Saturday, February 6, 2016

Want some more joy in your life?

Susan Piver, whose writing I love and whose meditations saved me, is offering a free course (if you aren't available on Monday for the live version, you can still register and get the recording). I highly recommend it for anyone trying to live with the pain of betrayal while holding on to some hope for joy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Surprises of Daily Life

The title of this post is from something B.J. Miller said in an episode of On Being. Miller is a professor of medicine and executive director of the Zen Hospice Project. "Let death be what takes us," he has written, "not a lack of imagination."
Miller lost both legs and most of an arm in a college accident when 11,000 volts of electricity went through his body. Talk about your "surprises of daily life". He laughs at the description of his accident because he owes his new body to something called "The Dinky", a small commuter train that ran on a track into the Princeton campus. He. Laughed. Imagine that.
The episode itself is titled "Reframing our relationship to what we can't control" and listening to his description of the accident and his experience of having to understand himself in the light of this new self, I was struck by something:

Kinda sounds a lot like us, doesn't it?

So many of us, whether our marriage felt solid or not, experience betrayal as a shock. It's a sudden intrusion into our daily life, shaking up everything we thought we knew, shattering our understanding of the past and our expectation for the future. And, for many of us, our sense of who we are in this world is deeply shaken.
What Miller suggests is a reimagining of our lives, something he was forced into because of his physical disabilities. Or, as the title suggests, a reframing of what we can't control. Because if there's anything we learn in the wake of betrayal, it's that our idea of control was a total illusion. Miller's reframing suggests a radical shift in how a lot of us deal with the shock of infidelity and one that doesn't come quickly or easily. He's careful to acknowledge that his healing from the trauma of his accident and his reframing or reimagining of  his life was a long process. And yet he's guilty, as I think I am too, of sometimes glossing over the immense growing pains that go along with it. And growing pains that don't always feel like growth but like absolutely feel like pain.
We all like the idea of reimagining a future in which we're free of the fallout of betrayal – the trust issues, the anxiety, the deep pain that we insist will be ours forever – but the reality is not quite so happily ever after. We don't wake up one day with a new attitude and some rose-coloured glasses. Instead, we work through the pain, we sit with it when it closes in on us, we reach out for support when we're drowning in it and then, if we're open to it, we begin to consider what else might be inherent in this suffering. Are there lessons to be learned? Might there be positive change? How can I reimagine my future in a way that stirs even the tiniest bit of excitement and hope?

I did an interview with another betrayed wife yesterday for a Podcast (stay tuned, I'll be posting a link when it's live) and hope. we both agreed, was crucial in this reimagining of our future post-betrayal. It can sound trite and passive. But the hope I'm referring to is a deep belief that this is not the end of the story. This hope doesn't sit passively while they wait for their partner to change. This hope is willing to roll up its sleeves and do the scary things that need doing – seeking help, speaking with a lawyer, drawing clear and unequivocal boundaries because we know that the only way through this pain is to be gentle with ourselves and ruthless in our insistence upon respect. Without this hard-working hope, the only future we can imagine is another version of hell.

I know hope is in short supply in the days following discovery of a partner's betrayal. And that's okay. Give yourself time to digest this "surprise of daily life". Allow yourself to recognize and acknowledge the deep trauma that accompanies such a betrayal. But know that hope will come if you call for it, if you're open to new possibilities, if you refuse to accept that the pain you feel right now is the end of the story, if you're willing to reframe your relationship with what you can't control and reimagine where you go from here.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Same Sad Old Story

Each morning I hike with a friend. The other day she was telling me about her sister, recently broken up from a long-time boyfriend, who's been spending time with a "friend" of hers. He's an old work colleague with whom she had a fling when they were both single. He's now married. You know where this is going, right?
My friend's sister, let's call her Elvira, is "just" meeting this guy for the occasional drink. They're "just" having dinner together.
The wife "hates" Elvira, allegedly because she knows about the fling they had years ago. Elvira takes a perverse delight in the fact that this wife "hates" her, as if it's a supreme compliment for a woman to feel threatened by her.
The husband has told Elvira that his marriage is "horrible." His wife is an "awful mother."
To which I respond, "of course his marriage is 'horrible'. Of course, his wife is 'awful mother'. How else to justify the fact that he's leaving her at home while he goes out for drinks and dinner with a woman that he knows his wife feels threatened by. And of course, she's a 'horrible' wife. Her husband is having dinner and drinks with someone else while she's at home dealing with kids and laundry and wondering where the hell he is."
And, incidentally, this wife likely feels "threatened" not by Elvira's beauty or youth or sex appeal (Elvira lacks any of this) but by her willingness to throw herself at someone else's husband with no regard for any consequences.
I'm stunned – though, honestly, why should I be? – at just how ridiculously cliché this whole thing is. 
My friend has tried calling Elvira out on her behavior but Elvira won't listen. She's not doing anything "wrong", she insists, except being a "friend" to this poor guy with the "horrible" wife. My friend points out that Elvira's ex was "just" having dinner with his assistant and that Elvira believed that to be a betrayal. That, says Elvira, was "different".
Elvira admits to her sister that she's lonely. She knows she drinks too much and too often.
And, in a stunning but temporary insight, she admits that she really just likes the attention. She's not actually interested in this guy at all.  But, right now, this just "feels good."
So far, this affair – and make no mistake, it is an affair even though it hasn't crossed any line sexually – is still under wraps and the wife has no idea what's going on.
But we all know how this story goes, don't we? No matter what the circumstances of our particular betrayal, we all know the ending.
It's sad.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Warrior Post: Smart Advice for the Newly Betrayed

"Anonymous" posted this awhile back on the Feeling Stuck forum and I asked for her permission to re-post it. Her experience is similar to many others on this site. As we often say, the exact details might be different but the feelings created by the betrayal tend to be universal. I think Anonymous has some really good advice here. She's careful to stress that her husband's affair was absolutely not her fault. That was his choice. But she outlines how she re-evaluated her whole marriage. Affairs do not have to be the death knell for a marriage. If both partners are willing to work hard to rebuild, it's possible. That's not the right path for everyone and we each get to decide how to move forward after betrayal. For some, reconciliation isn't on the table and that's absolutely okay. But no matter how we respond, healing is our ultimate goal:

  1. Hi ladies. I am 22 months out from my D-day. I've been lurking on this site for a long time. The kindness and support here has been amazing and has helped me tremendously even though I haven't shared my story until now. I can feel all the hurt on the site and wanted to share my story that things can and do get better. It's true what the other survivors say, it just takes time and effort on both parties.
    My H's OW was a sales rep for a company that his did business with. A few client dinners, with mutual attraction in the air and you can guess the rest. I found out by seeing a text come through when his phone was on the kitchen counter.
    I went crazy. CRAZY. Called her, she hung up after realizing it wasn't him. I then proceeded to fill up her entire voicemail box with message after message about what I thought of her. I got her email from her phone. I blew that up as well with some nasty messages containing disgusting words I didn't even know that I knew! I raged at him. Tried to kick him out, told him he'd never see our children, etc... Looking back, I'm not proud of my initial reactions, although I do think they were justified.
    I learned it was a physical affair (PA). Been going on for 6+ months at the point I found out. She lived 4 hours away from us, thankfully. I don't know that I could have or could bear the chance of running into her.
    He had no hidden addictions. The reason behind the affair boiled down to his freaking ego. This woman made him feel desired, attractive, manly, a sexual God (YES, I AM ROLLING MY EYES!)... I've had to accept it in my mind that he was craving the feeling of being wanted. Doesn't excuse the PA but it is a human thing to crave that. I did some soul searching and had to reassess what our marriage had come to. I honestly couldn't remember the last nice thing I had said to him. I acted like sex was a complete and total bother and obligation. We were basically roommates; roommates that didn’t even seem to particularly like each other.
    I want to say therapy was key to our recovery. Get yourself into any that you can. We couldn't afford to go long-term, unfortunately, but we really did learn some tools in how to speak to each other with the sessions we had. Not to say we didn’t have blow outs but there was an effort by both of us to be kinder before things escalated into madness. No matter how horrible things were, every night as we got into bed we both reaffirmed to each other that we were committed to moving forward. Although, some nights, it was just lip service! But we said it every single night.
    An affair is inexcusable. But when I came to terms with the cause, it did help us become stronger together. I do not blame myself (thanks to this site!), but I do now see things I did that had him feeling unwanted. This gave me the chance to change and show him how I really felt about him. He fed off the change in me and did a complete 180 himself. Now there are little silly love notes, texts for no reason – all these little things we do to show we care and it truly does make all the difference to us now. The PA isn't and never will be forgotten by me, but I can now say it is forgiven. What a weight to be lifted.
    As far as the OW, I know many of us get obsessed with her. I did too. It truly wasn't until I let her go that I could start to even slowly move forward with him. I realized with almost a bolt of lightning one day in the third month after D-day that I was blaming her MORE THAN HIM. I was letting HIM off the hook because I was so focused on her. How could I blame her more than or even as much as HIM? She was a stranger to me. HE was the one who stood in front of friends, family and God and vowed to be true to me. HE was the one who fathered my children. HE was the one who used to whisper sweet promises to me about how HE'D never hurt me, etc... Maybe some will disagree, but I wanted to share that it helped me in my healing to let her go. I couldn't let her control my mind any longer. I had to take back that power from her. Trust me, I hold her responsible to an extent and I'm not going to be inviting her to my Bunco team or anything!!! But, focusing on what I determined to be the real problem - HIM - was so helpful to me. Carrying hate, hurt and anger towards one person is enough. Carrying it against two was truly drowning me. She never responded to any of my communications (if you classify my screaming incoherently with every other word needing to beeped out as communications!) so we never had any nasty confrontation. She didn't contact us, didn't stalk us, nothing. She went underground. I am thankful to her for that now. I don’t know how I would have reacted if she had and I know some of you have some truly horrendous things to deal with when it comes to the OW in your situations. Oh, but I will say he is no longer “allowed” to do client dinners by himself. His business partner has taken on the bulk of that task, or else both of them must go together if it’s absolutely necessary that my husband must attend. That may change but it’s a compromise that we made for now and it’s been working.  
    The fights still happen, but they are more infrequent. The OW is truly a distant memory in my mind. The good times outweigh the bad. Finally!
    Hang in there ladies. There are going to be fights. There are going to be very ugly things found out about the affair. Horrible things will be said by both of you. It’s true – we didn't deserve any of this that has happened to us. But, unfortunately, it did happen. Try to learn from it, it's all we can do. Big hugs to you all and hopes for a truly happy year coming your way. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter what route you take. Life goes on, make sure you take an active role in living it! We are strong women and we define ourselves. We aren’t defined by what has happened to us. Bless you all and keep up your tremendous support for each other. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Warrior Post: What You Really Need to Know About the Other Woman

"Anonymous" posted her story on another part of this site in response to what she noticed was a lot of talk and concern and obsession with the Other Woman. Her words are poignant and painful but it's clear she's taken a clear-eyed look at her marriage and the role she played in the breakdown of it. As we make very very clear on this site, nobody is to blame for their husband's cheating. That's on him. And not all marriages that experience infidelity are "bad". But some are. And Anonymous took a forensic accounting of her own marriage and what had happened in it and then used that knowledge to understand her husband's affair and how the two of them could rebuild a marriage from the rubble. ~Elle

  1. The OW debate seems to be showing up more and more on here, so I wanted to share a few things from my story.

    In therapy, my H and I had some brutally frank conversations. It took a while to get him to open up but when he did, it all came out. One of the “reasons” behind his A was our crumpling marriage. I couldn’t deny that. We were two people who co-existed in the same house with little connection at all. Days would go by without him having much to say and I just nagged and nagged like usual. It doesn’t excuse his actions but it’s the honest truth of what we were. I learned that my nagging was actually an attempt to get him to pay attention to me. Even bad attention was attention and I was yearning for that. I would constantly yell at him to give me an opinion on something but then I would just override anything he said and make the decision on my own anyways. He felt that I didn’t value him, his opinion or his input on anything so why would he bother to give it any more. One day in therapy, I was raging about the OW, how she seduced him and my husband cracked. He actually said to me “I did this to you! I DID! You think I’m so weak and feeble minded that I’m just nothing, that I could be so blindly tricked into doing this awful thing, that I wasn’t even capable of making this f&@king decision either?!” It really was a breakthrough for me when I realized how little I have made this man feel he was that he was grasping to even be acknowledged for doing something this awful. This was a decision that he made that I couldn’t override him on. I guess the whole bad attention is still attention thing was at play on his part as well.

    The other thing that stuck with me was him laughing about the OW seducing him. He told me how the OW had so many insecurities that she’d probably take it as a compliment if someone thought so much of her to have this hypnotic power over men. And that’s when I stopped giving her that power in my mind. She has nothing on me.

    I do believe many affairs start with two lonely people looking for something that is missing in their life. It’s not right, it’s so wrong and hurtful but I do think it boils down to that in many cases. The majority of happy men do not cheat. The majority of happy women do not cheat.  [ELLE'S NOTE: WHILE I AGREE WITH THIS IN SOME CASES, STATISTICS SHOW THAT THE MAJORITY OF MEN WHO CHEAT CONSIDER THEMSELVES "HAPPY" IN THEIR MARRIAGE. AFFAIRS ARE OFTEN AN ESCAPE FROM OTHER STRESSES, OR A CHANCE TO FEEL YOUNG AND SEXY AGAIN.] As much as it still hurts me, he found something in her even if it was just temporarily. And I blame him for that, just like he asked me to. He was right, he did this to me. I have forgiven him and we are moving towards being better together but I blame solely him. I can’t vilify this OW any more than I vilify him because he was the one who was supposed to cherish me and forsake others. He was the one I had built a life with. He had promised to be my partner in life. To forgive him and understand his flaws did make me think how she probably has her own demons that she’s struggling with. I do still have mean and nasty thoughts towards her but it’s fading every day and sometimes I hope she gets the help she needs so that she can have a second chance at life, too, just like I have given him. (And, then some days, I still wish she loses all her hair overnight, gains 100 pounds, gets horrible adult acne...!!!) 
    As others have posted, there is NO satisfaction in contacting her. There’s even less satisfaction in outing her to others. I say this from experience. You may think you’ll get some satisfaction but there’s none. Just none. It only makes you feel sadder. I exposed some before we started therapy. It only led to even more self-doubt and self-loathing on my part and a lot of gossip around town about how I was the crazy one. People may agree that you were wronged but they are very uncomfortable with a woman ranting and raving and pointing the finger! I heard more than a few “no wonder he cheated” comments which only fuelled my hysteria! One of my lowest moments in life was yelling at her 80-year-old parents about how their daughter was a whore and I hoped they were proud of her. If I could take that one action back, I would in a second. After I was hung up on by them, I just crumpled and wondered what I had come to. I felt I couldn’t hold my head up any higher than she could, I had handed her that power that I could be just as hurtful as her. And the shame I feel that my children know I did these things is another burden I bear. I teach them all the time that two wrongs don’t make a right, always keep your dignity… and it’s hard for me to not be embarrassed of my actions. I understand them, I have forgiven myself, I understand any one in our position lashing out but looking back, I just am not proud.
    For all these reasons, I say let it go with obsession with the OW. I’ve read some stories on here of BS who admitted they were an OW long ago and we still support them because of their pain! And we do that because we are good and compassionate people on here. Take your energy and focus on him. Focus on learning why he did what he did. You have to understand why HE did this in order to move forward. It doesn't matter why she did, it only matters why he participated. Focus on what you have done to hurt him. And then solely focus on you getting stronger as a couple. Don’t let thoughts of her continue to ruin any progress you are making as a couple. It's easier said than done but don’t let her continue to be a part of your marriage, she didn’t belong in it before and she doesn’t belong in it now either.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I need a hero. Idiots need not apply.

"You cannot be a hero without also being a coward." ~George Bernard Shaw

Over on the Feeling Stuck? forum, there's been enthusiastic discussion about men who see themselves as white knights, rescuing what we've dubbed "dumsels" in distress. 
Aelia blew us all away with this:
I feel like so much of this is about the men chasing a self worth high. Not just basic self worth but HERO level self image. They want someone to look at them and treat them like they are THE MAN so they can feel alive and valuable because they haven't learned to feel that way without the outside help.  
And they get this high soo easily from the dumsels. The rescue missions tend to be pretty low hanging fruit and they are richly rewarded with adoration and admiration. But wives expect SOO much more! Being our heroes means climbing to the top of the damn tree for the fruit and maybe even dealing with thorny branches and falls and when you get down we may still treat you like you're just doing what you're supposed to be doing. At least, I know that was the way I used to be. I wasn't about to kiss his feet for the crappy job of husbanding that he was doing.  
But I wonder that continuing to live with them happily requires that we bridge that gap? Yup, he's a double villain now like Phoenix says. But he's still desperate to feel like a HERO! How do you rebuild a man when you feel like kicking him in the balls? How do you do it with your own integrity intact?  
H asked me at one point post-shitfest whether I thought he was a good person and the best I could answer at the time was that I could tell he was trying to be a good person. Is there any way we can find to show them that they CAN earn our respect back? To make it feel possible that he can be our HERO..... someday.... with lots of work... and copious integrity.... and many hours of taking the emotional beatings which he has coming to him.... but when he gets there it will be because we know the real him and not because he play acted a hero for her.  
Because if he can't ever get what he needs from us, then we're wasting our time with him. If he can't feel like that's a possibility then he'll feel like he's wasting his time with us. Can we respect him for the effort he's putting into to becoming a better man for us? Can we be grateful for the loving gestures we receive from him?
Those, my dears, are tough questions. They're the questions that put some of us on the path to rebuilding a marriage and others on the path to the divorce lawyer. 
They're also why some marriages can be so much better after an affair, which still strikes me as crazy but I also know to be true. 
It's also true that plenty of marriages without infidelity are horrible, marked by a lack of courtesy and respect, characterized by two people miserable about their situation and entirely sure their partner is to blame. 
Cheating, of course, raises the misery ten-fold. And in marriages where the betrayed actually thought her partnership was pretty good, it's shocking and destabilizing to learn that her spouse viewed it so differently.
Aelia asked, "Is there any way we can show them that they CAN earn our respect back?" My answer? I don't know. When we're in the midst of our own agony, it can be hard to brush our teeth let alone help rebuild the esteem of the man responsible for our pain. What's more, trying to save people from themselves is a thankless and fruitless job. Change comes when we're fed up with ourselves and determined to do better. If he sees no hope for change in himself, then cheerleading on our part won't make one bit of difference. His transformation is an inside job. And with someone who's been outsourcing their sense of worth to an affair partner, we're asking for a wholesale change in his life view. 
In my husband's case, it was the day that he told me he was going to do better for himself whether or not I was staying or leaving that I really felt hopeful. He wasn't play-acting his change of heart, it was real. Whether or not I liked who he was, HE wanted to like who he was. And though, at that moment, he loathed himself, he was able to imagine a day when he felt differently. He's was willing to do the work necessarily to find his way to that day. And that's the difference between someone susceptible to flattery and ego-stroking and the escape of an affair and someone whose eyes are wide open and whose sleeves are rolled up. It's the moment, to use George Barnard Shaw's point, when the coward realizes he has it within himself to be a true hero. 
It's a pivotal moment. 
It's the same for us when we realize that we, too, can be the heroes of our own lives, no matter whether our spouses beg us for forgiveness or serve us with divorce papers. The moment when we realize that we're at our lowest...but that we don't have to stay there. The moment when we look inside ourselves for our value instead of outsourcing it. When we truly and absolutely get that his affair wasn't about us. That our value is not dependent and has never been dependent on someone else seeing it.
Can we rebuild a man who feels vilified wherever he looks? To us, he's a villain. To his affair partner, if he breaks it off, he's a villain. To our culture at large, he's a villain (though our culture saves enough blame for the betrayed spouse too, who surely deserved this in some way). 
I don't think it's up to us to rebuild him, nor can we. Personal transformation is an inside job. It's a hero's job.
I think what we can do is stand firm in our own integrity and live by example. I think we can insist upon a relationship that allows each partner to feel respected and valued. I think we can do our part to treat our spouse with dignity and kindness, to be honest but kind when asked those tough questions about whether we love them or respect them. 
I watched my husband earn back my trust. In fact, I have more respect for him now than ever because I've seen him work so hard to slay his own demons. I've watched him go into incredibly uncomfortable territory when the easier thing would have been to refuse. To blame me. To blame his parents. 
We can't save them but we can certainly applaud them for being willing to save themselves. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Yes does he treat you?

I recently read something in an old Oprah magazine (the holidays are a great time to finally FINALLY clean up my office) in which columnist Lisa Kogan pointed out that many men love women but treat them horribly. Forget their men's words, she suggested to the women, and look to their actions. Or, as others have put it, love is a verb.
In my twenties I loved a guy who was, to put it charitably, confused. He loved me, he said. I was an "addiction", he said. He wrote me poetry. He sent me long, loving letters when I was at school overseas. Especially when he had been drinking, he regaled me with words of devotion and love.
I loved him madly. Despite his infidelities. Despite his consistent backing away from me when our relationship seemed heading toward more intimacy. Despite the ex-girlfriends he kept hanging around like groupies.
After seven ridiculously long years of this, we finally and eternally broke up, which surprised nobody but me.
As my friends no doubt put it with me out of earshot, "Thank the bloody hell THAT is over because I can't listen to another minute of their star-crossed bullshit."
I know I would have said that if I'd had to endure a friend's seven-year "but we love each other" saga.
My friends and I laugh about it now. At the time, however, I swear I could feel my heart break. Actually break.
In hindsight, we were ridiculous. We paid lip service to loving each other while we behaved in ways that completely undermined our relationship. He cheated on me. As soon as we broke up (which we did routinely, every few months or so), I would date somebody else. We moved in together and fought about things like who was supposed to buy orange juice. We moved out because maybe our relationship just needed "space". We weren't married. We were young. Frankly, we were doing exactly what we should have been doing at that stage in our lives. But our actions made it abundantly clear that our priorities were ourselves, not each other. We should have walked away from the relationship years before we did. But we stupidly convinced ourselves that our "love" was enough.
It's not.
Love is a feeling that ebbs and flows. One day, our face is buried in our beloved's t-shirt because he's on a business trip and we can't stand not having him beside us. The next, we're gritting our teeth and mentally filing divorce papers because he got up from the dinner table, turned on the TV and left us with the mess. We might "love" our spouse and he us but what do our actions say?
Before D-Day, I was so filled with resentment at my husband's long absences and emotional detachment that I would literally stiffen when he tried to hug me. I didn't talk to him because it fell on deaf ears and made me feel worse.
He claimed to love me but had spent our entire relationship cheating. He had convinced himself that nobody was getting hurt. He had deluded himself into believing that his sexual desires were different than mine and that he was doing me some kind of favor by not subjecting me to them. He was so far down that rabbit hole that he compulsively turned to online chat rooms when he was feeling lonely or neglected or like a failure, which was often. And yet...he loved me.
Lots of good that did us.
It was only when we had a choice to make – either rebuild our marriage or walk away from it – that we really began to understand that loving someone isn't enough. We needed to behave in a loving way. We needed to make choices in our lives that put each other's needs and wants on the same level as ours. That doesn't mean we were each responsible for meeting each other's needs and wants, simply that we needed to make room for them in the relationship. We needed to love each other enough to do things that made us really uncomfortable – like listen to each other's feelings without judgement. We needed to honor each other. We needed to love each other with our actions, not just our words.
What a world of difference.
We all have that choice, every single day but especially when we're dealing with a partner's betrayal. Are we going to stay and rebuild our marriage or are we going to walk away?
To figure that out, we need to get clear on what our spouse's actions are telling us. The betrayal is part of that, of course. But, as crazy as it sounds, putting that aside, what is he doing about it? Is he accepting full responsibility for the pain he's caused us? If he loves us, then he will accept No Contact and stick to it. If he loves us, then he will accept our offer of a second chance as the incredible gift it is and he will cherish it and determine to spend his life deserving it. If he loves us, then he will include us in every part of his life. We will know where he is, who he's with and when  he'll return. His word will be worth something.
Most people who cheat have unhealthy ideas around love and relationships. They'll moan about "loving both of you." They'll whine about being "confused."
It's up to you, of course, whether you give them time to seek treatment and begin to understand why they betrayed the person they claim and vowed to "love". We each bring our own baggage into any relationship and it can take time to unpack it all. But ultimately we're looking for someone who treats us as valuable. Who sees our worth.
Healing from betrayal gives us all the chance to revisit how we love other. Betrayal doesn't have to be the end, it can be a beginning. But only if each partner is willing to stop paying lip service to love and start living it.


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