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. 


  1. Sometimes I think we have to find the happiness within ourselves before we can move on and let go or get past what has happened to us. Once we get past the grief of it all we can build a better us, a better me. Somewhere in the 26 years of marriage I lost who I was. When I look back before D-day I was my kid's mother, my husband's wife sometimes it felt like I had no identity of who I was. I thought that our marriage was great even before D-day, though we didn't spend as much time together then that we should have been spending together. But I have that now even when the OW and her friends call me names, put all the blame on my husband, because my husband chose his family over a whore and a drunk. A woman who thought she was going to live happily ever after with my husband after a 10 day long affair that she planned for months in advance with the help of her friends. I am the one who gets to choose my happily ever after. My husband is so grateful for the second chance I gave him even though it has been a struggle for both us. After 17 months I see the light at the end of the tunnel and it includes both of us growing old together.

    1. Anonymous, I think a lot of us can look back and realize that we kinda lost ourselves somewhere in there. And, clearly, our husbands lost themselves too and responded by making a horrible choice.

    2. "Lost who I was" amen, Anon. Me too. We give up taking care of who we are and nurturing ourselves, because we are so busy nurturing everyone else in our lives. So glad you and your h are on a new and better road!

  2. Just like every other little girl I dreamed of my happily ever after. The fairly tale ending with my Prince Charming, white picket fence and all. My whole life I wished and clinged to that hope, my own happy ending. Dday took my naive outlook on that happy ending away. I love this post because it doesn't mean that my life cannot be happy. It can. No one has a fairy tale ending, Bad things happen to everyone. Right now I just have to cling to the idea of eventually growing from this time. Becoming a stronger person and a better mom, friend, sister, daughter, etc. somedays it seems so far off, but today this post reminded me of this. Thank you Elle, as always you look right into my heart and know exactly what to say.

  3. We found this movie very interesting too. My kids and I went to see it and they were crushed. In the back of my mind I thought if you only knew.

    I think what I find hardest is I knew it was not really happily ever after but the direct lying to my face for 10 years and probably longer and what I still struggle with is what I brought to or relationship/partnership. We had such detailed and committed discussions when making major life decisions that in the end helped him/his career and held back/stopped mine. I think this is still what hurts the most and makes it hard to be vulnerable and allow myself to buy into us. It really has been the most crushing.

  4. Elle,

    This is brilliant on so many levels, thank you! sometines what people want most in life is what they don't get tho but having the ability to climb thru that window instead of going thru the door is the key to resilience, maybe. Mary Pipher says that families despite what is outwardly dysfunctional still may have some good things going on inside. If we can teach children that even if their fairytale happily ever after marriage didn't happen, they can still go upward and onward. In a way, I could say that having a mentally ill father prepared me for bad endings, for surviving infidelity, but sadly made it difficult to love. You have to be brave to love and when that shadow self won't shut up, well it can get downright rough. Cheers to all the brave people here are healing and keeping their heads up. Fairy tales are lovely but never real life.

    1. Fairy tales are lovely but kinda one-dimensional, aren't they. Think of the most interesting people you know, the ones most engaged with their lives. My guess is that every single one of them has gone through some difficulties, which has made them grow and think more deeply and stand more firmly in their own values.

  5. I remember so clearly my first or second session with my individual counselor when all this was so brand new and raw. I wasn't sleeping or eating at that point. I made the comment, "This was not supposed to happen to me. This was never going to be my story. This cannot be my story." I guess I felt I'd already served my time or something with the cheating ex boyfriend before my marriage. I had seen how "stupid" I was in my choice in a man and was not stupid again. I picked purposefully a really great guy and I kept my eyes open and asked lots of questions. I followed the script and somehow found myself in the ONE place I was trying so hard to avoid with all my decisions. It sounds arrogant when I think of saying that now. Why not me? I have no immunity because I had such good intentions. None of us did. My story is nothing like I planned as it turns out and I'm starting to think that that is actually better. NOT that he had the A's, but that I did get the ultimate stop sign on some of my issues and a chance to turn things around in my life. My ending will be happy, but not the champagne and puppies kind of happy. The examined life kind. I'll take it.

    1. ann,
      I could has written every single word you wrote. I was sure I'd served my time and that, having chosen someone who would never EVER cheat on me and who wasn't an alcoholic, I could finally exhale and just relax into my happily ever after. I did NOT deserve this. How dare life give this to me? But, like you, I came to realize that, why not me? What made me special or exempt from bad things happening?
      I love your notion of the "examined life" kind of happiness. That's the kind I want too.

    2. Ann, your post resonates so much with me. This was not supposed to happen to me but it did and I'm learning to look at my world without my rose colored glasses. I am much more cautious with my emotions now and I doubt I'll ever trust my husband unconditionally like I once did but that is just the outcome of his choices. There are consequences to all actions and I'm working on making my life a good one too.

    3. Hopeful 30, as usual your comments reflect my experience. We also made many decisions over 36 years that benefited his career while I took the "mommy track" to make sure our children were cared for while he soared. Little did I know that despite his career advancement he saw himself as inferior and went down the addict path to relieve his pain while I struggled to do all of the kid stuff over the years. I often feel like a fool but then I realize that we have amassed a substantial nest egg that is at least 50% mine so money is not an object. The sense of failing myself by overriding my career desire to focus on my family first and not my career will haunt me but for the most part my adult children are responsible, loving and caring adults who have each benefited by my early choices. I think your kids are still youngish so hopefully you will see that in the end we did make good choices if our legacy is to help our children be successful adults. You and I still have lots of time to make our mark on the world and now we get to choose which mark and which world to focus on.

    4. Beach girl
      Yes, you are right in that a lot of us here took the mommy route and our careers were either changed or muted in order to grow our children into the adults they are. 20 years ago, I sold my career and life dream business to follow my h career back to my home state. I knew it was where he/we needed to be both for our children and my aging parents. I worked a few jobs in those years, but nothing like those years in my chosen dream job. Our children had the best of bothe worlds. The child care center they spent their first years in was more like home but gave them the beginning of the best education to support them through the remainder of their studies and into adulthood. Have they made mistakes? Yes, they both learned that if you screw it up, you are the only one that can fix it. They both have done that and are now both successful adults. I didn't raise my h. He was raised by parents that helped get him through his early screw ups and until this betrayal, had no clue how to fix his many screw ups. Well, he finally grew up and he's taking responsibility for the past. Now, if I can just get past his stupid choice if crazy ow, I can get back to being the me that I've been all along. Do I have regrets for giving up my career? Not one! I began that career because I could not would not leave our children in the care of others just for a paycheck. At the time, my h thought he was the breadwinner, but looking back, I earned more than money could ever buy. Respect means more to me than the profits of any job he will ever have! Finding myself in all these stories has been quite a journey! I'll be forever grateful for each one!

    5. Beach Girl, Yes we are not as far along. We have known each other over 25 years and married over 20 years. Our kids are in/near teen years. I do not regret the time with my kids at all and my husband recognizes my bond with them is much stronger than his. I do think a lot of that is I am the caregiver but also over the 10 affair years he was more detached, absorbed in his work and off with friends whenever he could be. It hurts him but he is making his best efforts now and trying to makeup for I guess what you would call is lost time.

      Luckily he has had major success despite his personal behaviors. We have saved a lot which is nice even though we are not yet to retirement years so plenty of time to save more. And I guess I am glad he never spent money on his affairs or the ow. He did in my opinion spend too much time and money with friends. That has tapered off dramatically.

      Due to all of this I sometimes have hesitation still. I still think is this worth giving my all. He has continued to change and evolve and he has learned to listen to me and take to heart what I say or how I am feeling. He is so much less resistant and more adaptable.

      I think what sticks with me the most is he tells me all the time how he wants to live an authentic life and be the best husband and father possible and for that to be his legacy. He has said this for a while now and seems genuine. It is all a good sign and my therapist agrees. So we keep moving ahead and I focus on the positives!

  6. So elegantly written your words ooze out like super glue on the cracks of my heart ... absolutely a broken heart does still hold the capacity to love! Only it doesn't feel so at first. 21mo out i still think of it but it doesn't consume me. I'm living my life again in forward motion. Ots still in my rearview mirror sure the moments of deep ache or oh yeah that or big sighhh still set in but won't break doing ME. Brilliant Elle. Amen! My husband's efforts combined with mine make a big difference it's one of my daily reasons for staying and I told him that.

    1. Wounded,
      yes, you're doing you. And what better thing to be doing? None.

  7. Elle, this so very beautiful. I love the way you so eloquently talk about losing the "happily ever after," but we still have the power to achieve happiness. I love the way you wrote about the marriage vows - I feel that is exactly what happened to me. I knew there would be problems and obstacles to overcome, but I hoped my husband and I would face them together, not be of his making with infidelity.
    Thank so much for sharing your wonderful and beautiful and oh so perceptive insights and thoughts with us. Have you considered a book of your blogs? I truly think a book of your blogs/insights/thoughts would be so helpful and beneficial to us betrayed wives. However, I do understand how time consuming compiling a book could be, and I understand completely if you feel having the blog is how you want to share your thoughts.
    I just want to add how extremely grateful I am for your so wonderful thoughts/insights and beautiful compassion you share with all of us. I have been reading your blog for almost a year and never commented, because I felt I could never form a comment to come close to doing your beautiful writing justice. But I just had to now, to let you know how VERY and EXTREMELY helpful, healing and comforting your blogs are.
    Thank you, Ell, so much. You are giving numerous betrayed women hope and the strength to persevere to heal from the betrayal. Thank you so very much.

    1. Janice,
      Thank you for your kind words. I'm working on a book as I write this but struggling to organize the information. Chronological? A collection of blog entries? A survival guide with specific tips?
      I'll get there. And I appreciate your desire for a book. Stay tuned!
      And please, continue to share. It's through so many others sharing their thoughts and their experience and their support that we all grow stronger. You just never know how your words might be exactly what someone else needs to hear.

    2. Elle
      That's it isn't it? The thoughts and words of others that so closely mirror our own! I'm growing stronger by telling my story, but even more strength from the empathy I feel for the other brave struggling women I've met here! Thanks and yes, I'll stand in line for the book!

    3. Janice so glad you found the courage to speak and you speak very well might I add.. there's no right or wrong here just women who come to share listen and respond with great compassion.. I hope you find as much in this site as I have over the last 3 years.. xxx

  8. Elle and everyone: I need your advice. Our recovery has been extremely rocky. My has done an 150 degree turn around so I have hope. But there is still a major sticking point. He still is very self focused. His "needs", his recovery, his suffering is what he mostly talks about. Despite all his changes--he is more helpful, less reactive, more considerate, more reflective, more stable and self regulating--an underlying self centeredness/victim mentality remains. Understanding and inquiring about those things from my perspective is not something he does well. His father has narcissitic personality disorder, and while my H is not NPD, I am sure he has internalized the patterns of self centeredness of his father. What are your thoughts? He is pretty much behaving as the husband he should have been. He is growing up. But this childlike part remains and it is keeping me from wanting to connect to him. I am completely turned off by this underlying sense of entitlement. At the same time he is trying. Has anyone who has been further down the road seen a shift in their H--from needy, entitled child to giving, generous adult?

    1. MBS, I was raised by a narcissistic mother. A father who fell right in line. I have been in therapy for 2 years trying to undo what was done to me early on. It is a very hard struggle. When I tell my therapist what my mom was like she is horrified but I thought it was normal. I can't tell you how much I had to overcome and didn't even know it. My little sister is in worse shape than me. He needs to get in counseling ASAP he can't do it alone, no way. There are several books about the effects on adults raised by these monsters. So what you are seeing is real it is not in your head. You are seeing his struggles it is real. He doesn't know his father never loved him. He doesn't know his father never protected him like a parent should. He can't help it, he is trying but he really can't help it. My H was frustrated with me as well so I took him to therapy and the therapist told him the effects so he could understand why I was still messed up. He was able to help me in many ways after he understood. That was when I began to heal from a mother who never loved me. Hang in there with him, he needs professional help. He doesn't know what is normal so his entitlement is his comfort zone, he knows nothing else. Read up on grown children who were raised in a narcissistic home. Here is an example then I'll shut up. When I feel down as a child and put a hole in my new tights, my mom would say, why did you do that they were brand new, you will not be getting another pair instead of a normal mom would say, that's ok we will get another pair when we go to the store. From what I read the brothers are more singled out by both parents rather than the daughters to serve the narcissistic parents. You are seeing the effects of his abuse, it is real it is not in your head. The parents influence for the child to,serve them spills big time over in to marriages. Love to you LLP he can get better and be the man you know he can be. I'm telling you his responses are automatic and it is not like a light switch he can turn off. You might be on to his real issues with your observations and insights. He needs to be talking to a therapist or in my opinion he will stay stuck forever in the only world he knows. This is serious stuff. Tell him about my experience and see if a small light goes on.

    2. MBS,

      Yes I see that selfishness come & go in my H too - and personality disorders are not cut & dry - there is a spectrum. My H puts his needs above mine too often, but not all the time. My H is going to IC and I hope he sticks with it. It is deep rooted in him being abandoned by his mother as a toddler (and we are only just figuring that out now), to top it off he was an only child who moved around a lot. I think it caused him to have an attachment disorder and the more I learn the more I see reasons he is vulnerable to A's. However, him deliberately choosing to commit adultery will never ever make sense to me. Ever. There is an important distinction there - we as human's are all susceptible in our limbic brain to something that isn't good for us or will hurt someone we love, but in healthy individuals our higher level cognition overrides those risky thoughts.

      This is going to take a lot of therapy for my CH and me as a couple and as individuals. As long as he keeps going and working on himself I have hope for our marriage.

      But as Elle points out in this blog post, I have learned that also need IC (and reluctantly antidepressants) to heal from the betrayal -- I never expected a happily ever after; but, I did think my H would never break my trust by having an A. I thought that was the one line he wouldn't cross. I knew we would fight, I knew we wouldn't have a fairy tale, or even a great marriage (those are so rare), but I did think he would be faithful. I did think he would respect me enough to not break my heart and soul.

      MBS, read about different personality disorders on a reputable site. I think most CS's have an underlying psychiatric, personality disorder and/or addiction. Not the CH's who got drunk on a business trip and had a one night stand - that's more of a very big stupid mistake. I mean those who were able to engage in a full blown EA and or PA with all it's lies and secrecy - there is likely something of a psychological nature that made those CH's vulnerable. And unless they get assessed to understand that and are willing to be honest with the IC and work on it they are going to be at risk for hurting us again (whether or not it's an another A or something else).

    3. Hi MBS,

      My H also has some serious narcissistic (not NPD though) self centered, victimized issues and it is a major road block in our marriage before and now. We had been in therapy before and were in therapy one year post the major dday before we separated.

      It was so hard for me to see him devolve into a teenage boy before my eyes, as we were trying to have serious discussions. And I would just think I can't be married to a teenager. There are also some serious considerations for what is safe and healthy for me. Meaning, my H is very very focused on having his needs met and needing his met first and perfectly or he feels desperately under threat. So the things is I'm human, not perfect (no one is) and can't meet his needs perfectly all the time. Which he gets this cognitively, but emotionally he feels very desperate. He can't function in a balanced relationship where partners meet each other's need and yes there will be times where each partner falls short, but overall support each other. My needs are never addressed because I have to meet his needs perfectly first..... or he can only very very intermittently consider my needs.

      While he at times could make a lot of changes that were good, the narcissistic emotional needs issues was a road block and a risk to more betrayal. He so so desperately has to have those needs feed and I'm not ever going to perfectly do it so, he is at risk to seek EA or PA because it feels like emotional survival to him. As part of this big dday I learned about some past stuff. So the relationship is not safe for me.
      Also, H was not really willing to go into the depths of this issue in therapy. So I really began to see that our relationship would always be risky, stunted, and I would never have the full connection I wanted with my partner.

      Hope this made sense and is helpful MBS

      Love and support sisters

    4. Becky I can understand everything you have said.. my h is exactly the same as yours and I've come to the conclusion that I will never be able to rely on him for love support and honesty..hence why we have been separated now for 8 months I'm coasting at the moment as I can't seem to come to a final decision so I'm standing still and waiting for the right moment to move forward.. it really helped to hear your story Becky .. I'm not on my own after all .. thank you .. xxx

    5. MBS
      Yes. My h can and is both the most selfish at times but too generous at others. No rhyme or reason when they switch but depends on who he's around. He's always been compassionate towards others but sometimes I have to remind him to be compassionate with me.

    6. MBS, Well I never realized how needy and selfish my husband was until all this happened. I am super independent so I think I was the perfect catch for him. I love to do things on my own and am or always was really optimistic.

      My therapist is amazed at how my husband acted and what he was like and his behaviors considering his profession. Granted a lot of what he was doing and his thoughts were hidden or he just told me flat out lies. But he has revealed himself to be highly selfish and immature. It is crazy since he is so high functioning and no one would ever criticize him for any of this. Others are drawn to it. If he plans something no one misses. He sets the tone.

      Part of what I have asked my husband is has he surrounded himself with people that a. make him look better b make him feel better about himself c feed into his ego d allow him to be selfish and immature and not feel bad about it. It is hard to come to a straight answer on any of this. Many of his friends are from middle school, high school and college. So especially the grade school and middle school friends I am not sure if he was that calculated. But he has made a choice as an adult who to invest in and spend time with. He has surrounded himself with people that make him feel better about him self in all aspects of his life but they do not challenge him at all. He is the leader of his friend groups. I know now that we have talked more that his parents allowed and indulged him since he was a good kid, athlete and good student. And he did not do anything wrong but it set him up to be an entitled adult.

      I too will never understand this and his actions. He still does not have an explanation that makes sense to me. But I would never do this to anyone even if I was married to my worse enemy much less someone I say I love i would never cheat on them.

      I will say my husband has made dramatic changes and his friends have commented. He does a lot less with them, turns them down often, drinks less, stays out not as late etc. But there are still times I question his judgement and who he is putting first or what his motives are. It a way I wonder is he just always who he is. Yes his behaviors have changed dramatically. My therapist says he has never seen anyone make the changes he has and stuck with them and truly seem to change his personality this much. Due to his profession i was worried I was getting fooled but my therapist said that would not be possible for this long. I tend to agree he would be the best actor or a sociopath if he was able to pull that off. He seems genuine but again there are little blips nothing major that make me thing is that person still there. And I think what if major stress happens in life will he flip back to his old self.

      Sorry to ramble so much but I have seen a significant change in my husband's immaturity and selfishness. One thing that sticks with me is he said he had to make an effort to change his thinking pattern and decision making. He had to make an effort to not just think what do I want to do. He did say when he puts me and the kids first he is happier. So with that reward it has reinforced that decision making.

    7. Becky, Sam, MBS,

      Yes, teenage-like behavior is what my h is at here too. The part in the movie La La Land that made a tear come to my eye was at the end, where a little smile of recognition and generosity was exchanged between the old flames. It seemed to me like a mature recognition that people are all the sum total of the choices they have made so far in life - and that this is ok if the choices were made through love and generosity of spirit. I was reminded a bit of Casablanca.

      These days, my h is not capable of recognising anything outside his own drama. Real life is so much bigger than that.

  9. this:

  10. Elle I'm so excited your in the mist of writing a book.. I'm no book reader but yours would be my bed time read and everything else in between .. you so deserve a place in the mantel piece, a place next to every other self help book you have saved many from the brink of betrayal and I hope your not sick of me telling you but I do love you for that.. you are my forever friend : ) that one special person everyone should have in their lives.. look forward to the book..


  11. Me too! I'd vote for thematic, rather than chronological organisation. If other people's experience is like mine, there is a lot of coming and going around different issues even as time moves forward...



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