Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dangerous Minds

We are pattern seeking creatures. It's how we make sense of our world. It's how we impose structure on randomness. It's how we feel safe.
And when those patterns are disrupted – he doesn't come home when he usually does; he doesn't answer his cell phone; he develops a new habit of going for a late-night jog – it can sound alarm bells. Or not. If we feel safe, we can generally roll with these changes.
But when these altered patterns reveal betrayal, our sense of safety is shattered. And it takes a very long time to create it again, if ever.
It's called "betrayal trauma". And its repercussions are highly underestimated by the betrayer and, often, the betrayed. Sadly, even by therapists.
The betrayer can't quite understand why we can't just "get over it." After all, they've promised us it won't happen again.
We can't quite understand why we can't just "get over it." After all, they've promised us it won't happen again.
And our support network can't quite understand why we can't just "get over it." After all, we're becoming boring...and obsessive.
Until, however, we recognize just how betrayal trauma affects us, it will continue to baffle us with its refusal to stop ambushing us.
But consider the fact that our betrayal came from the person we trusted most in the world. The person we felt safe with. The person we believed wouldn't lie to us. Or keep secrets. Or jeopardize our safety in any way.
And when that person betrays that trust, it affects us to our core.
Recent studies of trauma have revealed that parts of  our brains act as "smoke detectors", signalling threat. But these parts of our brains also store memories of these physical cues to danger -- sounds, smells, bodily responses. And these memories become essentially carved in our brains. And so when faced with triggers – sounds (a muffled phone conversation), smells (strange perfume or cigarette smoke on someone who doesn't smoke), bodily sensations (that "gut" feeling that something's wrong) – we react as if it's happening all over again. Which it may be. But it also may not. Our brain can't distinguish anymore and, since our own judgement, we believe, let us down before, we panic in the face of having discern a real threat from a perceived one.
It all sounds a wee bit convoluted and psycho-babblesque.
What it boils down to is this.
Your reaction – or over-reaction as some view it – is perfectly legitimate given what you've gone through.
Your sense of the world as ordered, relatively predictable and safe has been shattered. Replaced by a view of the world as precarious and inherently unsafe.
You'll find your equilibrium again...but you need to start by acknowledging how betrayal has affected your world-view.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Myth of the Soul-Mate or "But How Could He DO That To Me?"

How our society worships the "soul-mate". We grow up dreaming of him. Imagining him. And, we think, meeting and marrying him.
We imagine happily ever after. We imagine growing old together. We can't imagine burying our soul-mate but know that one of us will have to deal with the death of the other.
We watch friends leave husbands for their soul-mate. We watch husbands leave wives for their soul-mate.
And then comes the day when our soul-mate betrays us. When, it turns out, he wasn't our soul-mate after all but a total scumbag with the scruples of a tomcat.
And what compounds the pain is that we never saw this coming. Nowhere in the fairy tale we were sold did the princess get betrayed by the prince who was two-timing with a step-sister.
The idea of a soul-mate has done more to distort adult relationships than just about anything apart from the g-spot.
And yet it's a fantasy that won't die.
Why? Phyllis Theroux, author of The Journal Keeper, offers us a clue:
One of the strongest illusions in life is that another person's love will liberate us. The illusion is hard to let go of, even when one Lover after another has disappeared, because while they are present they do set us temporarily "free." We feel a if we are more talented and lovable, and then they turn away and stop loving us, and we realize how much our balloon depends upon their hot air.
Belief in our soul-mate is, essentially, a desire to feel whole. To see a reflection of ourselves – a flattering one – in another's eyes. And when we lose that, it's easy to lose ourselves. Suddenly we can't see ourselves at all. My sense of self was rocked to the core. If I wasn't this adored wife, then who, exactly, was I? And if I couldn't trust this soul-mate...this extension of myself, I thought, then who could I trust?
The process of rebuilding my marriage began with an acceptance that he wasn't my soul-mate. That such a thing likely didn't exist except in the imaginations of song-writers and Nicholas Sparks.
My husband didn't share a perfectly compatible value system. He didn't want exactly what I wanted in life. He didn't feel exactly as I felt – or as I assumed he should feel – about lots of things. And in order for us to piece together our shattered life, I needed to get that through my thick head.
No easy task.
I clung tight to that fantasy. But slowly, I loosened my grip. Slowly, I started giving myself what I always wanted from him. Unconditional acceptance. Non-judgement. A sense of appreciation for who I am and what I stand for. Love. And the more I gave myself those things, the less I needed them from him. The more I was able to accept him as apart from me but a part of my life out of choice.
It's less romantic, in some ways. Gone is the childhood fantasy of someone who will love me without fail. Someone who completes me.
But in its place is the recognition that I can be that person for myself. That I am complete, with or without a partner. Which is as it always should have been.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Music to Kick Infidelity's Ass

I'm a firm believer in anthems. I often imagine my life as a movie (illusions of grandeur, to be sure!) and love to figure out the soundtrack. But beyond self-indulgent silliness, certain songs really do give me strength. Or conviction. Or permission to fall apart for the three minutes I'm listening to it.
I'd love to create a Betrayed Wives Playlist on this site, though, at this point in time, that would require a tech-savviness I'm sorely lacking. So I'll settle for simply offering up my list and hope that you'll add to it.
Here are some of mine:
Makes Me Smile by cast of Glee
Irreplacable by Beyonce
I Will Survive by Lara Fabian
Next Time He Cheats by Carrie Underwood
You're So Vain by Carly Simon
Get Home by Sarah Slean
4 in the Morning by Gwen Stefani
Hot N Cold by Katy Perry

What are your adultery anthems?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

He Committed the Sin...But You're Punishing Yourself

My husband isn't the first man to cheat on me.
When I was in my 20s, I had a mercurial relationship with a guy I alternately loved and loathed. We considered ourselves passionate, but in hindsight we were more likely pathological.
In any case, he dumped me with the confession that he'd cheated on me. I begged for details, which he seemed delighted to provide. Her name (I seem to be cursed with Other Women named Sara. Honestly, next time I meet a Sara, I'm simply going to offer up my husband/boyfriend/whatever because it seems inevitable that she'll sleep with whomever I'm with), where she lived, what her job was, how they met, yadda, yadda... Everything I ever needed to know to torture myself with endless ruminations.
And so I did. I tortured myself by driving by her apartment complex, wondering if every twenty-something woman I saw was "her". I tortured myself by casually asking every person I encountered in her industry if they knew her. I tortured myself by looking up her phone number and plotting what I would say to her if I called. I tortured myself every night with thoughts of whether my by-then-ex was with her. What they talked about. Whether they laughed about me.
It was...torture. And it fed on itself, getting worse (and more pathological) by the day.
Sure, what my boyfriend did was really shitty.
But what I was doing to myself was shittier still.
I couldn't count on him to be gentle with my heart. And, it seemed, I couldn't count on myself either.
It was time to stop the cruelty.
I'd love to recount that I saw the error in my ways and instantly embarked on a path of self-love and gentle self-care.
The truth isn't quite so enlightened.
What ultimately happened was that I got bored by my own drama. I got tired of crying every night. I got sick of my own obsession.
And slowly, almost without me noticing, I started experiencing joy again. In a good run. A fun night with friends. An awesome book. My cat.
Simple things. Which generally are where we find true joy.
Fast forward 15 years. When I found out my husband cheated, I was better prepared (thank-you Life Experience!!). Though it took me a few months (or more), eventually I gathered my senses enough to remember what I'd learned.
I began intentionally seeking joy. In walking my dogs. Spending time with my kids. Stepping on the scales (and thank-you Infidelity Diet!).
What my husband had done was hurtful. But I didn't need to join him by hurting myself further.
Susan Piven, in How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life, describes her epiphany following heartbreak as this:
I actually heard a voice inside my head. It said, "Nothing is happening right now." I stopped. I looked around. It was true. Nothing at all was going on. This tsunami of agitation could not be located... It was not happening. It was only a thought. And, I realized, my thoughts were killing me, not my broken heart.
We can't control what others do to us. But we can – and must – control what we do to ourselves. I know it ain't easy. Sometimes my thoughts still declare mutiny and drag me through hell. But recognizing that we're in charge (even when it feels like we're not) is key. Acknowledge that we really do possess what we need to get us through the pain and out the other side. Even if we get just the rarest glimpse of this state – free from delusions and self-inflicted drama – it's enough to remind us that it's possible.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Meet the Seven Dwarfs of Betrayal

Your spouse isn’t the only one who might seem like a stranger in the wake of learning about his infidelity. You’ll have moments in which you won’t recognize yourself (or sometimes your neighbor...or your kids. But that's another post.). We wives agree that being betrayed changes who you are. And most of us kinda like(d) that person. We were fun and funny. We were kind and compassionate. We were, for the most part, good wives, good friends, good moms.
Being betrayed can change all that, at least in the short term. Enter the Seven Dwarfs of Betrayal, who will move into your body like something out of Sybil

Move over Snow White; I present: Weepy, Angry, Bitchy, Fearful, Jumpy, Clingy and Nuts

Weepy: You’re probably crying. A lot. It may even cross your muddled mind that you’re dehydrating yourself with all the tears. Don’t worry. Drink a glass of water…and cry some more. Cry until you can’t cry anymore. It may feel as if the tears will never stop. But they will. We promise.

Angry: I consider myself a card-carrying pacifist. But the rage I felt in the wake of learning about my husband’s affair was so strong that I felt capable of homicide – something that inflicted maximum pain with a blunt instrument. Rather than risk life in an orange jumper (I’m a “summer” – orange is NOT my color), I channeled my rage into running. I could run far and fast, fuelled by my anger, until I was exhausted. Forget steroids. I learned that serious athletes just need more emotional pain in their lives. 
Carol turned to the gym, working out with a vengeance. 
Susan turned to Shamanism and getting in touch with her “spirit animal”. One day she pictured a tiger taking a swipe at her husband and taking his head off. In that instant, she says, her anger vanished. Hey, if it works and it’s legal, who am I to argue?
Whatever outlet you find, ensure that it’s healthy. Channeling your anger through Chardonnay isn’t the best bet. Nor is furiously attacking a tub of Ben and Jerry’s.
Angry might stick around for a while. Or just when you think you’ve seen the last of her, she’ll resurface when, say, someone cuts you off in traffic and you find yourself hurling expletives at a confused senior in a Buick Regal. The problem with Angry, say the sisters, is that it’s all too easy to get comfortable with her. To let her take up permanent residence in your brain. There’s safety. A feeling of invincibility that keeps you from moving forward.
As the sisters say, whatever feeling you’re feeling right now is the right one. But keep in mind that anger, as the experts say, is a secondary emotion. Which means that behind it is usually another of the dwarfs – usually Weepy or Fearful.

Bitchy: I loved this dwarf so much that I kept her around for a bit longer than was healthy. Bitchy is a close cousin of Angry – the city sophisticate to Angry’s backwoods redneck. Bitchy allows you to express anger but to do it in a way that seems more in control. More clever. Bitchy can be empowering. She can help you tap into that part of you that always thought self-care was selfish. It can sometimes be a good thing to get in touch with your inner Bitchy. However, Bitchy can be deceiving. Like Angry, she helps you hide enormous pain and fear. Send her packing and discover the feeling beneath. (But make sure she’s close enough to pull out when necessary…such as when your spouse suggests it's time to "get over it".)

Fearful: It makes sense to feel scared. Your foundation, on which you’ve likely built your family and your life, has been seriously damaged, if not destroyed. It takes time to sift through the rubble and determine whether it can be rebuilt…or whether to salvage what you can, pack up and start over somewhere else. But that decision can wait for now. The sisters recommend you give yourself a year before making any major decisions. That’s not to allow your spouse more time to cheat. In fact, it’s time for you to establish some very clear boundaries about what you will and will NOT tolerate. The time is to give you the chance to work through your swirling emotions until you get clearer about what you really want.

Jumpy: Consider this: You’ve been as traumatized as anyone who has been raped or suffered a near-fatal accident. Many of we sisters minimize our own pain, thinking there’s something wrong with us that we’re not handling it better. I found myself so startled by everything from the mail falling through the slot to the dog barking, that when my friend Marilyn suggested I was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, it suddenly made sense. Infidelity has been referred to as a “life-quake” and just as earthquake survivors are pretty damn jumpy in the weeks and months following, so are we lifequake survivors. And when there’s a minor tremor – you find out another detail, or God forbid, another affair – it retraumatizes us.
Some of us get over it more quickly than others. Recognizing it and being easy on myself helped me evict this dwarf quickly. Be patient with yourself. It will take time to feel safe again.

Clingy: This dwarf moved into quickly and stealthily – and before I knew it, I was performing sex acts worthy of a contortionist on a round-the-clock basis. I held my husband's hand non-stop, couldn't get enough of him. I hadn't heard of hysterical bonding and was baffled by why I was offering up my body to the man who had just shattered my soul. 
Clingy is a surprisingly common visitor in the early days following discovery of a spouse's betrayal. Some attribute it to a primal need to lay claim to what we feel to be ours. Others suggest it's a healthy way to reconnect.
She says to-may-to; he says to-mah-to. All I know is that, once the clothes were back on and the chandelier stopped shaking, I was left in pieces. And putting myself back together took more than a roll in the hay. 

Nuts: Betrayal is crazy-making. There's simply no way around it. Even those who manage to hide this dward in the closet, can't deny that she's there. Nuts will have you awake at 3 a.m., plotting how you'll expose the Other Woman on Facebook. She'll convince you that taking a drive at midnight to see if your husband's car is in the OW's driveway is a good idea – and that the baby probably won't wake up while you're gone. 
Nuts will insist that another drink is a splendid idea and that everyone you've ever met, including your new boss, really does want to hear about your bastard of an ex and how his new girlfriend spent her kid's support money on breast implants. 
Nuts is...well...nuts. Don't listen to a word she says.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Funny Friday: Woman Engaged in Picnic Table Sex Charged With Adultery

It's a headline I never imagined I would write. Picnic table sex? Is this some sort of weird food porn? Nope, it's the gospel truth as told by the New York Daily News. (And if you can't believe them, who can you believe?)
Turns out a 41-year-old NYC woman got a little randy in a park...and out came her 29-year-old lover's "little randy". Though she insists that the nearby kids (I'm not making this up. I couldn't make this up!) couldn't possibly see her partner's privates in public, officers begged to differ and arrested her for public lewdness. But, in a rare instance, they also charged her with adultery, perhaps on behalf of publicly humiliated cuckolds everywhere.
And, though I think it's a bit...extreme (and, I suspect, a bit gender biased – I doubt a married man would have been charged with adultery, though I'm sure the public lewdness charge would stick), I can't help but smile just a bit. Let this show any potential adulterers that cheating might start out as a picnic at the park, but pretty soon charges are getting laid...not you.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

When the Other Woman (Sorta) Attacks

Just when I think mankind can't sink any lower, I'm given evidence that it's slipped another notch...or two.

The most recent for me (though it's old news by gossip mag standards) was a letter that Jesse James' alleged second mistress faxed to Sandra Bullock, offering up the usual blend of self-absorption, oblique apology and high-school "can't-we-be-friends-now" offer of resolution.

It's surprisingly common. Way back when I was coping with the breakup of me and my first serious boyfriend (and he was sleeping with my former best friend – FBF), I received a letter from FBF filled with recriminations, blame-shifting and spelling mistakes. I was incredulous. I was the injured party, I sputtered. She (and he) had hurt me!

Well...maybe. But that's only in the grown-up world where people accept responsibility for their actions and choices. Certainly not in the fantasy world of "but-we-couldn't-help-ourselves-we-were-meant-for-each-other" cheating.

BWC Member Erica found out about her husband's affair when the Other Woman sent her an e-mail outlining their relationship and adding that Erica's husband thought his wife was a "bitch". Ouch! And did I mention that Erica was nine months pregnant at the time of this little letter-bomb? I honestly can't hazard a guess why someone would want to hurt another in such a profound way. I imagine it goes back to the truth of "hurt people hurt people".

But while you can't stop some wacked-out OW from contacting you (though if it's consistent, you might want to seek legal advice), you can control your own actions in response to it.

1) For starters, DO NOT ENGAGE. These women (see Exhibit A, letter to Sandra Bullock) are generally attention-hounds. They love the drama. The spotlight. Take it away and watch them wither. They might ramp it up in the short-term...but they'll eventually make a mess elsewhere in their lives that will pull their attention away from you. In the meantime, put the focus back on you and your healing...where it belongs.

2) Don't step on their crazy train. The reason these women are involved with a married man at all is often because their low self-esteem is matched only by their competitive drive to "win". Oh yeah – and they're crazy. Remember Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction? Keep that bunny boiling image in mind any time you're tempted to retaliate, threaten or respond in any way that doesn't sound like: "Please don't contact me again."

 3) If you're trying to put your marriage back together, your husband must also cease and desist re. any contact with the Other Woman. A carefully worded, emotionless "no contact" letter should be sent by registered mail, insisting that the relationship was a mistake for both of them and that there will be no contact from this date forward. No reminiscing. No "last good-byes". Just No Contact from this day forward. Then he needs to honor that, even if the OW doesn't.

As for any invitation from the OW that you become friends? Bonded over mutual heartbreak courtesy of the man you both love? With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Memories Can Make Us Wiser...or More Bitter. You Choose...

Memory is fickle. 
On a good day, I find myself reminiscing of wonderful things past. A child taking a first step. A family vacation at the lake. The day I signed my first book contract. 
On a bad day, however, I recall my life as simply one failure after another. The lost friends. The failed projects. The betrayal.
The truth, of course, is that everyone's life – past and present – is filled with both good and bad.
Betrayal complicates things further. By coming into possession of new information about our past, memory becomes distorted. Does knowing now that my husband cheated on me when pregnant alter the joy I felt at my first child's birth? My memory of that incredible moment is now revised. I've let my newfound knowledge color my memories – leaving me with a wedding album I can't bear to look at and family photos that give me pain.
It's important to remind ourselves that we needn't revise our memories. Though it can be helpful to re-navigate the past, to look again at events or feelings that, knowing what we know now, might have given us greater pause, it doesn't ultimately change anything. Especially our truth in those moments. 
My daughter's birth was an incredible time for me. Whether my husband had conflicting feelings, being in possession of the knowledge that he had cheated, doesn't alter my truth in that moment. Nor does it alter all the wonderful days I've spent and successes I've had. 
Of course, I can use memories to determine how I'll respond when faced with similar situations. But I'm applying that knowledge and reassessment to the future.
And that's important.
Wendy Strgar, whom I've quoted on this site before and who has a wonderful business dedicated to healthy "love products", says in this blog that memory can offer us wisdom, when we process what we've learned in order to make better choices for ourselves in the future. "The memories born of this internal struggle have the capacity to heal not only the past, but give us a path to a future that we can invest our hope in," she writes.
Lewis Smedes also reminds us that "a healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for the future."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Eureka! The difference between anger and aggression is...intent

Okay, so I'm a slow learner. Though I've read every self-help book ever written on...well...pretty much everything (meditation, organizing, parenting, marriage...if these books work, I should be fairly perfect by now), I've continued to struggle with asserting myself, without exerting myself. For me, asking for what I needed was akin to putting whomever I was asking into a headlock. And, being weak and a pacifist, I just couldn't do it. And so, I just continued to do for others...and pretend my own needs and wants were luxuries. Something I could afford someday, but not now.
I used to watch, slack-jawed and incredulous, when I would see a woman being assertive. But don't they worry that the other person won't like them? I would think. My own mother was the master of assertion. And, frankly, she kinda scared me. But she really didn't care what other people thought of her. Unless she respected you and then she cared...but not enough to behave differently. As a result, some people loved her. Others loathed her. But she was universally respected.
But...oh happy day. I finally get it. (Thanks in part to my wonderful therapist and in part to Self-Help Book #3,421 on my shelf: How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life: Opening Your Heart to Confidence, Intimacy, and Joy by Susan Piven.)

In fact, I recently tried it out in a very small way when someone who works for me began telling me about her sick dog. I listened patiently, though my mind was on the work I needed to get to in order to meet a deadline.
And then, it hit me. I didn't have to listen. It's a choice. I could excuse myself politely with a sympathetic murmur about her dog...and then get to my work. So rather than get angrier by the second, which I often do when I feel held hostage, I said I was sorry to hear about her dog (which I genuinely am).  And then I walked away.
Just. Like. That.
The sky didn't fall. She didn't scream "Get back here. I'm not done!" at me. Rather, she sighed, then got back to work herself. And when she left for the day, I reiterated that I hope her dog gets better. We parted friends.
Now maybe this all sounds ridiculous to you assertive types. But this is BIG for me.
I finally realize that taking care of my own needs and wants doesn't need to fall way down my to-do list. It can remain, right there at the top.
And I can still be nice. And thoughtful. And a good listener. But when I want to be. When I'm emotionally capable of it. When I'm physically capable of it.
Look out world. Here I come. Not with a whimper, but a bang. A nice bang...


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