Wednesday, August 26, 2020

More About Healing from a Partner's Multiple Affairs

 D-Day 1 let me in on my husband's secret affair. D-Day 2 filled in the questions unanswered after D-Day 1. It wasn't one affair but dozens. It wasn't one woman but many. It hadn't started a few years ago, it spanned our entire relationship.

You, more than most, can imagine my shock. 

Like those of you who responded to the post on multiple affairs, I thought I was married to a monster. Who could do such a thing? Who could build their entire marriage on a lie? What the hell had I got myself into and how was I going to get myself out? 

Nights were the worst. I had no names or faces to attach to these new affair partners and so I was left with some shadowy imaginings. Of course, they were all sexy, young, vibrant. (The truth, according to my husband, is that they were all sad, middle-aged and desperate.)

As I've explained before on this site, I stayed mostly because I lacked the energy to leave. I had three young children and if the marriage was over, I wanted to be sure it was TRULY over. I didn't want to disrupt their lives until I was sure. And I wasn't sure about much in those early days post D-Day. 

But what I want to say to those of you reeling from your own discovery of multiple partners is this: Though what your husband did seems monstrous, it helps you in absolutely no way to see him as a monster. In fact, if you're even considering trying to rebuild a marriage, it will help you much more to recognize that his monstrous behaviour is the outward expression of his own pain.

Yes, I know. Nobody wants to hear that. Our infidelity culture is built on the idea that only assholes cheat. That a good guy would never do such a thing. And I have taken many slings and arrows from the chump tribe who will not entertain the notion that, sometimes, good people do horrible things. 

And though I wanted to believe that, I knew it wasn't true. I had seen good people do bad things for much of my life. I had a mother with multiple addictions. I watched her get sober. And make amends for so much of the pain she'd caused. Did I owe her that second chance? No. I don't think any of us here on this site owe anyone a second chance. Second chances are gifts. Second chances are mercy. Writer Anne Lamott puts it this way: "...the beauty of living from your merciful heart instead of your ticker-tape brain — judgmental brain — is the way home. It’s the way to peace, the way to feeling safe and connected. It’s all the things we long for.”

The way home. The way to peace. The way to feeling safe and connected. Isn't that we're going for? It requires a radical change in how we see infidelity and those who cheat. It requires us to challenge the idea that this person who betrayed us so profoundly is a "monster". That he is beyond redemption.

Mercy – a second chance – is hard. And yet, I think we're hard-wired for it. Until we become brittle from bracing for hurt. 

Our challenge, and it is a formidable one, is to remain soft in the wake of the betrayal. To not just consider mercy for those who betray us but to absolutely ensure we give it to ourselves. That we forgive ourselves for not knowing. That we remind ourselves that we are and have always been enough. That we didn't deserve this. 

One commenter asks: "How do such monsters exist and in what world can I ever have the powers to get over such a betrayal?"

To which I reply: I see his actions as monstrous, his pain as monstrous but not him as monstrous. I suspect he too see his actions and pain as monstrous. I suspect he's as baffled as you about how he was able to betray you so deeply. And it is his job to determine how he did that and to ensure he learns tools that will prevent him from ever doing it again. The power to get over such a betrayal is within mercy. It was only when I could acknowledge my husband's pain that I could begin to view him with compassion instead of contempt. It was when I could view him with compassion that I could see myself with compassion. That I could forgive myself for not knowing better, for not choosing differently.

Mercy, as Lamott says, is the way home. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Multiple Sex Partners: "I just don't understand"

I'm re-posting this recent comment from Breathe, over on the Share Your Story thread so that more of you can read it. I think "Breathe" speaks for a lot of us, who come to terms with one affair, only to realize that there's so much to the story. How, we wonder, can we heal from even more pain? I'm also including my response after Breathe's letter.

My D-Day was six month ago. He had an affair with a coworker.
The last months were more than tough, but we were doing so great, I was doing so great.

I just experienced a big milestone on my healing journey. I reached a point where I realized that I cannot fight the whole thing anymore. I understood that it was his choice. And I also understood that I need to accept that he did this because otherwise I keep myself from living in the presence and be happy again. It was time to be kind to myself again.

My husband's affair felt like there was a battle and I wasn't there to fight it. The battle was over. But I was still fighting it. It just felt so unfair that I did not get a chance to fight it. To stop him from going to see her, to be with her.

However, the moment I realized that I cannot fight a losing battle I was somehow free again. I was able to stop all those mind movies, to stop reliving things to the fullest, I stopped having all those fantasies about doing bad things to them, to her, you know what I mean. I could ease this excruciating pain that sometimes – frankly spoken – I would inflict on me on purpose.

Learning about the “loss cycle” from my therapist, I understood that I surrendered.
And with it came this wonderful peace of mind that I hadn't felt since ages. I felt so so good. My friends even said I look so relaxed and so young again.

But one week ago, something terrible happened. Out of the blue, there was D-Day 2.
We were about moving houses and while packing boxes I found an old bank statement showing that he withdrew a lot of money in a dodgy part of the city in December 2018. And suddenly there was this thought I wanted to deny but I couldn´t.

Long story short: He also betrayed me with prostitutes. He visited brothels and sensual massage places. Basically, since we are together. He has done it since 20 years.

Today I still feel numb. And I am so so confused! How can you live and love someone and not see that he is acting out like this. Even though, looking back, it now all makes sense. It´s like I finally found the missing puzzle piece.

After the revelation of the affair, he kept saying that he feels so relieved that everything is out and that I know everything now. I should have known better!

We both are committed to make our relationship all it can be.I see that he wants to become a better man. He still tries hard. Every day.

But now I wonder if we can? I understood the “why” of the affair. I did not approve but accepted that emotional betrayal. But can I accept all the other betrayals as well?

He says that he only did it for the excitement, for the thrill of doing something forbidden. Less for sexual satisfaction. He says that this part of his life belonged only to him. He also says that he did not like it, but he could not stop it.

I don't understand. I just don't understand.

Any first aid advice out there?

I didn't understand either when I learned, first, that my husband was having an affair and, then six months later, that he had had multiple sexual encounters. But there I was, trying to make sense of it all. And what I've learned is this: I will never understand how he was able to conduct this double life. But I can accept that he did. I can accept that his compulsion was powerful enough to override his own value system and his love of his family. I can accept that he believed the stories he told himself, that nobody was getting hurt, that he was just "different" than other people with a stronger sex drive. But I couldn't accept any of that until he sought help. In my case, he had reached out for help before I learned about the sex addiction. The exposure of his affair opened the door for him to admit he had a serious problem that threatened everything that mattered to him. It was up to him to discover what drove his behaviour. My job was only to accept it had happened and move on. It was my choice, also, whether to move on with him in my life or without. But the accepting was, for me, not optional. Because not accepting was a denial of reality. He had cheated on me with many many people. All the wishing in the world wasn't going to change that. And like you discovered, accepting offers us the chance for peace.  

This is the job in front of you now. To accept that his behaviour is his to understand. To recognize that hurt people hurt people. That they behave in ways that harm themselves as well as those they love. That they behave in ways that exploits others as well as exploiting their own values.

Oddly, I think understanding has come for me, if slightly. I understand that my husband had never learned how to manage deeply painful feelings from growing up in an oppressive, abusive home. Sex was an escape for him. It took him out of his day-to-day life into something of a trance – he was either seeking it, arranging it, or engaging in it. Immediately following, he was filled with shame and regret and would tell himself, 'not again'. Until the next time. It was addictive behaviour. And addictive behaviour rarely makes sense to those of us who aren't addicts. 

I wish you peace, again. I think you'll find it. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Honoring an anniversary after infidelity

If trying to find a way when you don't even know you can get there isn't a small miracle; then I don't know what is.  ~Rachel Joyce, author

Today is my husband's and my anniversary. Twenty-four years ago we stood in front of family and friends and promised to be each other's one and only. We promised kindness and respect. To stick with each other through "good times and bad." 

There was a lot of bad.

I didn't know just how bad it was but it was bad

And when I discovered how bad it was, I reeled. I cried. I curled up in a ball on my bathroom floor many many nights and sobbed into my dog's neck. I could see nothing but the bad. I couldn't conceive of my marriage ever being anything but bad ever again.

And yet I stayed. I stayed because I was afraid to leave. Afraid to disrupt my young children's lives. Afraid of what my husband might do if I left. Besides, I was exhausted. I could barely get through a day let alone find the energy to kick him out, or leave myself. And so I waited. I waited until I felt strong enough to leave. I made my expectations clear – no cheating, no lying, full disclosure. If he stepped outside the line, even the slightest bit, I was gone. He knew that. He went to therapy. He attended 12-step meetings.

And I waited.

For strength. For a sign from the universe. For my kids to get older. For myself to get clearer.

It was never so much about if I'd leave but when, though I held out faint hope that my feelings for him might return. That I might love him again as I had that day twenty-four years ago. 

And here we are. 

It has not been easy. It has, in fact, been extremely hard. (I was going to write the "hardest thing I've ever done" but that would be untrue. Since that horrible time, I have had to commit my daughter to a psychiatric ward and that, my friends, is the hardest thing I've ever done. I have had to bury my mother, which was another very hard thing.)

But the thing with infidelity is that the pain eclipses every other thing. It blocks out the light. It leaves us squinting in the dark with no expectation of light ever again. This, we are certain, is our life. Not just for today but tomorrow. And forever.

That is a lie.

The pain is excruciating. I know. But it passes. Not today. Not even soon. But eventually. And though I wish I could tell you differently, the truth is that it takes a long time to pass. And that there are no shortcuts. I don't think it hurts less to leave. I don't think it hurts less to find someone else. I don't think it hurts less in a short marriage than a long one. It just hurts. And it hurts so so much.

And then, one day, I realized it hurt a little less. And then less still. And so on until I'm celebrating my 24th wedding anniversary and I realize it hasn't hurt at all for a long time. And that we are exactly where we want to be and with exactly who we want to be with. He has changed over the years and not just grayer hair and a wider waist. I have changed a lot too. WE know each other much more deeply than we did that day 24 years ago. I have seen him at his absolute worst. I have decided that he is more than that. We have been with each other to bury our mothers. We have been with each other to get our daughter the help she needed. We have grown together and through.

And here we are. Okay. More than okay. Beyond all expectations. Happy.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Can "I'm Sorry" Save Your Marriage After Infidelity?

"For every woman still waiting for an apology," are among the first words you'll read when you open Eve Ensler's book The Apology. Ensler suffered abuse from her father for most of her childhood and youth. Her father died without ever uttering anything resembling an "I'm sorry". Ensler felt caged by the lack of apology and so she found the key to free herself. 
A whole lot of us find ourselves in a similar situation, with a spouse or an ex-spouse who either can't or won't take the necessary steps to apologize to us. I'm not talking about an apology spat out, or one that's really a plea for forgiveness. But a true apology, one that offers a full accounting of the harm done and a genuine reckoning. One that leaves the apologizer unwilling to ever do that to another person again because they cannot, they will not be that person
I'm often asked why I stayed with my husband after the harm he caused. Year after year of cheating, lie after lie. And when I look back at those early weeks and months after D-Day, there are a few moments that stand out. Including the day that he told me, whether I stayed with him or left, he was committed to getting emotionally healthy. He could not, he would not remain the same person who could betray someone he loved. 
A genuine apology is a rare thing. In part, as Ensler says, we are not taught to apologize when we are children. I cringe when I hear a parent admonish a child to "say you're sorry", followed by a sullen "I'm sorry" that carries not one iota of self-reflection or genuine remorse. 
And to apologize for breaking someone's trust, their heart? Where to even begin? And so the harm is minimized. It's part cowardice, part survival strategy. As one of our Twitter tribe, whose wife cheated on him, noted after his wife read this post, she felt like a "monster". But then, he added, the next day she wanted to read it again.
Because within that admission, that willingness to confess the monster's sins as your own, lies liberation. If we don't exorcise whatever is driving us to behave in ways that cause harm to those we love, then we will continue to be controlled by it. There are three stages through a genuine apology, Ensler tells us. The first is a willingness to look at what drove the behaviour, to "self-interrogate," she says. Not excuses but understanding. "What made you a person capable of [inflicting such harm]." The second is a "detailed accounting" of the harm. "Liberation only comes through the details," says Ensler. 
Though Ensler is speaking primarily to sexual assault survivors, her words hold true for those of us abused via betrayal. "Survivors," she says, "are often haunted by the why." What we need is not justification but explanation. I often urge women on this site to let go of the why, in part because the cheater so often is baffled himself. He doesn't know why he risked everything that mattered for someone who, ultimately didn't. His job, of course, is to find out. But know this: The 'why' is rarely what our culture tells us. It is rooted in the cheater's own dysfunction, his own wound. Hurt people hurt people.
And the third – a stage few reach – is liberation. An unshackling of the apologizer. A release for the apologized to. 
That's what I got in those moments that I can remember so clearly after D-Day. Those were the moments when my husband made clear that he was committed to becoming a man who could not, would not do that again. When he said to me that he never wanted to see such pain in my eyes again and know that he had created it. When he showed up at his 12-step groups, when he worked with therapists. It wasn't so much an "I'm sorry" in words (though there was that, as well) as an apology in action. I saw his "I'm sorry" more than heard it. 
What are you seeing? Are you seeing someone interrogate themselves (ideally with the help of a trained therapist)? Are you seeing someone willing to go through the shame and discomfort of examining why they hurt someone they claim to value?
If not, can I ask you gently why you're continuing to live on crumbs? If not, why do you have any expectation that things in the future will be different than the past?
If so, can you be satisfied with an "I'm sorry" in actions not words? If so, are you confident that the future will be different from the past because the future him will be different than the past him?
And if you find yourself left, without an apology, without a marriage, then what? Then you unshackle yourself. You can do what Ensler did and put yourself in your ex'es shoes and determine what made him incapable of healthy, generous love. You learn to pity him. Or you accept that you might never know and instead focus your energy on self-care, self-compassion, self-love. 
An apology can create space for compassion. Without it, you will have to create that space for yourself. You can learn to forgive yourself for not knowing, for not having seen it, for having trusted someone unworthy of your trust. And then, you can move forward, liberated


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