Monday, February 25, 2013

Obsessed with the Other Woman

I recently received a question from a BWC member noting that she's feeling "obsessed" with the Other Woman, despite her husband's commitment to her and the marriage, and desire to rebuild their relationship. She writes:
I am on the crazy train and I can't get off! I constantly want and dream of getting revenge on the OW! I constantly sabatoge myself: I might be having a decent day and I look up the tramp on FB and I am in a rage! My husband is truly doing ANYTHING and EVERYTHING he can to try to make our marriage better and stronger. I get angry at him basically for the fact that the OW exists. I am scared I will push my husband away with my comets and total insanity. I know I need to let "it" go. Intellectually I know that I am allowing her way too much power over my life and I know that I am only hurting myself. Please help me! I found out -full details- of the affair 5 months ago (from the OW  – she was only to happy to tell me). I am destroyed. I am angry, scared, and feel as if I will never feel normal again. I will never feel sane again. Please  – any advice on how to get past obsessing over the OW will be welcome. I just see her going on with her happy little life as if she didn't destroy a whole family and it infuriates me.
This experience is, sadly, not uncommon. And many betrayed wives act out their revenge, not something I recommend.
It's good that you recognize that this is only hurting you and your marriage. But recognizing it and stopping it are two different beasts.
I'll get to the stopping in a bit. Let me start by looking more closely at why you're doing this.
The feelings we experience in the wake of discovering a spouse's affair are primal. Abandonment. Rejection. Terror. Existential angst. So many of us have spent a lifetime avoiding those feelings. Trying to keep everything under control so that we don't have to feel those scary feelings. D-Day blows the lid off that.
By keeping your focus on the OW, you're avoiding those scary feelings. You're replacing them with cruddy feelings too – anger, for a start. But anger is hurt and fear in a mask, and my guess is you're feeling both those things in spades. I sure as hell was.
And, like you, I indulged in revenge fantasies at the start. I used some behaviour modification strategies (see below) because, like you, I knew it wasn't helping me heal at all. But feeling anger was far more preferable to pulling back the curtain and seeing my terrified self behind it. On some level, it felt as if my entire survival was at stake. It felt that primal. So I came out swinging, at least figuratively.
Over time though (and with a whole lotta therapy), I was able to see that the affair wasn't about her at all. She was convenient, nothing more. And I was able to examine my pain and my fear and recognize how deep they went and how they had lain dormant until the affair forced me to look at them and acknowledge them and work through them. I'll never say the affair was "good" for me...but I will say it forced me to face some demons that needed vanquishing.
I suspect your obsession with the OW might be similar. Outrage is understandable and, at the start, can be a healthy response to emotional injury. Obsession though is not.
So...what are you going to do about it?
There are behaviour modification techniques you can try. They sound silly but are surprisingly effective. An elastic band around your wrist that you snap each time you start thinking about the OW. A huge picture of a stop sign on your computer reminding you to NOT check out her FB page. A said-out-loud "NO!" or "STOP!" each time you think/do something related to her. The idea is to put a bit of distance between the temptation to obsess and the act. In that brief space, you want to remember that this is hurting you. You could even write a list with two columns: "What I Gain From Focussing on OW" on one side and "What I Lose..." on the other, and then keep it somewhere you can't ignore.
The other thing you could do (and this is something that worked for me, along with picturing a big STOP sign when my mind starting going down that well-worn path) is give yourself a time allowance to indulge in the fantasies. Say five minutes or so (even set a timer with an annoying beep) and then imagine the WORST possible scenario for her. Feed her to her starving cat. Run over her – repeatedly – in your car. Allow her to contract leprosy. But when that five minutes is up, immediately stop and get back to your real life. The idea is that by making something forbidden you're making it more desirable. Anyone on a diet can explain this. But allowing yourself a taste of it can keep it at bay. But this only works if you absolutely stick to a brief time limit. Once you're down that rabbit hole, it's hard to pull back out. (A weird thing happened to me when I allowed myself to indulge in my darkest revenge fantasies. I ended up feeling sorry for her. I was badass!! She seemed so pathetic and at my mercy. I felt powerful for those few minutes....and I decided ultimately to use my power for good (get my life back on track) than evil. Besides most OW are quite talented at screwing up their own lives. They don't need us to do it for them.)
If you're so inclined and your husband can stomach it, enlist his help in imagining some revenge fantasies. (Not all guys can handle this – in part because they're conflicted about her but also because recognizing that your sweet wife fantasizes about putting the OW's hand in a meat grinder can be a bit unsettling). If he can handle it though, it might be something you two can giggle about and feel like you're on the same team. But, and I'm saying this before my lawyer calls me in a panic: DON'T EVER ACT ON THESE VILE FANTASIES. There...that's the fine print.
However you proceed, whether by delving deeper into feelings behind your anger or behaviour modification or, better, both, this is a problem that's within your control. You can't change what happened but you can control how you respond to what happened. Don't give this woman any more real estate in your head. She's not worth it. Your husband figured that out. Now it's time for you to figure it out as well.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Guest Post: Telling Everyone

I recently connected with Laura S., a San Francisco-based writer who created a confidential phone-counselling network for women dealing with infidelity. Like I with my site here, Laura is determined to use her painful experience to help others going through the same thing. Here's her first post.

Telling Everyone
by Laura S.

The week after my husband told me he thought he was in love with someone else, I e-mailed a group of close girlfriends with the news. The very next evening they stopped their busy-kids-husbands-making-dinner-supervising-homework-lives and I met them at a local café where we sat and drank tea and I wept and wept and wept. And they listened.
After that night, I decided that I simply had to tell people. Everyone. Anyone. My friends, my family, his family, a few co-workers, the woman in front of me at the supermarket, the moms of my daughter’s friends. I remember thinking that if I tell enough people, it won’t hurt so much. If I tell enough people, no one will blame me. If I tell enough people, they will nod knowingly when we get divorced (or when I kick him out, which I inevitably did, in my rage. He came back though. That’s for another blog post).
Soon after hearing the news, friends and family reacted in ways that told me more about them than about me and this infidelity experience. My closest girlfriends (all married) phoned to tell me they loved me, they were here for me. An invisible army out beyond the house where I couldn’t see them, rows and rows of people who supported me unconditionally, waiting there to hold me in their arms if I needed holding or walk with me to happiness when I was ready to walk. 
My mom, in an atypical expression of outward emotion, told me she would be there for whether we got divorced or stayed married. A few friends, both male and female, told me they’d happily get in line to kill, maim or strangle my husband (one of them sounded uncomfortably serious). A couple of girlfriends admitted they were so angry with him that they didn’t know how they were going to work through that (they are still struggling, I think, because their manner is different around him now). One friend never mentioned it, not for the entire five months of the affair nor the following two years of recovery; to this date she does not bring it up or ask me how I am.
I know that my story – and telling everyone so openly and forcefully – was terrifying to many of our friends.  If this could happen to her, could it happen to me? went the unstated refrain. Would my husband do this? Is he capable of such a choice? No one ever spoke those words but I knew they were there. My experience was a threat, something “other” that loomed on the edge of our nice middle-class world.
There was more. While this support was so beautiful, so unwavering, and so key to my eventual survival, there was something missing. No one said, “Hey I’ve been there.” No one ventured, “My sister has been through this.” I felt as if I was the only human on earth whose husband had betrayed her. Of course I’d heard about infidelity – in movies and books, with celebrities and politicians – but I did not know anyone else like me who had been through it. Anyone else like me: educated semi-suburban wife and mom, married 20+ years, seemingly happy (though the marriage bore cracks) and basically successful. Feeling so uniquely marked in this way was like a scarlet “I” (for infidelity) worn invisibly on my forehead for an entire year. It was only later, once we began to rebuild our relationship and I started sharing with people too about that effort, that three girlfriends came to me with their own infidelity stories. Finally I was not alone.

Laura S. is founder and director
of the Infidelity Counseling Network. Find it at or call the counselling line at (650) 521-5867 x 101 to speak with a trained counsellor. The service is free and all counsellors have experienced infidelity.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Only Thing You Need to Know to Heal from Your Husband's Affair

In the minute that we find out about our husband's affairs, so many of us create an imaginary scorecard in which we're on one side and the other woman (or women) are on the other.
We go down this mental list ruthlessly, assigning scores. Is my body better or worse? Am I older or younger? Prettier or uglier? Fatter or skinnier? Smarter or dumber? Kinder or meaner? More successful or less?
We demand details from our husbands about the entire affair. It's not that we're total masochists. It's part of our score-keeping. Did he give her gifts and were they thoughtful or thoughtless? Take her to nicer restaurants? Was the sex better? Was she more sexually adventurous?
The thing is, once we've compiled our scorecards (and exhausted our husbands), we're often baffled. The results often just don't add up.
And it's then, with the agonizing details of our husband's affair nagging at our tired brains and the lash marks still fresh from our self-flagellation, that we finally understand the most surprising and misunderstood thing about most affairs: They have nothing to do with us.
Well, that's not entirely true. Of course they have something to do with us. We're, after all, the ones at home putting the kids to bed, or paying the bills, or making sure dinner includes all four food groups. Without a wife, a husband isn't cheating, he's dating.
But it doesn't have anything to do with us specifically.
Here are the reasons we believe our husbands cheated:
•We're old and our boobs sag.
•We wear ratty pajamas to bed instead of silky negligee.
•We've let ourselves "go".
•He's seen us give birth.
•He's seen us at our worst.
•We haven't given him a blow job since the first Bush administration.
•Our hair has gone grey.
•Our idea of a big night is watching back-to-back episodes of Downton Abby.

Here are the real reasons he cheated:
•He thinks he's old and his boobs sag.
•His boss makes him feel like an idiot.
•He's let himself go.
•Watching you give birth has made him realize he's responsible for a vulnerable little soul.
•You've seen him at his worst.
•He misses blow jobs.
•His hair has gone grey.
•He lies awake at night worrying about growing old. About dying. About "missing out."
•He's never really examined his pain at his parent's divorce. His father's absence. His mother's criticism. His unrealized dreams.

Of course, I'm simplifying for sake of universality. But the point is...his affair wasn't about you. The wife, to put it bluntly, is just collateral damage.
It boggles the mind. I once asked my husband what he was thinking about me when he was driving to the OW's apartment for an early-morning romp. His response? "I wasn't." At first I was furious. How could he NOT be thinking about me. How could he NOT be feeling guilty that I was at home, trying to cram toddlers into snowsuits, persuade a preschooler to brush her teeth, clean up from breakfast even though I'd been up four times in the night to soothe restless tots. Surely, I imagined, he was telling himself something about me. Nope, he wasn't. Nothing. Nada. I had faded into the background and he was looking firmly ahead.
His response is surprisingly common among men who've had affairs. They really weren't thinking about us. They really didn't cheat because our boobs sag. In fact, they hadn't noticed that our boobs sagged. They were too busy distracting themselves from their own failings by being flattered that someone seemed interested in them. They were remembering that they could feel sexy. Interesting. Smart.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Affairs are about the reflection seen in the eyes of the affair partner. They're about fantasy. They're about ego. They're not necessarily about upgrading to a newer  sexier model.
This is, shockingly, good news.
You don't have to be beautiful, smart, charming, warm-hearted, etc. to keep your husband from cheating. In fact, even if you are all those things (and you are! You are!), it won't make a whit of difference if your husband is looking outside of himself to heal things inside himself.
Good news because even though you might want to give your marriage a makeover in the wake of an affair, you don't need to give yourself a makeover.
Because, again, this had nothing to do with you. And everything to do with him.


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