Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Guest Post: The Life I Will Never Get to Live

by Chinook

Just a few days ago, in a comment on this website, one of the brave warriors in our ranks wrote something to the effect of: “Sure, I’ve made lemonade. But I don’t even like lemonade. I never wanted to make lemonade.”

I know that feeling so well.

Like everyone else here, I have days of terrible sadness. I am only a year out from D-Day, which, Elle kindly and wisely reminds me, isn’t very long on the calendar of heartbreak. 

On those sad days (and even on some good days), it is impossible not to think about the life I would have led if my husband hadn’t chosen the coward’s path out of his pain. It is so tempting to look at my friends whose husbands didn’t cheat and feel jealous.

But the truth is that I have no idea what that other life would be like. 

Sure, I can romanticize it. I can assume that the other, affair-free life would have been much happier and better than this one. But who knows? My marriage was headed for divorce when the affair happened and it had been for several years, despite my best efforts. My husband has admitted to me that because he was so messed up, he couldn’t have undergone the level of transformation he has without blowing up his entire life. 

Also, I can see now that it took a crisis to catapult me out of the deep fjord of self-sacrifice and suppression-of-my-own-needs in which I had been living for most of my adult life. I had been living in it for so long that I didn't even realize the extent to which it was holding me hostage and making me unhappy.

There’s something else, too. When I jealously compare my life to those of the people I know, I’m selective. I choose, for the purposes of comparison, people whose lives seem rosy. I don’t pick the friend whose child has a serious congenital disorder. I don’t pick the friend who is facing an excruciating divorce. I don’t pick the one whose husband just died in a tragic accident, leaving her widowed with three children.

Thinking that the path not taken (the path I can never take) would have been better is also just not helpful. It doesn’t matter. Because all I have is this life, this lemonade to drink. 

(As a side note, I’m trying to use that measure to evaluate all my actions and thought patterns in this post-affair, self-healing world: “Is this helpful?” If it isn’t helpful to… stalk the other woman on social media, drink lots of wine, continue to remind my husband of his mistakes… then why do it?)

I have always loved hearing it said, of life: “None of us is getting out of this alive!” I love how funny and irreverent and true it is. I love how it’s both incredibly dramatic and yet obvious and therefore sort of boring.

The same is true of living a life free of pain: None of us make it through our entire lives unscathed, not even billionaires or royalty. We are not meant to. Life isn't supposed to be a race to get to the end without anything bad ever happening to us. 

I am not a religious person, but I heard this quote the other day that has genuinely shifted my perspective. It somehow simultaneously makes me feel more powerful and also expands my ability to have compassion for myself. It even creates space for me to feel curiousity about this whole painful thing.

It’s from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who was a French philosopher and explorer and priest. 

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Monday, July 29, 2019

What If You Shifted The Story You're Telling Yourself

Driving my daughter to march in our local Pride Parade this past weekend, I flipped on the car radio. Esther Perel's voice, one I recognize from long hours listening to her incredible podcast Where Should We Begin, filled the car. She was being interviewed about relationships (duh!). But she told more of her backstory than I've heard before. About how both of her parents were the only surviving members of their families after Hitler's reign of terror. About growing up in Antwerp, surrounded by other survivors of the Holocaust. And she noticed something that set her on the course of her life – helping us find connection with each other. What she noticed was that there were two groups of people (not neatly delineated, she pointed out) that each told a story. One group told stories of victimization – what had been done to them. The other told stories of survival – what they themselves had done. She noticed something else. For those who perceived themselves as victims, she said, the most you could say about them was that they weren't dead. But those who perceived themselves as survivors? They were alive.
Not dead vs. alive. See the difference?
Betrayal isn't the Holocaust. But, as Perel insists, trauma is trauma and all pain is legitimate
Of course, betrayal isn't the whole of our story. We bring plenty of baggage into all our relationships. Baggage about our worth. Baggage about love. Baggage about expectations. Baggage about entitlement.
But betrayal can also blow our stories wide open, it can give us the opportunity to re-examine what we've been telling ourselves. It can allow us to rewrite. Because stories are not set in stone. They are always ALWAYS a story, narrated by someone who has bias.
How might your story be different if you framed it as a story of survival, of triumph, rather than a story of being victimized. As Laura, the founder of Infidelity Counseling Network, told me: Her healing began the day the she changed the question from 'why did this happen to me?' to 'why did this happen?'
I have zero doubt that you can just as easily tell all of us here about the ways in which you're a hero. Getting out of bed, for a start. Not murdering your husband in his sleep. Taking care of children, sometimes children with special needs, when your heart is shattered. Checking in with elderly parents. Continuing to get yourself to work. Not risking your sobriety. Not spending money you don't have on temporary fixes. Making dinner. Doing laundry. Remembering your best friend's birthday.
Stories of your ingenuity, of your resilience, of your goodness and your integrity. Stories of carrying on even when it's so damn hard. Stories of survival. Stories that will move you toward feeling alive rather than just not dead.
Try it. Tell us a story of something you did that felt really really hard but you did it anyway. Let us all celebrate your aliveness.
And then, let's all of us make it a habit. I want to be more than just not dead. I bet you do too.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Guest Post: Put down the telescope

by Chinook

I had never known such desperation as I felt after I discovered that my husband had been having an affair. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t control my emotions even the slightest bit. My body and mind were in a state of such extreme anxiety that a single errant thought (about her, about the two of them together, about what this meant for our children) could provoke a full-blown panic attack. 

Between fits of racking sobs, I launched into doing the three things that I always do when I feel powerless:
(1) Research
(2) Figure out the story of what was happening
(3) Play out future scenarios in my head 

I did these things for every moment of every day.


It was exhausting, and in the end only one of these coping mechanisms was useful. 

I’m surprised to report that even at the frantic pace at which I did it, research helped. My trusted inner community, in whom I confided right from the start, responded with great resources. On the advice of a friend, I was reading Mira Kirshenbaum’s book “I love you but I don’t trust you” within a day of finding out about the affair. 
On the advice of another, I started journaling. A third recommended that I exhaust myself with high-intensity exercise. “Sleeping pills,” said a fourth. In spite of my internet searching, it took a long time before I found the Betrayed Wives Club. (I think I eventually made my way here by typing something like “when will the devastating pain of infidelity ever end?” into Google.) But within a few weeks, I had an effective therapist, an informational session lined up with a divorce lawyer, other betrayed women to talk to, and a dozen great books to read.

The second coping technique — trying to figure out the story of what was happening — drove me and everyone around me crazy. My mind was racing, trying to compute WHY my husband had done this. (Was he a psychopath? Was he a compulsive liar? Was he a closeted misogynist? Did he have an attachment disorder? Had he even wanted kids? Had he even wanted to get married?) Talking is part of my figuring-out process, and I talked about it incessantly. At one point my father finally declared: “I don’t give a HOOT what he wants! What does CHINOOK want?”

This coping technique failed spectacularly. I was trying to control the situation by understanding it. But I had neither the information nor the hindsight necessary to understand it. Even if I could, understanding it wouldn’t make the pain any less excruciating. Also, to my father’s point, I was putting my attention in the wrong place: I was making my husband the center of the story when the real focus needed to be on me. 

The least useful of all my coping techniques by far was the last: trying to predict the future.

A very good, very wise friend of mine calls the practice “telescoping”, and if you’re doing it, I urge you to stop.

The danger of using a telescope to try and see the future (which is impossible) is that we miss out on observing what is happening right here, right now. And what’s happening now is key. The only thing any of us can do when devastated by a trauma is to pick the next right step, as Glennon Doyle says. (It’s a variation of the “one day at a time” motto of Alcoholics Anonymous.) And in order to choose that next right step, we need accurate information on exactly where we are right now. 

This very wise friend of mine also reminded me that I didn’t need to make any big decisions right now or for some time to come. The only thing I needed to do was gather information. Information on what my husband had actually done. Information from HIM (not from me trying to figure it out for him) about why he had done it. Information on what he was going to do next. Information on my legal options (and, if I hadn’t already had it, our financial situation). 

And, most importantly, information about how this all made me feel and what it revealed to me about what I want.

So, if you have just had your entire world upended, if your mind and heart are racing with the shock of it all, if you are trying to telescope your way into a future that feels safer than your present, please stop.

Put down the telescope.

You can’t see the future. None of us can. 

All you have is now.

Take the next right step. 
Then the next right one after that. 
Then the next right one after that. 

When you walk a path of next right steps, you can’t go wrong.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

How to Stop Doing Things That Feel Impossible to Stop

The shame might begin even as we boot up our computer and key in the words. Or we might feel nothing. Like we're on auto-pilot. Numbed by exhaustion and despair and terror.
But here we are again. Stalking the Other Woman's Facebook profile, checking out her Instagram. Our heart aching, our stomach in knots, our eyes rolling at the pithy quotes she posts about destiny, or scanning her face in photos for any sign that she's miserable or happy or is feeling remotely accountable for the pain she's wrought. What are we looking for exactly? We hardly know but that matters not at all.
And when we're comes the hangover. The regret. The I swore I'd stop doing this, the I know this only makes me feel worse, the what's wrong with me that I can't control myself?
My D-Day took place before social media was as ubiquitous as it is now (be grateful for small mercies, right?) but that didn't stop me from driving past her apartment, Googling her name, casually listening at work functions for any mention of where she was and what she was now doing.
Even though I knew it would cause me pain. Even though I knew it did nothing to move me forward. Even though...
It gets a lot of us stuck, doesn't it? This obsession with...something. Rifling through Visa receipts, checking his cell phone messages, constantly alert for the threat, terrified of being blindsided again.
And we feel utterly helpless to stop it. Even when we know we should. 
A long time ago, Steam was terrified of flying. It's hard for me to even imagine as she's rarely in one place for long these days, constantly flying hither and yon. But her inability to just get on a plane was getting in the way of a lot of things – her career, for one. Her far-flung friendships. Her sense of independence and agency. She reached out to a guy who swore he could rid of her fear and she was just desperate enough that she went for it. Either the guy was a total grifter or it just might work. 
She told me this story one time when we were talking about getting unstuck from post-D-Day behaviours. And she'd been using a lot of what she'd learned that got her ON a plane to get her OFF stupid behaviour that was getting in the way of healing. 
So I asked her recently to share with me exactly what this guy taught her. It's deceptively simply, though a lot of behaviour modification techniques are (the elastic band on your wrist, the STOP sign). And so I share it here with the hopes that it gets you unstuck. That it gets you ON the metaphorical plane that takes you where you want to go.

It's all imagery, explains Steam:
In your brain, picture a photograph in your back pocket. It's a crumpled up Polaroid of you as an old woman sitting on your dilapidated porch in a rusty old chair. You have been so afraid of something that happened long ago that you've never managed to move on. You've remained there as life decays around you. You have nothing to add to any conversation. You stew in your sadness and bitterness. No-one wants to hear your story again.
Awful, isn't it? Painful.
Take out that mental photo periodically and look at it. When you feel paralyzed. When you're about to do something that you know isn't moving your forward but is rather keeping you stuck. Is that woman who you want to be? Forever? Didn't think so.
Pop a DVD in your brain and watch it as long as you want to. It shows you living after betrayal. You look incredible. You have people around you who love you. You've travelled. You've celebrated milestones. People enjoy being around you. They want to hear your stories, see your pictures. You've led an incredible life. 
Who do you want to be? 

Every day we make a bunch of choices. Eat this for breakfast or that. Put on these clothes or those. Take this route to work or that one.
Those choices apply to everything. Pour one glass of wine or another. Stalk her Facebook page or go for a walk. That's really all Steam's "Flying" guy taught her. To choose which woman she wanted to be.
Who will you choose today?

Friday, July 19, 2019

Guest Post: What One Year Has Taught Me

by Chinook

Exactly one year ago today, I found some texts on my husband’s phone that just didn’t make sense. That moment was a knife that sliced my life apart. Before. After.

Elle calls them “anti-versaries” and I have spent some time over the past few weeks wondering how I wanted to spend this terrible first anti-versary day. Champagne with girlfriends? Spa day on my own? Something romantic with the new guy I’m seeing? (Spoiler alert: It’s my husband.)

Then a few days ago, a woman in terrible pain left a message on this site asking for help, and it was like a dam bursting: Everything I had to say in response to the questions she asked came flooding out in a thunderous torrent. Today, my first anti-versary, I am posting it for you to read.

None of this is advice. None of this is prescriptive. I just find it sometimes helps to know what other people see from their side of the table. This is what I have lived through. These are the lessons it has taught me so far. May it be of use to you.

#1. ANGER.

When the shock wore off (which took about 12 hours), I didn’t just have anger, I had violent rage. Violent. Rage. A spirit animal — a bird of fire — came and inhabited my body. I packed a bag and walked out, leaving my husband with our two little children and with no indication of when or if I’d be back. My anger was so furious that separation was the safest thing for both of us. That’s when my husband realized just how catastrophic his choices were. That was his rock bottom.

Thank God for that anger. The anger is what carried me through. 

But in short order, anger becomes toxic. After three days, I could feel the rage starting to poison me, so I thanked the Fire Bird and invited it to go inhabit the next woman whose life had cracked open and who was in danger of falling into the abyss. I returned to my life to start sorting things out. The anger remained with me for a long time, and sometimes it did flare into rage, but from that point on, I made a conscious choice to not let it take root in my heart. 

#2. PAIN. 

The pain was more intense than any pain I have ever felt. I gave birth without an epidural or any kind of pain control, and I swear, this was the same level of pain, but sustained. For weeks.

That pain shattered the person I was, which made way for the person I became.


In those early days, the book “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chödrön was recommended to me by a friend. It changed everything. It taught me that instead of running from my pain, I should sit with it and see what it had to teach me. 

I took Pema Chödrön’s advice and, when I suddenly looked up at a random moment to see a tsunami of grief crashing down on me, I entered the texture of the moment, and breathed. I noticed the color of the sky, the shape of the leaves, the texture of my child’s hair, the softness of the pillows at my side. I stayed in the moment. Breathed. Gradually, the pain would lessen. It was terribly difficult but I persisted. And every time the tsunami bore down on me anew, it was slightly smaller.

This is how I survived the pain.


In some desperate bid to stuff the genie back in the bottle, my husband lied about the extent of his affair every day for weeks. He would swear he had told me the whole truth (which was a lie), only for me to find some credit card statement that didn’t make sense, or some app on his phone with data that seemed off. Confronted, realizing he had no escape, he would cop to this new piece of information, triggering a panic attack in me. “But this is it!” he would swear. “I’ve told you everything now!” 

But he never had. It was like having the floor shift beneath my feet. Like vertigo. “Trickle truth” is the quaint term for this, or even “staggered reveal”. But really, it’s just ongoing betrayal and  it was far more traumatizing than the affair itself.

I had heard of the term “post-traumatic stress” before. I had not yet heard of the term “post-traumatic growth”.


As a society, by and large, we only value loud courage, the action hero kind of courage. Punching. Shouting. Kicking him out. Calling a lawyer. Going it alone. 
We don’t value (or even recognize) the silent kinds of courage. The courage to find compassion for yourself and others. The courage to really feel the pain. The courage to use that pain as rocket fuel to power extraordinary growth. The courage to shield our children. The courage of grace. The courage to become our own alchemists, spinning our grief into golden wisdom.

I know so many wise women. Every single one of them has known deep pain.


After the first few weeks of shock and body-shaking sobbing and furious anger, I realized that I would have to actively rewire my brain to prevent all my unhealthy thoughts and feelings from creating entrenched neural pathways. I knew the anger would poison me. I knew that trolling the other woman’s social media would make me hurt more. I knew that drinking a bottle of wine every night was just making things worse. I knew that the more I thought “poor me”, the more self-pity would feel natural.

And so, I forced myself to make the hard, healthy choices. When the angry thoughts came in, I actively blocked them. When angry feelings erupted, I deliberately calmed my heart rate. When self-pity gripped me, I forced myself to feel gratitude. When I wanted to check the other woman’s Instagram, I opened a fast-paced fiction novel instead. 

I forced myself to make these choices. Forced. It was an act of will. And for a long time, it felt like it wasn’t helping at all. I was still so angry. I was still so consumed by the injustice of it all. I still obsessed over the other woman. But I kept on doing it. 

Now, a year later, my mind and heart are peaceful places in which I want to spend time.


Unlike many women I’ve heard from, I knew — knew in my gut — that something was wrong as he was starting the affair. Our marriage was in bad shape despite the years of effort I’d been making but even at that, I felt something shift. I forced us into marriage counseling and it turns out that my instincts were bang on. He booked their first date, thus starting the affair, the same day as our first marriage counseling session. 

I even asked him point-blank one night if he was having an affair. He denied it all, vociferously, and used our therapy sessions to make me think I was imagining things. But I never gaslit myself. I knew something was wrong. 

His affair “only” lasted two months and the physical component was “only” a week long and, if he has finally told me the whole truth (will I ever stop wondering?), never quite made it to being sexual (and yes, I’m defining that term in the broadest possible sense). But it wasn’t the fact that he made out with her multiple times or came close to sleeping with her once. It’s the fact that he made dinner reservations for her, not me. That he sent joking emails to her, not me. That he invited her to go hiking with him, not me. And all the while I was staying home with the two kids, unwittingly facilitating his affair. 

It hurts even now. The hurt reminds me to keep my boundaries where they belong, and to value my preternatural gut feeling over the words of anyone else.


I know this is unusual but I didn’t make a secret of the fact that I was going through the discovery of having been cheated on. Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t advertise it. But I didn’t hide it for two reasons. The first is because I felt no shame whatsoever—my husband was the one who behaved abominably, not me. Why would I help shield him from being humiliated? Also, I knew I would need people supporting me, and that those people needed to know the truth. In the very, very beginning, I reached out to two women I barely knew that I knew had been cheated on, seeking their advice. I wouldn’t have had those people to turn to if I didn’t know they had been cheated on.

I also instinctively wanted to be a part of the ranks of women who destigmatize subjects like infidelity, which seems to disproportionately hurt women. And if I could help disabuse anyone of the bullshit notion that cheating is something they can do on the sly without hurting anyone, good. 

Now, maybe I can be that for someone else who is as desperate as I was.


My friends were and continue, a year later, to be so supportive, which really speaks to their characters. The whole experience confirmed that I have surrounded myself with a network of extraordinary women who are smart and strong, who understand and embrace the sticky messiness of life, and who will respect and support me whether I stay or go. It also confirmed how remarkable the men and women who are spouses to these friends of mine are. They are people who value self-knowledge and are compassionate and kind.

I have one very close friend who seemed a bit bewildered by the notion that I might not immediately want to divorce my husband. She is the very definition of tact and support, so I could be wrong in my interpretation — she never said anything. But this friend has continued to support me with a very open mind and seems genuinely curious about the whole process. 

My extended family and his extended family were also remarkable. 

But my parents... When things fell apart, I literally couldn’t function. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t work, and could not take care of my children. I was in crisis. I really, really, really needed someone to physically come in and take care of me and my kids for a while. My parents could have done it but for reasons I am still struggling to understand, chose not to. (My very closest friends would have done it if they could, but they all have young children and jobs of their own to juggle.)

So, who did step up to take care of me when I was incapacitated? Here’s where it gets weird. It was my husband, the man whose selfishness put me in that state. 

Looking back on it, that was what first made me consider the possibility of staying.


Thanks to the work of feminists and relationship experts like Esther Perel (and Elle, although I didn’t know her work at the time), I knew long before I was on the receiving end of infidelity that affairs are 100% because of the cheater and their issues, and 0% because of anything that has to do with the person they are cheating on. I read somewhere that being cheated on is like getting mugged. The only person who causes a mugging is the mugger.

In our case, my husband had an affair because he wanted to escape the problems in our marriage. Ironically, those problems existed largely because of him. A whole lot of crap from his horrible childhood, which he had never had the courage to deal with, suddenly overwhelmed him for reasons I won’t get into. Instead of being brave and facing the crap and accepting that he needed help to deal with it, my husband chose a random opportunity to create a double-life. In that alternate life, he had no responsibilities and therefore nothing to deal with.

I had been working diligently and patiently for years to try and make our marriage better but it turns out that the more effort I put in, the less he felt like he needed to try, and the more he felt entitled to take, take, take. Ain’t that a kick in the teeth? When I discovered his affair, my boundaries came roaring back into place and my healthy sense of entitlement came roaring back. I could literally hear the roaring in my ears as they came back from wherever I had shoved them down to over the years of self-sacrifice.

Those boundaries are all still firmly in place. And they will never budge again.

#11. WHY HER?

Again, thanks to the work of relationship experts like Esther Perel, I knew from the beginning that my husband’s affair wasn’t because I lacked something. I’m an awesome catch. When I started to learn about the other woman, it became clear to me that she was inferior to me in every way I care about: she is less educated, less accomplished, less independent, less self-aware, less ambitious, less beautiful, less wise, less worldly, less well travelled, less confident, nowhere near as well-read… The only things she had going for her were youth (and the lack of obligations that goes along with it) and a higher fitness level (see above re: youth and lack of obligations). And that was the whole point for my husband. He WANTED someone inferior to me because he liked how it made him feel better about himself.

Was I making him feel bad about himself in our marriage? Hell, no. I thought he was awesome and sexy and a fantastic dad, and I told him so all the time. The voice that made him feel inferior wasn’t coming from me, it was coming from inside himself.

So, what did the other woman have? As Elle wisely says: nothing I want. She is damaged. She lacks confidence. She is willing to not ask too many questions about why the older guy she’s dating still seems to be living with his wife and kids despite his claims that they were separating. Do I want to be like her? Of course not. 

The other thing that made him choose her is convenience. She flirted with him. She was available. She was there. And would I ever want a man to choose me primarily because I’m there? Duh. No.

When I start to forget any of this, I picture the other woman as a bug that I am flicking off my sleeve.


Some people say you shouldn’t hate the other woman but rather pity her. I say do both! She was instrumental in nearly effing up my children’s lives by wrecking their family. Of courseI hate that bitch. 
That pathetic, pitiable bitch.


I had a few fantasies of the other woman’s devastation as she realized how much damage she had done. But would she actuallyfeel devastated? Nope. Because if she did care, she wouldn’t have done it. 

Only a person who is completely messed up could justify damaging another person in this way. I take solace in the fact that although I may be in pain, I am not messed up.


I am surprised at how rarely I read about kids factoring into people’s decisions to give a cheating spouse a second chance or not. Perhaps it is a rebuttal of the sexist mantra that women should stay in a marriage at all costs for the sake of the children. 

Had we not had children I would have ended things immediately. But we do. 

And it turns out I would do anything for my kids. Including explore the possibility of a new relationship with a man who hurt me but is truly remorseful, truly willing to atone, and truly wanting to become a healthier person.


Personally, I believe they’ll think whatever you want them to. 

Here’s why.

Most people just don’t care that much about other people’s lives. So, you don’t have to worry about them. 

Some people want to think that other people are dumb and wrong because it makes them feel better about themselves. You don’t have to worry about them, either, because they’re going to judge you for literally everything. Unfollow them on Facebook, cross them off your Christmas card list, dust your hands off and move on.

Then there are the people who don’t know what to think. For those people, you take a page out of Beyoncé’s book and make yourself the hero of your story. Tell the story of your strength, your courage, your grace. 

Even if the only person you are telling this story to is yourself, when others meet you, they will feel that they are in the presence of a warrior.


As a writer, words are extremely important to me. The words “taking him back” make me feel really uncomfortable. They just don’t reflect my experience. Because “him” – the man who cheated on me – is more or less gone at this point. Instead, over the past year of rocket-fuel-pain-powered growth, my husband has become someone amazingly different. That’s why I prefer these words instead: 

I am seeing if the person I have become might want to have a new marriage with the person he has become.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Guest Post: We Can Be The Alchemists

by Chinook

Last week, someone new to Betrayed Wives Club posted a message. She is only a few weeks (weeks!) past D-Day and, as we all know, the pain at that early stage is horrific. 

I was struck by so much of her post but most especially by the excruciating hope in this question: “Is there a chance that we could get help for our issues and carry onto an even better relationship than before?”

The question broke my heart with its familiarity, which is what prompted me to write something on this website for the first time. I only discovered Betrayed Wives Club six months after D-day. By then I had done a remarkable amount of learning and growing. Still, I gobbled up the posts here, ordered Elle’s book and read it straight through in 24 hours (highly recommended). I was so, so hungry for narratives of couples who had made it through affairs and were happy.

What I have come to understand, on the doorstep of my one-year D-Day antiversary, is that what I actually needed to read (although I didn’t know it at the time) were stories of women who had made it through being cheated on and were happy; not couples who had made it through. Sure, it would have been more comforting to read the narratives of couples who were happy. Part of me clung to the argument put forward by Esther Perel that it is possible for couples to use the trauma of the affair as an opportunity to do a post-mortem, figure out what went wrong in their marriage, and decide to have a new and healthier relationship together. (If you haven’t seen or read or heard Esther Perel’s stuff, start with her TED Talk entitled “Rethinking infidelity”.) But it was more helpful and realistic and empowering for me to read/hear the narratives of women who made it through. 

I can’t control what happens in my relationship — it take two to make it a success — but I can control what I do with my own mind and heart. 

What I wrote to this newly wounded woman is this: 

Yes, I did find one or two narratives of people who made it through infidelity as a couple and thrived, although I’m not sure how much I trust their exuberance. The best example is Beyoncé. Her entire video album, Lemonade, is about the experience of being cheated on and recovering from the trauma. (Making lemonade out of lemons.) The introductory poetry for each video, written by the great poet Warsan Shire, is haunting (example: “So what are you going to say at my funeral, now that you've killed me? Here lies the body of the love of my life, whose heart I broke without a gun to my head.”)The extraordinary power of the last song, Redemption, will give you chills. (“True love brought salvation back into me. With every tear came redemption, and my torturer became my remedy.”)

As a side note: if Beyoncé can be cheated on, literally anyone can be cheated on. Her decision to make Jay-Z’s betrayal into a story in which she, Beyoncé, is the hero, is brilliant and it’s also what I’ve tried to do. I am the hero of the story of my husband’s affair. Why? Because I choose to be. Why should I let anyone else — the other woman, my husband, societal expectations — be in charge of the narrative?

Getting back to stories about couples who lived through affairs, I found a lot more narratives of people who tried to reconcile but ultimately the marriage ended. But just to be clear: these are not stories of failure. “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle is a great example. (Another side note: Part Two of the book describes the experience of the trauma of infidelity in a way that was bang on for me. Did anyone else find that?) Glennon Doyle has spoken about the fact that when she put herself back together again after the betrayal, she discovered that despite all the love she and her (now ex-)husband put into reconciliation, she just didn’t fit her old life.

Mostly, what I found were narratives of people for whom reconciliation wasn’t even an option, sometimes because the cheater wanted out and sometimes because the betrayed would not consider it. But again: those can be empowering stories, too. I have five friends and acquaintances who have been cheated on and were in this camp (which sounds like a lot but I know a LOT of people): two had no interest in reconciling because the betrayal was so horrible, and the other three had spouses (one was a man whose wife cheated, two were women whose husbands did) who just wanted to leave. 

And you know what? All of those people are really, genuinely happy now. Things didn’t go the way they wanted, but they still ended up happy. Three are happily in new marriages or marriage-like relationships. (And actually, now that I think about it, all three are with people who are way nicer but also WAY HOTTER than their exes.) The other two are happily single by choice.

The most useful narratives for me, regardless of the outcome of the marriage/relationship, came from people who used the experience of being cheated on as a catapult that propelled them to enormous growth. 

Pain can be rocket fuel if you let it be. 

Those are the narratives I chose to emulate. How is it working out for me? Nearly a year later, I feel more powerful than I have in years and I feel more grounded than I ever have. 

You can’t know how your marriage—or indeed any marriage—is going to turn out. All you can do is take the next right step, as Glennon Doyle writes. It’s like driving in fog: you can only see as far as your headlights. I’m tempted to extend the metaphor by saying that something you can control as you make your way through that fog is the grace with which you are driving.

Of all the lyrics from Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” album, these are my favourites: 

Grandmother, the alchemist
You spun gold out of this hard life
Conjured beauty from the things left behind
Found healing where it did not live
Discovered the antidote in your own kitchen
Broke the curse with your own two hands

My fellow warriors, we can be the alchemists, too.

Let’s spin gold together.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Guest Post: Why Money Matters After Betrayal

by StillStanding1

I have been doing a lot of work around money. Really for the last 3+ years (not coincidentally the same time frame since I discovered my then-husband had been unfaithful), I have had to unravel the stories I was telling myself about money, capability and self-worth, gain some skills and, in some ways, finally graduate to adulthood.
Most of us have “stuff” with money, just like we have “stuff” with food, “stuff” around self-worth, “stuff” around being a people pleaser, helper, rescuer. And frequently, it is all the same “stuff” and has roots inour childhood. (Stick with me, there is a serious and direct tie-in to infidelity, I promise. Even if you are already great with your budget and handling money).
Pre-D-Day, I had no idea what my financial situation was. My then-husband was in charge of all the accounts, paid all the bills, we had no budget. I just kinda guessed when it came to buying things the kids needed, groceries, luxuries. My ex controlled all of that. I did not even have online access to shared bank or credit card accounts. He would complain about it and any overspending, but also not include me when I offered to sit with him while he did bills (hello gaslighting!). In hindsight, this was just one symptom that something was wrong with the marriage. I didn’t push to know more about our money situation because our setup fit in with long-held beliefs about me and money.

Those beliefs included:
  •        I am bad with money
  •        I can’t be trusted with money
  •        I can’t provide for myself
  •        I need to rely on someone else to provide enough for me to live on
  •        I don’t deserve to have enough
  •        I should be earning more
  •        I can’t earn more
  •        I don’t deserve what I have
  •        I can’t be trusted to make decisions about money
  •     If I am in charge of the money, we will all end up homeless and living out of my car

You can see that a) none of this is true, b) it is a lot of catastrophic thinking and c) had a lot to do with how I did/not value myself and my abilities.

Money Stories
We all have a set point when it comes to money, just like we do with weight and it is hard to shift because our brains work really hard to keep us there. Because that place is comfortable and familiar. It serves some kind of emotional purpose, some kind of protection that we needed in childhood but that no longer serves us as an adult.  A money set point can look like being stuck with earnings (I know, I know there are so many societal forces, glass ceilings that are working against us, but also, WE are working against us).  It can look like never having more than X dollars in savings. Something always comes up or we find ways to spend it when we get close to that threshold and start to get uncomfortable.
A lot of our stories about money are family stories about money. My parents grew up on rations in WWII England. Growing up, we had plenty but you would not have known it to look at us. Very frugal, my dad was still wearing the same, well-cared for, polyester shirts from the 1970s well into the 1990s. Those two could really make things last. They purchased few luxuries. Layer on that my mother’s own fears about being poor, having grown up as a “charity girl” as she called herself and the shame around that, because her house got blown up and her family lost everything, except each other (and civilians could not claim “shell shock” – aka PTSD – in those days).  As a child and teen, if I wanted new clothes or the latest sneakers or Walkman, my mom would “sneak” me the money from her business and admonish me not to tell my dad. The lesson there is pretty obvious. My needs and wants are something to be ashamed of, there’s a price for getting them met and I am not worth the price of a new shirt or jeans.

My Money Journey
Fast forward to three years ago. I am looking down the barrel of separation and divorce and I am terrified. I need to come up with an estimate of what my expenses will be so I can ask for that during the divorce mediation proceedings. How was I gonna do that when I had no idea or access to those bills? Luckily, while my husband was carrying on his affair in front of my face, I had to take over a lot of the bill paying because he just stopped. We were getting late payment notices and I had to do something. So I found the accounts. Started making payments over the phone. Got access to accounts. I went to the bank and set up my own, new checking and savings accounts. And once I got online access to those, it included access to the other accounts in my name, like the mortgage, joint checking etc. So I had a few months of data, from paying all those bills that I could use to figure out what I might need in the event the divorce went through (it did).
My sister showed me some Excel spreadsheet she made up and used for her own budget and it was just not the right tool for me. It stressed me out more. I went looking for a tool and found YNAB (You Need a Budget). It changed everything. I knew what my money was doing. When money came in, I allocated it to future expenses, created my own buckets to save for other things we needed and for big expenses that come up a couple times a year (like auto insurance). Those big expenses, when you’ve planned for them, don’t derail your budget and life. It hooks up to bank accounts and credit cards, so you never miss, or forget about something you’ve bought. 
With the right budgeting tool, you can shift from panic and scarcity to CHOICE. It meant that I could shift from being in panic mode about every expense, every bill, every time my kids needed something or asked for something to being, able to say “Hey, I can’t this month but we can plan and set money aside and do it next month.” And there are no right or wrong money choices. Just like food. Just like other places in life. You can choose what is right for you and in alignment with your values and priorities. Having the right tool and the information it provides empowers those choices.
That same information from my budgeting app allowed me to look back over the last couple of years and see where we were spending (and possibly overspending). I went through a budgeting class with some peers recently. One woman discovered that she spent $9000 on clothes in a year. $9000. She started to cry because she realized that buying clothes was not about the clothes. It was wanting to feel better about how she looked. So many times, our stuff about money and how we spend is not about money at all. With that information she was able to look at her behavior and shift her choices.
Turns out, I am pretty good with money after all. I plan, I save and I make sure we still have room for fun. (That started with setting aside a few dollars each month for ordering takeout with the kids and has graduated to long-term savings for vacations because that is a priority for me). My age of money is up over 45 days (once you are over 30 days you are no longer living paycheck to paycheck). I pay my credit cards off every two weeks because I am using them to buy things I ALREADY HAVE THE MONEY FOR. Managing my money like a boss has been a huge confidence booster and one I really needed post-betrayal. I’ve learned that saving and growing my money is not about discipline and will-power. I don’t have to trick myself to do this. It is all about the choices I make, my priorities and keeping in alignment with my values. It is not effortless but it is very, very satisfying for a woman who spent most of her life believing she was “bad” with money.

Paying Attention to Money Post Betrayal
OK, here’s why I want you to pay attention to money after betrayal.
  •  Whether your relationship ends or mends, you deserve to have access and insight to your family finances.
  •  Knowledge is power and you need some real source of feeling powerful right now.
  •  If you don’t feel confident about managing money, now is the time to learn.
  •  Stop living paycheck to paycheck (more people are than even realize).
  • Pay off debt, so there is less threat hanging over your head in the event you separate.
  • Understanding your monthly, quarterly and annual expenses is knowledge you can use in the event you have to negotiate for support money.
  •  Proactively planning with your money is a great job for your brain when it wants to stalk the OW online.
  • Gaining control of your money lets you start digging into your money stories and how they stop you from getting ahead or feeling like you have enough or feeling like you can’t ask for or have what you need.
  •  Budgeting actual results in more freedom because – choices! And if you are working through things with your spouse, this activity can actually bring you closer together and help align your goals.
  • If you stay with your partner, you will still be very likely to outlive him (or potentially her). Don’t wait until then to get an understanding of your financial picture.
  • If you do not stay with your partner, you can’t get a handle on your finances soon enough.
  • When so much of your life feels out of your control, having a clear picture of your financials can help you regain a sense of security. It removes a lot of uncertainty.
  • Being a boss at money will help affirm the belief that no matter what, you will be OK.
  •  Planning and saving can help you shift from a mindset of fear to one of enoughness.

I know that is a lot to digest. But our attitudes, fears and spending habits, tell us a lot about how we did or did not learn to value ourselves as children. Our money stories are often our families’ money stories. Learning that we can change our money stories and actually be a good at money goes a long way to helping restore some balance to our disrupted lives. As a start, I recommend going visiting YNAB and signing up for their newsletter. Even those are incredibly insightful and fully digestible by regular humans.

Please note: I am a huge nerd for YNAB. It has literally changed my life. The link above is NOT an affiliate link. I just want everyone to be proactive and feel empowered about their money, especially when it can be a source of so much fear. There are a lot of other budget tools out there. None are quite like YNAB. They give you a 34-day free trial because that gives most people enough time to get through two full pay cycles and see the impact.


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