Monday, July 30, 2018

Turns Out My Idiot Husband Isn't the Idiot. I Am.

I came thisclose to walking away from my marriage this past weekend. A bit surprising, for sure. Two days ago, things were fine.
But over dinner Saturday night, with my family and friend of my son gathered around the table, talk turned to the various #MeToo allegations. We discussed a well-known movie star, beloved by so many, including us. "Did more than one woman accuse him?" my husband asked.
In a movie version of that moment, there would be a pause. The camera would pan to my face, my 20-year-old daughter's face. And then the stricken face of my husband who realized what he'd said too late.
We piled on.
He doubled down.
What, to me, was an important discussion about the way we talk about sexual harassment and assault was, to him, lecturing and attacking.
He was still furious the next day.
Which infuriated me.
He told me he was sick of being lectured by me, that he said nothing wrong. I tried to explain to him the frustration of a lifetime of moments where I'd been silenced, where I'd felt threatened, and including a night when I'd been sexually assaulted. "Does that only count if there's an army of women who can confirm I'm telling the truth?" I demanded.
We talked about privilege. He – get this – honestly doesn't think that, as a white man who grew up as a 1 percenter, that he's had privilege. Though he admitted, "I've just never thought about it."
"Not having to think about it is the definition of privilege," I said.
I walked away frustrated. My thoughts went something like this:
I can't believe I'm married to this idiot. How can anyone be so UN-self-aware? What am I doing with him? We clearly don't share a value system. And so on.
I quickly moved to plotting my escape. The kids were getting older. I could easily leave the marriage. Imagine how great it would be to be with a man who listened, who didn't get defensive, who wasn't blind to his own privilege, who was a true feminist.
In the meantime, my husband has put the leashes on our two dogs and gone for a walk. I vaguely imagined that he, too, was plotting his escape from this marriage.
And then, he came home.
"Can I talk to you?" he asked, ducking into an empty bedroom so that the ears of our children, my father, and various of our kids' friends couldn't overhear.
I was still fuming but fear was growing in my belly. What if he really was going to tell me he wanted out?
"I"m sorry," he said. "I'm trying to understand what you're telling me but I don't. But, really, I'm trying."
And with that, my anger (almost) vanished.
My mind, having swung wildly in the direction of he's an idiot found equilibrium somewhere closer to the he's human part of the spectrum.
And, well, I hadn't exactly conducted myself with compassion or a genuine curiosity about his point of view, preferring instead of bludgeon him into acquiescence.
All of which is to say, all I've ever really needed in a relationship is someone who's willing to try and hear my point of view. And, I suppose, someone to call me out when my own behaviour could use a makeover.
He and I have come a long way but this weekend reminded me that, when tensions are high and self-regulation is low (I had been feeling resentful all last week about all the preparation I've been doing for houseguests we have coming, which is a sure sign that I'm violating my own boundaries and not practicing enough self-care), we'll too often fall back into our old, unhealthy patterns of engagement. Me chastising, him defending. My the mother, him the errant child.
Thanks to his ability to step out of that pattern, to examine it and to come to me as a mature adult, we got ourselves back on track.
So, I won't be leaving my husband after all.

Friday, July 27, 2018

He is responsible TO you. Not FOR you.

The question most of us ask as we're working through whether to rebuild our marriage or walk away is "can I ever trust him again?"
It's an obvious question. He betrayed your trust. He lied. And if he's asking for a second (or third) chance, it's incumbent on him to show you that he's worthy of it. How? By seeking help in understanding why he made the choice to cheat. By learning how to make a different choice in the future.
But, even if he does everything he can to show that he will do everything he can to make a different choice, unless you've also learned how to trust yourself, it will be difficult to rebuild your marriage.
I know what you're probably thinking. It's what most of us think  – are indeed programmed to think by our "soul-mate", "love cures all" pop-culture world: That he was supposed to take care of us.
Those promises we make each other, in relationships and, publicly, on our wedding day are kinda gauzy, aren't they? We promise to "love, honour and cherish". We promise "in sickness and in health." If we wrote our own vows, they probably said something about our "soul-mate", our "best friend", and "forever". They likely said nothing about what we'd do when that soul-mate disappointed us so profoundly. Nothing about when our "best friend" betrayed us. Because our culture doesn't hold room those realities. Not out loud. Those things are whispered. They're said in darkness.
And so we enter this gauzy future that we think will come into focus. And it does.
On D-Day. When we discover that the person we thought was responsible for our happiness has broken our heart.
But that, my friends, is when the jig is up. It's when we discover, if we're paying attention, that he was never responsible FOR us. He was responsible TO us. 
Big difference.
The difference is this: Handing over responsibility FOR our happiness makes us passive. It leaves us at the mercy of everyone around us. Understanding that we are responsible TO those we love, and they to us, keeps us actively engaged in our own happiness. It keeps us in charge. We're no longer outsourcing what we need, we're creating it for ourselves.
Of course, that doesn't make betrayal any less painful.
But it can make healing from it marginally easier. Because from the get-go, we take responsibility for it. We don't expect him to make us happy again. The job of healing is ours.
It's often said that we can't control what happens to us but we can control how we respond to what happens. 
Focusing outward defines us as victims. It takes away our power. If we insist on others being responsible FOR us, we relinquish responsibility for how we respond to what happens to us. 
Here's what it looks like: 
If we take responsibility, if we insist on trusting only those in our lives who have shown us over time that they can be trusted, we're less likely to be blindsided again. We're less likely to forgive until we've seen hard evidence that the person seeking our forgiveness has done the tough work of figuring out why they hurt us in the first place. Each and every time someone indicates they aren't trustworthy, our radar should send a clear message to our brains...which should inform our hearts. As a friend of mine says, the distance between our brains and hearts can be the longest 18 inches there is. And we should not trust until we see, clearly and consistently, that he's taking responsibility for HIS actions and that his word means something.
In the meantime, we're responsible TO him and he to us. To treat each other with decency. With honesty. With respect and kindness. And we're responsible FOR ourselves. To be accountable for our actions. 
It's a far less romantic way to view a partnership. It flies in the face of the "two halves becoming one" and all the other love myths that don't prepare us at all for a marriage that we expect to last until death do us part. But it's a healthier way. What's more, two people coming together, not because they need each other for their happiness, but because they choose each other, strikes me as more romantic. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

From the Vault: Worrying That I Worry Too Much

A reader commented that she enjoys my older posts...particularly this one. It's interesting for me to note that I no longer experience this chronic worry, or panic attacks. Meditation has helped enormously. And self-care: sleep, healthy eating, exercise, a place to share my thoughts/worries. That said, my teens, with their newly minted driver's licences, are putting my anxiety-busting skills to the test! ~Elle

One of the casualties of betrayal is a sense of safety. For many of us, that safety was our marriages and our homes. Not necessarily in a dull, passionless sense (though that might be the case for some of us), but in a warm, out-of-the-harsh-world kinda way. I, for one, relied on my marriage as a haven – and my husband as the person I could trust with my heart.
And when that trust is betrayed, it wipes out that sense of safety.
In the weeks and months following D-Day, I began having panic attacks. A sense of anxiety and fear would mount. My breathing would become shallow. I felt trapped.
Now, three years post D-Day, it has manifested itself as chronic, low-grade worry.
I haven't been a worrier in years, though I confess I leaned toward worry in childhood. As child of two alcoholics, I often worried when they didn't come home when expected. Even as a kid, I understood that drinking and driving often led to disaster...and I feared that disaster would befall my family. I worried about the fighting. About divorce. About whether I would live with my mother or father.
In my twenties, however, with my mother sober, my father sober(ish) and an understanding of the effects of alcoholism on children, I was able to leave worry behind.
Quite successfully.
I became almost the opposite, convinced that bad things simply didn't happen to me. In my twisted logic, I figured I'd paid my dues. Now was time to enjoy life. I succeeded at school, found a career I loved and excelled at, travelled (often hitch-hiking to get around), got married, had kids – I felt invincible. 
And save for a few scares, such as a cancer scare with my mother, and a health scare when I was pregnant with my first daughter, I worried very little.
But now.
Now, I worry about everything. Silly things. Like horrific car accidents that wipe out my entire family. Like my daughter growing up to become a meth addict. Like my son marrying someone who hates me and cutting me out of his life. That my career is over. That menopause will render me 50 pounds heavier with a full beard.
This chronic worry crept up on me.
At first, once I learned of my husband's affairs, I worried about the obvious: that he was still involved, that he wasn't where he said he was, that there was more than he was admitting, that my marriage was doomed, that I would live out my life in drunken, pathetic squalor...
But as those worries were eased by day-to-day evidence that they weren't going to happen, a tippy-toeing anxiety took their place.
However, as I fretted last week over something that I now can't even recall, the realization hit me hard.
I've become a chronic worrier.
And I don't want to be that way. I don't want to create anxiety where it need not be. I don't want to pollute my family's environment with toxic worry.
The solution for me seems to talk to myself (I swear, I'm getting crazier by the day!) whenever I notice that I'm worrying...and remind myself that my fears are groundless. Sure we could get into a car accident that renders all of us paralyzed from the neck down and suffering from third-degree burns...but it isn't very likely.
And sure my children could grow up to become white-collar criminals, drag-addled hookers or divorce lawyers...but it isn't likely.
And sure, my husband could betray me again with someone even more wretched than the OW. But it isn't likely (or possible. She was verywretched!!)
It's one more instance where I refuse to let betrayal's long reach affect me any further.

Wednesday Word Hug

Monday, July 23, 2018

Why Can't I Forgive Him?

"In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die."

Brené Brown was sitting in church when she heard her pastor utter those words. He had been speaking about counselling a couple on the brink of divorce after discovering her husband's affair. Brown had been wrestling with the idea of forgiveness for her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and had ultimately taken the chapter about forgiveness out because she just couldn't get clear on it.
Those words were like an awakening. Because she realized this:
Embedded deeply in forgiveness is grief.
Think about that.
I always thought of forgiveness as something that people who weren't burdened with resentment and anger offered freely, then moved blithely into the rest of their lives. I would watch television shows (which is where so many of us children of dysfunctional families think we're finding reality) in which a sibling would wrong another sibling, but it would always end with an apology and the response: "I forgive you." And then all would be forgotten.
It took me years to realize that forgiveness doesn't really work like that, especially when the transgression is deep and painful.
I would wonder what was wrong with me that, even with my husband apologizing around the clock for his betrayal of me, I felt incapable of forgiveness. Surely those people were more spiritually evolved than I. They were simply better people. There were times in those early days that I didn't hate him. Brief moments when I could imagine not leaving. But mostly, I cried and simmered in resentment. I wasn't ready to leave but I hated staying. Forgiveness? Didn't that mean I was putting all this behind us? Didn't that mean I was okay with what he did? Didn't that mean I could never bring it up again?
Forget that.
I still wonder if I've "forgiven" my husband. I confess I'm not entirely sure what that means. I'm with him and happy to be. I trust him as much as I trust anyone who has revealed themselves capable of deception, which is the same as saying, I trust him as much as I trust anyone. His cheating is part of our story but only part. We rarely speak about it. I no longer use it like a sword, a way to cut him when I'm hurting.
Forgiveness though?
I've certainly grieved, which, as Brown says, is a key part of forgiveness. Something definitely died. A lot of somethings. My sense of safety. My idea of who he was. My idea of what my marriage was. My dream of doing marriage "right" (which says a whole lot about me, which I've had to wrestle with). My "perfect" family. A veritable graveyard of dreams.
And I had to grieve it all. Year by year. Tear by tear.
So maybe I have landed in this place of forgiveness. I've accepted that my husband is more than the worst thing he ever did. I admire and respect how hard he's worked to become a better person, how painful it was for him to face down his own demons. Plenty died for him too. His fantasy of his perfect childhood. His mythological martyr of a father. He had his own grieving to do.
I'm with Brené Brown on this one. Forgiveness is impossible without working through grief.
It never surprises me when one of our secret sisters washes up on these shores and begins her comment with, "I've forgiven him but I feel stuck."
Forgiveness looms large for so many of us – like this holy grail we feel we need to grasp.
But maybe we're looking at it wrong. Maybe forgiveness isn't something we bestow but rather something that is bestowed on us when we've worked through our grief. Maybe it's not something we feel but rather a place we arrive.
I had always thought forgiveness came easily to those more emotionally generous and loving than I. So did Brené Brown. It was only when she viewed forgiveness through the lens of death and grief that it clicked for her. There is nothing, she says, more generous than working through grief to get to forgiveness.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Guest Post: Two Tricks to Teach Self-Love

by StillStanding1

I recently felt too tired and overwhelmed to do much of anything. I felt like I should be doing “better,” be farther along, but my therapist reminded me that although my D-day is more than two years ago, I’ve been through a lot in the intervening time. My divorce was only final eight months ago. Not long in terms of recovery, which can be anywhere from two to six years post-divorce. (Ugh. Please, lord, not six years…) but I was reminded that it is okay to be where I am and to recognize that I am in need of rest. So…
If you are working so hard, juggling so many tasks, but not making much progress, it might be time to rest.
If you have been working so hard at healing, but are surprised you aren’t further along, it might be time to rest.
If you've been driving all the difficult conversations and doing the heavy lifting in the relationship and not getting much in return, it might be time to rest.
If you can’t do it anymore, it might be time to rest.
If you are not keeping up and don’t like yourself so much at the moment, it might be time to rest.
If you are putting everyone else ahead of you and feeling exhausted ("but they are sick" or "they really need me" etc.), it might be time to rest.
If the next time you hear how strong you are, you are just going to lay down and not get up again, it might be time to rest.
If the word “should” has taken over your vocabulary lately, it might be time to rest.
If the voices that whisper “you are not enough” or “you are too much” are getting loud and insistent, it might be time to rest.
Go easy on yourself. Healing and recovery are on no schedule but yours. There is no timeline, no landmarks or epiphanies you must experience by a certain point in time. There’s no straight line to follow. There is only your own, roundabout path. We, none of us, know ourselves quite as well as we think we do. Surviving infidelity really shows us things we never knew, believed or understood about how amazing, worthy, how flawed and completely human we are. So, I repeat, go easy on yourself.
Love yourself fiercely.
Remind yourself that you are loved and worthy of love just because you exist. And if you are having a hard time believing that, find the people who believe in you until you can again. And if you feel like there’s no one to do that for you, to love and hold you, I have something for you:
Exercise 1: Imagine yourself as a young child. You are sitting in a sunny field of flowers. You – the adult you – approaches the younger you and says, “I’m here to love you. I’m not going away, ever.” See if that child will let you hold her. It may take a few tries. Maybe you just hold hands at first. But you – the adult you – keep on going back to visit the child in the field. “See? I’m still here. I love you and I will always be here for you.” And you keep coming back and giving yourself the love you deserve. Eventually, the child will believe you and you can hold her and she will feel safe.
Exercise 2: Find a spot with a mirror, where you can be reasonably private. I usually do this right after my shower. Look in the mirror and look yourself right in the eyes. Hold eye contact and say out loud, “I love you.” This is going to feel awkward and weird. If you can’t say that at first, try, “You are doing great. I’m proud of you.” If it feels weird to say out loud, try saying it in your head at first. Work up to saying it out loud, holding eye contact and, eventually, getting warmth and feeling into your voice. Really mean it. Do this often.
Why do these exercises work? Because the limbic system, which controls our emotions, responds to any kind of stimulus, even when that stimulus is imaginary, we are creating the positive feelings of love and belonging. It is one of the oldest parts of the brain, is pretty simple and this is why we can use intention and higher areas of our brain to “trick” ourselves into feeling better.  By inducing the feelings of love and belonging, we are creating an internal secure base, and can help a hyper-aroused limbic system to stand down and shift toward its basic default of being generally happy. 
Any time you are experiencing a positive feeling, try to notice it, label it and sit with the feeling to deepen your experience. The more you do this, or make these moments happen with exercises like the two examples above, the more you train your mind and heart for resilience. And when you are feeling tired and like you need a rest and like everything is too much, that’s the perfect time to sit down and give yourself some love.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Rebuild yourself after betrayal

"There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself." ~Hannah Gadsby, stand-up comedian

I have some bad news for those of you who long for nothing more than the you you used to be. The "Before" you. Before your heart was shattered by news of your husband's infidelity. Before you fell to your knees and sobbed. Before you stared vacant-eyed at the ceiling, wondering how you could have missed the clues because surely there were clues. Before you threw his clothes on the lawn. Before you brushed away your tears and assured your children that "no, sweetie, mommy isn't sad. Mommy just has something in her eye."
The bad news is this: That woman is gone.
But it's not all bad news. Because when everything is gone, when you're stripped bare and you're looking around and wondering how you ever thought it mattered whether you painted the kitchen chairs yellow or red or whether your kids were actually eating from all the food groups each day, when you don't have much left to lose is when the rebuilding can begin. And anyone who's lost everything in a fire will tell you that when the time comes to rebuild, you don't scrimp, you don't cut corners, you don't overlook. Instead, starting from the foundation, you make damn sure that you're building the strongest possible thing you can, able to withstand fire, hurricane and flood.
Which is why older women are, statistically, at their happiest. We've stopped caring whether people think we're fat, or whether we said the wrong thing at the meeting. As the saying goes, we have zero fucks left to give.
Which is not to say we don't care. Those of us who've been broken and rebuilt ourselves are among the most compassionate people. We care deeply. We just don't care about the superfluous, the shallow. We use our precious time and energy to focus on the things we can change, on the things that matter.
For me, that means my family. It means work that I find meaningful. It means my friends. And it means releasing myself of that longing for Before.
I know how hard it is. I spent way too much time wishing I could magically restore myself to life Before. And yes, there were casualties. It took me a few years at least until I laughed with the same abandon as Before. It took me even longer until I could approach anyone's news of engagement or wedding without cynicism. I had to work to regain my sense of humour and I still tend toward cynicism.
There's little doubt, though, that my shoulders are better able to carry my friends in their sorrow. I know that my heart is wide enough and deep enough to hold pain and still have room for joy. We women who have rebuilt ourselves are superheroes.
It sucks that it sometimes takes suffering to remind us of our strength. But all the women I truly admire – every single one – has felt broken. One lost two children to suicide/mental illness. Another battled anxiety and addiction. Another parents a child with special needs. Too many have known betrayal. So much grief. And so much strength.
I know it probably doesn't help much when you're in a heap on the floor. And I'm a firm believer in letting yourself stay there and cry. Not forever but today.
But know that the rebuilding is underway, whether you can feel it yet or not. Your strength is being stirred and preparing to rise. Look around at the women who you truly admire. Not the ones with the shiny veneer. We all know that's carefully crafted to cover the cracks. But the ones who model strength and conviction. The ones who've rebuilt themselves. Forget Before. That's your After.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

UPDATE: Join our secret sisterhood for a "me too" weekend: Sept. 28 - 30

I'm thrilled to announce that we'll be joined at our retreat by Chris Lindner, a trained peer counsellor with the Infidelity Counseling Network. After experiencing infidelity herself and getting her footing back, Chris has determined to help others. After completing coach certification training via the Infidelity Recovery Institute, she has set up her business: Help From BetrayalThere are a few spots left at our retreat. We'll be working Chris into our schedule. Hope you decide to join us!

Are there any more powerful words than "me too", spoken in solidarity with another's pain? Nobody knows betrayal like those of us who've been betrayed. Join the BWC secret sisterhood at our showing up (no "retreat" for us!),
September 28 - 30, at a huge beach house on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina.

To give you a sense of what you can expect, here's our agenda (to date):

Friday, September 28
Arrive by 7 p.m.
Welcome reception, catered
•We'll gather together to enjoy some great food and champagne and relax after our flights.
•There will be access to the swimming pool and beach to unwind.

Saturday, September 29
•Breakfast 9 a.m.
•Activities: biking, kayaking, paddle-boarding, swimming
•12:30 - 1:30: Lunch, catered (vegetarian options available)
•1:30 - 3:00 p.m. Conversation circle: Our chance to share our stories, talk over wherever we feel stuck, offer up what's working for us, and crowd-source help.
•Afternoon: Afternoon: Massage available for those who want it (an on-site masseuse is offering massage -- foot, hand, scalp, shoulders, back, full-body! Whatever you want. She works regularly with those who've experienced trauma)
3:00 - 6:00: Activities available: biking, paddle-boarding, swimming, kayaking.
7 p.m. Dinner at a local restaurant overlooking the ocean

Sunday, September 30
•Early-birds are welcome to coffee/tea, croissants
•11 a.m.: Brunch
•Group check-in/conversation around the pool
•Activities available: biking, paddle-boarding, kayaking, swimming
•3:00 p.m. Departure

If you have any concerns, please let me know. If there's something you'd like to see but don't, please let me know. If you need help spreading out the payments, please let me know. This is a chance for 15 of you to find support and compassion and to give yourself a break and let someone else take care of the details.
Included in the $1,098 cost: all meals and snacks, massage, activities, champagne reception, and accommodation for two nights. Not included: airfare and transportation to and from the beach house.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

What a horror flick can teach us about how we talk to ourselves

There was a popular horror flick when I was younger about a babysitter being terrorized by a lunatic. He continues to call her, asking in a raspy voice, "Have you checked the children?"
The babysitter calls the police to report this harassment and the police promise to investigate. The climax of the movie – the part where everyone in the theatre shrieks in terror – comes when a police officer calls the babysitter back and tells her that "the calls are coming from inside the house."
I'm reminded of this because of a comment on the Feeling Stuck thread in which a woman, still married and reportedly happy to be, confesses that she's struggling to feel desirable because her husband cheated with someone younger and, theoretically, sexier. This woman felt old and unlovable and "ordinary". How, she asked, could she get her former confident self back?
What does this have to do with a horror flick? Because here's the thing: it's coming from inside your head. The enemy is in the house.
And that is where we need to direct our energy to ensure that this enemy is annihilated, or at least tamed.
It's not easy. The enemy might have our voice but the words likely sound a lot like those that came from your mother. Or your stepfather. Or your college boyfriend. Even your husband. Maybe what you hear sounds a lot like what we see on social media, where women are attacked for everything from their weight to their hair to the language they use. For centuries, women have been policed -- our bodies, our ideas. So it's no surprise that we've internalized this. It's no surprise that the enemy is now within.
Cause being younger doesn't necessarily mean better unless we agree with our cultural worship of youth. Being younger generally means less life experience. It means less perspective. It means less nuance. And being "new" means she doesn't have the same history with your partner – showing up day in and day out for life's moments – that you do. So she has a tight ass. Big deal. Talk to me when she has a moral compass.
The only way to battle that internal enemy is to, first, notice it. Pay attention next time you hear criticism coming from inside your own head. Anything from "what an idiot I am" to "I'm disgusting". And then challenge it. Are you really an idiot? I doubt it. I imagine, like the rest of us, you have your moments. You say something dumb or you lose something important or you forget something. Oh well. Welcome to the club.
As for disgusting, no you're not. If you're not taking care of yourself, then it's time to start. But that's it. Tell yourself you're disgusting often enough and that's all you'll be able to see. You'll completely miss everything that's incredible about you. Your sense of humour. Your insight. Your kindness. None of that is disgusting.
But when all we hear is a steady stream of criticism, that becomes our reality. The enemy of the women who commented about having lost her confidence isn't this younger Other Woman. It's the voice in her head. The one that agrees that youth is somehow preferable.
Maybe this voice has something to teach her. Maybe she's bored with her own life. Maybe what she's after isn't youth (especially when it comes in a package that's lacking a heart and soul) but vitality. Maybe she needs to stir things up a bit – try a new hobby, take a trip, do something unexpected.
Or maybe she needs to stop beating herself up for having taken more trips around the sun than this morally challenged Other Woman. Maybe she needs to see the beauty in eyes that crinkle when she smiles, a body that has weathered a few more storms.
Next time you hear that voice, remind yourself that it's the enemy within. And that's an enemy that you can control.


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