Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Heal From His Affair: Marshalling Kindness From Yourself

"...when I got to the point where I really thought I had lost my mind, another voice inside me stepped in, grown-up and gentle. This one said, "Well? Who knows. Maybe not..." ~Anne Lamott, Small Victories: Spotting Improbably Moments of Grace

In the days after learning of my husband's affair, I felt I was going mad. The world seemed insane. My life seemed insane. But I, most of all, seemed insane.
I screamed. I sobbed. I was inexplicably calm. I threw a pizza at my husband. I pulled a television set off its perch. I smiled benignly at moms when dropping my children off at school then returned to my car to unleash huge racking sobs when a sad song came on the radio.
Who is this person I've become? I wondered in rare lucid moments. I began to wonder if the saner, former me had been an illusion. If I'd always been this crazy and if that's why my husband cheated. It didn't help, of course, that he called me "crazy".
It also didn't help that I'd spent much of my youth being accused of being crazy. As in, "Of course everything's fine. Don't be crazy." This, despite my nine-year-old self listening in my bed to my parents hurling accusations at each other, the sounds of smashing dishes, slamming doors. It took me well into adulthood to understand that calling me "crazy" was code for "don't tell me what I don't want to hear".
Which brings me to the voices in our head we experience post-betrayal. Those of us blessed with loving, healthy families of origin are often better equipped to recognize those voices as belonging to a crazy person. We might hear, "he wouldn't have cheated if you were a better wife" but are able to see those words as the rantings of a lunatic and respond with "he wouldn't have cheated if HE was a better husband."
Those of us, however, who grew up being told that black is white and up is down might struggle a bit more with crazy. When we hear those voices in our head suggesting that he cheated because we're not skinny enough, or he cheated because we nag, or he cheated because we're lousy in bed, we're far too likely to listen and nod our heads in agreement. Not only do we not recognize crazy, we take it as truth.
Betrayal is undoubtedly a crazy-trigger. Even the most sane of us pre-D-Day can fall victim to the seductive lure of inner dialogue that confirms what our culture encourages: men cheat because their wives get old and frumpy and they fall victim to the irresistible sex appeal of an Other Woman who's a porn star in bed. That narrative can be a hard one to ignore. Even when there's ample evidence that it's a cliché rooted more in romance novels than reality.
When crazy comes calling, however, it's time to marshall your inner sane person as defence. Call out crazy into the light of day.
Remind yourself that you did nothing NOTHING that made his cheating okay. That this is on HIM to recognize and make amends for. That it's on HIM to deserve that second chance he's asking for and it's YOUR choice whether you give it to him or not.
Next time those voices in your head are berating you for not being enough, or battering you for not knowing what was going on, or warning you that you're going to get hurt again, I want you to try and listen for that tiny still voice that's so much harder to hear but sounds a lot more like truth. The voice that says, "Well? I don't know about that. But what I do know is that you're in pain. And that you need support and kindness and compassion. And I'm just the person who can give it to you..."


  1. OMG Elle sometimes it's like ur a mind reader. I am 1 1/2 years post d day & hysterical bonding is definitely over. I now know he didn't love them, it was all about him, he only wants me, he made a huge mistake, he's been doing everything he can to make it up to me, he says I was better than they in every single aspect.

    But now we are down to much less frequent sex, usually 1-2 times per week. We have discussed it ad nauseum and he says this is perfect for him, he's not 18 anymore, sex wih them wasn't better than with me. But yet in my head thanks to media I guess I can't stip feeling sexually inadequate. I've never been with anyone else so not very experienced. Although I know this is a normal evolution of our relationship it bothers me that while he is comfortable with me and tells me what he wants, we have been together for so long (20 years) we kind of have a formula that we follow. Yes it works but there is no variety. And yes in my head even though I know it was probably just the excitement of unfamiliar and forbidden sex I can't stop seeing them as porn stars in bed.

    Just when I thought I'd gotten past so much in the last year this comes up & I don't know quite how to deal with it. Maybe just time. And a conscious decision to listen to the tiny voice telling me not to be so hard on myself and us.


    1. Hi Sam,
      I think it's time to figure out whether YOU are happy with your sex life. It sounds as if, perhaps, you're not. And that's okay. You're allowed to want a bit more variety, you're allowed to want a bit more frequency. It might be "fine" for him...but maybe not for you right now. We all go through phases where we want more/less, vanilla/kinky. Is that something you can talk with him about after you've determined whether you'd like to stir things up? Might be worth the conversation....

  2. Sam you not the only person that feels this way... Me too sign me up for the group also 20 years only been with him. Always wonder if it was me not knowing all the slutty stuff because I had class and maintained being a lady all on my own with my own strength... Then I realize no it didn't it was because he felt inadequate enough for me. The end but your thoughts are repeated by so many of us in the same shoes. You think to yourself what if I wasn't the person I am now .... What if I had chosen to be like those other girls then I wouldn't be me...

  3. To be really honest that is me too. I'm that girl the one that kept it all for her husband over 20 years only ever been with him. I've thought about the other women that I found out about. The ones that he wants so badly to throw away out from his mind, but it's not worth it. We cannot compare ourselves to trash. They don't have mad sexual skills they have stolen moments that will hold them in a personal bondage they cannot get free from. They will always and forever be that women... They will never feel the pain of a completely betrayed only been with one person heart. They sold themselves out of that kind of relationship to begin with. Our husbands only realize this once it all comes out and they see what they actually had all along. A woman that kept her panties no matter how charming the men were that noticed her... By that time it's hard to stomach the regret and shame.... Then they see all the pain and all that's lost, but sometimes they come clean and what was stolen from us can't be returned it can only be replaced by stronger more appreciated love. The difference between the sexual skills of the mistress and those of the broken hearted healing wife is that sometimes the husband learns to truly cherish what a precious gift his wife actually held all along. Skills are no match for trust, loyalty, strength and courage. So ladies lets keep our big girl panties and soldier on. We demand respect with a tender heart!!!!! Love you girls!!! Keep moving forward and learn to live from this!!!
    Really live!!! -Ann from Texas

  4. ELLE, you hit this one on all cylinders, I wanted to be admitted in an inpatient psych wing about 4 months into this nightmare. I actually thought I was losing my mind. Then crazy includes taking all the books off all bookcases and throwing them at the asshole. I tore up every picture of us in little pieces and threw them. I broke remotes, cups, laid out on the lawn in the winter and cried because the pain from the cold felt better than the pain inside. I would ride in car around for hours. I never felt good enough for anything. I walked the dog in the neighborhood in a daze. I ripped his shirt off, I hit him as hard as I could over and over. I threw out all my under wear, sexy nighties, vacation clothes anything that I thought touched her through him. Then I found out half way through he year it didn't last 18 months but 2.5 years. I called a divorce lawyer but my therapist calmed me down. I threw every fake piece of gold he bought me and told him he could stick it up his ass. Crazy? No just unbelievable pain. Then I went into PTSD and self esteem therapy. I began to see some hope about me. Once I worked on me and forgot about HIS mistake then I began to come around. I forgot I turned into sex kitten and wanted to do everything she did to him and more. I let it all go. I really didn't care anymore about anything. My boss covered for me at work, I could focus or think at all. Then I went through trigger type therapy. What got me was I was never good enough growing up so in my marriage I would be good enough, be enough, do enough to make him love him. This the hardest road I ever traveled. Even now somedays I'm ok and other days I'm still in pain. He tainted everything for me with HIS affair. The flip side is I'm stronger about me, I'm finding out about me, I'm being me. I'm doing things I never did before, I lost 64 pounds, tummy tuck, learning Spanish, yoga, facials I'm making up for lost time I spent waiting on him. The jury is still out on next steps for me in the long run. He knows that and can live with it. He has changed so much to be a better person not like that other asshole I married. Take your time to figure it out. Take your time to find you. Take your time to get stronger. NOW it is about you and what you want. HIS problems effected you but are not yours to own. You can look at yourself in the mirror. If you were strong enough not to have an affair, take the easy way out then your strong already, you just have to find it again. By the way, our kids are grown, I didn't cook for four months, do the dishes, take out the trash it or hand him one thing. That felt pretty good, ladies.

    1. Wow, Lynn, you're a total badass! Yay for you.
      And yay for you coming to the understanding that if we come into a marriage with a sense of not being "enough" (even if, ESPECIALLY if we're barely aware of that), then nothing our husbands can do will ever convince us. And an affair simply confirms what we've believed about ourselves all along. But what we've believed about ourselves is A LIE. That's huge that you can recognize that now and begin treating yourself with respect and compassion and total acceptance.

  5. First time posting so I am not sure where to begin. We all have had similar stories yet each one is different. This one I could really relate to. I found out about several "one night stands" that my husband had over 15 years ago. To me it might as well of been yesterday. A few years ago I had a terminal illness diagnosis. After several surgeries, several treatments, several reoccurrences, I am thankful to be alive. The battle and journey to get me where I am now was painful and difficult. I never felt Crazy while fighting it. But learning that my husband did what he did has been unbearable. The battle for my life was much easier than this is. When I first found out I just politely set the ground rules..We lived in the same house but I put up walls, we never discussed it, never were intimate, nothing. I said to myself there are all kind of marriages these days and You need to figure out what You want not what he wants...I worked on saving money in case I would need it, Got credit in my name, all the things that I felt were necessary when I was ready to make a decision. After a few years of living this way, a death in the family, my dad, left me in a vulnerable state one night. As my husband consoled me it was evident that I put up the walls previously so that I could survive. I no longer wanted to survive, I wanted to live. No longer was I willing to continue this way. So after a few months of both of us walking on eggshells so to speak I sat down with him and had a long talk...that was after the holidays. I stressed that it was not the actual ONS's that would destroy our marriage at this late date, but rather the Lies...He knew that honesty was important to me. So be careful what you ask for as it can be even more painful than one could imagine. Although we have just begun to discuss things, I now feel CRAZY...I have always been a strong person, the one who thought logically and always weighed emotional decisions carefully...Not now...Crazy. I too have wondered what did I do wrong, why did this happen? Am I really Crazy...All my friends have gone through this and most are divorced. I have not told them nor do I intend to, in fact I have made it a point not to talk to them if at all possible. It is my decision. I believe that I have three choices in life, Give Up...Give In...Or give it all I have to give.. I have chosen to give it all I have... I believe it is better to tell the truth and make someone sad and cry then to tell a lie and make someone smile. What other people think is not my concern, it is what I want that matters. I want to, as I say, contuine our story. It is the chapters in our story that "he wrote" on his own that I wish I could delete. These are the ones that make me CRAZY. My imagination adds to the chapters I'm sure and that makes me crazier if there is such a thing. We at times are our own worst enemy. The ones that he as well as most men I assume lock up and never revisit or reread. I do however feel that the end of our story will be OK. I just do not know what OK means right now. The next few chapters are going to be difficult to say the least. I never thought I would be this way...CRAZY. I know that when he comes home he is not sure who will be waiting as there is no old me...There is a Crazy me and a new me.

    1. I'm so sorry for all that you've gone through. You must feel emotionally exhausted.
      Crazy, at least in the short term, is the new normal for you. Trust that it won't last forever. Our brains are trying to make sense of new information that doesn't jibe with what we knew and trusted..and that takes time to assimilate the new info, figure out what it means for us, and then determine what we want to do with that new info. It's a process; sometimes a long one.
      Factor in your battle with illness, grieving your father, and you've had a LOT to deal with.
      I'm curious. What is your husband doing about his transgressions...and the lies that accompanied them? Is he exploring what this means regarding who he is? Is he open to understanding how this means that you'll be mentally sifting through your history and rewriting it in some sense?
      You need support through this. I understand the desire to keep it from friends who might be judgemental...but I hope you'll continue to post on this site or find a therapist or non-judgemental friend in real life. It's by sharing our stories that we so often heal.

    2. Anonymous,
      I can relate to your story so much. Mine was 11 years ago and D-Day was 2 years ago. My world was shattered! It was as if all the happy moments that had happen in the years prior to D-day were erased. 9 years gone! I haven't told anyone either. It's hard to trust anyone and I don't want everyone to know. So we are working on it together. A lot of talking and listening. I don't think I will ever understand infidelity. It makes me CRAZY when I try to figure it out. I still have some bad days, but they are a lot better. Talking with your spouse helps. It's so hard years later finding out, because they can't remember or don't know answers to your questions. It makes it harder to move forward when they don't know why certain things occurred. It is hard to know that they have learned from their mistakes when they and you don't know why!! We have spent hours and days and nights talking. He doesn't remember and he has tried, but doesn't want to say what he really doesn't remember. He says he just wanted to block it all out and didn't want to think about it at all. So he can't really recall a lot of his rationalizing then. If you can relate to any of this, I hope it helps knowing you are not the only person going through this insanity years later! Hope for your heart to heal!!

    3. Anonymous,

      Almost thirty yrs ago my husband had two affairs, one of which I found out about from the second flight attendant. That was staggering. I had a plan, too. Raise our two children and when the second one left for college I would leave. Keep the walls up, show the world we were the perfect family, and make sure my teaching degree was current. But by the time our daughter left for college, life wasn't so terrible. Told myself there were indeed all kinds of marriages and why should I give up that which I helped build. But life throws those curveballs when you least expect it. The very rare aggressive Cancer came and the treatment was hell. My husband was a saint, absolutely incredible as he helped nurse me back to health. The walls started to come down, not completely but there were moments when all I wanted to do was heal so I could see how the rest of our story turned out. Of course the memories don't go away but you can decide to live, to accept that no one goes through this life without pain, and that feelings do indeed change. Hang on to that thought. You can't get back the happiness that was lost, those yrs you were lied to, but as you said you can decide to live. Who knows what's left to experience. As awful as it is we all must leave this earth so why not grab every moment of joy you can?

    4. Pilots Wife, I have learned so much from your posts. I am so grateful for this group.

    5. Random Thoughts,

      Thank you for your kind words. It must seem odd to some that I'm here so many yrs after Dday. Had this site been around those many yrs ago perhaps I would've healed more quickly. So many stories here of strong women dealing with the unfairness of life. Elle has such a gift and such a brilliant idea to create this resource for those going through the pain of betrayal. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to share.

      As I get older, I have more of a need to put the pieces of my life together. So much of my early yrs were simply chaotic. When someone talks about living in crazy town I want to laugh. A violent schizophrenic father gave me a permanent address. You don't have a clue as to what it does to children growing up in domestic violence until you've been there. If anyone here talks of throwing things, screaming, or whatever I truly hope your children won't see it or hear it. If so, it's a pretty good chance your child might end up in therapy, too. This is a fact. When the mother is abused, the child is abused. My therapist shared that and I would totally agree, so if anyone wants to live in crazy town please do it away from your children. Even if you think they're too young to know, they will.

    6. Pilot's Wife,
      Thank you so much for your posts! It's so interesting what you said re. your husband being there for you when you were fighting for your life. That side of him is every bit as valid as the side that cheated. That kindness is as worthy of consideration as the deception. Much to consider.
      And thanks too for your words re. the impact of abuse/anger on children. I generally urge parents to at least acknowledge that there's stress in the home rather than insist that everything's "fine". Great to keep things out of sight of children -- important to protect them. But don't tell thing something is "fine" when it's clearly not. Tell them that mom and dad are having some problems and they're working hard to resolving them. Remind them that they're loved and safe. Don't invalidate their own experience by telling them it's not real.

    7. Elle,

      As my therapist likes to say, people are capable of many behaviors given the right environment. If you met my husband, no doubt you would think he is a nice guy and for most of his life he has been. Ever since the affairs he has in his words, tried to make it right. But I don't think you can really make amends, fix it, or erase it. Would love to Etch a Sketch it away but as you have said before, memories stay. Good times & bad times they eventually pass, don't they?
      And as for arguing in earshot of the children, I think it really is best for them not to hear. Don't know if it's possible but take it outside, at a park, but not where they can hear. I agree it's best to answer truthfully that you are having problems but even that can be scary to little ones. When my father was having one really bad psychotic break, my mother and I crawled out a bedroom window, ran into a neighbor's cornfield, and my father came after us with a shotgun firing bullets. That at the age of five is terrifying! Most children don't have to deal with that but obviously you would know enough to leave. Women with low self- esteem take yrs and yrs to get out of domestic violence. Sorry, I do get on my bandwagon about children living in violence. Children trapped in alcoholic families are told there's nothing wrong and in those with mentally ill parents kids are told, oh dad is sick or just having a spell. No doubt about it, children will go on to model what they were raised in, that family of origin model can be the gift that keeps on giving.

    8. Pilot's Wife,
      You have truly been through hell, haven't you? But here you are: strong, beautiful and sharing your hard-won wisdom with women who need it. Thank-you for that. I'm so glad you found us.

    9. Elle

      Thanks for your kind words. Can't thank you enough for this incredible site and your insight for so many women who are beginning this journey of healing. We all get a story, don't we? Thank you for allowing women to share what they have learned. There are many gifted writers here, I love reading their words.

  6. ""he wouldn't have cheated if HE was a better husband". Words to LIVE by Elle. In a nutshell that's the thing!

  7. Amen Steam, I love that quote as well. And so absolutely true.

  8. Lynn Pain,

    I'm Terry Telephone - do not know how to get my name on top yet.

    Thanks so so so much for your post about the books, television and all of the demolition. I have read so much on line about how we respond on or about DDay but your post "hit the nail on the head with a hammer" more than many others have - for me. I broke almost everything in the house that was made of glass. I must have had 10 dozen or more canning jars (I used to garden) and I methodically threw each one into the wall in our dining room. I took my family heirloom punch bowl and threw it out the front door along with the cups and the ladle -- not valuable except to our family - but it would not have mattered if it was worth zillions. Another punch bowl that was given to me by an elderly cousin - out the door it went BAM onto the front walkway! I took most of his clothes and threw them out on the front lawn. The rest I tried to cut up with scissors. I was not successful in destroying all of his clothes but the ones that I even thought he wore with those "people" I tried to destroy. One night I told him I wanted him to know what love felt like and I slapped him across the face as hard as I could. (We live alone - children are grown and gone.) He has told me several times since then that he was "shocked, shocked" when I slapped him. I've lost about 30 pounds and I hope I never find them again! Stopped paying any of the household expenses. He had money to entertain those "people" for about 5 years (Yup now I know it was not 4 but 5) so he surely has the funds to pay ALL of the household expenses. He is no longer allowed to sleep in our bedroom so I took bleach and put in a spray bottle and sprayed the entire bed - yes, mattress and everything!! I threw out all the bed linens and purchased a new set for me. I could not stomach sleeping in a bed with DNA from those "people". I had crazy for the past 8 months -- my DDay has dragged on and on and on due to his fondness for trickle-truth --- or as I now call it --- trickle-lies! I've gone for days not even speaking a word to him. I went to WM and purchased the largest MagicMarker I could find and wrote all over the walls in the den, living room, dining room, up the stairs - on the wall in front of his computer and over the light switch for the front porch light... WHY?? I do not know but I'm not sorry I did it. You do not want to know what I wrote it was horrible but true.

    Yesterday I went to a new therapist. I like her. I think we are a fit. She listened to me and the questions she asked me were right on point as if she was inside my crazy mind. We are going to spend a few sessions "debriefing" and then get down to the work of rebuilding ME. I do not want to repair the old me - I want a new and improved ME. "HE" went with me but did not go into my session with me -- I told him -- I gotta fix me. He made appointment with this same therapist for next week. He has made appointments before and always finds reason not to go. I'm not sure I want to rebuild "US" but I know I am going to build a brand new me. Yes, I will use recycle some of the same bricks from the old me but they will be scraped and cleaned carefully before being put into place.

    Again, Thanks for your post Lynn Pain and also a HUGE thank you for Elle for this place of safety in the storm...

    1. Terry,
      Sounds like a whole lotta rage got spent. And, c'mon, whoever uses those damn punch bowls anymore! Mine just collects dust.
      Glad you found a good therapist. I'm curious about her also seeing your husband because that's generally a no-no. However, I tend toward the "if it works, go with it" school of thought. Just make sure you don't feel there's any conflict of interest there.
      I think if you create a Google account, you can post under Terry Telephone. Can anyone else let me know if that's right?

  9. For full anonymity You can use the drop down menu and choose "name url". Type in terry and you don't need to post a URL. EASY I promise



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