Monday, January 24, 2011

Vulnerability is a Doorway to Happiness

Lately I've become aware that, though I don't feel the heavy sadness I felt in the weeks and months following D-Day, I also don't feel that great joy I felt in my life pre-D-Day. Sure I knew my marriage had its share of problems. And I struggled with motherhood some days – particularly with my first child who was, in popular parlance, "spirited."
But most days – really! – I felt joyful.
Now? Not so much.
If I'm lucky, I get glimpses of contentment.
Most days, however, I feel...flat.
I've written before about the "plain of lethal flatness" or "The Dead Zone." It can be a welcome reprieve from the agony of D-Day, and excruciating highs and lows in the weeks that follow. But it's a place to catch your breath...not unpack your boxes and move in.
And yet. Here I am. Again. Four YEARS later.
Why? Well...if you believe Brené Brown (and, frankly, I do), it's because I've closed myself off from vulnerability. Afraid of feeling that searing pain of having my soul lit on fire (and NOT in a good way), I've chosen, on some level, to simply not feel at all.
Makes sense from a pain-avoidance stance. Not so much for a joy-seeking one.
I've attached Brené Brown's YouTube TedX talk. Watch it. You might just recognize yourself in her words. What's more, you might find within her words and within yourself, the courage to embrace your vulnerability again. To cast off shame and regret and, instead, to reclaim yourself from the detritus of your former life. I plan to try. Join me.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bending Towards the Sun: When Is It Time to Leave?

Kelly Diels, whose wonderful site Cleavage details the ups and downs of her creative and personal life, recently posted a blog entry about sticking with a tough relationship. Though she doesn't speak specifically to those who've been betrayed, she does note that, as a society, we tend toward the cut-and-run approach to long-term relationships rather than sticking it out.
I'm not entirely sure that's true. At least not in marriages. Sure the divorce rates hovers at about 50%, which doesn't exactly speak to stick-to-it-ness. On the other, close to three-quarters of relationships that have experienced infidelity will remain intact.
Of course, that doesn't tell us how healthy these remaining three-quarters of marriages are.
And it certainly doesn't offer us much help with the agonizing decision of whether to stick to it...or get the hell out.
I blame or credit (depending on my mood) emotional paralysis for the fact that I didn't walk out on D-Day. I had always been quite adamant that I would nevah, EVAH put up with a cheating spouse. But that, of course, was then...
So I stayed in large part because I didn't have anywhere to go. Didn't have the strength to pack my bags. Didn't have the emotional strength to tell my kids that I – or Daddy – was leaving. I was scared. Confused. Exhausted.
And I'd read, in one of the books I'd read on affairs, forgiveness, blah blah blah, that it makes sense to wait at least six months before making any big decisions. It takes that long, so the thinking goes, for all the initial anger and shock to wear off, to enable you to make a decision you can live with for the rest of your life, rather than a kneejerk response.
I was also confused. I figured clarity would eventually return and my course would suddenly light up like Vegas, making it clear which path I should follow.
I'm still waiting.
That's not to say I'm unhappy. It is to say that marriage is messy. Hell, LIFE is messy. And frankly, four years post D-Day #1, my marriage isn't much different in many ways than it was before (except for the rather crucial fact that my husband is no longer banging strangers). We have great times, we have tough times. We laugh, we argue. We cuddle, we retreat. In other words, our marriage is probably pretty normal.
Which brings me to the point of this post, which, as you'll note, I titled "Bending Towards the Sun."
Like anything alive, it's important to seek out that which helps us grow strong and healthy. Plants, to stick with my metaphor, bend toward the sun, in order to benefit most from the warmth and nourishment it provides.
When you're in the midst of the confusion and wonder if you can ever forgive and heal, or if you simply must get out, it really can boil down to a simple question:
"Does this relationship help me grow into my best self?" Or perhaps a more accurate question under the circumstances is, "Can I see a point where this relationship could help me grow into my best self?"
A big part of that equation, of course, comes down to your spouse's character. Was the betrayal evidence of a moral defect...or a poor choice? Is your spouse willing to examine how he came to make such a poor choice and do his best to ensure he never does again? Or is he casting blame and making excuses? Is he a good person who made a bad decision? Or someone you'd warn your daughter to stay away from if she was involved with a similar man?
Of course, there are life circumstances that can prevent leaving when you might want to – young children, economic issues, health concerns... Those likely won't alter your long-term course, but simply delay it.
In the end, you need to make a decision that enables you to bend toward the sun...wherever that may be.

Friday, January 14, 2011

TV Show Looking to Help Couples Coping with Infidelity

I have no idea whether this show has integrity or not. But I thought I'd pass this along for anyone who's interested:

Looking for people who think their mate is cheating or has
cheated and want help getting their relationship back on track. A
new tv show on WEtv with world-renown licensed family therapist,
Dr. Tara Fields, (who's been on Oprah, CNN, Dr.Phil) wants to
help your family work through it. There is NO studio
audience...just one-on-one counseling at the family's home and
her office. Families will be paid an honorarium as a thank you
for their time commitment.

You can e-mail Michelle Kenner at WETv at:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Looking Back on Crazy

I had to do a reverse number lookup today to ensure that I had written down a number correctly. And suddenly I was transported back to a few weeks past D-Day, when my days were spent feverishly looking for evidence of my husband's affair. In spite of the fact that he had admitted to it, I kept looking for more. I dug up his cell phone bills, his VISA statements. I scrounged through dresser drawers for incriminating receipts (which I promptly shredded! He was NOT going to benefit on his tax return for cheating on me with his assistant). In other words, for a brief while, I lost my mind. It's not that I didn't have other things to do. Things like work. Raising my kids. Making beds. Doing laundry. Walking dogs. Planning dinner. Exercising. Showering! All those things still needed doing. But I ignored them so I could relentlessly, masochistically undertake my detective work to find evidence of something my husband had already confessed, in fair detail, to doing.
What the hell was that all about, anyway.
It seems strange to me today. To imagine that person was me.
She seems like a stranger.
Yet I still remember her raw pain like it was yesterday. I still get a catch in my throat when I recall her ache. Her bewilderment. Her deep abiding pain that came in waves, washing over and over her until she could barely surface long enough to breathe.
Yep, that was me, all right.
I'm not sure what happened to me. I do know that betrayal makes lots of us a wee bit (or perhaps a WHOLE LOT) crazy. It made me do things that the pre-betrayal me would never have dreamed of doing. It turned black to white, night to day. And it left me panting and exhausted by the effort of trying to make sense out of nonsense.
I have little advice for those caught in that craziness. Except please try and find someone to talk to. Or post your thoughts here. We've been there. We know how strong those urges are to call the OW. Or post on her Facebook wall. Or dig through your husband's drawers, his pockets, his files in hopes (or fears!) of finding...what? Evidence that all of this is just a bad dream? Or that everything you suspected (or that he's admitted to) is true?
Crazy seems a standard phase for most of us. I envy the betrayed woman who skips right past it (unless she's in denial. Another common stage for many of us. "My husband? He wouldn't do that...").
When I think back to the time I wasted digging up little more than the knowledge that – yep – that was definitely her phone number he called on December 9, 2006, I recognize that I probably would have been better served by taking that long, overdue shower.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Banker's View of Forgiveness

So many of us get tripped up at the prospect of "forgiving" our spouses – especially if we choose to stay with them. Somehow forgiveness becomes akin to letting him off the hook, dismissing what he did and basically letting him wipe his brow and say, "Whew, glad that's over!"
And because of that perception, many of us withhold forgiveness – or any thoughts of forgiveness because we feel it puts us into a position of powerlessness. As long as we're still holding that trump card, we feel as though we're strong. 
But I recently came across a blog post in which the author, a survivor of childhood trauma, offers a really interesting take on forgiveness, based on her former career as a mortgage broker.
Using that model, she suggests we look at forgiveness the way a bank looks at a defaulted loan.
The bank, she points out, trusted the client and showed that trust in the form of loaned money.
Turns out, the client screwed up – whether once or serially, doesn't matter – and abused that trust (sound familiar?).
What does the bank do? Say, I "forgive" you and offer up more money? Of course not. But they don't necessarily withhold trust forever. Instead the bank takes steps to ensure that the client understands the consequences of their betrayal of trust. That they recognize how their actions will affect future credit history. Then they offer the client the chance to create a plan in order to make amends. If the client refuses, then trust, though not necessarily forgiveness, is withheld.
Applying a similar model to your own situation might mean that you insist that your husband take certain actions in order to make amends – perhaps that's allowing you to check cell phone messages or e-mails. Perhaps he has to give up "boy's night out", at least for awhile. It undoubtedly means that a "no contact" letter is sent to the OW. Like a bank, however, it's prudent to use discretion before you extend trust again – based on consistent evidence that he's cleaned up his act.
Forgiveness is never to be confused with meaning you have to extend trust. Forgiveness is acknowledging that the other person hurt you but that you're not going to hold their feet to the flames forever. Indeed, you're going to move forward knowing what they're capable of, but giving them the chance to show you – over and over – that they won't do it. 
It's accepting you can't change the past, but that you'll no longer be hostage to it. And you're open to a different future.
It's not easy though it seems the important lessons in life never are. And, in my experience at least, forgiveness wasn't something that "arrived" or that I "decided" but rather something that grew organically over time, as I loosened my own hold on anger and opened myself up to hope. Not rainbows-and-unicorn hope, but the kind that arises when I trust my own place in the world and feel on solid ground. The kind that arises when, most of all, I forgive myself.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Putting Down Your Pain

A friend gave me the most beautiful daybook over the holidays: The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. I'd never heard of him before, but already – on January 4th – he feels like an old friend.
On January 2nd, he tells the story of a friend who was preparing to paint a room in his house. He went to the store to buy the supplies – the paint, brushes, rollers, drop-cloths, etc. He returned home, then loaded it all up in his arms to carry it into his house. Of course, he reaches the door and has no hands free to open it. He refuses to put any of the stuff down and struggles to get the door open. He juggles, he twists. Eventually, of course, everything crashes to the ground, including him.
The lesson?
Sometimes we've got to put our stuff down to open the door.
It's a pretty straightforward metaphor. But how many of us do it? I know I'm guilty of carrying a whole lot more than I should. I somehow determined that the more I carry, the more I'm a martyr. And I've spent a lot of time over the years polishing my inner martyr until it's blinding.
The problem is that being a martyr doesn't really get you where you want to go. Which, in the face of betrayal, is beyond the pain – or, to stick with our metaphor, through the door. Being a martyr – you know the one who constantly reminds your spouse that you could "never" have done what he – keeps our hands full and our heart closed.
Holding on seems like the easier option. Or at least the safer one. To put everything – or even some things – down to open the door seems like more work. We think that we'll have to pick everything back up again.
But by putting down some of our "stuff" – our bruised ego, for example; our clenched fury – we're then free to pick and choose what we truly need. When it's all spread out in front of us, rather than piled in our arms, we can see what is useful to us and what is perhaps weighing us down.
It's hard, if not impossible, to walk through the door into healing when you're holding on to:
• blame (a favorite of mine was reminding my husband that he'd "ruined" me)
• ego (too frequently I reminded my husband that the OW was truly repulsive, comments that never failed to make me feel small and petty)
• fear (how could I ever be sure he wouldn't do this to me again? Truth is, I can't ever be sure)
• regret (how often did I wish I could turn back time and scream "Not in this lifetime!!" to the "do you take this man..." question)
• and on and on.
Once I could see how much all this was holding me back, it became easier to put it down. It became easier to focus on that which would take me through the door and prove useful to me once inside. Such things as compassion (for myself, as much as for him), patience (Good LORD, healing takes time...), faith (that I would continue to heal despite setbacks), and wisdom.
Is there anything you're holding on to that you could put down (like your 5th martini, for example? Or that Twinkie?) to help you through the door? Consider it. There's no prize for getting through without effort. The prize is simply getting through at all.


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