Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Creating the Conditions for Healing

I often talk about the magic of time when healing from betrayal, like here, and here, and here. And yes, time, on its own, can reduce the sting we felt on D-Day. But time won't lead toward full healing. It will allow the space to heal...but you're going to have to create the conditions to heal.
Brené Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, writes that "Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed, and rare."
She's talking about healing a relationship. But with betrayal, the damage isn't only done to our relationship with a spouse. Frequently our relationship with ourself is damaged. We're angry at ourself for not knowing. For not being stronger. For somehow betraying ourself. And it's that relationship that needs repairing as much as (or more) than our relationship with our spouse.
How? Well...we hear so much about forgiveness in regards to betrayal. But before you consider whether or not you can forgive your spouse, ask if you can forgive yourself?
Forgive: You were, after all, doing your best. You may have been completely ignorant of your spouse's behaviour. You may have suspected but not confronted. You may have confronted but believed his gas-lighting. You may have doubted his gas-lighting but feared leaving. You may have left but forgiven him despite everyone's objections. Whatever your reason for being angry with or infuriated by yourself...let them go.
Healing can only begin when you forgive yourself.

Acknowledge: Can you truly acknowledge the pain he's caused? Even if he's denying, minimizing, blame-shifting...can you nonetheless stand in the truth that you absolutely know? It's critical that you acknowledge the pain in order to get clear on where you go from here. As long as you're buying into his myths – that it was "only" talking (behind your back and about your marriage), that you were too busy with the kids or your sick mother, blah blah blah – then you can't heal. You don't fix a broken bone by telling yourself it's just a sprain. You tend to it.

Where's your line in the sand? You also heal by taking steps to protect yourself in the future. And one of those steps involves determining what's your line in the sand. Sure we all said cheating was a deal-breaker...only to eat our words. But now that you've experienced it, what's your line. What will you do if he cheats again? Or if he doesn't cut off contact? Or if you start to feel that all-too-familiar knot in your gut? Get clear on that...and have a plan. It's not enough to simply tell yourself you'll leave, or sleep on the couch. You need to have something of an escape plan, even if you don't plan to leave. Think of it as a deposit into your self-respect bank.

Our hearts are capable of healing, even from being shattered. But we need to create the conditions to ensure such healing occurs. Otherwise, we're simply broken souls disguised as whole.

Monday, February 27, 2012

And the Academy for Best Actress Goes To...

Like millions of others last night, I watched the Academy Awards. And though I love watching people being rewarded for great work, I'm a whole lot more cynical since D-Day than I ever was. I no longer believe that an Oscar is really going to change these people's lives. It's not going to make them happier, or their marriage better. It's not going to stop a husband from cheating. And, as a I scanned the faces (and admired the dresses!) of the women at the Oscars, I found myself wondering what secrets those faces hid.
I suspect most people in my life would be stunned to know what I went through a little more than five years ago. Thinking back, they might recall that I'd seemed a bit...distant. Or that I'd lost weight, though I wasn't working out any more than usual. But most wouldn't have noticed a thing because I was a helluva an actress. I kept just about everyone in the dark. My life looked like the usual assortment of parenting and work.
Yet, watching those actresses last night, I was reminded how exhausting it is to pretend you're something you're not. And how lonely.
Even now I find myself feeling somehow...apart...from others. I remind myself that they've had their share of pain, too, even if I don't know what it is. But I don't know that I believe that. I assume that most are exactly what they seem – busy moms, content wives.
I have a few friends who know what I went through. And it's enormously comforting to be able to speak freely. To not worry that I might let a detail slip that would raise questions. To not pretend.
I recently spoke to a friend about the movie The Descendants, which features a husband coming to terms with his wife's infidelity. She asked if I'd seen it. "No," I said, explaining that my husband avoids anything related to cheating and I wasn't sure if I wanted to see it myself.
"Oh...right," she said. Nothing more was said about it. Nothing needed to be. She understood. And that's incredibly comforting. The mask can come off.
But most days, it's firmly in place.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mother Shit

I just returned from our marriage counsellor. The funny thing with marriage counselling is that I go into the session thinking I want to talk about one thing...and we end up talking about something else entirely. I wonder how much of the things that drive me crazy would go completely unrecognized if I didn't have an hour to fill every second week. And would that make me happier? Or ultimately drive me mad...
In any case, we ended up talking about my husband's family. These people are crazy. The kind of crazy that looks, at first glance, like normal. As in, "I can't believe how nice your family is. They're so...sane." That's what I said to my husband the first time I had dinner with his family. Compared to my family of alcoholics and artists (often the same thing), his family seemed like the Brady Bunch. The kind of people who could wrap up any dilemma in a half-hour, including commercials. Admittedly I wasn't exactly great at recognizing "sane" having never seen it up close in my entire life. I was, however, an optimist. And completely unversed in dysfunction that wasn't readily apparent. Alcoholics at least offer up the advantage that they're clearly crazy. Drinking vodka at 8 a.m. out of a coffee mug is hard to ignore.
But then I got to know my husband's family. And it slowly (I mean s-l-o-w-l-y...over years and years) became clear that these people were dangerously crazy. For years, I thought it was me. Growing up with alcoholics made me something of an expert in accepting blame for pretty much anything that has been/is/might go wrong. So I took the blame...something my husband was happy to facilitate. I was too sensitive. I tried too hard. Expected too much. Didn't have a sense of humor. Couldn't just accept people. I worried too much. And on and on.
So I spent a decade trying to dance on broken glass while juggling plates over my head and trying not to get hurt. And I failed miserably every single time.
And then came the day when I learned of my husband's affair. I curled into a ball and shut out as much of the world as I could. I had noticed how much his affair partner (the one I knew about at that time) was like his mother: cold, critical, cruel. Fat. (Immature of me, I know. But she was!) And yet, like with his mother, he couldn't seem to extricate himself from her though he could barely stand to be in the same room as her.
All Freudian analysis aside, it was a bizarre situation that ultimately gave me the freedom to distance myself from my husband's mother. I allowed myself to lick my wounds, free from her criticism and cruelty. (I had said to my husband that, given my fragile emotional state, he took his chances putting the two of us in the same room. His desire to keep her ignorant of his adultery overshadowed his desire to be the dutiful son with the dutiful wife.) And though much of my life sucked at that time, the fact that she was only marginally in it was a bright spot.
Fast forward to today:
My husband, having since confessed a sex addiction that he and a band of supporting psychologists/psychiatrists agree is rooted in his mother's cruelty, criticism and ultimately non-existent nurturing, wants me to spend "Family Day" (a fabricated Canadian holiday that most families seem to spend trying to find childcare for their children) with his mother.
Wha??? I want to scream. This isn't, of course, the first time he's asked me to bury the hatchet...and not in her back, though that's an invitation I might accept.
My incredulity comes from the fact that, in my estimation, he allowed her to bully and badger me for years, has asked me to accept her poor mothering as the catalyst for an addiction that brought me to my knees, and now just wants us all to get along. And by "get along" he means allowing her to behave like a petulant toddler while the rest of us sigh and chalk it up to, "well...that's just mom."
As I'm forever writing on this blog, I know I'm in charge of my own emotions...and expecting him to change simply because I don't like this part of him is an exercise in futility. The relationship between a child and his/her mother is a complex one, frequently more complex the deeper the dysfunction.
Unfortunately though, this feels like yet another abandonment by him in a relationship marked by abandonment. Yeah, yeah...the past is the past. I know. But when the past keeps on sneaking up on me and biting me in the ass, then it quickly becomes the present. And I would prefer a present in which my husband stops sacrificing me on the alter of his mother.
I've been sacrificed quite enough, thank-you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

For My Brave Friends Who Share This Path...

"Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."
~Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Judgement Denied

Judging a person does not define who they are, it defines who you are.

How true. And how difficult to remember when you're the wife of a man who cheated. Even though it's your husband who made the choice, society judges the wife harshly.
Let's be honest: Society judges pretty much ALL of us harshly. But when we're reeling from the emotional devastation of betrayal, we're so much more vulnerable to that judgement.
It's important to recognize that we judge family members for another's actions as a way of self-defence. Consider the parents I know of a teenage heroin addict. The father is a psycho-analyst, the mother, a nutritionist. They provided their daughter with a stable home, two parents who neither smoked or dranked and describe themselves as happily married. And yet they struggled for years against the shame they felt around their daughter's choices. Of course they weren't perfect parents – none of us are. But society tends to want to blame as a way of saying, "well, of course that happened to them because they did X, Y or Z. But it won't happen to me..."
Were any of us guilty of that? I know I was. I would hear of another's infidelity. And though I may not have spoken the words aloud, I would draw conclusions based on what I thought I knew: the wife seemed miserable, the husband was charming. The wife was unattractive, the husband had kept himself in shape. What did I really know? Nothing. I knew nothing about the dynamics of their marriage. And yet...I thought that I was "safe" because I kept myself in shape. I enjoyed my life. I did everything I could to be...perfect, as if perfection is a shield against pain.
We all know now that we can't control another's choices.
And society at large has likely learned that the hard way, too.
And yet, we continue to judge.
It's critical to not judge yourself. You did NOT cause your spouse to cheat. He made a choice – one out of many different options (seek counselling, take up a hobby, talk to you, ask for a divorce...) – that was HIS choice alone.
You no doubt made mistakes in your marriage. We all have. None of us is perfect.
But we don't deserve to be judged – by ourselves and by others – for a choice that belongs to someone else.


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