Thursday, August 29, 2019

Guest Post: Heart to Heart to Heart: A Meditation That Heals Us All

by Chinook

The very last thing I want to do when I feel horrific pain is to pull it in for a bear hug. So, when I read about the Buddhist practice of tonglen in Pema Chödrön’s book “When Things Fall Apart”, I was skeptical. 

Tonglen is a breathing exercise. It involves breathing in pain and breathing out kindness —but not just your own and not just to yourself. When you breath in, you invite all  similar pain felt by everyone in the world to come into your body and dwell there. If you feel the shattering ocean-deep indigo-blue ache of your husband’s betrayal, you breathe in not only your own agony but also the shattering ocean-deep indigo-blue ache of every woman and man everywhere in the world who, at this moment, is also feeling it. Then, you take the balm that you need, the loving-kindness that you need, the warm and soft emotional embrace that you need, and direct it not inward but outward—you breathe it out  to all those people everywhere who are suffering as you are suffering.

“We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves,” Pema Chödrön writes. “The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole.”

This was sure to fail, I thought. The whole point of reading Chödrön’s book, the whole point of seeking out exercises like tonglen was that I couldn’t handle my pain. And if I couldn’t handle my own pain, how was I supposed to invite in everyone else’s?

I couldn’t believe it worked. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, drawing in the pain of the world, I suddenly felt a shocking sense of connection. Somewhere out there, another woman was feeling the exact same pain that I was, and with the power of my breath, I could reach out and diminish it. I could draw pain out of her and send the exact comfort I knew she needed because I needed it too. 

I had recently re-read Brené Brown’s three components of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. Is that why tonglen worked, I wondered? By giving me a sense of common humanity, did it increase my compassion for myself?

Just a few weeks ago, after months of this practice, I was explaining tonglen to a friend during the drive to her cottage. The sun had set, and I don’t know if it was the green mountains surrounding us or the dusky sky or all that rich cool air but out of nowhere, a realization hit me like a sonic wave. I had only been seeing one side of things.

I thought tonglen was only happening when I did it: when I drew in other people’s pain and sent them comfort. But this whole time, even before I knew what it was, I have also been on the receiving end of tonglen. This whole time — every single day since D-day — there have been other women out there sending me the exact loving-kindness I needed at the exact moment I needed. 

Women like you.

Maybe that’s what made the difference on those days when things were still excruciatingly hard… yet not quite unbearable. Maybe on those days when I somehow found the grace to carry on, the grace came from a woman I will never meet, somewhere in the world, who sat cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed, heart raw with crimson sharp agony, who made the loving choice to draw out my pain and send me in its place the very thing I didn’t even know I needed.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Lies We Believe About Marriage Can Hold Us Back from Healing

...dreaming that love will save us, solve all our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of love—which is to transform us. For our relationships to flourish, we need to see them in a new way—as a series of opportunities for developing greater awareness, discovering deeper truth, and becoming more fully human.
~John Welwood, Buddhist psychologist, (1943–2019)

I thought I was "safe". I thought that after saying "I do" in front of so many family and friends under the blue skies of a beautiful August day, I could relax. Sure my parents had sat both of us down and talked obliquely about "challenges" and "working hard at marriage" but what did they know? We were in love. We understood each other. What could go wrong?
It didn't take long for "what could go wrong" to begin to go wrong. We fought on our honeymoon. We argued about whose turn it was to clean the grout in the bathroom. I fumed over his refusal to walk our dogs – the dogs he had insisted on. 
It was, in hindsight, two strong-willed people fighting over power in the relationship. It was two damaged people fighting over intimacy. It was two frightened people demanding autonomy. 
What I didn't know at the time was that my husband was a sex addict who was already acting out and had been our entire relationship. I knew something was wrong...but I could never quite understand what it was. And so I did was so many women in relationships do: I took responsibility for fixing it.
And behind that willingness to take responsibility for it was the lie that a whole lot of us are sold: "...that love will save us, solve our problems...and provide a steady state of bliss or security." 
Holding onto that lie kept me stuck for a long time. If there was something that wasn't working in my marriage, well then, I just wasn't trying hard enough. And so I walked the dogs, and I nursed babies, and I cooked healthy meals, and I kept myself fit, and I brought in an income. I visited my parents, and nurtured friendships, and supported my husband in his career. ("Don't worry about staying late. I'm okay. I'll put the kids to bed...")
I abandoned myself in so many ways. I betrayed myself in so many ways.
And then, I discovered, he had been betraying me too.
If there's a silver lining to my husband's infidelity, it's this: Faced with the evidence that all my effort still hadn't kept me "safe", I accepted that maybe, just maybe, I wasn't the problem. And, with more candid conversations with other friends whose marriages were fragile for different reasons, I concluded that it was distinctly possible that we'd been sold a lie. A lie that marriage would protect us. That the "right" person would never hurt us. A lie that we can outsource love. Turns out, nope. It's an inside job.
And with the growing understanding that I didn't cause my husband's infidelity, that loving myself was an inside job, and that our culture had gaslit me into holding myself accountable for the actions of another adult human, I could begin to live differently.
I could begin to spend as much time getting to know myself as I did getting to know my husband and my friends and my children. I could begin to forgive myself for any number of sins – aging, being too tired to exercise, heating up dinner in the microwave, going to bed early, preferring a book to a party, saying something thoughtless or ignorant.
I could revisit so much earlier trauma and let myself off the hook for that too. I didn't invite the sexual assault that occurred in my 20s just because I drank too much. My mother's addiction and suicide attempts weren't because I was a horrible daughter, despite what my grandmother told me. I wasn't selfish. I wasn't self-centred. I gave this earlier trauma the time and attention it required to close that wound
I was doing the best that I could then.
I was doing the best that I could when I discovered my husband's betrayal.
I was doing the best that I could when I could barely get out of bed on the heels of D-Day #1. And then #2.
And I'm doing the best that I can now.
My guess is you are too. My guess is, from the heartbreaking comments I read on this site, from the stories I hear from others, is that you are doing the absolute best you can and that you're still beating yourself up that it's isn't enough. Because love was supposed to save you from all this. Marriage was supposed to protect you. So if you're in pain it's because you did something wrong: married the wrong guy, gained the wrong weight, paid attention to the wrong family members, introduced him to the wrong person.
A recent arrival on the shore that is Betrayed Wives Club is refusing to believe those of us insisting that she didn't do anything wrong to land herself where she is.
The belief behind this conviction is often about control. If the mistake is ours, then we can fix it.
The mistake, my friends, is theirs. And while recognizing that can liberate us from self-flagellation, it also removes any notion that we can "fix" our marriage or our spouse. 
But on the other side of that recognition is another understanding. All we can ever do is show up and bring our best selves – a product of self-care and radical self-kindness – to our marriage. And then...
Well, then we do exactly what my parents told me we'd have to do. Face the challenges and work hard at it. Cause marriage might not promise safety but two people committed to holding each other through the tough times is, well, not perfect. Not bliss. But pretty darn good. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

Guest Post: The Social Media Lie

by Chinook

Is there is a single woman out there who hasn’t Internet-stalked the Other Woman in the aftermath of discovering her partner’s betrayal?

What we find when we look her up can be gut-wrenching. 

A glorious beach vacation.
A perfect gym-toned body.
An expensive and immaculately decorated home. 
Accolades for her latest professional accomplishment.
A smile that glows with a happiness we will never know.
Eyes that glisten with a smug security we will never have.

It’s enough to make us feel inadequate about every single part of our lives. 

But Warriors, we all know social media is bullshit.

I know this not from the Other Woman but from my own friends.

I have one friend whose social media feed shows off her incredibly svelte body, her handsome husband and her adorable kids. All of these things are a true part of her life. But the whole truth? Her daughter has been in and out of hospital since birth. She and her husband are struggling. Her svelte body is because of a bout of very serious illness. 

I have an acquaintance who is phenomenally, insanely good-looking—like, magazine cover, walking-the-runway, not-quite-of-this-world gorgeous. Her feed is full of sunsets and inspirational quotes and photos of herself at various professional events in which her looks are dazzling. What doesn’t show up in her feed? She is a survivor of sexual abuse. 

I also know someone who looks kind of awful in her social media feed. She looks older than her age. None of the photos she posts of the places she visits make them look particularly envy-inspiring. Is that her life? Nope. She’s just a crummy photographer. In person, she is sexy and beautiful. She has a magnetic energy that makes everyone want her attention and approval. She is in a relationship with a gorgeous man who is besotted with her. Her children are thriving. She is one of the happiest people I know.

Because I know of all this (in other words, because my friends are honest with me and I’m honest with them about what’s really happening off-line), I wasn’t thrown off-balance with pain or envy when I Internet-stalked the other woman. The photos of her looking beautiful, confident, fit and happy were suspiciously out-of-step with what little I knew about her family life, her professional situation, and her relationship history—and what any of us can infer about the kind of woman who wants to participate in an affair. 

I’m grateful I knew these things about her, and about the false natural of social media, because once I saw that her feed was just a big lie, it became much, much easier to ignore it. 

The truth is that we all have sadness and pain and insecurity in us, whether we choose to let it show online or not. 

And honestly? If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that affair partners have way more pain and insecurity than most.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Grappling with Grief

...what you actually lost was your innocence. Letting yourself grieve that loss is the only way to get to the other side of the trauma... Grief happens in spasms. It's like giving birth: You're giving birth to a new self. At the height of labor, you'll have 90 seconds of agony followed by 30 seconds of relief. Interestingly they call that period transition. That's what you're going through...
~Martha Beck, from May 2019 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine

When I first read mention of betrayal as trauma, I was surprised, even as it rang true for me. Trauma felt so dramatic. What I was experiencing, I thought, was a story as old as time. A philanderer for a husband. Weren't women supposed to either kick him out, if they were renegades, or suck it up, if they were doormats? I had put myself in that latter category. Though not so much pathetic as exhausted. Too exhausted to make a choice. And, I was beginning to allow myself to believe, too traumatized. 
Seeing betrayal through the lens of trauma helped me make sense of so much of what I was experiencing. It explained why I had to fight the desire, biking along city streets, to turn my wheel into traffic. It explained the heart-pounding terror when my husband was even five minutes later than I expected him home. It explained the hands shaking, the vision blurring, all these extreme physical symptoms of...what exactly? Why was this pain so visceral? Trauma. That's why. Trauma
Reframing my betrayal as trauma also gave me something else. Permission to be gentle with myself. An understanding that I hadn't asked for any of this, that I didn't deserve this pain. I was experiencing trauma, I would remind myself, when I couldn't muster the strength to go the grocery store. I was grappling with trauma, I told myself, when I finally caved to my therapist's urging to try anti-anxiety medication. 
And within that understanding, I could begin to grieve, which, as Martha Beck points out, is the only way to the other side of trauma.
I wish I could tell you there is a shortcut. But the only shortcut I know is to walk through the fire. Trying to go around it just prolongs the pain or pushes it underground. The only way out is through. 
Martha Beck is right. You are giving birth. To a new you. To a new reality. And birth is a painful beautiful process. Brutiful, as Glennon Doyle calls  it. The brutal transforms the beautiful, she says, and the beautiful transforms the brutal. 
A whole lot of us feel stuck in the brutal right now. The beautiful shimmers like a mirage. We don't trust it to be real, whether in the past or the future.
But on the other side of grief, beyond the trauma, the beautiful exists. Not exclusively, of course. The rest of your life will never be all good, or all bad, all beautiful, or all brutal. It will, like any life, be a mix. But beauty will be a part of it. Not in spite of what you've gone through but because of it.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Guest Post: The Solace of Talking to Someone Who Regrets Cheating

by Chinook

Shortly after my husband and I separated, when I was still in the thick of the pain of his betrayal, I made a new friend. 

She and I just clicked in that unusual and delightful way that new friends can. I could tell she was a woman of strength, wisdom, creativity, and compassion—all the things I most admire.  

As we slowly got to know each other, I shared the fact that I had just separated, and that my husband had been unfaithful.

She met that information with deep compassion… and with something else that was very subtle and might have gone unnoticeable by anyone who wasn’t already in a hyperaware state. She told me how sorry she was that I was going through this. She admitted that her marriage had been through difficult patches when her children were young, and that time is a great healer. She cautioned that you never know what someone is capable of until their back is against the wall. 

I already had my suspicions when, with great trepidation, she eventually confessed to me that many years ago, during a time of strife in her marriage, when her children were as young as mine are now, she had an emotional affair and was caught. What she described (motivation, rationalization, outcome) sounded very similar to my husband’s physical affair.

My new friend was concerned that this information would cause me to see her in a different, less favourable light. But it didn’t. Not at all. Instead, her revelation made me grateful that she would trust me with something so emotionally important. 

It also made me very curious.

I liked this woman. She was like me. We had very similar values. Yet she had made a bid for escape that was similar to the one my husband had. She had put her spouse—the man she was still married to and very much in love with—through the same pain my husband had put me through.

This all happened at a pivotally important point. When I met this new friend, my husband had just put me through two months of trickle truth that left me deeply traumatized (panic attacks, hypervigilance, insomnia, nightmares…) and obliterated any residual trust that still remained after I first discovered his affair. We were separated, at my request. I no longer believed anything—literally anything—my husband told me. 

But I believed this new friend. She had volunteered information about her relationship that I never would have known otherwise. Unlike my husband, she had no reason to lie about her experience.

She told me that although it had been over a decade since she cheated, she still felt ashamed of her choices. And I believed her. She told me that she never cheated before and had never, ever considered cheating again. I believed that too. She told me her affair partner was of zero consequence—just a human escape-hatch for the feelings she didn’t want to be having in her marriage. She told me that she was so grateful that she and her husband stayed together, not just for the sake of their children but for the sake of their relationship. She told me that she loved her husband now more than ever. I believed her.

A key thing this friend of mine was able to give me (and continues to give me) is the same thing Elle gives us on this website: the solace of having been there. 

When I first read Elle’s assurances that it gets easier, I trusted her because she had been through it. She knew. For months, Elle’s words did not match my experience, yet I still took solace in the notion that they eventually might. I’m happy to report that a year after D-Day, they do. It isgetting easier. 

Similarly, I took great solace back then in hearing about my friend’s experience. It reframed my notion of what the future might look like. It meant that “once a cheater always a cheater” was not always correct. (My friend hadn’t re-cheated in over a decade.) It meant that it might actually be true that the other woman meant nothing. My friend never gave her affair partner a second thought.

It meant that when my husband claimed to feel regret every day, to be permanently changed, to be repulsed by his former choices—just like my friend did—he might actually be telling the truth.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Interested in sharing your story? New TV show looking for participants...

I recently received a request to share this with all of you here. I'm not familiar with the production company but the woman I e-mailed seemed okay (for what it's worth). Think carefully about putting your story forward. Make sure it's something you're really comfortable with. We are particularly vulnerable, of course, when we're healing from this. But, as the woman I spoke with about this said, too often our culture overlooks the stories of forgiveness and healing. This is a chance to share that:


Have you been cheated on, but decided to stay with your partner?
Was it important to both of you to work at your relationship and not give up?
Have you forgiven your partner, but are still working on forgetting his/her indiscretion?
A new television series, that will be educational and entertaining, will be sharing an open and honest discussion about relationships.
If you are interested in being considered and believe that other people may benefit from hearing your story please email
Please include your name, age, location, the best number to reach you, a few recent photos and a little about you.
To be considered you must be a female, living in the tri-state area and appear to be between the ages of 45 – 65.
We look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Guest Post: Surviving the Wake-Up Call

by Chinook

A wise friend of mine recently told me about someone who has her worried. It’s his health. He is working much too hard and his stress level is too high. He has put on a lot of weight. His life is devoid of exercise and rest. He is looking ashy.

“I hope he survives his wake-up call,” she said, with sincere concern.

She was talking about a cardiac arrest. But immediately, my thoughts went to a different kind of heart attack: the jolt that stuns our cheating partners and traumatizes us when an affair comes to light. 

The jolt of getting caught is a wake-up call to our partners that the game of make-believe has ended. Life looks him square in the face and says: “I’m not fucking around, man. This is deeply unhealthy. You have serious problems. And they are notgoing to magically go away.”

What our cheating partner chooses to do next is important. And there are only two options.

Option #1: Survive this wake-up call, irrespective of our choice to stay or go

Surviving it means getting healthy. It means embracing humility, embracing all the ugly and hurtful ways in which he has hurt everyone, and committing to the brutally hard work of becoming a better person. And it warrants repeating that even if you declare the relationship over immediately—irrespective of your choice to stay or go—he should be doing this work. He should be taking this God-awful mess and making it his teacher.

Option #2: Not survive this wake-up call. 

Not surviving it means staying unhealthy. It means putting his head in the sand. Doubling-down on his steady diet of deception. Clinging tight to his vestigial defense mechanisms. 

Does he continue the affair? Blame you or others? Refuse to get individual counselling? Refuse to talk about it? Insist that you both just need to “move on”? Maintain, even months later, that he doesn’t know why it happened? Have another affair? Yeah. That means he’s not surviving it.

I read an example of this, recently, that made me so angry I wanted to scream. It was in this letter, which was sent to the Dear Sugar advice column/podcast. A married woman describes how she was caught “emotional and sexual texting” (including “inappropriate photos”) with her ex-boyfriend from high school (who, incidentally, was also in a committed relationship). This cheating wife was forgiven by her husband who “was amazing”, and despite being hurt and angry “agreed to work through it together”. They talked about the problems in their marriage. They reconnected in a way that felt “like being newlyweds”.

Then, just a few months later, she picked up the affair right where she left off. To disastrous effect.

This woman did not survive her wake-up call. She had the opportunity to get healthy—for her own sake and for the sake of her children and husband—and she turned that opportunity down. She was a cake-eater: she wanted both the comfort and love and security of her marriage, and the thrilling excitement of the affair. “THIS IS NOT WHO I AM,”she writes in capital letters in her letter, to which co-advisor Steve Almond compassionately but firmly replies: “This actually is who you are.”

Although we don’t hear from the husband in the letter to Dear Sugar, every single person on this site can imagine the heartbreak he felt when he discovered his wife’s affair. It was a wake-up call for him, too. And it sounds like, unlike his wife, he chose to embrace that wake-up call. In the wife’s words, he “acknowledged that our marriage had lost intimacy over the years with the minutia of kids, jobs, bills” and made the (I imagine) excruciatingly difficult choice of “really being together” with the wife who had so hurt him. He allowed it to crack him open, to humble him, to show him what he didn’t like about their marriage so that he could work on changing it.

He chose health. 

But his wake-up call also meant that when he discovered his wife carrying on the affair, he didn’t give her a third chance.

The wake-up call has come for us, fellow Warriors. Will we choose to survive it? 

Will we find the courage to embrace what it has to teach us?
Will we turn the pain into rocket fuel, propelling us through unprecedented growth to a level of strength and wisdom we see in women like Elle but never imagined in ourselves?

Before I had experienced infidelity first-hand, it seemed like an unimaginably horrific occurrence. And I wasn’t wrong. It really is. 

But what I didn’t have any idea of then is how growth-inspiring it could be if I let it. When I sat down to write a journal entry four months after D-Day (and two months after getting the whole truth) entitled “good things that have come out of the last four months”, I filled an entire page without even having to think about it too hard. 

An entire page.

I wouldn’t re-live the affair even if you paid me a million dollars. 
I wouldn’t wish the traumatizing experience of it on anyone. (Well… Except her.)

But I can truthfully say (and I’m kind of astonished by this): Every single aspect of my life is healthier than it was prior to the affair.

I am choosing to survive this wake-up call. 
And if you’re on this site, if you’re reading this right now, so are you.


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