Thursday, February 12, 2015

Five More Ways We Hurt Ourselves After Our Husband's Affair

C''re smarter than that!
A couple of years ago I wrote a post called Five Ways We Hurt Ourselves After Our Husband's Affair. That post became the most popular post on this site, with more than double the page views of Five Steps to Healing a Marriage After an Affair, Letter to a Cheating Husband, and Seven Lies We Believe After a Spouse's Affair.
What I find interesting and wonderful is that the most popular post on this site is about we women seeking to heal ourselves. It's about us taking responsibility for what we can control, which is ourselves. It's about self-empowerment. It's about taking this horrible experience and recognizing how we're hurting ourselves...then changing our story.
Sadly I still get many comments from betrayed wives visiting this site that detail the ways in which they continue to hurt themselves. So I've added to my previous list. I'm sure I've still missed a few so please share your thoughts in the comments. Even better, tell us how you stopped hurting yourself – and began to heal.

#1: Letting him dictate the terms of reconciliation
He wants to determine whether or not you get couples counselling? He wants you to respect his "privacy"? He wants to continue to work with the OW? No way. Not a chance.
We sometimes get so blindsided and crippled by a spouse's affair that we forget to respect ourselves. We forget that we can't control whether he continues to cheat. We forget that we can't stop him from leaving us by simply being total doormats and letting him trod all over us. We forget that we matter.
This isn't about saving a marriage, this is about saving YOU. Marriages can survive all sorts of abuse and disrespect. But that's not what we want. We want, ultimately, a marriage that is stronger for the storms it has weathered, not simply hanging together through co-dependence, willful blindness, and fear.
This new paradigm begins when it is made clear that you, as the injured party, get to dictate the terms of reconciliation. You' get to set boundaries and ensure an atmosphere of emotional safety in order to reconcile. (He gets to call you out if you're unleashing your inner Kim Jong Un.)
•This begins with No Contact with the OW.
•No Contact might also include friends who were complicit in the affair.
•Total access to any and all electronics, social media accounts, passwords.
•Total accountability. Your new MO is "trust...but verify." He needs to be transparent about where he is and who he's with at all times.
•Counselling. Any guy who offers up the "but I don't need to go to a head-doctor" defence definitely needs to go to a head-doctor.

#2: Blaming ourselves
You are NOT the reason he cheated. Repeat that to yourself to absorb the full truth of that.
You are in no way to blame for his choice to cheat. That is 100% on him. If your marriage kinda sucked when he cheated, then absolutely take ownership for your part in that. But he had the choice to talk to you about it like a grown-up or run away from it and cheat, thereby making any problems in your marriage about a bajillion times worse.
As for blaming ourselves for any one of the "sins" our culture tells us leads our husbands to cheat – we were too focussed on the kids, we gained weight, we experienced depression, we got old – that is bullshit too.
Your husband cheated because he sought escape over reality. He sought avoidance over confrontation. He chose to betray you over saying 'no' to himself.

#3: Competing with the OW
How many of us suddenly feel cast into this competition with the Other Woman (or Women)? We desperately need to know whether she was prettier than we are. Younger? More successful? Better in bed? Skinnier? And on and on, while we keep a mental tally of whether she's ahead or whether we are.
Thing is, as I point out above, we're not to blame for his cheating. If all it takes is a younger, prettier woman, then we're all doomed. But that's not what affairs are generally about.
What the OW offers is nothing we want. It's sex without intimacy, it's a relationship played out in the shadows. The OW offers convenience. She offers fantasy. She is like a fun-house mirror, reflecting back everything our cheating spouse wants to see about  himself: He's sexy! Charming! Smart! It's the reason why so many OW are thrown completely under the bus the minute the affair comes to light and the offending spouse has to face up to what he's done.
This isn't a contest and making it one will only lead to misery, even if you think you're "winning".

#4: Ignoring our own needs
We feel on thin ice post-betrayal. Our spouse feels like a stranger. We don't trust ourselves, let alone anybody else. And yet somehow, within that, we need to acknowledge and respect our own needs. It can feel impossible, in part because we feel impossibly needy. We might need to be held while we sob for hours. We might need as much space as possible while we weep in solitude. We might need friends around us, we might need them to leave us alone. We might need extra help with housework, childcare, getting out of bed.
Honor those needs. Buy honoring your needs, you're honoring yourself. You're telling yourself that you matter. That you have value. That you are not defined by the worst thing that has happened to you. You are infinitely deeper than that.

#5: Letting our culture of "once a cheater..." determine our next step
Ah particular bĂȘte noire. I have taken some heat from another betrayed wife (who shall remain nameless and linkless) for selling fantasy in the form of reconciliation. An yet, statistically most couples dealing with infidelity remain married. That, in itself, is not cause for celebration because there will undoubtedly be those in that group who choose the rug-sweeping method of reconciliation. What IS cause for celebration is that, with a truly remorseful spouse willing to learn from his excruciating choice and a betrayed wife willing to extend compassion and respect to the person who hurt her (as well as herself), a re-created marriage is not only possible, it's probable.
Sadly too many betrayed wives follow the script handed to them by pop culture and cynics: the "once a cheater..." script, the "kick him to the curb" cynicism.
I'm no Pollyanna. Rebuilding a marriage after betrayal is a long, hard road. But so is divorce. You get to make the choice about what path to take based on what's right for YOU. Nobody else has to do the work. Nobody else reaps the benefits (or regrets). You decide. To hell with what everybody else thinks.


  1. Genius advice, again, Elle. You should just post this link every time someone on the site offers up stories that reveal how they are sabotaging their own healing.

    As someone who strongly feels that my marriage and my life is emerging stronger, I am glad that I had the presence of mind (and Elle's guidance) to do what is stated above. I am also incredibly lucky that my spouse wholeheartedly (after many stops and starts, many missteps) sought to fix his broken self. It is not an easy road and not possible for everyone--so I am extremely greatful.
    We both are working hard on doing our part, the only recipe for not just surviving but thriving.


  2. #3. wow. #3.

    isnt this the truth?! my husband said "she made me feel special, like i was everything. she cooked for me, rubbed my shoulders if i needed. she was always happy. we never fought."

    what a fantasy... if only, being a mother, and wife while working full time, taking care of the house, paying bills and a mortgage, cooking dinner, doing dishes and laundry, bathing the children, making sure they are happy i had the time to do all she did. what an amazing woman who had no sense of what reality of a relationship or marriage is actually like.
    and on the other hand... i looked at my husband and asked him... "where was i when YOU were mr fucking happy pants, no stress, loving life husband?" life is life. we were happy most of the time... but she was ALWAYS happy and willing. BECAUSE reality DID NOT exist in fantasy land.
    get a grip HUSBANDS... and take a look at yourself.
    rant over.

  3. What a wonderful post I will read this often. It is true, thank you for not shutting this site down like I'm healed so good bye. That is not what this site is about. It a collection of hurt and healing all rolled into one covered in truth. We need the truth. Thank you.

  4. Love this Elle, it's a reminder of what I went through and came through the other side. I went through all the above as you mentioned and thankfully came out with a stronger more respectful marriage one that is worth being part of. I love this site for all it offers and the women who are here are fantastically strong beautiful women. Absolutely take care of yourself x

  5. Every bit of this Elle is SO right on. Please try to remember it is NOT your fault, I harp this one to death because no matter how awful you were, he had the chance to tell you, to leave you, to divorce you, whatever--but instead he RAN AWAY. OK?
    I really want to add--do NOT friend her on FB, dont text her, dont write her--dont call her. If your H is ending HIS contact, you should be doing the same. Do NOT invite her into your life in anyway at ALL. It's hard enough not to stalk her on line (i know, god, i know)-i am guilty, but luckily i did not have access to his main squeeze who seems to be the only person on the planet NOT on facebook) but don't give her access to you or your family in any way shape or form. I went as far as BLOCKING ANYONE who had inappropriate contact with my H on facebook. I did this WITH him and not behind his back--well, all except one, which I did alone--cuz I am far from perfect)

  6. Amen. This is exceptionally well done, Elle. What a great summary for the new women going starting the road after betrayal and for those of us who are many many miles ahead and in need of a tune up. Said it before but I sure wish this site had been available when I began the " journey" cause it is a lonely one. Especially loved, " to hell with what other people think!) that is the greatest mantra for this and life. Thank you.

  7. I am happy to say that I am out of the woods so to speak, regarding destructive behaviors mentioned above.

    I know at 5 months its still early, but we are both so happy~~~connected and present in a way we haven't been in a very long time. What is this feeling I have? Its new to me, its peaceful, like after a storm when the sun has come out and everything seems fresh and clean. Corny, I know. But that's how I feel. He says he feels it too. I imagine he does, since six months ago he basically attached a stick of dynamite to our marriage and pushed the button. The fact that we survived it is simply amazing and we are BOTH so grateful.

    We celebrated our anniversary yesterday. We went to a place that has been special to us and we shared new vows that we wrote for each other. Honest, realistic and hopeful ideas of what this marriage is going to be in the future. I think more couples should discuss these issues before getting married. But, if you were to tell them this they would ignore you and say "that won't happen to us." No one ever believes it will will happen to them. I certainly didn't.

    Anyway, this is my message of hope for those who didn't believe Elle when she said that you can rebuild and be strong and happy. I didn't believe her, in fact, at first, I thought she was crazy. I couldn't fathom how we would pick up so many tiny pieces and put them back together. But, WE DID, and WE ARE. Its a work in progress, a piece of art that is difficult to understand at first glance. But it is taking shape, every day its becoming clearer. Over time, it will be beautiful. Its possible and that's what you need to focus on.

  8. Thanks everyone for your comments. And yes, RT, I've suffered some slings and arrows for being crazy enough to believe that a marriage impacted by infidelity can still be worth fighting for. But walking away because someone made a mistake isn't necessarily sane. We each get to make our own choice about what path we choose.

  9. The one that I am fighting that isn't on this list (because of course I suffered all of those at some point) is the statistic on second marriages. My marriage ended. Not my choice. I fought hard for reconciliation but my ex continued his infidelity and is in fact dating the other woman now. So now I am dating (which is fun) but have had people mention the statistic on the divorce rate for second marriages. Facing a second marriage isn't my choice, so how do I deal with that perception? Thank you for being here and sharing.

    1. Anon,
      I don't think you can fight that perception and, frankly, I don't think too many people are as up on the statistics as you are. There are sooooo many people who are divorced that I can't imagine that much judgement about second marriages. What's more, you were a loyal, determined spouse. That's a source of pride and something you can wear with honour. Please don't be so hard on yourself. You are a prize that your first simply wasn't able to recognize the value of. Some lucky guy will.

  10. Help! My husband's was a one night thing with a person he met in a camp at a week long festival I wasn't at. He's talked about responsible non-monogamy for years, and admitted this was not it, it was cheating. We went to counseling for 3 months, got really good again, actually better than ever. He still maintained a friendship with her and I tried as well, but it was hard to keep being reminded of the betrayal. I keep hearing no contact with her from people, but he says it would have been bad if I had done that. They haven't seen each other in 4 months since we saw her as a family.

    Last night I cried after watching a show where a boyfriend turned down advances because he said he loved his girlfriend. At the same time yesterday my hubby brought up continuing to work on the tent I helped him make that I never got to sleep in before he left and in which they had the affair. I'm also dealing with having started to be her friend again after she got beat up by her sister's boyfriend and I told her I'd bring her food.

    I'm so torn on how I'm healing or not. Debating going back to counseling. Hurt that when I still get hurt by the affair, more and more my hubby gets hurt by it and doesn't want to hear it anymore. No one I am close to knows. Just the people he camped with. Most of whom are my friends now and all those can't stand her because they like me. My hubby is the only one who is still a friend to her. She does have a new boyfriend. And I actually felt better at first when I talked to her, until I found out they were flirting. My hubby said he flirts with everyone and it didn't mean anything.

    He told me just this weekend, he could never replace me. Just when things get better between us, hurt comes up in me again and he is the only one I can turn to, but it seems to ruin it.

    I found this website last night and I hope it can help as it already seems to have done.

    Forgive my ramblings. I'm still homeschooling and typing on a little phone. :-)

    1. Homeschooler,
      I'm glad you found us...but so sorry you needed to.
      You need to get to counselling soon and figure out how to draw some very clear boundaries. Your husband's talk of "responsible non-monogamy" is clearly something you're not comfortable with. And his insistence that "no contact" is a bad thing is, frankly, putting you in a really horrible position where you can't protect yourself emotionally.
      I suspect you're trying to be all cool around this idea when it's just not what you want. You should never have to compromise your own value system to keep someone else happy.
      Please, get to a counsellor and sort through what you really want and need, and then figure out how to create those boundaries in your own life.

    2. Thank you so much! You are so right. I called our counselor yesterday and was going to go, but her phone was disconnected.

      We talked more last night which was good. After reading more posts here today, I see again liked I figured out in counseling at first that I still need to cry. When I let the feelings out, they fly and I feel great.

      I had a dream last night where she was just kind of in the corner of the dream as she is in my life. I woke up with the thought, "I'm tired of her being in the corner of my dreams and in the corner of my life. I'm tired of you living the motions of this life as a family, but constantly talking about wanting something else. I want you to decide what you want and live it and stop leaving me dangling, never knowing what you are going to choose at any moment."

      I'm so good at thinking stuff like this and terrible about saying it. You are right. I want a good family for my boys, and a great marriage, but giving into his moods isn't going to really get that is it.

      Funny thing is, as much as I don't want him to leave, for our boys even if not for me, and as much as he says he will never leave... a big part of me doesn't care if he does because of how much he didn't respect me.

      I am sick of him saying he won't leave, but I still never know who he might flirt with or ever do this again with. Especially if he still keeps talking to her. Your right. I was never okay with his talking about his ideas and I don't want to live that way.

      Ugh! Now I have to decide to put my foot down or not. Thank you! :-)

    3. The decision is WHEN to put your foot down. WHEN to begin respecting yourself. You're showing your boys how to treat women. You're showing them how to treat themselves.
      Get to your counsellor (her phone was disconnected? Is she a licensed therapist? That seems odd) and figure out how to stand up for yourself. It will be TERRIFYING for you. Do it anyway. It will feel HORRIBLE. Do it anyway. The right thing is rarely the easy thing. You need to get your life back. The only way to do that is to stake your claim, draw your boundaries and start treating yourself the way HE should have been treating you all along.

  11. Thank you so much! I need to hear this. You are so right. I woke up and formulated more plans for what to say and how to even finally tell him I needed him to leave for a bit and stay with the one friend who was at the festival and tried to stop him. I plan to use the time to start getting my self respect back. Thank you!

  12. Just trying to use a name instead of anonymous now. I posted on here as homeschooler and the last few anonymous.

  13. Ugh! You were right again. I was terrified and I feel horrible. The deed is done. The words were spoken. I can't go back now. I tried to be respectful and I think I was. He cried with me at the end and later he cried alone in bed. I don't know what it means right now. I don't know where we are heading. I'm scared about the future. We will see.

    1. June,
      Lovely name. :)
      You can be scared...and still do what needs to be done to ensure your own well-being. This is scary stuff. But trust yourself.

  14. Great article Elle. Thanks for posting this. I am sure many women will get through their feelings after a divorce/breakup. This article is very convincing.

  15. Hi Elle,
    this is my first comment on your blog... (I ask sorry in advance in case I make too many English mistakes - I'm not native in English)
    First of all, I wanna thank you. THANK YOU SO MUCH. Since the discovery I've been struggling on how to manage my emotions and whenever I feel like I can't go on, I run to you (and to all the other girls here as well). My H, thank God, seems to be remorseful and he is doing his best to let things 'transparent' as I requested before. We have a small girl together (which made me think a lot before deciding for a divorce...) About this post, I just love it and I read it over and over again in a way to remind me that sometimes I hurt myself so constantly. I'm still 'digesting' everything that happened in my life, he cheated on me when I was pregnant of our little girl and sometimes I just feel like this fact was a 'double betrayel' on me... anyway, I wish you and all the girls here all the happiness, love, faith and strenght. May God bless us all. Maria

    1. Maria,
      I'm so glad you found us. And I'm sure it does feel like a double betrayal at a time when he could have been so happy about his growing family.
      I hope you'll really consider the ways in which you're hurting yourself and instead by gentle with yourself. Nurture yourself. Love yourself. Treat yourself the way you'd treat a friend going through such agony.



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