Monday, July 10, 2017
Why You Should Tell. And Who
Her support was invaluable. While I was trying to hold it together and parent three young children and reeling from the news that my husband had been cheating on me with his assistant, she was my rock.
I then reached out to an old friend whose husband had cheated on her a few years earlier. She was no longer married and, I knew, it still hurt. Her response chilled me. "I couldn't stay married to him," she said of my husband, and made it clear that was pretty much all she had to say on the topic. She even defended the Other Woman, my husband's assistant as being completely entitled to a generous severance. While it might have been technically true, I hardly wanted to hear it.
Not long after, I confessed to a friend who worked in my husband's office. I told her mostly because of her relentless questioning about what the hell was going on between my husband his assistant but there was such relief in the telling and in her response: Her eyes opened wide with shock, then filled with tears. (A few years later, she discovered the same about her own husband and I was able to return the favor of unrelenting support.)
Over time, I told other friends. It wasn't so much intentional as natural. A friend concerned over my weight loss. A friend whose own marriage was dissolving at the same time but who I didn't tell until she was on more solid ground herself.
With that one early exception, those I told responded with concern, with compassion, with incredible kindness. And not just to me. With some time having passed, they could see my husband's shift. He had changed. And now they understood why.
The one exception was painful for me. I had reached out to her almost immediately. She was an old friend but our friendship had been rocky for a time when her boyfriend-turned-husband decided I was bad news. He later cheated on her and she reached out to me again. Now it was my turn. And her response hurt me deeply. I hadn't asked her for advice. I really just wanted someone to commiserate with. To tell me I'd get through this. Instead, I got judgement over how I was handling the worst pain of my life.
Lesson learned. Again.
Betrayal doesn't just change our marriage, it changes us. And it changes relationships around us. I became acutely aware of what role each friend played in my life. The people I spent the most time with – moms on committees at school, running group – weren't the people to whom I turned. I carefully parsed who could be trusted with my pain. My friend going through divorce herself at the time remains a close friend but she's never been good in a crisis. So scratch her off the list, at least right away. My friend who worked in my husband's office wasn't a close friend at the time. But her support and her loyalty to me during such hell meant so much to me. To this day, I know she has my back.
All of this is to say that I don't think I could have made it through this without having people in my life who could help me carry my pain. My therapist was a saint. I'm brought to tears by the memory of her "just happening" to drive my house one morning (she was friends with my neighbor) and stopping her car as I was loading kids in my van for the trip to school. She looked me in the eye, asked how I was doing, and assured me that I was going to be okay. She said it with such conviction that I had no choice but to believe her.
We need those people. The ones who see the pain in our eyes and don't look away. The ones who hold our stories as sacred, who don't turn our agony into gossip, who withhold judgement or advice. The ones who are whole enough to put aside their own feelings about infidelity to make space for our experience.
These people are rare. But sometimes they don't exist so much as they are created by us. Our courage in telling them our story gives them the chance, if they take it, to step up. To be brave themselves. To open their own hearts.
Infidelity triggers a lot of feelings in people. Awful feelings. Fear. Anxiety. Shame. The most judgemental people are usually the most frightened.
Know that their fear often comes out as anger or disgust or a need to tell you, exactly, how you should respond.
But know also that there are people who've been through this themselves and learned the hard way about the pain of betrayal. And you might just be surprised at who in your life has learned this lesson.
Take stock of the people in your life. If there isn't a single person you think you can trust with your story, then part of your healing needs to include finding someone. Or a few someones.
None of us should go through this alone. And though this community always always amazes me with the way you reach out to each other, to the way in which you wrap your virtual arms around the most wounded, real-life support is crucial too.
Telling people is an act of self-respect. It is an act of courage. It is a way of insisting that your pain matters. That remains true whether or not people have enough courage to hear it.