Saturday, November 19, 2011

"If Only You Were Different": Owning Up to Resentment

I used to almost choke on my resentment.
I resented washing the dishes while my husband watched TV. I resented getting up for a 3 a.m. feeding while my husband slept. I resented having to shut down my computer in the midst of writing a chapter because a toddler woke up early from a nap. I resented my husband's family, who would arrive with nothing but subtle judgement about my home and children. I resented his freedom. I even resented his resentment.
Around the time I found myself resenting the fact that my husband was using up oxygen that I thought should be mine...I finally acknowledged that my marriage was in serious trouble.
I was about to learn exactly how serious.
By the time I suggested marital counselling, we'd both been simmering for years. Me choking back resentment. Him expressing it in the form of multiple affairs, which I "discovered" just a few weeks into our marital counselling. In hindsight, I'd suspected for months...but only trusted that intuition when I recognized that he was willing to try and save the marriage. But that's another post.
Unlike Kim Kardashian, most of us spend years in marital misery before we take steps to either end the misery by looking outside the marriage for what we need...or ending the marriage altogether.
Which is why so many marriage counsellors note that it's not the affair itself that determines whether or not a marriage is salvageable, but the state of marriage apart from that. It's possible, despite what so many of us previously thought, to view the affair as a symptom of marital distress, rather than the sole cause. But because an affair raises the stakes so dramatically, we tend to focus on it rather than what led to it. We also tend to resist focussing what led to it because it can seem, to those of us feeling "wronged" like we somehow "caused" the affair. We. Did. Not.
But...staying stuck in that victim mode of being wronged serves no-one, least of all ourselves.
So it's important to examine what our marriage was like. Honestly. Which is no easy task when our dreams are strewn around us like a toddler's toys.
I would have told you that my marriage was good. That we were good friends. Sure, we had our issues. But don't all couples?
A few weeks ago, I was able to finally admit to our marriage counsellor – within the context of why I wasn't more affectionate with my husband – that his touch used to infuriate me.
Why? Well...I had to think about it. Then I recalled how often he would hug me from behind when I was doing the dishes. And all I could think was "why aren't you helping me do the dishes rather than hugging me?" Or he would tell me I looked beautiful when I was breastfeeding one our kids...and I would think "why aren't you throwing in a load of laundry instead of staring at me?" And so on.
I had no idea how to ask for the help I needed. He was incapable of hearing any request I made as anything other than criticism (his mind-tape plays only one song: "You're doing it wrong. You're doing it wrong."). And so I was in my corner...and he in his.
And our resentment reached a boiling point.
It's hard to admit that I wasn't the lovely, warm wife I wanted to believe I was.
And he certainly deals with the shame that he was hardly the devoted husband.
But by looking at who we were in the marriage, we're able to more clearly decide who we want to be this new marriage with the same spouse.
It has taken almost five years to get to this point. Five years of which I spent at least two determined to get him to admit that our marriage would have been wonderful if only...
If only he had spent less time at work.
If only he had helped me more.
If only...
If only we had both been capable of being different people. We couldn't then. But we can now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Wanna go public?

If you're interested in telling your story to a zillion viewers (can't disclose the network but it's one noted for sensitivity/compassion):
My name is Patrick Hartz and I'm a producer for True Entertainment in New York.  We are currently producing a series that explores infidelity among couples.I'm very interested in hearing from any couples who have experienced infidelity and have been able to stay married and work past it.  I'm also looking to speak with couples who have divorced as a result, but have been able to remain on decent terms.Please feel free to email me at for more details and a link to a full episode of the show.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Happiness In the Wake of Betrayal

There was a time I doubted it was possible. How could I ever – EVER! – get past what he did. I couldn't, I was sure. I resigned myself to a life half-lived, to gritting my teeth and sacrificing my own happiness so that my kids could remain in an intact home.
The truth is I felt trapped, afraid to actually take steps to end the marriage, and decided to assume the role of martyr. Blech.
In moments of candor I admitted that I believed marriage was a lifetime commitment (that's not to say I blame anyone for walking out of a marriage that kills their soul). And I desperately wanted my family to remain intact. I also, thanks to years of childhood training by alcoholic-turned-former-alcoholic parents, believed in the power of people to change. To become as wonderful as I always thought they could be. And though I'd learned the hard way that this change had to come from their desire not from my wishful thinking, old habits die hard.
I also kept working. As did my husband. On communicating. On healing. On creating true intimacy. On learning who each other really was. On accepting myself and him...just as we are.
It was hard. Exhausting. Demoralizing at times. Wonderful at others.
And, recently,  I realized that I'm something I never thought I could be again. Happy.
I had thought I might achieve contentment. A sort of acceptance that life wasn't so bad. But I never expected to experience the joy I had in the "before" part of my life.
And it's not the same. I'm not sure I'll ever ride those highs again. But then again, perhaps I will. Because I'm well and truly happy. Not just content. But full of joy and hope and eager to watch the rest of my life unfold.
My marriage feels...solid. My husband is someone I'm falling in love with all over again. He's surprised me in ways that are miraculous after 15 years of marriage. He has become, as he promised me he would try, the "man you already believed I was."
To all those wondering if it's possible – wondering as I did if all those reports of a "marriage even better than before" was total Pollyanna BS – I'm happy to report it is indeed possible. Even, with a lot of hard work on both sides, probable.
I told my husband about a week ago that I really feel as if those horrible days/weeks/years following D-Day are now just part of the fabric of our life together. Not the predominant pattern, simply a part.
I'm on the other side.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tracing Back Your Feelings to Regain Your Power

I frequently hear women berate themselves for not knowing about their husband's affairs. "I was so stupid!" they rail. "The signs were all there...and I ignored them." "I should have known."
Please: Stop.
Hindsight isn't there to prompt self-flagellation. It's there to teach. And when the lesson is learned, we move on.
The anger, I think, comes from embarrassment. We beat ourselves up for not knowing something that we think others had already figured out. Or that another wife would have figured out if she'd been in our shoes.
However, anger, as I often note, is generally what therapists call a secondary emotion. It masks hurt and fear. And you're likely feeling a whole lot of both of those.
Once you peel the anger away – "I'm such an idiot" – and examine the feelings behind that, it's easier to manage. I, for one, was terrified that since I missed the signs the first time, it could easily happen again – or could be going on RIGHT NOW AND OHMYGOD WHY ISN'T HE HOME FROM THE GROCERY STORE I'M SUCH AN IDIOT AND I HATE HIM AND HOW COULD HE DO THIS TO ME AND AND AND...
It was easy for me to spiral down into total despair.
Our couples therapist recently asked my husband, whom I think has a lot of anger (which I HATE), to trace the feelings back. For example, my husband was furious that a water heater we'd installed didn't seem to be giving him hot water as quickly as he wanted it. So what? was my response. But he was really angry about it. I brought up what I perceive as his rather erratic anger at our session. As my husband traced the anger back, it quickly became clear that his anger stems from feelings that he screwed up. That he bought the wrong water heater, that he hadn't done enough research, that he was being ripped off by the company...that he had done something wrong. Which, if you trace back most of my husband's reactions to just about everything, is where you'll end up: I screwed up and I'm going to be in trouble. Which, if you trace it back further, pretty much sums up my husband's childhood.
It's a fascinating exercise but one that few of us do in the midst of reacting. Taking time, however, to slow down and put the reaction under something of a microscope reveals all the barely discernible micro-reactions taking place. All the split-second conversations we have with ourselves.
Shining a light on my fear – that this could/would happen again and I would be blind-sided and crippled by it – helped me understand that things were different now. I could remind myself that I wasn't as naive or trusting as I was and that I was more alert to signs of cheating. I could comfort myself with my Escape Plan, something I recommend all newly betrayed wives (or oldly betrayed wives) create. I could reassure myself that I would be fine. That I am capable of surviving betrayal and though it doesn't feel good, it won't kill me.
It most definitely won't kill me.


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