Sunday, February 28, 2016

You have to reach...

"She had to do more than hold on. She had to reach. She had to want it more than she’d ever wanted anything. She had to grab like a drowning girl for every good thing that came her way and she had to swim like fuck away from every bad thing. She had to count the years and let them roll by, to grow up and then run as far as she could in the direction of her best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by her own desire to heal…Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”~Cheryl Strayed, author of Tiny, Beautiful Things and Wild

So often I tell those of you who come here seeking hope and healing that you need to give it time. Time is a four-letter word as the minutes feel like days and the days like lifetimes. Three to five years is the general estimate for getting past betrayal, say the experts. Three to five YEARS most of us scream when we first hear it. YEARS?? We were hoping a few months of tears and recriminations and somehow this would be behind us.
But though I stand by my insistence that time is a great healer, healing isn't a passive exercise in watching the minute hands sweep. It's not enough to simply mark the days off a calendar, like a prisoner awaiting release. As Strayed advises any of us seeking a release from suffering, we need to fight like hell for it. 
It sounds exhausting, doesn't it? Surviving feels Herculean and now I'm asking you to fight like hell. Seriously? Well, yes. I am.
Not right away. Not without taking a break now and again to gestate, like a caterpillar inside a cocoon
But nobody but us can reach for our own salvation from this. Nobody is going to ride in on a white  horse and save us. (And frankly, be wary of anyone promising to do that.) 
Cry. Rant and rave. Write your story out until you're spent. And always, always reach.
What are we reaching for? What do we hold on to when we don't know whether to stay or go? When we don't know whether to believe the pretty words on our partner's lips that sound so much like the pretty lies we believed?
We reach for healing. Healing that looks like wholeness, with or without him. Healing that looks like shore when we're drowning. Healing that comes from a heart strengthened where it was broken and capable of deep self-love and compassion. 
We find that healing within our own determination to survive this. To know that, no matter how shattered we feel today, there's still tomorrow. And the next tomorrow. And that one of these tomorrows, we'll feel a crack open in the darkness and tiniest sliver of light will show through. But we have to be looking for it. We have to be reaching for it. Through radical self-care (that will be called selfishness by those around us unaccustomed to seeing us love ourselves. Ignore them). Through compassion and forgiveness for ourselves for whatever we deem our failings to be – we should have known, we should have handled it better, we should have done things differently. Maybe. I've yet to meet a soul who's lived his/her life perfectly. Let it go. 
We heal through sharing our stories with others here and in real life. We heal through the unbelievable support and love I see every single day on this site from women in agony but nonetheless able to reach out to another and to remind her that she's lovely and lovable and loved. 
We heal by reaching as far as we can. Some days that reach will be short. But that's okay. Because others that reach will extend into a future that includes the recognition that we are not where we were. That we feel whole. That we – yes, let's say it! – we have healed. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

What are boundaries and why do I need them?

Any regular visitor to this site knows that I (and some other BWCers) tend to bang on about "boundaries". As in, "you need to set clear boundaries", "this is a chance to make some boundaries", "he's not respecting your boundaries" and so on. And yet, before I found myself spilling my life story to a therapist and learning from her about boundaries, I wouldn't have had a clue what boundaries were. And Lord knows, they weren't part of my life tool kit.
Here's what Oxford has to say about boundaries: 

A limit of something abstract, especially a subject or sphere of activity:a community without class or political boundaries

Here's what Brené Brown says about setting boundaries:
Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. 

From our first definition, we're told that boundaries are abstract. They're the metaphorical line we draw around ourselves to keep ourselves safe. Or rather, they're the metaphorical line we need to draw around ourselves to keep ourselves safe. Most of us don't have that line, or we've been socialized to let people cross it all the time. And rather than enforce it, we swallow our resentment or chastise ourselves for being selfish. Sometimes, we don't even realize it's happening because it's been so long since we had boundaries. But hold on...I'm getting ahead of myself.

What do I mean by "safe"? Boundaries are those lines we create, often subconsciously or by modelling those around us when we're growing up, that allow us to feel safe in this world. They're the lines that, when crossed, make us feel uneasy or threatened. A friend asks to "borrow" our doll but we don't trust her to return it (or we simply don't feel like loaning our doll) so we tell her 'no'. That's a boundary. A parent breaks a promise to take us for ice cream and then tells us to stop being so selfish with our whining because he/she was busy making money to put food on the table. Instead of swallowing our disappointment, we express it in straightforward words. 'I feel disappointed when you don't keep your promises.' That's a boundary. A boyfriend tells us he'd like to take our best friend to a dance because we're out of town. We say 'no, that makes me uncomfortable.' That's a boundary.
Thing is, most of us violate our own boundaries. And, over time, we forget we ever had any.
And so we're still up at midnight baking cookies for a child's class party. We're rescheduling an important meeting because our husband won't stay home with a sick child. We're getting our car back from our teen and the gas tank is empty.
Or...We find out our husband has cheated on us and begging for a second chance. But...he doesn't want to share the details of the affair or the phone passwords because it's a violation of his privacy.
Our boundaries need to be in place in order to keep us safe.
Our boundaries make it clear that we respect and love ourselves enough to draw clear lines about what we will and will not tolerate in our lives.
Our boundaries make the conditions for reconciliation unequivocal. There's no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation.
Our boundaries generally include the following:
•There is to be absolutely no contact with affair partner going forward. A letter/text/whatever to that effect is to be sent with the wife copied on it. It needs to state, in no uncertain terms, that the relationship is over, there is regret for having had one in the first place, and that there will be no contact in the future. Full stop.
•If the affair partner tries to re-establish contact, the betraying spouse will immediately tell the betrayed spouse. He will not respond. He will not keep any secrets for the affair partner.
•The betraying partner will provide any/all passwords so that the betrayed partner can check and verify when desired that there is no contact. We know this is hardly perfect (we're not idiots; we know about disposable cell phones, secret e-mails, etc.) but it helps in re-establishing any sort of trust.
•We expect that our questions (asked as respectfully as possible given that we're fighting the urge to bash our husbands over the heads with a shovel) will be answered with full honesty. We have the right to know the full contents of our partner's hearts in order to determine what we're dealing with and how we might respond.
•The betraying partner will be tested to ensure he doesn't have any STDs.
That's the initial list. You can certainly add your own, which might include "no more out-of-town meetings until trust is re-established." Once you get in touch with what you need to feel safe (or safer, as safety will feel relative in the early days post D-Day), you'll be able to establish your own.
As time goes on and we begin to heal from this betrayal, boundaries continue to keep us safe. They allow us to keep that toxic "friend" at arm's length even though she urges more contact. They allow us to say 'no' to commitments that drain us, physically and emotionally. They allow us to reconnect with a basic self-respect that far too many of us have lost. Boundaries are about self-care, not selfishness, and don't let anyone convince you otherwise.
Brown's caveat is crucial to remember: We need to enforce our boundaries even when doing so might disappoint (or frustrate) others. Remember this because if you're not a longtime boundary setter, you are absolutely going to get pushback. You'll get pleading (oh c'mon, we really need you right now. It won't take long...), you'll get anger or aggression (I thought you were my friend but clearly you're not), you'll get sulking (whatever. Do what you want. I don't care). Recognize this as simply the actions of people invested in keeping your boundaries fuzzy, or non-existent. Stick to your boundaries anyway. It will feel sooooooo uncomfortable. You'll feel sweaty. And anxious. Do it anyway. Your head will pound with the sound of your unfamiliar words. Do it anyway. You'll feel terrified that you're going to be left. Do it anyway. People who only stay with you because you make it easy aren't worthy enough for you.
Boundaries aren't about manipulation. They're not about control or getting even or hurting others. They're about NOT hurting yourself. They're about ensuring that all your relationships are free of resentment because you're not doing anything or putting up with anything that makes you resentful.
And if they're not in your toolbox, you need to add them. They're critical to your future happiness.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Want some more joy in your life?

Susan Piver, whose writing I love and whose meditations saved me, is offering a free course (if you aren't available on Monday for the live version, you can still register and get the recording). I highly recommend it for anyone trying to live with the pain of betrayal while holding on to some hope for joy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Surprises of Daily Life

The title of this post is from something B.J. Miller said in an episode of On Being. Miller is a professor of medicine and executive director of the Zen Hospice Project. "Let death be what takes us," he has written, "not a lack of imagination."
Miller lost both legs and most of an arm in a college accident when 11,000 volts of electricity went through his body. Talk about your "surprises of daily life". He laughs at the description of his accident because he owes his new body to something called "The Dinky", a small commuter train that ran on a track into the Princeton campus. He. Laughed. Imagine that.
The episode itself is titled "Reframing our relationship to what we can't control" and listening to his description of the accident and his experience of having to understand himself in the light of this new self, I was struck by something:

Kinda sounds a lot like us, doesn't it?

So many of us, whether our marriage felt solid or not, experience betrayal as a shock. It's a sudden intrusion into our daily life, shaking up everything we thought we knew, shattering our understanding of the past and our expectation for the future. And, for many of us, our sense of who we are in this world is deeply shaken.
What Miller suggests is a reimagining of our lives, something he was forced into because of his physical disabilities. Or, as the title suggests, a reframing of what we can't control. Because if there's anything we learn in the wake of betrayal, it's that our idea of control was a total illusion. Miller's reframing suggests a radical shift in how a lot of us deal with the shock of infidelity and one that doesn't come quickly or easily. He's careful to acknowledge that his healing from the trauma of his accident and his reframing or reimagining of  his life was a long process. And yet he's guilty, as I think I am too, of sometimes glossing over the immense growing pains that go along with it. And growing pains that don't always feel like growth but like absolutely feel like pain.
We all like the idea of reimagining a future in which we're free of the fallout of betrayal – the trust issues, the anxiety, the deep pain that we insist will be ours forever – but the reality is not quite so happily ever after. We don't wake up one day with a new attitude and some rose-coloured glasses. Instead, we work through the pain, we sit with it when it closes in on us, we reach out for support when we're drowning in it and then, if we're open to it, we begin to consider what else might be inherent in this suffering. Are there lessons to be learned? Might there be positive change? How can I reimagine my future in a way that stirs even the tiniest bit of excitement and hope?

I did an interview with another betrayed wife yesterday for a Podcast (stay tuned, I'll be posting a link when it's live) and hope. we both agreed, was crucial in this reimagining of our future post-betrayal. It can sound trite and passive. But the hope I'm referring to is a deep belief that this is not the end of the story. This hope doesn't sit passively while they wait for their partner to change. This hope is willing to roll up its sleeves and do the scary things that need doing – seeking help, speaking with a lawyer, drawing clear and unequivocal boundaries because we know that the only way through this pain is to be gentle with ourselves and ruthless in our insistence upon respect. Without this hard-working hope, the only future we can imagine is another version of hell.

I know hope is in short supply in the days following discovery of a partner's betrayal. And that's okay. Give yourself time to digest this "surprise of daily life". Allow yourself to recognize and acknowledge the deep trauma that accompanies such a betrayal. But know that hope will come if you call for it, if you're open to new possibilities, if you refuse to accept that the pain you feel right now is the end of the story, if you're willing to reframe your relationship with what you can't control and reimagine where you go from here.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Same Sad Old Story

Each morning I hike with a friend. The other day she was telling me about her sister, recently broken up from a long-time boyfriend, who's been spending time with a "friend" of hers. He's an old work colleague with whom she had a fling when they were both single. He's now married. You know where this is going, right?
My friend's sister, let's call her Elvira, is "just" meeting this guy for the occasional drink. They're "just" having dinner together.
The wife "hates" Elvira, allegedly because she knows about the fling they had years ago. Elvira takes a perverse delight in the fact that this wife "hates" her, as if it's a supreme compliment for a woman to feel threatened by her.
The husband has told Elvira that his marriage is "horrible." His wife is an "awful mother."
To which I respond, "of course his marriage is 'horrible'. Of course, his wife is 'awful mother'. How else to justify the fact that he's leaving her at home while he goes out for drinks and dinner with a woman that he knows his wife feels threatened by. And of course, she's a 'horrible' wife. Her husband is having dinner and drinks with someone else while she's at home dealing with kids and laundry and wondering where the hell he is."
And, incidentally, this wife likely feels "threatened" not by Elvira's beauty or youth or sex appeal (Elvira lacks any of this) but by her willingness to throw herself at someone else's husband with no regard for any consequences.
I'm stunned – though, honestly, why should I be? – at just how ridiculously cliché this whole thing is. 
My friend has tried calling Elvira out on her behavior but Elvira won't listen. She's not doing anything "wrong", she insists, except being a "friend" to this poor guy with the "horrible" wife. My friend points out that Elvira's ex was "just" having dinner with his assistant and that Elvira believed that to be a betrayal. That, says Elvira, was "different".
Elvira admits to her sister that she's lonely. She knows she drinks too much and too often.
And, in a stunning but temporary insight, she admits that she really just likes the attention. She's not actually interested in this guy at all.  But, right now, this just "feels good."
So far, this affair – and make no mistake, it is an affair even though it hasn't crossed any line sexually – is still under wraps and the wife has no idea what's going on.
But we all know how this story goes, don't we? No matter what the circumstances of our particular betrayal, we all know the ending.
It's sad.


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