Friday, August 19, 2011

You're Getting Warmer...or Not

Martha Beck advises those of us struggling to make tough decisions (like perhaps, whether to forgive a cheating spouse? whether to stay in the marriage? whether to tell people what's happening?) to treat life like a game of "you're getting hotter, you're getting colder..."
My seven-year-old daughter LOVES that game. Ya know the one where one of you think of something or hides something and, as you try and figure out what it is, the other player helps you along by advising you whether or not you're getting close (hotter) or further away (colder).
Beck's approach is a good one for those of us whose minds are so muddled by the shock and trauma of discovering that our lives aren't what we thought they were that we can barely decide what to make for dinner. If we can find someway and somewhere to get still, most of us can identify a physical response to various questions – a sort of internal "you're getting warmer..." reaction.
It will likely take practice. Once dealt the blow of betrayal, your internal radar can often malfunction. Post-trauma, you might find yourself reacting in extreme ways to benign circumstances. The dog barks suddenly, for example, and you respond with a heart-pumping, car-lifting adrenaline surge. Again, that's where you need to be still and get back in touch with your gut/intuition/wisdom/whatever-you-want-to-call-it. It's there. It might need dusting off from years of neglect. You might need to apologize to it for ignoring its sage guidance. But if you take the time to refamiliarize yourself, it will be more than happy to play the game with you.
Do I want to leave? How does that feel in your gut? Terrifying? Liberating? Terrifyingly liberating? If you picture yourself on your own, how does that feel?
Can I forgive him? Getting warmer? Colder? Can you picture a marriage (forget for the moment how you're going to achieve it) in which the two of you are happy and fulfilled? Or is your gut freezing up at the possibility?
Get the idea? Give it a try...and let us know what you find by posting here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dear Elle: A Letter to My Shattered Self on D-Day

Dear Elle,
I. Am. So. Sorry. You've dealt with a lot of pain in your life...but nothing like this. You thought you'd found your safe place in the world. And I ache for you that you believe it's lost. 
It's not. But your world has changed. You're right about that part. Years from now you still won't believe absolutely that you can trust another person. But I've got good news for you. You will learn through this how to trust yourself. And that's a gift that I'm not sure you could have received any other way.
The thing is you've spent your entire marriage trying to make him happy. To create a home that he wants to return to. To create a family that nourishes me. To be pretty. To be smart. To be fun and interesting and a perfect hostess and wife and friend and mother. And... And... And.
And it didn't work, did it? All that work, all those compromises you were making even though he didn't know you were making them. All the words you swallowed. All the dreams you put aside. None of it made a bit of difference, did it? And do you want to know why? Cause you were fine all along without having to try so damn hard. You were enough. You still are. He didn't cheat because you haven't lost that last 10 pounds of baby weight. He didn't cheat because you aren't a gourmet cook. He didn't cheat because you prefer to read over watching his favorite shows. Or because you prefer jeans over tailored suits. He cheated because he was looking for something in himself that's been missing for a long time. And you couldn't give it to him. And she couldn't give it to him. And the other "she" couldn't either. And that's because none of us have it to give to him. It's something only he can give to himself. And it's approval. And it only ever really fills that hole when it comes from within. 
And that's the same lesson you need to learn. You don't need his approval. You never did. And even if he'd given it to you unequivocally (impossible for him because he couldn't even give it to himself), it wouldn't have mattered. Because you've never believed you were enough. Not pretty enough. Not skinny enough. Not smart enough, or interesting enough, or anything enough. Just. Not. Enough. 
And so he sought that feeling in other women. And you sought it in him and in work and in toxic friendships and, too often, in alcohol. 
So while this betrayal by him might seem like yet another kick when you've had so many. It might feel as though your heart is shattered beyond repair. 
But when you begin to re-piece your life, you'll understand that this time it's truly going to be your life. On your terms. A life that's full with or without him in it. A life that's full because you're full. You. Alone. Are enough.
Perhaps there are easier ways to learn that lesson. But this is the lesson you've been given. You are your own safe place in the world. Learn it well and you'll never have to learn it again. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Your Guide to the Classic Cheater...Caught

At first, my husband told me I was just wrong when I said I thought something was "going on" with him and his assistant. I kept pressing. Over the course of the next 12 hours, my husband's confession went from a one-night-stand four years ago to a long-term affair that BEGAN four years ago and had continued up until the moment I confronted him. Six months later, more truth emerged. She wasn't the only partner he'd had -- he was receiving treatment for sex addiction and his acting out had began before I met him...and continued until the day I confronted him about his assistant.
Unfortunately, my husband's trickle truth isn't unusual. Most men, when confronted with their wive's suspicions, don't immediately confess. Instead, depending on how much evidence of their transgression they're faced with, reveal as little as possible. In some cases, they've been caught in flagrante delicto...and still try and convince their wives that they're innocent. It's a sad fact that the information you receive upon first confronting your spouse or upon just discovering their betrayal is generally only a tiny piece of the truth. It's important to demand the whole truth and insist that what they tell you up front had better be the whole story. It's so much worse to keep on finding out more and more with's becomes like a nightmare that won't end.
Many men frequently turn to blame-shifting when confronted. Suddenly you're defending yourself against allegations of everything from being a lousy housekeeper to a workaholic. No matter that you haven't picked up a vacuum since the Clinton administration or that he needs to schedule an appointment with your assistant to see you for dinner. Before you get sucked into the blame-shifting for his affair, remind yourself as often as necessary that you will take inventory of your own contribution to a marriage in trouble...but that the affair is entirely HIS choice.
Gaslighting is another classic response. You're crazy, he suggests. You've got such an imagination. He's just being a good guy, offering support to a work colleague whose husband is abusive. Or he's just been really, really busy with...well...stuff. Before you know it, you're agreeing with him and laughing at how ridiculous you've been. After all, he would never do that. He loves you too much. Right?? Gaslighters are masters at convincing you that your reality isn't...real. That their perception is reality and that yours is crazy. Your memory is faulty. You're over-reacting. You're just stressed out and imagining things. You're determined to ruin a good thing. Except that you're not. You're just in the presence of a gaslighter.
Of course, not all accused men are guilty. And yet...when I look back at how much behaviour I dismissed and how frequently I accepted his gaslighting as reality because I so badly wanted it to be. I silenced that little voice in my head that insisted that something just wasn't right. Ask yourself honestly whether you are over-reacting or being unnecessarily jealous...or whether that little voice is trying to get your attention. And listen to yourself...not all his gas-lighting.


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