Friday, October 11, 2019

From the Vault: Acknowledging His Pain Too

I'm away for a few days celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving. This was originally posted in 2017. And yes, I know it's hard to care whether he's hurting when you're bleeding all over the floor. But understanding that his choice was driven by hurt can release you from blaming yourself. And can start healing for both of you.

Acknowledging His Pain Too

"Being half anywhere is the true definition of loneliness."
~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

It's tough to stomach when you're sitting in a therapist's office, your guts spilling out onto the floor, your heart shattered, your life in ruins, and your husband suggests that he's hurting too.
HE'S hurting? Well, cry me a goddamned river. He's the one who lobbed this grenade into your life. He's the one who lied and cheated and stomped all over your heart. You wouldn't be in this bloody mess if it wasn't for him.
He hurts too? Well, too damn bad. He's not going to get any sympathy from you. No way. Never.
Never came sooner than I thought it would.
Never came when I had triaged my own wounds enough to be able to look around and notice that he was bleeding too. At first, there was some satisfaction in this. I kinda enjoyed knowing he was in pain. In fact, I thought I could use that pain to keep him in check. As long as I kept reminding him of what he'd done to me – to us, including our children – I could assure myself that he'd be less likely to do it again. I wanted that pain to feel fresh, to sting. To act as a check on any impulses he might have to cheat again.
That was a mistake.
My husband didn't cheat because he wasn't hurting enough, he cheated because he was hurting too much and didn't know how to deal with it. He cheated because the only way he knew how to manage the constant ache of loneliness he felt was to distract himself from it.  Sort of like how we dig our fingernails into our palm to distract from dental work.
It took time before I could listen to his pain without trying to trump it with my own. In the early days post D-Day, I couldn't. I was drowning in my own pain and didn't much care if the water was rising for him too. And that's fair. At first, it's all we can do to keep our heads above the waves. We absolutely must tend to our own wounds first.
But the time comes, especially if you want to rebuild your marriage but even if you don't, when it matters that you notice his pain too. It matters because it's in that compassion that your healing accelerates. By realizing that others hurt too, our own pain becomes less isolating. It becomes part of the human condition. Others' pain doesn't eclipse our own, it makes our own a bit more bearable. But only when we're each able to hold the others' pain as well. Minimizing, dismissing or playing the pain olympics just keeps us locked in our own silos.
And remember this. His pain isn't an excuse for cheating. It doesn't, for even a micro-second, mean that what he did was okay. But it does point us toward understanding. And it further makes clear that his cheating wasn't about us. My husband was lonely. An existential loneliness that defined much of his time. It was a loneliness he'd felt much of his life, courtesy of a cold demanding mother. But his loneliness wasn't my fault nor was it my responsibility to fix, even if I'd known he was feeling it.
When our marriage hit a rough patch – young kids, stressful career, competing ambitions – he responded the way he'd learned as a kid. Focus on something else. Get involved in risky behaviour. Seek out sex to self-medicate.
By understanding that he was in pain too I'm able to empathize. We were both hurting. I responded differently – not by cheating but by stewing in my resentment and treating him like an annoying child. But I came into our marriage with a different set of coping skills, with a different history. The day I was able to accept that if I was him, I might have chosen a similar path, was the day that my own heart began to feel whole again. And, incidentally, when we're able to have compassion for others, it's so much easier to have it for ourselves.
There's no rule that you ever have to acknowledge your husband's pain too. And lots of guys make it even harder by dragging us through further humiliation and pain, by continuing to lie and call our own sanity into question. Without genuine remorse and sincere determination to come clean and figure out how to move forward with honesty and integrity, lots of these guys don't deserve a second chance. But whether or not you make the choice to rebuild a marriage with someone who does deserve that second chance or move on without him, recognizing that hurt people hurt people can light your way forward.
It can soften your heart enough to realize that compassion is not a finite resource. The more we offer, the more that's available to us. 


  1. Elle,
    I have been reading your blog since I (so thankfully) stumbled upon it a few months ago. It has proven to offer the most helpful community of infidelity survivors that I've found. I think that is because your and my story sound so, so similar.

    I am days away from my own 1 year anniversary of D-day #1. Ugh. I learned of my H's affair by being contacted by the OW's (now ex) husband. They were close friends of ours and the double betrayal has been extremely painful and complicated to navigate. I was told of their 4 year affair (which ended abruptly when the OW's husband discovered it) and spent the next months going through all the same traumatic experiences as every other woman on here describes. Your stories have been so reassuring to read!

    After 6 months of insisting there was nothing else to disclose, my H finally found the courage to reveal the rest of his history of infidelity, which spanned almost the entirety of our 18 year relationship and involved EAs and PAs with several women (though no new infidelities post D-day #1). This 2nd D-day was so horrible because, as all of you experiencing this know, it decimated any trust I had been working so hard to rebuild again. D-day #2 shone new light onto him, onto a new history/reality that I had to start processing from scratch. It was devastating. BUT, it was, surprisingly, also extremely helpful. It really showed me in one fell swoop that his affairs were so not about me. It's one thing to hear that from him or from my therapist, or read it in affair literature, but this allowed me to actually internalize that fact. It was ALL ABOUT HIM. It was all about this broken, hurting man that I thought I knew, and so clearly didn't. This also helped me process his affair with our "friend". He did believe he loved her at the time, and that was so hard to accept, so damaging to my self esteem, so painful. BUT this new info allowed me to finally understand that those feelings were not real love. He'd in fact been maintaining several EAs at the same time as he was in the relationship with her! THAT was such an incredible, albeit confusing, relief!

    So, reading your reposting of this today was so helpful. It validates so much of what I've been experiencing and exploring, and what he's been learning and describing. Your description of the way you both handled the unspoken loneliness in your marriage was so spot on (seriously, your description of treating him like an annoying child is EXACTLY how I reacted to his behaviour!).
    Since the initial discovery, my H severed ties with all his affair partners, cold turkey. I have witnessed him working earnestly and honestly to learn all about his buried pain from childhood (due to a cold, critical, emotionally abusive father), his inability to trust or even recognize unconditional love, his loneliness and isolation (existential loneliness-what a perfect way to describe it!), as well as all his coping mechanisms that made all of this internal turmoil completely unknown to me (and to him) for our 18 years together. That is what truly allowed me to open my heart and make myself vulnerable to the idea of loving and trusting him again. I felt his hurt. I was able to appreciate our individual healing journeys as so different, yet equally as painful.

    Forgiving the reality that my trauma is a casualty of him being a hurting person is hard. It is a daily struggle. But as long as I continue to see him determined to learn about himself and make himself a better person for himself, for our children and for our marriage, I continue to do the hard work of releasing my anger and moving towards compassion, forgiveness and light.

    I, too, am celebrating CDN thanksgiving this weekend. So, thank you Elle. Thank you ALL women on here for sharing your stories, your pain, your struggles, and your joys. This community is most definitely proof that compassion is, as you said so beautifully Elle, not finite. Keep offering it and receiving it ladies, you are true heroines of the human experience.

    1. Calluna,
      Thank-you so much for sharing your story. And yes, it does sound familiar.
      I'm glad you're able to have compassion for your husband but please also ensure you have plenty for yourself. Yes, your trauma is a casualty of his pain but it's very real.
      I hope you were able to enjoy Thanksgiving. Sounds, in spite of everything, that you have things to be grateful, not least of which is your own incredible strength.

    2. Thankyou for sharing i am having such a hard time, 48 years married to a chronic adulterer.I cannot get past that i never should have married him how i would not have had to go thru this.. Dday the second time was nov 16 2018, i think i am doing ok then i crash and hit bottom all over again.I met him at 15...Married at 19 He started cheating at his Batchelor party and never stopped. Now he has been sober and in recovery for a year and almost 3 months. I know some think it is great wow! Not me it is a drop in the bucket of 48 years of cheating. I am truly glad for him that he is finding peace. I am not able to hold onto it for a good amount of time. I feel my life was a joke, and wasted. I truly deeply loved him, now it is a feeling of love and disgust. He is very remorseful and trying very hard 3-4 slaa meetings a week and a csat therapist for him and me, plus another therapist we already had. I wish he had been honest in the very beginning! Why the hell do they get married? And yes all this gross way of dealing with life and stress and feeling invisible started with his messed up mother and father . Terrible home incest , alcoholics, nasty comments about sex all the time.How. And it is said it was not about me? He wanted other women, that is about me..If i did what he did it would sure seem i wanted other men bec he was just not enough....I look at him with no empathy he wanted it and he got it.. I am grieving so much of my joke of a marriage, and for my daughter who passed from a brain tumor1-9-16.. I feel like i am drowning. If there is any incite i would be so grateful

  2. CAlluna finding out my H was a sex addict who acted out far worse than what i was lead to believe on D-day 1 was devastating, but it gave me a place to start. D-day 2 was such a body blow with the dozens of contacts in his phone. all hookers, and one he thought he was in love with. UGH. If i had not looked into HIS pain, i could never have moved forward. I cannot say I have forgiven him in the 6 years since D-day 1 but what I found almost immediatly was compassion, first for others, and finally for him. I totally understand your confusion AND your relief. Happy Thanksgiving.

    1. That's a piece of this that is SO hard for some women to hear. Posting this link on Twitter inspired a few people to respond that their husbands (or ex-husbands) deserve NOTHING. Which might be true. But isn't necessarily helpful for us.

  3. sue lemure, Your pain resonates thru your post. I am not much help as i am close to where you are. I am hoping someone else picks this up. I do know that what he did is NOT about you. You did not mess his head up. You provided him the only safe haven he had. I will bet he really believed he loved you and perhaps he did. That many years of betrayal has got be gut wrenching... Keep reading here. It really helps to process what we are going thru. I do feel your pain. Really deep down.
    My husband of 41 years had a nervous breakdown, got real mean and demanding. I had to ask him to leave for my own safety. Everything he ever wanted was right in front of him. But, he moved out and within 6 weeks he had a fuck bitch. I stood between them somehow not kicking the shit out of her showing him that I was still there for him. He chose the lower road, more than once after that. Second time even asking her to leave her car home so I wouldn't see it. Evidently I scared her out of her gord that night but what good did it do me? My heart is still in all those pieces all over the ground squished under his and her feet.
    But progress does happen. 5 months out and I see tiny increments there. Sometimes I can ever acknowledge that he hurts too but not often yet. When I crack he is still able to go take a nap with no trouble at all. What does that say?
    sue lemure, Keep coming here. You will get a lot from all these wonderful warriors who have paved a path ahead of us.

    Miss Missy

    1. Miss Missy,
      I don't doubt she's frightened of you. I sometimes think it's the integrity and dignity with which we live that frightens as much as any potential threat to their safety. It must be hard to see people acting decently when you know your own behaviour is abhorrent.
      In any case, I'm glad you're beginning to see tiny incremental progress. That's how it happens at first, and then there are times when it gallops forward. And times when it feels like it's at a standstill. I often recommend that people journal because, when you look back, it's easy to see that you've actually come a long way, even if it doesn't feel like it.
      Hang in there, Miss Missy. Thank-you for your compassion and kindness toward Sue Lemure. I love how each of pays it forward. The women here are, as you noted, "wonderful warriors".



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