Tuesday, May 31, 2022

When do we *know* our partner's cheating?

In hindsight, I knew my husband was cheating and I knew with whom before he admitted it to me. I knew before I knew. Of course, there was lots I didn't know. The years of sexual acting out with strangers, for instance. But though I didn't know the details, I felt the disconnection. I knew...something.

But because I didn't want to know the truth, I told myself stories to soothe. We were busy with the kids, I told myself. We had growing careers. If he would just deal with his family, things would be better, I told myself (and him). He's a good man, I told myself. He loves me, I told myself. 

We lived like that for a long time. Years. A decade. 

And then...the truth

The truth was that my husband was living a secret life. It took place beyond my view, outside of the lines I drew around our family. It existed with strangers. People whose names and faces I wouldn't know if I bumped into them on the street. 

The truth was a thousand-volt shock to my life. The truth was a million stings to my soul. The truth was a red-hot branding iron to my brain. 

The truth changed everything.

"When one person has said the truth, both people in the relationship are emancipated," poet David Whyte recently said to On Being's Krista Tippet. "Even if you look away, when you look back the truth will still be there. And then you can move into the next stage of your relationship."

Emancipation. It's not the first word that come to mind when we discover a partner's affair, is it? For me, I felt the opposite. Not liberated but imprisoned. Trapped in a marriage, with three young children and a man who felt like a stranger to me. Everywhere I looked, I saw a cage. None of my choices looked like freedom.

And yet.

"When one person has said the truth, both people in the relationship are emancipated," says David Whyte.

It has taken many years for me to see the truth of that. There was freedom in the truth for me. Freedom from the fables I was telling myself. Freedom from the self-blame, the confusion. Freedom to make a choice that was the right one for me, even if the right one was far from perfect. Freedom from perfect.

It took years to recognize that. I wish that wasn't the truth but it is. But with practice, with learning to acknowledge the truth of things – uncomfortable things, things I wish weren't true – the span between knowing and knowing is getting smaller. I'm better at recognizing that what I wish was true doesn't make it true. 

It's hard. And it's sad. But it is, yes, also liberating. Emancipation.

Because only when we see people for who they really are, only when we see our situation for what it really is, can we respond honestly. It is then, once the truth has been spoken that both parties can move onto the next stage of the relationship. That stage might, like my own, mean rebuilding a marriage. For others, it might mean separation. Or divorce. 

And I get it. The truth of your marriage, when it's not what you wanted to hear, stings. It wounds. It brings us to our knees. But once we're standing again, that truth informs what's next. Our next right step is rooted in what we know and know. And from that knowing, we can truly choose what's right for us. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Stuck Between "Now" and "Not Yet"

I had never heard of Jen Hatmaker and remain somewhat mystified how she came to my attention but I think it was around the time her marriage was falling apart. I didn't recognize the name but I recognized the story. A couple everyone seemed to love – a public couple – was announcing divorce, shocking those who knew of them. Hatmaker herself issued a statement along the lines of being blindsided, not wanting this, pleading for privacy, and so on.

Ah, I thought to myself. He cheated. 

And though Hatmaker's language remains somewhat cagey, you, my dear readers, know as well as I do how to read between the lines. He cheated. Of course, he did.

But though I still don't know a lot about Jen Hatmaker and am not part of her cool Christian girl club (no disparagement – just not my scene), I've become quite fond of her as a public figure. For one thing, she's funny. She's honest about who she is. She's eloquent. And recently, she was on Glennon Doyle's We Can Do Hard Things podcast at which point she made reference to that stage – one we're all familiar with – of being caught between "now" and "not yet". 

"Now" is what's happening. It's the gut punch of D-Day. It's the sleeplessness, the churning anxiety of "what if he's still cheating? How will I know?", it's the mask we wear to work. It's the "how long will I feel like this?". 

"Not yet" is that water hole up ahead, the one that promises to quench our thirst, the one that keeps being just a few steps (a thousand steps!) beyond where we are right now. 

You'll reach "not yet", I promise you will. And I know how agonizing it is to feel stuck somewhere in between. Maybe the pain isn't quite so acute. Maybe you've decided to stay and it seems to be working. Maybe you've decided to leave and you're settling into this new reality. Maybe you're still figuring out your next right step. But you don't feel there yet. You don't feel like this is in the rear-view mirror. You haven't made it to "not yet". Not yet, anyway. 

Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your shattered heart. Stop periodically and check in with yourself. Am I where I want to be? Or, if that's impossible, am I where I can find a way to be my best self? Sometimes we can make the choice and sometimes that choice is forced onto us. But we can still honor ourselves. Jen Hatmaker makes that clear too. That we can make healing our focus and that, no matter how much we may have not chosen our new reality, we can center ourselves and keep our hearts soft and find joy in the world

Let those of us further ahead beckon you forward. Let us be the light that helps you see your way through. Though I'm not as active on this site as I was (when we get to "Not yet", infidelity becomes something that happened long ago), I do still read your comments. And I do hope this site remains a safe space for all of you to find community and the reassurance that though you might feel stuck right now, "not yet" is possible, indeed a promise, for all of us.


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