Monday, February 6, 2017

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

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

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

Reduce expectations to zero: Eat, sleep, breathe.

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

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


  1. Just what I needed to read - thank you, Elle. I'm so worn out with everything here and I do still have crazy ambitious expectations in relation to social and working life beyond sheer survival. My almost two-year-old keeps me smiling and eating well (as I want to prepare nice food for her), but her energy and early awakenings also keep me sleepless! Time to embrace the season of hibernation and scale back on unnecessary daytime activities...

    1. Selkie,
      Absolutely. Hibernate. Go to bed early. And abandon those expectations. The world will not grind to a halt because you've chosen to take care of yourself. And, in fact, the more you tend to yourself now, the quicker you'll feel ready to take on the world again. Maybe by the time the weather is nicer!

  2. Thank you so much for this. As a recovering perfectionist, I always need to remind myself of this message. After discovering the affairs was the first time in my life I actually considered what "self care" meant. Before this, I thought it included putting on nice clothes so other people could benefit or remembering to take your medication/eat your lunch/exercise so you could keep going for other people. In the days after D day, I had to let everyone else go. Even my 12 year old to some extent had to fend for himself a bit during this time. Self care can mean putting on a nice outfit, but it's for ME (not for someone else). I eat healthy food, but I don't have to do a bunch of stuff for other people to deserve it (same for exercise or recreation time). I constantly take stock with what I'm doing and how I'm feeling. I'm looking for ways to serve my needs. What's amazing is that everyone else seems to be doing better when I'm not doing so much for them. I assumed the whole world would crumble when I took a big step back, but the opposite happened. Like Elle said, I can actually enjoy the people around me when I don't resent them so much. I do not allow myself to run on empty anymore. I recharge myself. I will even take a day off from work when I am feeling overwhelmed. I guess I thought that if I took care of everyone else, they would take care of me. Dday was the opposite of anyone taking care of me! Clearly I had to rearrange my priorities. I have, and this is a much healthier way to live. I think of it as treating myself like my own best friend or my own parent. You are all worth it and you don't have to do anything for anyone else to deserve it.

    1. Too right, Ann! I'm only gradually learning this now...

    2. Ann,
      It's a bit humbling, isn't it? To discover that people are actually quite capable when we give them the space to be so. Your job is to take care of you. You are responsible TO people -- to be honest, respectful, kind. But you are not responsible FOR people.
      I had to learn the hard way, like so many here, that "taking care" of everyone was about asserting control. I felt that if people needed me, then I'd be safe and loved and never abandoned.
      Crazy thing is, turns out people loved me anyway, even if wasn't doing things for them.

  3. Elle, Excellent post. I still tell myself worry about the next step, not next week, next year, 10 years just the next step. It has helped me a lot. I know I was raised and am the typical type A overachiever and every aspect of my life has been planned, organized, made into lists etc. I have done a good job with anything I have tackled but as you and my therapist have helped me realize and come to grips with this is not about me. It does not matter how organized or unorganized I am these were his decisions.

    I fount it crucial to focus on my basic needs. I really had to ask myself what do I want and need right now. Eating was hard, sleeping was hard. I loved to cook and did a lot of that it felt good. I took care of my kids since that always brought me so much fulfillment and joy. I cleaned out a lot my house. And I worked out. Those were the things I needed. Even now if we get too busy we both feel it immediately and connect and decide how we can make sure to spend more time together as a couple and/or as a family. We have both really tried to learn from this for our future. It is easy to get busy and commit to too much but we keep reassessing and saying no a lot more.

    1. Wow, type A indeed. It was all I could do to roll out of bed in the morning, let alone clean my house and cook meals. I think we ate frozen pizza for a month at least! But we need to nurture ourselves in the way that feels right for us. And if that helped you regain your equilibrium, then that's great. But learning to say "no" is great too. As my therapist used to say to me, "No" is a complete sentence.

    2. Yes I love that one that "no" is a complete sentence.

  4. Even after 17 months I still feel the need to do self care. I know that I need to get back exercising. That just walking the dog some days isn't enough. I recently found a job in a clothing boutique helping women feel good about themselves. I so look forward to where these days of gut wrenching pain truly goes away. My husband does everything right and we have built a stronger foundation for our marriage. We moved across the country to get away from her and her friends so there is not contact and she isn't driving by our house all the time. I asked him between the numbers of 1-10 how he felt our marriage was now and he said 9 1/2 because nobody has a total 10 marriage. I know that these days, which aren't everyday, will go away. I just hate going through it and feeling crap.

    1. It sounds as though you're really creating a life that's centred on meaningful work and activities. Self-care isn't just for crisis situations. It's something that should be part of our everyday. It's about treating ourselves with kindness and dignity. About valuing ourselves.

    2. Anonymous, I'm with you. At almost 20 months out it is becoming clear that the end of big emotions/triggers/feelings is nowhere in sight yet but the self-care goes on forever. I am ever so thankful for the "good" days when things that used to cause me big pain and meltdowns pass without that response. It means I am getting better and you are too. That is a good thing.



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