Tuesday, May 19, 2020

How "My Heartbreak, My Rules" points us toward truth

Honesty is simply a declaration of ones own vulnerability — it is its keen, bright edge — and my own vulnerability and the vulnerability of others became, in the end, a kind of shared armour. I learned that, ultimately, our own truth and sense of self is all any of us have. We are enough, if we could only allow ourselves to be.
~musician Nick Cave, The Red Hand Files

I sometimes struggle to articulate just how deep and broad the change has been to my life since that horrible morning on December 10, 2006, when I asked my husband if he was having an affair, already knowing the answer. One might assume that much of the change has been horrible. After all, infidelity can lead to other dominoes falling – divorce, financial calamity, custody battles, substance abuse. When my mother discovered my father's affair, it ignited a decade of alcohol abuse interspersed with stays at various psychiatric hospitals. It left me motherless for ten pivotal years, from the age of nine to 19. 
And though I felt largely powerless in the hours and days and weeks following confirmation of my husband's infidelity, I can look back and see that I made one very clear choice: I would not go down the same path my mother did. I would do it differently.
It can be hard to talk about choice when responding to a partner's infidelity because we feel stripped of it. We didn't choose for him to cheat on us, we certainly didn't choose the skank(s) he cheated with, we didn't choose this pain. Indeed, our exclusion for any of his choices is exactly why we're in this mess. 
But denying that we have a choice only compounds our feeling is disempowerment. We hold enormous power in the wake of infidelity, if only we can recognize it. And use it.
Which is why I was struck by Nick Cave's newsletter response to a question about his ability to be so honest, to lay himself so bare for the public.
I had created armour over the years to protect myself from..what exactly? Rejection, certainly. Embarrassment. Humiliation. A sense of being excluded. Growing up with an alcoholic mother had left me marinated in shame. I carried it with me everywhere, fearful of other discovering the truth beneath the armour. That I was defective. That I wasn't enough. Not enough to keep my mother moored in reality. Not enough to make her choose me over booze. Not enough.
I didn't know then, of course, that my mother's choices weren't about me at all. They were about her own pain, her own fear of not being enough. Just as I didn't know, on D-Day, that my husband's choices were about his own pain, his fear of not being enough. Her addiction, his addiction had nothing to do with me at all. But I hadn't yet learned that lesson. And so I suited up, as Brené Brown puts it. If I was perfect, I wouldn't be rejected. If I was perfect, my husband wouldn't cheat. If I was perfect, I wouldn't be excluded.
My perfection did nothing to protect me. It only insulated me from genuine connection, from the actual truth – that I was enough, and so was everyone else. "We are enough, if we could only allow ourselves to be," as Nick Cave writes.
Stripped of that armour, faced with the reality that it hadn't protected me at all, I had a choice. You have a choice. Continue to operate by rules that don't work for you, or change the rules. Write your own. The tagline on this site, as I so often remind everyone (and that was coined by the brilliant Steam) is: My heartbreak, my rules.
And those four words change everything. Within those four words is your liberation. They are a battle cry.
Those words are about prioritizing your comfort over his. They are about operating as if your pain matters. Because it does. They are about rediscovering your worth and only allowing people into your life who see your worth too. They are about refusing to go along by rules that harm you, about refusing to stay small. 
It is impossible to overstate just how powerful those words are.
He wants you to stop looking at it phone? My heartbreak, my rules.
He won't stop texting a female co-worker? My heartbreak, my rules.
He wants you to get over it? My heartbreak, my rules.
He refuses to see a therapist? My heartbreak, my rules.
You cannot make him do anything he doesn't want to, of course. But you can refuse to play by his rules. Because, frankly, his rules have actively harmed you. The game has changed and he can either join you or sit this one out. 
What I struggle to articulate is just how much better my life is. And, honestly, I thought my life was pretty good prior to D-Day. I loved my husband, I had three awesome children. But I had betrayed myself long before my husband betrayed me. I routinely trusted others' perceptions over my own. I consistently silenced myself to avoid rocking the boat. I kept myself small to ensure that others have all the room they wanted.
No more. 
I will never say my husband's affair was the best thing for me just as Nick Cave will never say his son's death was good for him. What he and I are both saying is that, out of that pain, as a result of being stripped of our armour is the realization that nothing matters more than living our own truth. Knowing that I am enough changed everything. May it change everything for you too. 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Anatomy of an Apology

An apology is not a bargaining tool for which I get something back, including forgiveness.
~Harriet Lerner, author of "Why Won't You Apologize", speaking with Brené Brown

There are many ways to say you're sorry for cheating on your wife. You might have even heard some of them.
I'm sorry but I was thought you didn't love me anymore.
I'm sorry but you invaded my privacy, which is unacceptable.
How many times do I have to say 'I'm sorry'?
I apologize but you need to apologize too because we were fighting all the time.
I shouldn't have done that but you cheated on me four years ago.
These apologies likely didn't make us feel better. And that's because, as Harriet Lerner would say, they aren't very good apologies.
A good apology after betrayal is as rare as a diamond in the mud. 
Even the truly sincere ones often come with strings attached. Yes, they're truly sorry for cheating but, honestly, when are you going to let this go? Yes, they recognize that what they did was wrong but you're not making this any easier by crying all the time and making them feel awful.
Which is why I was so struck, listening to Dr. Lerner on Brené Brown's incredible new podcast (seriously! Listen!!), when she noted that a good apology asks for nothing in return, not even forgiveness.
A sincere apology, she says, is about soothing the other person. The offender's feelings don't matter in the context of an apology. This isn't about them at all. It's about us. It's about the injury inflicted by them to us. We are under zero obligation to accept their apology, not right away, not ever. We are under zero obligation to make them feel better about apologizing. An apology should never come with the demand to be forgiven.
And yet...isn't that what most offenders are after? Forgiveness? Absolution?
I get it. Your spouse having to live with the acknowledgement that they have grievously harmed another person, particularly another person who loved and trusted them, is horrifically uncomfortable (unless they're a sociopath, in which case, run, don't walk, to your divorce attorney). I imagine that must feel terrible. Too bad. That's the price they pay for terrible behaviour. It sucks. We get it.
But it was a choice they made. And, if they're sincere about making amends, an apology is the perfect place to start. 
A sincere apology. 
An apology in which there isn't a "but" to be found.
An apology that doesn't expect anything.
An apology with just one purpose: To soothe the injured party.
Too often, apologies are framed as weakness. But can you imagine something that takes greater strength than facing down your own abhorrent actions and apologizing for them? (Okay, perhaps healing from infidelity takes greater strength, but you get my point...)
Unfortunately, few of have seen sincere apologies in action. Our parents might have seen apologizing as undermining their own authority. Our siblings might have seen apologies as a something one offers under duress ("Apologize to your sister!"). And spouses (and, gulp, we) might have seen an apology as a "get out of jail free" card. We apologized already. For goodness' sake, let it go.
None of which gets us where we want to go. Which is to healing. Which is to responsibility for hurtful behaviour and sincere desire to sooth the injured party.
After listening to Lerner, I tried out her advice. My eldest daughter and I have been struggling lately. She tells me how she's feeling and I immediately begin telling her how to mitigate those feelings. She feels blamed for her feelings, I get frustrated that she doesn't take my advice.
I told her that I was sorry. I named the hurtful behaviour ("for not just listening when you talk to me"), I told her I would work on it and aim to do better next time. And I meant it.
Not a perfect apology. But a darn good one.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

To our broken-hearted moms

Celebrations of any kind are tough when you're in pain. My wish for you is that, for the mothers in our midst, you can take comfort in your children, that you can find gratitude for their presence, and that, even if you're wiping up spills and tears, you remember that this is just a moment in time. Your heart will heal and you will have wisdom and compassion when your own children's hearts are broken. You will be their soft place to land. 
If your mother's day today cannot be "happy" exactly, let it be a moment of pause in your pain. 

Friday, May 8, 2020

Here's How We Set Ourselves Up. Let's Stop

Because I didn’t feel like I deserved love. Showing up and asking for love without having anything to offer in return was out of the question. I would have to be of service in order to earn love. I would have to be sexy and funny and larger than life. I would have to dance on tabletops. I would have to win and keep winning. I would not be able to rest.
~Dear Polly, The Cut

If there was one overwhelming belief I had about my husband's betrayal, it was this: I was not enough.
He cheated because I was not sexy enough.
He cheated because I was not thin enough.
He cheated because I was not beautiful enough.
Smart enough.
Fun enough.
Adventurous enough in bed.
Succesful enough.
I was, clearly, not enough.
There was plenty of evidence to the contrary but that didn't alter my belief. Not one bit.
Because my belief – that I was not enough – was something I had carried around with me since childhood. Though I was barely conscious of it, I had built my life around proving to others that I could be enough, if they would give me the chance to show them.
Every friendship felt like an audition.
Every relationship felt like probation. 
Though I tolerated no end of others' bad behaviour, I didn't allow myself a single mistake. I made mistakes, of course. We all do. And then I would sink into shame so deep, I could hardly breathe. That's the problem with perfection being the only acceptable bar. It's impossible. And when we brush up against that impossibility, it makes us so incredibly angry that we're ready to just burn it all down. The system is rigged. 
Yes, it is.
But we're the ones doing the rigging.
We're the ones demanding perfection of ourselves.
We're the ones choosing the wrong people. And then blaming ourselves when it all falls apart.
And so when my husband admitted that, yes, he was having an affair, somewhere deep down inside was a voice that said of course, he was. Because you are not enough.
We talk a lot about our deep knowing here, on this site. It can be hard to discern which is our deep knowing and which is the voice of the critic. But let me tell you this: Your deep knowing will never tell you you're not enough. Your deep knowing is a voice of love. It is a voice of acceptance. It is, if you're religious or spiritual, a voice of divine love. It is, if you're not religious or spiritual, a voice that speaks the truth of every person's value. 
Your deep knowing will never tell you you're not enough. 
Your critic most certainly will. 
We've all had critics in our lives and, far too often, their voices take root in our bodies and chastise us decades after the actual speaker is gone. It might have been a parent, a sibling, your fifth-grade teacher who laughed at your dream. It might have been a boss, a friend, a bully.
But you have thrown the door open to that critic to move in with you, to offer nothing but reminders that you are a profound disappointment.
Critics are absolutely not the voice of truth. They speak nothing but lies
My critic insisted for years that I was not enough. Not matter how fast I danced, it was never fast enough. No matter what I achieved, the critic would move the finish line further ahead. 
The system was rigged.
But it was us doing the rigging.
Let's unrig the system.
If there is a silver lining to my husband's infidelity, it was that, with a whole lot of work and some new truth-telling glasses, I could finally see the flaw in the system. I could see that I was setting myself up. 
What I wish for all of you is that same revelation. 
He didn't cheat because you are not enough.
He cheated for any number of reasons that – and this is the truth – have nothing to do with you.
He cheated because he believes he's not enough. He cheated because someone paid attention to him and it felt good. He cheated because it made him feel young. He cheated because his moral compass is broken. He cheated because it distracted him from money woes, an empty nest, a special needs child, a sick wife, a dying parent.
He cheated, as Esther Perel reminds us, because he was looking for another version of himself.
Your work, in the wake of his infidelity, is to unrig the system that you've rigged against yourself. To refuse the system that our culture has rigged against us. The one that says we're not allowed to age, to soften, to choose for ourselves.
The good news is that we have everything we need for the challenge ahead. We have ourselves. And that is enough.

Monday, May 4, 2020

He Cheated, I Stayed. Now What?

He cheated on you. Maybe you found out via an errant text message. Maybe you got a phone call from his recently dumped OW. Maybe that nagging fear finally coaxed you to check his e-mails or his texts and – whoa! – guess what you found. Or maybe, like me, you asked. And he answered.

I was in a state of shock when I finally confronted my husband and got the answer I sorta kinda expected but was desperately hoping I wouldn't get. 

And in my state of shock was one looming question: Now what?
What was I supposed to do with the knowledge that my husband had cheated on me? What was I supposed to tell my children, if anything? Where was I supposed to go? 
There is no playbook for betrayed wives (though Encyclopedia for the Betrayed is my best attempt to give you 182 pages of playbook). On soap operas and in bad movies and in country songs, the cheated wife responds with fury. She dumps his belongings in to a pile onto which she pours gasoline and tosses a lit match. Or she slashes his tires. Or she confronts the Other Woman, leaving her with no question about who truly rules.
It all seems so satisfying. 
And then, we imagine, the betrayed wife walks into her future on kickass stiletto heels. Often there's a handsome new guy waiting for her. Insert eyeroll here, amirite? 
We're rarely offered the image of a woman shattered, in a ratty bathrobe and staring into space. Awake a 3 a.m., eyes red from crying, wondering, again, 'why?'. Desperate to leave but paralyzed. Desperate to stay but for what?

I couldn't sit still. I walked my house like a ghost, heavy with chains of dread. And through it all – the weeks of fury, the months of sadness – hung a question: Now what?
What did I want?
What did I need?
How could I be sure?
What if it happens again?
How did I miss it?
And, of course, that perennial Why? Why me? Why him? Why her? Why?
I can't answer your questions. Only you can. And, likely, only with time.
But I can tell you how I found my own answer to Now what?
It began when I finally quieted that voice in my head that screamed like my mother on a bender and rediscovered what Glennon Doyle calls "the Knowing". That deep voice that put me on solid ground, the one that said "you are not what happened to you", the one that promised me I had a well of strength to get through this. But perhaps the most important thing that deep voice told me was that "now what?" wasn't permanent. That it was okay to not know what was next, that I could take my time to process this pain before reacting to it. And, in fact, if I took that time, I wouldn't so much react as respond. I could plan. I could choose.
We forget that, don't we? That we have a choice. We're often so humiliated and crippled by betrayal that we feel stripped of any power we might have. But, as I was reminded on Twitter the other day, when our husbands are asking us for a second chance – whether explicitly or by assumption – we have the most power. Not to change them. That's always on them. But to insist upon what we want. That is not, of course, to say that we will get exactly what we want. They might choose the OW. They might choose to leave. But by treating ourselves with respect, by demanding to be treated by them with respect, we can't lose. We might lose them, sure. But is it really a loss to no longer have a cheater who doesn't respect you in your life? You might not see it now, but that sounds like a win to me. 
Doyle puts it this way: "I can't imagine a greater tragedy than remaining forever unknown to myself. That would be the ultimate self-abandonment. So I have become unafraid of my own feelings."
Your feelings are your guide. They are prophets, pointing the way forward. Sit with them. You will not drown. Pay attention to them. Learn to discern your deep-down voice from the noise of the critics. You know the ones – that tell you what you "should" do, how you "should" feel. There is no "should", there is only you and what you want in service of your self-respect. 
You have been betrayed by the person you must trusted. But perhaps that was our first mistake. The first person we should always trust is ourself. Don't betray her again. 

Friday, April 17, 2020

Guest Post: No More Participation Trophies

Yeah, that's right. Just stand there. 
by Lynn Less Pain

A participation trophy is a trophy given usually to kids who participate in something but do not finish in first, second or third place. Are giving your husband a participation trophy?
Let’s take a cheater: he lies, hides info, spends money on another woman, ignores his wife and kids. He may have developed ways to avoid helping around the house, including working on himself to save his marriage. He lacks empathy towards you.
He criticizes you. He believes he is 100% right. 

He uses you to serve his needs without showing any appreciation. 
He clams up. He leaves the room. If he says something to hurt you, it is your fault. He says you are over-reacting. He tries to control you by making you feel you have become unhinged. 
He hides cruel remarks by saying it was just a joke. Or, he says, "I never said that, you are imaging things."
What do far too many of us do? We give him a participation trophy for just showing up, not leaving us, taking care of us financially and not seeing the OW. He feels entitled, simply because he has stuck around. As nurturing women, we often carry the load of recovery. We hand out those participation trophies.
It's time to stop. It's time to make clear that we are no longer going to pull their weight as well as ours trying to heal a marriage. It's time to make it clear, calmly and firmly, that the rules have changed. He will test you. 

"I didn’t say I wouldn’t talk to her at work." "You never said I had to do that." "I didn’t see her trying to text me." Your bullshit meter will be going off.
But instead of asking why he's not supporting you in my healing and marriage, tell him your expectations about recovery. Don’t think you are doing something wrong. You’re not. I read all the time on this blog – "he just doesn’t act like he wants to make our marriage work." It isn’t because he doesn’t love you. It isn’t because you don’t exercise. It isn’t because you are too exhausted to wear anything else but sweatclothes.
It is because you have not told him this is not acceptable. It is hard and it is going to get harder when he pushes back. He likes the way things are. His system works for him, so he is not going to be in any rush. He may not want to try hard because he expects you to give him a participation trophy. Giving him a participation trophy devalues your own efforts to heal.
It is going to take him awhile to learn his past ways of not participating is not going to win him any more trophies. DON’T FLINCH, don’t bug off, shrug off, scare off and don’t even reach in your mind for that participation trophy. Your willingness to speak up about what you will speak volumes for you. Every moment you wait is a moment you don’t get the love, attention, respect you deserve from him or someone else. Participation trophies are for children not grown men. 

Love to you all. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

What we can learn about control from a rubber band

If you think of your family/household as a “system” of interdependence, you’ll recognize that when one part of the system changes, the rest of it will be forced to change in response. A good metaphor for this is if you picture a group of people in a circle holding onto a large taut rubber band. As everyone leans back, the tension in the band increases. Even if one person lets go of the tension that binds everyone together, the others will inevitably have to rebalance their relationship to one another and to the rubber band (the “system.”)

We may not be able to demand that others change, but we can change ourselves. It’s not easy to relinquish a power struggle or “take the high road” towards reconciliation when in conflict with someone who is unwilling to bend, but you may be surprised at how powerful a change in how you speak or react to others can be in shifting the dynamics among you.

~Susan Epstein, The Woolfer

There you are. Quarantined with the person who broke your heart. Trapped in so many ways. Fighting to breathe through the brain. If betrayal is excruciating, betrayal while forced to remain in your home is exponentially harder. And yet...there you are. 
Let me begin by simply saying, I see you. I see your pain and I see your desperation and I know well the shattering you're experiencing. 
I, of course, had access to a therapist, to my mother, to the day-to-day routine that can give shape to our lives in the midst of an explosion within them. You likely don't. Instead, you are unable to visit parents or adult siblings or friends who might be able to offer comfort. You are unable to seek distraction in work outside your home (unless you aren essential worker, which, right now, only adds more stress to your lives no matter how grateful the rest of us are for your service).
If you are a anything like I, you feel helpless and suffocated by pain at a time when you are being called on to support your children through their own stress, to find meaning in long days and longer nights, to imagine a time when this will be a memory.
Which is why I took note of what therapist Susan Epstein wrote. The entire article is worth your time (and includes links to online group therapy supports and access to domestic violence helpline, though you have to subscribe to read it) but, in particular, Epstein reminds us that we have more power than we might recognize. 
It's a theme we return to on this site, again and again. You cannot control anyone else. But you can control you. That's what Epstein is telling us with her rubber band analogy. If we stop leaning back, the tension in the rubber band shifts.
What does that look like in real life? Maybe it looks like you refusing to be silenced when he says "aren't you ever going to get over this?" Maybe it looks like you walking away when he picks a fight instead of taking the bait. Or maybe it has way less to do with responding to him and a whole lot more to do with your own healing, with transforming how you show up in the world. 
Because – let's say it again – that's really all any of us can control in this world.
And maybe that's the lesson held in this time of quarantine. That so much of the control we think we have is an illusion. That something minute and invisible to the naked eye can alter our world. It's a lesson delivered on D-Day. It's a lesson that shows up in so many parts of our lives and yet the vast majority of us resist it, refuse it. 
But here's what's also important to note: What we can control – ourselves – come sometimes be enough to generate change around us. Not by demanding it or forcing it, but by our own shift, which ripples out to others. 
It's something I've noticed in my own quarantined family of five. When I take steps to manage my own emotions, those around me seem better able to manage their own. When I refuse to participate in drama, the drama tends to fizzle out. To put it another way, it takes two to tango and I can either put on my dancing shoes or sit it out. 
So yeah, it sucks to be confined to our homes. It sucks that we can't see friends, therapists, our favorite barista. And it absolutely sucks to be betrayed. But while we're in forced confinement with the person who hurt us most, we can begin our own healing, which starts with acknowledging that all we can control is ourselves. And that will be enough. 

Monday, April 6, 2020

Slipping out of the cage of judgement

Judgement is just another cage we live in so we don't have to feel, know, and imagine. Judgement is self-abandonment. You are not here to waste your time deciding whether my life is true and beautiful enough for you. You are here to decide if you life, relationships, and world are true and beautiful enough for you. And if they are not and you dare to admit they are not, you must decide if you have the guts, the right – perhaps even the duty – to burn to the ground that which is not true and beautiful enough and get started building what is.
~Glennon Doyle, Untamed

Where do I begin? Ever since I began reading Untamed last week, I've been desperate for people to talk about it with. I've shared with my husband, my girls, my boy, my six-feet-apart running partner. And I will undoubtedly be sharing with you because it seems that on every single page there is something that wakes me up, that nudges my heart, that whispers in my ear, or, sometimes, makes me uncomfortable.
Doyle and I have something in common. Like me, she discovered well into her marriage and three kids later, that her husband had been unfaithful. He was a sex addict. Her book, Love Warrior, which I did not love (only later, after she announced that she left her first marriage and married a woman, could I see that the book's second half felt inauthentic to me because it was), details her discovery, her healing, her lessons.
But Doyle is a teacher and I, a good student. She points to the things that I have learned far too well to pretend isn't there.
Take her thoughts about judgement (quote above), which I know so many of us struggle with here (and, if you're like me, continue to struggle with). 
What I wish for all of us is to learn the lesson that Doyle has learned (and continues to – she's honest about her work-in-progress status, though aren't we all works-in-progress?). That other people's judgement of us says more about their fears than about us. And, perhaps more importantly, that our judgement of others is really a chance to reflect back on ourselves. 
On its surface, it seems self-explanatory. But I sat with this thought. I took stock of the ways in which I continue to want other people to like me, to admire me (her daughter's admission that a classmate doesn't like prompts Doyle to respond, "that's a fact, not a problem", which I aim to make my new mantra). And within that desire to be liked and admired is still me outsourcing my value.
I don't want that for myself any more and I don't want it for you either. Betrayal lays it all bare, doesn't it? Our knee-jerk reaction is often what's most revealing. Not just the shock and sadness and anger but the belief beneath that: I'm not enough. 
That belief underscored everything I did. Maybe not consciously but it was always there. I was the dutiful wife, the heavily-invested mother, the volunteer, the writer, the exerciser, the pet-owner, the responsible daughter, the always-there friend. God forbid I let anyone down because that would openly reveal what I secretly believed about myself. I was not enough. My husband had cheated because there was something wrong with me. I was selfish, self-absorbed, vain. 
I still struggle. Those messages, delivered to me via our culture and straight into my ear from my alcoholic mother's mouth, my alcoholic grandmother's mouth, were more true to me than any of the conflicting messages I got. But Doyle urges us to go deeper, to what she calls our "Knowing". My Knowing was so buried beneath these messages that I could barely hear my own deep voice.
And though I'm loathe to acknowledge that any good can come of infidelity, it did crack me open enough that I began to listen for that deep voice of my own. I peeled away others' judgement of me (or did my best to render it irrelevant) and listened.
I am, of course, a work-in-progress. I still struggle with those words. Selfish. Self-centred. Those were my mother's weapons of choice. Used against me any time I wanted something that she didn't think I deserved. Any time I sought for myself...something.
But she was only parroting what our culture tells women in particular. As Doyle points out, "selfless" is the highest compliment we can give a woman. An erasing of the self. A vanishing. To make ourselves so small and insignificant that our very self is sacrificed.
Well, screw that, I say. My grown-up self works hard to push back on that. It isn't others' judgement that hurts so much, it's what we internalize. Or, as my former therapist used to tell me, it isn't what others say to us but what we say to ourselves that hurts. If we didn't somehow believe what others were saying, it wouldn't hurt. 
Behind judgement – our own and others – is fearThat we're doing this wrong. That we're wrong. 
Let's break the bars of that particular cage, or at least stretch them wide enough that we can slip between them. Let's pay attention to when we're judging others and ourselves. Let's remember that behind that judgement is fear, that it is getting in the way of feeling, of knowing, of imagining. And then, let's do our best to squeeze out of that cage and into something better. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

Chalking Up "Wins"

The initial burst of productivity hacks for our time in self-isolation has given way to plenty of pushback. No, we're not likely to write our version of King Lear, as Shakespeare ostensibly did in the 1600s during a plague. We're not likely to identify laws of physics, as Newton ostensibly did while quarantined.
And yes, there are those mastering sourdough recipes and creating adorably funny family videos. And then there are the rest of us, including some of us who are just trying to get through the worst pain of our lives against a backdrop of collective cultural anxiety. 
Healing from infidelity becomes a full-time job. It permeates everything we do. Our minds are never not thinking about it, at least for the few days/weeks/months. It's there when we awake in the middle of the night, it's there when we're putting our kids to bed, it's there when we're staring blankly at the television. It's there. 24/7. There.
And so, just like the more rational among us who think the pressure to create/invent/develop is ridiculous when it's enough to just get through the day during a pandemic, we need to lower our expectations of ourselves. Like low. Really low. In our uber-productive, life-hack world, lowering expectations of ourselves is tantamount to failure. It implies giving up.
Nothing could be less true. Lowering our expectations when we are fighting for emotional survival is the furthest thing from failure. It's a realistic, healthy and sane response to a crisis. 
And so I want you to celebrate yourself and your "wins" right now.
Win: Getting out of bed when you wanted to pull the covers over your head.
Win: Keeping your kids alive while they watch seven hours of television daily.
Win: Not smothering your husband in his sleep.
See what I mean? Just getting through the day is a win, especially right now when a trip to the grocery store creates as much anxiety as jungle warfare.
It is time to give yourself massive credit for what you're doing right now. Responding to infidelity is incredibly difficult at the best of times. Factor in potential job losses, financial stress, an inability to get away from spouse, kids...these four walls, and you've exponentially increased just how hard this is.
And so...lower expectations. So low that a slug couldn't scooch beneath them. So low, that a kitten could tapdance over them.
Win: I remembered to feed myself today.
Win: I took 15 minutes alone in my bathroom to write in my journal.
Win: I watched a bird sing on a branch outside my window this morning.
Win: I kept breathing, all day long.
And then, let's share our wins here.
I'll go first. Yes, it has been a LOT of years since D-Day and infidelity no longer looms large in my life. But quarantining is tough so...
Win: I got this post up today.
Your turn....


Friday, March 27, 2020

When Life is a Ghost Ship: Finding your power after betrayal

In time we will be given the opportunity to either contract around the old version of ourselves and our world — insular, self-interested and tribalistic — or understand the connectedness and commonality of all humans, everywhere. In isolation, we will be presented with our essence — of what we are personally and what we are as a society. We will be asked to decide what we want to preserve about our world and ourselves, and what we want to discard. ~Nick Cave, musician and creator of Red Hand Files

"We will be asked to decide what we want to preserve about our world and ourselves, and what we want to discard," says Bad Seeds lead singer Nick Cave, who also happens to be a voice of sanity and kindness on the internet.
He's speaking of the pandemic that's sweeping our world right now. He's speaking of the wholesale inventory that so many of us are undertaking as we huddle in our homes, anxious and isolated from so much of what gives shape to our lives.
He's not speaking about the impact of infidelity but he might as well be.
Because that's exactly what happens to so many of us in the wake of the tsunami of betrayal. We look around and what seemed familiar just hours before is no longer. Our partner is a stranger. Our home feels too small, too suffocating. Our minds can't be trusted. Our hearts are shattered
A "ghost ship" is what Cave's friend called our world right now. A ghost ship, still afloat but emblematic of death and loss. Direction-less. 
It has been years since my own D-Day. And I have many many days when I hardly think about it. Yes, I continue to post on this site and yes, I moderate comments. But it has become something that happened so long ago. A part of my history the way that certain furniture in my current home was part of my childhood. The way I recognize an old song. It no longer stings.
Except for the occasional time when someone posts something and it resonates so deeply in my heart's memory that, under my breath, I emit a "yes". Or the occasional time when I stumble on a phrase and I recognize it as a secret message for me.
Ghost ship.
That was what betrayal felt like for me. A ghost ship. Afloat but barely. Alone. Lost.
I drifted that way for a year. Two.
But somewhere in there, I did what Nick Cave says we all must do. Somewhere in there, I paid attention to my essence, to who I was personally and who I wanted to be. I recognized my own agency, my own ability to create the marriage I wanted (or leave), to be the person I wanted to be, and to insist that, if he wanted to remain married to me, he become the best version of himself
I determined what I wanted to preserve and what I wanted to discard.
There's so much power in that
It's power we all have, even when we don't yet recognize it. So many letters from all of you come from a place of powerlessness. You don't – I didn't – recognize the power that we have.
To decide what we want to preserve and what we want to discard.
I get it. In those early days, it's a challenge to wash our face, to get out the door, to stumble through our days. 
There are days, weeks, months when the best we can do is rest. Shore up our strength. Prepare for the reckoning.
But when that reckoning comes, when we have outgrown the cocoon, please know that you are strong enough for that moment. That you have the power necessarily to make those choices. You may have to put some things in place: Save some money. Meet with a lawyer. Work outside the home. Create an Exit Plan. Insist on therapy. 
But you decide: What to preserve and what to discard.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

From the Vault: Receive the Shattering

"I had always thought I would get to a point where I was "over" the trauma. Turns out, I was wrong. Cultivating resilience is unrelated to the clichéd notion of time healing all wounds; overcoming is not the end goal. Instead of moving on, it's about living with what has happened. A resilient person is emotionally and psychologically flexible enough to allow the effects of a traumatic episode into her life, to "receive the shattering,"... and use those effects for healing."
~from "How to Recover from Grief", Oprah magazine, May 2016

"Receive the shattering." I wasn't feeling particularly receptive on December 10, 2006, when my shattering arrived. I didn't so much receive it as get run over by it. And in the weeks that ensued, I fought like hell to give it back. 
It was months, a year if not more before I was anywhere close to receiving the shattering.
But at some point – time feels fuzzy when I look back and I have a hard time remembering exactly how long I was suspended in that state of shock and denial and profound grief – I recognized that the only way I was going to get unstuck, out of this lethal plain of flatness where I'd set up camp, was to accept what had happened to me. To receive the shattering.
In fairness, I didn't so much recognize it as my therapist pointed that out to me and I, finally, decided to agree with her. What she told me was this: You are numb, she said, because you refuse to allow the pain in. But by denying negative feelings, you prevent positive feelings too. It's like putting a seal on a bottle. Sure you keep the poison bottled up but you keep the thirst-quenching water bottled up too. 
She'd said similar things before. She's not a big fan of my approach to emotional pain, which basically amounts to numbing myself and carrying on, and then complaining about it. 
Just barely concealing her exasperation, she told me that happiness would come only when I opened the door to pain. You can't have one without the other. 
Which, frankly, is a glitch in the system, if you ask me. But which was the inconvenient truth for me. 
And, judging from how many of you post here about being stuck, seems to be the truth for you too.
We imagine a day, don't we?, when the pain is over and everything goes back to "normal". When we're "over" this. God knows, our husbands want that. "Aren't you over this yet?" they ask us, making it incredibly difficult to not murder them with our bare hands. 
Thing is, "over" isn't an option. We'll never be "over" this. My D-Day was almost twelve years ago and though I go days, sometimes weeks, without thinking about it (except for this site but, honestly, I think about what you guys are going through not so much what I did), I still wouldn't say I'm "over" it.
But I have learned to live with what happened. It has become a part of my history, something I went through. I have received the shattering and it has become a part of me.
And that, my fellow avoiders of pain, is how you get unstuck
I wish I could give you a shortcut. I wish I could provide some sort of infidelity hack that allowed you to jump right over the pain and the suffering and return you to joy.
But my exasperated therapist is right. Honestly, I tried it the other way. I tried to just open my heart enough to let the good stuff in and then quickly shut it again to the pain.
Didn't work. I felt...flat. Numb. 
No pain, no joy.
And so you must receive the shattering. Parcel it out, if necessary. Take a few minutes each day to journal the pain, or run the pain, or paint the pain, or share the pain here. And then, if necessary, put the barricades back up around your heart. But make sure that you're moving toward totally dismantling them. Make sure that you don't get so comfortable with numb that you forget to feel. 
Receive the shattering, live with the truth of it and then use it to help you heal, to remind yourself that you are strong enough to withstand it.
Because you are. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

From the Vault: That In-Between Place

As we all self-isolate and quarantine and do our best to NOT hoard toilet paper and hand sanitizer (please!!), I'm conscious of just how uncomfortable this state is, this state of in-between-ness. It's like we're all holding our breath, waiting to see what comes next. We have no blueprint for this, nothing we can compare it to, though we try. It's like 9/11, except it's not. It's like wartime. Except it's not.
And so we all...wait. We wait for news, we wait for leadership, we wait for something that makes the ground beneath us feel solid again, instead of this constant shifting. 
Waiting can be an important stage. Growing somewhat comfortable with discomfort is an important skill to learn. But it's not an easy one.
And so, as we all wait in this in-between place, I'm reposting this in the hope that it reminds us all that to feel uncertain is human. But so is it human to need to feel part of a community. We remain here, your invisible sisterhood (with a few brothers too!):

I've been spending a lot of time lately looking forward to when this is over. "This" refers to my father's recent fall, subsequent hospitalization, and return home with the support of what seems like a staff of 20. My world has been upended and my days are spent dealing with catheters, organizing nurses, planning meals and fretting – constant fretting – about the future. At 88, my dad isn't likely to bounce back. If we're lucky, where he is now – able to walk with a walker, decent long-term memory but shaky short-term – will hold. If we're lucky, he'll be able to continue to live in his home on the lake, his piece of paradise.
If we're lucky, "this" will be over soon and we'll settle back into normal.
This is that horrible in-between place. When the future is shadowy. When the present isn't quite a crisis but it isn't our normal.
The thing will living in that in-between place is that we're loathe to accept it. Not surprisingly, intolerance of uncertainty is linked to anxiety and depression. I squirm with discomfort. This is unacceptable. I want to know what's next. This in-between place is full of uncertainty. And I, like most humans, will take certain misery over uncertainty any day of the week.
It's this loathing of the in-between place that drives so many of us to make decisions before we're ready, to force our partners into decisions before they're ready. Just go, we demand, in the face their reticence to commit. I'm outta here, we declare, in the face of our own pain.
Thing is, we're taking that pain along with us. It doesn't vanish – poof! – just because we walk away from the discomfort.
I'm reminded of the time I told my now-husband that I was ready to get married. I was so convinced that he adored me, that he was just holding his breath for me to declare my readiness, that I was stunned when his response was lukewarm. So hurt was I that I announced that, clearly, this relationship wasn't what I thought it was and I was calling it quits. I went from "I'm ready to marry you" to "I'm breaking up with you" in about five minutes flat.
He asked me to give him time. He asked me to spend some time in that in-between place while he decided what he wanted. "You've clearly been thinking about this," he said. "I haven't. I love you and I love being with you but I haven't been thinking about getting married. Please let me have that time now."
I agreed, mostly because of his dog, who I couldn't imagine breaking up with.
And then, because I know myself, I decided to run a marathon. I knew that sitting in that in-between place, where I had no control over how things were going to play out, where I had to just live with uncertainty, would feel excruciating. And so I ran. Each day, I ran. Hours. And hours.
I got stronger physically. And I got stronger mentally. As I ran, I thought. About what I could control and what I couldn't control. (Incidentally, there's research that shows reading novels helps us get uncomfortable with uncertainty because we don't know how they'll end. I could have saved myself a whole lot of blisters and chafing if I'd just held a reading marathon instead.)
When I crossed that finish line, four gruelling hours and six excruciating minutes after starting, my then-boyfriend and his dog were there. I was thrilled to see them. But I realized that I didn't need his answer. Not right then. I'd become okay in that in-between place. It hadn't been as scary as I thought because I could control me. I was going to be okay no matter what he decided.
We spend a lot of time in that in-between place after betrayal. And, of course, it's complicated by the pain. But leaning into that in-between place – and yes, perhaps alleviating some of the discomfort with an activity that reminds us of our strength and our determination – can change everything. It can prevent us from making compulsive choices. It can shift our focus to what really matters.
As I cope daily with this in-between place – listening carefully each morning when I call my dad to signs of pain, or of confusion – I'm increasingly aware that in-between is where we spend much of our lives. And if all we're doing is holding our breath until it's over, we're missing out on the lessons it holds. To trust ourselves. To take care of ourselves. To be patient with ourselves and others.
My dad is also in that in-between place. But if I'm so focussed on my own discomfort, I can't see his fear. And so I try to make space for each of us and our enormous feelings. The in-between place is big enough for all of it.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Unstoppable Spring and What It Reminds Us About Resilience

We live stitch by stitch, when we’re lucky. If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching. And maybe the stitching is crude, or it is unraveling, but if it were precise, we’d pretend that life was just fine and running like a Swiss watch. This is not helpful if on the inside our understanding is that life is more often a cuckoo clock with rusty gears.
In the aftermath of loss, we do what we’ve always done, although we are changed, maybe more afraid. We do what we can, as well as we can.

Two weeks before we were told to "self-isolate", my 21-year-old daughter, young, healthy, active, woke up unable to walk and in excruciating pain. A few hours later, from our local emergency room, an on-call surgeon was summoned. She had sepsis in her hip and the surgeon needed to remove the infection. Immediately. 21 was hospitalized for five days, during which physiotherapists helped her walk and she had the steady drip, drip, drip of antibiotics delivered to her system. 
It was a frightening time, though her prognosis was good. The infection seemed to come out of nowhere and reminded all of us that life is fragile, that our lives can be upended at any moment.
As if those of us who've survived infidelity can ever forget that.
And now, here we all are, confined to our homes, urged to avoid others. Heading out for groceries feels worthy of a war medal. Our heroes, more than ever, are those who show up to work at hospitals and clinics and, yes, grocery stores and pharmacies. 
All this uncertainty can dislodge old fears, long thought put to rest. It can conjure up old ghosts, around grief and loss, around chaos and foreboding, about scarcity. 
More than ever, we must interrogate our fears: Is this real? Is this old stuff? How can I respond?
The "big picture", as Lamott puts it, feels threatening. And yet, the stitches – the tiny actions taken by each of us, paints a different picture. So many stories of coming together, of helping each other, of reaching out.
Life is not fine right now and it's certainly less fine for some than others. While many of us fear getting sick, the virus will take a bigger toll on those who are older, immuno-compromised or otherwise vulnerable. While lots of us have to make room for 24/7 family togetherness, others are more isolated than usual, lacking any opportunity to venture out.
And I know we've all been reminded that in times of crisis, we can become our best selves, that can be hard when we are feeling more frightened than usual, more vulnerable than usual. Our best selves can get lost when we panic. When we forget that we're all in this together. 
Factor in a fractured relationship in the form of betrayal and it feels as though we can't trust a thing, not even our formerly functioning society.
But though it might feel that way, the truth is that the sun came up this morning, didn't it? Just like it did yesterday.
I look outside my window and spring refuses to self-isolate, refuses to pause. I have sprouts pushing their way through recently thawed dirt. The birds are singing their hearts out, in defiance of a quarantine. In defiance of despair.
And in that unstoppable spring, I find hope. I find comfort. 
Life isn't fine, right now. Not for all of us.
We are changed. We will be changed further. What that change looks like, whether it contributes to our integrity or strips it from us, is a choice that remains our own. 
We must do what Lamott says: ..." what we can, as well as we can."

Monday, March 16, 2020

Infidelity in the Time of Cholera: Your Survival Guide to Betrayal During a Pandemic

The first friend I confided in, I did so over a glass of wine in a restaurant. It was just past Christmas and her face reflected the gentle glow of white twinkle lights. I hadn't planned on telling her. But she, who worked with my husband, was peppering me with questions about my husband and his assistant. Why they fought so much. How demanding she was. How weird their work relationship was. And so I finally told her. They had been having an affair. 
I watched the shock in her face be quickly replaced by a shattering. She looked as devastated as I felt. She reached across the table and took my hand as tears quietly rolled down her cheeks. I am so sorry, she said. Please. Tell me what I can do to help. 
Her response, her compassion, was balm for my aching soul. And it felt good to finally tell someone. Well, as good as I was capable of feeling at the time. 
Fast-forward 13 years and anyone discovering or dealing with infidelity is also dealing with a global pandemic that has many of us self-isolating in our homes to avoid spreading the virus. Loneliness is lousy at any time but it felt lethal when I was dealing with infidelity. Of course, it wasn't just an absence of people that was the problem, it was a sense of isolation in my pain. I felt. So. Alone.
What does this mean for those of you dealing with infidelity while also dealing with a global pandemic that has so many of us on edge?
It means what it's always meant. "My heartbreak, my rules", right?
It means laying down clear rules if he even wants you to consider reconciling:
•Absolutely no contact with the Other Woman. None. Nada. No "I need to tell her in person." No "I have to return something to her". No "she just wants to see me one last time." Nope. Absolutely not.
•Total transparency from him. Access for you to any and all phones, computers, devices. Passcodes. Secret e-mails. However they communicated now includes you. This isn't foolproof, of course. People can buy burner phones or they can create new e-mails. But an unwillingness to offer total transparency is an acknowledgement that he doesn't quite get it. He doesn't quite realize just what he's done to you and he doesn't quite get that everything has now changed, thanks to him. If he's unwilling to make himself uncomfortable in order to make you more comfortable, then he's revealing himself to be a bad bet for a second chance. 
•Support for you. If you don't already have a therapist, please find one. Right now, with so much up in the air re. public contact, it might be worth finding someone who will do online sessions or by phone. 
•More support for you. Do you have a trusted friend you can call when you need to talk? Do you have practices in place that help you feel sane – meditation, yoga, exercise, journalling, dog walking, hiking. Anything that gives you a little space to breathe, to remind yourself that you will get through this, that you're in the midst of a storm but the sun always ALWAYS comes out again.
Patience for yourself. If your kids are out of school right now, like mine are, this can be a particularly stressful time, even without infidelity. As best you can, confine arguments/crying to times/places where your kids can't hear. That can be near impossible, of course, but do your best to at least reduce the conflict they're part of. Go for a solitary drive, if necessary, and scream into the void. With the glee of missing school, we can misunderstand just how anxiety-provoking this is for kids, especially special needs kids who often require habits and routine. Do your best. And forgive yourself when your best falls short. These are desperate times. 
Do not hurt yourself. Physically or emotionally. If you are prone to self-harm, this is the time to ramp up your self-care and rely more heavily on support. But we can often engage in pain shopping behaviours, like stalking her social media, driving past her house, or behaviours that exacerbate chaos, like drinking too much, over-shopping, etc. None of that will make you feel better. It might distract you briefly but then you'll have the additional pain of an overdrawn bank account or a brutal hangover (and remember, alcohol is a depressant). 
Rest. You do not need to make any decisions right now. In fact, I would discourage you from that unless your health is at risk (speaking of which, if there's any hysterical bonding, always ALWAYS use protection until both of you have tested negative for STIs). 
We are in a challenging time. Never in my lifetime, and probably yours, have we dealt with a global crisis of this magnitude. It will change many of the things we've held to be unchangeable but there can be a silver lining in that. Like a marriage that had invisible cracks, like a partner who held secrets, the crisis is now out in the open where it can be dealt with, where healing can take root, where treatment can be offered.
Wherever you are right now, your life matters. Take care of yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Be kind to yourself and others. You are not alone. Not in the pain of betrayal or in your anxiety around this health crisis. We will get through this because we are stronger than we yet know. 


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