Thursday, April 16, 2015
I am approaching my 16-month anniversary here on BWC and this coincides almost directly with my D-day.
I notice so many of our stories are so so similar, and our reactions to discovery bring the same sort of shock. None of us can believe it, few of us saw it coming, and the majority of us thought we were in as close to a “perfect” relationship as we could have imagined.
But some, I understand, did not go as berserk as others.
I am one who identifies with berserk.
If my H had come to me and said “I have something to tell you,” would I have reacted the same?
How did you find out, and why does it matter? Does it matter?
I have often described my own D-day. My husband was gone for a few hours when I found out. Before I melted into a screaming, heaving, weeping heap on the floor, I went through a lot, both on our shared computer and within myself. In case you missed my story, I, quite by accident, discovered his other life while on vacation and using one computer. He was out shopping (and texting and e-mailing too).
Apart from my mouth possibly hanging open, I may have looked calm when I found what I found but inside I was dying and I was pissed. The first things I saw were shocking but did not send me reeling. It was the cold, hard evidence that he actually HAD slept with someone (and then later found two someones) that sent me to the absolute brink and yet I didn’t react, not yet.
I had that computer to myself for two hours (I even welcomed a visitor to the house in the midst of all of it but, when I knew I could not hold it together, feigned sudden illness to get him to leave) and although I was in complete disbelief, I was not crying. Not yet.
By the time he got home I had more than enough info, seen more than enough photos, read more than enough e-mails to last a hundred betrayed lifetimes.
It was not until he walked into the door that I absolutely EXPLODED.
As I had searched and discovered, I now realize I was processing all of this info, and I was processing alone and could take my time and knew what I thought I would do when he got home. I would confront him, either (a) smugly or (b) calmly.
I was wrong on both counts.
I came unglued. I screamed. I hit (I have not hit anything or anyone since I was a child, not even a wall, in anger).
Boundaries were set IMMEDIATELY, lines were drawn IMMEDIATELY, threats (which I no doubt would have carried out at the mention of a 'wrong' word) were made IMMEDIATELY. None of this was done delicately or with any sort of tact or restraint. It was a screamfest along the lines of 'you do THIS or we are fucking DONE!'
I'd had two full hours to gear up and I let him HAVE it.
But what is it like if your husband tells you instead? I try to picture it in my own life. If my H had come clean and told me, would I have reacted the same? Would I have somehow given him some credit and had a different visceral response? Would his confession have toned my reaction down?
Would I have said to myself “he fucked up but at least he told me”? Would I have immediately experienced the same sort of grief that we all get to eventually? The same rage so many of us have? Would I have made the same immediate demands that I made?
Or would it have been tempered by his honesty had he cushioned the blow by saying something along the lines of 'I'm sorry, I did something horrible.'
I’m not sure there is a cushion large enough.
I have searched out discovery info and its bearing on relationships for months because I cannot imagine a worse way of finding out than mine (maybe because it's mine) and there are many ways to learn the news.
None of them are good.
Some people are told by a third party, some by the OP, some people get a warning, an anonymous email or maybe ask out of suspicion and are told the truth...and, yes, some are told by their spouse straight out.
But though there's little research on the impact of how we find out, I did come across this from Dr. Timothy Loving — yes, his real name – from “The Loving Lab,” which seems to specialize in the science of relationships.
In his findings, the relationship where the cheating partner discloses the affair without being asked suffers the smallest decline in “relationship quality” (I believe there is no “small”). The cheater caught “red handed” though? Their relationship suffers the largest decline in relationship quality, but that same partner “caught red handed” is most likely to be forgiven.
Yes. I know. I had the same thought. Why?
(You can read the short article here.)
I take exception with some of the statements and you might too but I have my own theory which is from the only experience that I have.
When you have actually caught your partner "red handed,” be it in person or, in my case, via the computer (Dr. Loving does not make a distinction so I don't know his definition), you pretty much get the full picture. I have no doubt I know 99 percent of what went on and 100 percent of what I need to know and have no unanswered questions. I suspect a few 'first bases' in that year that I don't know about but I don't care anymore.
I saw all I needed. So much that, sometimes, I wonder why I decided to stick with him.(I don't know where that came from) immediately. From the depth of all this pain, I somehow knew exactly what I was dealing with and had to decide if I could eventually come to live with what he had done and make something new from it together.
Would I have reacted the same if he had told me? I have no doubt in my mind he (maybe not all men, but he) would have edited his experiences heavily (I found out quickly that what he referred to as “just online flirting” included dickpics, really filthy language and unbelievable lies, including lies of omission). In these online conversations, I did not exist. At best, when he was with one of his "hers," I was referred to as “a girl he saw, sometimes”.
I wonder about those of us who are still struggling. Believe me, even though H and I have made tremendous progress and have a better relationship than ever, in every single way, I am not “over” this and I don't think I ever will be, completely.
It is now just a part of me that does not hurt as much as it did.
But those of us who are struggling – is it is because somehow we feel like we don't know everything and so cannot process everything?
And if our husbands try to “spare” us by not disclosing what we need to know, might this hinder our own process of healing?
I am asking. I don’t know. I see so many of us in pain, months and months and years later. Unbearable pain that I don’t know how we all get through.
But we can and we do. Somehow, we do.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
“When we discover that someone we trusted can be trusted no longer, it forces us to reexamine the universe, to question the whole instinct and concept of trust. For a while, we are thrust back onto some bleak, jutting ledge, in a dark pierced by sheets of fire, swept by sheets of rain, in a world before kinship, or naming, or tenderness exist; we are brought close to formlessness.” ~ Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets and Silence
Cheating is everywhere – in songs, in movies, in books, in our workplaces, our neighborhoods. And yet we rarely see the consequences of cheating. We might hear of the divorce and the reason behind it. Or we might know, through whispers, that someone is dealing with a spouse's affair, though we're more likely to see the brave face than the tear-streaked one.
Hiding the true impact of infidelity, however, makes it seem so much more benign than it is, so much more matter-of-fact. Less mind-blowing than mundane. Ho-hum, another cheating spouse. Tell me something new.
And then it happens to us and our world blows apart. Which leaves us with this bizarre disconnect between what the world seems to think of infidelity (it happens, get over it) and the devastation it wreaks on us, our families, our friends, our work.
As Adrienne Rich puts it: "It forces us to reexamine the universe."
It's perhaps the biggest misconception about infidelity. That it's about sex.
Infidelity is about being forced to examine our place in the universe. Our perceptions of the world. Is the world a safe place? Who can we believe? Who am I? And, so so often, just who the hell is he? Who is this stranger I'm married to who behaved in a way I could have never imagined?
To underestimate this impact is to misunderstand infidelity. Or, perhaps, to have never (yet) experienced it.
There is no way around this, of course. We can leave the marriage, which is a perfectly viable option. We can choose to stay and rebuild a second marriage with our first husband, another perfectly viable option. We can sweep it under the proverbial rug and step around it or over it or under it, though that's not such a viable option.
But, to truly heal from it, we must go through it. We must perch on Rich's "bleak, jutting ledge" and acknowledge how deep the injury goes. But then we must slowly pull ourselves back, examining all the while what this means to us, how it impacts who we are, and honoring what we need to move forward in our lives. We must learn that we can – and should – trust ourselves. Infidelity thrusts us onto that ledge. But we don't have to stay there.
It is my hope that, someday, infidelity is recognized as the cancer it is, and treated much the same way. With treatment and concern, casseroles and compassion. That it's publicly acknowledged and examined so that those of us affected by it don't have to perch on that ledge alone. That there's support and strength from those who recognize the true impact of infidelity and aren't afraid to reach out a hand.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~Anais Nin
"Every problem is just fear." That was a recent tweet I read. And while I don't know if it's factual, I do believe it's true.
Certainly true with infidelity.
Infidelity trips the wire in our brain that unleashes every fear we've ever had. Of darkness. Of loss. Of abandonment. Of craziness. Of unworthiness. Of being revealed as deficient or not enough.
If we've been lucky enough as children to have healthy parents, we learn to trust our place in the world, to feel a sense of belonging, to believe ourselves worthy of others' love and respect. If we're then faced with infidelity, the fear wire may be tripped but, in many cases, we fairly quickly regain our equilibrium and are able to recognize the cheating as reflective of our spouse's character, not our own.
Those of us, however, whose parents were unable to provide that healthy support, often come to adulthood with buried injuries and hidden fears.
Commitment is a huge leap of faith for us. We allow ourselves to jump, trusting tentatively, finally, that there's someone to catch us.
So when our spouse isn't there for us; when, in fact, it's our spouse who pushes us into the abyss, the terror is real. Our childhood fears loom large. Abandonment. Loss. Unworthiness.
For some of us, even coming from healthy homes, the fear wire tripped by infidelity stays tripped. It doesn't reset. It creates in us all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress: hyper-vigilance, a sense of foreboding, anxiety, flashbacks, emotional numbing. In one word, we can pretty much wrap up all those feelings as "fear". The world suddenly feels terrifying.
It's crucial to tackle this quickly. We need someone to moor us to reality before we drown in the stories we tell ourselves about the myriad ways in which we're unlovable, undeserving of kindness and respect, the ways in which we've failed.
A good therapist (or a particularly wise compassionate friend) will help us understand that our stories, which are rooted in fear (I'll be alone forever, nobody loves me, I'm not [fill-in-the-blank] enough, I'm too [fill-in-the-blank]...) aren't reality and get in the way of healing. In fact, that fear-based narrative prevents healing and pushes us towards betraying ourselves for the sake of "safety".
While fear is a reasonable response to the emotional trauma of infidelity, it's a dangerous one if we let it govern our actions. We need to fight hard to understand that infidelity, while it deeply affects us, isn't about us. Infidelity is about one partner's choice to seek outside the marriage what they're missing in themselves. It's about emotional immaturity. It's about escape and fantasy.
Your task is to challenge our cultural convictions around cheating and examine your own beliefs. What do YOU believe your partner's cheating says about you? My guess is that your beliefs about infidelity are rooted much more in fear than in truth. Fear will keep you wrapped tightly in that bud. The truth will allow you to blossom.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
|Buh-bye old "friend". I bearly remember your name.|
It's when we're on our knees that we discover just who in our lives will kneel their with us. It can add to our pain, to learn that someone we counted us simply can't or won't be there for us. The friend who dismissed my pain was eventually – years later – able to acknowledge that she had let me down. She was able to see that she was still so blinded by her own pain and her choice to leave her marriage that she wasn't able to accept my choice to not leave.
Not all friends get to that point. Not all friends are, well, friends.
However, it's one of the unforeseen benefits of infidelity that we often become much more discerning about who we allow into our lives and our hearts. Once we begin to heal, we can often recognize those around us who are true friends and those who are...not.
•There's the "friend" who uses your husband's behaviour as an excuse to cut you off. "I just can't be around you right now. I think what he did was terrible." Suddenly YOUR pain is about HER discomfort.
•There's the "friend" who compounds your loneliness because infidelity terrifies her. "I just can't imagine my husband doing such a thing." She's right. She can't imagine. And won't let herself because it might mean facing some uncomfortable truths, such as, even good marriages can be affected by infidelity.
•There's the "friend" who knows better than you do what your right path is. "Once a cheater, always a cheater. You need to get rid of him." Her cynicism and bitterness and, perhaps, her fear that you'll get hurt again and she can't protect you, leads her to encourage you to do what she wants you to do, instead of allowing you to find your own path.
•There's the "friend" who minimizes what your husband has done because she's cheated on her spouse. "All marriages come up against this. You need to let it go. He picked you, didn't he?" Seeing the devastation of infidelity up close brings up a lot of guilt.
•There's the friend who encourages you to leave your husband because that's what she did. "I don't know why anyone would stay. I certainly didn't." Accepting that it's possible for a marriage to heal from betrayal can make those who chose to leave – and aren't 100% sure of their choice – wonder if they made the wrong choice. My friend ultimately copped to this, admitting that she left her ex because she thought that was her only choice. She had no examples of anyone who'd stayed and made it work because nobody ever talked about that choice. Our cultural narrative rarely supports the healing/rebuilding option. And admittedly, it's tough. Really really tough.
It can help to have true friend who's willing to hold you up while you figure out which way to go. Someone who's there to hold your hand through the bad days and celebrate the good ones. Someone who is in your life because he or she deserves to be there. Even friends who don't know what you're going through can offer much support in the form of distraction or small kindnesses. Their presence is enough.
I often think of my post-betrayal life as one that has been curated by me. It's less random than before. I'm more discerning about how I spend my time (I've added the word "no" to my vocabulary as in, "thanks so much for asking but 'no', I won't be available to bake 350 cookies for your bake sale on Thursday." Or simply "no". As my therapist used to remind me, "No" is a complete sentence.). I'm much more discerning about those who are in my life. Gone are the "friends" who made passive-aggressive comments. Gone are those who were suddenly absent when my life fell apart. Gone are the gossips. Gone are the fair-weather friends. And you know what? I don't miss them.
Not in the least.
Monday, March 30, 2015
"Grief is a normal and healthy experience after loss. But so is resilience. Over the years an interesting change in grief therapy has been the emphasis on resilience; the awareness that people normally find healthy ways to adapt and live with loss. That’s not to say it’s a quick and easy task. It’s not that grieving suddenly ends and the person forgets and moves on. No, what happens is that a weight that initially feels unbearable becomes, in time, manageable. The grief becomes compact enough, with the hard edges removed, to be gently placed in one’s heart."
~from Memento Mori by David Malham, New York Times
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
"Sometimes we stay in relationships that are unhealthy for us because of love, so we tell ourselves, yet when we really look at why we stay, we stay for other reasons. Security. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not being able to go it alone. Maybe I’ll never find someone else. We get other social currency out of being in the relationship. And so on. It’s not actually love if love is an action and you’ve ceased to perform it. If love were a feeling it would be a good start, but it’s not enough to build a healthy relationship. Love requires so much more of us."~Amy Jo Goddard, from her blog post "Love Is An Action"
Many years ago, before I met Mr. Elle, I was in what can only generously be described as a dysfunctional relationship. It went on for seven years. Most of those years were miserable. Why did I stay? Because I "loved" him.
I loved him desperately. I couldn't imagine life without him. He was my sun, my moon. He was...Well, from a distance, I can now see that he was emotionally incapable of meeting my needs. He was self-absorbed. He was uninterested in my dreams. He had...issues.
But I loved him.
Love, the stories and songs tell us, changes everything. It colors our black-and-white world. It gives meaning to our lives. It makes the world go round. Love is incredibly hard to describe without relying on clichés. Let's simply say that love feeds our souls.
But what about when "love" is starving our souls. What about when "love" is giving someone permission to treat us badly. To lie to us. To toy with us. Love is something we feel, sure. But love, in a healthy relationship, is mostly something we show.
We show it by listening to our spouse complain about his boss even when we've heard it before. We show it by being on time to meet him at the airport. We show it by not eating the last cookie.
We show it by helping. By being true to our word. By ensuring that our needs don't always trump our partners. By listening. By holding. By being there, day in and day out.
"But I love him." We don't show someone we love them by overlooking their lies. We don't show someone we love them by not calling them out when they're behaving badly. We don't show someone we love them by letting them be their worse selves. That's not only how we don't show love to someone else; that's how we don't show love to ourselves.
And when we don't love ourselves, it's impossible to truly love someone else.
So...what does that mean when we find ourselves married to someone who's lied to us, who might be continuing to lie to us, who gives us the "I love you but I'm not in love with you" (a phrase, incidentally, that is unadulterated bullshit), who says he loves us but refuses to give up contact with the OW, or says he loves us but just needs to "be sure" about staying in the marriage, or says he loves us but needs "time"?
We show him what love is...by loving ourselves. We model loving behaviour by showing up for ourselves. We nurture ourselves. We respect ourselves. We take care of ourselves by refusing to let him set the rules for the marriage. We firmly make it clear that, if we choose to give him the opportunity, he can show us he loves us with his actions. By showing up in the marriage with his full heart. By accepting that his betrayal of our trust means new rules, and those will be set by us, the wounded party (my heartbreak, my rules, as Steam put it!) By holding us when we need holding and giving us space when we need space. And by helping us learn to love ourselves enough to make these boundaries clear and to make them solid. By respecting them. And us.
Next time you find yourself citing "but I love him" as the reason you're allowing yourself to be treated in a way that you would never treat a friend, ask yourself just what's so lovable about him. Ask yourself if he is worthy of your love. Ask yourself if you would have ever set him up with your sister, or friend. If the answer is no, then ask yourself why you're settling for someone unworthy of you. "We accept the love we think we deserve," is my daughter's favorite line from Perks of Being a Wallflower. She shrugs when she observes some of her friends in relationships that are fraught with drama and cruelty and deception. "They don't believe the deserve better, I guess," she says with uncanny 16-year-old wisdom.
None of us can un-do our partner's betrayal of us. That bell, as the saying goes, cannot be unrung.
But we can use this period of horrible shake-up as a chance to recalibrate our relationship not only with our spouse but with ourselves. We can take stock of how love has been expressed in our marriage. How "active" has it been.
And then we can begin by actively loving ourselves, our flawed, trusting, loveable selves. The other adults in our lives? They can start by earning it.