Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Ask a Different Question. And change everything

One of my closest friends (and a betrayed wife) sent me a podcast the other day. It held all sorts of fascinating insights and research but nestled among it all was this:
If we change the question we ask, from "can" to "how can", it changes everything.
Consider: Can I get an A in Calculus? versus How can I get an A in Calculus?
Can I ever heal from infidelity? versus How can I heal from infidelity?
"Can" holds within it potential failure. While "how can" is about agency. It's Yoda yet again reminding us that there is no try. There is only do or do not.
Notice the language you use around infidelity and your healing. Are you telling yourself, with the words you use, that you anticipate failure? Or are you reminding yourself, without minimizing your pain or grief, that you hold the power for your own life? That you aren't trying, you are doing. And within that doing is your future self.
That future self can be one that prioritizes self-care and self-compassion, that holds room for her pain while trusting her strength and resilience.
Or that future self can be one who continues to feel powerless.
I don't, for one single second, blame you for his choice to cheat. That is entirely on him.
But how we heal from that betrayal is up to us. We can try or we can do. We can ask if or we can ask how.
There will be days when what we need is to curl up in a ball. But when we uncurl, let's ask ourselves not can we heal from this pain but how we can. Cause that simple change shifts the entire power dynamic back to  you.
Which is exactly where it belongs.

Monday, June 24, 2019

How to Reach the Shore When the Currents are Trying to Push You Back

Thanks to She Who Must Not Be Named's brilliant badass survival guide, there's a whole lotta us feeling fired up and ready to reclaim our self-respect and lay down some rules for anyone who wants the privilege of being in our lives (or as, SWMNBN put it, "He can either keep up and stay or fall behind and leave."
And, oh, how I know that feeling. Sleeves rolled up. "This time, things are going to be different!" Get ready for the new me – assertive but not aggressive, firm but not unreasonable. I will move mountains. Or, at the very least, get people to put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher rather than leave them on the counter. Right? Can I get an "Amen"?
Except that, so often, it doesn't exactly go like that. A situation arises in which my newly declared rules can be enacted – I will state clearly what I need, I will enforce my boundaries, I will not let him twist my words – and it all goes to hell. I can hardly remember what the rules are, let alone how to enforce them. I get sucked into some discussion that may or may not have anything to do with what I originally set out to discuss. I find myself on the defensive. I find myself muddled. I find myself sounding whiny and screechy instead of firm and reasonable.
And then I beat myself up for being so bad at this.
It took awhile (I'm a slow learner) but I realized that what I was envisioning – a calm conversation in which everyone agreed with me – was not going to happen. At least, not without a lot more practice. Instead, I (almost) always encountered pushback. Or, as I've written before on this site, countermoves.
Countermoves are inevitable. They're part of the dance we've been doing for much of our lives but especially when we rewrite the rules. If you haven't been dealing with countermoves, it's likely because you've been just going along, being the good girl, not making demands, putting your wants/needs last or completely aside.
Rewriting the rules – ie. setting boundaries and following the badass survival guide – is going to create pushback/countermoves. 
What I've discxovered, that changes the whole dynamic, is to expect it. And not waver when it shows up.
What's pushback, you ask? Well, it's someone asking "what's your problem?" or "why are you in such a bad mood?" when you point out a lack of consideration or lack of respect. It's a response of "are you seriously asking me to xyz?" or "that's just not realistic" when you ask for something. 
The result?
A whole lot of us will back down, and question ourselves. "Am I being unreasonable/ridiculous/demanding/whatever?" says the little voice in our head.
The countermoves have worked.
They can take many forms. Anger, perhaps. Sulking. The silent treatment. Eye-rolling. Exasperation.
But all have one goal: To get us to erase our boundaries. To get us to go back to being acquiescent. To prioritize their comfort over our own.
That's the bottom line, isn't it? When we insist that our needs not only matter but take priority right now (not always but RIGHT FUCKING NOW), we're rocking the boat. It can feel terrifying.
But the overarching message of the badass survival guide was this: You must be prepared to put yourself first right now if you're going to heal from this. Or as She Who Must Not Be Named put it, "He can either keep up and stay or fall behind and leave." 
Notice the lack of wavering. There's nothing equivocal about that. He put her/you in this position and you're just swimming like hell for the shore. He can either keep and stay or fall behind and leave. But you are not going to stop swimming. Not now. Not ever.
He'll beg you to believe him when he gives you some bullshit excuse about why he's late. He'll insist that you're being difficult or unreasonable when you demand he quit the company where he works with her, or ask for a transfer. He'll call you "crazy" when you tell him you need to sell the house where she lives around the corner, or slept in your bed.
But if what you're doing is creating the conditions for your healing, or creating the conditions for your marriage to survive, then that's what you're doing. And he can either keep up or fall behind.
Either way...you're headed to shore.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Badass Survival Guide

I might have gasped out loud when I read this, from She Who Must Not Be Named, on Twitter: 

Two years ago today H filed for divorce, just weeks after starting an affair. He abandoned us and moved in w/AP. He cut off all $, faked my ID and closed my cc accts and sued ME. Looking at where he is, & we are, today I never imagined then that today was possible.
He has been in SA [sex addiction] recovery for nearly one year. With therapy and hard work he has become an exemplary husband and father. Our communication is frequent and healthy. I had given up hope but, despite his bizarre and hurtful actions, he never did.

Which prompted me to ask...how? I mean, what a shift, right? How does anyone – how does any marriage – move from divorce and lawsuits to love and grace and "frequent and healthy communication"? And so I asked. She Who Must Not Be Named responded. 
Here is a Twitter love story in eight short acts. Thank-you, She Who Must Not Be Named, for sharing your survival guide with us, which is largely about valuing and trusting yourself. May it light the way forward for so many others:

1/ I decided to invest in myself. I pursued more community projects, volunteer opportunities, and additional university classes. I made sure to have regularly scheduled nights out with friends. In short, I decided to give myself what he couldn't or wouldn't.2/ He came back after a few months and we started to try and work it out but I didn't feel like he was fully invested in the process. My deadline was our 10 year anniversary. If I still felt that way I was going to file for divorce and move on.3/ Six months before that anniversary, another d-day happened - 1 year after the first d-day. This time he told me everything. Despite his shame and fear he showed me his true self for the first time. He didn't realize it but I did immediately - he was a sex addict.4/It was simultaneously a relief and another layer of trauma to try and untangle. Since that day I've had the philosophy of leading my life to where I want it to be. He can either keep up and stay or fall behind and leave.5/When I have a difficult day I remind myself that he HAS been keeping up and that I'm doing a great job forging ahead on my path at my pace, waiting for no one. I've purposely created a laser-focused vision on building *my* future.6/ Seeing the impact I'm making for underprivileged children in my community, my academic achievements, and participating in my kids' lives is filling my cup. There was a point where H chose to step up and keep up. Even if he hadn't, I would still be on my own path.7/ This process got me unstuck, keeps me moving forward with purpose, and has let me reclaim my value which felt so lost 2 years ago. Every day I choose that commitment to myself with intention and reflect on the gains that I (and we) have made.8/ I'm also going to add that I'm a petty bitch that wishes the AP, aka "Jabba the Slut", gets gout...so I'm not full on Dalai Lama like yet.

When I messaged her to say thank-you for permission to share this, she added:
I see so many betrayed spouses afraid to move forward because they are worried that their betrayer will not move with them. Getting over the fear of moving forward, possibly alone, was the hardest thing for me to overcome but the most rewarding and powerful choice I could have made.

(She Who Must Not Be Named says she's a frequent reader of this site, though she hasn't commented. She also told me called Encyclopedia for the Betrayed "a very powerful tool for validating my feelings and helping me build my strength", which warms my heart. She is also, clearly, a badass warrior.)

Friday, June 14, 2019

How to Be a Human

The beauty of being human is that we are incredibly, intimately near each other, we know about each other, but yet we do not know or never can know what it’s like inside another person.
~John O'Donohue, poet, theologian and philosopher; author of Walking in Wonder: Eternal Wisdom for a Modern World

Among the worst is the unknowingness. We were so sure, weren't we? We were certain that this man with whom we made vows would never betray us. So when he's revealed to be someone capable of something we thought him incapable of, it frightens us. It calls into question everything we thought to be true, everything and everyone we trust. We stare into the abyss. 
Yet what's revealed when we learn of a partner's betrayal is something that was always true: "...we do not know or never can know what it's like inside another person". 
That was true the day we took our wedding vows. It's true on D-Day. It's true today.
What's also true is that we don't fully know ourselves either. Learning who we are is our life's work. 
Most of our unfaithful husbands are as shocked at their behaviour as we are. There's a famous (and famously unethical) psychological study – the Milgram experiment – in which people believed they were doing harmful things to others but continued because an authority figure was directing them. 
I'm no longer convinced by anyone who insists they would "never" do something or that they are certain they would. Most of us don't know how we'll behave in a situation until we're in that situation. 
Case in point: Did you think you'd stay in a marriage if your partner cheated? I thought I'd be outta there in a hot minute. Yet, here I am.
Part of staying in my marriage meant accepting the frightening truth that I hadn't really known my husband. Not completely. I knew him, of course. I knew that he was practical rather than frivolous. That he worried about growing old. I knew that he loved dogs and tolerated cats.
What I didn't know, in part because he hadn't yet admitted it to himself, was that so much of the pain of his childhood drove behaviour that was inconsistent with his stated value system. How to reconcile ourselves to someone who believes in his own decency yet betrays his wife and treats sexual partners like objects? 
It's only by acknowledging these contradictions – in others but also in ourselves – that we have any hope of truly knowing others and knowing ourselves. As long as we're willing to pretend the shadows don't exist, we're lying to ourselves. As long as we think we absolutely know another's heart, we're lying to ourselves.
So...where to go with that?
We embrace the beauty of being human, which is to say, we embrace the beauty of imperfection, of flaws, of screwing up. We do what we can to keep our hearts open. To learn to love our own flaws even as we attempt to soften them, to file off their sharp corners. 
Accepting others' humanity is not the same as accepting their poor treatment of us. That's where boundaries come in – to remind others that they are either free to respect our boundaries or to take their circus elsewhere. It starts as an inside job – with learning to go easy on ourselves for our imperfections. (My beloved Mary Karr puts it this way: "It’s not like I’m not an asshole—people know the ways I’m an asshole and it’s within the realm of acceptable asshole-ocity.") And when we're able to do that, it becomes a default setting. We are easier on others. We don't tolerate toxic behaviour (boundaries again!) but we learn to live with the various ways we all kinda assholes. 
My husband is a sex addict. Even though he no longer acts out, I cannot pretend that his addiction isn't there. What I can do is accept that truth while realizing that I don't know what that's like for him. Perhaps I will never know. And there are undoubtedly other secrets he holds, secrets he's still discovering. 
As I continue to discover my own. As long as we're scared of our secrets, they control us, whether consciously or otherwise. (We're only as sick as our secrets, right?)
O'Donohue notes that "we know about each other". He doesn't say we "know" each other. Because we will never fully know each other. We will never fully know what it feels like in another's skin. We'll be lucky if we die fulling knowing ourselves.
It's contrary to everything we've been taught about love, isn't it? That love is "you complete me". That love is "soul-mates". "My other half." 
I regret to inform you that it's none of that. 
Love is choosing to figure out who you are alongside someone else working to figure out who they are. Love is choosing to fix your broken spots alongside someone else who will support you in doing that. Love is believing that life with this person, even in his brokenness, is preferable to life without him. 
The beauty – and yes, the challenge – of being human is the unknowingness. And opening our hearts to it anyway.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Letter from a Secret Sister

Last September, I hosted a Betrayed Wives Club "Your Heartbreak, Your Rules, Your Healing" retreat in North Carolina. The women who showed up with their broken hearts expanded by own heart with their humour and their generosity and their compassion. We laughed, a few of us cried. 
Among the surprises was Emily, who had stumbled upon Betrayed Wives Club not long before, Googling for answers. I had just posted about the retreat and, on a whim, she signed up. Even up to a few hours before leaving for the retreat, she was looking for reasons to not come. But she gathered her courage and showed up. And we fell in love with her. She told us she felt inwardly broken, despite how outwardly fabulous she looked. Now, nine months after our retreat (it is not lost on me that nine months is long enough to incubate new life), Emily sent me this. It speaks to her experience of metamorphosis. I suspect her words might awaken something in you too, about your possibility, your beauty, your value:

Hello my Friends, Soul Travelers and Sisters,
One year ago today, I found out my husband was living a double life and paying male sex workers throughout the entire 22 years of our marriage. One year since I stepped into a surreal existence that belonged to someone else. Has it only been one year? It seems like ten.
My Higher Self sat me down recently and we had this discussion:
Higher Self: You silly girl, it seems like ten because you have accomplished more in one year than you did in the previous ten.
me: huh?
Higher Self: Every day of the past year belonged to you. Just you. Every day of the past year you have been dedicated to bringing about the changes that you have longed for. Changes that looked daunting and would take you out of your comfort zone. A comfort zone that, in hindsight, was a cocoon. A comfort zone that allowed you to stay wrapped up in denial, sadness, loneliness and fear. You may not have known the details, but you knew something was not right in your marriage.
me: Okay, so he's out of the closet and I am out of the cocoon. What's your point?
Higher Self: Just this. It has taken one long year of daily determination, dogged persistence, enough self-help books to pay for a cruise. Constantly seeking, reaching out for help. Letting go of comfortable shoes that call themselves family and friends but do not lift you up and honor you. Every day every hour every minute. Never giving up. Never giving in. Never losing faith, never losing hope. And while you have amazing growth left before you, it's time for you to let go of the past.
Look in the mirror, Emily. Tell me what you see? 
me: I see a beautiful butterfly.
Higher Self: That's exactly what you are. Now spread your wings. Come out into the Spring of your life and enjoy the sunshine and the world that is your very own Garden. And p.s., Emily, this doesn't mean your work is finished. It does not mean the pain is gone. It ust means that you are learning to love yourself, what that looks like and how glorious that feels. You are now ready to be loved by others.
me: My Dear Higher Self. you guided me to this gift through Elle, my sisters, and the BWC. For without them, my soul journey and healing would yet to have begun. I am most grateful. God bless each of you. Never underestimate the power of your love and how you lift others. You are always in my heart.

Love, Emily

P.S. I am finding these resources very helpful:
Seth Jordan, 7 Sacred Journeys
Tosha SilverIt's Not Your Money
Sophie Bashford, You Are A Goddess

Monday, June 3, 2019

When Love is Hurting You

Maybe the only way to really respect love is to respect its limits and respect that it doesn't give you the power to change other people. That's why you can love someone and still choose to say good-bye to them. It's not really a question of whether you love them, it's whether they belong in your life.
~Tara Westover, author of the memoir Educated

Westover, if you haven't heard, is the bestselling author of a jaw-dropping memoir that details her highly dysfunctional childhood with fundamentalist parents (who are also, clearly, not well mentally) and an abusive brother. She's someone who has given love a lot of thought. And she has decided that, although she still loves her family, including her abusive brother, they are not in her life.
Her views aren't particularly radical. You wouldn't be on this site if you couldn't point to someone in your life whom you love but who hurt you. 
But Westover's pragmatic approach – that she can love her family while drawing strong clear boundaries around what she will and will not tolerate in her life –  is tough to enact. We tend to connect love with presence. If we love someone, we choose to be with them. Even if being with them is hurting us. 
Which is why this quote resonated with me.
A whole lot of us grapple with whether or not to stay in a marriage affected by infidelity or leave. Few of us fall immediately out of love when we learn of our partner's cheating. Some of us are completely shocked when our response is unbridled physical desire for our husband. 
Sometimes we need to let the proverbial dust settle. To process our pain. To receive the shattering
And then...
Then we can take stock and ask ourselves some really tough questions: 
•Is he doing the hard work of understanding why he risked everything that mattered for someone who didn't? 
•Is he showing you that he deserves a second chance?
•Is being with him healing you or harming you?
Cause that's the big one, right? As Anne Landers used to put it: Is your life better with him in it or not? Perhaps not at this exact moment, when he forgot to put the toilet seat down YET AGAIN. But mostly. Is it mostly better?
Cause if it's not, and if it hasn't been for a long time, if the hurting far outweighs the healing, then Westover's words are for you. 
You can love someone and still know that they don't deserve a place at your table. 


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