Friday, March 18, 2011

Do You Want to Be Happy?

Stupid question, right? Of course, you want to be happy. You were happy, until Mr. Couldn't-Keep-It-In-His-Pants ruined everything. 
Now you're miserable. And hurt. And angry. And you can't even imagine a time when you'll ever feel happy again.
But ask yourself again, "Do I want to be happy?" If the answer is, truly, yes, then you've got some work to do. And beware, the answer might not be an unequivocal yes. In the post-D-Day haze, I might have thought I wanted to be happy. But my actions indicated that I wanted revenge. A pound of flesh, preferably from his "boy bits". Vindication. None of which – let's be honest – would have led to genuine happiness.
But if you're a slightly less vengeful person than I was, and happiness is top of your list, then you're going to have to let go of some of that pain and anger and bitterness that you've wrapped yourself in like a security blanket. You're going to have to look at it directly and be brutally honest about whether those emotions are actually moving you forward into a place of healing...or whether they're keeping you stuck in pain.
We can't change our emotions, as my therapist so frequently reminds me. But we can change our actions. And our actions will frequently then change our emotions.
Or, as Deepak Chopra puts it, "If you have a closet stuffed with junk, the best way to find room for new stuff is to clean the closet."
The junk, for those of you who are metaphor-challenged, is all those nasty emotions that get in the way of feeling good and believing your future is something to look forward to.
Start by making a commitment to your happiness. By saying to yourself, and anyone else who will listen, "I deserve to be happy and I'm going to take steps to make myself happy." I suspect my 12-year-old daughter says this every morning, right before she leaves her wet towel on the bathroom floor and "borrows" my jewellery.
Then start to notice where happiness already exists in your life. Spring flowers poking through the melting snow. A request for "just one more kiss" from your young child. Your mother's support during this awful time. Discovering that the infidelity diet means you can fit into your favorite jeans once again.
It might all feel a bit...forced. At least at first. Happiness can be scarce when you're so mired in pain. But this was the only path out for me. The cloud didn't lift all of a sudden. And no matter the situation – whether we'd separated or our reconciliation had been fast-tracked – the feelings would have still been there. Which is why you have to feel them...and then make room for new ones. 
Happiness isn't going to invite itself're gonna have to seek it out.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Does Infidelity Breed Contempt?

My husband and I met with a marriage counsellor last week.
She listened to the story – his, mine, ours. And then she said something thought-provoking. Sure, she said, there's been a lot of pain and disappointment but she believes we'll be okay. Why? There's no "contempt" in our marriage.
She's right. Now.
But it wasn't always a contempt-free relationship.
And that awareness humbled me.
Because long before I knew of any infidelity, I can remember looking at my husband with contempt. In fact, I specifically recall one awful moment when we were out with a group of people and my husband said something I considered unfunny. Or dumb. And this is the thought that went through my head.
I can't believe I agreed to spend the rest of my life with this asshole. 
Not exactly a moment I'm proud of. But that's how contemptuous I felt. I thought he was lucky to be married to me.
Lucky to be married to someone who thought he was an asshole.
Thing is, at that point in our marriage, he was an asshole. He was deep into his affairs, encounters, lies, deceit. He had little time for me or our growing family (kinda hard to believe our family was growing, given the atmosphere of barely disguised contempt...but that's the power of hormones).
I offer up this unflattering portrait of my marriage to show you that, if we can somehow salvage our marriage, then anyone can. (Not everyone should, mind you. If there's abuse of any sort, save yourself and your children. Some marriages aren't meant to survive.)
And how surprising to realize that, four years after discovering my husband's infidelity, I like him more than I did before I knew.
I've always been cynical about reports I've read that proclaimed "my husband's affair was the best thing that happened to me", or accounts of how a marriage is far better than it ever was. Of course it is, I would scoff. He's not sleeping with other women anymore. Hard for it to get worse than it was.
But here I am. Poster girl for how my marriage – post-affair – is better than before.
That's not to say I recommend infidelity as the route to a better marriage. I would suggest the more conventional routes first – counselling, date nights, blah blah blah.
It is to say that an affair (or dozens!) isn't necessarily the death knell for your marriage. If you both want the marriage and are willing to do the hard work of slogging through the detritus of betrayal, it's possible to find yourself in a marriage that makes you forget you ever felt contempt for your spouse.
Contempt? you wonder, when a counsellor suggests it? Not at all. At least...not any more.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Women Cheaters: Is There a Double Standard?

Tom Matlock, in The Good Men Project Web site, writes that there's a double standard when it comes to adultery. Men are vilified when they cheat, he argues, pointing to Tiger Woods, Jesse James, Spitzer et al. Women, on the other hand, are pretty much let off the hook, such as Tori Spelling, Leann Rimes, Jennifer Lopez. And most notably, he says, Elizabeth Gilbert, who admits to infidelity in her blockbuster bestseller Eat, Pray, Love.
I find myself somewhat stunned.
For starters, though I read Eat, Pray, Love before it became a household name, I somehow missed the part where she admitted to cheating. Sure, her subsequent relationship came pretty quickly on the heels of her marriage breakup...but it didn't occur to me that she'd cheated. Given that I was coping with my own...ummmm...stuff at the time, perhaps I just missed a few paragraphs through my tears.
And, in a fit of total irony, the Eat, Pray, Love that I'd loved because it gave a voice to that pervasive shame that so many women feel for not fitting into the mold morphed into the Eat, Pray, Love that I hated when Julia Roberts was cast at the main character. Why? Because Julia Roberts took great delight in taking husband Danny whats-his-name from his then-wife. And then rubbing the woman's face in it.
It was nasty and low and utterly childish.
So I loved the book by the author that admitted to infidelity...but hated the actress playing the author because she committed infidelity. Yeah, I'm confused too.
So...back to the original topic of this post: Double standard? Certainly not by me. And frankly, I judge cheating men less by their cheating than by their response to getting caught. Is there remorse? Is there some intention to at least allow both parties to maintain some dignity? Is there some desire to protect their spouse from further humiliation?
Which is why (don't hate me please!!), I didn't hate Tiger Woods. I felt sorry for him. Yeah, he was a scumbag for sleeping with not only the 8,000 pancake waitresses, but his neighbor's daughter (ugh!). But I still felt his remorse was real, his shame deep...and he went out of his way to allow his wife to handle the fallout in a way that allowed her privacy and dignity. Too little, too late...maybe. But still.
Jesse James, on the other hand, has revealed himself to be a total creep...with his public engagement blah blah blah.
It's not their gender that makes their adultery so's them.
On the female side, we've got Tori Spelling as the poster girl for vacuous adulterers. Off the hook? I don't think so. Most people I know think she's pathetic. Same for Leann Rimes. Jennifer Lopez? Well, perhaps she's off the hook simply because it's too hard to keep track.
Seriously, though, I know far too many guys who've cheated on their wives. And far too many wives who've cheated on their husbands. And I know that marriage is complicated and tough and that none of us on the outside of another's marriage can possibly know the whole story.
But a double standard? I really don't think so.
What do you think? Do men get roasted for their transgressions more than women? Do we let famous women off the hook when they engage in extracurriculars? Or are we a group of equal-opportunity dissers?? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Counselling: Do You Want Penance? Or Healing?

When a couple seeks out therapy in the wake of infidelity there are often duelling motives.
The betrayer frequently seeks some sort of protective balm to keep him on the straight and narrow. And he can also be looking for someone to "protect" him from the onslaught of verbal abuse, the relentless questions and looking, perhaps, to hide behind a professional.
My husband, for example, kept insisting that our counsellor tell me that I can't keep asking the same questions over and over because it "keeps us stuck in the past and we need to move forward."
Unfortunately for my husband, our counsellor insisted that I needed to ask as long as I needed to ask. And that my husband's task was to be transparent and keep answering...though he did say my husband could insist on a "break" or to remove himself if he felt I was getting abusive.
The betrayed, too, can sometimes be looking for an ally – someone to acknowledge the pain caused (particularly if the spouse isn't doing a very good job of that) and a way to ensure that the betrayer "pays" for his mistake by sharing with an outsider and, hopefully, getting a stern talking to.
However, neither motive is likely to move the relationship forward toward healing, which is ostensibly the true purpose of seeking counselling.
And frankly, a good counsellor isn't there to pick sides. Which can be where the trouble starts.
No amount of finger-pointing and blame is going to make a remorseless spouse suddenly develop a conscience. Counselling is only going to work if both spouses are there to truly examine the relationship, be willing to face their own failings and give each other, as much as possible, the benefit of the doubt.
As long as you remain stuck in the "but it's his/her problem....that's the problem", then you've got a problem that no therapist is going to be able to fix.
If an ally is what you need, turn to a trusted friend who will agree with you when you call your husband unspeakable names...then forget you ever said it when you've decided to forgive.
A therapist is there to guide you both toward creating a marriage that speaks to both of your needs and helps you heal from the betrayal. Or, if reconciliation is off the table, then help you move toward an amicable divorce that leaves both of you with some dignity intact.
So, like so many situations, check your motives around marriage counselling. Ask yourself the tough questions of what you're truly hoping to achieve. Not easy...but the only way your time and money will truly be well spent.


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