Monday, March 31, 2014

After his affair: You must acknowledge your suffering

A woman recently asked an important (and common) question: Her husband, it seemed, withdrew when she wanted (needed!) to talk about her pain. She knew he was tired of it, recognized that he was losing patience with her. She also wondered why she wasn't "over it" yet and wondered if her need to talk about it was actually prolonging the pain. So she asked, "Should I just STFU?"

It was wonderful to see the betrayed wives that rushed to tell her, resoundingly, "no!"

It's simply not possible to heal if you silence yourself. You might be able to fake healing. You might be able to convince those around you that you're just doing jim-dandy and are completely over that unpleasant affair thing.

But the truth will live on in your body. The truth of your pain. The truth of your suffering. The truth of the deep wound that remains where trust and joy used to be. By ignoring that, by denying it, you're hurting yourself in a far deeper way than anyone else ever can. You're telling yourself that your pain doesn't count. That you don't count.

Betrayal can sometimes makes us believe that. We feel cast aside. We feel unvalued.

And yet, those of us who've read this and this and this know that's not why our husbands cheated. We know that it wasn't because of us or her, but about him.

But that doesn't make it any easier when we're desperate to share our pain with the person who caused it. When we so badly need a witness to our suffering and though it might defy logic to seek it from the person who caused it, we also know that the only way to reconciliation is to show our wound to the one who caused it and trust that his acknowledgement of it and expression of genuine regret will lead us to greater healing, alone and together.

Denying that pain, in the service of not rocking the boat, might seem wise in the short-term. After all, who wants another occasion ruined by tears. But it's a false sense of happy. It forces you to wear a mask. It forces you to pretend to be something you're not.

If we accept that our goal in reconciliation is to rebuild a marriage with the collected wisdom of our healing, then it only makes sense that we rebuild based on honesty and transparency and a mutual respect for each other's pain. Otherwise, we're rebuilding not only our marriage but our sense of who we are within it on a profound lack of self-respect. And, I would argue, a lack of respect for our spouses. Even if they won't (or can't yet) see it this way, sharing your deepest pain with him is a gift. It's a chance for him to make good. It's a chance for him to be that better man. Whether he takes the chance is up to him. It doesn't diminish you for offering it; it does diminish him for not seizing it.

Danielle Laporte puts it this way: "Our suffering does NOT want to be denied or avoided... It wants our attention.When we paint over pain ... we’re actually delaying our healing. We’re denying a critical part of our experience — the actual suffering, in which there is incredible power and agency."

So, dear BWC member, do not STFU. Never STFU. If there is to be one lesson learned from this experience, let it be this: We must be heard.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Desmond Tutu on Forgiveness

 "The invitation to forgive is not an invitation to forget. Nor is it an invitation to claim that an injury is less hurtful than it really is. Nor is it a request to paper over the fissure in a relationship, to say it’s okay when it’s not. It’s not okay to be injured. It’s not okay to be abused. It’s not okay to be violated. It’s not okay to be betrayed.
The invitation to forgive is an invitation to find healing and peace. In my native language, Xhosa, one asks forgiveness by saying, Ndicel’ uxolo—“I ask for peace.” Forgiveness opens the door to peace between people and opens the space for peace within each person. The victim cannot have peace without forgiving. The perpetrator will not have genuine peace while unforgiven. There cannot be peace between victim and perpetrator while the injury lies between them. The invitation to forgive is an invitation to search out the perpetrator’s humanity. When we forgive, we recognize the reality that there, but for the grace of God, go I."~excerpted in Spirituality & Health from The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

I Cannot Walk Your Path

"The maps and travelogues left behind by others are great blessings, full of useful information and inspiration, but they cannot take the journey for us."~Author unknown

Many of us knew exactly what we would do if our husbands cheated on us. And then it happened. Suddenly we not only weren't doing what we always said we'd do (almost without fail, throw him out), we were behaving in ways that were confusing to us. That made us wonder if we'd lost our minds. And within that confusion lay such judgement of ourselves. So many of us were ashamed of ourselves for not sticking with what we said we'd do.
Thing is, none of us really knows what we'll do until we're in the situation. And once we're in that situation, the best we can do is treat ourselves with compassion for the challenge we're facing.
And, of course, none of us knows what another woman should do because we're not in her situation.
I bring this up because a BWC member commented a while back that she had taken my "advice" and stuck with her husband only to find out that his affair had never really ended. There she was, another year or so invested in her marriage, and only deeper in pain.
She was leaving him then and only wished I had encouraged her to do so earlier.
I told her I was very sorry for her pain. Sorrier still that her husband wasn't able to accept the deep gift of her desire to rebuild their marriage.
But, I pointed out, I never told her to stay or leave and I felt badly that she had interpreted my response to her as such. I, frankly, haven't a clue whether any of you should stay or leave. Actually that's not true. If there's abuse of any kind, get out. Now. (Though even with that, I know that some women simply can't leave for any number of reasons that I might not understand.)
But beyond that, there's isn't a right way to respond to this. 
Life is messy. Marriages that look hopeless somehow get stitched together to everyone's benefit. Others just don't make it despite valiant attempts. Some survive betrayal only to fall apart down the road for other reasons. 
I wish I had a crystal ball and could therefore predict which marriages were worth fighting for and which should be hastily exited. Of course, I don't. I don't pretend to.
What I do offer here is hard-won wisdom from walking my own path. Though each of us is unique we face similar challenges. Our husbands behave in bizarrely similar ways. We can benefit from each other's experience as long as we recognize that we don't all walk the same path to healing. As long as we understand that what worked for her mightn't work for me and vice versa. 
There are times when I will use such words as "here's what you should do" and then outline the steps a BW can take to, for example, get back on her feet, get some sleep, or regain her self-respect. But I don't have all the answers. I haven't even faced all the questions. I have my own experience and an understanding of what so many of you have faced as you've trusted me with your stories. That's all.
Each of our stories is our own. Each of us walks her own path to healing. I cannot walk yours and you cannot walk mine. But we can hold each other up along the way.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Why you should stop asking "why"...and instead ask "why bother"

"Men don't cheat because of who she is, they cheat because of who they're not."
~Charles J. Orlando, author of "The Problem with Women...Is Men"

We often talk on this site about the question of "why". It's generally the first word that forms in our brain when we learn of a spouse's affair. But sadly, we often answer that question with a catalogue of our own perceived failings: I've been preoccupied with the kids; I've been busy with work; I've been stressed with moving my parents into a nursing home; I'm aging; I'm fat; and blahdy blah self-flagellating blah.
It's all, of course, bullshit. So is all the stuff we tell ourselves about what she has that we don't. As my husband's therapist once said to me, "what she's got, you don't want."
No matter what your spouse tells you or what you tell yourself, he cheated because opportunity met moral failing and wound up in bed together. That's not to say that your list of "why"s aren't necessarily true. Maybe your marriage was under strain. Maybe you could have spent a bit more time at the gym. Maybe you did take your stress out on your husband. All of which are absolutely valid reasons for your husband to suggest counselling, or anger management, or even a separation. They're not valid reasons for cheating. I'm not sure there is a valid reason for cheating. 
The time will come when the two of you, should you choose to rebuild your marriage, to pore over your marriage like a couple of forensic detectives, looking for just where it went off the rails. Ideally you'll do this within the context of "where can we improve our communication so neither of us feels so alone again" rather than "this is the long list of ways in which you're a complete asshole". But sometimes that compassion and willingness to be open to your cheating husband's pain takes time.
It also takes strength, which doesn't come from beating yourself up about the myriad ways in which you somehow brought your spouse's cheating on.
Your task, post-betrayal, is to keep yourself strong. No easy task. It means extreme self-care – avoiding anyone who isn't loyal to you; it means avoiding any commitment that makes you feel more vulnerable; it means eating and sleeping; it means avoiding excess (or any!) alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping or other means of numbing your feelings. And it means stopping, at least for now, asking "why".
Your husband likely can't tell you. Not really. People who cheat aren't generally the most self-aware. They can learn self-awareness and the fallout from cheating often spurs them in that direction. Decent people who cheat are often so disgusted with themselves that they want to know how they were able to do such a thing in order to ensure they'll never do it again. But there are plenty of guys equally disgusted with themselves who simply can't admit that – it's far easier to blame something outside of themselves (your work schedule; their boss) than own up to their moral failing.
The first group generally make rebuilding a marriage as easy as it can be (which, frankly, still isn't easy); the second make it a whole lot harder and should prompt you to ask whether or not it's worth trying. Without a clear understanding of how people can use other people to avoid feeling pain or shame or loneliness or stress, there's little to prevent them from doing it again.
As Charles J. Orlando points out in the quote above, men cheat because of what's missing in them, because of who they're not. Who they're not is a guy who recognizes when he's seeking escape in an unhealthy way. Who they're not is a guy who recognizes the damage created by cheating before he does it.
Instead of asking why he cheated, the question you should be asking is why – and if – he deserves the chance to rebuild your marriage. It's the question he should be asking himself too.


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