Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Beware the "Bewares": The Difference Between "Can't" and "Don't Want To"

A while back, I wrote a post in which I insisted that "the worst was over" – meaning that finding out was the lowest point and that there was nowhere to go but up (even if you spend some time mired in the darkness first). Some readers commented that might be the case for me, but not for them, which prompted me to write this post.
Clearly, there are some of us for whom the "worst" gets worse still. Who, even as they're reeling from the discovery of another woman, find out the Other Woman is pregnant. Or that they contracted an STD. Or, in my case, that there wasn't an Other Woman...but dozens.
However, it's critical for our own healing to recognize that much of what we say we "can't" deal with is more truthfully acknowledged as something we don't want to deal with. 

Deepak Chopra (on this site here) tells us this:

In reality you can let go of any situation any time. “I can’t” really means, “I fear the emotional consequences if I do.” Your ego draws a line in the sand and insists that you will not survive the inner feelings that will arise if the line is crossed.
A powerful limitation is being self-imposed here, and at bottom it isn’t true. You will survive any emotion; indeed, whatever you consider to be too much fear, too much loss, too much humiliation, too much disapproval, too much rejection has already happened.

He's right, of course. "I can't", in my case, absolutely means, "I won't because it will hurt too much." Like someone who's been burned before, I don't even want to get close to the flames.
But I've realized lately how much that attitude is holding me back. Keeping me from taking chances because I fear the possible rejection.
Just the other morning, as my husband was getting ready to leave for work, I started to reach for him to give him a hug and a good-bye kiss. And in that split second I felt myself hesitate. Don't, whispered a voice inside. Don't let your guard down. Don't let your heart soften. 
It was, perhaps, the first time I've really noticed that voice, though, if I painstakingly mine my memory bank, it has been whispering to me a lifetime of "bewares". 
What's astonishing to me, and likely to anyone who hasn't dealt with betrayal, is that I'm almost four years from D-Day. Surely one would expect the fallout to be long over. For life to have resumed its normalcy.
And yet, that little voice is still whispering. Still trying to protect me from "worst".
I've been lamenting recently that I take little joy in life anymore. So, while I think I'm protecting myself from further pain, I'm also insulating myself to life's pleasures. 
It's time, I think, to acknowledge that those "bewares" are holding me back from a life fully lived. 

Have you managed to fight back the "bewares" and open your heart again? What did you do to ensure you didn't become hardened to life's joys? How long did it take you from D-Day? Share your story here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What do you tell the kids?

Not only have you discovered your husband is an A-List A-hole, your kids know something is up. Your husband is begging you not to tell them because...well...because it makes him look bad. Like someone who cheats on his wife. Which, incidentally, he is. Or was. Depends who you ask.
And you are still in the stinky robe you put on three days ago, the one that has chicken noodle soup stains and smells like tomorrow's armpits.
But your kids are confused. So you need to muster up as much dignity as you can and tell them... What?

How old are your children?
Young children don't need to know the details. Please, please, PLEASE remember that children are the innocents in all this. They need protection and guidance and are NOT to be made pawns in a game of "make Daddy pay for this pain", however tempting that is.
However, young children (age 9 and under) likely sense a tension in the household. They may have heard fighting. Or know that Mommy is angry or sad or both. It's critical, I believe, to acknowledge what they're sensing. Check in with them and ask them if they're wondering what's up. Confirm what they suspect by being a point. They don't need to know that Daddy is dating the homewrecking whore at work. But acknowledging that Mommy and Daddy are having a tough time getting along – that even grownups sometimes struggle – is a good place to start. Reassure them that NONE of this is their fault. That Mommy and Daddy aren't angry with them. And, if it's true, reassure them that you're seeking help to learn to get along. And that, no matter what happens, their parents will always love them and spend time with them. At this age, their big concern is "what does this mean for me?" Simply assuring them that they'll be taken care of, and that the adults have matters well in hand (even if that's a bit of a stretch) can go a long way toward reducing their anxiety.
With older kids, it's a bit tougher. In some cases, they already know, thanks to neighborhood gossip. At 12, I spotted my friend's dad with his mistress who was definitely NOT my friend's mom. Long before the marriage finally dissolved in divorce. Again, let children take the lead and ask them what they  know. If you can sit down as a couple, that's ideal. If the affair is over, it's important to let them know that. If your husband has taken responsibility for it and is working on ensuring it doesn't happen again, let them know that too. Don't focus on the sex aspect, which can be confusing for kids who are approaching (or immersed in) their own budding sexuality. Besides, affairs are far more frequently about escape than sex. Again, it's critical to assure kids that Mom and Dad are doing what they can to take care of themselves and, if it's true, the marriage. This frees kids to focus on being kids...instead of parenting the parents. If necessary or prudent, seek counselling for the kids. An objective listener can go a long way toward giving kids an outlet for their anxiety.

How honest should you be? 
There's honesty. And then there's Too Much Information.
As noted, let them take the lead. Don't give them more information than they want. This can be enormously confusing for kids in part because it means discovering their hero has clay feet. They can feel conflicted about still loving this person who's hurt the other person they love. As much as you can, do NOT get them involved in what's happening between the two of you. Bite your tongue right off if you have to!
As  a general rule, listen more than you talk.

Keep yourself okay (or as okay as possible)
Do your very best to keep yourself upright, sober and relatively functional. Watching Mommy fall apart is terrifying to a child – of any age. If you need to sob for a few hours, book a sitter and try to schedule it in. I generally managed to get my kids to school before falling apart. Then I'd wash my face and brush my teeth before picking them up. Scheduling in SOB-time (to sob over the S.O.B.) allowed me to buck up when the kids were around.

Again: This is NOT about picking sides
There's no right way to deal with this as there are so many variables. Is your husband still involved? Have your children met the Other Woman? Have you separated?
Though you can feel such rage toward your spouse, remember that your kids have a right – indeed it's healthy for them – to remain connected to and love your (ex)spouse. Even if he is a cheating bastard. Speak about him with respect, even if he doesn't deserve it. Don't make apologies or excuses for him. There's nothing wrong with letting your kids know that sometimes adults make choices that aren't the smartest, healthiest or kindest. But that, hopefully, we learn from them. Be dignified. Or as dignified as someone in a stinky bathrobe can be.

And finally? You'll all survive this. I promise.

Have you told your children? What did you way? What would you do differently if you had to (God forbid!) do it again? What worked? Or didn't?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Open Letter to the Other Woman

Dear OW,


Honestly, just what the f&$k were you thinking? You knew he was married. You knew he had children. You knew he slept beside me every night. And you knew that I knew nothing. Is that what made it so delicious? So tempting? That I appeared by his side at various events, utterly clueless to what was going on behind my back? Did you feel triumphant? That you'd beat me at something?
Okay, so I looked stupid, at least to you. Is the satisfaction of that worth sacrificing your own dignity? Because, really,  how can you have any dignity when you're pulling on your panties as he races out the door to be home in time for dinner? How can you have any dignity when you're alone – again – on a Saturday night while he's  watching Toy Story with his children and tucking them into bed?
And frankly, though I might have looked stupid, and perhaps pitiful, to you...and some less-than-compassionate others, I'll take stupid over sleazy and low and cruel any day of the week. No matter how awful it felt to be me when I found out, I'd still take that over being you. No matter that my eyes were practically swollen shut from crying, I could still look myself square in the mirror without shame.
Did you think it was simply a matter of time? That you would be appealing enough for him to walk away from the life he'd built? That all those fantasies you'd convinced yourself of – that I nagged, that I was lousy in bed, that I was boring and bitchy – were actually true? Did you really believe that any relationship based on deception would deliver you from your unhappiness?
My guess is, yes, you did. My guess is that very few Other Women honestly admit their role as an accomplice in the intentional hurting and decepition of another human being. Often another human being you don't know. Or barely know. Or perhaps, shockingly, know well. Instead, they sell themselves clich├ęs. Something along the lines of "we're soulmates", "we couldn't help ourselves", "the chemistry was too powerful" or "you can't stop love." All of which, I suspect you recognize on some level, is total bullshit. All of which allows you to divorce your abhorrent actions from your intent. "We didn't mean to hurt anyone," you wail.
Oh. Yes. You. Did.
Because you knew. You knew that I was being hurt, even if I didn't yet know it. You knew I was being lied to. And betrayed. And you participated in that. Knowingly. Willingly. Perhaps even happily.
What's more, my children were being hurt. And though I don't expect you to take total responsibility for that (after all, HE was their father), you nonetheless contributed to the potential dissolution of their family.
And for what?
Was the sex that good? Were the feelings of superiority, if only for the brief time he was with you, so intoxicating that it made all the humiliating departures, all the embarrassment when you were caught, all the shame this no doubt triggered, worth it?
And if he left me for you? What would you have gained? Three emotionally damaged children every second weekend. A man who lies and cheats. A man who doesn't have the self-control to stop himself from doing something he knows to be wrong. To be hurtful. What a prize. Guess what? If he's not willing to become something better than that – he's all yours. At least until he meets another you sometime in the future and you become cast as the betrayed wife.
In our case, you were shocked when he, after being caught and given the choice between me or you, didn't hesitate. Not for a second. And, believe it or not, I felt sorry for you. Though I raged at you in my head, loathed the look of you, wanted to spit each time I said your name, and shower each time I imagined you two together, I nonetheless felt a sliver of pity for you. Because no-one does this unless they value themselves so little that they settle for another's scraps rather than demand respect and kindness. Or unless they're so delusional that they really believe that this is how true love manifests. Unless they've fallen for all that "star-crossed lovers" and "us against the world" crap.
It has been almost four years. December 11, 2006 - a date that's seared into my mental calendar. I have no idea where you are now. And though I still taste anger when I think back, I'm able to wish you, if not well, then at least better than what you had. If only to spare another woman the agony of finding out that you're sleeping with her husband.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Emotional Affairs are Still Affairs...and I Don't Care What Anyone Else Says!

There's been quite a discussion taking place in the comments section over at Project Happily Ever After, following a post by a therapist on how to cope with an affair. Even I, who rarely has opinions on this sort of thing (cough, cough) weighed in.
But I'm astounded at the number of commenters, clearly in pain, who apologize for entering the debate because their husbands "only" had an emotional affair.
Only? Seriously??
My father "only" had an emotional affair, but it unmoored by formerly invincible mother enough to launch her into a decade-long alcoholic-and-prescription-drug stupor. He never could quite get why she was so affected by it. My mom and I talked a lot about it as adults because that one event, quite literally, altered the trajectory of our lives.
My mother, after a childhood of abandonment (father died at five, mother left her with various relatives, she started a new school every year of her childhood...) finally felt safe. My father adored her. And she him. So when he began lying (overtly and by omission) to spend time with a "friend" at work who was going through a tough time, it devastated her and destroyed her sense of safety.
And that, my friends, is what affairs do – whether they involve torrid sex, tepid sex or no sex at all. They are a trust violation, which is the worst form of betrayal.
My own husband had sex all over the place with all sorts of people. Yet it's the fact that he could lie to my face and that he was willing, on some level, to lose me that's been the hardest thing to overcome. Once I managed to get the mind movies out of my head (in which the sex was always anatomically impossible but wildly exciting, I was sure), I was left with the feeling of total fear. I no longer felt safe.
So to all those of you who are beating yourselves up for being completely unhinged by "only" an emotional affair, I say you need to look at the situation as a trust violation and recognize that such a betrayal is devastating, no matter the details.
And stop apologizing for your feelings. You can't control those. Actions, yes. You can definitely control those (though it may not feel like it in the early days following D-Day, when you find yourself shredding wedding photos, rifling through old receipts and doing other crazy things apparently without any control at all!) But your feelings simply are. And anyone with blood coursing in their veins is going to feel like hell when they discover an affair.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is HE Worth Suffering For?

In a great blog post about betrayal and suffering, Kelly Diels repeats Bob Marley's infamous line: Truth is everyone is going to hurt you; the trick is to find the ones worth suffering for.
Which got me to thinking. How do we know who's worth suffering for? Especially before we've actually suffered, which is ideally when we'd like to have that information. And does the fact that someone has betrayed us automatically render them ineligible to be worth suffering for? To hear the world tell it...hell yes! Once a cheater, always a cheater. He's shown you you can't trust him. And so on.
But what exactly is the point of suffering? Is it to escort us to the door where we bid betrayers an angry adieu and walk out into a world of people worth suffering for, but whom will never actually make us suffer? Or is it to shake us into a new way of seeing?
It's like the chicken and egg conundrum. Before I learned of my husband's...ummm...extracurriculars, I thought he was (almost!) the perfect man. Sure he worked too hard and helped around the house too little. Sure his mother was a dragon. But those weren't him, I was sure. He was wonderful. It was life that complicated things.
And then, well, it turned out it was actually HE who complicated things.
But now that I know all about him – those deep, dirty secrets that made him feel ashamed and disgusting and worthless, if he allowed himself to feel anything at all, well now I actually love him more deeply. Not as purely, perhaps. Definitely not as blindly. But more deeply. We've seen each others scars, even –especially – the ones we caused. And we don't turn away from their ugliness. Dare I say it, I've learned he's worth suffering for. The old him would have never cheated on me, or so I thought. The new him, I'm all too aware, is capable of cheating on me. He's done it, for gawd's sake. But this new him is also far more likely to talk to me about his feelings rather than deny them. He's far more likely to seek help when he's feeling like he might be going down the wrong path. And he's definitely more aware of the damage his choices can cause me. So though I know he's capable of cheating, strangely I feel...safer. It took me four LONG years to get to this point. But now that I'm here, I like the view. It's a view that sees all of him, not just the pretty parts. And it's a view that allows me choices based on knowledge, not on projection.
And, it's a view that sees him as worth suffering for. After all, what is suffering for but to make us rage and slay the demons that stand in our way.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Liann Rimes: Living Out a Country 'Cheatin' Song

LiAnn Rimes recently told People Magazine that she's doesn't "regret" cheating on her husband and that it's only because she fell in love. She's not a cheater, she insists, even though she cheated. It's just not who she is. And if we can't understand what the hell she's talking about, it's only because we don't understand the circular logic (and I use the term "logic" generously) that cheaters use to justify...well...cheating. In a cheater's world, you can cheat...without being a cheater. Seriously.
All of which makes it abundantly clear that LiAnn has learned absolutely nothing from her experience. Sure, we all make mistakes (a point she stresses in her interview). But not all of us learn from them. And that's the difference between a cheater who's likely to cheat again...and one who isn't.

What's the difference?
A cheater who's likely to cheat again will often refer to their behaviour as if it was something that "happened" to him/her. "We couldn't help ourselves," they'll wail. "We just fell in love." As if falling in love is the same as falling down a flight of stairs, a product of gravity and high heels rather than choice and deception.
Another popular defence is the "soul-mates" version. Soul-mates, a cheater's logic purports, can't be held responsible for any pain caused to former soul-mates, spouses, friends, children, etc. etc. because soul-mates recognize each other and within minutes must be naked and coupling because, after all, that's what soul-mates do. The whole notion of wedding vows, commitment and "til death do us part" is alien when a soul-mate comes along. The thing is, soul-mates seem to come along frequently for many cheaters. They're kinda like spiritual buses that run on schedule.
Conversely, though many cheaters will initially offer up the "I couldn't help myself" and "It just happened" (that was the excuse provided by my husband's OW, as if the clothes just took themselves off) defences, those who ultimately recognize the devastation they've wrought and truly regret it will eventually come to recognize their cheating as a choice, a very poor one. Especially if, in the cold, hard light of reality, the affair seems cheap and tawdry, and the marriage looks maybe not so bad after all.
But even if their affair led them to exit a lousy marriage. Even if they are in love with their affair partner, those who really get what they've done will likely regret the cheating, if not the relationship. They recognize that, for gawd's sake, it wouldn't kill them to just file for divorce THEN jump into bed with the great love of their life. And it would likely leave them and their ex-spouse with dignity, generally good feelings towards each other and the respect of their friends, family and children. In other words, they wouldn't be branded a cheater.
And so that brings us back to LiAnn, our textbook cheater, voted most likely to reoffend. Rather than trouble herself with some soul-searching to determine why it was she looked outside her marriage rather than honor her "in good times and in bad" commitment (or perhaps, she struck that one from her vows). Rather than take responsibility for the pain and embarrassment she's caused her soon-to-be-ex-husband. Rather than consider that, just maybe, delayed gratification is the grown-up's way to live a life of dignity, she simply dismisses her cheating as "just not me." The thing is, LiAnn, it clearly is.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tee-Hee Tuesday: Christine O'Donnell "Masturbation-is-Adultery-Advocate Loses Out

In a way, I'll miss her bizarre postulations, now that Republican Christine O'Donnell has lost her race. Though perhaps, like many of her ilk, she'll continue to entertain from the fringes.
Regardless of which party we members of the betrayed wives club happen to support, I can't imagine there's a single one among us who thinks that masturbation is adultery. In fact, I firmly believe that ALL of us would rather our husbands made love with Palmala Handerson...than any of they chose.


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