Monday, December 31, 2018

From the Vault: The Desperate Plain

"A friend once called this sense of being too alone "the desperate plain," the looming desolate stretch of ground, no trees to shelter you, no water, no way to escape, nowhere to hide or find comfort, strewn with rocks and a few random snake holes. You are stripped down existentially, you are naked, you are nuts."
~Anne Lamott, from Small Victories: Spotting Improbably Moments of Grace

We've all been there, haven't we?  What Lamott's friend calls "the desperate plain". It's terrifying. We can't remember having ever felt safe. We can't imagine ever feeling safe again. Everywhere we look, we see threats. There is nowhere to retreat. There we are: naked, nuts.
I'm there right now. My youngest child is struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder and I feel as though I'm in enemy territory. She becomes someone I don't recognize when she's having an episode. She screams that I'm "dirty". She won't touch certain items because they're "contaminated". She rails at me for "not helping" her and won't let me hug her because I'm "filthy and "something bad will happen."
And then, when the episode is over – 10 minutes if we're lucky, an hour if we're not – she's contrite. She sobs with regret, begs my forgiveness, says she wishes she could kill herself so that she didn't have to deal with this. She's 11 years old. A baby. My baby.
It's breaking my heart.
And though it has been a long time since I was in that barren wasteland – that desperate plain – I know that so many of you are still there. I'm back.
I'm reminded just how terrifying it is. How alone you all feel.
But I know that it is then, when we look over our shoulder and beside us and – oh no, did something move over there? – all around and see nothing NOTHING that can save us, that we need to say, in a squeak or a roar:


We need to say "help". We need to say "help" to anyone in our lives who can offer it. We need to say "help" to someone who can take your kids for an hour so you can close your eyes or go for a walk or see your therapist. We need to say "help" to that therapist – who can give us a place where, for an hour a week (or more!), we can lay our heart bare to someone with compassion and experience who can help us mend it back together, stitch by stitch.
We need to say "help" to the women on this site, who've been where we are and can join us in solidarity or gently remind us that we won't always be in this place. That despite everything we feel right now, there is a place to move into that does offer safety and respite. That we'll get there if we can just hold on. If we can just trust that this desperate plain isn't a destination but a phase. A place we need to endure. A place where are not, in fact, alone.
Enduring can feel like surrender when it's actually a sign of incredible strength. And asking for help can be the most courageous thing you do today.
Right now my daughter needs my help. She needs me to remind her that she can endure. That this desperate plain isn't where she will always be. That she is brave and loved and suffering. But that she isn't alone.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Word Hug

Please know I'm thinking of everyone struggling this holiday. Let go of expectations of others, but especially yourselves. This is just a day. It is just 24 hours to which some of us have assigned particular importance. 
Abandon all attempts to create anything "magical", "beautiful" or "perfect". 
Breathe. In and out. It is just a day. The sun rises, the sun sets.
Merry Christmas, my secret sisters. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Guest Post: Making Peace With Childhood Pain: What's Sometimes Behind the Agony of Infidelity

by Lynn Less Pain

John Shedd said, “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
Elle wrote a post a few years ago in which she said that infidelity can be a catalyst for change. I read that and went wild. I fired back saying how much I disagreed with her opinion. It made me angry to think, this is the type of gut-wrenching pain that has to happen for change? Has she lost her mind? He needs to change not me. He needs to own it, find out his whys, not me. He needs to understand why he lied, not me. Catalyst can take a flying leap as far as I was concerned. 
It took me three years to see what the heck she was talking about. 
There came a phase in my healing (not in the first year but later) when I realized my marriage did suck. How did my marital state get that way? Looking at his contributions to a dysfunctional marriage was easy. Looking at my contributions was not so easy. He asked me to go to lunch, I was too busy. I forgot to call him when I said I would. When he talked about his job, I listened but I didn’t hear him. He wanted sex, I was thinking, if only he helped me with the housework, sorry, too tired for sex. Does any of this contribute to hubby having an affair? No. Does any of this justify an affair? No. I was looking at the surface of our marital status. I was the one who was wronged so that was as far as I could go with my contributions. So instead I concentrated on my self-esteem, self-care, self-compassion and self-healing 
All of this finally made sense to me yesterday when I went to therapy. I gave my therapist some examples of my husband’s behaviour. Is this normal behavior? I asked. The therapist told me that we are now in the new marriage phase. OK, did I hear that right? So, after D-day, after the plain of lethal flatness, so after the stay or go scenarios, after being stuck and after forgiveness, yes, my girlfriends, there is more.
This is the new marriage phase – he did this, is that normal? He said that, is that normal? I felt this way, is that normal? Here's what the therapist explained to me: Yes, all that is normal marriage stuff. I gave her so many examples of what he said or what I said. The therapist said, your expectations of a normal marriage are too high. She told me I have this Disneyland forever expectation, which is just not realistic. What my husband is doing and saying is completely normal. His actions and reactions are completely normal. I gave the therapist more examples. Yes, she said, all of that is normal.  
She said, “you grew up in an unstable family with little or no support from your family. No support during any traumatic event or situations. Your difficult childhood experience made you develop certain beliefs about how people think and how relationships work. You developed coping strategies that were not helpful in your adult life."
Those coping strategies which were not helpful in my adult life was my contribution to a dysfunctional marriage.
·      I felt very worried about being abandoned and I would do anything to stop that happening. 

·      I felt just plain empty. I felt like I was running on empty emotions, nothing left to give.

·      I felt like I was the only one who felt things deeply. 

·      I felt like I would go from very happy and confident in the morning and sad in the afternoon. 

·      I didn’t know who I was and I changed depending on who I was with.

·      I went through extremes on food, alcohol, shopping and planning a family event.

·      I believed I wasn’t good enough and didn’t deserve to be happy. Everything but my relationship had to be perfect. 

·      I viewed things in extreme: good or bad; black or white.

·      Any separation from anyone meant they really didn’t care about me. 

This was painful to explore. Talking about my childhood, timeline of emotions, past relationships and reactions to life was like eating food I already thrown up in my mouth.  Once I understood my unhealthy coping strategies, I learned to be kind to myself. Life can be different when you put in the work. Some days I forget what it feels like to be positive but I know that won’t last. I deserve to be happy and live a fulfilled life. I’m not about to let infidelity take that away from me but I had to look under the surface of the water before I could sail my ship out of that harbor called infidelity. I was so tangled up, there was no way I could sail away.
I have finally found that inner peace, I strived to find for so long. It had nothing to do with infidelity really. It had everything to do with me.  

Monday, December 17, 2018

Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

"When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her." —Adrienne Rich

I'm a honest person. I once shoplifted purple eyeshadow from a department store on a dare when I was 12 and was so filled with shame that I couldn't even use it. I routinely confessed to things that my parents didn't even know enough to ask me about. And any time my friends and I would wonder, aloud, if we could ever cheat on our husbands, it always boiled down to one thing for me: "How could I ever look him in the eye after cheating?"
So, to discover my husband's double life was more than a shock to me. It was an assault on the value system I thought we shared. If he lied about the big things, he must lie about everything. Was anything true?
And so I began calling my husband out for every single mistruth. I began to notice lies that I'd previously overlooked. Things that I would have called harmless before D-Day, I was beginning to see were part of a pattern.
He lied to avoid conflict. He lied to avoid consequences. He lied to seem nice. He told people he "couldn't" do things that he simply didn't want to do. He told me that he was late due to traffic instead of admitting that he got distracted at work and lost track of time. He told me he came to bed at midnight when it was 1 a.m. He told his mother he "had" to go visit a nearby friend rather than sit with her when the truth was she annoyed him. And on. And on.
I'm no saint, of course. I've told friends I like their new haircut when I don't particularly. I've professed to love meals that I choked down. Or to love gifts that I didn't.
I've tried to dedicate myself to radical honesty, ever since D-Day. But it's hard. Really hard. Sometimes a little lie is kinder than the truth. But each time I lie, even with the best intentions, I feel a little smaller.
Because I no longer believe that lies are harmless. I'm questioning if it's truly kinder to lie than to tell the truth to "spare" people's feelings. I'm beginning to think it's disrespectful to the person being lied to.
I was recently invited to join a writers' group. The others have been meeting for a few years and I was warned about one person in particular who's prickly about criticism. The others told me to "be careful" about what I say to her. They admitted that they tippy-toe around this person's work because they don't want to "hurt her feelings."
I listened to them and then I said that I wouldn't do that. I would, of course, be considerate. But it's a disservice to an adult writer to not be honest in my opinions of her work and how she might improve it. I don't claim to have all the answers. My opinions might be completely wrong. But she is a grown woman seeking input.
And I owe it to her to be honest, but also to myself.
Honesty is tough. But if we set the bar at "total honesty", then we're a lot more likely to at least get close to it. But if we set the bar at "honesty unless it makes us uncomfortable", then we're going to be living a whole lot of half-truths.
The other night, I suggested to my husband that we should take the dogs for longer walks because, as I pointed out, we could both stand to lose a little weight. 
"I don't think I need to lose any," he said.
"H'mmm...but you think I do?" I said.
He said nothing, which, of course, says a lot.
But at least, he's being honest. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Infidelity Counseling Network Looking for Peer Counselors

Hey my secret sisters,

The amazing Infidelity Counseling Network, which offers peer counselling on a sliding scale (we link to it in our margin), is looking for strong, wise, compassionate women who've survived infidelity to extend support to those still struggling.

ICN is now taking applications for volunteer telephone peer counselors to join the spring training.

Click here to get started, or contact ICN's executive director Julie at for next steps.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Justice is a fantasy. Surrender instead

"We have this unconscious fantasy that if we just hang on to our justified rage and we hang on to our suffering long enough, then the other person will finally get it. They'll somehow magically see the light and they'll realize how they've harmed us and they'll feel as bad, better yet even worse, than the've made us feel. So when we leave the anger behind and we stop clinging to this angry internal dialogue, we also give up the fantasy of obtaining justice. And we give up the false hope of a wished-for future but what we gain is the ability to live in the present and to move on."
~Harriet Lerner, author of many Dance Of... books, and guest on Dear Sugar

We want justice, don't we? Even more than we want healing, I think, many of us want justice. And justice looks a wee bit like vengeance. We want the Other Woman to get hit by a truck. We want her to lose her job. We want her to be diagnosed with syphillis and die a lonely death. We want our husband to wake each morning to a dark day of misery for the pain he's caused. We want him to never know another moment of peace again. Ever.
It's only fair, we think. After all, we're miserable. We wake each morning to a dark day of misery. Surely if they felt, really felt to their very core, the depth of the pain they caused, that would balance the scales.
That, we think, would be at least a bit of justice.
There's no true justice, of course. True justice would be for them to have to experience the gut-punch of discovering a partner's infidelity. And not only discover it but have never been guilty of it themselves so that being cheated on truly feels unfair. And that, my friends, is impossible. Because even if we cheat on them right now, with the first sexy pool boy we can find, it's still not the same pain as we experienced. It's not the same shock. It's not the same. Not at all.
And so there really will never be true justice.
Obtaining justice is a fantasy, as my mystery writer above refers to it.
And chasing that fantasy isn't getting us any closer to justice. It's only keeping our eyes locked on a future that will never be. It's keeping us stuck in false hope.
But letting go of that fantasy can be frightening. I hear it all the time, in fact, a woman tweeted it to me the other day: "If I let go of the anger," she wrote, "isn't that the same as saying what he did was okay?"
But it wasn't always that clear to me either.
I was certain that if I released the death grip I had on my anger, my husband's cheating would be relegated to the past. The metaphorical slate would be wiped clean. As if we were starting over, fresh.
And there was no way in hell I was agreeing to that.
Instead, I was determined to keep my husband in purgatory. Not quite hell but certainly nothing like a fresh start.
What I couldn't see then and what my Twitter friend can't see yet is that holding onto that anger, that fantasy of justice keeps us in purgatory too. It binds us to our pain, which is the past. I'm not saying it doesn't still hurt today, right now. I'm saying that the injury is in the past. And injuries heal. Sometimes invisibly but they heal, unless we keep picking at them, preventing the scab from forming.
Refusing to release the anger or our desire for vengeance-slash-justice won't magically make others suddenly get our pain. It will just keep us miserable. It will just keep us looking backward in one direction only, at our injury.
There is an alternative.
It's a scary one but here it is: Surrender.
Surrender to the truth that there will be no justice. Even if you divorce him and take every single cent he's ever made. Even if she's cast out by society and spends her days wandering dark streets in rags.
Surrender to the truth that you don't know what's next. Clinging to your anger doesn't protect you from further pain, it doesn't make it more likely that your husband will remain faithful. It only makes you unhappy and unpleasant to be around.
The alternative is, as our mystery writer puts it, "the ability to live in the present and move on."
Move on. Live in the present.
The present might still kinda suck. You might still cry a lot. But it's not yesterday. Or the day before. Chances are, if you look for it, you'll see that healing is taking place. I know you're not out of the proverbial woods yet. It takes a really long time. Longer than I ever imagined it would take.
But if you look carefully, if you release your death grip on anger, if you surrender your need for justice, you'll find signs of healing.
Tell us about them.
Maybe you cried a little less today. Maybe you laughed out loud. Maybe you noticed, for a split second, that something tasted good. Or looked beautiful. Or felt right.
Notice those things. They are signposts that are taking you out of the past and planting you in the present.
And that's where you want to be.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Harnessing your suffering

How did we all get so screwed up? Putting aside our damaged parents, poverty, abuse, addiction, disease, and other unpleasantries, life just damages people. There is no way around this. Not all the glitter and concealer in the world can cover it up. We may have been raised in the illusion that if we played our cards right, life would work out. But it didn’t, it doesn’t.
~Anne Lamott, Almost Everything

It didn't. It doesn't. She speaks the truth, doesn't she? 

I fell firmly in the if-I-just-do-everything-right camp, then I'll sail through life. I never dreamed that the guy I married, the guy who wasn't the cheater that I dumped before I met the guy I married, would turn out to be a cheater too. I thought he was the most principled man I'd ever met. I was so certain of that. Not a doubt in my mind.
My running partner, who's still reeling from betrayal and a husband who just doesn't quite get how devastating his emotional affair was, said that it was as if, in the midst of an argument, her husband had punched her in the face. Even if he somehow apologized, even if he felt terrible about it, there's no way to un-punch someone. And no matter that it only happened once. No matter that he just acted on impulse, that he didn't "plan" to punch her, forever after he's someone who just might punch her in the face. 
We all got punched in the face, didn't we? And not all the glitter and concealer in the world can cover it up.
And it has nothing to do with whether we played our cards right. 
That's the thing with hope, with a naive conviction that life owes us ease and pleasure and safety. Eventually, all of us, every single one, faces a reckoning in which we come to understand that life will hurt us. And when your heart is broken, out of betrayal or loss or grief (which are all pretty much synonymous), it doesn't matter whether you're sobbing into a silk pillow or a gutter. 
But you know what does matter? What we do next.
Maybe not immediately. You're allowed to stay down until you've had a good, long cry.
But then...
Then it's time to consider your options.
And hopelessness – cynicism – isn't one of them.
It's tempting. It's so tempting to just decide that life equals pain and that nobody will ever love you and that you might as well just get used to being miserable. I see people like that all the time. They're angry and bitter and if they laugh at all, it's brittle and at someone's expense. 
I understand the impulse. It's wrongheaded, I think, but I get it. Just armour up and treat every relationship – from the grocery store clerk to your boss to your sister to your ex – as warfare. Better to hurt others than be hurt, right? Better to eat than be eaten.
But what if there's hope for something better that isn't just rose-coloured glasses to soften the truth? What if what we do next comes from a belief in our own goodness, in our own strength? What if our next step comes from a place of self-respect?
That sounds good, right?
Cause sure, life will damage us. Just ask my yoga instructor who's buried two children from suicide but who remains the most open-hearted woman I know. She's turned that pain into compassion for others. She has nursed her students through cancer and the death of a spouse and diagnoses or mental illness. She doesn't hide her pain, she harnesses it.
Not right away, of course. She honoured her grief. She cried a million tears. And then...she decided to keep living in spite of the damage life had inflicted. There's no glitter and concealer on her pain. She wears it. But she wears it in a way that's a badge of strength and resilience, not bitterness.
We can wear that badge too. We can harness our pain too.
It happens every single day here on Betrayed Wives Club. A woman comes aching with grief and loss and you all rush to her, using your own pain and your own stories to lift her up, to remind her she's not alone, to invite her to follow the light of those further ahead.
And that's the point of life, I think. Not to avoid the inevitable damage life inflicts but to wear it as a badge of strength, a symbol of our own resilience. 
None of us is spared. Maybe their pain won't be betrayal but it will be something. And maybe something that the rest of us know nothing about.
For the newly betrayed here, let yourself absorb the grief and the loss. Cry your million tears. Your next right step can wait for now.
Those of us further along, let's reimagine our pain as a badge of strength. Let it remind us to keep our hearts open because closing them won't prevent further pain, it will only prevent further joy.
And let us use our hope to create change in our lives. Hope that uses the tools the self-respect, self-care, compassion to build. 
Life rarely works out the way any of us think it will. But, as long as we accept our screwed up, damaged selves as nonetheless worthy of deep self-love, it will work out. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Gift Guide for the OW

When they go low, we go...lower? Hell yes. 
At Lynn Less Pain's request, we're going to create a Christmas list for the OW. Maybe not what she wants but most definitely what she deserves.
Unleash your inner Mean Girl, ladies!

Send her a lump of, ummm, coal:

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Guest Post: Light Your Candle

by StillStanding1

I’m not going to lie. These holidays and the run up to New Year’s Day is some rough ground for me to cover. A wise friend – ahem, Elle – recently pointed out that I seemed to have a death grip on some idea of where I should be and what I should be feeling. And life isn’t lining up with my expectations. Why am I not over this yet? Why am I so angry? Why am I not handling this better? 
I’m not excited about Christmas. I’m tired. And when anyone asks me how I’m doing I give them a brittle toothed “Fine, everything’s fine here. How are you?” I’ve come to realize, however, that I am not fine and I am not alone in this. That same friend also gave me permission to loosen my grip, to admit that I’m not okay, that I don’t know what I need right now, and I don’t know where any of this is taking me. That I’m scared. That I’m tired. 
And I’m here to do the same for you: You officially have permission to not be okay right now and for as long as you need.
Each of us – most of us – has gone through or is going through something. Our hearts are broken. We’re grieving a life we thought we had or a childhood we should have had or a parent who never showed up for us or who chose alcohol or whatever else over us. We’ve suffered grievous wounds to our bodies or souls or both. Little, everyday things remind us of what happened, what’s gone, what should have been or what isn’t.
At this time of year, more than most, we are told we should celebrate, we should savor, gather, spend, deck the halls, be merry. But sometimes, when you are grieving, seeing the joy of others only provides poignant contrast to what we lack, have lost or never had.  Even when we are in a good place, being surrounded, finally, by love can make us ache because it shows us what we deserved and missed all along. Or someone treating us as if we have worth feels alien because we don’t know what to do with it. We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And so, we’re sad. And tired. And not sure we have energy to keep going. We try to put on a brave face. Try to be strong for our families and friends and shield them from how we are struggling. Next week we’ll rest. Next week we’ll do that thing for ourselves. For now, we just keep going. 
But when we try to protect others from our sadness or grief, we rob them of an opportunity to serve us, and in so doing, get in touch with something that’s best in themselves.
I’m here to tell you: Don’t grieve alone. Don’t keep your suffering hidden. Don’t be ashamed to admit that you need help. Be brave enough to acknowledge that you don’t want to be by yourself. That you don’t know what you need right now. That you are sad, depressed and can’t find your socks, let alone change them. Ask for help. Reach out. Wave a tiny white flag. Let someone safe know that you’ve had enough.
I’m also here to tell you that everything you are feeling is normal. This time of year is a rough go. But. People in your life love you and want to be there for you. If you are feeling worthless, or at the end of your rope, know that there is someone right now who needs you to keep breathing. Someone you have not even met yet will need your words or kindness on some distant day. Keep going. If you need to sit down or lay down and catch your breath, do it. 
Long before Christmas became the vast commercial and economic machine that it is today, it was about lighting a candle in the darkest, coldest days of the year and providing hope for brighter days ahead. It was a time to hunker down by the fire and rest, recover. Just be. Know that no feeling is forever. You will be okay. If you need help, have courage. Take a deep breath and ask for what you need.

Wednesday Word Hug: Forgive

Monday, December 3, 2018

When Culture Insists It's Our Fault He Cheated

This cat is having none of your blame. Let's all be this cat. 
Here's a tweet I saw last week via a couple whose business relies on convincing people they've rebuilt a wonderful marriage after his infidelity:
Wives, you will NEVER build your man up by belittling and disrespecting him. Think about your words before you speak.
That stupid tweet infuriates me.
It's so patronizing. I can practically see the finger wagging in my face, chastising me for not keeping my man "happy". (As an aside, I tend to resist any advice that comes from anybody who refers to my husband as "my man". Please.)
There's plenty of advice like this floating around, on social media, in articles and books. And the underlying message is always the same: You can keep your husband "happy" (ie. faithful) by behaving in a certain way. Or to put the message more succinctly: You control whether or not your husband cheats.
Before I go any further, let me make it clear that I think belittling, demeaning, humiliating and so on are toxic to any relationship. The single greatest predictor of marital breakdown is contempt. So I am most definitely not saying it's okay to belittle, demean or humiliate your husband on a regular basis (you're forgiven for the occasional jab in the wake of infidelity cause, c'mon, he kinda has it coming).
What I reject is this notion – and it's pervasive – that happy men don't cheat. That happy men don't even think about it.
That, as so many of us know, is a total lie.
Cause another thing statistics tell us is that the majority of men who cheat insist that they're "happy" in their marriage. While women typically cheat to get out of a marriage, men cheat with every intention of staying in their marriage. There are exceptions, of course. But typically.
So let me make clear the truth:
You did not make your husband cheat and you cannot stop him if he is determined to cheat.
You have far less control over other people than you think you do.
Which feels terrifying for a whole lot of us.
I thought that if I was the reason my husband cheated, then I could also be the reason he didn't cheat. So, while it was devastating to think that my husband cheated because I wasn't fill-in-the-blank enough (smart, sexy, interesting, young...), it nonetheless felt better at the time than thinking I had nothing to do with it. Cause if I didn't cause him to cheat, I had no control over whether he continued to, or whether he cheated again.
And lack of control, to a control-freak like I was, felt horrible.
You would think I'd have figured out a long time ago that I had little control over others' choices, after realizing that nothing I could say or do stopped my mother's descent into addiction. But I hadn't. We children of addicts are famously insistent that we're more powerful than we are. If we can just be...something, then everyone will stop this nonsense and we'll get our family back.
Sound familiar at all to you? If I can just make myself look younger/thinner/sexier. If I can just be calmer/more fun/less tired.
I've got bad (and good!) news for you. It won't matter. At least not long term.
But something good does happen when we finally get that we aren't the reason our husbands cheated -- not the real reason. And that something good is we finally understand that we control so much less than we thought but that we control the only thing that really matters: ourselves.
Which sometimes means that changes need to occur. Not to keep him faithful but to respect yourself. Maybe you really do need to take better care of yourself. Maybe you really do need to raise your expectations of yourself and your own behaviour. Maybe it's time to consider that it's not his betrayal of you that's the real kicker but the betrayal of yourself. The loss of yourself.
But that change must come from a place of self-care, not a misguided belief that it will keep him faithful.
So, to recap: Don't belittle or demean or humiliate your husband (or anyone else) because that demeans you to behave that way. Think about your words before you speak, especially when you're speaking to yourself.
Insist on being treated with respect and honesty. Start by respecting and being honest with yourself.
You can't stop someone from betraying you. But you can ensure that you don't do it to yourself.


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