|C'mon...you're smarter than that!|
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? Uh...no. 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 yes...my particular bête 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.