"Change is not painful; resistance to change is."
Raise your hand if you were part of the "if he ever cheats, it's over" club. Yep. Me too. Our culture casts infidelity as unforgivable. I've said it before. Women who leave get a high-five and a "hell yeah" from the sisterhood. Women who stay? Well, if they know about us at all (we tend to keep our choice private), we're viewed as kinda sad. Doormats. After all, cheating is a deal-breaker, right?
And keep your hand raised if, even now that you've decided to stay, even with clear evidence that he's genuinely devastated by what he's done and committed to rebuilding your marriage, you still hear that nagging voice in your head that you're a sucker for staying?
Yeah, me too.
Those messages are powerful. And they're everywhere. Despite the fact that most marriages will experience infidelity (though the cheated-on partner might never find out), our culture holds onto this one-size-fits-all response. Kick him to the curb. Only suckers stay. Or "chumps" in the parlance of a site that often traffics in absolutes.
Thing is, we're the ones who have to live with our choice. Whatever that choice is, we need to own it. And we need to make it based on what's the best thing for us. And, for those of us with kids, it's impossible not to factor in what's best for them too. I refuse to believe that I can ever know what that choice should be for anyone but myself.
That was never more clear to me than the weeks following D-Day. I thought back to all my conviction about other people's marriages. I was so sure about what I would and would not tolerate as I watched other people muddle through. I'd heard the whispers about who was cheating on whom and mentally calculated whether he or she "deserved" it by being nasty, or travelling to much for work, or whatever other ridiculous reason I surmised.
But when I discovered that my own marriage wasn't what I thought it was, it was a pretty short leap to the realization that I didn't have a damn clue what was going on in other people's marriages and I should stop being so sure I did. Gulp. That humility was a hard slap in the face but I needed it.
And yet...I can still judge myself harshly. I suspect you do too.
That voice that says I should have done things differently, should have left, should have made him beg. That voice that says strong women leave. It's a helluva lot quieter than it used to be. But, now and again, I still hear it.
These days, though I talk back. I remind myself that I did the best I could under brutal circumstances. I know, in a way I never did before, the courage it takes to get your feet back under you when betrayal has crippled you. I see, every day on this site, the power of the compassion we show each other and the strength as we each fight our way through the pain.
Changing our minds is an act of courage. If we know differently, we can choose differently. If we learn better, we can do better.
Holding on to those old messages, which were lies even then, keeps us stuck. Giving ourselves permission to change – our minds, our choices, our lives – isn't where the pain lives. Rather the pain arises when we're resisting what we know and instead caving into cultural messages that tell us our worth is in following the script rather than writing our own.