My husband would watch me like a hawk. Every twitch. Every smile. Every remark. He was seeking evidence that we were "okay". That things were "back to normal". He was seeking evidence that the crisis was over and that our marriage had survived.
And I was loathe to give him evidence because, whether or not I was having a good day, the crisis was not over. Our marriage might have survived but only for the moment. And I reserved the right the end it tomorrow should I so choose.
What's more, I'd be damned if I'd give him a moment's comfort, a second's reprieve from feeling like a louse. He deserved to be on tenterhooks for the pain he'd caused me.
Or so I thought.
A lot of us find ourselves there, don't we? Afraid to actually exhale and experience the slightest joy or relaxation or relief. Determined to make it clear that things are not "okay" and, perhaps, never will be again. That our marriage is being held together only by our inability to get it together and call a divorce lawyer. That he had better not make a single misstep or we're outta here.
Our message, loud and clear: Things are not "back to normal" so don't you even dare to think I'm "over this."
Beneath this message is a fear. A fear that "normal" means releasing him from responsibility for what he did to us. That "normal" is acting as if none of this ever happened. That "normal" means we never have to speak of this again. That by bringing it up, we're somehow ruining a good thing. A fear that he believes that everything would be fine IF WE COULD JUST GO BACK TO NORMAL.
I've got news for him. If by "normal" he wants you to go back to being the you who you were before he betrayed you, then "normal" is a fantasy. That you is gone. That you is forever changed by his betrayal. That you is replaced by a you that can absolutely get past this. A you that will laugh again and feel joy. A you that perhaps even feels joy more deeply for the gratitude it now holds. But a you that has also experienced a pain that you didn't anticipate, a wound that can heal but will leave scars.
And that's something that every guy who's ever cheated on a woman and then wants things to go back to "normal" needs to understand. "Normal" isn't an option. Not any more.
To those outside of my marriage, things look "normal". We have fun together. We are great at co-pareting our kids. We share a value system (which, now, includes the value of monogamy to each other).
But we know better. We know that our "normal" includes incorporating the painful lessons we both learned, it includes a gratitude for each other that's directly related to the recognition that we're only where we are because we worked our asses off to get here. Our "normal" recognizes that our marriage isn't perfect. That it's a process. That some days we make our marriage stronger – by listening to each other, by respecting each other's needs and wants, by making it clear to each other that we're glad to be together. Other days, well, we don't do such a great job. Which, come to think of it, is pretty normal.
But know this: You don't have to hold on to pain to make it clear that what he did was not okay. You don't have to resist any slivers of joy or contentment out of fear that he'll think things are back to "normal". You are not only allowed to talk to him about your pain, you are encouraged to do so. His ability to listen to you, to hold your pain even in the face of his own shame and disappointment, will make you stronger, will make your marriage stronger.
Don't let fear of "normal" control you. Your new normal will be a creation of your own. It might involve divorce lawyers. It will likely involve therapists. It might include new vows.
What it won't include? Amnesia. Pretence. Faking it.
But let your new normal include any bit of happiness you can. That doesn't negate what happened to you. It simply reminds you that you are healing. And healing is perfectly normal.