Friday, April 17, 2020

Guest Post: No More Participation Trophies

Yeah, that's right. Just stand there. 
by Lynn Less Pain

A participation trophy is a trophy given usually to kids who participate in something but do not finish in first, second or third place. Are giving your husband a participation trophy?
Let’s take a cheater: he lies, hides info, spends money on another woman, ignores his wife and kids. He may have developed ways to avoid helping around the house, including working on himself to save his marriage. He lacks empathy towards you.
He criticizes you. He believes he is 100% right. 

He uses you to serve his needs without showing any appreciation. 
He clams up. He leaves the room. If he says something to hurt you, it is your fault. He says you are over-reacting. He tries to control you by making you feel you have become unhinged. 
He hides cruel remarks by saying it was just a joke. Or, he says, "I never said that, you are imaging things."
What do far too many of us do? We give him a participation trophy for just showing up, not leaving us, taking care of us financially and not seeing the OW. He feels entitled, simply because he has stuck around. As nurturing women, we often carry the load of recovery. We hand out those participation trophies.
It's time to stop. It's time to make clear that we are no longer going to pull their weight as well as ours trying to heal a marriage. It's time to make it clear, calmly and firmly, that the rules have changed. He will test you. 

"I didn’t say I wouldn’t talk to her at work." "You never said I had to do that." "I didn’t see her trying to text me." Your bullshit meter will be going off.
But instead of asking why he's not supporting you in my healing and marriage, tell him your expectations about recovery. Don’t think you are doing something wrong. You’re not. I read all the time on this blog – "he just doesn’t act like he wants to make our marriage work." It isn’t because he doesn’t love you. It isn’t because you don’t exercise. It isn’t because you are too exhausted to wear anything else but sweatclothes.
It is because you have not told him this is not acceptable. It is hard and it is going to get harder when he pushes back. He likes the way things are. His system works for him, so he is not going to be in any rush. He may not want to try hard because he expects you to give him a participation trophy. Giving him a participation trophy devalues your own efforts to heal.
It is going to take him awhile to learn his past ways of not participating is not going to win him any more trophies. DON’T FLINCH, don’t bug off, shrug off, scare off and don’t even reach in your mind for that participation trophy. Your willingness to speak up about what you will speak volumes for you. Every moment you wait is a moment you don’t get the love, attention, respect you deserve from him or someone else. Participation trophies are for children not grown men. 

Love to you all. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

What we can learn about control from a rubber band

If you think of your family/household as a “system” of interdependence, you’ll recognize that when one part of the system changes, the rest of it will be forced to change in response. A good metaphor for this is if you picture a group of people in a circle holding onto a large taut rubber band. As everyone leans back, the tension in the band increases. Even if one person lets go of the tension that binds everyone together, the others will inevitably have to rebalance their relationship to one another and to the rubber band (the “system.”)

We may not be able to demand that others change, but we can change ourselves. It’s not easy to relinquish a power struggle or “take the high road” towards reconciliation when in conflict with someone who is unwilling to bend, but you may be surprised at how powerful a change in how you speak or react to others can be in shifting the dynamics among you.

~Susan Epstein, The Woolfer

There you are. Quarantined with the person who broke your heart. Trapped in so many ways. Fighting to breathe through the brain. If betrayal is excruciating, betrayal while forced to remain in your home is exponentially harder. And yet...there you are. 
Let me begin by simply saying, I see you. I see your pain and I see your desperation and I know well the shattering you're experiencing. 
I, of course, had access to a therapist, to my mother, to the day-to-day routine that can give shape to our lives in the midst of an explosion within them. You likely don't. Instead, you are unable to visit parents or adult siblings or friends who might be able to offer comfort. You are unable to seek distraction in work outside your home (unless you aren essential worker, which, right now, only adds more stress to your lives no matter how grateful the rest of us are for your service).
If you are a anything like I, you feel helpless and suffocated by pain at a time when you are being called on to support your children through their own stress, to find meaning in long days and longer nights, to imagine a time when this will be a memory.
Which is why I took note of what therapist Susan Epstein wrote. The entire article is worth your time (and includes links to online group therapy supports and access to domestic violence helpline, though you have to subscribe to read it) but, in particular, Epstein reminds us that we have more power than we might recognize. 
It's a theme we return to on this site, again and again. You cannot control anyone else. But you can control you. That's what Epstein is telling us with her rubber band analogy. If we stop leaning back, the tension in the rubber band shifts.
What does that look like in real life? Maybe it looks like you refusing to be silenced when he says "aren't you ever going to get over this?" Maybe it looks like you walking away when he picks a fight instead of taking the bait. Or maybe it has way less to do with responding to him and a whole lot more to do with your own healing, with transforming how you show up in the world. 
Because – let's say it again – that's really all any of us can control in this world.
And maybe that's the lesson held in this time of quarantine. That so much of the control we think we have is an illusion. That something minute and invisible to the naked eye can alter our world. It's a lesson delivered on D-Day. It's a lesson that shows up in so many parts of our lives and yet the vast majority of us resist it, refuse it. 
But here's what's also important to note: What we can control – ourselves – come sometimes be enough to generate change around us. Not by demanding it or forcing it, but by our own shift, which ripples out to others. 
It's something I've noticed in my own quarantined family of five. When I take steps to manage my own emotions, those around me seem better able to manage their own. When I refuse to participate in drama, the drama tends to fizzle out. To put it another way, it takes two to tango and I can either put on my dancing shoes or sit it out. 
So yeah, it sucks to be confined to our homes. It sucks that we can't see friends, therapists, our favorite barista. And it absolutely sucks to be betrayed. But while we're in forced confinement with the person who hurt us most, we can begin our own healing, which starts with acknowledging that all we can control is ourselves. And that will be enough. 

Monday, April 6, 2020

Slipping out of the cage of judgement

Judgement is just another cage we live in so we don't have to feel, know, and imagine. Judgement is self-abandonment. You are not here to waste your time deciding whether my life is true and beautiful enough for you. You are here to decide if you life, relationships, and world are true and beautiful enough for you. And if they are not and you dare to admit they are not, you must decide if you have the guts, the right – perhaps even the duty – to burn to the ground that which is not true and beautiful enough and get started building what is.
~Glennon Doyle, Untamed

Where do I begin? Ever since I began reading Untamed last week, I've been desperate for people to talk about it with. I've shared with my husband, my girls, my boy, my six-feet-apart running partner. And I will undoubtedly be sharing with you because it seems that on every single page there is something that wakes me up, that nudges my heart, that whispers in my ear, or, sometimes, makes me uncomfortable.
Doyle and I have something in common. Like me, she discovered well into her marriage and three kids later, that her husband had been unfaithful. He was a sex addict. Her book, Love Warrior, which I did not love (only later, after she announced that she left her first marriage and married a woman, could I see that the book's second half felt inauthentic to me because it was), details her discovery, her healing, her lessons.
But Doyle is a teacher and I, a good student. She points to the things that I have learned far too well to pretend isn't there.
Take her thoughts about judgement (quote above), which I know so many of us struggle with here (and, if you're like me, continue to struggle with). 
What I wish for all of us is to learn the lesson that Doyle has learned (and continues to – she's honest about her work-in-progress status, though aren't we all works-in-progress?). That other people's judgement of us says more about their fears than about us. And, perhaps more importantly, that our judgement of others is really a chance to reflect back on ourselves. 
On its surface, it seems self-explanatory. But I sat with this thought. I took stock of the ways in which I continue to want other people to like me, to admire me (her daughter's admission that a classmate doesn't like prompts Doyle to respond, "that's a fact, not a problem", which I aim to make my new mantra). And within that desire to be liked and admired is still me outsourcing my value.
I don't want that for myself any more and I don't want it for you either. Betrayal lays it all bare, doesn't it? Our knee-jerk reaction is often what's most revealing. Not just the shock and sadness and anger but the belief beneath that: I'm not enough. 
That belief underscored everything I did. Maybe not consciously but it was always there. I was the dutiful wife, the heavily-invested mother, the volunteer, the writer, the exerciser, the pet-owner, the responsible daughter, the always-there friend. God forbid I let anyone down because that would openly reveal what I secretly believed about myself. I was not enough. My husband had cheated because there was something wrong with me. I was selfish, self-absorbed, vain. 
I still struggle. Those messages, delivered to me via our culture and straight into my ear from my alcoholic mother's mouth, my alcoholic grandmother's mouth, were more true to me than any of the conflicting messages I got. But Doyle urges us to go deeper, to what she calls our "Knowing". My Knowing was so buried beneath these messages that I could barely hear my own deep voice.
And though I'm loathe to acknowledge that any good can come of infidelity, it did crack me open enough that I began to listen for that deep voice of my own. I peeled away others' judgement of me (or did my best to render it irrelevant) and listened.
I am, of course, a work-in-progress. I still struggle with those words. Selfish. Self-centred. Those were my mother's weapons of choice. Used against me any time I wanted something that she didn't think I deserved. Any time I sought for myself...something.
But she was only parroting what our culture tells women in particular. As Doyle points out, "selfless" is the highest compliment we can give a woman. An erasing of the self. A vanishing. To make ourselves so small and insignificant that our very self is sacrificed.
Well, screw that, I say. My grown-up self works hard to push back on that. It isn't others' judgement that hurts so much, it's what we internalize. Or, as my former therapist used to tell me, it isn't what others say to us but what we say to ourselves that hurts. If we didn't somehow believe what others were saying, it wouldn't hurt. 
Behind judgement – our own and others – is fearThat we're doing this wrong. That we're wrong. 
Let's break the bars of that particular cage, or at least stretch them wide enough that we can slip between them. Let's pay attention to when we're judging others and ourselves. Let's remember that behind that judgement is fear, that it is getting in the way of feeling, of knowing, of imagining. And then, let's do our best to squeeze out of that cage and into something better. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

Chalking Up "Wins"

The initial burst of productivity hacks for our time in self-isolation has given way to plenty of pushback. No, we're not likely to write our version of King Lear, as Shakespeare ostensibly did in the 1600s during a plague. We're not likely to identify laws of physics, as Newton ostensibly did while quarantined.
And yes, there are those mastering sourdough recipes and creating adorably funny family videos. And then there are the rest of us, including some of us who are just trying to get through the worst pain of our lives against a backdrop of collective cultural anxiety. 
Healing from infidelity becomes a full-time job. It permeates everything we do. Our minds are never not thinking about it, at least for the few days/weeks/months. It's there when we awake in the middle of the night, it's there when we're putting our kids to bed, it's there when we're staring blankly at the television. It's there. 24/7. There.
And so, just like the more rational among us who think the pressure to create/invent/develop is ridiculous when it's enough to just get through the day during a pandemic, we need to lower our expectations of ourselves. Like low. Really low. In our uber-productive, life-hack world, lowering expectations of ourselves is tantamount to failure. It implies giving up.
Nothing could be less true. Lowering our expectations when we are fighting for emotional survival is the furthest thing from failure. It's a realistic, healthy and sane response to a crisis. 
And so I want you to celebrate yourself and your "wins" right now.
Win: Getting out of bed when you wanted to pull the covers over your head.
Win: Keeping your kids alive while they watch seven hours of television daily.
Win: Not smothering your husband in his sleep.
See what I mean? Just getting through the day is a win, especially right now when a trip to the grocery store creates as much anxiety as jungle warfare.
It is time to give yourself massive credit for what you're doing right now. Responding to infidelity is incredibly difficult at the best of times. Factor in potential job losses, financial stress, an inability to get away from spouse, kids...these four walls, and you've exponentially increased just how hard this is.
And so...lower expectations. So low that a slug couldn't scooch beneath them. So low, that a kitten could tapdance over them.
Win: I remembered to feed myself today.
Win: I took 15 minutes alone in my bathroom to write in my journal.
Win: I watched a bird sing on a branch outside my window this morning.
Win: I kept breathing, all day long.
And then, let's share our wins here.
I'll go first. Yes, it has been a LOT of years since D-Day and infidelity no longer looms large in my life. But quarantining is tough so...
Win: I got this post up today.
Your turn....



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