Saturday, August 17, 2019

Guest Post: The Solace of Talking to Someone Who Regrets Cheating

by Chinook

Shortly after my husband and I separated, when I was still in the thick of the pain of his betrayal, I made a new friend. 

She and I just clicked in that unusual and delightful way that new friends can. I could tell she was a woman of strength, wisdom, creativity, and compassion—all the things I most admire.  

As we slowly got to know each other, I shared the fact that I had just separated, and that my husband had been unfaithful.

She met that information with deep compassion… and with something else that was very subtle and might have gone unnoticeable by anyone who wasn’t already in a hyperaware state. She told me how sorry she was that I was going through this. She admitted that her marriage had been through difficult patches when her children were young, and that time is a great healer. She cautioned that you never know what someone is capable of until their back is against the wall. 

I already had my suspicions when, with great trepidation, she eventually confessed to me that many years ago, during a time of strife in her marriage, when her children were as young as mine are now, she had an emotional affair and was caught. What she described (motivation, rationalization, outcome) sounded very similar to my husband’s physical affair.

My new friend was concerned that this information would cause me to see her in a different, less favourable light. But it didn’t. Not at all. Instead, her revelation made me grateful that she would trust me with something so emotionally important. 

It also made me very curious.

I liked this woman. She was like me. We had very similar values. Yet she had made a bid for escape that was similar to the one my husband had. She had put her spouse—the man she was still married to and very much in love with—through the same pain my husband had put me through.

This all happened at a pivotally important point. When I met this new friend, my husband had just put me through two months of trickle truth that left me deeply traumatized (panic attacks, hypervigilance, insomnia, nightmares…) and obliterated any residual trust that still remained after I first discovered his affair. We were separated, at my request. I no longer believed anything—literally anything—my husband told me. 

But I believed this new friend. She had volunteered information about her relationship that I never would have known otherwise. Unlike my husband, she had no reason to lie about her experience.

She told me that although it had been over a decade since she cheated, she still felt ashamed of her choices. And I believed her. She told me that she never cheated before and had never, ever considered cheating again. I believed that too. She told me her affair partner was of zero consequence—just a human escape-hatch for the feelings she didn’t want to be having in her marriage. She told me that she was so grateful that she and her husband stayed together, not just for the sake of their children but for the sake of their relationship. She told me that she loved her husband now more than ever. I believed her.

A key thing this friend of mine was able to give me (and continues to give me) is the same thing Elle gives us on this website: the solace of having been there. 

When I first read Elle’s assurances that it gets easier, I trusted her because she had been through it. She knew. For months, Elle’s words did not match my experience, yet I still took solace in the notion that they eventually might. I’m happy to report that a year after D-Day, they do. It isgetting easier. 

Similarly, I took great solace back then in hearing about my friend’s experience. It reframed my notion of what the future might look like. It meant that “once a cheater always a cheater” was not always correct. (My friend hadn’t re-cheated in over a decade.) It meant that it might actually be true that the other woman meant nothing. My friend never gave her affair partner a second thought.

It meant that when my husband claimed to feel regret every day, to be permanently changed, to be repulsed by his former choices—just like my friend did—he might actually be telling the truth.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Interested in sharing your story? New TV show looking for participants...

I recently received a request to share this with all of you here. I'm not familiar with the production company but the woman I e-mailed seemed okay (for what it's worth). Think carefully about putting your story forward. Make sure it's something you're really comfortable with. We are particularly vulnerable, of course, when we're healing from this. But, as the woman I spoke with about this said, too often our culture overlooks the stories of forgiveness and healing. This is a chance to share that:


Have you been cheated on, but decided to stay with your partner?
Was it important to both of you to work at your relationship and not give up?
Have you forgiven your partner, but are still working on forgetting his/her indiscretion?
A new television series, that will be educational and entertaining, will be sharing an open and honest discussion about relationships.
If you are interested in being considered and believe that other people may benefit from hearing your story please email
Please include your name, age, location, the best number to reach you, a few recent photos and a little about you.
To be considered you must be a female, living in the tri-state area and appear to be between the ages of 45 – 65.
We look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Guest Post: Surviving the Wake-Up Call

by Chinook

A wise friend of mine recently told me about someone who has her worried. It’s his health. He is working much too hard and his stress level is too high. He has put on a lot of weight. His life is devoid of exercise and rest. He is looking ashy.

“I hope he survives his wake-up call,” she said, with sincere concern.

She was talking about a cardiac arrest. But immediately, my thoughts went to a different kind of heart attack: the jolt that stuns our cheating partners and traumatizes us when an affair comes to light. 

The jolt of getting caught is a wake-up call to our partners that the game of make-believe has ended. Life looks him square in the face and says: “I’m not fucking around, man. This is deeply unhealthy. You have serious problems. And they are notgoing to magically go away.”

What our cheating partner chooses to do next is important. And there are only two options.

Option #1: Survive this wake-up call, irrespective of our choice to stay or go

Surviving it means getting healthy. It means embracing humility, embracing all the ugly and hurtful ways in which he has hurt everyone, and committing to the brutally hard work of becoming a better person. And it warrants repeating that even if you declare the relationship over immediately—irrespective of your choice to stay or go—he should be doing this work. He should be taking this God-awful mess and making it his teacher.

Option #2: Not survive this wake-up call. 

Not surviving it means staying unhealthy. It means putting his head in the sand. Doubling-down on his steady diet of deception. Clinging tight to his vestigial defense mechanisms. 

Does he continue the affair? Blame you or others? Refuse to get individual counselling? Refuse to talk about it? Insist that you both just need to “move on”? Maintain, even months later, that he doesn’t know why it happened? Have another affair? Yeah. That means he’s not surviving it.

I read an example of this, recently, that made me so angry I wanted to scream. It was in this letter, which was sent to the Dear Sugar advice column/podcast. A married woman describes how she was caught “emotional and sexual texting” (including “inappropriate photos”) with her ex-boyfriend from high school (who, incidentally, was also in a committed relationship). This cheating wife was forgiven by her husband who “was amazing”, and despite being hurt and angry “agreed to work through it together”. They talked about the problems in their marriage. They reconnected in a way that felt “like being newlyweds”.

Then, just a few months later, she picked up the affair right where she left off. To disastrous effect.

This woman did not survive her wake-up call. She had the opportunity to get healthy—for her own sake and for the sake of her children and husband—and she turned that opportunity down. She was a cake-eater: she wanted both the comfort and love and security of her marriage, and the thrilling excitement of the affair. “THIS IS NOT WHO I AM,”she writes in capital letters in her letter, to which co-advisor Steve Almond compassionately but firmly replies: “This actually is who you are.”

Although we don’t hear from the husband in the letter to Dear Sugar, every single person on this site can imagine the heartbreak he felt when he discovered his wife’s affair. It was a wake-up call for him, too. And it sounds like, unlike his wife, he chose to embrace that wake-up call. In the wife’s words, he “acknowledged that our marriage had lost intimacy over the years with the minutia of kids, jobs, bills” and made the (I imagine) excruciatingly difficult choice of “really being together” with the wife who had so hurt him. He allowed it to crack him open, to humble him, to show him what he didn’t like about their marriage so that he could work on changing it.

He chose health. 

But his wake-up call also meant that when he discovered his wife carrying on the affair, he didn’t give her a third chance.

The wake-up call has come for us, fellow Warriors. Will we choose to survive it? 

Will we find the courage to embrace what it has to teach us?
Will we turn the pain into rocket fuel, propelling us through unprecedented growth to a level of strength and wisdom we see in women like Elle but never imagined in ourselves?

Before I had experienced infidelity first-hand, it seemed like an unimaginably horrific occurrence. And I wasn’t wrong. It really is. 

But what I didn’t have any idea of then is how growth-inspiring it could be if I let it. When I sat down to write a journal entry four months after D-Day (and two months after getting the whole truth) entitled “good things that have come out of the last four months”, I filled an entire page without even having to think about it too hard. 

An entire page.

I wouldn’t re-live the affair even if you paid me a million dollars. 
I wouldn’t wish the traumatizing experience of it on anyone. (Well… Except her.)

But I can truthfully say (and I’m kind of astonished by this): Every single aspect of my life is healthier than it was prior to the affair.

I am choosing to survive this wake-up call. 
And if you’re on this site, if you’re reading this right now, so are you.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Guest Post: The Life I Will Never Get to Live

by Chinook

Just a few days ago, in a comment on this website, one of the brave warriors in our ranks wrote something to the effect of: “Sure, I’ve made lemonade. But I don’t even like lemonade. I never wanted to make lemonade.”

I know that feeling so well.

Like everyone else here, I have days of terrible sadness. I am only a year out from D-Day, which, Elle kindly and wisely reminds me, isn’t very long on the calendar of heartbreak. 

On those sad days (and even on some good days), it is impossible not to think about the life I would have led if my husband hadn’t chosen the coward’s path out of his pain. It is so tempting to look at my friends whose husbands didn’t cheat and feel jealous.

But the truth is that I have no idea what that other life would be like. 

Sure, I can romanticize it. I can assume that the other, affair-free life would have been much happier and better than this one. But who knows? My marriage was headed for divorce when the affair happened and it had been for several years, despite my best efforts. My husband has admitted to me that because he was so messed up, he couldn’t have undergone the level of transformation he has without blowing up his entire life. 

Also, I can see now that it took a crisis to catapult me out of the deep fjord of self-sacrifice and suppression-of-my-own-needs in which I had been living for most of my adult life. I had been living in it for so long that I didn't even realize the extent to which it was holding me hostage and making me unhappy.

There’s something else, too. When I jealously compare my life to those of the people I know, I’m selective. I choose, for the purposes of comparison, people whose lives seem rosy. I don’t pick the friend whose child has a serious congenital disorder. I don’t pick the friend who is facing an excruciating divorce. I don’t pick the one whose husband just died in a tragic accident, leaving her widowed with three children.

Thinking that the path not taken (the path I can never take) would have been better is also just not helpful. It doesn’t matter. Because all I have is this life, this lemonade to drink. 

(As a side note, I’m trying to use that measure to evaluate all my actions and thought patterns in this post-affair, self-healing world: “Is this helpful?” If it isn’t helpful to… stalk the other woman on social media, drink lots of wine, continue to remind my husband of his mistakes… then why do it?)

I have always loved hearing it said, of life: “None of us is getting out of this alive!” I love how funny and irreverent and true it is. I love how it’s both incredibly dramatic and yet obvious and therefore sort of boring.

The same is true of living a life free of pain: None of us make it through our entire lives unscathed, not even billionaires or royalty. We are not meant to. Life isn't supposed to be a race to get to the end without anything bad ever happening to us. 

I am not a religious person, but I heard this quote the other day that has genuinely shifted my perspective. It somehow simultaneously makes me feel more powerful and also expands my ability to have compassion for myself. It even creates space for me to feel curiousity about this whole painful thing.

It’s from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who was a French philosopher and explorer and priest. 

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Monday, July 29, 2019

What If You Shifted The Story You're Telling Yourself

Driving my daughter to march in our local Pride Parade this past weekend, I flipped on the car radio. Esther Perel's voice, one I recognize from long hours listening to her incredible podcast Where Should We Begin, filled the car. She was being interviewed about relationships (duh!). But she told more of her backstory than I've heard before. About how both of her parents were the only surviving members of their families after Hitler's reign of terror. About growing up in Antwerp, surrounded by other survivors of the Holocaust. And she noticed something that set her on the course of her life – helping us find connection with each other. What she noticed was that there were two groups of people (not neatly delineated, she pointed out) that each told a story. One group told stories of victimization – what had been done to them. The other told stories of survival – what they themselves had done. She noticed something else. For those who perceived themselves as victims, she said, the most you could say about them was that they weren't dead. But those who perceived themselves as survivors? They were alive.
Not dead vs. alive. See the difference?
Betrayal isn't the Holocaust. But, as Perel insists, trauma is trauma and all pain is legitimate
Of course, betrayal isn't the whole of our story. We bring plenty of baggage into all our relationships. Baggage about our worth. Baggage about love. Baggage about expectations. Baggage about entitlement.
But betrayal can also blow our stories wide open, it can give us the opportunity to re-examine what we've been telling ourselves. It can allow us to rewrite. Because stories are not set in stone. They are always ALWAYS a story, narrated by someone who has bias.
How might your story be different if you framed it as a story of survival, of triumph, rather than a story of being victimized. As Laura, the founder of Infidelity Counseling Network, told me: Her healing began the day the she changed the question from 'why did this happen to me?' to 'why did this happen?'
I have zero doubt that you can just as easily tell all of us here about the ways in which you're a hero. Getting out of bed, for a start. Not murdering your husband in his sleep. Taking care of children, sometimes children with special needs, when your heart is shattered. Checking in with elderly parents. Continuing to get yourself to work. Not risking your sobriety. Not spending money you don't have on temporary fixes. Making dinner. Doing laundry. Remembering your best friend's birthday.
Stories of your ingenuity, of your resilience, of your goodness and your integrity. Stories of carrying on even when it's so damn hard. Stories of survival. Stories that will move you toward feeling alive rather than just not dead.
Try it. Tell us a story of something you did that felt really really hard but you did it anyway. Let us all celebrate your aliveness.
And then, let's all of us make it a habit. I want to be more than just not dead. I bet you do too.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Guest Post: Put down the telescope

by Chinook

I had never known such desperation as I felt after I discovered that my husband had been having an affair. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t control my emotions even the slightest bit. My body and mind were in a state of such extreme anxiety that a single errant thought (about her, about the two of them together, about what this meant for our children) could provoke a full-blown panic attack. 

Between fits of racking sobs, I launched into doing the three things that I always do when I feel powerless:
(1) Research
(2) Figure out the story of what was happening
(3) Play out future scenarios in my head 

I did these things for every moment of every day.


It was exhausting, and in the end only one of these coping mechanisms was useful. 

I’m surprised to report that even at the frantic pace at which I did it, research helped. My trusted inner community, in whom I confided right from the start, responded with great resources. On the advice of a friend, I was reading Mira Kirshenbaum’s book “I love you but I don’t trust you” within a day of finding out about the affair. 
On the advice of another, I started journaling. A third recommended that I exhaust myself with high-intensity exercise. “Sleeping pills,” said a fourth. In spite of my internet searching, it took a long time before I found the Betrayed Wives Club. (I think I eventually made my way here by typing something like “when will the devastating pain of infidelity ever end?” into Google.) But within a few weeks, I had an effective therapist, an informational session lined up with a divorce lawyer, other betrayed women to talk to, and a dozen great books to read.

The second coping technique — trying to figure out the story of what was happening — drove me and everyone around me crazy. My mind was racing, trying to compute WHY my husband had done this. (Was he a psychopath? Was he a compulsive liar? Was he a closeted misogynist? Did he have an attachment disorder? Had he even wanted kids? Had he even wanted to get married?) Talking is part of my figuring-out process, and I talked about it incessantly. At one point my father finally declared: “I don’t give a HOOT what he wants! What does CHINOOK want?”

This coping technique failed spectacularly. I was trying to control the situation by understanding it. But I had neither the information nor the hindsight necessary to understand it. Even if I could, understanding it wouldn’t make the pain any less excruciating. Also, to my father’s point, I was putting my attention in the wrong place: I was making my husband the center of the story when the real focus needed to be on me. 

The least useful of all my coping techniques by far was the last: trying to predict the future.

A very good, very wise friend of mine calls the practice “telescoping”, and if you’re doing it, I urge you to stop.

The danger of using a telescope to try and see the future (which is impossible) is that we miss out on observing what is happening right here, right now. And what’s happening now is key. The only thing any of us can do when devastated by a trauma is to pick the next right step, as Glennon Doyle says. (It’s a variation of the “one day at a time” motto of Alcoholics Anonymous.) And in order to choose that next right step, we need accurate information on exactly where we are right now. 

This very wise friend of mine also reminded me that I didn’t need to make any big decisions right now or for some time to come. The only thing I needed to do was gather information. Information on what my husband had actually done. Information from HIM (not from me trying to figure it out for him) about why he had done it. Information on what he was going to do next. Information on my legal options (and, if I hadn’t already had it, our financial situation). 

And, most importantly, information about how this all made me feel and what it revealed to me about what I want.

So, if you have just had your entire world upended, if your mind and heart are racing with the shock of it all, if you are trying to telescope your way into a future that feels safer than your present, please stop.

Put down the telescope.

You can’t see the future. None of us can. 

All you have is now.

Take the next right step. 
Then the next right one after that. 
Then the next right one after that. 

When you walk a path of next right steps, you can’t go wrong.


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