Saturday, December 31, 2016

The most simple advice for healing: How do I want to live today?

Quick story: My yoga instructor has lost two children to suicide. I hesitated to take classes with her because I thought I'd spend my "me" yoga time feeling horrible for her. I simply couldn't imagine how anyone could move on with life after such pain. And yet...she's warm and lovely and incredibly grounded. She speaks occasionally about her grief but always in the context of meeting grief with grace.
Over the years that I've been downward dogging and head-standing, my admiration for her strength has grown. And I've wondered how she does it. The answer is deceptively simple. She's made a choice: To live today.
And it's a choice each of us has to make every single morning.
How do I want to live today?
I can already hear the resistance. But what about the fact that he lied to me last night about a text on his phone? What about him being 10 minutes late? What about him refusing to tell her to stop driving by our house?
Valid questions, every single one. And questions that can be addressed by establishing clear boundaries and then enforcing them.
We get in trouble when we try to control other people. We get in trouble when we lose sight of the only question we need to pay attention to: How do I want to live today?
Lots of you have shared how you found your way to this question. One of our betrayed warrior wives told us that she imagines looking back from the future and seeing a picture of herself. How does she want to look in that picture? Another noted the wise counsel of her therapist who urged her to ask herself each day how she wants to live – and then behaving accordingly.
None of this means brushing aside dishonesty or disrespect from a partner. There's nothing about asking yourself how you want to live today that is about ignoring your pain or pretending that things are fine when they are anything but fine. It's about paying attention. Honoring your feelings. It might mean making some really hard decisions. And today might include plenty of moments where you are decidedly not living exactly as you would like. But the goal is to work toward a life in which you are exactly where you want to be and surrounding yourself with people who value you.
With 2017 just looming over the horizon, what if your only goal is to approach life from that question: How do I want to live today?
It would usher in a zillion smaller shifts that can't help but make your life more full – more full of joy, more full of people who deserve you, more full of opportunity.
Happy new year, my wonderful betrayed warrior wives. I can't wait to watch you all heal and share all of your wisdom and strength and compassion. It's there. I promise.
How do you want to live today?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Woman's Search for Meaning After Betrayal

Suffering threatens to make life meaningless. That is its greatest danger, not the pain it inflicts. It is up to each of us to restore meaning. Doctors cannot do it for us with their medicine; friends cannot do it for us with their solace and comfort. You are healed when you can say to yourself, “I matter, I belong, I am worthy, I am safe, I can express myself, I am loved.
~Deepak Chopra

My friend is mourning the end of her marriage. Her husband of 12 years has moved on with another woman. She, more inclined to self-reflection than he, recently wondered aloud whether the marriage had meant anything to him. Though she by now recognizes his patterns – he needs the adoration of women like the rest of us need food and water – in her darker moments, the loss threatens to make her marriage seem meaningless. What, she wondered, was the point?

Plenty of us have been there. In the wake of another's tragedy, our lives seem small. Our concerns seem petty. In the wake of our own tragedy, our lives, for a moment seem epic. Our pain is momentous. But when the drama begins to shrink and our healing begins, it can all seem so...mundane. Meaningless. We sift through the memories and wonder if they're real. We pour over the photo album and try to discern the other's thoughts. Was this when he fell out of love with me? Was he really there or was his mind somewhere else?
It's crazy-making.

And pointless.
Meaning in our lives doesn't come from another deciding we mean something to him. It comes from knowing that we have a place in this world. It comes from our deeper knowing that we have value, no matter whether anyone else in the world sees it. I've said it before: A diamond is still a diamond even when another sees only a stone. Our every breath is sacred. 
Meaning doesn't come from drama. It isn't about feeling important. It isn't about feeling joy. Meaning is found in every moment, those of excruciating pain and those of bliss. It's about living with intention. It's about trusting ourselves. It's about loving ourselves.
It always come down to that: We must love ourselves no matter what. We must come to that deep knowing of our worth, of our belonging, of our meaning. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

BWC Flashback: Seven Lies We Believe After His Affair

This is the all-time most popular post on this site. It's from 2013 and it's worth revisiting because too often it's the lies we tell ourselves that hurt us the most. 

It's hard to overstate how much being cheated on messes with our heads. Marriage experts refer to betrayal as a "trust violation" and note that it's one of the most psychologically damaging experiences. It shakes our sense of safety in the world. It triggers our fears of abandonment, threatens our primal need for security and love.
But though all that is true, we often do the most damage to ourselves. In the wake of betrayal, we tell ourselves all sorts of untruths, based on a deep fear and a conviction that, if we've been betrayed by someone we trusted, there must be something wrong with us.
Not all of us do this, of course. Though among us with healthy self-esteem often go straight to outrage. I remember reading something, post-betrayal, where a marriage counsellor said that he didn't worry about the women who got angry. He worried about the ones who didn't. They, he said, were the ones more likely to blame themselves.
Blaming ourselves can be strangely appealing. If it was somehow our fault, we reason (fallaciously), then if we fix ourselves, our spouse won't cheat again.
It doesn't help, of course, that our culture piles on. If a guy cheats, it's because his wife was frigid. If a guy cheats, it's because his wife is frumpy. If a guy cheats, it's because his affair partner was hot and performed like a porn star. His wife was a nag. He fell out of love with her. And on and on. On some level, a lot of us believe those lies, even when our husbands are swearing that's not it at all. Harder still, of course, is when our husbands join in, blaming us for their choice to cheat.
Before long, the chorus of lies reaches a crescendo, making the truth almost impossible to hear.
With that in mind, I've compiled a list of the lies…along with the truth.
Which, a wise soul has said, will set us free.

1. The lie: "I'm a fool"
I hear this one a lot. "I'm such a fool for believing he loved me." "I'm a total fool for thinking he'd never cheat." "He made a fool of me."
The truth: You're a loyal wife and friend who trusted someone who betrayed that trust.

2. The lie: "I'll never get past this."
The truth: Yes, you will. It will take time. Far longer than you would expect (experts generally say three to five years…I was closer to five). But within that time, you'll inch your way closer to a better marriage (if you choose to stay) or a better life (if you choose to go). You'll work through the pain and get to a place where you recognize that this wasn't about you. You were collateral damage. You'll get past it to a place where being betrayed is something that happened. A memory. If you've truly healed, it won't even feel like a particularly painful memory.

 3. The lie: He cheated because she must be amazing in bed.
The truth: He cheated because he was seeking something outside himself that's missing inside himself. He cheated because he liked the reflection of himself he saw in her eyes. He cheated because it felt exciting and dangerous. He cheated because he was able to convince himself that it was somehow okay. That he deserved it. That nobody would get hurt. He cheated because he's capable of self-delusion. He cheated because he has addiction issues. Still think it's because of the sex? Read this.

4. The lie: "She must have had something I didn't."
The truth: What she had, you don't want. Being an other woman is rarely like in the movies. While there might be champagne and roses (at least at the start), there's also cancelled rendezvous, erectile dysfunction, arguments, lonely nights and holidays…and a future that's more about promises than plans. What's more, to participate as an OW, you need to convince yourself that you somehow have more claim on this guy than the person with whom he promised to love, honour and cherish. That life (or his wife) is complicating your future together, not him. That all that stuff he says to you is true, even though you know that, at some point, he said the same stuff to his wife. That lying about you and hiding you away is evidence of his love. You want that? Didn't think so.

5. The lie: "He cheated because I gained weight/got pregnant/got depressed/got sick…"
The truth: He cheated because he wasn't emotionally equipped to deal with his own issues. He cheated to escape. Any guy who cheats because his wife gains weight, gets pregnant, is dealing with a disabled child or an aging parent or whatever is a total dick who needs to shown the door anyway. Any guy who cheats is, frankly, someone incapable of having a healthy relationship, one that includes really tough conversations. Marriage has a steep learning curve. Sadly, few of us saw healthy marriages played out for us. So it's hard to know how to broach tough topics, like waning attraction due to weight gain or pregnancy, fear of fatherhood, feelings of abandonment. Many of us don't even really know what we're feeling…we just know we're feeling lonely and misunderstood. An affair can seem appealing. But the smart ones among us recognize that's a dangerous path to go down. That it will cause a whole lot more problems than it will solve. They're the ones who give their marriage a fighting chance before they blow it up. The others…well…we know what happens.

6. The lie: "My happiness depends on him."
The truth: Your happiness depends on you. It always did. Too many of us have bought into pop-song wisdom about finding our soul mates and living happily ever after. Happy comes, generally, with enough soul searching that we exorcise our own demons and discover a deep sense of worth in ourselves, no matter what the world says about us.

8. The lie: "My marriage will never the same (it will be worse)."
The truth: My marriage will never be the same (it can be better). I would have called total bullshit on that a few years ago. I would have scoffed, of course it can be better if he's not sleeping with other people. But really good? Nah.' But here I am, eating my words. It takes a lot of work. It takes a deep commitment on the part of your husband to recognize how badly he's hurt you and how he's damaged your relationship. And it takes a strong desire to want to be a better person. To deserve your love and trust. And you've got some work too. To take a good look at your marriage and take responsibility for your own shortcomings. (This is in no way to say you were to blame for his cheating. That's on him. But there isn't a marriage in the world in which just one partner is to blame for issues within it.) And then, slowly, you rebuild. A few years later, you just might be amazed at how strong that marriage feels. And how deep the love goes.
And that's the truth.

Monday, December 12, 2016

You were born worthy

I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.

Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.
Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen. ~ Brené Brown

I hike most mornings with a friend whose marriage is on shaky ground. No affairs. Just a husband who has long avoided childhood issues (sexual abuse, the refusal of his parents to acknowledge it) and who has made his wife the lightning rod for everything that's wrong in his life. The good news is she and her husband have both – finally – found a therapist they each like. The bad news, I told her, is that it's likely to get a lot worse before it gets better. Why? she asked. Well, I explained. It's like when you have a nagging headache but you're distracted by other things and not really paying attention. But when you finally acknowledge that your head is throbbing, suddenly you can think of nothing BUT your headache. It's excruciating. It's pounding. Why won't it go away.
Yep, that's what the beginning of therapy can feel like. You're finally acknowledging the pain. The emptiness. The throb of loneliness. And you can hardly think of anything else.
Like most of us, she wants to do something. She wants things better. Now. She wants him to stop being cruel to her. She wants him to realize how lucky he is to have her. She's afraid that he's going to fool this therapist into believing he's the good guy and she's the problem.
So I gave her something to do. Take care of yourself, I told her. Be kind to yourself. Be gentle.
She's a cancer survivor. Someone who still deals with issues around her medications, someone who looked death square in the eye and said 'not today, buddy'.
She's strong. And loyal. And kind.
It goes against her nature to stop trying to make things better. It goes against her nature to put herself first. It feels...wrong.
But it's not. There isn't a more right thing to do than to take care of ourselves. To be kind to ourselves. To be gentle. Because from that well of self-love and self-care, we find what we need to be our best selves out in the world.
It will feel awful, I told her. You will fail many times. But if you manage to focus on self-care just one in ten times, instead of trying to fix someone else, instead of trying to change other people, then that's one time more than usual. 
And, with practice, it will get easier. It will begin to feel...good. You will notice that the world feels more manageable. When we stop trying to control everything around us, it frees us to control the only thing we've ever been able to control. Us. 
When we stop, as Brené Brown says, worrying about what others think of us, we realize something we knew all along: That we are worthy of love and belonging. We always have been. There's nothing about a partner's betrayal that changes that. It never will.
Start where it matters: Within your own heart.
Get ready to be seen in your full glory.
Because, my dear betrayed warrior sisters, adventures await.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Happy Xmas shopping day to me. (And also...anti-versary).

Guess what today is? Yep...Ten years ago today I got that bitchslap that is D-Day. That kick in the gut. That mind-blowing agony. That horrible and devastating moment that then spans days and weeks and months...and years.
But here's the thing. When I was in that moment, and for the months and even year or two that followed, I never imagined that I could ever EVER be happy again. Ever. I resigned myself to the notion that the rest of my life would be a slow trudge toward the grave. Joyless. Grey.
Those of you who read here know that, somewhere around the five-year-mark, I realized that my prediction had been way off. Somewhere in those first five years, joy re-entered my life. The pain of D-Day slowly receded, like a fog, and when I looked around, I liked my life. It had the usual ups and downs but it was good.
Fast forward another five years and I only really thought of December 10 as my husband's and my annual Christmas shopping day. That's how I survived those early anti-versaries. We made it our annual shopping day for family and friends so that a day that would otherwise serve up reminders of pain and anger could be transformed into a day in which we thought about everyone we loved and sought out gifts to share with them. It worked. I began to look forward to that day. We would spend it together, we would enjoy a leisurely lunch, the kids would be taken care of by someone else so we could take our time.
And now...December 10 is shopping day. Not a day of reckoning but a day of recreation. Re-creation.
That's what we're doing, isn't it? We're re-creating our lives.
Happy December 10 to all of you. Think of me. Battling the crowds but with a full grateful heart.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Affair was a Fantasy. And Not a Very Good One.

I sometimes look at the search terms that bring women to my site. It's common to see such searches as "things women say during sex" or "is cheating sex better".
And my heart aches.
Because I know that there's a woman in pain at the keyboard, desperately seeking answers for why her husband has betrayed her. Wondering just what it is that's wrong about her, or at least what's better about the other woman, that made her husband hurt her so profoundly.
Almost ten years ago, I was that woman. Googling my heart out for answers.
They came. Eventually. Not nearly as quickly as I would have liked. But, no doubt, they came when I was ready to recognize them.
It's hard to be patient. And it's hard to understand that what our culture tells us about affairs – that they're exciting, that the sex is always outrageously good, that the other woman is enticing and empowered – is complete and utter bullshit.
For a start, make anything forbidden and it will suddenly consume every waking thought. If you don't believe me, you've never tried to give up sugar. Or caffeine. Or bread. THAT is what an affair is. The sudden conviction that this one thing is what you've been missing. That this one thing makes you more you than anything else. And the more forbidden it is, the more you want it. Need it. 
But an affair is more than that. An affair is a distorted mirror that only reflects back what we want to see. Gone are our flaws, replaced by an idealized image of ourselves as sexy and interesting and vibrant. It conveniently shrinks guilt or shame. It refuses to acknowledge the pain created for others. In fact, there's little room is this mirror for others. They're inconvenient. They get in the way of this intoxicating image we see reflected. Even the Other Woman isn't reflected so much as what she represents. A reflection of who we wish we were, instead of the real-life version we really are, one with insecurities and a bald spot. One with fears and disappointments. One that hides behind a mask for a relative stranger rather than show our true face to the person with whom we've committed to spend our life.
An affair is where cowards hide. It's a curtain that obscures deeply broken people.
Which is why I refuse to accept that the only response to a partner's cheating is to walk away. If they're unwilling to acknowledge their brokenness, then yes, it makes sense to mitigate your own future suffering by walking away now. And if they show no awareness or remorse for the pain they've caused, then yes, it makes sense to remove such a sociopath from your life.
But the others, the ones who feel deep guilt for the pain they've caused, who are willing to do the hard work of looking into a true mirror and seeing their mistakes in full, can be worth the time and the pain and the effort it takes to rekindle your love.
Because the other thing I've learned through this is that we only really grow through experiences that challenge us to look more deeply at ourselves. Our pain has lessons for us, about who we are, about what we stand for, about what we value and how we show that – or don't, as the case may be – in our lives.
He might have escaped into an affair to avoid his own pain. And yes, he betrayed you but, if he has any scruples at all, he also betrayed himself. And there's a mountain of pain in that hard truth.
I often say that there is no right way through the agony of betrayal. My response is no more "right" than another's choice to head straight to the divorce lawyer. I have friends who've been cheated on who've done exactly that. Even with a repentant spouse who begged for a second chance, one friend of mine said 'nope'. She's remarried (so is her ex to the OW who doesn't seem to mind that she was first runner-up) and they have an amicable relationship as co-parents to their son. She's mentioned that she thinks they could have rebuilt their marriage. That she doesn't think he would have cheated again, after the devastation he caused. But, she shrugs, doesn't matter now. Things have worked out just fine.
And that's the thing. If you make your healing your goal, it will matter far less whether your marriage survives. Because you will be okay. No matter what. 
And that gives you the freedom to really understand that your husband's affair will never define you. That nothing in that other woman is anything you really want. 
She was a fantasy. The real-life her is just a broken woman willing to settle for second runner-up. You, on the other hand, are in the process of becoming your own number one. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

What do we really know about why our husbands cheated?

we need to NOT know what the person meant,
so we can ask.
we need to NOT know why someone does something,
so we can ask.
we need to NOT know someone’s thoughts and
feelings, so we can ask.
we need to NOT know how to fix something so we can
work with others and include other ideas and come up
with things together.

~Terri St. Cloud

I knew exactly why my husband cheated. It was because she was a porn star in bed. It was because he was raised in a sexually repressive family that trafficked in shame. It was because he didn't love me. Or his kids. It was because he felt entitled. It was because of the alpha male "locker room" atmosphere in his stock-jocky office.
I knew. 
It was because I wasn't pretty enough. Or interesting enough. I nagged too much. I didn't cook the foods that he liked. He hated the color I painted our bedroom.
The list went on.
But I knew.
Nonetheless, I continued to ask him. Why would you do this? What's wrong with you? What's wrong with me? What does she have that I don't. Why? Why? Why?
He told me. It's not you, he said. There's nothing wrong with you. It's me, he said. There's something wrong with me.
But I wasn't listening to him. I was only listening to me and my long list of reasons. I was listening to our culture and its long list of reasons. Men cheat because they like sex more than wives do. Men cheat because they're dogs. Men cheat because they're hard-wired to spead their seed. Men cheat because sex isn't about love. 
I couldn't hear what my husband was saying over the noise of everybody else.
There's something wrong with me. 
The problem with "knowing" is it closes our ears to answers that don't line up with what we've already decided to be true. By "knowing", we can't learn. By "knowing", we aren't open to other thoughts, other truths, others' experiences.
It gets in the way of really understanding, or at least moving toward understanding. 
My husband tried to tell me his truth for months, even as he continued to hide the extent of his cheating. There's something wrong with me, he said. I hurt too, he said. 
But I was so busy telling him who he was and why he did what he did, oh! and reminding him daily (minute by minute!) of the price I was paying for his cheating. 
It was a normal response to the worst pain I've ever experienced. 
But it wasn't helpful. 
If I could go back and have a do-over, I would try and stop myself from knowing quite so much. I would urge myself to listen a bit more. To ask myself, when my mind was racing with the infinite reasons why my husband cheated on me, what was my source of information
Knowing can sometimes get in the way of finding a deeper truth that can move us toward healing. Knowing is the enemy of learning more, of allowing another to tell his story.
Not everyone can tell his story, for lots of different reasons. He doesn't understand himself why he made such a painful choice. Although, "I don't know..." is a valid part of his story too, at least until he's willing to learn more. Or maybe he accepts what our culture tells us: it's "normal" for guys to want sex all the time. Monogamy is unnatural. And on and on. 
Some prefer the fiction they've been telling themselves that absolves them of any real responsibility for what they've done. She nags all the time. She's not interested in sex. She doesn't love me anymore.
Sometimes, as I've said before, a dog is a dog. And they're not worth the heartbreak of trying to rebuild a relationship because they see nothing wrong with what they did (except they got caught) and have no plans to really change their behaviour. It's that old "locker room" defence. Guys will be guys, right? And, eyeroll, women...amirite?
Yeah but those aren't the guys we want to be with. They're not the guys willing to dig deep to discover what's driving their hurtful behaviour. They're not the guys worth gambling your future on.
But the others can be. The ones who, though it might take a little while, are willing to recognize that they alone are responsible for the damage they've caused. The ones who hate what they did and hate the pain they've caused us. The ones who want to understand who they are and how they can become a better person. Who want to like the guy they see in the mirror.
My husband was one of those guys. But I couldn't see it until I stopped "knowing" quite so much. It was only when I challenged my own "facts" that I was able to see my own fiction. 
I was right about a few things but wrong about plenty. 
And I continue to be wrong. Just ask my kids. 
Opening my mind to others' perspectives has changed how I interact with everyone in my life. I can no longer presume to understand what's driving anyone's behaviour. Truth is, I don't know. Sometimes they don't even know. But being willing to listen, to take the time to challenge not only my own version of events but others' versions too, gets us all to a place where we better understand ourselves and them.
It's tough. We hate not knowing. But not knowing gives us the opening into knowing better. 


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