Monday, September 25, 2017

Becoming the Decider

There's a great conversation happening over on the Sex and Intimacy After Betrayal page. I'm struck by how vulnerable the women posting there are – how candid they are and how deeply they want to be seen and to be loved.
But I'm also noticing, there and on other threads, how many women wrap up their (completely legitimate) rants with something along the lines of "maybe I should be more patient" or "maybe I'm expecting too much".
So let me say this: You get to decide what you want your marriage to look like.
Especially after betrayal, we get to decide.
I've noticed how articulate and firm you all are when you're detailing what's missing in your relationships. You have absolutely no trouble outlining what you want and what you don't. But then...something happens. Doubt creeps in. Your inner critic whispers something to you that sounds like truth. Maybe that "you're demanding" or "you're never happy" or any number of messages that make you back down, that convince you that what you want isn't okay.
It is.
Whatever it is you want or need to feel like a full, respected, equal, valued part of your partnership is okay. In fact, it's a requirement.
Glennon Doyle, author of Love Warrior, put it this way in a recent podcast: "...the only advice that is worth hearing is what you already know. Nobody else knows what the heck you should do with your life." She recommends – as I do here and here and here – being still. Finding that time (indeed making that time!) to sit yourself. We are often good at avoiding that. Far better, we think, to do. To busy ourselves with the minutiae of the day – the laundry, the school forms, the grocery shopping, the Netflix binging. To just sit? Blech.
But it is in that stillness, that space where our thoughts are free to arise without getting crowded out or yelled at, that we discover we already have the advice we're seeking.
And it is there, too, when we wrestle with the discomfort of the emotions that arise – the ones that insist we have every right to want a respectful honest intimate partnership, the ones that refuse to be silenced – that we discover we can only treat ourselves respectfully by honouring what we want and need. Silencing ourselves isn't an option, nor should it be.
" women, we are trained to not go inside. We are consensus takers. We will ask every freaking body what we should do. We will trust the Internet before we trust our deepest selves," says Doyle.
This isn't to put Betrayed Wives Club down, nor is it to suggest it's not okay to ask for advice here.
Sometimes we need a light to guide us forward. But pay attention to your body's response to others' stories. Does something deep deep down say "yes, yes, yes. Exactly!" or is there a deep resistance. Not a "that sounds scary" but "that sounds wrong." Scary = good, much of the time. Wrong = wrong.
It's crucial to learn to follow the light inside each of us, the one that knows which direction is best for us. It's there, I promise. But if you've spent a lifetime ignoring it in favour of listening to your dark nasty critic outline the "shoulds", then you may need some practice finding it.
And when you do, let it light your way forward. Let it illuminate your wants and your needs to create the life, the marriage (or the divorce!) that feeds your soul. You get to be the decider of your own future.
Nobody else has that privilege. They have their own lives to decide.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Guest Post: "Should" is what's between you and your joy

by StillStanding1

I’ve been thinking an awful lot about the word “should” lately. I’ve done a lot of rumbling with it in the nearly two years since d-day.  Early on I came to the realization that it was a “bad" word best removed from my vocabulary. Should is a whole lot of judgement disguised as motivation. Should is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It pretends to be interested in bettering ourselves, but really, it is a bold underlining of all the places we believe we lack; all the places where we don’t measure up; all the times someone told us we weren’t enough and we bought it. Should is the leather belt in the hands of our inner parent “motivating” us to do better. Should is our inner critic’s open-handed slap to our face when we believe we’ve missed the mark, when we should have seen the signs, when we should have been thinner/younger/sexier/cooked more dinners/fill in the blank. Should is a bunch of bullshit.
Should is about fitting in, not rocking the boat, not making people uncomfortable and not being true to ourselves. It’s about keeping silent. It’s about shame. It’s a single track, downhill ride to pain and loneliness. It took me a long time to realize this. I had been a poster child for the dangers and self-destruction of perfectionism since my teens. It’s what happens when you grow up with an alcoholic (or in any other dysfunctional family system for that matter). My inner critic was brutal. Nothing I did was good enough. Ever. I was apologetic for my existence, for taking up space. And when I tried and didn’t get the response I expected, I was devastated. Imagine, struggling with depression at 16 and your own father asks you what they did wrong. The clear implication was that something was wrong with me. I was inherently wrong. My inner critic has a mean left.
Post d-day, lots of lessons started coming my way around judgement. One was that the inner critic was an asshole who had sucked the joy from my life for too long and I should dump her. Another was that I could be a lot nicer to myself about successes and also not successes. One of the biggest was that I drop the word “should” and replace it with “could”. Should is a requirement that comes packed with judgement and topped with a set-up for failure. Could is a free choice with no expectations and no losers. There are big shoulds and little insidious shoulds that crop up in our lives. Learning to notice them is the first step to becoming a recovering should-aholic.
The other day I got a message from my daughter, away at college. “Mom, can I tell you something awesome that happened to me?” Yes, of course. She had left her laundry in the laundry room in her dorm for a full day. Had completely forgotten about it. She went to retrieve it, expecting to see it scattered, gone or dumped on the floor. Instead, she found it folded neatly on top of the dryer. Even the socks had been matched up. How lovely! She felt so grateful. The first words out of my mouth were, “Oh that’s so great! You should write a thank-you note.” Well…there was a group chat for the floor but she wasn’t sure she wanted to say anything since it might embarrass the person. I pushed the idea of a note again. It’s less public so they’d still get it but it wouldn’t be out on social media. I felt my daughter’s anxiety rising. And…I realized I was laying a big, fat, old “should” on her. And I said, “Hold on a sec.” And I thought about it. I was creating that anxiety. There was no reason she had to write that thank-you note. It was me taking a wonderful experience and turning it into a situation where she had to do or be more. Ouch. So I backtracked and said, “You know what? You don’t need to write a thank-you note. The only thing you need to do is enjoy feeling grateful.” That’s it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with writing a thank-you note. But there was no need or requirement for it either. I was stunned at how slick my own “should” was at sliding itself in there. And how easy it is to pass on the “do more, be more” message.

 A “should” is all the things we’ve ever heard or been taught about how we don’t measure up. It’s the world’s sneaky, gigantic countermove trying to keep us from who we are. When you move away from should, you move toward yourself. When you start to let go of all the shoulds (I should be a better mom, wife, daughter, friend, artist, writer, manager, leader. I should be smarter. I should be thinner, prettier, sexier, stronger, faster. I should be better with money. I should be able to remember names. I should have known. I should have done this differently. Whatever your personal list of “shoulds” are) you make room for a whole lot of love and acceptance. Then you have two hands free to hang on to yourself.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Hustling for Worthiness

I was watching an online interview by Marie Forleo with beloved sociologist and shame researcher Brené Brown when a phrase she used stopped me cold.
"Hustling for worthiness."
It's nothing new for Brown. She often speaks of "hustling" in a pejorative sense – referencing the ways in which we humiliate ourselves or disrespect ourselves or lie to ourselves.
And I get it. I agree with her. I nod enthusiastically.
But this time, it landed somewhere other than my brain.
This time, it landed smack in the middle of my heart.
Hustling for worthiness.
Oh my god, that's what I've been doing my entire life.
I am hustling for worthiness when I say 'yes' to things that my entire body is screaming 'no' to.
I hustle for worthiness when I worry more about wearing the right outfit than how I am going to pay for that outfit.
I hustle for worthiness when I listen to a friend's woes – ad nauseam – but keep mum about my own problems.
When I overlook someone's unkindness.
When I pretend my life is glossier than it is.
When I polish my exterior because I fear my interior doesn't measure up.
We talk a lot on this site about recognizing that we are "enough". In fact, Still Standing 1 just wrote about it.
And I've come a long way from the woman who wasn't even aware that she never felt "enough". But words hold power. And by being able to attach a label – hustling for worthiness – to that vague yucky feeling when we disrespect ourselves in service of pleasing another, we're far more likely to be able to at least notice what we're doing. And when we notice it, we can begin to change it.
I'm not sure anything pierces our armour like betrayal. No matter how fast we've been dancing to prove to the world that we deserve to be loved, betrayal brings us to our knees.
But that's the best place to rest and notice what we've been doing to ourselves.
We've always deserved to be loved. We don't have to hustle for worthiness.
We never did.
Or, as Brené Brown puts it, "Our worth and our belonging are not negotiated with other people. We carry those inside of our hearts."

Friday, September 15, 2017

Infidelity Counseling Network: Peer Counselling

Infidelity Counseling Network is a peer counselling service that pairs a trained counsellor who has experienced infidelity with someone seeking support and guidance. It's a real person at the end of a phone line (or Skype connection) who knows the pain you're in and has been equipped with the tools to help you navigate your way to more solid ground. It's not a substitute for a therapist nor is it a crisis hotline. Think of it as a wise, been-there-done-that friend who can support you in the worst pain of your life. 
Well...I was just notified by the incredible Laura S., who created Infidelity Counselling Network, that seven recently trained counsellors have been added and they're ready to take on more betrayed wives who need support.
They've shifted their model to a sliding scale so it's essentially pay-what-you-can.
And, from everything I've ever heard including women on this site who've used the service, it's worth it.
Check it out:

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Guest Post: The five things I want you to know about being cheated on

by StillStanding1

“Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.” – Brené Brown

Sometimes I read things on the internet and social media. Most of the time I should know better. Recently, I scanned the comments section of a post sharing how various people discovered their partners had been unfaithful, how they dealt with finding out or apocryphal stories of sweet, sweet revenge. Rather than bite the clickbait, I looked at the comments. I am more interested in the ways people process infidelity and how we, as Western society, discuss it, than I am in the “once a cheater, always a cheater” rants, which I believe is false or the “kick him/her to the curb” chorus, which I believe is short-sighted. One young woman was absolutely 100% sure that if your partner loved you enough, he wouldn’t cheat.  It’s that simple, she said. And she got into a long comment war with people who questioned that, stating over and over her premise, that where there is enough love aimed at you, there will not be cheating.
And I found myself, with a not small degree of jaded superiority, shaking my head and thinking, Honey, you have nooooo idea what you are talking about. And I hope you never get to have your theory proven wrong. “Short sighted.” “Naïve.” Her comment stayed with me for a few days, under my skin a bit, until I realized that it bugged me so much because I used to believe it too, but with this twist: that if I had somehow been more lovable, that if I had been “enough” then my partner would not have cheated. There was a lot I didn’t know at d-day. One is that his cheating was never about me. Two is that I have always been lovable and always been enough.  Three is that I am not responsible for other people’s crap, emotional or otherwise. Four is that I can take what comes (I’ve got a 100% success rate so far) and be OK. Five is that when I am kind to myself, the whole world is kind to me too. The list goes on (#36 is that I am permitted to take naps). But most importantly, it was never about whether or not my partner loved me “enough.”
Where I finally landed was that we were both close to the truth, this commenter and I. The idea that people cheat when there is not enough love is quite accurate. But it’s not that our partners and spouses didn’t love us enough, or that we weren’t lovable: it’s that they didn’t love themselves enough. In many cases, (where they are not a sociopathic narcissist) they were running from themselves, medicating long buried pain or otherwise responding to a deeply rooted unease that they are not quite as lovable as they ought to be.
I believe this to be true because I grew up without the strong sense of love and belonging that operates in people with healthy self-esteem. My being lovable was conditional, often depending on how sober my mom was and if I did my caretaker job as required. I grew up and became an adult (sort of) with this ravenous black hole of doubt and self-loathing inside me. I was responsible for making everyone happy (an impossible job).  Until I looked those childhood wounds in the face, I was going to keep repeating them. (I always picture the computer W.O.P.R. from the 1980s movie War Games – where it keeps playing tic tac toe and then war simulations over and over, virtually destroying the planet thousands of times, until it learns to do something different – in this case that nobody wins at tic tac toe so you just don’t play the game anymore.  We keep re-enacting our childhood wounds until we wake up and realize we don’t need to play those games anymore either.)
It wasn’t a long time after d-day that I arrived at this realization: no one is ever going to love me enough until I love myself. No one else is ever going to make me feel enough: only I can do that for myself by recognizing that it is true right now, right this second. Until I accepted myself and all my imperfections, I was never going to feel whole.  It was my job and my job alone to do that work.  Scary.
So many of us wash up here at BWC in the middle of the storm, dripping in family and relationship dysfunction. We don’t even recognize that the beach we are standing on is one where we need to start drawing some lines in the sand. We are lost, dizzy, sick and bewildered. Please remember that each of us is already enough exactly as we are. Each of us deserves love and respect based on the simple, beautiful fact of our existence. Start loving yourself. Be your own cheerleader. Don’t wait for anyone else to do it for you. You have so much more power than you ever knew. Each of us is infinitely lovable and infinitely worthy of belonging.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

This is what self-respect looks like after betrayal

We need to talk about self-respect. Lately I've been reading so many comments from women struggling to figure out how to talk to their partners about porn use, about contact with the OW, about attending events solo, about employment where the OW works too.
On the whole, the women who come to this site are amazing. Compassionate, supportive. And oh-so-giving. They give wonderful advice to each other, they give heartfelt "me toos!" to each other But they also give the benefit of the doubt to the husband who refuses to disclose his passwords. They try to be "reasonable" with the husband whose job keeps him in regular contact with the women he cheated with. They give until it hurts. By which I mean, they give even after it hurts themselves. They just keep giving.
Until there's almost nothing left of themselves. Or at least nothing they recognize.
And then they berate themselves for being "weak" or pathetic.
They are neither of those things.
They are empathetic and want, desperately, to be able to believe in the people they love. In many other situations, that would be wonderful – a great way to connect open-heartedly.
But this is not any other situation. This is a situation in which this person they love has shown he cannot be trusted.
It's that simple.
It doesn't matter if he says he's learned his lesson, or he didn't mean to hurt you, or he was lost and now he's found. None of that matters.
What matters is that he has shown – clearly – that he cannot be trusted.
Hopefully, the day will come when that can be said in the past tense. That he could not be trusted...but now he can. That day comes after he walks away from the job in which he has regular contact with the OW, when he doesn't mind when you look at his e-mails, when he makes it clear that he will not go anywhere without you until you feel okay with it, when he seeks treatment for porn addiction, or substance abuse, or because he cheated on someone he's terrified to lose.
But that's not now. Now, he cannot be trusted.
And so you have absolutely no choice if you are to respect yourself but to respond in a way that keeps you emotionally safe.
You cannot go to an event in which I'm not also invited.
You cannot stay in a job in which you have regular contact with the OW.
You cannot continue to access porn when it is clearly a problem.
You must give me access to any and all devices/accounts.
You must attend therapy.
You must attend a 12-step group.
You must accompany me to couples counselling.
What you are saying with each of these statements is NOT that you are difficult or suspicious or unsupportive or demanding or unreasonable or not understanding of just how difficult it is for this poor beleaguered cheater.
No, what you are saying is this: I respect myself too much to remain in a situation in which I don't feel emotionally safe. 
You are saying that you are willing to give him the chance to show you, day by day, week by week, that he has learned his lesson, that he was lost but now he's found.
But for now, you will operate on the information you have: That he cannot be trusted.
You will hear all sorts of "woe is me" stuff. It's hard – no, impossible! – to find a new job. It's humiliating when you scroll through my texts! It's unfair to expect me to say 'no' to social events just because you feel uncomfortable! We can't afford counselling! And on and on and on. And on.
Cry me a goddamned river.
He created a situation in which he made it brutally clear that HE CANNOT BE TRUSTED and now he's upset that you're responding as if HE'S SOMEONE WHO CANNOT BE TRUSTED?
Wow. Poor guy. Life's rough when you have to deal with the consequences of your choices.
But that's, ummm, life. We teach our five-year-olds that.
We also teach people how to treat us. And if we've spent a lifetime (or at least a marriage) teaching our partner that it's okay to disrespect us, in ways large and small, then it's time to write a new script.


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