want to call that healed, then sure. I call it not a place but a journey. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

The loneliness of the betrayed wife

Betrayal is lonely business. Not only are we left reeling from the shock of a husband's affair, we're experiencing it in a culture that leaves women with few publicly acceptable options about how to respond. No matter whether we leave or stay, there's a stink attached to betrayal, a pervasive blame that, surely, we must have done something to get cheated on. Even if that something was not having the sense to marry someone who wouldn't cheat.
It does an effective job of silencing us, of isolating us from exactly the support we need most. In that moment when we need an army around us, assuring us that we did nothing to deserve this, reminding us of our strength, and supporting us as we heal, instead we retreat.
We have good reasons, of course.
My husband's career depended, to some extent, on being trustworthy. While I recognized the hypocrisy of an industry rife with alpha males with mistresses putting on this public face of honesty and integrity, I nonetheless knew that an unemployed husband (or ex-husband if that was the route I took) would damage our whole family. So even as those around him worked to quietly remove his assistant with whom he was cheating from the office – an expensive maneuver – I kept silent.
I kept silent because his family would, likely, have either disowned him or humiliated him, neither option a good one. I recognized pretty quickly that their long-held judgement about others was a big part of why we were in this mess.
I kept silent because, for years, I had listened to the whispers about others. The knowing glances about a guy who was cheating on his wife. The snide remarks about why.
I kept silent because I live in the same culture as you all do – where I can't purchase bread at the grocery store without walking a gauntlet of magazine covers boldly proclaiming "BETRAYED" over some miserable celebrity's face. Infidelity as entertainment. Betrayal as gossip.
We pay a price for that silence. Aching loneliness. Paralyzing isolation. A lack of perspective. A toxic stew of self-recrimination, shame, fear, loathing.
We need to tell our stories.
We need community.
We need our soul warriors, our sisters. We are fighting at a level that others can't see, not for our marriages or our families but for ourselves.
We need witnesses to our pain.
We need midwives for our rebirth.
Loneliness stops here.
It stops the minute you Google "my bastard husband cheated on me and I'm dying here..." and up popps Betrayed Wives Club, "your kickass survival site".
It stops the minute you begin reading words that sound as though they formed in your own heart. Words about profound sadness, about anger, about fear and confusion and a hurt so deep we believe it will never go away.
It stops the minute you realize that you are not alone. Not at all.
There is an army of soul warriors – souldiers, if you will – fighting the same invisible fight that you are.
Betrayal is lonely business. But it doesn't have to be.
Somewhere we can find the courage to post our story. Somehow we can begin discerning which among our real-life friends can deliver the required compassion we need to help us heal. We can read how others have re-discovered a strength and a wisdom they never knew they had. We read their evolution, whether they stay or go, into women not afraid to value themselves, to be heard, to take up space.
We can pick up the phone and make an appointment with a counsellor. And make an appointment with a different counsellor if the first one says something stupid like "you need to learn to forgive him and stop dwelling in the past".
Betrayal is lonely when isolate ourselves.
Reach out for support.
Ask for help.
We are soul warriors and you are among us.
Not alone at all.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Is your fantasy future getting in the way?

"...there is a difference between feeling the pain of things breaking, ending, or drifting apart, and the sharper pain that comes from measuring the inevitable events of life against some ideal of  how we imagined things are supposed to be."
~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

I don't know about you but this was not supposed to be my life. My life, after a crappy childhood with parents who did crappy things, was going to be sane and predictable and interesting. There would be no dark secrets.
And so I set about creating that life. I told my husband on our third date that I came from a long line of addicts and if he wanted to flee, then there's the door. He stayed.
Married and being urged by him to start a family, I told him that if we were to have children then I needed his promise that we would do everything to keep our marriage strong. I would not, I told him, bring children into a relationship that didn't have two parents who were all in. Sure, he agreed.
Ten years and three children later, I felt resentful and frustrated by my husband's lack of engagement with our family. He worked too much, I thought. He shared too little, I thought. And so, when I found myself enjoying the company of a male friend a bit too much, I told my husband that we needed counselling. To my surprise, the guy who had long insisted that he was fine – that I was the one with the problems (pointing to my third-date admission as evidence) – agreed.
A few months later, I had my first D-Day. Six months after that, I had my second.
And the future I had imagined – which might not have held the glossy promise of bliss it did on my wedding day but still felt like more than I deserved – vanished altogether.
Replaced by a conviction that my future was apocalyptic.
And the pain was excruciating.
It's no coincidence that so many of us who first post on this site seem as though we're reading from the same script. "This isn't the person I married," we write. "This can't be my life," we write. "My life is ruined forever," we write.
And though those of us on the far shore try and wave the newbies in – "you'll get through this," we promise, "you will be fine," we promise – but I wonder how convincing we are. Life was always going to be a series of peaks and valleys. And though we're in a helluva valley, we won't always be. But it can be hard to see the other side when we're blinded by the idea of how it was "supposed" to be.
I wasn't supposed to wind up with a sex-addicted husband. I was so busy making sure that I didn't marry an alcoholic because I would be damned if my future was going to resemble my past.
Yet here I am.
And from this far shore I can tell you this. Maybe I was supposed to go through this. Maybe there are lessons within this experience that I still needed to learn.
Or maybe, like everybody else, it's a matter of having my share of ups and downs.
However you look at it, letting go of this idealized future is key to letting go of some of the pain.
When you find yourself imagining this new post-betrayal future in apocalyptic terms – "ruined", "destroyed", "miserable" – take note of it and then remind yourself that you're telling yourself a story.
Our future is a fiction until we live it into truth.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The snake oil that is "closure"

"It think closure is a perfectly good word for business deals and real estate...but closure is a terrible word in human relationships."
~Pauline Boss on NPR's On Being with Krista Tippett

How many of us are convinced we'll never move on from emotional struggles because, as we put it, we never received "closure"? Closure, in our culture, generally means something like this: The person who inflicted the wound recognizes the error of his ways, apologizes for it, we accept that apology, and, like magic, all bad feelings vanish.
Closure, we believe, will loosen that knot in our stomach. It will unclench our hearts. Closure is the vocabulary of soap operas and texting teens but it's a powerful enough idea that it seeps into the mindset of even those of us who know better. It is the snake oil we buy that will cure us of heartache.
Closure is dangerous.
Dangerous because it hands over all control over our healing to someone else, or to some set of circumstances that we, on our own, can't possibly create.
We imagine "closure" if only the OW would apologize to us for the pain she's caused. Or "closure" might come if our husband admitted that she meant nothing. Perhaps closure is about seeing her fired or divorced.
It might be about flying to Peru or Cincinnati, Ohio, to revisit every site he visited with her.
What closure promises us, what makes it so alluring, is a door slamming shut on our pain. Closure, we believe, is about facing forward instead of backward.
But life and loss are not that tidy.
The desire for closure is powerful. It's what makes the "dump him" narrative so appealing and so entrenched in our culture. To stay with the person who hurt us doesn't give us or those who love us "closure". Here we are, sleeping with the enemy. There's an ambiguity to our pain, as Pauline Boss would put it, that makes it profoundly uncomfortable. The person we love is still here. But, at the same time, he's not, replaced by this "new" person who's capable of inflicting such pain. How often do we say to ourselves in the wake of betrayal, "I'm married to a stranger." Who is this person who did this to me?
Those of us who stay married might, eventually, come to a place where the "old" him and the "new" him converge and we're able to see that he was this person all along: Someone capable of loving us but also capable of hurting us.
Those who, on the surface, have less ambiguity because the marriage dissolves, are nonetheless left with this idea that the person they loved and who loved them was never that person. That we were duped. Conned.
Closure, we imagine, puts everything back in its rightful place. An apology from him. An admission of total responsibility. The chance to reassemble our lives in a way that makes sense.
I don't believe any of it.
Whether we stay or go, we are left with heartache. And the clearer we become about what we can control and what we can't, the more quickly we begin to heal.
This means abandoning the notion of closure and replacing it with an understanding that healing is incremental, that there will be no magic moment in which the door slams on our pain and we move into sunlight.
By refusing to wait for someone else to deliver us the liberation from pain that we need, we can control our own narrative. By giving ourselves the validation we need, we free ourselves from relying on another to provide it. By taking steps to care for our own broken heart, we not only treat ourselves as worthy of time and attention, we make it clear that another's time and attention is simply icing, not the cake itself.
As the saying goes, if you're waiting for an apology, then give yourself one.
Take a blank page and a pen. Or look at yourself in a mirror:
I'm sorry you're in pain.
I'm sorry others don't always see your worth.
I'm sorry you didn't trust your own wisdom.
As for closure?
I'm sorry but I'm not waiting for you to follow this script I've written in which you magically deliver the words or actions I think I need in order to be freed from my pain. Instead, I will sit with my grief, trusting that I am strong enough to feel it and knowing it that I will move through it. With or without you. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

When he "doesn't believe in therapy"

Let's start with this: Therapy isn't something one "believes" in, like Bigfoot or fairies or alien abductions. We have data that therapy exists. So when someone says they don't "believe" in therapy, what he's really saying is he doesn't believe that talking with an objective person about his life and his problems is going to help him.
To which I say, "really? Tell me more about how therapy won't help you."
Therapy is, of course, a broad term for a whole lot of approaches to helping people move through problems that are getting in the way of leading a productive, healthy life. Not "believing" in therapy is a cop out. Far more truthful to say, "I don't want to go."
To admit that he doesn't want to go, however, opens your husband up to your disappointment or your anger and your frustration. He'd prefer to hide behind the fiction that therapy won't work for him so why not save time and money by not bothering with it at all. After all, he'll tell you, it's bogus. Or he doesn't like to talk. He'll refer to therapy as "woo-woo" head shrinking stuff for crazy people. Surely not for someone as sane and feet-on-the-ground as a guy like him whose only problem is that he violated his marriage vows, lied to his partner and risked losing a marriage that he now claims he never wanted to lose.
That avoidance of discomfort is exactly the kind of behaviour that got him into this situation. By not being forthright and honest, he created this shitstorm that he now wishes would just go away without him having to do anything that he doesn't want to do. Or rather, that he doesn't "believe" in.
I came to therapy reluctantly. I grew up in what my therapist calls a "distressed home" with plenty of addiction, depression, anxiety, suicide attempts and strife. When my mother got sober, I was 20 and launching into my life. She wanted me to go into therapy because she, correctly, saw that I held a lot of anger about my earlier years. I refused, insisting that I was "fine" and that I didn't need some stranger telling me how to feel.
A few years later, however, as I struggled within a highly toxic relationship with a man I couldn't imagine living without, I relented.
I thought she could help me figure out how to make this guy love me enough to stay. Instead, she helped me find the self-respect and strength to leave.
Which could be a big piece of why your husband doesn't "believe" in therapy. There's huge fear for many people in discovering just what's lurking in their own hearts, and that of their partners. For those people, pretending that everything is fine is preferable to knowing it isn't. They might even have convinced themselves that, all evidence aside, everything is fine. If only you could just stop talking about their mistakes, about the destruction they've caused. After all, they won't do it again.
Until they do.
Until they come up against something in their lives that they simply don't have the tool in their emotional toolbox to handle. All of us lack certain tools. I don't know a single human being whose parents were able to provide them exactly the number and type of tools they would need to handle whatever life throws their way. Some of us can develop our own healthy tools, but far more of us either rely on crappy rusty tools to cope – we drink, we shop, we ignore, we rage, we cheat – or we fall apart completely.
Somewhere in there, the smart ones among us say one thing: Help.
We realize that if we were so awesome at solving our own problems, we wouldn't be in this mess. We acknowledge that our way of coping has created some highly unpleasant side-effects, like a wife whose eyes hold a world of pain that we caused.
And then, the smart and courageous ones allow themselves to consider that maybe, just maybe, this therapy thing is worth a try.
It might not work with the first therapist. It might require a few tries. But my guess is that these same guys would continue to find a good mechanic for their car if the first one didn't seem to great rather than decide that they don't "believe" in mechanics.
It will undoubtedly require a lot of ego-checking and patience as everyone finds their footing and begins to establish an atmosphere of trust. After all, you should all be there for the same reason. To create a healthy relationship based on honesty and respect and compassion. 
Because that, whether or not these guys will admit it, is what everyone is after. And, too bad for them, part of that process is going to require that this guy who doesn't "believe" in therapists, has to dig deep into his psyche and figure out why he risked everything that mattered for something that didn't. Or at least didn't matter as much.
He should want this. He should be willing to do whatever it takes to begin to heal this damage he created. He should be willing to make himself uncomfortable in order to help you feel safe again.
If he won't? If he continues to hide behind this fiction that therapy requires "belief" rather than hard work, then he's telling you that this marriage isn't worth the effort required of him.
This is painful but crucial information for you to have. Because it makes your choice – whether to stay in the marriage with full awareness of how much effort he's willing to put into rebuilding it, or whether to leave with that same awareness – a lot more clear.
I'm not insisting that no marriage can be saved without therapy. I am saying that I don't know of any. Sure, I know of marriages that survived infidelity without therapy. But I don't know of solid happy marriages that have. The solid happy marriages I know of that have survived infidelity have done so with a team of support, from friends to, yes, therapists. Personal therapists, marriage therapists, family therapists. Cognitive behavioural therapy, EMDR, couples counselling.
So while it's possible that a marriage can be rebuilt without the help of counsellors to guide couples toward healing, I don't "believe" it's helpful to anyone to ignore the valuable assistance of an objective, experienced therapist.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Acknowledging His Pain Too

"Being half anywhere is the true definition of loneliness."
~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

It's tough to stomach when you're sitting in a therapist's office, your guts spilling out onto the floor, your heart shattered, your life in ruins, and your husband suggests that he's hurting too.
HE'S hurting? Well, cry me a goddamned river. He's the one who lobbed this grenade into your life. He's the one who lied and cheated and stomped all over your heart. You wouldn't be in this bloody mess if it wasn't for him.
He hurts too? Well, too damn bad. He's not going to get any sympathy from you. No way. Never. 
Never came sooner than I thought it would.
Never came when I had triaged my own wounds enough to be able to look around and notice that he was bleeding too. At first, there was some satisfaction in this. I kinda enjoyed knowing he was in pain. In fact, I thought I could use that pain to keep him in check. As long as I kept reminding him of what he'd done to me – to us, including our children – I could assure myself that he'd be less likely to do it again. I wanted that pain to feel fresh, to sting. To act as a check on any impulses he might have to cheat again.
That was a mistake. 
My husband didn't cheat because he wasn't hurting enough, he cheated because he was hurting too much and didn't know how to deal with it. He cheated because the only way he knew how to manage the constant ache of loneliness he felt was to distract himself from it.  Sort of like how we dig our fingernails into our palm to distract from dental work. 
It took time before I could listen to his pain without trying to trump it with my own. In the early days post D-Day, I couldn't. I was drowning in my own pain and didn't much care if the water was rising for him too. And that's fair. At first, it's all we can do to keep our heads above the waves. We absolutely must tend to our own wounds first
But the time comes, especially if you want to rebuild your marriage but even if you don't, when it matters that you notice his pain too. It matters because it's in that compassion that your healing accelerates. By realizing that others hurt too, our own pain becomes less isolating. It becomes part of the human condition. Others' pain doesn't eclipse our own, it makes our own a bit more bearable. But only when we're each able to hold the others' pain as well. Minimizing, dismissing or playing the pain olympics just keeps us locked in our own silos. 
And remember this. His pain isn't an excuse for cheating. It doesn't, for even a micro-second, mean that what he did was okay. But it does point us toward understanding. And it further makes clear that his cheating wasn't about us. My husband was lonely. An existential loneliness that defined much of his time. It was a loneliness he'd felt much of his life, courtesy of a cold demanding mother. But his loneliness wasn't my fault nor was it my responsibility to fix, even if I'd known he was feeling it.
When our marriage hit a rough patch – young kids, stressful career, competing ambitions – he responded the way he'd learned as a kid. Focus on something else. Get involved in risky behaviour. Seek out sex to self-medicate. 
By understanding that he was in pain too I'm able to empathize. We were both hurting. I responded differently – not by cheating but by stewing in my resentment and treating him like an annoying child. But I came into our marriage with a different set of coping skills, with a different history. The day I was able to accept that if I was him, I might have chosen a similar path, was the day that my own heart began to feel whole again. And, incidentally, when we're able to have compassion for others, it's so much easier to have it for ourselves.
There's no rule that you ever have to acknowledge your husband's pain too. And lots of guys make it even harder by dragging us through further humiliation and pain, by continuing to lie and call our own sanity into question. Without genuine remorse and sincere determination to come clean and figure out how to move forward with honesty and integrity, lots of these guys don't deserve a second chance. But whether or not you make the choice to rebuild a marriage with someone who does deserve that second chance or move on without him, recognizing that hurt people hurt people can light your way forward. 
It can soften your heart enough to realize that compassion is not a finite resource. The more we offer, the more that's available to us. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Your 3-step guide to D-Day, discovering your spouse's affair

I noticed something one day when my kids were young. The days when I had a long ambitious list of goals (dishes, laundry, groceries, exercise, planting a vegetable garden, painting the get the idea), I became resentful of my children for getting in the way. I would snap at them for not napping long enough, I would inwardly groan at a request for another story, I felt brittle with frustration.
Other days, however, when I had no expectations of accomplishing anything, I thoroughly enjoyed my kids. If we felt like going outside to the swing set, that's what we did. If we chose to bake cookies, that's what we did. We napped when tired, woke when rested, played when the urge struck. In short, we had a good day.
I'm reminded of this because I recently watched a short video on self-compassion in which this advice was offered: Reduce expectations to zero.
And it struck me that this is not only excellent advice for moms at home with young children but also for those of us who are dealing with the discovery of a partner's affair.
My expectations during that horrible time were ridiculous. I not only expected myself to know how to respond to this unprecedented marital crisis, I expected myself to be able to function the same as I had the day before the bomb hit. To prepare dinner, to help children with homework, to meet my work deadlines.
Reduce expectations to zero.
What this means is immediate triage for your soul. Focus on three things only:
1. Eat enough food that you don't die. More, if possible.
2. Sleep, even if it requires the help of sleep-aids, such as melatonin, Gravol or something your doctor prescribed to help you. (Avoid alcohol or illegal drugs. The idea isn't to make things worse.)
3. Breathe. In and out. In and out. Deeply if possible. If the idea of breathing is more than you can bear, please reach out for help. A suicide hotline. A trusted friend. A doctor.

Here's what you should not focus on right now. Remember, reduce expectations to zero.
Will my marriage survive? Who knows. Not you right now so don't expect to know. Give yourself time to absorb the shock right now. Clarity will come with time.
Is he lying to me? Probably. You likely don't have all the information right now. But that's okay. You'll come to realize there are things you don't need to know. What you do know – that he cheated on you – is enough right now.
Will my life ever be the same? Nope. But that's not the same as saying it won't be great. I promise you will get through this. You will not feel this pain forever. You will laugh again. You will feel joy again. I don't know what your life will look like and neither do you. Even if he hadn't cheated, none of us knows what the future holds. We never did.

Reduce expectations to zero: Eat, sleep, breathe.

There will, undoubtedly, be other demands. You might have children that required parenting. You might have work that requires doing. There are some things we just can't avoid. But reduce expectations to zero. Just getting out of bed is a Herculean feat so give yourself a huge hug for doing so.

The day will come for figuring things out. The day will come for choices. The day will come for achievement. But right now, the day has come for self-compassion and self-care, for triage of your soul.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Lessons from La La Land

I spent Saturday tucked inside the darkness of a movie theatre watching La La Land with my two daughters. I'm a sucker for a musical and I've been humming ever since.
My youngest daughter, however, was annoyed at the movie. (If you haven't yet seen the movie and don't want the ending spoiled, stop reading now.)
My daughter's annoyance stemmed from her belief in happily-ever-after endings. Neat and tidy and where everything turns out the way it's supposed to. 
She's 13 and still thinks this is a perfectly reasonable expectation. I'm 52 and I don't disagree. 
While I shared some of her disappointment (even after everything I know about life and love and marriage, those happily-ever-after fantasies die hard), I realized something.
We can all have more than one happy ending.
And I got thinking about so many women who come to this site with the same sense of loss that I felt after D-Day: This wasn't the way my life was supposed to go. This wasn't my happily ever after.
And when everything feels ruined, when our dreams lie in splinters, we can lose sight of another possibility. As the saying goes, we can stare so hard at the closed door in front of us that we miss the window beside it. 
That conviction, that our life was supposed to turn out a certain way, holds us back. It limits our imagination. We can climb through that window if we only notice it and give up the idea that the damn door is supposed to be open. 
We come to our expectations honestly, of course. We stand in front of family and friends and exchange vows, promising each other fidelity and friendship. And our future stretches out before us, a bit hazy in some ways but crystal clear in others. We will grow old together. We will weather storms but not storms of our own making. We will live happily ever after.
D-Day smashes that fantasy to bits. Even if we survive, which we highly doubt, our happily ever after is over. We can't imagine smiling or laughing. We can't fathom how we'll ever believe in love again.
But the heart is resilient. Even a broken heart has the capacity to love. Perhaps especially a broken heart. 
But it's different.
Gone is the certainty that everything will turn out fine. We know too well that love can be messy. That people we trust can betray us. That the marriage we thought was solid had cracks.
But here's the thing. Happily ever after didn't die with the betrayal, it was always a fantasy. We stake our hearts on a storybook fiction. Nobody lives happily ever after because it's not possible. Everyone will have pain. Every marriage will have cracks.
Knowing that doesn't strip marriage of its power, it gives marriage its power. Because it forces us to realize that a promise isn't a guarantee. It's an intention and it's up to us to live up to that intention. To make choices that are true to that intention in ways big and small. 
Our husbands failed to do that. And we get to decide whether we're willing to let them try again. 
But no matter what we choose – to rebuild our lives with him or without him – happiness is still within our power to achieve.
There will be more pain, in some form or another. There will be joy, in some form or another. There will be no happily ever after.
That was never your ending. It's no-one's ending. But that doesn't mean, when you reflect back on your life, you won't smile. Indeed, if you follow the path that feels the most right for you, if you live your own life with intention and integrity, the sum of your life will always skew toward happy. Not a whitewashed happily ever after but another ending all the richer for the many many colors it holds. 


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