"When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling."
~Brené Brown, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.
There is another Web site devoted to betrayed wives which occasionally delights in skewering this one. I admire the woman who created it for the sanctuary she's created for those facing or seeking the dissolution of a marriage after betrayal. I envy her savviness at marketing, which includes a column in a widely read news site. I sometimes laugh at her smart humour. But I'm weary of her dismissal of this site and the women here as trafficking in fantasy. She might pay lip service to the possibility of reconciliation but her language around it is dismissive and demeaning.
The first time she wrote about me, it tied me in knots. I felt like the fool she was making me out to be. Worse, I feared I was fooling all of you. Was I was leading all of you down the garden path toward a future that would undoubtedly deliver you more pain? Was I peddling some sort of snake oil in the form of unlikely healing? My posts began to reflect this fear. Instead of delivering my clear thoughts, I waffled, afraid of looking like an "affair apologist", afraid of giving you the "wrong" impression.
It didn't take long until I realized that I had let her into the pages of my story. Though I inwardly railed against the caricature she'd constructed of me – naive, pathetic, a New-Age idiot – there was a part of me that wondered if she was right. Frankly, it's easier to insist that all cheaters deserve to be dumped. It follows our cultural script. It satisfies our desire for consequences. But that wasn't my story. I needed to find my own narrative again, to remain true to my story, not hers.
More recently, I noticed she had again linked to one of my posts in order to point out how deluded we all are. This time, however, it didn't faze me. I know that no matter what she or anyone writes about me, it doesn't change my own story.
It isn't the first time I'm realizing this. I learned it following D-Day after I allowed myself to feel trapped by the story the OW was saying about me: I was pathetic. I was a fool. I deserved this.
Only when I challenged that story – really? What is it about being cheated on that makes ME pathetic? Am I really a fool for being loyal? For expecting people to behave with integrity? What am I satisfying by refusing to give a second chance? What am I denying? And what in the hell did I ever do to deserve this? – was I able to reclaim it as mine to tell. And it goes something like this:
Like all marriages, my husband's and mine had its challenges. Nonetheless, we had built a good life, a wonderful family. When I found out about my husband's betrayals, I was devastated. I wanted to die rather than endure another minute of the pain I was feeling. I wondered if I would ever feel anything close to happiness again. I couldn't imagine staying married to him. But I lacked the strength or conviction at that point in time with three young children to leave. So when he promised me that he would work every day of his life to become the man I had believed he was, I gave him that chance. Just as I had chosen to trust my mother two decades earlier when she promised to work toward sobriety after years of addiction.
That was close to ten years ago. I have no regrets. It has been hard at times. I have had many doubts, especially in the early years. Healing took far longer than I imagined. But the rewards have been greater. My husband has kept his promise. That's no guarantee that he will never break it but I have come to learn that the certainty I had about many things in life were illusions. I am only certain that I made the right choice for me. I continue to make that choice daily. I am neither a fool nor pathetic. I did nothing to deserve this. This is my story. And in my story, I am strong. I have approached the heartbreak of betrayal with courage and integrity (and a whole lot of tears). I have made my healing a story of compassion, no matter whether my husband is beside me or across from me. I have included all of you in my story – fellow travelers on this road, from whom I've gained so much. It has been worth the struggle.I hope I have never given anyone the impression that my choice to rebuild my marriage is the right one for them. It can be tempting to believe in reconciliation when the alternative feels too painful. And there are many women who choose to offer a second chance to men who don't deserve it. In that sense, I suppose my counterpart's approach to dumping a cheater without a backward glance does remove any possibility he can do it again.
If that's your choice, I applaud you. If it takes you more than one (or two or three) D-Days to get there, then that's what it takes. But if your choice doesn't subscribe to what a Web site, or your sister, or any culture insists is the "right" one, then choose it anyway. If the idea of "choice" is something that doesn't feel available to you right now, then give yourself the time and space to access it. Each of us must recognize our truth, no matter what story others are making up about us. This is our story to tell, nobody else's.