Monday, April 27, 2015

Outgrowing your pain

So often, in the early days/months post-betrayal, we ask the unanswerable: When will I be over this? Sometimes it's our exasperated spouses (those, who, ahem, created this shitstorm) who ask us. Sometimes it's our bewildered friends. But mostly, it's us. Within that question is, of course, the fear that we won't ever be over this. That this is our new normal. That pain is the new black.
What we forget when we're in agony, however, is that what we're experiencing is a normal response to emotional trauma. We're having feelings...and feelings are not facts.
What I mean by that is that feelings are transient. And yet, while nobody expects to feel happy every day of their lives, we often accept that we might feel misery every day of our lives. We skew toward negative emotions, far more convinced of their truth that that of positive emotions.
I was convinced that, post D-Day, I would never again experience even a minute of joy. I imagined myself donning a mask for the rest of my life, one that hid my genuine and relentless distress. Joy? That was for people who'd never been cheated on.
And I am. Able to experience that wide range of emotions that make up the human experience, including joy. Including peace. Including hope.
What changed? Well...not much. And everything.
To paraphrase Carl Jung, the greatest problems in life are generally not solved, but outgrown.
Sure my husband and I have devoted a great deal of time and energy to rebuilding our relationship. Sure I've spent countless hours on this site, reading your stories and sharing your pain, commiserating with you and virtually holding your hand in shared agony. But despite all that work, I haven't really "solved" anything. And, with due respect to Jung, I haven't outgrown it so much as grown into it.
I've incorporated the excruciating experience of betrayal into my larger life. Where I once thought it was the defining experience of my life, I can now see that it's one of the defining experiences of my life. No more important than becoming a mother. No more important that burying my mother. No bigger a part of me than my role as wife, as daughter, as friend, as mother, aunt, sister, writer, blogger.
That day will come for all of you. You can hasten it by doing your work, which includes keeping your heart soft even as it wants to harden against future pain. You can beckon it by taking good and gentle care of yourself.
But, I promise, the day will come when you are not simply a "betrayed wife" but someone who has survived betrayal. Someone who has outgrown that pain and grown from it. Wiser, stronger, more compassionate. Better able to appreciate the joy, having wondered if you would ever feel it again. But knowing that joy, like misery, doesn't last forever.

Friday, April 24, 2015

We can do the impossible...

"Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope — not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see."~From an essay by The Reverend Victoria Safford in The Impossible Will Take a Little While: Perseverance and Hope in Troubled Times 
Hope. It's a word with promise. A word that inspires. But hope it also a word that can keep us stuck in a place that's all wrong for us. A place in which we've abandoned ourselves for someone or something else. A place that isn't even close to where we want to be, to where we should be. But no matter. We hope that things will change. We hope that he'll recognize what he stands to lose. We hope that somehow we'll wake up from this nightmare and everything will be as it was. As it should be.
Hope. It can build movements, it can liberate the oppressed, it can assure our survival in the worst conditions. But it can also keep us stuck.
The "Hope" that Reverend Stafford refers to is the hope of rolled-up sleeves and gritty determination. Her Hope isn't made of fantasy and innocence. As she writes, "It's a difficult, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your soul first of all..."
Does that sound like the place you're in? Cause it sure as hell sounds like the place I was in. And sometimes find myself again.
Read her lines again carefully. Hope, she says, is truth-telling. It's not wishful thinking. It's about asking yourself, honestly, where you want to be. It's about asking yourself, honestly, what about my husband makes me believe he deserves the second chance he's asking for. What in his past makes me think he could be a better man in his future. Is he a good guy who made a mammoth mistake? Or is he showing me who he is?
Hope, she says, is a place of "resistance and defiance." It's about resisting our cultural prescription to throw him out and start over with someone else, unless that decision comes from conviction that it's the right path for you. It's about resisting our cultural narrative that men cheat because their wives get old, or they nag, or they don't put out enough. It's about defying that deep-down fear that he cheated because we're not [insert-adjective-here] enough. Not pretty enough. Not nice enough. Not smart enough. Not skinny enough. Not sexy enough. This is truth-telling, remember? We're absolutely enough. It's his moral compass that's defective, not us.
And, as Stafford writes, hope is about seeing the world as it is, how it could be, how it will be. It's about allowing ourselves to open to possibility. To understand that growth happens even in the tiniest cracks in pavement.
Finally, and I know this is a HUGE stretch for those of you who are new to this site and to the devastation of betrayal, it's about glimpsing the joy in the struggle. Joy? Am I crazy? Yeah, a little bit. But yes, joy.
There's joy in overcoming. There's incredible joy for me in all of you who come here to lay down your pain, for just a minute or two or twenty, who trust me and my incredible guest bloggers (Steam! Laura S! The volunteers at the Infidelity Counselling Network!) with your stories. There's joy in seeing that my husband has kept his promises – to me and to our kids, but more importantly to himself.
There's joy in having survived.
And now I stand here, able to see what I can see. To see that it's possible to survive this and feel joy again. To see that it's possible to use the experience of being cracked open with pain to begin to plant seeds of healing from not only this but long-ago wounds. To see that it's possible for marriages to become stronger and more resilient. To see that it's also possible for marriages to crumble but for the betrayed wife to nonetheless become stronger. To not crumble along with it.
It's a helluva view. I hope you'll join me here soon.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"There's Something You Should Know...": Does how we find out about his affair affect how we heal?

by Steam

I am approaching my 16-month anniversary here on BWC and this coincides almost directly with my D-day.
I notice so many of our stories are so so similar, and our reactions to discovery bring the same sort of shock. None of us can believe it, few of us saw it coming, and the majority of us thought we were in as close to a “perfect” relationship as we could have imagined. 
 But some, I understand, did not go as berserk as others. 
I am one who identifies with berserk.
If my H had come to me and said “I have something to tell you,” would I have reacted the same?
How did you find out, and why does it matter?  Does it matter?
I have often described my own D-day. My husband was gone for a few hours when I found out. Before I melted into a screaming, heaving, weeping heap on the floor, I went through a lot, both on our shared computer and within myself. In case you missed my story, I, quite by accident, discovered his other life while on vacation and using one computer. He was out shopping (and texting and e-mailing too).
 Apart from my mouth possibly hanging open, I may have looked calm when I found what I found but inside I was dying and I was pissed. The first things I saw were shocking but did not send me reeling. It was the cold, hard evidence that he actually HAD slept with someone (and then later found two someones) that sent me to the absolute brink and yet I didn’t react, not yet.
I had that computer to myself for two hours (I even welcomed a visitor to the house in the midst of all of it but, when I knew I could not hold it together, feigned sudden illness to get him to leave) and although I was in complete disbelief, I was not crying. Not yet.
By the time he got home I had more than enough info, seen more than enough photos, read more than enough e-mails to last a hundred betrayed lifetimes.
It was not until he walked into the door that I absolutely EXPLODED.
As I had searched and discovered, I now realize I was processing all of this info, and I was processing alone and could take my time and knew what I thought I would do when he got home. I would confront him, either (a) smugly or (b) calmly.
I was wrong on both counts.
I came unglued. I screamed. I hit (I have not hit anything or anyone since I was a child, not even a wall, in anger).
Boundaries were set IMMEDIATELY, lines were drawn IMMEDIATELY, threats (which I no doubt would have carried out at the mention of a 'wrong' word) were made IMMEDIATELY. None of this was done delicately or with any sort of tact or restraint. It was a screamfest along the lines of 'you do THIS or we are fucking DONE!' 
I'd had two full hours to gear up and I let him HAVE it.
But what is it like if your husband tells you instead? I try to picture it in my own life. If my H had come clean and told me, would I have reacted the same? Would I have somehow given him some credit and had a different visceral response? Would his confession have toned my reaction down?
Would I have said to myself “he fucked up but at least he told me”? Would I have immediately experienced the same sort of grief that we all get to eventually? The same rage so many of us have? Would I have made the same immediate demands that I made?
Or would it have been tempered by his honesty had he cushioned the blow by saying something along the lines of 'I'm sorry, I did something horrible.'
I’m not sure there is a cushion large enough.
I have searched out discovery info and its bearing on relationships for months because I cannot imagine a worse way of finding out than mine (maybe because it's mine) and there are many ways to learn the news.
None of them are good.
Some people are told by a third party, some by the OP, some people get a warning, an anonymous email or maybe ask out of suspicion and are told the truth...and, yes, some are told by their spouse straight out.
But though there's little research on the impact of how we find out, I did come across this from Dr. Timothy Loving — yes, his real name – from “The Loving Lab,” which seems to specialize in the science of relationships.
In his findings, the relationship where the cheating partner discloses the affair without being asked suffers the smallest decline in “relationship quality” (I believe there is no “small”). The cheater caught “red handed” though?  Their relationship suffers the largest decline in relationship quality, but that same partner “caught red handed” is most likely to be forgiven.
Yes. I know. I had the same thought. Why?
(You can read the short article here.)
I take exception with some of the statements and you might too but I have my own theory which is from the only experience that I have.
When you have actually caught your partner "red handed,” be it in person or, in my case, via the computer (Dr. Loving does not make a distinction so I don't know his definition), you pretty much get the full picture. I have no doubt I know 99 percent of what went on and 100 percent of what I need to know and have no unanswered questions. I suspect a few 'first bases' in that year that I don't know about but I don't care anymore.
I saw all I needed. So much that, sometimes, I wonder why I decided to stick with him.(I don't know where that came from) immediately. From the depth of all this pain, I somehow knew exactly what I was dealing with and had to decide if I could eventually come to live with what he had done and make something new from it together. 
Would I have reacted the same if he had told me? I have no doubt in my mind he (maybe not all men, but he) would have edited his experiences heavily (I found out quickly that what he referred to as “just online flirting” included dickpics, really filthy language and unbelievable lies, including lies of omission). In these online conversations, I did not exist. At best, when he was with one of his "hers,"  I was referred to as “a girl he saw, sometimes”. 
I wonder about those of us who are still struggling. Believe me, even though H and I have made tremendous progress and have a better relationship than ever, in every single way, I am not “over” this and I don't think I ever will be, completely.
It is now just a part of me that does not hurt as much as it did.
But those of us who are struggling – is it is because somehow we feel like we don't know everything and so cannot process everything?
And if our husbands try to “spare” us by not disclosing what we need to know, might this hinder our own process of healing?
I am asking. I don’t know. I see so many of us in pain, months and months and years later. Unbearable pain that I don’t know how we all get through.

But we can and we do. Somehow, we do.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Impact of Infidelity

When we discover that someone we trusted can be trusted no longer, it forces us to reexamine the universe, to question the whole instinct and concept of trust. For a while, we are thrust back onto some bleak, jutting ledge, in a dark pierced by sheets of fire, swept by sheets of rain, in a world before kinship, or naming, or tenderness exist; we are brought close to formlessness.” ~ Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets and Silence

Cheating is everywhere – in songs, in movies, in books, in our workplaces, our neighborhoods. And yet we rarely see the consequences of cheating. We might hear of the divorce and the reason behind it. Or we might know, through whispers, that someone is dealing with a spouse's affair, though we're more likely to see the brave face than the tear-streaked one. 
Hiding the true impact of infidelity, however, makes it seem so much more benign than it is, so much more matter-of-fact. Less mind-blowing than mundane. Ho-hum, another cheating spouse. Tell me something new.
And then it happens to us and our world blows apart. Which leaves us with this bizarre disconnect between what the world seems to think of infidelity (it happens, get over it) and the devastation it wreaks on us, our families, our friends, our work. 
As Adrienne Rich puts it: "It forces us to reexamine the universe."
It's perhaps the biggest misconception about infidelity. That it's about sex. 
Infidelity is about being forced to examine our place in the universe. Our perceptions of the world. Is the world a safe place? Who can we believe? Who am I? And, so so often, just who the hell is he? Who is this stranger I'm married to who behaved in a way I could have never imagined? 
To underestimate this impact is to misunderstand infidelity. Or, perhaps, to have never (yet) experienced it. 
There is no way around this, of course. We can leave the marriage, which is a perfectly viable option. We can choose to stay and rebuild a second marriage with our first husband, another perfectly viable option. We can sweep it under the proverbial rug and step around it or over it or under it, though that's not such a viable option.
But, to truly heal from it, we must go through it. We must perch on Rich's "bleak, jutting ledge" and acknowledge how deep the injury goes. But then we must slowly pull ourselves back, examining all the while what this means to us, how it impacts who we are, and honoring what we need to move forward in our lives. We must learn that we can – and should – trust ourselves. Infidelity thrusts us onto that ledge. But we don't have to stay there. 
It is my hope that, someday, infidelity is recognized as the cancer it is, and treated much the same way. With treatment and concern, casseroles and compassion. That it's publicly acknowledged and examined so that those of us affected by it don't have to perch on that ledge alone. That there's support and strength from those who recognize the true impact of infidelity and aren't afraid to reach out a hand.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Fear Will Keep You Small: How to release it...and blossom

And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~Anais Nin

"Every problem is just fear." That was a recent tweet I read. And while I don't know if it's factual, I do believe it's true.
Certainly true with infidelity.
Infidelity trips the wire in our brain that unleashes every fear we've ever had. Of darkness. Of loss. Of abandonment. Of craziness. Of unworthiness. Of being revealed as deficient or not enough.
If we've been lucky enough as children to have healthy parents, we learn to trust our place in the world, to feel a sense of belonging, to believe ourselves worthy of others' love and respect. If we're then faced with infidelity, the fear wire may be tripped but, in many cases, we fairly quickly regain our equilibrium and are able to recognize the cheating as reflective of our spouse's character, not our own.
Those of us, however, whose parents were unable to provide that healthy support, often come to adulthood with buried injuries and hidden fears.
Commitment is a huge leap of faith for us. We allow ourselves to jump, trusting tentatively, finally, that there's someone to catch us.
So when our spouse isn't there for us; when, in fact, it's our spouse who pushes us into the abyss, the terror is real. Our childhood fears loom large. Abandonment. Loss. Unworthiness.
For some of us, even coming from healthy homes, the fear wire tripped by infidelity stays tripped. It doesn't reset. It creates in us all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress: hyper-vigilance, a sense of foreboding, anxiety, flashbacks, emotional numbing. In one word, we can pretty much wrap up all those feelings as "fear". The world suddenly feels terrifying.
It's crucial to tackle this quickly. We need someone to moor us to reality before we drown in the stories we tell ourselves about the myriad ways in which we're unlovable, undeserving of kindness and respect, the ways in which we've failed.
A good therapist (or a particularly wise compassionate friend) will help us understand that our stories, which are rooted in fear (I'll be alone forever, nobody loves me, I'm not [fill-in-the-blank] enough, I'm too [fill-in-the-blank]...) aren't reality and get in the way of healing. In fact, that fear-based narrative prevents healing and pushes us towards betraying ourselves for the sake of "safety".
While fear is a reasonable response to the emotional trauma of infidelity, it's a dangerous one if we let it govern our actions. We need to fight hard to understand that infidelity, while it deeply affects us, isn't about us. Infidelity is about one partner's choice to seek outside the marriage what they're missing in themselves. It's about emotional immaturity. It's about escape and fantasy.
Your task is to challenge our cultural convictions around cheating and examine your own beliefs. What do YOU believe your partner's cheating says about you? My guess is that your beliefs about infidelity are rooted much more in fear than in truth. Fear will keep you wrapped tightly in that bud. The truth will allow you to blossom.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Five "Friends" to Avoid After the Affair

Buh-bye old "friend". I bearly remember your name.
My apocalypse came in December 2006. My closest friend and I had a serious falling out over a project we were working on together, followed days later by the discovery of my husband's affair, followed two short weeks later by my mother falling into a coma and our family being advised to think about end-of-life measures. Oh yeah...and my publisher needed the final chapter of the book I was writing. I was racked with pain and fear. I have no idea how I finished the book, how I sat beside my mother's bedside (whispering in her ear that she couldn't die right now because I really really needed her), how I got up each day to feed and care for three kids under 10.
I told very few friends about my husband's affair because I could barely process it. One friend I did confide in, largely because her own marriage had been marked by infidelity and I thought she'd understand, was dismissive, which only compounded my sense of aloneness and pain. Another friend, not then a close one but someone who worked with my husband and his assistant (with whom my husband was having an affair), kept probing me. She could sense something wasn't right. I finally caved and told her what I'd found out. She was stunned. She'd never expected that. She was also so compassionate and became a pillar of support for me. (Unfortunately, she discovered for herself two years ago just how devastating betrayal is). 
It's when we're on our knees that we discover just who in our lives will kneel their with us. It can add to our pain, to learn that someone we counted us simply can't or won't be there for us. The friend who dismissed my pain was eventually – years later – able to acknowledge that she had let me down. She was able to see that she was still so blinded by her own pain and her choice to leave her marriage that she wasn't able to accept my choice to not leave. 
Not all friends get to that point. Not all friends are, well, friends
However, it's one of the unforeseen benefits of infidelity that we often become much more discerning about who we allow into our lives and our hearts. Once we begin to heal, we can often recognize those around us who are true friends and those who are...not.
For instance...
•There's the "friend" who uses your husband's behaviour as an excuse to cut you off. "I just can't be around you right now. I think what he did was terrible." Suddenly YOUR pain is about HER discomfort.
•There's the "friend" who compounds your loneliness because infidelity terrifies her. "I just can't imagine my husband doing such a thing." She's right. She can't imagine. And won't let herself because it might mean facing some uncomfortable truths, such as, even good marriages can be affected by infidelity.
•There's the "friend" who knows better than you do what your right path is. "Once a cheater, always a cheater. You need to get rid of him." Her cynicism and bitterness and, perhaps, her fear that you'll get hurt again and she can't protect you, leads her to encourage you to do what she wants you to do, instead of allowing you to find your own path.
•There's the "friend" who minimizes what your husband has done because she's cheated on her spouse. "All marriages come up against this. You need to let it go. He picked you, didn't he?" Seeing the devastation of infidelity up close brings up a lot of guilt.
•There's the friend who encourages you to leave your husband because that's what she did. "I don't know why anyone would stay. I certainly didn't." Accepting that it's possible for a marriage to heal from betrayal can make those who chose to leave – and aren't 100% sure of their choice – wonder if they made the wrong choice. My friend ultimately copped to this, admitting that she left her ex because she thought that was her only choice. She had no examples of anyone who'd stayed and made it work because nobody ever talked about that choice. Our cultural narrative rarely supports the healing/rebuilding option. And admittedly, it's tough. Really really tough. 
It can help to have true friend who's willing to hold you up while you figure out which way to go. Someone who's there to hold your hand through the bad days and celebrate the good ones. Someone who is in your life because he or she deserves to be there. Even friends who don't know what you're going through can offer much support in the form of distraction or small kindnesses. Their presence is enough. 
I often think of my post-betrayal life as one that has been curated by me. It's less random than before. I'm more discerning about how I spend my time (I've added the word "no" to my vocabulary as in, "thanks so much for asking but 'no', I won't be available to bake 350 cookies for your bake sale on Thursday." Or simply "no". As my therapist used to remind me, "No" is a complete sentence.). I'm much more discerning about those who are in my life. Gone are the "friends" who made passive-aggressive comments. Gone are those who were suddenly absent when my life fell apart. Gone are the gossips. Gone are the fair-weather friends. And you know what? I don't miss them.

Not in the least. 


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