Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Guest Post: The Things I Learned from the Betrayed Wives Club

by StillStanding1

Dear friends, I know it’s been a while.  I feel like an alum coming back to campus after a long stretch of being away post-graduation. I’ve been thinking a lot about the BWC lately (a friend of a friend is going through a terrible time with a soon-to-be-ex husband who is in affair lala-land and making her life as difficult as possible and we’ve been chatting; some other friends are going through parallel and similarly difficult times; and some new and exciting but challenging times for me) and it got me thinking about all the wonderful gifts I’ve received from participating in this unique and incredible space.

Compassion – I’m talking about compassion for self. This has been life-altering for me. I used to walk around absolutely hating myself. Everything that I did not succeed at meant that I was a complete and utter failure. And then my husband cheated, and I found out. I searched for something, anything to help with the agony. I landed here. Thank goodness and saints be praised. Here I learned that no one was going to know how to be kind to me, if I wasn’t first kind to myself. I learned that no matter how great I was or how hard I worked or how perfect or sexy or whatever I was, I was not going to change the other person. I learned that it was okay to focus on me, to be patient, to be kind and gentle with myself. To let myself rest when I needed. To recognize that some days, getting to the end of it still breathing is a win. And I noticed that my kindness to myself also changed and increased my ability to be kind to others and meet them where they are. This continues to be a lifelong practice, I think. Compassion for self was, for me, the first huge step on the path of recovering from my partner’s infidelity and the collapse of my marriage.

Forgiveness – I learned here that forgiveness is a slippery changeable thing and more importantly, that I am not required to extend it before I am ready. I also learned that rushing to forgiveness does not fix or resolve the thing that begs forgiveness. It's actually the other way around. When the person has done the work, fixed or resolved the thing that has done me harm, then and only then could I open to forgiveness and letting that person have space in my life. I also learned that forgiveness is for me and not for the other person. It is about letting a thing go so it no longer harms me, even if that person has not done the work. It is not about them deserving it. It is about me deserving to be free of the past. Likewise, I learned the power of facing down, owning and integrating my past, forgiving myself for terrible, hurtful choices I’ve made and recognizing that I don’t have to be held captive by a past forever. Finally, I’ve learned that forgiveness is not a destination. It’s not a once and done (at least not for me) but a place I pass through over and over.

Boundaries – It is so hard to sum up the power and impact of boundaries. Elle has written about this so many times because it is so incredibly critical, especially in the wake of infidelity. I learned that it is okay to recognize that I am separate from the people in my life, that there is a place where they stop, and I begin. It was about recognizing when a situation was not healthy for me and removing myself from it and (super important) not taking responsibility for how the other person was going to feel about it. I’ve stopped trying to curate the life experiences for people in my life, including my children. It is not my job to absorb all of life’s blows, so the people around me suffer less. I’m not a human sacrifice. It’s been about treating myself, my body, my time and my needs as if they matter. Because they do. And not apologizing for it and not justifying it.

Saying No – this is boundaries part 2. I learned here that it is okay to say no to things I don’t want to do. That I don’t have to say yes to things that aren’t right for me in order to prove my worth. That I don’t have to let others’ choices, wants and needs dictate the course of my life.  I learned that I don’t have to fix things that aren’t mine to fix. I can say no to old habits, behaviors, situations and people who no longer serve my best interests. I learned that I don’t have to qualify, explain, or otherwise justify my no. I don’t have to suffer to earn the right to say no. I can just say no. No thank you, I’m not baking 10K cookies for the school bake sale. No thank you, I am not hanging out with you and all your drunk friends. I learned that no is not about controlling other people. It’s simply about choosing myself.

Trusting Myself – boundaries part 3. One of the big eye openers for me was learning that my body, on some level, had been warning me, for a long time, that something in my environment was just not right. We are taught, by society, by partners or family members, or co-worker that want us to just sit quietly in our corners, that our intuition is fake. That we are crazy. Everything is fine. Turns out it isn’t. Our nervous systems are highly tuned, super powerful, precision early warning systems. I learned here that if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If I feel anxious in a situation, I need to get curious rather than dismiss what I am feeling. It’s become an incredibly powerful tool. I’ve also learned that I can trust myself with money and to be able to provide for my family. That I can know what is best for me in both work and personal life and walk away from things, people, clients that are sucking the joy from my life. I know that there will be both good days and bad days in the future and that I will be able to handle whatever comes.

Self-Acceptance – After working on my stuff and self for so long and learning about self-compassion and boundaries and so many things here, I’ve discovered that I like myself. I’m actually pretty cool to hang out with. That I am me and flawed and kooky in myown ways, fussy, creative, sensitive, strong, brooding, loving, joyful, and deserving of love. I am neither too much nor not enough. I learned that I deserve love without having to hustle for it or otherwise earn it. I’ve learned that I am okay as I am and that I can finally stop treating myself like a project.

Courage – I learned what courage means every time I come to this site. You are all my heroes. Everyone of us who is here wrestling with devastation, heartbreak, trauma; you are all so brave. Bravery can be taking back a remorseful partner even though we are terrified we’ll be hurt again. Bravery can be extending grace to ourselves and each other. Bravery is surviving another day, hour, minute. Bravery can be choosing to leave, even though it is excruciating.  Courage is choosing ourselves over and over, even if it means losing some people.  Courage is trusting that we, our own selves, can take care of ourselves.  Courage is taking any first step, away from a thing that no longer serves us and toward a terrifying and open, clean slate.

Love – Finally, I’ve received the gift of love from so many of you on this site. When I think about it, it fills me up. I’ve learned that love is a lot different than what I saw or experienced growing up. That love we see in books and tv and movies is not what real love feels like. I’ve learned that all different kinds of love can fill our cups, but that no one else is going to be able to love us to wholeness. I need to fill those parts of myself first and then I’m ready to receive love. I have learned here that someone’s inability to love us is about their inability to love and not about how worthy I am of love.  I have learned that the way I want to approach the rest of my time on this earth is from a place of love. And I don’t mean that I love everything and everyone indiscriminately. I’ve learned to be a warrior here too. And that often means standing up for myself and others, fighting good fights when called to, but always with love in my heart.

With gratitude, stand tall warriors! XOXO Still Standing1

Monday, January 27, 2020

Is it time to quit?

There was little that my husband's father considered more loathsome than quitting. And so my husband played sports he no longer enjoyed, stayed at a school he hated, at jobs that were toxic.
To this day, my husband, who is more than a half-century old, can be crippled by the words "What are ya, a quitter?"
And, yes, sometimes quitting is lazy. Sometimes, it's a way of avoiding hard but rewarding work.
But sometimes, many times in fact, quitting is the smartest thing we can do.
Sometimes quitting is about knowing what's right for us...and what's wrong. It's about respecting ourselves, honoring our time and energy. Sometimes, it can open us up to the possibility that things can be different rather than keeping us stuck in the mud, spinning our wheels and getting absolutely nowhere.
It took me a long time to consider that quitting could be a good thing. As the child of an addict, we are groomed to try harder, do better, give one more chance, believe that this time – this time! – things will be different.
And, to some extent, it worked. After a decade, my mother got sober. After a few tries, she stayed sober. Concluding that my patience and stick-to-it-iveness worked (experts in addiction call this "magical thinking"), I doubled down on my "I'm not a quitter and will therefore be rewarded" attitude out in to the world.
Nobody was beyond redemption, every situation was tolerable, as long as I could believe things would get better.
Not surprisingly, I stayed in friendships that were toxic, and then a seven-year relationship that everybody but me could see was never going to get better. Volunteer opportunities in which I didn't want to let people down. Jobs that underpaid me. 
Yeah. I know. But only in hindsight.
Still, that first lesson – that someone I loved could change if only I stuck with them long enough – was etched on my heart, carved deep into my brain. 
Thing is, my mom got sober because she wanted to get sober. It had nothing to do with my patience or my loyalty.
She changed because she wanted to. 
Unfortunately lots of people don't.
And all our waiting and wishing and magical thinking isn't going to make them change. 
Consider this:
You're having the same fight for the 1000th time and you don't feel an inch closer to understanding each other.
He's insisting that his anger is your fault.
He belittles you, dismisses you, treats you like a liability not as asset.
He refuses to get help because "I'm not the one with the problem."
When someone won't be accountable for their behaviour; when he won't seek help despite others pointing out he needs it; when he wants you to "move past this" without actually working through the reckoning; when he wants things to go back the way they were because he benefited from that while you didn't...
Then, my friends, perhaps (probably!) it's time to quit. 
Your presence in another's life should be earned, not taken for granted.
And though I am a fierce believer in people's ability to change, to transform, to reinvent themselves, to learn from their mistakes, we cannot allow the potential for that to blind us to a reality in which they are not.
The only person you should never give up on is yourself. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What does a genuine "I'm sorry" sound like?

There are a zillion ways to say "I'm sorry" but there are few ways to do it well. I've heard plenty of bad ways. There was the time my sister-in-law apologized for refusing to allow my baby to sleep in their (as-yet-unborn) child's crib by telling me that, yes, she was sorry but that I didn't pay as much attention to their (now born) child as I should so, really, it was a draw.
There was the "I'm sorry I slept with your boyfriend and betrayed our friendship but you were a horrible girlfriend to him and therefore sort of deserve this" apology from one of my closest friends that came in the form of a seven-page letter outlining the ways in which she was sorry but, really, not.
There was my husband's "I'm sorry but you're really making a big deal out of this" apology when his mother, at our wedding, began rearranging the seating for my guests in order to move her friends closer to the action. (And, incidentally, I never did get an apology from her.)
So yeah...lots of lousy apologies. Plenty of non apologies.
There was, however, also my mother's apology, after getting sober, which has pretty much set the bar for apologies in my life because it was heartfelt and did what an apology should do, according to Lux Alptraum, author of Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex—and the Truths They Reveal.
Alptraum suggests that an apology has three parts (she's referring in this case to the apology owed to us by tech companies that have violated public trust but hey, an apology is an apology, whether from Facebook or our mother-in-law). According to her, “A good apology says, number one, ‘This was bad, I recognize this was bad, and you are perfectly within your right to be hurt and angry and upset.’ Number two, a good apology says not just that harm was caused but that the harm was someone’s responsibility. And, ideally, number three, it shows growth and commitment to repair.”
My mother's apology (which she made more than once) generally went like this: "I am so sorry for the pain I caused you. If I could take back those days, I would. You should never have been put in that position. I'm doing everything I can to get better."
Accompanying her apology was also action. I saw how many AA meetings she was attending, I was privy to the reading she was doing to learn about addiction and sobriety. I knew that, as part of the 12-step philosophy, she wrote letters to others to "make amends".  
An apology can never undo the pain caused. And none of us are obliged to accept an apology. Sometimes an "I'm sorry" barely scratches the surface of the pain that's been caused. Consider a rapist or a murderer, a drunk driver unfaithful husband.
But apologies can be a crucial first step.
And, done well, they can be a balm to our broken hearts.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Devil is in the Details

A woman came recently to Betrayed Wives Club with a dilemma. She knew the broad strokes of her husband's cheating. It was the details that were making her crazy. She wanted to know every single thing. Where did they have dinner? What color was her dress? Did he text her before or after?
His answers changed. Not dramatically but enough to feed her conviction that there was more, plenty more, that she didn't know. So she kept asking. He kept answering. She challenged those answers. And round and round they went, her convinced he was being dishonest. Him convinced she would never move past this.
And then, on Twitter, which is where there's an active and vocal infidelity tribe, another woman asked me: How can I get him to talk to me when I'm triggered? She was relentless, she admitted. Insisting that he tell her everything, while he, growing more defensive, insisted he had.
Round and round they'd go. 
It's a dance I know well.
For me, it began long before I knew of the cheating. My husband and I had great communication, I believed. Until, of course, our communication wasn't great. Until we weren't communicating about where to have dinner and were, instead, communicating about why his family was so toxic and why did he insist on defending their behaviour?
He would get defensive. I would get more furious. He would shut me out. I would metaphorically bang on those walls.
He'd call me "hysterical" and "crazy". Which would make me hysterical and crazy.
And round and round we'd go.
I've got some bad news.
Sure, some guys have a radical transformation after being revealed as a cheating bastard and turn over a new leaf – listening to our pain, holding us close, and whispering promises – that they keep! – about how sorry they are and how they will never do this again. Others, however, most perhaps, take a bit longer to get there. And by "there" I mean better. They will probably never be masterful communicators. They will likely always struggle with shame and self-criticism and defensiveness. 
Count my husband among the latter.
So here's the bad news: You don't create an honest marriage in which each partner feels valued and valuable by bullying.
I know, I know. In those early days, I didn't give a shit if my husband felt bullied. He had hurt me! I was the injured party! "My heartbreak, my rules" right?
But, at a certain point, we either need to accept that we simply cannot remain married to someone who refuses to be fully honest with us (or is incapable of honesty and uninterested in battling those demons) or we need to accept that we know everything we need to know.
Broad strokes.
He cheated.
He lied.
He broke his vows to us.
The color of her dress really, truly doesn't matter.
Now, I understand that sometimes those small lies are symptomatic of a much larger problem. They are evidence that this isn't a guy who just doesn't pay attention but rather a guy who lies as easily as he breathes.
In which case...he either heals himself or you show him the door.
But if, like my husband, he's spent a lifetime creating armour so that his own heart can't be hurt, if, like my husband, lies ARE his armour and he's willing to learn how to take it off, then it's a job we accept to give him the time to figure out how to do that.
Not easy, I know.
It means walking away at the moments when you figuratively have him by the lapels and have a mountain of evidence that shows he's lying. "It wasn't December 1, your honour, that the defendant ordered caesar salad with his homewrecking whore, it was December 2. The defendant is....Not. Telling. The. Truth."
It means recognizing when you've spiralled into crazy (which is hard because, well, you've spiralled into crazy). Which means, instead of having this discussion now, you go for a run. You call a friend. You watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
It means coming up with a plan to tackle those questions that truly are important to you...but releasing those that don't matter. Perhaps that looks like a "disclosure" session with a therapist. Perhaps you need him to write a letter responding to your questions. Perhaps you set a timer so that he agrees to 10 minute increments with both of you agreeing to walk away for a breather when it gets too heated, or abusive, or counterproductive.
If you're going to rebuild your marriage and remain sane while doing so, you're going to need to assess what's happening right now – is he committed to doing the work necessary and are you? – and begin imagining your future together and what that looks like, which means you setting clear boundaries to keep yourself emotionally safe. 
Why does he lie? you ask: It's likely something he's been doing his whole life. To avoid conflict, to keep the peace, to make himself look better. He probably doesn't realize he's doing it half the time.

None of that makes it okay. But it does mean it's going to take some time to unlearn those old habits.
Assuming you're trying to rebuild a marriage with this person, you need to learn how to do this. Together. Without humiliating or shaming.
I understand the impulse to know. It's a way of trying to regain control of a situation that feels completely out of our control.
But here's how you truly regain control of the only thing you can control, which is you: You work on your own healing. You work on controlling your anger. You work on recognizing when you're no longer helping yourself but hurting yourself. You seek therapy. Or yoga. Or meditation. Or all of the above.
You need to learn how to trust yourself and, to a lesser extent, him.
In the meantime, he is fixing himself. 
I actually believe a lot of these guys when they say they don't remember. Maybe not for every single detail but for a lot of them. It's not uncommon for these guys to sort of compartmentalize – to lock away the affair to avoid the moral discomfort. Clearly, they were liars. So what are they doing to learn how to NOT be one.

Friday, January 10, 2020

How to Tell the Truth

This program is a truth-telling program. That’s how it turns us into free people.
~Ron H., Centre for Action and Contemplation, referring to Alcoholics Anonymous

The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off.


I'm 55 years old. I've lived through plenty of heartbreak and betrayal. I'm currently living in a political climate in which it's more likely that leaders are lying than telling the truth. I operate in a profession that is mistrusted and cast as "enemy of the people" though I don't know a single journalist colleague who isn't committed to truth-telling. 

I struggle to understand how people lie. I just don't get it, how to look someone in the face – or straight into a camera – and unleash a whopper. Or even a white lie.
I often hear women say that it wasn't so much the extramarital sex they struggle with post-infidelity but the lying. (We're not crazy about the extramarital sex, for the record.) That our partners could lie to us turns out world upside down. It makes us doubt everything and everyone. It makes us doubt reality. It is gaslighting and can take years for us to recover from. 
My husband was a consummate liar, though I wouldn't have framed it that way back when we were first building a life together. He told "white lies". Harmless right? H'mmm...
For instance, we moved in together after months of lugging our stuff back and forth to each other's apartments and realizing that we were paying rent in one of the most expensive cities in the world on two apartments but essentially living in one. We were engaged so...made sense to move in and get rid of one of the apartments. But then my husband insisted I keep mine (which was the cheaper one) along with continuing to pay for my phone (pre-cell phone). He told me it would upset his mother too much. That she was "traditional" and that he wanted to "respect that". I went along with it even as I thought it was nuts. I even thought it was mildly quaint that he respected her traditional sensibilities so much. Except...
Except it was a lie. I wasn't living in my apartment. I wasn't answering my phone. I was somewhere else. With him. 
But, I ignored my discomfort. I prioritized what I believed was HER comfort over my own desire to live honestly. 
Years later, after I discovered that my husband hadn't just been lying to his mother but to ME for YEARS, I realized that he had given me important information and that I had overlooked it.
He had shown me that he would easily lie rather than live honestly. That lying was a way not of respecting someone else's views but of making them complicit in the lie. That lying was about HIS comfort, his desire to avoid others' judgement.
I should have known.
But, as the saying goes, when we know better, we do better.
And when I knew better, I not only insisted on total honesty from my husband, I demanded it from myself. 
No more, "I'm sorry, I'm busy that day" when the truth was that I didn't want to volunteer at the pizza lunch.
No more, white lies, no more "sparing others' feelings, no more lying to avoid conflict. 
And no more lying to myself. 
It's easier said than done, of course. And I haven't become some sort of monster who tells people that I hate their haircuts, or that their kids are monsters, or that the meal they lovingly made tastes horrible.
But I have bit my tongue when I'm tempted to lie to get out of something I don't want to do and instead left it as simply, "No," even if I was squirming with discomfort. (As my therapist used to remind me, "No" is a complete sentence.) 
I have told friends some uncomfortable truths and also heard some. I was able to appreciate others' ability to be honest with me.
Being honest has made me braver. My friendships have easily survived some difficult conversations. Other friendships withered because I realized they were rooted less in genuine caring than in convenience. 
Honesty is liberating. Not at first, perhaps. At first, it's squirmy. And sometimes infuriating. And often painful.
But there is no other healthy way to live than within relationships that demand and dispense honesty. Anyone telling you otherwise is asking you to participate in a charade. And is prioritizing their own comfort over anything else. 

Monday, January 6, 2020

Is it normal to feel this way after betrayal?

If there's one question I get asked the most often it's this one: Is it normal to feel this way?
The question follows some concern about anger or about crying or about sex with an unfaithful spouse. It might be about a wedding ring or in-laws or friends.
And the answer, almost invariably, is yes. It's normal.
Normal is, of course, a relative term. What's 'normal' changes dramatically after discovering a partner's affair. Suddenly, normal means crying jags in the employee bathroom. It means sleeping all day, or not at all. It means wanting to punch people in the face. It means not having the strength to make dinner.
It's all 'normal'.
Cause betrayal changes everything. I'm not sure I understood that before it happened to me. Yes, it would change my marriage...but everything?
Yes. Everything.
Because infidelity changes the lens through which we see ourselves and our world. And that changes everything.
Take our friends, for instance. Our "best" friend might not be able to support us as we consider staying with a spouse who cheated. Even those who try to help can end up hurting us further, as they insist we file for divorce, or insist we work it out ("think of your children," we're often told, as if we're not). Helping a friend through betrayal takes skills and diplomacy that many lack.
Take our families, as well. My husband's betrayal broke open old ruptures in my relationship with my mom. In the years after she got sober, we had painstakingly built up a really great mother-daughter relationship. But in my pain, I lashed out at my mom, blaming her. She was the reason I chose a  lying cheat, I told her. She had damaged me and so I had chosen a damaged man. And, honestly, my logic wasn't wrong. But if it wasn't for my mother's ability to hear the deep pain behind my words and, rather than get defensive show up for me with compassion, I could have done some real damage.
Take our children. It pains me to consider the ways in which I didn't show up for my kids during that horrible time. There's little to be gained by thinking about it – I cannot, after all, relive the past – but there's no doubt that they were hurt by my husband's betrayal and my response to it, even if they're unaware of it.
Take our careers. I was in the process of publishing a book when D-Day hit. When I could least handle it, I was offered radio shows, TV shows, speaking tours. I did my best to dress up, put on lipstick and consider my options. But I absolutely know that my heart wasn't in it. It was all I could to function let alone unleash my ambition.
The list goes on, of course.
See what I mean? Betrayal changes everything.
But here's the thing: My husband cannot undo what he did. I cannot undo the pain I was in and how I responded.
I can only look forward and learn from the past.
And what I've learned is this: It's all normal.
The crying. The anger. The shock. The confusion. The wanting to leave. The desperation to stay. The wish to turn back the clock. The desire to catapult into the future.
It's all normal.
You are a normal woman responding to, perhaps, the worst pain of her life.
And with that understanding you are free to feel all of it. To, as best you can, not worry if you're backsliding, or minimizing, or dramatizing. To trust that wherever you are today is okay, even if it hurts like hell. To trust the no feeling is forever – not the awful ones, and not the great ones.
And to know that you are stronger than whatever you're feeling right now. That there's a core you deep inside that will carry you into an uncertain future.
It's all normal.
And tomorrow will bring a different normal. And so will the day after that.


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