Friday, September 28, 2018

Four Questions You Should Ask After His Affair

I'm in North Carolina at the My Heartbreak, My Rules, My Healing weekend so I may be offline for  bit. I apologize if it takes some time before I can moderate comments. 

Last week I wrote a post about the questions we're so often plagued by after discovering a partner's infidelity. Questions that undermine our healing.
And then, over the weekend, I got thinking about the questions we should be asking ourselves.

1. What does he need to do to convince me he's worth a second chance?
It's one of betrayal's ironies that right when we should be utterly outraged at our partner's lies and deception, we are, instead, terrified that he'll leave. Not all of us, of course. Many of us throw his clothes on the front lawn, call his mother or sister or boss, text him to not bother coming home. But some of us, like me, have such a deep fear of abandonment that all I could think about was being left. Scratch that. It wasn't thinking about being left, it was deeper than that: It was feeling the terror of being left.
And so I gave my husband a blow-job. Sure I berated him for the pain I was in but I didn't kick him out. I didn't throw him on the couch. I did a few things right, like demand that he remove her from his office and never EVER have contact with her again. Like insist on access to his phone and computer. Like demand that he be home every single night to help me with our three children as I was falling to pieces.
And as my husband responded to my demands, as he struggled to convince me he was worth a second chance, it worked. I saw how hard he was working. I watched him fight like hell to understand how he could do such a thing and risk a family he loved.
What is your husband doing? If he's not fighting like hell, why not? If he's still on the fence about whether or not he'll give up the OW, what are you waiting for?
This is your time to figure out whether this guy is worth the ridiculously hard work of rebuilding a marriage after betrayal. So many of us question our own worthiness in the wake of betrayal -- wondering what's wrong with us that he cheated. There's nothing wrong with us. Him? Well, he's a cheater so that's one strike against him. Let's just see whether he's worth fighting for. 

2. What can I give to myself to help me heal from this?
You cannot control your husband, as if that isn't painfully clear at this point. But we forget that, don't we? We think if only he cuts off contact, re-dedicates himself to his family, reminds us why he doesn't want to lose us that we'll magically feel better. But it doesn't work that way. Betrayal is a wound that remains even if your husband is the most remorseful ever. Even if he does everything right (after doing a HUGE wrong).
But you can control yourself, which is the only thing you've ever been able to control. Which means...your healing is your responsibility but also your salvation. Therapy, loyal friends, time alone, time together, journalling, retreats...whatever you need, find a way to give it to yourself. Maybe you're realizing that you got lost a long time before he cheated. Maybe you cheated yourself before he did. Out of an education you wanted. A career you hoped for. A family you dreamed of. Get to know yourself again and then give that wounded woman what she needs to heal from this.

3. When/where have I violated my own boundaries in my marriage?
In other words, what behaviour have I tolerated that made me feel unvalued and unsafe, emotionally or physically? And remember, it's not always a clear-cut thing. My boundaries had always been so fuzzy that I was only vaguely aware of when they were being violated. It didn't show up in my consciousness as a "hell no! you can't do that!" so much as a simmering resentment, a knot in my stomach, a muffled anger. For instance, I routinely allowed my husband's work to be considered more important than my work. Yes, he earned more money, though there's little doubt that was partly the result of a dynamic that gave him more time/energy to devote to his career than I was able to devote to mine. And, I would tell myself, it was my choice to want to be home with my children. But that was just a way of rationalizing the lack of consideration I was getting in my marriage. It was a way of justifying that my marriage didn't feel fair.
Healing from his betrayal and rebuilding a marriage worth staying for meant taking a hard look at the ways in which I had allowed my own wants and needs to become secondary. Not rocking the boat became more important than advocating for myself. That's an unhealthy dynamic and one that needed fixing if I was going to stay in my marriage.

4. Do I believe myself worthy of love and respect?
This is a tough one because most of will automatically respond with "of course". Of course, we believe ourselves worthy. Who wouldn't? And yet, looking closely at the way we treat ourselves, or the way we allow ourselves to be treated can sometimes reveal the lie beneath that. We believe ourselves worthy of love and respect and yet we don't insist that our partners share in the labor around the home. We believe ourselves worthy of love and respect and yet we tolerate our husbands "teasing" us about our weight gain. Or making fun of our dream of going back to school.
Pay attention to those insidious ways in which we disrespect ourselves. Notice the times when his joke is at our expense, or his wants/needs are automatically assumed to take priority.
And, perhaps most importantly, pay attention to how we talk to ourselves. That internal critic, the one that shames us for thick thighs, or crow's feet, or a burned dinner, or a thoughtless remark, can be relentlessly cruel. My own inner critic, despite years of trying to silence her, still shows up to point out that my career isn't as great as another writer I know. Or reminds me, daily, that my body is showing its age. And that's just the beginning.
Pay attention. Remind yourself that you are worthy of love and respect and, I promise, you will begin to believe it. And then you will accept nothing less from those around you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Dealing with a Child of the Affair?

A visitor to this site recently noted that she hasn't found much info on this site related to dealing with a child of the affair. That's largely because it wasn't my experience so I don't have much to offer. And it's SUCH a difficult situation that I can scarcely imagine how painful it is. However, Phoenix often weighs in with what's happening in her life and has articulated so beautifully her struggle to manage her pain while not poisoning her own children against their half-brother. 

You there Phoenix?

Anyone else with thoughts related to this? 

Thanks, as always, for any light you can shine for one of our secret sisters. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Guest Post: Life After

by Laura S., founder of Infidelity Counseling Network

I did not stay in my marriage. I am still married.
How can that be true?
The answer lies in the term “stay.” A simple word but a deceptive one. After my husband’s affair, we decided to try to mend our relationship. Mending a relationship is a journey of healing (always), pain (unfortunately), honesty (ouch), hard work, vulnerability, more hard work, more honesty, and partnership. Staying in a relationship is something completely different. If you stayed in your marriage but still feel wounded, you know exactly what I mean.

You cannot mend your marriage all by yourself. It takes both partners, fully invested in recovering from the infidelity and the destruction that betrayal pours everywhere, like seeping poison. And if your partner is not remotely interested in mending, then you have a choice: you can end the relationship or you can “stay” in it, knowing that it is injured and cracked.

So what did we do? Oh, there are zillions of books and articles and websites that give the seemingly magic recipe but truly it’s an individual path like any type of personal growth. We went to couples’ therapy. We went to individual therapy. We attended a healing weekend retreat. We learned about communication. He explored the reasons for his betrayal. I explored my own self. He tried to figure out why he hurt me. We read “The Monogamy Myth” by Peggy Vaughan and “Mating in Captivity” by Esther Perel. He saw my pain, he shared my pain, he grieved over my pain. He worked through his issues and I threw things (okay, that didn’t help). I broke things (ditto). We yelled. We cried. We yelled again. We committed to brutal honesty. We lied. We told the truth.

And above all, we agreed that we did not want only to “stay”. We wanted a healed relationship or nothing at all. I wanted his integrity or nothing at all.

I do want to be careful here about seeming holier-than-thou. Some may interpret my story this way. But the infidelity conversation has to allow for good people making hurtful choices, just as it allows for bad people making hurtful choices. And why did we try to mend? Eight years later, I can barely remember. It was a complex reason having to do with love, kids, finances, shame (if we get divorced, what will our families think?), stubbornness, hope, and 23 years of history together (good times and awful times) that were not ready to be stored away.

Three months later, we could be tentative friends again. Seven months later, he moved back in. Two years later, we had recovered our marriage. Eight years later, my friends say, “I bet you guys never fight.” Are they kidding?  Of course we do. We are imperfect. Our marriage has ups and downs, just like everyone’s.

I don’t mean to imply that some paths are better than others. There are many valid reasons to stay, just as there are valid reasons to end it or mend it. I just want to be careful about the language we use. Recovery from betrayal is both powerful and exhausting, whether by yourself or with your partner, and in that shared pain we somehow, eventually, survive.

Infidelity Counseling Network offers peer mentoring (on a sliding scale) for anyone dealing with betrayal. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Beware the Resistance: Five Questions To Stop Asking

This has nothing to do with questions but black cats are the best.
Sure the circumstances of our betrayal vary. For some, the OW was a friend (extra ouch!). For others, their partner confessed. For me, the affair I learned about was the gateway to a hell of many many others that I hadn't a clue about.
However you find yourself here, you want help. The pain feels endless, each excruciating day rolling into another with no discernible hope. He keeps saying stupid hurtful things, or refusing to say anything at all. Your friends, the few whom you've confided in, are growing weary of your need, or they're exasperated that you're not taking their advice to leave, or they're fuelling the drama.
And you've got this nagging fear that's keeping you stuck, this script that won't let up. What if you made the wrong choice? What if he cheats again? What if you're giving up your chance to be happy for the sake of...what exactly? Avoiding conflict? Preserving your family? Fear of the unknown?
I've been there. It has been said that depression is an inability to release the past and anxiety is an inability to release the future. I lived between those two states. Profoundly depressed at how wrong I'd been about my marriage and profoundly anxious about being wrong again. What if...? What if...?What if...?
But most of it boiled down to five questions that I couldn't shake. Questions that woke me up and kept me up. Questions that chased me through my days.
You too?'re not alone.
But here's how to slay those questions and, hopefully, put them to rest for good:
Question #1: Did he cheat because there's something wrong with me?
No, he cheated because there's something wrong with him. Sure there are guys who say they cheated because their wife gained weight. Or lost interest in sex. Or nagged too much. But though they might actually even believe that's true, it's not. Not entirely.
Cause here's the thing. He could have talked to you. He could have shared how he was feeling. Tough? Absolutely. But not nearly as horrible as cheating on someone.
Far more often, though, a guy cheats because he's unhappy with himself. Maybe he's unhappy that he's not more successful at this age. Or because he's getting older. Or because he drinks too much. Or because he knows how resentful his wife is that he's never around. SO MUCH EASIER to blame you for his unhappiness than take responsibility for it.
And, again, if he's truly unhappy with you, with his marriage, then he can share that crucial tidbit of info. And ask for counselling or a divorce. You know...the grown-up way.

Question #2: By staying, aren't I letting him off the hook?
Nope. I hear this one all the time. I FELT this one all the time.
But what, exactly, is "off the hook"? Is it "off the hook" if your husband must attend a 12-step group to deal with his addiction issues? Is it "off the hook" if your husband must hand over any/all passwords, e-mail addresses? Is it "off the hook" if he checks in with you about where he is? By "off the hook", do we mean couples counselling? Reading books about healing from infidelity? Giving up boys' weekends? We don't ask those things of our husbands to punish them for transgressing but to help us heal, to help rebuild trust.
I don't know a single guy who would consider having to look in their wife's eyes and seeing the world of pain there as "off the hook". Rather, by staying and facing the damage caused by cheating, these guys are constantly on the hook. They've chosen that hook, knowing full-well that they put themselves there.

Question #3: What if he cheats again? Or is still cheating?
Well, then, you give some thought to what you'll do if you discover he's still cheating or cheats again in the future. SOME thought. Not daily obsessing. If he cheats again, then I will file for divorce. If he cheats again, I will pack up the children and go to my sister's. Fill it in yourself: If he cheats again, I will...  The key is to have your plan in place so that if you discover he's cheating again or still, you don't have to rely on your brain to formulate rational thought. You can rely on your plan. You can even include others in it. Tell your best friend. Your sister. Him. And then do it.
In the meantime, put conditions in place so that he can show you (or not) that he deserves this second chance. And then, as best you can (and I KNOW how hard it is), let it go. You can only control yourself. Not him. Ever.

Question #4: Does staying make me a doormat?
A loud "hell no". Staying requires an incredible amount of courage and faith and hard work and I don't give a shit what our culture says about women who don't kick him out, nor do I give a flying f#%k about the "once a cheater" crowd who shame women who choose to stay.
But if you are staying because you are afraid of rocking the boat or his anger, then you are absolutely NOT a doormat but you are likely in an abusive relationship. You are likely accustomed to settling for crumbs. And it will take a whole lot of healing and tapping into the strength that's there, buried, in order to realize your own worthiness. It's only when we feel worthy of leaving that we can truly choose to stay.

Question #5: Will our marriage ever be the same?
NO!! At least, I sure as hell hope not. Too often we look back at our "old" life through a distorted lens. Our marriage was perfect, we were soul-mates, he was my best friend. While that might be true, to a point, your marriage wasn't what you thought it was. He wasn't who you thought he was. Hell, he probably wasn't even who HE thought he was. And that's kinda scary, huh? That the people we think we know absolutely can turn out to be...kinda strangers. This person you think you know so well, that you could predict everything about him, has facets that you didn't know. Longings you didn't know about. Fears you didn't know about. Darkness you didn't know about.
So...yeah. Scary.
But, also, interesting. Because you probably have longings you don't know about (or haven't shared). Fears you don't know about (or haven't shared). Darkness you don't know about (or haven't shared). And this crisis, this crack in your marriage is an invitation to explore that – for each of you to explore that and talk about it and get to know each other more deeply. It can be horribly uncomfortable. We don't like to look at people's darkness. But a refusal to allow others to be fully themselves is the opposite of love. A resistance to another's full humanity is an act of aggression, of silencing, or erasure.
I remember once lamenting to my therapist that my eldest daughter, who was behaving in ways that I didn't like, "wasn't herself". My therapist called me out on it. Of course she's herself, she told me. Who else is she? She's just not someone I liked very much at that point. She was making choices I didn't want her making. And so I told myself that she wasn't herself. In this case, my daughter became unhappy with her own choices and began to choose differently. But that doesn't mean it wasn't "herself" who made those earlier choices.
Our husbands were themselves when they chose to cheat. And we can (and I sure as hell do) HATE that choice. But that was him. He can choose differently. And I hope he will.
Let us hope that your marriage will never be the same. That you both will continue to grow and shift and share that growth with each other, even when it's uncomfortable and squirmy and makes us want to avert our eyes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

"Alternative Facts": When We're Told We're Crazy for Seeing What's in Front of Us

As I write this, there's yet another political scandal, this time involving a nominee for a lifetime Supreme Court appointment.
The Internet is practically on fire with people on both sides but along with my outrage I'm struck by how familiar this all feels. Familiar too, I suspect, for you.
We live in a culture in which women's reality is constantly challenged. Not just women, of course. People who are poor. People who are ethnic minorities. People of color. But living in this culture, in which we are constantly questioning and being questioned about our objective reality is crazy-making.
And it grooms us, to some extent for what is pejoratively (and unironically) called "alternative facts":
"She's just a friend."
"We haven't even met in person."
"Why were you even looking at my phone?"
"What...are you following me now?"
"You're acting crazy."
"I can't talk to you when you're so hysterical."
We will find ourselves on the defensive. Forget that you've just presented credible evidence that he's cheating on you, YOU will be the one being challenged.
"Your phone was right there. The message flashed."
"I'm not hysterical. I'm just upset."
"I didn't follow you! I saw your car in a strange driveway."
Our culture grooms us for this from childhood. We're too sensitive (for pointing out that people say and do incredibly insensitive things.) We have such an imagination (when we point out something that people would prefer remained hidden).
We're hysterical.
We're crazy.
We're emotional.
We're hormonal.
We're jealous.
But the danger of our culture dismissing us grows more dangerous when we begin gaslighting ourselves. When we agree that we're not credible witnesses.
Consider the ways in which your reality has been challenged throughout your life. Those of us who grew up with addiction or neglect or abuse will have a long list of ways in which we denied reality to not rock the boat.
But even those of you in relatively healthy homes can likely recall incidents in which you were subtly or not-so-subtley told to keep quiet because you won't be believed. It's what our culture does to women. Be quiet about the teacher putting his hand on your knee. You don't want to be responsible for him losing his job, after all, he has a wife and kids. Don't make a fuss about the date who was convinced you wanted it. Instead, question your own conduct – after all, what were you wearing? Why out so late? And you were drinking?
My 15-year-old was waiting on a busy street Friday night to be picked up from a theatre program she's involved in. She mentioned yesterday that some guys were hollering at her from across the street. As she told me this, it was as though she was running it through some cultural brain filter in order to make sense of it. It seemed that she was talking less to me than herself. "I was wearing a long t-shirt over a pair of shorts," she mused, wondering aloud that cultural question: What did I do to invite this unwanted attention?
My heart sank. This is a girl who has been told her entire life that her story matters. That her truth matters. That she's believable.
And she's doubting herself.
For all of you out there being told that your suspicions are somehow "crazy", that what you know in your gut is happening isn't happening, that you're just "jealous", I'm with you.
You're not crazy. You're not a hysterical wife.
Far more likely, you are picking up a zillion tiny clues indicating that something's not right here. As best you can, be still. Pay attention to those clues. Collect evidence, if only to remind yourself that your reality is, in fact, reality.
And brace yourself for the gaslighting. For the pushback. For the minimizing.
There's an army of us behind you who believe every word you're saying. Because it's true.

Monday, September 17, 2018

From the Vault: I Cannot Walk Your Path

"The maps and travelogues left behind by others are great blessings, full of useful information and inspiration, but they cannot take the journey for us."~Author unknown

Many of us knew exactly what we would do if our husbands cheated on us. And then it happened. Suddenly we not only weren't doing what we always said we'd do (almost without fail, throw him out), we were behaving in ways that were confusing to us. That made us wonder if we'd lost our minds. And within that confusion lay such judgement of ourselves. So many of us were ashamed of ourselves for not sticking with what we said we'd do.
Thing is, none of us really knows what we'll do until we're in the situation. And once we're in that situation, the best we can do is treat ourselves with compassion for the challenge we're facing.
And, of course, none of us knows what another woman should do because we're not in her situation.
I bring this up because a BWC member commented a while back that she had taken my "advice" and stuck with her husband only to find out that his affair had never really ended. There she was, another year or so invested in her marriage, and only deeper in pain.
She was leaving him then and only wished I had encouraged her to do so earlier.
I told her I was very sorry for her pain. Sorrier still that her husband wasn't able to accept the deep gift of her desire to rebuild their marriage.
But, I pointed out, I never told her to stay or leave and I felt badly that she had interpreted my response to her as such. I, frankly, haven't a clue whether any of you should stay or leave. Actually that's not true. If there's abuse of any kind, get out. Now. (Though even with that, I know that some women simply can't leave for any number of reasons that I might not understand.)
But beyond that, there's isn't a right way to respond to this. 
Life is messy. Marriages that look hopeless somehow get stitched together to everyone's benefit. Others just don't make it despite valiant attempts. Some survive betrayal only to fall apart down the road for other reasons. 
I wish I had a crystal ball and could therefore predict which marriages were worth fighting for and which should be hastily exited. Of course, I don't. I don't pretend to.
What I do offer here is hard-won wisdom from walking my own path. Though each of us is unique we face similar challenges. Our husbands behave in bizarrely similar ways. We can benefit from each other's experience as long as we recognize that we don't all walk the same path to healing. As long as we understand that what worked for her mightn't work for me and vice versa. 
There are times when I will use such words as "here's what you should do" and then outline the steps a BW can take to, for example, get back on her feet, get some sleep, or regain her self-respect. But I don't have all the answers. I haven't even faced all the questions. I have my own experience and an understanding of what so many of you have faced as you've trusted me with your stories. That's all.
Each of our stories is our own. Each of us walks her own path to healing. I cannot walk yours and you cannot walk mine. But we can hold each other up along the way.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


Check out the right margin and you'll see our new Betrayed Wives Club emblem, thanks to StillStanding1, who brought her talent and her love for this site and all of you to the task. She nailed it with her beautiful woman, rooted deeply but reaching for healing. Encircled by the women she is and the others who support her.

You'll also notice that I've linked to Encyclopedia for the Betrayed: Your A - Z Survival Guide for Anyone Who's Ever Been Lied To, Cheated On and Left for Dead. I am so grateful to the women who've ordered the book and those who wrote heartfelt and heartwarming reviews on Amazon. I aim to get this book into the hands of every woman desperate for a voice of calm and wisdom as she deals with the pain of betrayal. Just like I was. Just like you were. Let's make it happen.


Monday, September 10, 2018

When the Pain Is Unbearable

Like a movie I watched years ago, the details are mostly murky except for one vivid scene. There had been crying and yelling. I retreated to the bathroom off our master bedroom – the most private spot I could find to howl with rage and pain – and curled into a ball on the floor. I couldn't take it. Not for another minute, let alone the days, and weeks, and years, and lifetime I imagined stretched out, one agonizing day following another. 
I calculated the the number of pills available to me in a nearby drawer. A doctor had recently prescribed me some anti-anxiety pills and I considered their potential to stop my heart. Maybe if I washed them down with vodka.
I thought of my children downstairs. And of my mother, who spent five years in and out of psychiatric hospitals after various suicide attempts. No. I would not do that do my kids.
The rest of the scene grows vague again. I remember considering driving myself to the emergency room. Eventually I made an appointment with my therapist, which felt like a strong enough rope to hold me until I could see her. At that point in time, she felt, literally, like a lifeline. Her office meant safety. 
She also convinced me to begin taking anti-depressants. I fought against it. Until she explained that chronic stress literally changes our brain chemistry. My brain, she told me, wasn't working like it would under less difficult circumstances. I needed to help it start working properly again. She drew me a picture with neurons and serotonin and dopamine receptors. And so I said yes.
Those pills might have saved my life. 
But I know how tenuous that grip can feel, how tempting to just let it all slip away. To just...sleep. And never wake up.
We don't want to die. Not really. It just feels like the only exit we can imagine for ourselves. We want the pain to stop and we don't believe it ever will. We're suffocated by it. Rendered invisible in the darkness. Who is this stranger who used to be me?
I know. 
I also know this.
It doesn't last forever. 
Slowly, with time, sometimes with medication, and a commitment to not give up (except for those days when we give ourselves permission to rest), the pain begins to recede.
Our culture has such distorted ideas around suicide. Around medication. Around mental health. But let me tell you this: The strongest people I've ever met in my entire life are those who battle invisible demons just to get through a "normal" day. 
My daughter who wished herself dead rather than face another day of paranoia and delusions and terror when she was first experiencing bipolar disorder. Lithium has given her back her life and she's happier than she's ever been.
My younger daughter who wished herself dead rather than face another day of relentless obsessive-compulsive thoughts that had her changing her clothes repeatedly, unable to eat "contaminated" food, terrified of touching "germs". She relies on mindfulness and OCD therapy.
My mother who wished herself dead rather than face another day of failing to resist the vodka and the pills. Twelve-step groups were her saviour.
All survived because all asked for help. 
I asked for help.
It isn't easy. Our health care systems around the world fail far too many. The waits are too long. The medications too unpredictable. The doctors overworked. 
My family is lucky. We live in Canada with a socialized  healthcare system. Our city is noted for its hospitals. We are white middle-class with resources at our disposal. We have friends who are doctors and who gave us a roadmap for navigating the system. 
I'm loud. When my kids are hurting and desperate, I can be very very loud.
Be loud. 
Make your voice heard. You matter. I've never known anything with greater clarity than that. You matter. So do I. We all do. Every single sobbing one of us.
It doesn't matter if he thinks you matter. As I've said before, just because someone else doesn't recognize a diamond doesn't make it any less valuable.
If you need help, ask for it. Demand it. 
If you need medication, get it. There is no shame is using every tool in the toolbox to put yourself back together. 
And if you think you can't hold on another minute, do this: Call a suicide helpline and let them guide you to the resources you need. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Guest Post: Leave When You're Not Valued

by StillStanding1

Unfortunately, in life there are times you will not be valued. Do not stay where you are not valued. Do not waste time in self-pity because someone did not value you. Your value, your worth, comes from your heart, not from someone else. ~Sarah Johnson
One of the things that amazes me about this site, this collection of warrior souls, is how often we all reach a similar place in our rumbles at the same time. Whether we choose to stay or go, we find ourselves pondering, or stuck, or questioning along the same lines. Have I done the right thing (in staying or leaving)? Why doesn’t he get how much he’s hurt me? Is this as good as it gets? Why can’t I forgive, or move on, or let it go? Will I ever feel something for him again? Or conversely, How did I not see he was such a selfish ass? And on and on.
Lately, what has been bubbling up over on the Separating/Divorcing page is this: How did I choose so badly? And I see this same theme coming up in other threads. How could I not see the potential for this disaster coming for me? As if we should have somehow seen this horrific break in trust in our life partners before it happened. As if we should somehow have magically known and avoided it.  
What that sounds like to me is that we are taking on the blame for our spouses’ cheating (not dissimilar to the self-blame we wrestle with early after D-day, in the form of if I had been skinnier, younger, sexier, blah, blah, blah. When we hear of another’s pain, do we think, “wow, she should have seen that coming. Look at his family!”? No. The idea that we should have been able to see the tragic flaw(s) in our partners creates the illusion that we have control over this situation. Because if we are to blame, we can change the past.
Here’s the thing: We chose our partners to the best of the ability we had at the time. We were hopeful, optimistic and trusting. We believed in their basic human goodness and potential. I’m here to say that this is a beautiful thing. Very likely, we weren’t wrong then. They had all the potential we saw. We were never wrong to believe in them. But people change. The choices they make over time, the people they choose to invite into their lives, the forms of entertainment they choose, the experiences they have at the hands of others, all shift them from their centers if they go through life unconsciously. They made choices, over time, that led them to become different people. Not the human of potential we once saw, but instead someone making unhealthy choices to avoid dealing with pain and difficulty. Choices that ultimately led to breaking faith with and hurting the one he promised to love and protect.  But those choices are all his. His responsibility, not yours. His to wrestle with and make amends for.
For those looking at exes and soon to be exes (STBX), trying to understand the crazy, selfish, manipulative asshole that is keeping you on the roller coaster as you navigate divorce: You’re wondering how you could have married that guy? You didn’t. He wasn’t that guy when you married. Certainly, the potential for that guy was always in there, but the potential for the good guy you saw was in there too.  His choices determine which one he became. And now, he’s digging himself deeper because he knows he messed up (even if it is only subconsciously) and by making you look crazy (or demanding or shrill, etc.), he justifies his crappy choices. He doesn’t have to be too uncomfortable or deal with guilt and shame. Although many of us offered second chances, he was incapable of valuing us or the gift we offered.
For those rumbling with do I stay, or do I go?, I think it boils down to the same questions. Is he keeping you off balance to avoid dealing with his own shame and guilt? Is he shifting blame to you (problems in the marriage are not justifications for choosing to cheat)? Is he taking a good hard look at himself and doing the work to figure out how he got here? Has he said he’s sorry as many times as you need to hear it? Has he shown that he values you and this second (or third) chance you are giving him?
And for all of us, are we looking at ourselves, treating ourselves as if we have value? Are we in tacit agreement that we don’t have value by allowing others to treat us in that way?  We are not obligated to stay in a marriage where we are not valued. Regardless of finances, family expectations and (to utter a near blasphemy) even regardless of children, you are not required to immolate yourself on the pyre of his flaming pile of dog poo. You have permission to put yourself ahead of him, your in-laws, and yes, even (or especially) your children. Your children are best served by your modeling healthy self-worth. It’s going to feel selfish if you’ve never practiced choosing yourself or putting your needs ahead of or in line with others’. It's going to get uncomfortable. But I encourage you to start by saying no to things you don’t want to do and yes to the things you do. (I’m not talking about buying that pair of shoes and then not having grocery money. I’m talking about saying no to baking all the cookies for the bake sale. No to picking up his dry cleaning. Yes to a quiet walk outside instead of cleaning the bathrooms for the third time this week.)
A few months after my ex and I separated, I was still trying to fight for my marriage. I in no way wanted a divorce. I had given this man several chances to choose better for himself, but he rejected them all. We were past mediation and just in the waiting phase before the divorce was final. I was focusing on getting out of my shell, making friends, exercising, doing art, getting good sleep. I was doing my best to deal with reality as it was. And honestly, it was such a relief not to be living with his nonsense any more. I felt like I could breathe. My daughter, out of the blue, says to me, “Mom, I didn’t want the divorce at first, but you are so much happier and healthier, that I can see it is the right thing.” Wow. I hadn’t even considered that I was either of those things, but the truth is, I was both happier and healthier without him in my life. And I’ve watched her, in the year since that conversation, showing herself more love and care in her choices and in how she approaches relationships, both friendships and romantic. That’s a big deal.
Part two of this is that I am now much quicker to recognize when I am not being valued as I ought, and now have the experience, strength and self-worth to walk away. I also recognize that the time with my ex has not been a waste. I have my children. I have so much learning. And I still (finally!) have me.
It’s okay to grieve the loss of the idea, the story you thought you had, or the relationship or any other change. But know that you will come out the other side. Trust yourself. Listen to your inner voice. Whether you stay or go, know that you have value and treat yourself that way.


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