Friday, May 19, 2017

How to Be Hurt and Still Show Up

I wrote this almost a year ago. I didn't publish it because, at the time, it felt too raw. I felt so vulnerable. It felt a bit like failure, too. That so many years after the bomb dropped, we were still struggling at times. Now, however, I can see it as another of those crossroads: A choice to grow and learn together or grow and leave. We opted for the former. Again. 

It was late June and my sister-in-law was visiting us from Chicago en route to her cottage further north. She had invited our family months earlier to join her and her family. I had never been to her cottage, each summer choosing instead to use the two or three days alone to get caught up on work or just exhale without kids. My husband's family and I have had a fraught relationship over the years. Choosing to spend less time with them has been one of the healthier choices I've made post D-Day. This summer, however, I understood that it would just be her family and mine.
But while my sister-in-law was here, she mentioned that her brother, the one I pledged to avoid, would also be there.
Pause for re-evaluation #1.
A few days later, I visited my 87-year-old father and was shocked to find him wearing filthy clothes and eating stale food. I spent the weekend preparing meals and doing laundry for him and promising both of us I'd see him again soon.
Pause for re-evaluation #2.
Then two assignments landed on my desk with tight deadlines. And did I mention my summer included a houseful of teenagers and their friends?
So I did what my gut was telling me to do. Wish my husband and three children a very happy weekend and use the time they would be at my sister-in-laws cottage to visit my father and get a jump-start on my work.
A tough decision from an incurable people pleaser (I'm working on it!) but one that felt right.Yay me, right?
My husband didn't share our enthusiasm. Instead, my choice ushered in weeks of confusion. He avoided looking at me. He was civil but barely. I know him. And no amount of him telling me that everything was "fine" convinced me that they were.
"I'm fucking furious," was what he finally admitted to me.
Why? I had rejected his family yet again. I was being selfish. I was the source of all his anxiety and stress. Everything wrong in his life was my fault.
But we'd been doing so well prior to this. Life was good.
Not according to my husband who dropped this bomb on me.
He wanted a separation.
This used to be his go-to threat. We spent the first decade of our marriage in this crazy dance of getting close and pushing off from each other. Any disagreement inevitably ended with one of us (usually him) suggesting we separate. Unable to stomach any conflict, he could only look for the closest exit.
So much had changed.
But here we were again.
This time, however, I knew something I didn't know back then.
I understood that he didn't want out. He just still didn't know how to be hurt and stay. How to be hurt and remain open. And, I confess, I had kinda forgotten too. Which is why, when he said he wanted to separate, I simply agreed.
He put an emergency call into our marriage counsellor who saw him immediately. And then, two days later, she saw me. And then a week after that, she saw us together.
In that time, my husband and I, a bit shocked by talk of separation, had to be brutally honest with ourselves about what we wanted. And, not surprisingly, each of us wanted the same thing: true commitment, honesty, intimacy. With each other.
We had to remind ourselves how to be hurt and still show up. How to be hurt but not reach for the nuclear codes.
I had to listen to his pain, which included feeling dismissed by me when he didn't agree with my opinions. I had to create compassion for him around his sadness that things with his family have never been easy for him either. I'm not the only one they've hurt over the years.
I thought of my ability to listen to my friends. To listen as I do my job as a journalist. To remain curious about what others are thinking, about their life view. With my husband, I had developed a bad habit of viewing any difference between us as evidence that we were mis-matched. A benign comment from him about something I felt strongly about could take me from "he's my wonderful best friend" to "I have to spend the rest of my life with this asshole" in eight seconds.
So I had to understand that my own reaction was rooted in fear. Fear that I was wrong. Fear that I had stayed with him when I shouldn't have. Fear that disagreement was the same as disapproval.
Here's what I've realized: My husband is a kind, compassionate, progressive, smart person who has plenty of strong opinions (uh, me too!) and who sometimes disagrees with me. So while we share a value system, we don't always express those values in the same way. And instead of responding to him as an enemy, I can be curious.
As for his family? He has work to do around them that our therapist told me she doesn't think he's going to do any time soon. There's so much pain there, she said. And, for now at least, there's resistance to dig any deeper.
But what he can do is respect my choice not to go there. What he can do is extend compassion to me around my needs, to learn anew to see my self-care as healthy for our marriage, to stop expecting me to behave in ways that mean he won't face his family's disapproval or disappointment. It's something he's willing to do. Or at least try to do.
Marriage is tough. Even long after I think we should be "fixed", we're still coming up against things that threaten to destabilize us. And it's when we're feeling scared and hurt that we revert to those old behaviours that often make matters worse.
I hope I can remember that within that vulnerability is where we find our common ground.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

When People Aren't Perfect. Not Even Close.

Just last week, my 88-year-old father laid out his theory: If my mother had stuck to pills or booze rather than pills and booze, he theorized, she would have been "just fine."
Oh, dad. Seriously?
I've always kinda wished my dad was a little more like Pa Ingalls and a little less like, well, Homer Simpson. I wanted him to be wise. To be selfless. To get things, without me having to explain them.
But while my dad has many wonderful qualities, he's more than a wee bit self-absorbed. He leans on others (read: me) even when it's ill-advised or inappropriate rather than deal with things himself. In short, he's not perfect. Not even close.
Not too long ago, I expressed my disappointment to my husband about something my father had said that hit an old and painful sore spot.
"I think my job as an adult is to learn to forgive him for being who he is," I said.
It's not so hard to forgive my dad for being who he is. He's a dreamer, a gentle man with simple needs. Kind and open-minded. A guy who believes, absolutely, that he's the luckiest man in the world. That his parents were the best. That his wife was the best. His kids are the best. His grandkids are better than best. I've never known a person so content with his life. So content with himself.
In the decade since my mother died, he has created something of a shrine to her, something she, with her "everything in its place" mindset, would hate.
"She was a true friend," he tells me often.
She was. I don't know a more loyal person than my mom.
My dad? Well...
There was that little issue with a secret friend back in the 70s that devastated my mother, a secret friend my father refused to give up, even when it was clear that my mom, who'd dedicated her adult life to creating the stable home she'd craved as a child, was falling apart.
He just couldn't understand what the problem was. It wasn't a sexual relationship, he insisted. They were just...friends. Friends who did things without my mother. Friends who met behind their spouses backs. Friends. What's so bad about that?
That my father still can't understand the problem speaks to his lack of empathy, his inability to imagine how painful this was to my mother. Or maybe it speaks more to his selfishness. He liked this secret friendship and so why should he have to give it up? It wasn't his fault my mother couldn't handle it.
And yet, he will regale anyone who will listen to stories of my mom. How beautiful she was. How smart. How loyal.
My mom asked for my forgiveness for her. My dad's not-so-secret friendship sent her spiralling into addiction (though, given her family history, it was likely a matter of time before something tripped that particular wire) and she drank/drugged herself into a psychiatric hospital for most of my teens.
She found sobriety through AA. She spent two and a half decades being the mom I'd always wanted before she died.
My job, as an adult, is to forgive my parents for who they are.
It's easier, of course, when the behaviour is no longer happening. When I'm no longer reliant on these people for my survival.
Easier, too, when each has requested, one way or another, my forgiveness. Or at least my understanding.
But even if they hadn't (and my dad has never apologized), it's still my job as an adult to forgive them for who they are. Which is not even close to saying that what they did was okay. Or that, as far as I was concerned, they could continue doing it. That's not forgiveness. That's enabling. That's co-dependence. That's self-harm.
No, it's a matter of forgiving them for being who they are – for having made awful choices that caused me a lot of pain but knowing that none of us can go back and un-do those choices. They are who they are. Or who they were.
They weren't perfect. Not even close.
The beauty of forgiving others for being imperfect is that it kicked the stool out from underneath my own martyr complex. I'm imperfect too. And I can forgive myself for that.
When I commented to my husband about my father – that my job was to forgive him for being who he was – my husband responded with this: "I think it's our job as adults to forgive everyone for who they are."
Including him, this man who broke my heart with his choices. This imperfect man who has tried every day since to be better. To never hurt me like that again.
Including me.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Your Worst-Case Scenario Handbook to Surviving Infidelity

If I had a mantra in the early days post D-Day when my world imploded, it was this: I have three healthy children. 
No matter how bad things seemed – as lie piled upon lie, as each new bit of info shredded my heart into ever smaller bits – I would remind myself that, no matter how awful this was, my children were alive and well. 
Turns out, I was on to something.
As Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg reported in an episode of On Being, considering how things could be worse is a key survival strategy. It's akin, said Sandberg, to the stereotypical hand wringer  always considering new potential disasters but there's wisdom in it. Look on the bright side can feel impossible when you're going through hell. Most of the time, it seems as if there is no bright side. The trick, as psychologist Adam Grant explained, is that because it can be hard to replace bad with good, we fool ourselves by replacing existing awful with potentially worse, which actually helps us in that moment find gratitude. So, while my marriage felt as though it was an utter sham and my best friend had betrayed me in the worst possible way, I had three healthy children
My existing awful was discovering my husband's infidelity. My potential worse would be losing any one of my children. Consequently, the fact that my three kids were alive and well became something to be celebrated because I could imagine that not being the case. 
I also reminded myself that my husband's partners had been consenting adults. He hadn't engaged in anything illegal. Things could have been worse. Relatively speaking, infidelity seemed...survivable. 
Your potential awful might be: I could be dealing with cancer (which was the case for a woman I know.
It might be: What if my parents were dead? What if we lost our home? What if I contracted AIDS? And on and on. You can always ALWAYS, as long as you're still breathing, find a worse-case scenario.
And that worse-case scenario can keep you rooted in perspective.
This is not to diminish your current pain. In Sandberg's situation, her beloved husband was still dead. No amount of worse-case scenarios was going to change her brutal and painful reality. And, at first, she resisted. Grant's recommendation that she try to imagine a worse scenario – What could be worse? she asked – was met with her scorn. Grant's response? Your husband could have been driving your children when he had his heart attack. 
As much as some of is wish we were dead after D-Day, we don't really want our life to end. We want the pain to end. And as long as we're alive, there's the possibility – indeed the probability – that things will get better. 
Those of us further down the path of healing are proof of that. 
My kids are still alive and well. We have our challenges, of course. But they are manageable.
My marriage is good. I consider my husband my closest friend and our relationship is stronger for the storms it has weathered. 
There has and will be more pain. I lost my mother a decade ago in the midst of this maelstrom, and my father celebrates his 88th birthday today. Like everyone else, I grow older daily.

But things can (almost) always be worse. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Trusting your version of events

But willingness comes from the pain, and when I got to the point of believing I had really lost my mind, another voice inside me stepped in, grown-up and gentle. This one said, "Well? Who knows. Maybe not..."
It was lovely and amazing. I was marshalling a parent who I hadn't had consistently as a child, who assured me that we would figure it out, together. The person believed what I reported, and felt that my perceptions could be trusted or were at least worthy of investigation.
~Anne Lamott, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace

I recently visited with my 88-year-old father who dropped this little nugget of his wisdom on me: You know, he said. If your mother had just stuck with either pills or booze and hadn't combined the two, she would have been just fine.
There should be some sort of Razzie for a guy who can live almost to 90 and still be so clueless about his wife of more than 50 years. It takes some serious effort to have absorbed literally nothing from her 25-plus years of hard-won sobriety. To be able to convince himself that, sure there were months spent in locked psychiatric wards, years lost, hopes dashed, and – oh yeah – a daughter who essentially raised herself because her parents were fighting over who was more horrible than the other, but that's because she mixed her poison. Seriously.
What's more, my father has kept up his defence of an emotional affair with a woman he worked with as "harmless" for half a century. The problem wasn't his secret friendship with this woman, it was my mother's response to it, by descending into years of addiction to numb her pain.
Clearly, denial still runs deep in my father's bones.
So it's not surprising that I've spent a significant part of adulthood wondering where the truth lies. Was I being "dramatic", the often-lobbed challenge to my version of events in childhood? Did the two drunk adults somehow have a tighter grasp on reality than I did? That was certainly what I was told. That everything was fine. That I was the one rocking the boat. That if my mom just drank herself into a stupor rather than mixed in pills, she would have been great. Mother of the year. Pillar of her community.
It has taken me a lot of years and a lot of therapy to be able to say this: That is total and absolute bullshit.

Fast forward from my fiction-is-truth childhood to months before D-Day. I was pretty sure something wasn't right but my husband assured me I was mistaken. He promised me that everything was fine. Ignore that knot in your stomach, he might have said. Dismiss that nagging doubt in your brain. Don't believe what's right under your nose. Instead trust me. If I'd had any sense (and hadn't had years of grooming to doubt my own reality), I would have said this: That is total and absolute bullshit.

It's one of the great casualties with infidelity: Our version of reality becomes shaky. Even for those of you who didn't come from a long line of bullshitters, it can be hard to hold tight to what you know when what you know seems so contrary to what you want to believe. Or to what you thought you knew.
But, as Lamott reminds us, if we can listen to still small voice, the one that whispers rather than shouts, we'll often hear the truth. It's a voice that suggests we've always known who to trust (spoiler: ourselves). It's a voice that urges us to ignore that other version of reality when it doesn't sound...right. When it doesn't sound true, no matter how badly we wish it was.
At the very least, that voice will encourage us to investigate our version of reality, to give it the dignity of consideration.
As for my dad, he's 88. And while it seems he hardly learned a thing from those crazy years, I was lucky enough to have my mom until she passed away almost a decade ago. And she learned tons. She would never EVER have pretended that her problem was a consequence of what she mixed, rather than how she coped. She would have howled with laughter at my dad's version of events. Because the most important lesson she learned through sobriety was to trust herself and her reality. To stand firm in her convictions and make no excuses for anyone, least of all herself.
I miss her. I thought, as I drove home from my visit with my dad, how we would have laughed at what he said. She would have shaken her head with exasperation and said to me what she often did when I brought to her some other version of a story that I was trying to figure out: "Oh sweetie. You know exactly what's true."
In other words, if my mother ever swore (which she didn't), she would have said, "Hey, the other guy's story? Total and absolute bullshit."

Monday, May 1, 2017

Control is an illusion: The key is surrender

"The world is a terrifying place. We manage it by believing we can control it. And when it hasn’t been controlled—when it doesn’t bend to our wills—we either look for something to blame, or we surrender."
from the essay SuperBabies Don't Cry, by Heather Kirn Lanier

My daughter had a favorite children's book we read often. Piggie Pie was a hilarious retelling of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. One particular riff on Wizard of Oz had a wicked witch broom-writing above Old MacDonald's farm: Surrender Piggies!
No way were those piggies going to surrender. Not to Gritch the Witch. In fact, they were already disguised. They were undoubtedly going to outsmart the wicked Gritch.
Surrender. It feels a whole lot like failure, doesn't it? Like weakness. Giving up.
Especially in our amped-up fight-like-hell culture.
Indeed, dictionary definitions of surrender focus on defeat. Except for this one: "to yield oneself".
To yield. To make way for something else. To take your foot off the gas pedal and wait. 
In the wake of betrayal, we expect ourselves to act. Faced with our partner's choice, made without our input, beyond our control, we often compel ourselves to take control. And yet, for many of us, never has control felt so elusive.
Not only can't we control whether he continues his affair or not, whether he continues to lie to us or not, whether he stays and fights for us or not, we realize that the control we thought we had all along was an illusion. 
The world is a terrifying place. Ask anyone who's experienced a sudden tragic accident, a life-changing diagnosis, death, assault... And so many of us adopt the illusion of control because the alternative – accepting the randomness, the casual cruelty, the lottery luck of life – is too frightening. 
I did it. 
I believed that, after a chaotic childhood in which I controlled nothing, least of all my parents' addictions and consequent behaviour, I could control my adult life. And, of course, there were things I could control. Where I worked, for instance. Where I lived. Who I spent my time with.
But I bought the fantasy that there was a power that could prevent rejection or loss or failure or betrayal. I convinced myself that if I could unlock the secret formula that created a blissful life, it would be mine too. Perfection, I became certain, was the key.
And perfection was something I could control. It simply meant always looking good, always pleasing, always performing, always improving. It meant ensuring that everyone around me understood their importance, their value. It meant being available to them. It meant being whoever they needed me to be.
It meant sacrificing myself for some fantastical guarantee that they would never abandon me. 
And when it all blew up in my face (it blew up more than once. I'm a slow learner) with my husband's betrayal, I had one more choice to make. Was I going to look around and find someone to blame for what happened? Or was I going to surrender?
I chose blame for a year at least. I blamed my parents at first. My husband's betrayal unearthed some long-buried trauma that I enthusiastically excavated and flung in the faces of my parents who, to their credit, loved me through it. 
I moved onto the Other Woman. This was her fault. Her fault and the fault of every Other Woman who takes what isn't hers.
It was my husband's fault. Him with his missing moral compass. Him with his lies.
And persuasive arguments could be made that the blame for my situation lay at the feet of all of these people. Add in popular culture, add in social media with its click-to-get-laid technology, add in my husband's parents, the list goes on.
Ultimately though where did blame get me?
Absolutely nowhere.
Surrender though? Now we're talking.
Surrender wasn't failure at all. And it certainly wasn't weakness.
Surrender was yielding. Surrender was an acceptance that this was my situation and no amount of mud-slinging was going to change a damn thing. 
In a novel I've been reading, one of the characters gets in a physical fight and remembers something he learned in a martial arts class. Rather than continue to kick and flail when your opponent has you up against a wall, you go limp. You surrender. And in that act, you throw your opponent off. You become dead weight. Your opponent relaxes his grip.
When we surrender to our new reality, we're no longer expending our energy kicking and flailing at the universe, at our fate. When we're not railing against the injustice that this shouldn't have happened to us (and why not? awful things happen to good people all the time), we can focus on our injury. We can begin to heal ourself. 

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.


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