Tuesday, May 16, 2017

When People Aren't Perfect. Not Even Close.

Just last week, my 88-year-old father laid out his theory: If my mother had stuck to pills or booze rather than pills and booze, he theorized, she would have been "just fine."
Oh, dad. Seriously?
I've always kinda wished my dad was a little more like Pa Ingalls and a little less like, well, Homer Simpson. I wanted him to be wise. To be selfless. To get things, without me having to explain them.
But while my dad has many wonderful qualities, he's more than a wee bit self-absorbed. He leans on others (read: me) even when it's ill-advised or inappropriate rather than deal with things himself. In short, he's not perfect. Not even close.
Not too long ago, I expressed my disappointment to my husband about something my father had said that hit an old and painful sore spot.
"I think my job as an adult is to learn to forgive him for being who he is," I said.
It's not so hard to forgive my dad for being who he is. He's a dreamer, a gentle man with simple needs. Kind and open-minded. A guy who believes, absolutely, that he's the luckiest man in the world. That his parents were the best. That his wife was the best. His kids are the best. His grandkids are better than best. I've never known a person so content with his life. So content with himself.
In the decade since my mother died, he has created something of a shrine to her, something she, with her "everything in its place" mindset, would hate.
"She was a true friend," he tells me often.
She was. I don't know a more loyal person than my mom.
My dad? Well...
There was that little issue with a secret friend back in the 70s that devastated my mother, a secret friend my father refused to give up, even when it was clear that my mom, who'd dedicated her adult life to creating the stable home she'd craved as a child, was falling apart.
He just couldn't understand what the problem was. It wasn't a sexual relationship, he insisted. They were just...friends. Friends who did things without my mother. Friends who met behind their spouses backs. Friends. What's so bad about that?
That my father still can't understand the problem speaks to his lack of empathy, his inability to imagine how painful this was to my mother. Or maybe it speaks more to his selfishness. He liked this secret friendship and so why should he have to give it up? It wasn't his fault my mother couldn't handle it.
And yet, he will regale anyone who will listen to stories of my mom. How beautiful she was. How smart. How loyal.
My mom asked for my forgiveness for her. My dad's not-so-secret friendship sent her spiralling into addiction (though, given her family history, it was likely a matter of time before something tripped that particular wire) and she drank/drugged herself into a psychiatric hospital for most of my teens.
She found sobriety through AA. She spent two and a half decades being the mom I'd always wanted before she died.
My job, as an adult, is to forgive my parents for who they are.
It's easier, of course, when the behaviour is no longer happening. When I'm no longer reliant on these people for my survival.
Easier, too, when each has requested, one way or another, my forgiveness. Or at least my understanding.
But even if they hadn't (and my dad has never apologized), it's still my job as an adult to forgive them for who they are. Which is not even close to saying that what they did was okay. Or that, as far as I was concerned, they could continue doing it. That's not forgiveness. That's enabling. That's co-dependence. That's self-harm.
No, it's a matter of forgiving them for being who they are – for having made awful choices that caused me a lot of pain but knowing that none of us can go back and un-do those choices. They are who they are. Or who they were.
They weren't perfect. Not even close.
The beauty of forgiving others for being imperfect is that it kicked the stool out from underneath my own martyr complex. I'm imperfect too. And I can forgive myself for that.
When I commented to my husband about my father – that my job was to forgive him for being who he was – my husband responded with this: "I think it's our job as adults to forgive everyone for who they are."
Including him, this man who broke my heart with his choices. This imperfect man who has tried every day since to be better. To never hurt me like that again.
Including me.


  1. My rough patch now is forgiving my MIL. She raised the man I married and gave him little love, affection, affirmation or really any chance. His parents divorced at an early age and then she married an abusive gentleman that was all that and a bag of chips. She for the most part created the very unstable ground that I walk on today. I wish I would have gotten some advice pre-marriage or had the knowledge that this would come to bite me. My daughter is going to get a nice chat before she picks the one. There is nothing that can prevent an affair, but underlying issues of love are very hard to repair. As a wife, you can't be the wife and mom to your husband, nor do you want to.

    1. Heartfelt, sending you a big "me too"! My H has forgiven my MIL, but forgiveness doesn't mean I want her in my life. He doesn't connect all the dots that her abandonment set the stage for his delusions, fears & depression which led to self-medication (oh and she helped him get pot!). Sometimes forgiveness + ending relationship is the most compassionate thing we can do for everyone. Now she trying to manipulate my kids - she fails to think through the ramifications of doing that and what it could potentially do to her son's relationship with his kids.

    2. There are many many toxic mothers-in-law behind these cheating men. Mine, like yours, offered a lifetime of conditional love. IF you behave a certain way, IF you make her look good, IF you don't shame the family, etc. etc. Consequently, my husband seethed with resentment and shame, though he hid it well behind being a dutiful son.
      And yes, Browneyedgirl, forgiveness isn't the same as giving them a pass to your life. You can forgive someone while simultaneously refusing to spent time with them.

  2. I never thought my h was perfect nor am I . He had flaws like anyone and forgiveness for him was easier than I thought. But forgiveness for the OW has been more difficult for me. When I first met her and worked with her I liked her and I didn't see the mentally ill person that she really is. When this all came to head people called her a homewrecker. She didn't care then because she thought she had what she wanted, my h. When it blew up in her face and my h came back home and started coming out of his drugged induced brain fog she put all the blame on him and then us. That we did this to her and that we go around doing this to people all of the time. Every text she sent me a couple of weeks ago was lie after lie and I caught her in everyone of them. This affair only lasted days and she acts like someone who had years with my h. Making wedding plans even before the affair happened and once he slept with her she was planning to have a baby so that they could be together forever and ever. Thank God for low testosterone. She showed no empathy for the mess she created except to make herself a major victim. This woman has never had anyone stand up to her and she didn't like it when I did. I guess you would call her a narcissist or psychopath. So how do I let go of the feelings of disgust and hate I have for her? My h and I are doing great but standing back and looking at what she had done makes me sick. I'm not sure how to process the whole thing and sometimes I don't think that my H does either.

    1. Cathy
      I'm so sorry for the hell this person has put you and your h through! My story is not like yours but it still had/has plenty of pain disappointment and just downright disgust! I'm not sure if she deserves forgiveness! The one in your story or the one in mine! I'm slowly getting through the forgiveness my h has asked for and as this post suggests forgiveness that my mother was/is less than perfect! I tried to work forgiveness towards the cow but she kept her presence in our world longer than either my h nor I could believe. We came to the conclusion that she really is a mentally unstable woman and we have a standing no contact order that she broke several times and so I stopped trying to give forgiveness which she never asked for and I replaced the need to forgive her with simple pity. However, since February 28, I have had to help my mother through her life changing illness and I just don't have time to waste on the cow anymore! She has become a nobody that I don't have to deal with anymore. My mother is slowly returning to her normal day to day life and she doesn't need me daily so I'm getting back to my more normal day to day life as well! I come to this blog daily for the strength it gives and hopefully to help others to find a way through their own nightmare! Keep venting and focus on your own family but most importantly take care of you! Sending you hugs!

    2. Cathy,
      I understand some of what you're feeling. I spent an hour with our therapist yesterday discussing the contempt I have for the OW and doing EMDR work to get past sone of the areas where I'm stuck. Two years after our final D-day, I can say that my marriage is in a good place. My husband has done and continues to do the work he needs to do on both himself and in our marriage. But still, there is the anger toward the OW. My therapist and I are slowly unraveling the issues that are keeping me stuck in that anger. (I should also mention that from early in my therapist has recommended that I not push myself to forgive the OW. She has said that forgiveness is the "gold standard" and that maybe I should work on not allowing her to matter to me.)
      The OW in my case did apologize but then continued to do hurtful things under the radar. Honestly, I think she's still making futile attempts to get my husband's attention. She also told her sister about the affair and about a text message I sent her the day after D-day. The sister, in turn, sent my husband and email defending the OW and ending it with a threat to him and me. I have a hard time believing there's any remorse there. There does, however, appear to be a whole lot of dysfunction.
      Putting all the shitty things the OW has done aside, my therapist and I are looking at why I'm having such a hard time moving past the anger. I asked her yesterday if I'm just one of those people who can't forgive. Am I destined to be a bitter, old lady?
      So we continue to work on what's below all the anger. For me, it seems right now to be tied to what I allow the OW's actions to say about me.
      I lived my life according to my morals and values and I got hurt. = I'm stupid. The OW went against all of the things I believe in and managed to walk away with seemingly no consequences. = She won.
      I chose not to confront her face to face to avoid potential further damage to my family. = I'm weak.
      When I'm not overly emotional, I realize it's all a bunch of bs. I would never say that stuff to someone who's experienced this, so I don't know why I feel like it's ok to say it to myself. We also talked about how holding on to some of the anger might be an attempt to stay vigilant so I don't get hurt again. But recognizing that I don't have any control over anyone else's actions means that hanging onto the anger is preventing me from focusing on the positive.
      My husband, on the other hand, is able to focus more on all the positive be things in our life. He hates the things he did, the things she did and all the hurt it caused me. But he feels like focusing only on that hold us back.
      It's really hard. I hope you are able to find something that helps you to process it. Hugs!

    3. Thank you both for the nice words. I try not to think about her and when I do my h helps me get through everything I started painting and baking again and I walk a lot. I am starting to feel better little by little. I realize that I will never forgive her and her friends for what they have all done to us. It's trying to find that way of letting it go. My h focuses on us and we are doing great considering everything that she did and has had no contact with her in almost 20 months. He only stayed in contact with her because he was afraid that she was pregnant. When she said that she wasn't he threatened her with a restraining order. One thing I am truly grateful for is that we live 2000 miles away from all of them and she can't just show up like she did before we moved. I take everyone's advice on how to let it go and I know that it is just going to take some time.
      Thank you all again.

    4. Cathy, Theresa and Dandelion have given you wise advice. I do think that behind your loathing are some unexamined feelings of hurt and fear.
      Most OW, almost by definition, have poor boundaries and low self-esteem. They're willing to sacrifice their dignity for a taste of what we have. If possible, try and extend compassion to her (I know, I know...just hear me out). It's amazing what can happen when we begin to open ourselves to compassion for someone who has deeply wounded us. It moves us from a place of impotent victimhood to empowerment. It allows you to see her, not as someone with power over your happiness, but someone who can even control her own happiness. In other words, not someone you would ever want to be.
      Try to consider that her actions stem from her own deep wound. Hurt people hurt people.

    5. You are right Elle, she wanted what we had and have still. The hurt I feel is more about the humiliation that I felt because it happened in front of me and I couldn't do anything to stop it. I guess some of it is guilt on my part too. I knew that she was after him but I had no idea of the extent that she was going to use to carry out her fantasy life she wanted with him. And sometimes I worry about the long term side effects that the drugs will have on him. Compassion.. when I read that I felt relief. I don't think that I ever admitted to really hating her to myself or anyone else. I just felt uncontrollable anger towards her. Compassion is something that I am going to remember every time she pops into my head and then I'm then I'm going to go do something that makes me happy. Thank you all again Elle, Dandelion and Theresa. I feel so much better.

    6. Thank you 3 ladies for your wonderful advice. I know that when I'm busy I don't think about her. I'm not sure what my feelings are regarding her are, I only know that I feel empty when I do think about her. I know that my h has only feelings of disgust for her and he will never have compassion for her. Maybe it's pity I feel for her anyways I'm going to take all of your advice so that I can move on.

  3. Heartfelt, Interesting observation. My H was raised by a cruel and emotionally void mother. His father was nice but working 7 days a week to support the family left him unavailable to his kids.

    Interestingly enough, my H had an EA with a woman for years - I knew about it yet he denied it and would not end it. After all if there is no sex it is not cheating - which was his (and many others) mentality. I was able to finally put a stop to it and it ended.

    But then the next affair came along as part of his mid life crisis.

    I agree that as a wife you somewhat turn into your H's mother. I have clearly put a stop to that! I am not his maid nor his servant and not his mother.

    So what I viewed as a strong person in reality is a coward and selfish. Self centered in some ways. Not willing to listen at times. Egotistical about some things.

    However I just would not let it send me into ruining my own life with drinking or addiction. Maybe I am stubborn or stronger than that (or just plain lucky) but during his last affair I had children that I had to put first.

    It was not always about me and what I want, it was about my children and what do they need.

    Of course now my H recognizes the error of his ways and works hard to make amends.

    But the wiser me would give my children different advice.

    1. The wiser me would give MYSELF different advice. ;)

  4. Elle, your posts continue to steer my mind back to center and I accept that at almost 2 years out I am nowhere near where you are now. I suspect you were still skeptical at 23 months out and wanting to trust the promises that came out of your husbands mouth. I'm not sure where my future is heading but I'm making plans with this man and doing my best to forgive both of us for not being adult enough to be honest with each other way back when. I guess if we can keep that promise to ourselves and each other from here on out, that will be a feat. The word forgiveness can bring such anguish and pain or hope and lightness. For me, it depends on the day and where I am emotionally at the moment. Wanting to forgive and knowing exactly what that feels like is elusive. I think I've forgiven but oh, the pain, the pain still sears my soul at times. Lucky for me I have therapy this week.

    1. Beach Girl,
      No I was nowhere near where I am now at two years. It was a full five years before I really felt like this was behind me.
      That said, I think the idea of forgiveness as "ever after" can be a huge hurdle. Don't worry about tomorrow or next month or next year. Focus on today. Do you want to be with him today. Does he want to be with you today.
      Okay then...you've got today. Which is all any of us have no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

  5. Wow. This took my breath away. I have struggled with forgiveness my whole life, particularly my dad. Now I have realized all these childhood wounds that were never healed have affect my adult life. And forgiveness for my father is a way to move forward I think. Then eventually forgiving my H. Thank you Elle.

    1. KatieP, it's a process. Those old childhood wounds are deep. I love my dad. He's a really good guy. But he's no hero. He's made really awful mistakes. Continues to (as he pours himself a drink every single day "to relax"). But he loved us the best he could. As my mother used to remind me re. my husband, that he loved me "the best he could." Sometimes that "best" is lousy. Sometimes we need to leave that "best". But it's what they're capable of. To expect differently is to deny reality.
      When we know better, we do better, right?

  6. This is interesting since my husband and I recently talked about this. He basically gives his parents a pass. He has this guilt of they have been so good to him, are getting older, and they pour the guilt on. He did not have a bad childhood except that they gave him whatever he wanted, did not expect a lot of him as long as he was doing well in sports (even though he was a good student so not an issue), gave him whatever money he needed and wanted etc. So no abuse but he got whatever he wanted and was put on a pedestal for his athletic ability. There are many more layers to this that I am not going to get into but I think he has never established a healthy boundary with them. So he brought it up the other week should he be harder and more direct with his parents. He has at times had firm discussions with them around various topics. They listen but nothing changes. They still I feel like they are the parents and we should give them what they want and now more than ever as they age. So he is conflicted if he should go along with what they want or say no or even have more sit downs with them. There was something recently that came up and I was telling several friends and they looked at me and said wow what a selfish family. I feel like it is what I have gone through with the affairs with my husband. In the thick of it I try to be the good person and be respectful but from and outsider they are like what are you kidding me. These are not huge issues but they add up. And then it comes full circle and I see this is why he is the way he is. I go from being understanding and even seeing he is trying to work through this and is not just giving in anymore to can I live with this and for how long?? It is like I am being flooded with memories too every time we would go out to dinner and meet my husband after work he would show up, I would have a table for four and he would say we need a bigger table since his mom was coming. Never asked me or even told me. And this would happen a couple times a week. My husband worked a lot so he was not available or home much so to me this was family time. I brought it up several times but of course he turned the tables on me and said his dad was busy and he felt bad for his mom being home alone and was he not to care about or for his mom. I initially thought after the affairs came out this was a way to create a barrier and keep me at a distance. It might be part of it. However i wonder if she invited herself or if he felt obligated and did not care about me or our immediate family. So now he is asking the question if he has to be less forgiving, less inviting as they age and the guilt is coming and I think this mentality of how much longer will they be with us and all that comes with an aging parent. I feel more confused than ever most days lately.

  7. Oh and one more thing I forgot in my last post. I told my therapist about several occasions with my husband and his parents. My therapist has been blown away by the stories. Again nothing ever huge but such a pattern. And the one thing that stuck with me that my therapist said was it is not my husband's job to take care of or make his mom feel okay because his dad is not home. That is their relationship. I did feel better about that but again beyond the affair how do I change their entire family dynamic. My husband has made major progress in this area thankfully but there is still a lot of room for improvement. And I am not overly attached at all to my parents, my husband actually thinks I should be more attentive to them. But I wonder if that is so it makes him seem less extreme. I mean I have always thought he needs to cut the cord.

    1. Hopeful 30, yours is a thorny problem, one that I also lived through until my MIL died. Oh boy, was she a piece or work. She managed to break up two of her three kids marriages and came close to mine but honestly towards the end of her life I became bolder and set limits with her. For example, I told my husband that I would take her where ever she wanted to go while he was at work. (doctors, shopping, lunch, etc) I made sure she knew which days I was available so she could plan accordingly. She hated this but I told her in private that my husband had to work and she was interfering with his job and it was not fair to him for her to do that. She actually cried and whined to me about me not loving her like he did! I said, "maybe that is true but that still doesn't give you the right to make unreasonable demands on him because he has to work." When she was in a nursing home she demanded that we wash her cloths and for awhile I did but then I thought, "no, I'm not going to do that anymore". She then cried, seriously cried, and said, "I want someone who loves me to wash my clothes". Ugh. I managed to get her favorite niece to come visit and affirm that the facility should wash her clothes to minimize germ transfer. Ugh. I also had a few conversations over the years with my husband about her and it was so hard for him to set limits with her. She was a big part of his problem in childhood and little did I know that she fueled him pain and acting out. He just could not stand up to her. One of her friends once wrote her a letter to express her pain and frustration with my MIL saying, "Susie, you live in a world of one. My husband is dying and you have the gall to call me and whine because I don't call you anymore." Wow, I am so grateful she is dead. Families are so messy. I make no demands on my adult kids and encourage them to have their own lives.

    2. Hopeful30,
      That parent-guilt is a powerful drug. I've seen it up close with my husband's family. The manoeuvring behind the scenes, the dishonesty -- all in an attempt to not "hurt" the mother. They even hesitated to tell her the truth about her cancer when she was diagnosed. To "protect" her.
      But your therapist is right on the money. Your husband clearly sees it as his job to care for his parents. Not care ABOUT but care FOR. It makes sense, of course, when there are health issues, etc. But otherwise, it's evidence of really unhealthy boundaries.
      BUT...you can't control his relationship with them. So what are you going to do so that you don't feel caught up in this and get resentful and frustrated. Control what you can control...which is you.

    3. Thank you Beach Girl and Elle for your words. Both of you always have the best thoughts and positive messages. When I look back at least now there is some progress before dday I better not say one word about his family even though mine was open for criticism. All I can think is that it was some charade. None of us are perfect but I can see now in a whole new light how we grew up in such different households. It is so hard to tell when people pretend and act a different way than they really are. And it is hard too since all of these things are subtle. There is rarely anything major. But before dday my husband would never say no to either parent. Since then he has. He struggles with it and is surprised by what they say to him even though I feel like how can you be surprised I have heard some variation of this 100's of times. Even if my husband is trying to eat healthy and says he is going to go home to eat food I have made for dinner (he will tell me it is because he also wants to eat with me over them but is not comfortable telling them) and they will give him a hard time. The issues I have is that I see this as all part of his personality and I am so not convinced that he has dealt with any of this. I think he is more aware for sure and tempers it better than ever but he has not dealt with the deeper why.

  8. I've been thinking about the toxic mil (I have one too) and the connection to our cheating husbands.. your right ladies these guys have been brought up in controlling and emotionally abusive environments. We come along and get a glimpse of why they behave as they do.. I absolutely detest my in laws everyone one of them, they have treated me and my children
    Like the plague., thankfully I've only had to deal with them for 1 year out of my 14 year marriage and from here on I will not be taking my children any where near them.. toxic indeed!!! I'm always banging on about how my h is a product of his upbringing and he too hasn't dealt with them demons, he too finds it hard to say no to his family, it's like they throw him a bone every now and then and he's happy with that.. it's really sad and I try not to get involved it's better he sees them for who they are, they will eventually trip up big time.. your right hopeful we have been broughg up in very different households.. although mine wasn't perfect by any means I wasn't controlled or scared of having an opinion. Mum and dad had very different parenting styles both had good qualities .. thank you ladies for speaking out we have so much in common!!! Xx



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