Monday, January 28, 2019

Whose Pain Matters?

We were gathered around a table laden with cheese and nuts. Our wine glasses were filled. As usual, the conversation was animated and punctuated with laughter.
We're all middle-aged. Married. Parents.
And then one woman began telling a story.
Her story was about a husband. Not the one she's with now but one that we'd never heard of before. She'd married at 19 in the country she's from. There was abuse. Infidelity. Broken bones and broken promises.
She'd disclosed all this to underscore a point she was trying to make. That certain people are simply scum. Irredeemable. Monsters.
I've never been abused. But I have been cheated on. And maybe it's not the same. I have no bones thick at the broken spots.
But though I'm not for a second dismissing my friend's experience as anything less than devastating (and potentially deadly), I don't believe that, except for rare exceptions, people are irredeemable.
A visitor to this site over the weekend wrote that she hadn't considered that her husband was hurting too. And it does seem counter-intuitive, doesn't it? We imagine someone cheating as having the time of his life. Two women! The romance! The sex! The ego boost!!
So it's shocking when our husbands sometimes describe relief when the affair is discovered and ended. It floors us to learn that the affair was stressful, that the OW was demanding and unpleasant, that the sex was mediocre.
Why in the hell would anyone risk their marriage for that?'s complicated.
But it often boils down to someone unable or unwilling to explore his own pain. Someone who's long been a master at avoiding his feelings, at distracting himself, at distancing.
Often these guys are jerks. Some feel entitled, marinating in a patriarchal culture. Others genuinely fall in love though they don't always fall out of love with their wives, though, statistically, they are by far the minority.
Most are guys who lose themselves in the opportunity and start to believe their (and the other woman's) bullshit. Nobody appreciates them. Life has let them down. They deserve more. They deserve better.
Sometimes it goes a lot deeper than that. Old stuff, long buried, has a way of surfacing in our mid-life. The ways in which our parents let us down, or painful/traumatic experiences weren't processed.
A friend's husband, always the life of the party, is now revealing the pain of traveling the world as an ambassador's child, always having to make new friends, never staying in one country for long. It has always been framed as this exciting life. The truth is it was lonely and isolating. And it taught him that relationships were disposable. Easy to leave behind.
Another friend's husband returned from a tour of Afghanistan. Proud of the work he'd done to deliver water to villages, to build schools for girls, he nonetheless had experienced trauma. And rather than deal with it, he sought distraction in another woman, equally traumatized by an abusive husband.
Hurt people hurt people.
It might sound trite but it holds truth.
I doubt my friend's first husband was an irredeemable monster. He was more likely a hurt person who hurt people.
That is by no means a reason to stay with someone. When we are being hurt, physically or emotionally, it is incumbent on us to keep ourselves and our children safe. That is our very first step.
But if we are to repair a relationship with someone willing to do the hard work of excavating his own pain to better understand and to ensure it doesn't drive more hurtful behaviour, then we need to acknowledge his pain too.
It isn't worse than ours. And it doesn't offer him an excuse to continue to hurt.
But it does give us a glimpse into what drives someone to make choices that even they are baffled by.
Everyone's pain matters, of course. Yours take priority. And while it's part of his responsibility to help you heal, the reverse is not necessarily true. You can support his healing but it is HIS responsibility to sort out why he cheated.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

How to unlock your heart after betrayal

I wanted to avoid heartbreak, of course. And the way to avoid heartbreak is to keep your mouth shut and your heart locked. 
~Penelope in The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

How many of us believe that in the wake of betrayal? I did. My mistake, I figured, was trusting this man. My mistake was opening my heart to him. How could I have been so stupid!
If only I'd kept my mouth shut and my heart locked. Right?
Spoiler: Didn't work for Penelope. Didn't work for me.
But that doesn't stop a lot of us from thinking it's a viable response to betrayal. We'll stay with him for the time being for a whole bunch of reasons: we can't afford to leave, we have children, our entire lives would be disrupted, we love this man. But if he thinks we're ever going to trust him with our hearts again, well, then, he's kidding himself.
My heart will remain locked. My mouth will remain shut to my deepest secrets. My ears will refuse to listen to  his pain.
And it works at first. It numbs us somewhat. We play the role of wife, smiling when appropriate, crying privately. We're there...except we're not. Our hearts are locked away. Our souls are hidden. 
I expected to live the rest of my life that way. I stayed for my children, mostly. More than anything, I wanted to spare them the chaos of my own childhood. I wanted them to have stability, predictability, safety. 
So, to spare myself any further heartbreak, I shut my mouth (mostly) and kept my heart locked (mostly). 
I'm not so good at it, it turns out. My heart refused to stay locked. It felt heavy with pain. 
So I focused on finding slivers of joy where I could: my children, my pets. The lake and the woods. My home into which I'd put so much of my heart. 
And I kept showing up to therapy, where I felt safe to let my heart free, to open my mouth. 
That's where I learned that bottling up pain also meant bottling up pleasure. You don't get to choose which feelings you experience, my therapist explained. If you numb yourself to the bad, you numb yourself to the good. Which perfectly explained why I felt as though I was living life wrapped in gauze. I felt...nothing. At first, it was a relief. But, with time, I resented it. I watched other people living their lives. I was alive. But I wasn't living.
With time, I learned how to keep myself safe by establishing clear boundaries. (I'm a work in progress but I've come a long way!)
I learned that I was strong enough to handle the pain. Storms make better sailors, says Shakespeare and I discovered that was true. 
I learned that the tears eventually do stop, that they could baptize me into new life
Penelope says those words knowing they aren't true. She believed them at one time but, at the end of her life, she'd experienced more heartbreak than many. 
She speaks for all of us broken-hearted, who think the solution is to lock our hearts away, to protect them from being shattered.
But what we discover is that hearts can heal. That breaks, as Leonard Cohen says, are how the light gets in. 
But we have to look for it. We have to reach for it. 
We have to choose living over just being alive. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Tiger Mom

I interrupted a conversation between my two elder children on the weekend. And by "conversation", I mean bitch session. The person they were bitching about was me. And so, before they realized I was there, I was privy to some of their current complaints about me. Most of it was garden-variety teen stuff, annoyed because they were expected to undertake such Herculean feats as put their dishes in the dishwasher, their dirty clothes in the laundry, their coats to their cubbies.
But then my daughter said something that ignited my fury. "She's so passive," she said to her brother. 
Forgetting for the moment that my alleged passivity seemed in direct contradiction to their complaints about how demanding I was, there some something about that particular word that haunted me for the remainder of the weekend. 
I simmered.
I boiled.
But I knew what she was referring to. She had told me a couple of days earlier that she thinks I let my son – her brother – off the hook too easily. She thinks she follows our rules to the letter while he doesn't. And that there are no consequences for his transgressions. 
But what really kept me at a barely suppressed rage all weekend?
I wondered if she was right.
Do I hide my distaste for conflict behind being a chill mom? Do I avoid doling out consequences because I prefer peace? 
Yes, sometimes I do. And not just for her brother but for her too. For her younger sister. For my husband. For, well, pretty much everybody.
I've talked on this site about my visceral response to others' anger, the knot that quickly forms in my stomach at the first sign of conflict. 
I prefer easy-going. Flexible. Reasonable.
We breed our worst critics, a friend said to me recently. Yep. Sometimes our most accurate ones.
"Passive" stings. But it's a reminder that my daughter is watching as my boundaries, which should be inviolable, become open to negotiation. She's watching as I let it slide that my son returned my car without refuelling. Or that I mutter under my breath as I put away the sandwich maker – the one she was using – rather than call her back to the kitchen.
It gets exhausting, doesn't it? This constant citing of transgressions. This policing of others' disregard.
And yet...
If I don't take the time and energy to remind people that I deserve courtesy and consideration, too, that my rules are not, actually, open to negotiation, then I can hardly complain when my boundaries are violated, right? If I'm not going to insist on them, well, then, they mustn't matter too much.
Except that they do. 
And when I mutter under my breath rather than point out that the gas tank wasn't filled or the sandwich maker put away, that frustration gets stashed. And, eventually, like this morning, I blow. 
Boy, did I blow.
I told my son that if he brings the car home again without refuelling, he will not have access to it for a week. I told my daughter that if she leaves kitchen appliances on the counter again, she will have to do all the dishes for a week. My son also lost his phone for 48 hours for refusing to keep his music off when he showered and others were going to sleep.
It will probably be a constant struggle for me to pay attention to when I'm being treated like I don't matter. My passivity, which I dress up as flexibility or easygoingness, will no doubt surface again.
Passive? This tiger has been awakened.
For today, at least.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Guest Post: "No" to Resolutions. "Yes" to Me.

by StillStanding1

It’s a new year and, traditionally speaking, an opportunity to start fresh, reinvent, set resolutions, fix yourself, make a new you. There are tons of messages out there promising us weight loss (so, so many), healthier lifestyles, better organization skills, fuller lives if only we do all these things, buy all this stuff, resolve to fix what is wrong with us.
I, however, am saying “no” to resolutions this year. And here's why.
Resolutions and all the surrounding crap leverages internalized messages about how we don’t measure up in order to get us to spend money. The “fix you” industry extracts billions of our dollars. It's more to-dos on an already overwhelming list of to-dos. It sets us up for failure with unrealistic promises and for self-recrimination and guilt when we inevitably don’t succeed. 
It pisses me off. 
Instead of new year, new me, I’m saying new year, same me. The me that survived 2018 is worth celebrating. The you that survived 2018 is worth celebrating. The you that is here reading this post has braved some tough shit and YOU, as you stand in your socks and PJs (or suit, or Lycra), right now, deserve to be celebrated. That’s right. You. 
You who somehow made it to this day. You who packed school lunches when you wanted to stay curled on the bathroom floor. You who showed up for work with a smile, when inside you were dying. You who made the tough choice to leave or stay. You who have no idea whether you're going to leave or stay. You who had to take a day off, call in sick, sit down, cry because you just couldn’t handle any more. You who have had to breathe through triggers. You who have had to help yourself through the pain when your husband couldn’t face it. You who have had such difficult conversations. You who wishes you could just lose that last 10 lbs. You who is chugging Ensure to get some calories in you. You who have spoken truth to bullshit.  You who have dealt with ambivalent husbands who aren’t sure what they want. You who have had to stomach the “I love you but I’m not in love with you” crap. You who has dealt with crazy Other Women and crazy exes. You who is surviving but not sure you can get through another day. 
You who has laughed and for a split second forgotten the pain. You who has enjoyed the snuggles and hugs and successes of your children or grandchildren. You who has noticed the sunshine for the first time in months. You who realized you went a whole day without thinking about your partner’s betrayal. You who fought the urge to stalk the Other Woman’s social media. You who started a new job, a new class, a new side gig. You who opened up and asked for help. You who is starting to see the pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel. You who is starting to believe you are worth it. You who can breathe again most days. You who has extended help and hope to others.
You are a warrior. You deserve a standing ovation. A statue in a city park.
And that is why this year I am resolving to make no resolutions. Instead I am making commitments. 
I am committing to self-care. This does not mean spa days and vacations. This means boundaries, listening to my body and fundamentals such as sleep, water, food, moving my body and seeking healthy human connection. This also means putting my needs first. Ahead of work, ahead of kids, ahead of most things most of the time.
I am committing to showing up. As much as possible, every day, as just myself with my imperfections and being there for the people in my life, showing up for both joy and pain. Doing my best, whatever that is.
I am committing to doing things that scare me. Like trusting. Like letting my guard down, setting my armor aside, admitting I need help, letting people help me, admitting I’m scared, being vulnerable. Like letting go of people, things, ideas and attachments that no longer serve me, despite being familiar.
I am committing to compassion for myself and others. This means accepting me and everyone exactly where we are, as just where we are meant to be, and good enough in all that. Recognizing that others have their struggles that I may not see and they deserve my patience and kindness, just as I deserve my patience and kindness.
I am committing to honesty, with myself and with the people I care about, even when it is hard.
I am committing to growth. Not changing myself. Not fixing myself. Simply growing.
I am committing to remembering who I am: a kickass warrior, a caring, kind compassionate person, a woman with history, heart and lots of love, a person who deserves respect, honesty, compassion and love. 
All paths will take you forward. The trick is remembering who you are.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

I'll Say It Again (And Again...)

It would seem from a lot of the comments on this site and the things I'm seeing in my Twitter feed that we are all due for a reminder that our husbands didn't cheat because there's something wrong with us but because there's something wrong with them.
It's what all the experts say, of course. It's even what the more insightful cheaters say. But that doesn't mean we believe it. Instead, far too many of us buy into this cultural myth that men cheat because they're getting something better than the boring old hag at home. Or because the sex is spectacular. 
But there is simply too much evidence to the contrary. The stereotype, of course, is the sexy Other Woman with long legs and a come-hither voice. The reality is often an Other Woman who works at Costco and wears mom jeans. In other words, she's not that different from us except that her moral compass is broken, if she ever had one at all.
Despite the fact that the OW in my case was a bloated alcoholic with anger issues, I still spent hours trying to figure out what she had that I didn't. Was she a porn star in bed? A delightful dinner companion who laughed at all his jokes? Was she smarter than I? Funnier? More interesting? Did he prefer her long hair to my short? Did he prefer her thicker waist to mine? Just what the hell was it that she had and I didn't? Or that I had and he didn't want?
What a waste of time that was! If I'd had any sense of self-worth, I would have figured it out a whole lot sooner. But a childhood spent with addicts had essentially groomed me for this. I already held a deep secret belief that there was something wrong with me. I had grown up convinced that if people knew the truth about me, they wouldn't love me. And so, when I discovered that my husband was cheating on me, it confirmed what I already believed about myself. That I was inherently unlovable. That I was unworthy of fidelity. That I wasn't enough.
You too?
Those beliefs exist in so many of us, long before our husbands cheat. But here's the thing: Those beliefs often exist in cheaters too. Why else do they risk marriages that matter to them for women who don't? Why else do they fall for this distorted reflection of themselves in another woman's eyes -- a reflection that tells them everything they want to believe about themselves but that they secretly doubt? 
Healing from betrayal, whether within your marriage or past it, is about healing those core beliefs about ourselves. It's about rediscovering the truth about our worth. That we matter. That we deserve respect and kindness and honesty. That, even if the marriage is well and truly over, we didn't deserve betrayal. 
Husbands that deserve a second chance will heal themselves too. And they will support us in our healing. Those that don't will continue to blame us for their own shortcomings. They will continue to look outside themselves and their marriage for validation. They will continue to need that reflection in others' eyes because their own reveal emptiness.
One more time – and louder – for those in the back: He didn't cheat because there's something wrong with you. He cheated because there's something wrong with him.

Monday, January 7, 2019

What Wolf Are You Feeding?

I recently saw a Tweet a few weeks ago from a guy asking this about his emotional affair partner: When will I stop thinking about her?
I confess I'm not especially sympathetic when it come to those who cheat on their partners and those who are with those who cheat on their partners. So my first response was to tweet back something snarky.
But I know that there's a deeper question there, one that affects so many of us: When will I stop thinking about his affair/his affair partner/the mind movies/"what's wrong with me"/etc. In other words, how do I control my thoughts.
To which I answer: Well, it's really hard. Feelings are largely beyond our control. Thoughts are slightly more controllable. But it's actions where the real change occurs.
And it's actions that can often shift our thoughts.
You've likely all heard that parable about the two wolves, right? Well, to refresh your memory:
A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at battle. 
One is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery, and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred, and fear.
The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?”
The grandfather quietly replies, “The one you feed.”
Well, it's the same thing with thoughts. If, when a thought of him with the affair partner flashes in your brain, you have choices about what to do with it. You can try some behaviour modification techniques (snapping an elastic band on your wrist, picturing a stop sign, saying "stop" or "no" out loud and then distracting yourself with something else – making a recipe, trying to recall the lyrics to a catchy song, picking up a good book in which NOBODY cheats), all of which amount to not feeding the bad wolf. 
You can make sure each day that you feed the good wolf. Through self-care. Journalling. Actively seeking out pleasure – a walk in the woods, playing your favorite music, treating yourself to a fancy coffee. 
It's not magic, it's practice. A whole lot of practice. And sometimes it's really tough. But, ultimately, it comes down to which wolf you feed. One will grow stronger. And one will starve. 


Related Posts with Thumbnails