Wednesday, September 16, 2020

"How can I ever trust him again?" The bad news, you can't. The good news? You don't need to

 It's one of the questions I'm asked most often, along with, "when will I stop feeling so much pain" and "should I stay or go?". 

How, so many of you ask, can I ever trust him again.

Usually, this question is asked within the context of a marriage that has remains somewhat intact. He says he'll change, he says it's over, he says he wishes it had never happened. 

But we're aware that it didn't just "happen". He made it happen. He chose it.

And that not only hurts like hell, it makes it very very hard to believe that it won't happen again. As Dr Phil has famously said, the greatest predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

I wish I could tell you that there was some formula for success. That if he did this thing or that thing, then you could be sure he'd never cheat again. But there isn't. I know of people who cheated once, their spouse didn't know, and they never cheated again. I know of people who said they couldn't promise they'd never cheat again but who (so far!) have never cheated again. And consider this: I have this site where I've spent more than a decade talking to all of you about healing from infidelity and I have no idea if my husband will cheat on me again. It's impossible to predict what anyone will do. Consider also this: How many of you came here with the words, "I never imagined that my husband could do this." Yep, me too. Never in a million years.

And yet, here I am. Here we are. 

There are things we can pay attention to if we're considering rebuilding a marriage with someone who betrayed us. For a start, I wouldn't consider (nor would I encourage you to consider) giving a second chance to someone who's refusing to do the work of digging through his own shit: If he always minimized what he did, if he refused to break it off and insist on No Contact, if he refused to talk about it, if he refused to let me see his e-mails/texts/apps on his phone... Those, to me, are huge waving red flags that are telling me that he might not be packing his bags but I should be. 

Which brings me to the point of this post and, I believe, the most important thing we can do in the wake of D-Day: Learn to trust ourselves. 

I know how vague that sounds. And I know how confusing it feels. What difference does it make if I trust myself if I can't trust him? He's the cheater.

Yes. And trusting yourself is not the same as ensuring that you will never be hurt again. Nobody can promise that. 

But trusting yourself is about taking care of yourself. It is about ensuring that you are not tolerating anything in your life that makes you uncomfortable or compromises your value system. That's part of the collateral damage of infidelity. So many of us can look back and see that we knew something wasn't right. Maybe we didn't know he was cheating, but we knew there were times we couldn't reach him. Or we knew he'd suddenly detached from our family, or we felt unseen or unheard. We told ourselves that all marriages go through rough patches, that maybe he was stressed, that we needed to be patient. We made do with a situation that didn't feel enough for us.

Trusting ourselves is about never doing that again. Trusting ourselves is about never saying "it's okay" when it's not. It's about insisting on what we need to stay in the marriage. It's about refusing to trade our voice for his presence. Trusting ourselves is knowing that we are worth fighting for, and that fighting for ourselves is an inside job.

I was hard for me to understand what trusting myself meant until I felt it. And yet, I knew women who trusted themselves, though I might not have put it that way. Women who moved through the world with a certainty of their worth. Not arrogance at all. Assurance. 

And that's what trusting ourselves provides. Not a guarantee that he will never cheat again. But an assurance that, no matter what others do, we will not lose sight of our own North Star. That no matter how hard the winds blow, we will not topple.

Despite how you're feeling right now, regardless of how miserable you feel, let me remind you that you have not toppled. We have survived this. And since the greatest predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, that's a pretty good indication that we would survive if it happened again. We think we wouldn't. But let's not confuse feeling deep deep pain with being annihilated. We can feel that pain and move forward anyway. And that's all we need to know.

My husband might cheat on me next week (though this pandemic means he's pretty much around 24/7 so he'd have to work  hard at it!). I cannot control what he does. I never could. But I know now that I can trust myself to respond in a way that is rooted in self-honor and respect. 

And, as it turns out, that is enough. It had always been enough. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

I will not abandon myself. Not again

I will not stay – not ever again – in a room or conversation or relationship or institution that requires me to abandon myself.
~Glennon Doyle, Untamed
“To abandon myself.” I’ve been thinking a lot about those three words. And I’ve been thinking about the myriad ways, over many years, that I abandoned myself. Or, as I sometimes put it on this site, that I betrayed myself. And it is that betrayal, of myself, that was even more painful than my husband’s betrayal of me.
Not all of you have betrayed – abandoned – yourself. Among our mighty tribe are those who held their ground, who knew themselves, who never tolerated disrespect or silencing, who, when they found out, fought like hell for themselves and never doubted their worth.
And then there are the rest of us.
The pleasers. The silenced. The don’t-rock-the-boaters.
Even now, almost 14 years after D-Day, I struggle with not betraying myself. Those old lessons, carved into my cranium in childhood, are hard to unlearn.
I have to challenge myself constantly, in matters big and small. If someone is upset, I always ALWAYS try to fix things. I didn’t know this about myself. Not at first. It’s like that comic of the two fish swimming around when one fish says, “The water is nice.” To which the other fish replies, “What’s water?” I didn’t see myself pleasing because I didn’t realize there was another way to be.
Fixing things was the water I swam in.
Pleasing was the oxygen I breathed. And it was killing me.
But though, when I read words like those of Doyle’s, I respond with a raised fist and a “hell yes!”, when I try to imagine living those words, things get a bit fuzzy. Like…what exactly does it look like to never again stay in a room or conversation or relationship or institution. I’m all for not abandoning myself, but…how?
In a word, boundaries. Boundaries, I have learned, are the single best way to ensure we don’t abandon ourselves. Boundaries are a superpower. And yet, most of us have grown up in a culture and a society in which boundaries were often confused with being selfish.
Consider this conversation I had with my father when I was visiting him. My 22-year-old daughter called, stressed about an event she was holding at our house. I had been out of town visiting my dad and the house was “messy”, she told me. And where was the bucket for ice? And…and…and… I could feel my own stress rise. I wished I was there to help her and lower her stress. It’s a familiar dynamic between my daughter and me. When she stresses, I over-function, which leads to her underfunctioning. Her anxiety pulled me in, like a fishing line hauls in a fish. So though I kept telling myself, “this is not my problem. This is not my problem”, I nonetheless felt that THIS IS MY PROBLEM. I told my dad about the conversation with my daughter. “It’s because you care,” he said. No. Wrong answer. But that’s what I’ve always been taught. That we over-involve ourselves because we care. That we take on problems because we care. But I now know that’s just not true. I take on my daughter’s problems because I lack boundaries around her. I want to fix things for her because her anxiety triggers my anxiety. It’s not about caring, it's about reducing anxiety. I can care and be empathetic without trying to fix things. In fact, I now know that it’s more caring (and healthy!) to trust that she can handle things herself. Which, incidentally, she did, given that I wasn’t able to step in and fix things. As the old saying goes, constantly holding our child’s hand leaves them one less hand to use.
But, wow, is it hard! We women have been told for so long that “caring” is the same as “fixing”, that loving is about pleasing. And so, in all our fixing and pleasing, we abandon ourselves. By the time we read something like what Glennon Doyle says, we sense its truth. But often we’re so far gone we don’t recognize ourselves. We’re no longer sure where we end and other people begin. So when we’re asked not to abandon ourselves, we might think, “hell yeah” but when it comes down to it, we aren't even sure who "ourselves" is anymore. 
That was me. Maybe it’s you too.
But I’m here to assure you, it’s not a lost cause. YOU are not a lost cause.
You have abandoned yourself. But you are worth rescuing.
It’s going to be a steep learning curve. You are going to have to flex some atrophied muscles. You are going to have to retrace your steps sometimes to figure out exactly where you veered off the path. You are going to have to learn that “no” is a complete sentence. You absolutely must prioritize your own needs, within reason. Agreeing to something you disagree with is a surefire way to mix resentment into your relationship. You are going to have to disentangle the idea of a wishbone and a backbone. You can’t wish someone into caring about you. You must insist on it as the price of admission into your life.

You will mess this up. That's a given. But our job is not to know, it is to learn. And be willing to self-correct. 

Let's do this together. No more abandoning ourselves. No more pretending we're fine when we're not.  No more taking one for the team. No more sacrificing our own wants and needs to ensure that every else gets theirs. 

No more.

Who's in?


Monday, September 7, 2020

When You Feel Stupid


"How do you stop feeling so stupid?" was the question asked by one of our club members below this post. 

It's a question that made my heart ache. Because I know that question. I lived that question. I flogged myself with that question. 

I replied to the commenter. But I also promised to offer up an expanded response in the form of a post. Because if we can respond to that question, we can begin to heal. But as long as we're still asking that question, healing with elude us.

Cause here's the nut of it: Asking that question is taking the finger that should be pointed directly at the cheater and turning it around until it's pointing at us. How do we stop feeling so stupid? is a question that holds ourselves to blame. Maybe not for his cheating but for not knowing about his cheating. Maybe not for the cheating but for the staying. Maybe not for the cheating but for our pain around his cheating.

And that, my secret sisters, is part of our toxic culture of infidelity. That anyone who doesn't toss him out, that anyone who didn't know is a chump, an idiot, stupid. It runs so deeply in our culture that it doesn't even matter if other people are actually saying it to us, we're saying it to ourselves. We've internalized this idea that only stupid people get cheated on, that only stupid people stay, that only stupid people continue to love someone who's been unfaithful and it not only compounds the pain of being betrayed, it's a betrayal of ourselves. It's self-harm. 

And it's everywhere. We're loathe to accept that bad things can happen to blameless people and so we look for reasons – for everything from why someone got cancer ("was she a smoker?") to why someone got cheated on ("I heard she was a nag"). Never seems to dawn on people that IF she was a nag, maybe it was because her husband was never fucking home to help with the kids because he was cheating on her. Ahem. Sorry. I have strong feelings.

So my dear betrayeds, let us reframe that question. Let us transform "How do you stop feeling so stupid?" into the more appropriate question, "How do I accept that I was not emotionally safe?" 

I was doing the best I could when D-Day hit. Probably you were too. Even when our best, in hindsight, kinda looks like it sucks. We are a product of everything that's happened to us. In my case, having grown up in a dysfunctional home with addiction and a mother who attempted suicide many times, I had absorbed the lesson that I wasn't worth sticking around for. And yeah, I'd had lots of therapy and had intellectually understood that my mother's pain wasn't about my worth but her belief in her own (or lack of), none of that mattered when I learned of my husband's cheating. That old belief woke up from wherever it had been sleeping and said, "Oh, yes! He cheated because you are not worth sticking around for." And so I fell to my knees and struggled for months and months before I rediscovered my self-worth and made my own healing a priority.

But stupid? Nah. I'm not stupid. Neither are you. Loving is not stupid, it's courageous. Trusting is not stupid, it's the bedrock of any committed relationship. Our job is not to always get it right but to work to get it right. When we know better, we do better. 

We must remind ourselves, over and over until we don't have a single doubt in it's truth that we are worthy of love, worthy of respect, worthy of belonging in this world. Someone else's bad behaviour is always their responsibility. 

But yeah, I missed some signs. Yeah, I ignored a little voice in my head that was sending out an alarm. Yeah, I believed friends who, when I asked if THEY thought I should worry absolutely scoffed. "With her?" they laughed. "No way."

Well...we were all wrong. But anyone who would mock me for that, for trusting my husband, for believing that he was better than he was, is an ass. Anyone who would laugh at someone's trust, who would take delight in contributing to another's pain isn't even worth the effort it takes to hate them. 

I refuse to see myself as stupid as much as I forgive myself for not knowing better at the time. Seeing yourself as stupid is a choice. Consider yourself conned, duped, lied to. But stupid? Nope. Not me. I am loyal, I am loving, I am forgiving, I am trusting. One thing I absolutely am not is stupid. Neither are you. 

Push back against that cultural narrative that holds women responsible for men's bad behaviour. The only stupid thing is making life choices based on what others think of you rather than on what you want for yourself. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

More About Healing from a Partner's Multiple Affairs

 D-Day 1 let me in on my husband's secret affair. D-Day 2 filled in the questions unanswered after D-Day 1. It wasn't one affair but dozens. It wasn't one woman but many. It hadn't started a few years ago, it spanned our entire relationship.

You, more than most, can imagine my shock. 

Like those of you who responded to the post on multiple affairs, I thought I was married to a monster. Who could do such a thing? Who could build their entire marriage on a lie? What the hell had I got myself into and how was I going to get myself out? 

Nights were the worst. I had no names or faces to attach to these new affair partners and so I was left with some shadowy imaginings. Of course, they were all sexy, young, vibrant. (The truth, according to my husband, is that they were all sad, middle-aged and desperate.)

As I've explained before on this site, I stayed mostly because I lacked the energy to leave. I had three young children and if the marriage was over, I wanted to be sure it was TRULY over. I didn't want to disrupt their lives until I was sure. And I wasn't sure about much in those early days post D-Day. 

But what I want to say to those of you reeling from your own discovery of multiple partners is this: Though what your husband did seems monstrous, it helps you in absolutely no way to see him as a monster. In fact, if you're even considering trying to rebuild a marriage, it will help you much more to recognize that his monstrous behaviour is the outward expression of his own pain.

Yes, I know. Nobody wants to hear that. Our infidelity culture is built on the idea that only assholes cheat. That a good guy would never do such a thing. And I have taken many slings and arrows from the chump tribe who will not entertain the notion that, sometimes, good people do horrible things. 

And though I wanted to believe that, I knew it wasn't true. I had seen good people do bad things for much of my life. I had a mother with multiple addictions. I watched her get sober. And make amends for so much of the pain she'd caused. Did I owe her that second chance? No. I don't think any of us here on this site owe anyone a second chance. Second chances are gifts. Second chances are mercy. Writer Anne Lamott puts it this way: "...the beauty of living from your merciful heart instead of your ticker-tape brain — judgmental brain — is the way home. It’s the way to peace, the way to feeling safe and connected. It’s all the things we long for.”

The way home. The way to peace. The way to feeling safe and connected. Isn't that we're going for? It requires a radical change in how we see infidelity and those who cheat. It requires us to challenge the idea that this person who betrayed us so profoundly is a "monster". That he is beyond redemption.

Mercy – a second chance – is hard. And yet, I think we're hard-wired for it. Until we become brittle from bracing for hurt. 

Our challenge, and it is a formidable one, is to remain soft in the wake of the betrayal. To not just consider mercy for those who betray us but to absolutely ensure we give it to ourselves. That we forgive ourselves for not knowing. That we remind ourselves that we are and have always been enough. That we didn't deserve this. 

One commenter asks: "How do such monsters exist and in what world can I ever have the powers to get over such a betrayal?"

To which I reply: I see his actions as monstrous, his pain as monstrous but not him as monstrous. I suspect he too see his actions and pain as monstrous. I suspect he's as baffled as you about how he was able to betray you so deeply. And it is his job to determine how he did that and to ensure he learns tools that will prevent him from ever doing it again. The power to get over such a betrayal is within mercy. It was only when I could acknowledge my husband's pain that I could begin to view him with compassion instead of contempt. It was when I could view him with compassion that I could see myself with compassion. That I could forgive myself for not knowing better, for not choosing differently.

Mercy, as Lamott says, is the way home. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Multiple Sex Partners: "I just don't understand"

I'm re-posting this recent comment from Breathe, over on the Share Your Story thread so that more of you can read it. I think "Breathe" speaks for a lot of us, who come to terms with one affair, only to realize that there's so much to the story. How, we wonder, can we heal from even more pain? I'm also including my response after Breathe's letter.

My D-Day was six month ago. He had an affair with a coworker.
The last months were more than tough, but we were doing so great, I was doing so great.

I just experienced a big milestone on my healing journey. I reached a point where I realized that I cannot fight the whole thing anymore. I understood that it was his choice. And I also understood that I need to accept that he did this because otherwise I keep myself from living in the presence and be happy again. It was time to be kind to myself again.

My husband's affair felt like there was a battle and I wasn't there to fight it. The battle was over. But I was still fighting it. It just felt so unfair that I did not get a chance to fight it. To stop him from going to see her, to be with her.

However, the moment I realized that I cannot fight a losing battle I was somehow free again. I was able to stop all those mind movies, to stop reliving things to the fullest, I stopped having all those fantasies about doing bad things to them, to her, you know what I mean. I could ease this excruciating pain that sometimes – frankly spoken – I would inflict on me on purpose.

Learning about the “loss cycle” from my therapist, I understood that I surrendered.
And with it came this wonderful peace of mind that I hadn't felt since ages. I felt so so good. My friends even said I look so relaxed and so young again.

But one week ago, something terrible happened. Out of the blue, there was D-Day 2.
We were about moving houses and while packing boxes I found an old bank statement showing that he withdrew a lot of money in a dodgy part of the city in December 2018. And suddenly there was this thought I wanted to deny but I couldn´t.

Long story short: He also betrayed me with prostitutes. He visited brothels and sensual massage places. Basically, since we are together. He has done it since 20 years.

Today I still feel numb. And I am so so confused! How can you live and love someone and not see that he is acting out like this. Even though, looking back, it now all makes sense. It´s like I finally found the missing puzzle piece.

After the revelation of the affair, he kept saying that he feels so relieved that everything is out and that I know everything now. I should have known better!

We both are committed to make our relationship all it can be.I see that he wants to become a better man. He still tries hard. Every day.

But now I wonder if we can? I understood the “why” of the affair. I did not approve but accepted that emotional betrayal. But can I accept all the other betrayals as well?

He says that he only did it for the excitement, for the thrill of doing something forbidden. Less for sexual satisfaction. He says that this part of his life belonged only to him. He also says that he did not like it, but he could not stop it.

I don't understand. I just don't understand.

Any first aid advice out there?

I didn't understand either when I learned, first, that my husband was having an affair and, then six months later, that he had had multiple sexual encounters. But there I was, trying to make sense of it all. And what I've learned is this: I will never understand how he was able to conduct this double life. But I can accept that he did. I can accept that his compulsion was powerful enough to override his own value system and his love of his family. I can accept that he believed the stories he told himself, that nobody was getting hurt, that he was just "different" than other people with a stronger sex drive. But I couldn't accept any of that until he sought help. In my case, he had reached out for help before I learned about the sex addiction. The exposure of his affair opened the door for him to admit he had a serious problem that threatened everything that mattered to him. It was up to him to discover what drove his behaviour. My job was only to accept it had happened and move on. It was my choice, also, whether to move on with him in my life or without. But the accepting was, for me, not optional. Because not accepting was a denial of reality. He had cheated on me with many many people. All the wishing in the world wasn't going to change that. And like you discovered, accepting offers us the chance for peace.  

This is the job in front of you now. To accept that his behaviour is his to understand. To recognize that hurt people hurt people. That they behave in ways that harm themselves as well as those they love. That they behave in ways that exploits others as well as exploiting their own values.

Oddly, I think understanding has come for me, if slightly. I understand that my husband had never learned how to manage deeply painful feelings from growing up in an oppressive, abusive home. Sex was an escape for him. It took him out of his day-to-day life into something of a trance – he was either seeking it, arranging it, or engaging in it. Immediately following, he was filled with shame and regret and would tell himself, 'not again'. Until the next time. It was addictive behaviour. And addictive behaviour rarely makes sense to those of us who aren't addicts. 

I wish you peace, again. I think you'll find it. 


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