Showing posts with label healing from infidelity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label healing from infidelity. Show all posts

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How Trauma Breaks Open Our Story

People usually only come to this frontier when they have had a terrible loss in their life or they've been fired or some other trauma breaks open their story.  Then they can't tell that story anymore... they hit present reality with such impact that they break apart on contact with the true circumstance."
~David Whyte

They hit present reality with such impact that they break apart on contact. Sound like you? It sure as hell sounds like me.
I hit the reality of my husband's cheating with such impact that I shattered.
And it's hard, when you're shattered, to recognize that this breaking apart might, one day, be exactly what you needed. It's damn near impossible to understand that it's only when trauma has broken open your story that you're able to write a new chapter.
From my stop farther down the road, however, I can see that my husband's cheating – the trauma from that betrayal – meant that I couldn't keep telling myself the story I had been. It meant that, once I was able to pull myself back together, I had to admit that my story wasn't entirely based on fact. It was up to me to begin writing my own rather than let others dictate it to me.
Until then, my story had gone something like this:
I married a wonderful, principled man who adored me. We had three wonderful healthy children. Life was good, better than I expected or, frankly, deserved. The end.
What I tended to ignore because it didn't fit with the storyline I wanted desperately to believe was that it disappointed me when he wasn't able to acknowledge the casual cruelty of his family towards me.
It hurt me when I felt emotionally abandoned after the birth of our first child.
I felt invisible when I would express fairly mundane needs (please walk the dogs in the morning, please have breakfast with me instead of sleeping in...) and he wouldn't. (His modus operandi, which he'd used for years with his own family, was to agree to whatever they wanted and then do what HE wanted. I, a firm believer in taking people at their word, took years to see what he was doing. Which might mean I'm either a) a hopeless optimist or b) kinda stupid.)
And it was confusing to me when, sometimes, I felt like a blow-up doll during sex. As if I – a fully present human me – wasn't supposed to be there, and certainly wasn't supposed to have my own needs.
But by not allowing those truths to be part of my story, I was living a fiction. The fiction of my adoring wonderful husband who would never-not-EVER cheat on me.

Broken Open.

In the wake of that breaking open, we begin writing our new story.
I realized fairly quickly that my marriage hadn't been quite so polished and perfect as I had wanted to believe. I could see just how broken I was even before his betrayal completely shattered me. One of the hugest revelations for me was to recognize just how much I'd already betrayed myself.
I had assumed that my needs were less important than everyone else in the family.
I had accepted that, if his family rejected me on some level, it was because I wasn't deserving of their love.
I had been living my long-held deep conviction that I wasn't enough.
I accepted love that was, frankly, not so great and told myself it was more than I deserved.

As I healed, I began writing my true story.
And in this new story that has emerged, I am learning that I am enough. Have always been. Always will be.
I am learning that, in a healthy relationship, nobody's needs trump another's. That we all matter and can negotiate a family in which that's the guiding principle.
I can now spot the myriad ways in which I betray myself. My clue is a spark of resentment (which, left unexamined, grows to a roaring house fire of anger). When I begin to hear the voice in my head muttering "look how much I do", and "I'm exhausted!", and "why doesn't he...", and "why won't they...", I know it's time to take good look at how I'm NOT taking care of myself. When you hear yourself saying one thing when your heart and soul are screaming another, you're betraying yourself.
But what's clear to me is that all of this stuff, these rich lessons that have shaped my life in wonderful ways and deepened my relationships to friends and family and my children, arose out of my shattered self, my broken story.
It can be hard to see when you're surrounded by wreckage. It can feel like warmed-over platitudes ("out of suffering comes wisdom") that make you want to bash in the face of anyone offering them up.
But it was through my broken story that I gained the control to change the narrative of my own life into something that is far more likely to give me a satisfying ending. An ending, of course, to be determined.

Monday, March 24, 2014

I Cannot Walk Your Path

"The maps and travelogues left behind by others are great blessings, full of useful information and inspiration, but they cannot take the journey for us."~Author unknown

Many of us knew exactly what we would do if our husbands cheated on us. And then it happened. Suddenly we not only weren't doing what we always said we'd do (almost without fail, throw him out), we were behaving in ways that were confusing to us. That made us wonder if we'd lost our minds. And within that confusion lay such judgement of ourselves. So many of us were ashamed of ourselves for not sticking with what we said we'd do.
Thing is, none of us really knows what we'll do until we're in the situation. And once we're in that situation, the best we can do is treat ourselves with compassion for the challenge we're facing.
And, of course, none of us knows what another woman should do because we're not in her situation.
I bring this up because a BWC member commented a while back that she had taken my "advice" and stuck with her husband only to find out that his affair had never really ended. There she was, another year or so invested in her marriage, and only deeper in pain.
She was leaving him then and only wished I had encouraged her to do so earlier.
I told her I was very sorry for her pain. Sorrier still that her husband wasn't able to accept the deep gift of her desire to rebuild their marriage.
But, I pointed out, I never told her to stay or leave and I felt badly that she had interpreted my response to her as such. I, frankly, haven't a clue whether any of you should stay or leave. Actually that's not true. If there's abuse of any kind, get out. Now. (Though even with that, I know that some women simply can't leave for any number of reasons that I might not understand.)
But beyond that, there's isn't a right way to respond to this. 
Life is messy. Marriages that look hopeless somehow get stitched together to everyone's benefit. Others just don't make it despite valiant attempts. Some survive betrayal only to fall apart down the road for other reasons. 
I wish I had a crystal ball and could therefore predict which marriages were worth fighting for and which should be hastily exited. Of course, I don't. I don't pretend to.
What I do offer here is hard-won wisdom from walking my own path. Though each of us is unique we face similar challenges. Our husbands behave in bizarrely similar ways. We can benefit from each other's experience as long as we recognize that we don't all walk the same path to healing. As long as we understand that what worked for her mightn't work for me and vice versa. 
There are times when I will use such words as "here's what you should do" and then outline the steps a BW can take to, for example, get back on her feet, get some sleep, or regain her self-respect. But I don't have all the answers. I haven't even faced all the questions. I have my own experience and an understanding of what so many of you have faced as you've trusted me with your stories. That's all.
Each of our stories is our own. Each of us walks her own path to healing. I cannot walk yours and you cannot walk mine. But we can hold each other up along the way.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Where Does the Hate Go?

Amy recently posted on this page asking a really powerful question: Where, she asked, does the hate go? She wrote that it has been 2 1/2 years since she found out about her husband's affair. In many ways, she says, life is good. Her marriage feels strong. Her husband has worked hard to deserve his second chance. But, she said, in the early days of facing betrayal she poured so much of her anger and pain into hating the Other Woman. And now that hatred burns as fiercely as ever. It's eating her up from the inside.
Hatred is powerful stuff. It poisons us, while doing little to the object of our hatred. It casts a shadow over everything in our lives. There's little room for a broad range of feelings when hate takes up so much space.
However, in the early days of discovering a spouse's affair, hate can serve a purpose. I'd far rather see a betrayed wife filled with hatred for her spouse and the OW, than a betrayed wife who's being understanding or blaming herself. Hatred is outrage. It's a way of saying you can NOT do this to me. I do NOT deserve this. It's a way of saying No way, no how. It's setting boundaries. I will not put up with this any longer.
So yes…in small doses at a certain time, I'm a big fan of hatred in the form of outrage.
But then it serves us no longer. It turns toxic. It keeps us locked in a past that we need to move on from.
It keeps us tethered to a person who, honestly, isn't important.
I know it sounds crazy. How can someone who slept with your husband and helped unleash the destruction that became your life not be important? Because she's not. There are plenty of posts here, here and here about the Other Woman, in which I…ummm…express some of my own thoughts about the role these toxic people play. Weird thing is…I don't hate these women. They make me sigh out loud. They sometimes make me laugh. They make me roll my eyes. They exasperate me with their teen novel philosophies about love and life and destiny. Or they frustrate me with their "enlightened" bullshit about archaic institutions like marriage and "if you set something free…" lunacy. But I don't hate them. I don't even hate THE Other Woman in my life (though I hope she doesn't test this by showing up at my front door).
How did I get here?
By deciding I wasn't going to give her that much energy. By refusing to give up valuable real estate in my brain to her. By finally understanding that she wasn't the problem. She had never been the problem. She was willing and available. That was it.
And it was knowing, really knowing, that no matter how awful it felt to be me, I wouldn't have wanted to be her. I knew she hated herself. Not for what she'd done (she lacked the insight), but I understood that only someone who hated herself would allow herself to get involved with a married man who offered up nothing but misery.
I know lots of Other Women convince themselves that our husbands are their "soul mates". They spin fairy tales about how our husbands are misunderstood, or trapped. The convince themselves that they "couldn't help" themselves. Love, they say, is like that. (And let's be honest, our husbands are often active participants in these stories.)
We, of course, know that's bullshit. You simply don't get involved in the deliberate deception of another person unless you're capable of ethical gymnastics together with a deep belief that you don't deserve better.
The guys who stay with their wives and fight their way out of the hell that is post-betrayal marriage are caught in their own self-loathing.
In other words, these people hate themselves enough that we don't need to pile it on further.
So…where does our hate go? It slowly dissipates, as long as we don't feed its fire. It's smothered by compassion, for ourselves and our husbands and, with time, her. When we can recognize that our spouse's affair and his affair partner really had nothing to do with us. They're just two messed up people who lost their self-respect (along with their pants and any sense of decency).
The hate goes when you refuse to give it a home. When you will no longer be an incubator for an emotion that is turning you into exactly who you don't want to be. Her.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Responding to the Other Woman: Elle Unleashed

Definitely not smiling!
A woman recently posted a comment on my blog post Open Letter to the Other Woman. Here it is:

Does anyone (like me) ever wondered why the other woman always gets the blame, and the husband gets welcomed back with open arms??

Does the Wife forget;
He tooks the Vows
Hes the one betraying his family
Hes the one telling the lies

In my case..He initiated the cheating and the chase. Lied about getting a divorce. 
And actually im educated..with a degree..; a single parent of two children.

I was the other women, and a month ago i decided to end it with him finally after two years. 
Only this week his Wife has been trying to call me on a witheld number and i refused to answer to her. Beacuse I know if i did answer..she would not like what i had to say.

As far as i see it. This is their issue, not mine. 

This also highlights to me, the major issue in cheating marriages. Why is the wife is calling the other woman?? Does she not trust her husband to tell her the truth??
Does she not trust him at all??
Do they have an issue with communication??

All he did in the two years was complain about her.
However I finally caught onto it, that things were never going to change. After asking him many times...if its so bad, why are you still there?? therefore something must be going right.

But Yeah i acknowledge my part. its My Bad. 

And as far as im concerned..the issues in the marriage are prevalent long before he has the affair/s. Im pretty sure, im not the first and wont be the last. 
You see...what he wants in the other woman, is what he doesnt have in his wife. The only reason he doesnt leave the wife, is either;

because of guilt
beacuse its easier to go back to the comfort of what you have
because he knows after confessing and worming his way back she is going to take him back eventually
because of kids (he had none)

but they do not stay for the right reasons. So the wife can blame the other woman all she wants. It still doesnt change who he is, and what he did.

Cheating husbands risk losing their marriage all the time. 
If they really honoured their committment, loved their wives,and family so much, do you really think they would take that risk??

Until the next time that is.

I felt compelled to respond:

You're a brave woman wading into these waters. But you ask a number of questions so I'm going to assume you genuinely want answers. Let me enlighten you.
You're right about many things. Chances are there were issues in the marriage long before you came along. And clearly the husband in your case wasn't emotionally capable of dealing with them so chose to distract himself with you. Happens all the time, right?
And then the wife finds out, all hell breaks lose and you start getting phone calls begging for info.
Let me put you into the wife's shoes for a minute.
She's probably aware that something hasn't been right. That her husband isn't around so much. That when he is, he's distracted or uninterested. Short-tempered. Perhaps outright hostile. That's pretty standard for cheaters with a shred of conscience. They feel crappy about what they're doing but don't want to stop doing it. So they look for reasons why what they're doing is okay. They convince themselves that the wife "nags", she doesn't like sex, she doesn't "support" him, blah blah cliché blah.
Sometimes it's even true. As mom of two kids, you likely know that there are nights you're just too damn tired for sex. There are times when you need to talk to your husband about helping out around the house. You need to discuss bills. Home maintenance. Let's be honest, grown-up life is sometimes incredibly dull.
Nonetheless, the wife loves her husband. And, frequently, he loves her too. They've known each other for years. They've looked into their newborns' eyes and been rendered speechless. They've sat beside elderly parents taking their last breath. They've shared birthdays and anniversaries and held feverish kids who can't sleep.
So when she finds out that this person she's opened her heart to is cheating on her, she's thrown completely off her feet. She trusted this guy. With her future, her children. Who the hell is he, anyway? She begs him to tell her why he did this. Sometimes he'll blame her, sometimes he'll blame his life, his boss, his drinking, his weakness. Sometimes he'll accept blame for just making a whopping mistake. Sometimes he'll believe he's in love with the Other Woman and leave. Most of the time, though, he hasn't a god-damn clue why he did it. And now that he truly realizes what he stands to lose, he's even more clueless why he did it. There's generally one reason: it felt good. Not the sex, but the escape. The banality of life was temporarily suspended. It's the reason people gamble. Or shop. Or eat too much. Or drink. Or take drugs. Escape. It's intoxicating.
Out of fear, in an effort to minimize damage, these guys often offer what's called "trickle truth". They minimize what happened ("we just kissed" "it was just one night" "she means nothing") or they outright lie ("I swear nothing happened" "she's just a work colleague"). In the meantime, the wife is frantically trying to piece together her life ("was he with her when I took the kids to my mother's? were they together when I was beside my dying father in the hospital? were they together when I was up all night with our son's ear infection?") in order to shine a light on where things went off the rails, on how much of her life is fact and how much is fiction. I can't explain to you, unless you've been there, just how terrifying it is to believe your life has been a lie. You wonder if anything is true, if you can trust anyone.
So, out of desperation, you call the Other Woman. Not for any other reason than you've got some missing pieces and you're hoping she can help you complete the puzzle. You know it's a risk. You know this person has the potential to tell you things that can destroy any shred of self-esteem you might have left. That she could take your broken heart and piss on it. And sometimes she does. But sometimes she recognizes that this wife likely isn't the monster her husband pretended she was to ease his own guilt and get her into bed.
Sometimes the OW is able to see that this is a flawed guy who made a colossal mistake. Sometimes, let's be clear, the guy is just a total asshole who feels entitled to whatever and whomever he wants. But you're referring to the couples who stay together, assuming, as you say, that none do it "for the right reasons".
I'll tell you one thing. Going back to the "comfort of what you have" sounds NOTHING like what marriage is like after an affair. It is HELL ON EARTH. 
It is excruciating for any guy with a conscience to see the pain they've caused their wives and know that they did it. Some guys simply can't face it. They're the ones who blame their wives for "never getting over it" and take the first exit. Some wives don't want to give them the chance to do it again. Each of us walks her own path.
Those of us who let them "worm their way back"? The smart ones among us demand that they face what they did and work hard to figure out why they risked their marriage for what so many of them insist meant nothing. There's many reasons, which often had little to with the OW herself. A sense of failure in life, fear of aging, job loss, inability to handle life's stresses, addiction...the list goes on. Again, it generally boils down to escape. An affair is a distraction. Men (and women) fall in love with what they see in their affair partner's eyes – that they're sexy and interesting and fun. There are no mortgages, not built-up resentments, no rude teenage kids, no "headaches". That's why they take the risk. Because they want adoration without the hard work of creating that within their marriage, over years and years.
You're right that some of these guys will never learn. They will cheat again. And they're not worth a second chance. They probably weren't worth the first one.
But not all of them.
And not all women blame the OW. We know it was ultimately our husbands who violated their commitment to us. But we also know that, when we were hit on by married guys (and we were), there was a wife at home who didn't deserve this pain. We know that if a guy is worth it, he'll do the right thing, get out of his marriage, and find a woman he respects enough to not hide.
We know that so many of these OW want what we have and are willing to be complicit in our pain to get it.
So yeah...we're not too crazy about you. 
In my case, the OW sat in my house, ate at my table, played with my kids...while screwing my  husband. Absolutely that's indication that my husband was one fucked-up dude. But, clearly, so was she.
I'm sad that you're so cynical. Please know there are decent guys out there. They're the ones who hit on you and don't have a wife at home. Please be a woman who deserves them.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Healing From Betrayal: Why We Must Tell Our Story

Penelope Trunk, who was in the World Trade Center when the towers fell, knows a thing or two about trauma. 
We women, who've been betrayed by exactly the people we trusted with our hearts and bodies, also know a thing or two about trauma. 
[Before there's a pile-on about how being cheated on doesn't even rate on the same scale as 9/11, let me say that this isn't a pain race. Pain and loss is pain and loss. And all pain and loss deserves to be acknowledged and grieved.]

Here's what Trunk has to (brilliantly) say about trauma:
The way to deal with post-traumatic stress is to tell your story over and over again. The theory is that when you are in the moment of trauma, you have to turn off all your emotions to get yourself through it. After the fact, in order to stop having nightmares and panic attacks, you have to experience the emotions you missed.
And this is the step that cheaters, including reformed cheaters, just can't get.
We need to talk about what happened to us. We are desperate to talk about it.
It doesn't prolong our pain. It does exactly the opposite. It doesn't deepen our pain. It does just the opposite. 
By talking about our trauma, we are processing all those emotions that were stifled when we were going through the experience. 
How many of you describe your response to D-Day as "shock"? Or say, "I felt numb"?
I know that I somehow got myself dressed, out of the house and managed to make chit-chat with the other moms while picking up my kids. It was like some weird out-of-body experience. I could watch myself making small talk and smiling at the teachers and pretending with my kids that everything was A-okay. 
That, my friends, is a trauma response. That is survival instinct kicking in. And it's helpful. It's helpful to ensure that children get picked up from school, that dinner gets put on the table, that jobs get done, that life goes on. But, over the long term, it's not helpful, it's harmful. 
It produces post-trauma. It might show up as a numbness that simply doesn't go away even when it becomes safe to process feelings. It might show up as depression, or self-loathing (which is anger turned inward). It might be nightmares. It might be anxiety. It might be an out-of-proportion response to something seemingly benign. Like completely panicking when your husband is five minutes late coming home from work. 
I once went berserk when I couldn't reach my husband on the phone and he was at the grocery store. I went ballistic on him. To him, what was the big deal? To me, not being able to reach him was EXACTLY what had happened the morning I found out. This wasn't about him being unreachable at the grocery store. This was about me being totally transported back to that awful, horrible morning when my world fell apart. To that consistent 33-second wait while I listened to his phone ring until it went to voice mail. 33 seconds. I watched the clock. Over and over as my brain caught up to what my body had known for weeks.
This was about post-trauma.
And, as Trunk points out, the way to turn post-trauma into PAST trauma is to talk about it.
The key here is talk. This isn't about raging and screaming and dredging up every last unkind thing your spouse has ever done. In fact, that won't get you anywhere. It's about telling your story. It's about someone bearing witness to your fear and your confusion. It's about someone confirming that this happened. And it was horrible. It's about reminding yourself over and over again, that this happened...but it's not happening now
You survived. 
You survived to tell your story.
It can be really tough, however, to convince your husband of this.
You tell your story and he hears, over and over again, I'm a total asshole who did this. I'm a cheating, lying scumbag. No matter that you're not exactly saying that (though you might be thinking it), that's what he hears. And he doesn't WANT to hear that. He doesn't WANT to be reminded of what he did. Who would?
Though a therapist or good friend can also listen to your story, it's often those who created our trauma who we want to listen to our story. We want our husbands to listen to our pain and reassure us that we will never have to go through that again. That it's over. That they are doing everything they can to make sure they never walk down that same path. That they never want to hurt us like that again.
That's it. Most of us don't want our husbands to beat themselves up. We don't want the focus to be on them at all. This is about us
And the opportunity to tell our story, or part of it, each time we're triggered moves us forward. It helps us heal. And each time our husband is able to be with us in that pain, to listen without defending himself, or minimizing our experience, or telling us why we shouldn't feel that way, our marriage is strengthened. We're on the same team, trying to beat back trauma. 
But each time we're silenced, told we're "living in the past", told we're hurting ourselves, that we need to "let it go" and "move on", our trauma goes deeper underground and our marriage fractures a bit more. We're on opposing teams, each trying to nurse his/her own wound at the expense of the other.
The story of our betrayal is a key part of who we are, whether our husbands or we like it or not (and most of us...not so much). But sharing that story carries with it the power to heal, not only ourselves but our marriages.


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