Friday, January 23, 2015

My Heartbreak, My Rules

In a recent comment related to her post, Steam wrote four words that have resonated with so many readers. In her effort to give all betrayed wives the permission to insist upon what they need to heal, she wrote that each of us gets to declare "my heartbreak, my rules." Now she tells us how she came to understand that.

by Steam

So many things we share are universal.
The shredding of our souls.
Our trust. 
The entire life we thought we were living that now feels one big sham.
We don't understand.
We don't feel loved.
We are sad.
We are angry.
We come to know our bed, our pillow, the floor very well.
We become one with the tears and the despair.
We feel helpless.

But of of this there was one other thing that I found.

Although my husband has never in his life uttered an unkind word to me, he did have issues – a drinking problem – and for years I had made false threats (which felt real to me despite me using them repeatedly for seven of our 15-year relationship). 
I was going to kick him out, I had had enough, blah blah blah. BLAH.

But when I found out about his betrayal? Everything changed. No longer were my threats false.

I did not know at the time that I would have "rules". I didn't know I was allowed to have any.

But when I got off the floor after D-Day – and I really was on the floor – I said:
Write her an email NOW, tell her it's over NOW or just fucking GO to her. NOW.
And I meant it.
Thus, my first rule. And I didn't ask anyone permission to have it.
Something PRIMAL just kicked in.
You go to her or give her up NOW. Rule number one. 
Not so extraordinary right?
Next, I didn't ask for, I demanded the passwords to all of his e-mail accounts, fake and real. And later his bank and Amazon and Paypal accounts.

Part of me felt hopelessly needy for wanting these things. I felt bossy and controlling. 
I demanded them anyway.
That was rule number two. I was making up rules as I went along. I just knew what I needed to have to survive
Later I learned that I did the right thing. I needed that information to build trust again. He might have needed to give it up to stay honest.

Had he refused, he would have been gone.
He knew that this time I was not toying with the idea of kicking him out.
My foot was poised.
I had hit my limit.
My heart had been shattered into a million pieces.

I had my heartbreak.
I could also have rules.
My heartbreak, my rules.

Growing up in a repressed household where "what do you have to be depressed about?" was a family mantra, admitting all these years later that I needed constant reassurance was not easy.
Admitting that I needed some (but not all)  details of his encounter was torture.
Admitting that I felt weak and needed help was excruciating.

But finding out through my therapist that everything I wanted was reasonable was a game changer.

I could have rules!
I could have boundaries.
I could ask him – even demand – that he give something up (the women and the drinking and the deception).
Yes I could! 
To find that out was astounding.
I could say "screw this 'free to be me' bullshit.
If you think you are free to sleep with others – well sure but not while you are with ME.
To find I could ask him for support and reassurance and demand passwords was a revelation.
To find out that I was not completely off the mark was shocking.
To insist on talks, walks, dates, time, time, time, help, talk, reassurance, touch, talk, listening, help – 

To find out that feeling needy or crazy wasn't unusual, these feelings after betryal are almost  universal.
That needing support wasn't weakness – it was normal.
That wanting proof and the truth was not out of line – it was necessary.
Asking for complete transparency was not being selfish.
To not just find this out but believe it was empowering.
Healthy people, I came to understand, lived by these rules every day. They just  often don't have to spill them or write them down. Healthy people just know!
I often say that had my husband not been remorseful, honest and incredibly sorry I don't know where "we" would be today.
But he was, and we are doing remarkably well and maybe it's because he didn't run and I didn't run.
Instead I immediately put my foot down, firmly in place and firmly grounded, asked if he wanted to work this out, and if he did I proclaimed in my heart and later aloud "my heartbreak, my rules."


  1. This was awesome. So true too. Thanks for posting.

  2. Your words were revealing. I recently went through a similar situation and made my own demands. The one I cherish the most is...I come first now. I do what I need to do for me first and sometime its a conflict because of our relationship, but I reason that he put his own interests and wants before me and now, as long as I don't go astray from my marriage vows, I take care of me first.

    Thank you for posting.

    1. Anon,
      That is HUGE. I too had to learn to put myself first and to see that as NOT selfish but self-care. As my therapist explained it, I am responsible FOR myself, I am responsible TO those around me -- to treat them with honesty and integrity. But being responsible FOR myself means ensuring that I make decisions that are healthy for me, and therefore allow me to be my best self in all other areas of my life. Making choices that create resentment in myself (or that lead to me keeping score) are ultimately unhealthy not only for me but for my relationships.

  3. This blog has literally been my lifeline! I used the elastic on the wrist, the write a letter and then destroy it, and now the "my heartbreak, my rules." All worked to make me hopeful. I take it one day at a time and know that I am not alone. Thank you to Elle and every woman who has commented here. You have my deepest gratitude.

  4. The grief, as Lamott promises, won't wash you away. It will baptize you into this new world that holds pain but also love, sadness but also joy. Those tears will, if you let them, bring you home to the truth of you. That you are whole. That you are worthy. That you are sane and human and okay and sad. Right now, you are sad.

    Loved that quote! Right now I am sad, sad, sad! I cry and cry. I hold onto hope desperately. I am the anonymous above and I know I am strong enough to get through this. I still am in disbelief that my husband was even capable of cheating! Thank you again, Elle!

    1. We've all been there. I used to wonder if I was going to have permanent cry wrinkles (along with everything else I worried about...I worried about wrinkles!! Incidentally, I don't.)
      You are SO not alone. We're a huge club and those who come here have each other's backs. We're here to remind you that you'll get through this. To remind you that this isn't about you. To remind you that you will emerge from this with a deeper compassion for yourself and, often, for others. And to remind you that will absolutely, positively feel joy in this life again. Let tears...and their magic.

  5. Wow, how true this is. I didn't even get to the making threats part before D-day happened. I thought about it, but I didn't feel I had the right to rock the boat. After all, everything else in our relationship was good, right? We rarely fought, we made decisions as equals, my husband works hard to provide for us, he helps out around the house, he's an involved father...I felt I had no right to complain that our sex life had been dying for the last decade. (After all, when we did have sex, he always made sure I was satisfied.) I felt I had no right to complain. But when he revealed he'd cheated, I realized that I had had a right all along to complain. I had had a right to have my needs met. I had had a right to honesty.

    While I don't think I'll ever say that it was a good thing my husband cheated, the one good thing to come out of it is that I know I will never put up with being treated that way again. I have needs and rights, too. I matter.


    1. Damn right you matter. It's a shame that it took a cheating spouse to teach so many of us that we do matter.

  6. THIS is where I am stuck. My heartbreak, my rules is exactly what my heart has been telling me since my own DDay. Exactly. But, what do I do if H doesn't believe that. DDay was in May. The cheating happened several months prior. It wasn't a long term affair, she was a slut he picked up in a bar. He describes it as a "mistake" during a dark time of his life. He says he thought I didn't like him anymore. He says he was confused. He says he wants to work on our marriage. I can see a few things that give evidence that he is "trying." But I asked to go to counseling together. He went once. The counselors want us to do a week long intensive. He travels for work all.the.time. (That's another thing I would like to make a rule about.) ALL he has to do is call the counselors to set it up. It has been three months. He has talked about calling once. But he hasn't done it. He doesn't believe "my heartbreak, my rules." I talked to my therapist about asking him to move out since he wasn't interested in engaging in counseling with me as I felt like we needed .(He is hardly ever home anyway, but that would mean telling the kids which is both why it would affect him and why I am hesitant to go for it.) I felt like she thought I shouldn't do that. She, of course, wouldn't come out and say that, but that's what I took away from the conversation. What do I do? just keep waiting? He's rarely even home because of his work travel. It is such a roller coaster to spend two weeks waiting for him to come home. Two weeks thinking about all of it by myself. Maintaining his family while he is away. Keeping it together in a holding pattern. Then he comes home for a few days or so. Then off to the next project. I believe him that this was the only time, sort of. His behavior was so bad during the four months that he was keeping his secret. But who knows. After knowing that he is capable of lying and cheating, how can I ever trust again. I hate this.



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