Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Standing strong in the midst of betrayal

“When people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them. You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.”
~Maria Popova, Brainpickings

Oh, the mute shame of betrayal. It's not enough that our hearts have been shattered, our reality threatened, our future uncertain. If we've chosen to stay with our cheating cad of a spouse or we're a parent to children of our cheating cad of a spouse, we're also frequently handed the task of grinning and bearing it. At least publicly.
Which can lead to stomach-clenching fury. We suspect the rumours are flying, we don't think we're imagining the whispers. Besides, we see it all the time whenever a celebrity or public figure cheats. The speculation. The judgement. The smug certainty.
And yet so many of us stay silent.
We have our reasons, of course, such as not wanting to expose our children to the mess. Seeking the space to decide for ourselves what's next without input from well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) friends and family. Needing the time to absorb what happened and gauge our partner's response without society's judgement.
We might also want to protect our partners from repercussions. Their career might be jeopardized and we don't want our or our children's financial futures threatened. We may want to shield them from our family's scorn. Or their family's.
At the top of the list of why we stay silent, too often the reason is shame.
But what those who might shame us or judge us will never understand is what Einstein has called "the humanity and nuance" of any relationship. They don't know us
But we do. And that notion of who we are must remain firm in the midst of this storm or we risk losing ourselves. If our sense of self is already shaky, we need to strengthen it. We are not who others say we are. And, as Popova writes, "the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you."
Betrayal challenges us in so many ways but most damaging of all, it threatens our sense of who we are in the world.
We are not what happens to us. 
And we are not a one-dimensional character – the betrayed wife – with a one-size-fits-all response to the experience.
Stand in your own integrity and make choices from there.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Your Ultimate Guide to Boundaries: What they are and why you need them. Especially after his affair

Setting boundaries means getting clear on what behaviours are okay and what's not okay. Integrity is key to this commitment because it's how we set those boundaries and ultimately hold ourselves and others accountable for respecting them.... Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them."
~Brené Brown, from Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.

Ooooh boy. Boundaries. What a confusing concept for so many of us trying to figure out what the hell happened in our marriage and just how we can begin to feel safe again. If there's anything that will bring our boundaries (or lack of) into sharp focus, it's being betrayed.
Pre-betrayal, my boundaries, if I'd known enough to pay attention to them, were telling me in a hundred different ways that my marriage felt unfair. My anger and resentment were clear cues that my feelings and my actions did not match up. What did I do? I tried to talk myself out of my feelings: I was probably expecting too much. Why couldn't I ever just be happy? After all, he was better than a lot of husbands I knew.
Big mistake. By ignoring my own boundaries, I was disrespecting myself, which gave everyone else permission to do the same. Good old Elle! She won't mind! 
But when my husband cheated on me and didn't walk out but rather begged me to try and rebuild our marriage, I realized that the old marriage was not an option. If I was going to stay and work through this shitstorm that he'd created, I was going to darn well get something good out of it. Not just him but a new improved him and a new improved me and a new improved marriage in which I was not doing everything for everyone and hiding behind a bitter smile.
So...boundaries.
I hadn't a clue what they were and why I needed them. I had considered myself something of a badass independent woman. I ran marathons. I ran my own business. I had friends, men and women, of my own. I travelled solo all over the world. Plus...I was nice. Nice is good, right?
Turns out, not so much. Nice is good when you have clear boundaries and the ability to state your needs unequivocally. Nice is good when it doesn't stop you from being not-nice when your boundaries are getting trampled on.
For me, nice was a way of paying for others' positive attention with my self-worth. 
The baby's crying at 3 a.m. and I'm exhausted? Oh well, honey, you sleep. I'm awake anyway. 
You need to work late again and I'm on deadline? That's okay. I'll just work when the kids are asleep. 
This wasn't about compromise. This was about me playing the martyr. This was about acquiescence and total disrespect for myself. I was so invested in being a good sport, in being that great supportive wife who never really asks for anything because, well, whatever you want to give me is probably swell.
Being nice (which is a "nice" way of saying "pleasing people) often gets in the way of having and enforcing boundaries.
Post betrayal? Screw nice. I want to be heard. And respected. And so...boundaries.
(What's especially interesting for me is that I'm able to be far nicer now that I respect my own boundaries. It's impossible to be kind when resentment is seeping out of your pores. Your words might sound "nice" but your actions will be passive-aggressive.)

So, let's outline what boundaries are...and are not. Boundaries are basically your rules for your life. Brené Brown calls them an act of compassion for yourself. They're about respecting what you need to be able to be your best self. To feel safe. To feel valued. To feel heard.
Boundaries are not about controlling others. It's not a boundary to say, "I think eating meat is cruel so everybody around me must eat vegetarian." It IS a boundary to say "I think eating meat is cruel so when I prepare a meal, I will only prepare vegetarian." In the first, you're trying to control what others do. In the second, you're simply controlling what you do.
But boundaries in the wake of betrayal get a bit blurry because we're asking for our partners to really respect what we need...and it might look a lot different than what we need in a healthy relationship that hasn't been marked by infidelity. A healthy post-betrayal boundary is: Your dishonesty has made me feel unsafe in this relationship. I need to know that you are where you say you are and you are with whom you say you are in order to begin rebuilding trust. This is why many of us implement a system of checks in order to confirm our partner's whereabouts or contacts.
In a faithful relationship, I think monitoring each others' whereabouts is controlling and creepy. Post-betrayal, however, it's a way to rebuild trust. As time goes on, the vigilance should decrease. Again, it's about respecting your need for safety and assurance, not controlling your partner.
But this aspect of control can become problematic. And I hear often on this site about partners who've cheated becoming angry at being "controlled" by these post-betrayal boundaries. I get it. It must suck to be monitored. It must feel humiliating to have to come home right after work instead of stopping for a beer with friends. But the way I see it, a partner who's cheated has a lot to make up for. This isn't about paying penance, it's about supporting a loyal partner who's been deeply hurt and whose boundaries take priority right now. Not always...but right now. Compromise and negotiation can come later. Right now, it's about healing.
Here's the thing: I believe that those of us who've been betrayed should get to set the rules for reconciliation. My heartbreak, my rules. That's boundaries. But while we're still getting our feet wet regarding boundaries, many of us aren't so likely to enforce those rules. So it's important to establish boundaries early on that set us up for success, not failure.
What I mean by this is, establish boundaries that empower you. And give a lot of careful thought to what the consequences are if those boundaries are violated.
There's been some talk on another thread of this site around wanting partners to read certain books. And the partners haven't done it. Rather than feeling empowered by stating boundaries, the betrayed wives are feeling resentful. They stated their boundary (I need you to build empathy for my experience by reading this book) and their partners are being wishy-washy or outright refusing to.
If boundaries are new to you, you're going to get pushback. So you might need to practice a few times in the mirror. When you won't _______, I feel _______. And then...nothing.
Boundaries aren't about controlling him, they're about taking care of yourself. If he won't support you in your healing, then find support anywhere else you can. Therapy. Web sites. Books. Trusted friends.
No matter how anyone else in the world responds to your suffering right now, you can respect your own feelings. You can tell yourself  that you matter. You can orchestrate your healing.
If he wants to join you and support you, that's wonderful. He can start by respecting your boundaries.
But – and this is important – if he's refusing or reluctant to support you in your healing, then perhaps he's telling you loud and clear that you don't matter. You can't make someone respect you. But you can show him what respect and compassion looks like by giving it to yourself.

Monday, April 18, 2016

"The wisdom, the roadmap, the hope"

A while back, Snowbird shared her story on the Feeling Stuck Part 14 forum (so many incredible women on this site). And she also shared this:

To those dealing with repeat offenders, I told H this: If you can't control your behavior, we might be friends but we won't be married. Therapy, medication and meetings were game-changers for him. 16 months and counting.
Hang in there, warriors. Before this site, I thought it was kick him to the curb or be a doormat. You’ve taught me that I can stay if the conditions are right. Thank you for the wisdom, the roadmap, the hope. 

When I read about healing on this site, there's often one common thread. Those who've managed to rebuild their marriages haven't done it through wishful thinking. They've drawn clear lines, they've made demands, they've insisted upon accountability. They've understood that giving someone a second chance is a gift. And that they get to decide whether their partners deserve that second chance. They've looked with critical eyes at what, exactly, their partner is doing to create the conditions for reconciliation. 

It looks almost easy from the outside, doesn't it? It looks like some people simply know the rules better than the rest of us. That they have access to a post-betrayal roadmap that the rest of us don't have. 

And maybe they do. Maybe that post-betrayal roadmap is something they've had all along. I suspect it is. Not something they can hold onto but something they just know: That they are worthy of respect and dignity and honesty. And it's from that place of knowingness, that place of valuing themselves that they are able to respond to their partner's betrayal. 

They may have moments of doubt. They might wonder fleetingly what's wrong with them that their partner cheated. They may slip into self-blame. But they manage to pull themselves away from that and remember: They are worthy. They are and have always been enough and if their partners can't remember that too then there's the door.

Try and imagine yourself responding from that place. Pretend you're that person. How would you respond differently? Would you be able to calmly make demands? Would you be able to make it clear that you have rules for reconciliation that he can either follow or leave? Would you be able to better feel the pain and the fear without losing yourself in it?

What I'm suggesting is so incredibly difficult for so many of us. But that difficulty comes from who we believe ourselves to be in the world. It comes from valuing the love of someone else over the love of ourselves...and that will always create a power imbalance in a marriage. It comes from fear that, if we don't make it "easy" to love us, then we won't be loved.

Snowbird refers to "repeat" offenders but I think her advice holds for all offenders. If you are asking me for a second chance, then here's the deal... And then lay it out. It's not about punishment. The idea isn't to create all sorts of conditions to punish him. It's to create a safe space in which you can rebuild trust, rebuild a marriage based on honesty. It's about loving yourself at least as much as you love the other person. 

It's about healing yourself through dignity and self-respect. No matter the outcome of your marriage, you will be loved if you're able to love yourself. 


Monday, April 11, 2016

The Certainty of Change

"My heart pounded in my ears. My chest and stomach felt tight. I couldn't breathe all the way in. Maybe I was having a heart attack. It wasn't unheard of, after all. I resisted the urge to look symptoms of heart attack or stroke on the Internet. No good was going to come of that. I imagined the ambulance racing up our drive, lights flashing in the country darkness. How had I gotten here — again? All the...searching, seeking, reading... All the goddamn thinking, and there was still this: the waiting out the night. Face-to-face with my aloneness. With the certainty of change."~Dani Shapiro, "Devotion"

Waiting out the night. Were truer words ever written that describe the experience of betrayal? If I could sum up the years following the discovery of my husband's betrayal, those four words are it. Waiting out the night.
It's excruciating, isn't it? After the initial gut-punch of discovery, after the falling to our knees, we just want the agony to be over. We want the pain to stop. To let us catch our breath. To point us in some direction that makes sense. To promise us...something. That we're safe. That we're making the right choice. That we're going to be okay.
Instead, we wait out the night. What choice do we have, really?
There's the horrible, do-not-do-this choice of swallowing a bottle of pills and denying ourselves a happily ever after. There's the numbing ourselves through booze, or drugs, or shopping, or gambling, or endless TV watching. There's the plain of lethal flatness, a nice place to visit but you don't want to stay there. There's the pain shopping – hours of scrolling through the OW's Facebook feed, or driving past her house, or gossiping about her with uncomfortable looking friends.
Or, there's the (ugh) waiting out the night.
Shapiro goes on to call it "the anguish of the unknown" and that's really what the night is, isn't it. It's the fear that morning won't come. That the darkness won't give way to light. My 3 a.m. worries that hover, huge and unbidden, seem ridiculous in the morning. And yet, in that thick, wooly darkness, my thoughts seem necessary. Important. True.
Part those heavy curtains though and daylight brings a clarity. A lifting of the heart, a revival of new possibilities.
Optimism. Hope.
Until then, we wait out the night.
Not passively. Waiting isn't about resignation so much as realization that this is part of the process. That, beneath the waiting, a plan is taking shape. Our future is taking shape.
It's a future informed by having survived the trauma and accepting the anguish that life sometimes delivers. It's a future shaped by recognizing our worth and our strength.
It's a future that doesn't promise no more pain but does promise what we need to respond to whatever comes next.
Whether your night comes as you move into a new life without him, or whether it comes as you await enough clarity to make your choice of whether to stay or go, or whether it comes as you begin to rebuild your marriage, we all must...wait. Betrayal demands it of us. It delivers the darkness until we can see the blurry, distant light of dawn over the horizon.
Know that the darkness will gave way. As long as we don't wait passively but continue to do the work of loving ourselves, being kind to ourselves, challenging the stories that endlessly loop in our brain and make us crazy. As long as, within the darkness, we sit with the awareness that we deserve love and respect. Knowing that, we can trust the light will come.


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