Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Love Requires More of Us Than Just Showing Up

"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.
Yeah. Well.
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.

Monday, March 16, 2015

What Did I Do to Deserve This?

by Steam

In a word, nothing.
No one asks to be cheated on and my guess is that during those moments of first discovery, most of us put our energy into “my husband is an ass” or “my husband is a  jerk”  or “my husband is a liar.
I have no data, no surveys, nothing to back me up. But I doubt that our very first thoughts were “I deserved this.”
But as the days and weeks go by, some of us switch gears and find ourselves questioning: Am I too fat? Too old? Too boring?
Somehow we start to assume the blame.
If we think we are to blame, we think that gives us some control.
Well, we are NOT to blame and we don't have control over his cheating. Never did and never will.
It's been said on this site many many times:
If we didn't cheat, we are not to blame. 
That's the truth. Preach it!
Our husbands/spouses/partners could have taken a moment to tell us that something was wrong, that they were feeling disconnected, unappreciated, unloved. They felt bad enough about themselves or the state of the relationship to consider an affair, but no, they ran.
We we were trusting enough to believe that everything was, for the most part, okay. That tides ebb and flow, the fires smolder and flicker and sometimes need to be rekindled and one day well get around to that. That this time that seem a little bit off is only a phase and it too shall pass.
So here is something that I came to understand:
I did something too. Although I am not to blame – remember, I didn't force my other half to have an affair –
I did something.
I  checked out long enough to not notice that something was REALLY up.
I checked out long enough to let someone else sneak into OUR relationship.
When I found out, I thought, I REALLY thought, it was all him. He chose the women, he chose the actions, he chose to take the many many steps it takes to have an affair. I don't care what anyone tells you, this didn't "just happen.” He had to a) make contact b) choose to stay as the chemistry started to show itself, c) choose to make the first move or not back away from hers d) accelerate the contact and e ) go further and...and I could go through the alphabet...which includes Craigslist, online adds, paid-for sex, etc. There is an a-z process he took part in and I, or maybe many of us, didn't notice.
My H had been distant the last few years of our relationship – not mean, not absent – but he was battling with the demon in the bottle. When he wanted to be alone (mostly on vacations) I thought it was to drink “in peace” because he didn't get that when he was with me. I thought his alcoholism was accelerating at an alarming pace. That's what I thought was going on. I never though it was a woman. N E V E R.
This was a fine line because when you are in Al-Anon, you are really supposed to stay on your side of the street. Looking back, I fear that I had not just stayed on my side of the street, but stayed on a street halfway across town. We were living in the same house, but I had really checked out. 
It never crossed my mind that my husband, who spent a lot of his time inebriated when I was not around, could find the time to woo someone else. Who wants a drunk anyway?
I didn't come to this realization – that I somehow played a small part in this – alone. It's online, it's in books, I heard it gently in therapy. And I refused to believe it for a long time. But I played a part. A small part.
I won't take 50 percent of the blame, I might take five to seven percent – maybe even 10 percent.
So part of my recovery and our recovery was needing to check back in. The past days when he was drunk, I was free to do whatever I wanted. Waste the day on a stupid video game or on Facebook or shopping, watching what I wanted to watch on tv,  or being angry at the world around me instead of facing what was going on in my very house. Sometimes while he was literally three feet away on the same couch. He's never been a gadget guy, so why in the hell was he, for the last year on his iPad while we watched TV?
Why did I never question that?
Why did I never just lean over and say “what ya checkin out?”?
What would he have said in the middle of writing to her while sitting next to me?
Would he have told me? I doubt it.
But maybe if I had opened up a dialogue, I don't know, maybe I could have circumvented this whole mess.
But it's not just that I didn't want to know, I didn't think there was anything to know. I made my mind up that it was alcohol and that's that. I didn't want to take the time to find out that I was wrong.
There is a term I heard 20 years ago and I wish I could remember where I read it. In the air conditioning and heating business, there is a comfort zone on the thermometer. It's set at the perfect temperature so you dont feel or notice a fluctuation in the temperature of the home. They call this area "the dead zone". What a perfect reminder. 
In the heating and air conditioning biz they STRIVE to get you in "the dead zone" so you are complety unaware of everything going on while you stay "comfortable".  
It has been a process to get out of "the dead zone" of my comfortable relationship.  As easy as it was to exist side by side and remain unaware that anything was going on was pretty easy. Pretty dead.  
The last thing I want to be now  is "comfortable."  I do want to step out of my comfort zone and feel new feelings, try new things but mostly "be aware" of what is going on around me. 
Looking back – although I insisted for weeks after D-day that we had the 'perfect' relationship – I was lying to myself. He had checked out, and I had checked out.
Checking back in and being uncomfortable at times means I have to show up in a real way and it's not as easy as it sounds. I not only have to talk, I have to listen. I used to think of our silence as contentment. I felt a bit disconnected but came to believe that I was just with a non-talker. His family often commented on his silence and told me that he tended to “hold it all in”. I knew he did but then again I also knew he never felt safe with them. I thought he felt safe with me.
I thought if something was important, you know, like contemplating an affiar, crossed his mind, he might say something. But nope. His silence – he didnt feel safe with me either. I had to change my tune. 
I had to step away from the computer, from work, from hours-long phone calls with friends and listen to my best friend: him. I had to come to terms with the fact that I, just like it's said in quotey quotes, “save my best behaviour for strangers”. I gave my ALL to my work and I had little left to offer him at the literal end of the day. I had to face it, I shut him out a bit much and mistook comfort for distance. Being present is something I am working on daily, and we both need to stay connected enough that no one can sneak into our relationship again.



Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Guest Post: Stuck on Stupid and Glued to Dumb

Infidelity Counseling Network (ICN) is a not-for-profit that provides telephone peer counselling to women (and men) dealing with infidelity. Their trained volunteer peer counsellors support each client through personal recovery. This service exists entirely on donations.
Over the next while, I'll be posting guest blogs from a few of the ICN volunteers. Some have marriages/relationships that mended; some do not. We all have to walk our own path. If you'd like to know more (or donate!), please visit Infidelity Counseling Network


by Clarity M.
Volunteer 

I was clueless. My college sweetheart, father of my child, best friend and husband of 20 years, committed infidelity. Yes, I was stuck on stupid and glued to dumb for a portion of my marriage. 
I was 17 when I met my husband at a university in the Midwest. He was a nerd with pizzazz, and I was a sheltered girl from a rural community in Chicago. The first 12 years of marriage was nothing short of bliss. We traveled, we frequented jazz clubs and we laughed at almost everything. When he looked at me, it was a deliberate and lustful stare; he would tell me that I was just as beautiful as Cindy Crawford or Halle Berry (yeah, right). And, his home-cooked meals filled me with joy. For the first time, I felt loved unconditionally. 
He proposed to me on the day of my graduation. My father was livid. He didn't believe that my soon-to-be husband could take care of me financially due to his recent college dropout status. Because my heart ached without being near him, I accepted his proposal and ignored my dad’s warning. 
After the birth of our daughter, 12 years into our marriage, I noticed a significant change in my husband. He became distant, disengaged with childcare and absent from most, if not all, family gatherings. In short, I was living with a person who appeared to be stranger. Our conversations were few and far between, sex was non- existent, and his “golfing trips” were frequent. 
One summer night, I bumped into my husband in the hallway in our home. He was groomed – manicured nails, trimmed facial hair and cologne. He told me he was hanging out with his brother that evening. No problem. I encouraged him to spend time with his younger brother, as they were not close. When I didn’t hear back from him until the next day, I grew worried. I called him several times, but no reply. The next day, he returned home and told me he'd gotten drunk and hadn't wanted to drive. Again, no problem. He rarely went out and I certainly didn't want him to drive under the influence of alcohol. 
Several weeks later, he looked at me sheepishly. “I’ve been having conversations with a woman,” he said. What did that mean? He didn’t admit to having an affair, just that he was talking to a girl he’d met in a bar. I was devastated. "Why?” I asked. He didn’t have much of an answer, but his eyes were empty and our conversation was robotic. 
The silence between us was brutal. I felt unwanted. I tried to seduce him but he turned me down. 
Around that time, I'd had a car accident. I wasn't hurt, but had misplaced the police report. I asked my husband for the keys to his car so that I could look for it there. He yelled at me for asking for the keys. We never yelled – we rarely argued, so this was unusual behavior. I waited until he walked our dog, so that I could look in his car. His irritability increased my curiosity. And, that’s when I discovered telephone records of the same phone number, along with approximately 1,000 text messages. 
My husband’s “conversations” were a full-blown months-long affair. 
I was enraged and I wanted him to feel my pain. I wanted to hurt him – emotionally and physically. How could he do this to me? I raised our child practically by myself, battled Lupus by myself, was home alone with our daughter. I never looked at another man. I was loyal. I had integrity. Oh, I was more than angry at him. 
I had tracked down the other person and discovered that she was my husband’s employee. A woman in her 20s (and roughly 20 years younger than my husband). I talked with my mother and she said, “Once you learned who the other person was, did it make you feel better?” 
“No.” 
It never makes you feel better, my mother said, only worse. You’re giving the other person power. You’ll question your appearance or his judgment or preference. Focus on you, my mother said. 
I attempted to forgive my husband after learning of his affairs. My self-esteem was shot. We went through couples counseling, I purchased new clothes and sex toys and accepted my husband calling me expletives while having sex with me. 
There are people who will tell you that an affair will actually make a marriage better. In my case, it didn’t make it better. Our marriage was broken. I don’t think we knew how to deal with our issues. We met and married young, and our relationship stopped working after our child was born. After some weeks of counseling, my husband decided to leave me and our three-year-old daughter to “find himself.” 
Now it was up to me to reflect more deeply on my own life. I accepted his leaving. I knew that this was a temporary setback, an event that did not define my character. After years of my own counseling alone and the deaths of my parents, I decided that my marriage was not worth fighting for. I could no longer co-exist with someone who deceived and abandoned me, and who made almost no effort to recover our marriage. My light had been diminished, and I needed a burst of spirituality and self-recovery. Time to re-invent myself. A rebirth. 
Betrayal is a life-altering experience. It took me a year (and a lot of self-reflection exercises!) to truly learn to love myself. For nearly 24 years, I was someone's wife. That was my validation. Now, I had to learn enjoy being alone without being lonely. To be present in my life, to “show up” for each moment, not just exist within it. While you can’t predict or control another person’s behavior, you can control how you deal with it. 
Our lives are not linear; it's all the wonderful side roads that makes life wonderful, complicated and worth living. I’m now living more in the present, appreciating life, accepting what is and moving forward with a renewed sense of being. And I love myself enough not be disrespected, diminished or demeaned. I have elevated my thinking about relationships. I am no longer stuck on stupid and glued to dumb. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Monday Musing: Why Rage is Key

"Anger is personal; rage, transpersonal.
We fear becoming angry
because we are terrified
of being possessed by rage.
So we skate.
In our dreams we skate and ski,
It takes ice and snow to skate and ski.
Feeling is frozen.
Rather than live in summer and spring,
we freeze.
No gentleness, no flow!
We feel nothing:
no anger, no rage.
No love.
The heart is closed."

~excerpted from Coming Home to Myself: Reflections for Nurturing a Woman's Body & Soul by Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick

Friday, March 6, 2015

Out of the Shadows

"The shadow self is not of itself evil; it just allows you to do evil without calling it evil."~Fr. Richard Rohr

It's not a coincidence that the seminal book on sex addiction is called Out of the Shadows, by Patrick Carnes. But not just sex addicts who know about living in the shadows – anyone who's living a secret knows.
Fr. Rohr is, of course, pointing to the shadow self, not just a life in the shadows. It's not the shadow self that's the problem, he argues, it's our refusal to acknowledge it. It's our insistence that it's not really there. In other words, it's our ability to convince ourselves that we're not doing anything wrong...all while doing something wrong. It's our ego that we need to do battle with, not our shadow.
This ego rears its head (and often roars) whenever we want to talk about our spouse's betrayal and they bark at us to stop "living in the past". The ego shows up to ensure that the shadow self can stay hidden, to allow our spouse to maintain the conviction that he didn't really do anything wrong. If he doesn't have to really acknowledge the consequences, it's far easier to minimize them.
But ego gets in our way too. Whenever we insist that we could "never" cheat ourselves. Whenever we refuse to admit that we just might be capable of inflicting the same pain on someone in certain circumstances. Whenever we're absolutely sure we're right, that's ego. And it stands between us and a deeper, richer relationship – not only with our spouses but with ourselves.
We all have a shadow self. None of us is free of one. The difference is between those who acknowledge it and those who deny it. Those who acknowledge it are able to shine a light on it, examine it, and thereby diminish its power. We see its tricks. We expose it as a charlatan. But it never completely vanishes.
Those who deny their shadow continue to make choices that hurt not only others but themselves. They continue to blame everybody else for the messes. They make the same mistakes and wonder why nothing changes for them. They vacillate between thinking they're better than everybody else and thinking they're worse – false arrogance and self-loathing.
The way out seems simple but requires enormous courage: Look at your own shadow self. Open your mind to the knowledge that we all have the potential to make huge mistakes, to hurt people we love. This isn't about letting people off the hook for the pain they've caused us, it's about letting ourselves off the hook. It's about realizing that we're all messy. It's about loving and accepting ourselves – our full selves – while no longer being tricked by our shadow selves. Or anyone else's.

Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Heal From His Affair: Marshalling Kindness From Yourself

"...when I got to the point where I really thought I had lost my mind, another voice inside me stepped in, grown-up and gentle. This one said, "Well? Who knows. Maybe not..." ~Anne Lamott, Small Victories: Spotting Improbably Moments of Grace

In the days after learning of my husband's affair, I felt I was going mad. The world seemed insane. My life seemed insane. But I, most of all, seemed insane.
I screamed. I sobbed. I was inexplicably calm. I threw a pizza at my husband. I pulled a television set off its perch. I smiled benignly at moms when dropping my children off at school then returned to my car to unleash huge racking sobs when a sad song came on the radio.
Who is this person I've become? I wondered in rare lucid moments. I began to wonder if the saner, former me had been an illusion. If I'd always been this crazy and if that's why my husband cheated. It didn't help, of course, that he called me "crazy".
It also didn't help that I'd spent much of my youth being accused of being crazy. As in, "Of course everything's fine. Don't be crazy." This, despite my nine-year-old self listening in my bed to my parents hurling accusations at each other, the sounds of smashing dishes, slamming doors. It took me well into adulthood to understand that calling me "crazy" was code for "don't tell me what I don't want to hear".
Which brings me to the voices in our head we experience post-betrayal. Those of us blessed with loving, healthy families of origin are often better equipped to recognize those voices as belonging to a crazy person. We might hear, "he wouldn't have cheated if you were a better wife" but are able to see those words as the rantings of a lunatic and respond with "he wouldn't have cheated if HE was a better husband."
Those of us, however, who grew up being told that black is white and up is down might struggle a bit more with crazy. When we hear those voices in our head suggesting that he cheated because we're not skinny enough, or he cheated because we nag, or he cheated because we're lousy in bed, we're far too likely to listen and nod our heads in agreement. Not only do we not recognize crazy, we take it as truth.
Betrayal is undoubtedly a crazy-trigger. Even the most sane of us pre-D-Day can fall victim to the seductive lure of inner dialogue that confirms what our culture encourages: men cheat because their wives get old and frumpy and they fall victim to the irresistible sex appeal of an Other Woman who's a porn star in bed. That narrative can be a hard one to ignore. Even when there's ample evidence that it's a cliché rooted more in romance novels than reality.
When crazy comes calling, however, it's time to marshall your inner sane person as defence. Call out crazy into the light of day.
Remind yourself that you did nothing NOTHING that made his cheating okay. That this is on HIM to recognize and make amends for. That it's on HIM to deserve that second chance he's asking for and it's YOUR choice whether you give it to him or not.
Next time those voices in your head are berating you for not being enough, or battering you for not knowing what was going on, or warning you that you're going to get hurt again, I want you to try and listen for that tiny still voice that's so much harder to hear but sounds a lot more like truth. The voice that says, "Well? I don't know about that. But what I do know is that you're in pain. And that you need support and kindness and compassion. And I'm just the person who can give it to you..."

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