Thursday, January 19, 2012

What My Daughter Learned by Being Late for School

My 13-year-old was running late this morning, thanks to a head cold that has her in a brain fog, a school trip for which she must wear the "perfect" outfit and general disorganization. She usually takes the bus because she refuses to ride her bike like her "loser" siblings...and me. I returned home after biking with the other two kids, two minutes before the school bell would ring, to find her still at home. "Daddy said he'd drive me," she said. I bit my tongue. I refuse to drive my kids because I want them to take responsibility for getting themselves to school on time. However, if he wants to rescue her...not my business.
But then she started complaining that her father was going to make her late. My husband was, as per usual, stomping around the house looking for keys he couldn't find, a missing wallet, some skates that need sharpening for hockey and his golf shoes for a game today. In short, a typical morning for him.
I looked at my daughter and spoke words that I wish someone had said to me when I was 13: "Don't complain that the guy who's always late." She cocked her head at me. "In other words," I said, "of course Daddy is late. That's who Daddy is. What made you think today would be different?" I didn't say it angrily, or accusatorily. I simply stated a fact. Daddy is late because Daddy's past indicates that he will be late in every situation. It's the old Dr. Phil adage: "When someone shows you who they, believe them."
It's advice that flies in the face of someone who's chosen to stay with a man who cheated on her. Or does it?
If there's one thing I've learned through all this, it's that my husband is who he is. If he's changed (and I think he has in very important ways; not so much in others), he's done it because he's made the choice to. NOT because I've demanded it, insisted on it, manipulated him into it, guilted him into it, shamed him into it or issued ultimatums. That's not to say I didn't try all those things. I did. Tried and tried and head still hurts from all those years of banging it against a brick wall.
What finally got him to change? Fear of losing me was likely the starting point...but even that wouldn't have been enough if he wasn't already sick of his own behaviour. And from there, he changed because as he put it, he wanted to actually be the man I had thought he was.
In other words, his change was inspired by his own desire to live differently. If he sees no problem with being late then he'll continue to be late. I've learned to no longer wait for him. It makes him angry to see me walk out the door if he's not ready (I do it to my children, too) or start eating dinner without him when he's late arriving home. But I've also noticed that he's less late than he used to be. And when he starts in with his apologies, I simply wave them off. He can show he's sorry with actions, not words. So THAT is what I hope my daughter learned from being late this morning. We can expect people to be different, we can guilt, bribe, shame, cajole, beg and plead. We can be angry, resentful and disappointed that they are who they are. We can assume that we're not important enough. Or valued enough. Or we can remind ourselves that their behaviour, really, has nothing to do with us.
The smartest thing we can do in life is take responsibility for our own behaviour and get ourselves where we want to go.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Feelings are Not Facts

Feelings are like weather systems that provide fertile information for your life, but they are too changeable and impermanent to trust as a compass for what you are doing in your relationships. ~Wendy Strgar

Feelings are a minefield following the discovery of betrayal. They explode, unbidden, rendering us sobbing, screaming messes. They seem huge. Uncontrollable. And very, very real.
The thing is...they're not. Real, that is. Our feelings are the product of some sort of emotional alchemy that takes place in the environment that is us. They're not facts. And while facts can be wrestled into some sort of sense, feelings can continue to cripple us long after the facts have changed into something far more palatable.
It's a common, human problem. 
We confuse feelings with facts.
Consider this:
Fact: A college boyfriend dumps us for another girl.
Feeling: I'm not pretty enough. Or smart enough. Or interesting enough.

Let's try another:
Fact: An idea we present to our boss gets rejected as impractical.
Feeling: We'll never get ahead. We won't get a raise. We're destined to spend eternity in low-level management.

See the difference? The fact is the event. The feelings are what we bring to the table. The same "fact" can occur in two people's lives – say the work scenario. But while one person concludes that she's doomed to failure, the other determines that, while her idea might not have succeeded, there's plenty more where that came from and she sets about presenting them. Same fact, different feelings.

This distinction becomes challenging when the "fact" is such an emotionally loaded one as betrayal. We believe the "fact" that our entire marriage is a sham,  our spouse an asshole, our future bleak.
Taking the time to differentiate between facts and feelings, however, can give you a clarity desperately needed at a time like this.
Fact: My husband cheated.
Feeling: I'm hurt, angry, confused...but not drawing conclusions about my past or my future. That can come after I load my revolver and empty it into his head. (Kidding. Kidding.)

I have no illusion that this is easy. But it is critical. As Wendy Strgar notes in the quote posted above, feelings are too untrustworthy to make life choices based on them. Feel the feelings...but then try and let them wash away and focus on the facts. If the fact is that he's still seeing the Other Woman, then figure out how to change that fact or whether you need to change your situation (ie. leave or tell him to). If the fact is that he is a serial cheater, then figure out what you need to change in order to deal with that..or never have to deal with it again. But do your best to avoid the feelings, which look an awful lot like self-flagellation, that spring from the facts.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Tough Time for the Betrayed

This time of year can be tough for the betrayed. With the holidays – firmly focussed on Rockwellian family expectations – just past and focus on "new beginnings" just...well...beginning, we betrayed can find ourselves drowning in disappointment and terrified of expecting that life will somehow be better in the year to come.
Factor in the usual holiday insanity – too little sleep, too much booze and fat-laden treats, perhaps a maxed-out credit card – and you've got a passport to hell.
But...this is no time to make grand plans. Stick to a day-at-a-time (or minute-at-a-time, if that's all you can manage right now) philosophy and trust that, day by day, the betrayal will fade further in the rear-view mirror allowing you to start facing forward.
There's little I can say when the discovery of betrayal still stings. You're sure no-one has ever hurt like this.
But they have. We have.
And the sting will slowly become a dull ache. Then an ever duller ache. And eventually – honestly! – disappear altogether.
How do I know this? Because my husband and I kicked off 2012 with an argument. About how much I've been doing around the house (and with his toxic family!!) and how little he's helped.
And not ONCE until I began writing this post, did I think about how he'd cheated on me. That used to be top of mind. I would think to myself (and often say out loud to him), "it's not enough that you forgot to take out the garbage but YOU CHEATED ON ME WITH A TOTAL SKANK AND LIED TO ME ABOUT IT!" He couldn't chew his food too loud without me thinking to myself that not only was his chewing annoying BUT HE CHEATED ON ME WITH A TOTAL SKANK AND LIED TO ME ABOUT IT."
See what I mean?
And now...nothing. I was pissed off about him not helping me around the house. I wasn't pissed off that he cheated on my with a skank and lied to me about it. Why? Because it was a long time ago. And he's changed a lot since then. I've changed a lot since then.
So happy new year. Really. It's possible that this will be a happy new year for you. Think of it this way – it probably can't be worse unless you're still putting him with his cheating. In which case, it IS time for grand plans. Tell him the party's over and it's time for him to man up and be an honest husband to you...or get out.
Happy new year. Indeed.


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