Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Resurrecting Ourselves: Telling Our Story

Forgive the Easter allusion, though rebuilding ourselves after betrayal can sometimes feel as insurmountable and potentially miraculous as a resurrection. It can seem too incredible that we'll actually heal from this...and go on to a better life. Yet it can happen. Not without plumbing the depths of our souls...but it can happen.
Part of it, I believe, comes from telling our story. As any trauma specialist with tell you, most people who've experienced trauma feel the need to go over the details again and again and again. It seems counterintuitive. That reliving it would cause more pain. Yet in fact, it's the opposite. By telling our story, it loses its power over us. It becomes part of our history, simply another part, like the story of our first day of school, or getting our driver's licence. Well, maybe not exactly like that. Of course, the story of our betrayal tends to be a bit...ummm...emotionally loaded.
I was reminded of the healing power of telling our story recently. My husband, who has his own therapist to work on finding better ways of dealing with negative feelings than having sex with people who aren't his wife, was discussing this blog with said therapist. He told me she suggested that it might be unhealthy for me to continually be talking about the betrayal, thinking about it, writing about it, yada yada yada. I was stunned. How, I wondered, could he not see the change in me since I started this blog?
Sure, I still have dark days...but they're fewer and further between. I've gone off anti-depressants. I'm feeling stronger, more focussed, just...better.
I credit much of this to being able to tell my story. I felt fraudulent before. Like I was pretending to be someone I wasn't: A happily married wife to a man who would never cheat. This blog offered up a place to be the me who had survived betrayal. Who could speak (write?) candidly. Share stories. Commiserate with others. Have a giggle or two about stupid lines cheating men offer their beleaguered wives. To allow other betrayed wives the chance to blog about their own experiences. It felt wonderful. Liberating. Healing. Dare I say, I felt resurrected.
It's a familiar refrain from men who've cheated who, frankly, don't want to be reminded of what they did and would love nothing more than to sweep the whole affair (pun intended) under the rug. You're dwelling on it, they say. You need to move on, they urge. It's not good for us; we need to focus on the future.
Well, the past has a way of biting us in the ass if we don't process it firmly enough. So tell your story. Share with anyone you can trust. Tell it over and over and over until it loses its power over you and you can add the ending. And then she lived happily ever after. Or more accurately, she lived wisely ever after.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How Much More Can ANY of Us Take? The Infidelity Epidemic...

Bonnie Fuller, who has carved a career out of dumbing down magazines and saturating the newsstands with gossip, is calling on Sandra Bullock to "stop hiding" and "get sweet revenge." While I appreciate the sentiment ("you go, girl! We've got your back now!"), I object to the relentless "advice" publicly betrayed wives must endure. The recent People mag, featuring a beleaguered but determined looking Elizabeth Edwards, and with a cover line that reads "How much more can she take?" strikes me as far more supportive than calls to "get even" or "show him what he's missing," however well-intentioned these comments are.
Unless you've experienced betrayal, getting dolled up and smiling for the cameras can seem like an awesome idea. Flirt with some good-looking guy. Get photographed getting cosy and looking hot... Great plan. Except...it's not.
Putting on lipstick can seem like a Herculean task in the days following betrayal. Those who've been there know how bewildering the world seems. "You want me to get out of bed? And eat breakfast? And who are these kids and why are they calling me 'mom'?" You live in a world of sand and fog where nothing seems solid or safe, nor ever will be again. You hesitate before answering the phone. Or opening an e-mail, for fear of another disclosure.
So, please, give the girl a break. Give them all a break. And ourselves a break, while we're at it. Let Sandra and all the members of the Betrayed Wives' Club do whatever necessary to just get through the day. We'll get our groove back in our own sweet time.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Dead Zone: A Nice Place to Visit...But You Don't Want to Live There

After awhile, the sharp pain of betrayal gives way to a sort of heaviness. You sigh a lot. You feel cynical. Life seems...grey. Some call it the Plain of Lethal Flatness. Others call it emotionally numb. I sometimes called myself "dead".
On the one hand, you feel grateful for the reprieve from the wild highs and devastating lows. But on the other, you wonder if this is where you'll live out your days. This sort of empty wilderness, devoid of pain...but devoid of beauty and life, too.
There is a danger in that. Get too comfortable in this dead zone and you just might never leave. Having experienced the agony of betrayal, it can be tempting to feel nothing.
But don't give in. Yes there's risk in the real world. In loving someone else. In trusting them, especially when that trust has been betrayed so completely. Whether you're choosing to stay with the person who betrayed you or you're free to find someone else, your heart can feel under wraps, like something fragile wrapped in gauze to ensure its safety.
Accept that this zone is your chance to catch your breath. To emotionally ready yourself for the next stage, which is to move into your new reality with your heart battered but whole.
If you've done the hard work of healing yourself, you're undoubtedly wiser. If you've done the self-care required, you know how to protect yourself better than before. It's no guarantee that you won't be hurt again, but it's insurance that if you are, you have what you need to move yourself quickly to a place of power.
Just don't settle in and decide to stay. Accept the break. Look around because you just might cycle back around again so if it looks familiar...it is. But the day will come when you're ready to life live in full-color again.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair...

My nine-year-old son and I are currently reading the book Everything for A Dog by Ann M. Martin (of Babysitter's Club fame). We're big fans of animal stories and Martin tells a good one. I'm pissed, though, because one of the characters, after losing his older brother in an accident, loses his dog when a hunter accidentally shoots it. Stop, I want to scream (though that would freak out my son). This is fiction. You can control the level of pain any one character has to face. Losing a brother and watching his parents crumble is enough. Don't make the damn dog die, too. That's just not fair
My notion of fairness is something that has kept me pretty comfy for most of my life. Because my childhood sucked (alcoholic mother and father, suicide attempts by mother, mother's long-term stay in psych ward and all the various daily humiliations that life with alcoholic parents entails), I had decided that I'd paid my dues. Every now and again, I'd get uncomfortable at the reality that others had lost their entire families in the Holocaust, for example, or been raped and and murdered. But I tried not to think of the fact that those people's lives sucked more than mine and that, therefore, there might be more suckage to come in my own life. And instead, assured myself that my pain allotment had been used up and I could now look forward to a life of bliss and joy. Factor in my years of therapy, which I was sure all but guaranteed success: a great marriage to a guy who was NOT an alcoholic, three wonderful kids with a mom (me!!) who would NOT become an alcoholic and screw up their own childhoods. I had broken the cycle! Yeah for me.
And then...
Then I found out that my NON-alcoholic husband had another little addiction he was hiding. One that I'd never even considered, indeed didn't know existed. Sex. And he'd been hiding it my entire, otherwise perfect married life.
But that's not fair, I screamed. I've had my pain. I've endured having other people screw up my life. I was doing everything right, I thought. I had earned my happiness.
And while I was crumbling as quickly as my marriage built of cards, my career, at which I'd enjoyed considerable (and relatively easy) success, was also falling apart. As a writer, I need to actually show up to the page. I can't fake it. Either I've written something compelling by the end of the day...or I haven't. It's hard to write when you can't see the page through your tears.
And while I was working hard to remain upright for the better part of the day, the publishing underwent a seismic shift when the economy crashed. Magazines I worked for folded. TV production companies, which were wooing me for work, stopped buying new shows.
I loathe a pity party. I've spent my life desperately viewing the glass as half full (at least I have all my limbs! at least my father isn't George Bush! at least I'm not homeless!), even if I've had to really squint to see it that way. But every now and then, like today when I just got more bad news regarding a book project, I want to curl up in a ball and whisper, Enough.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Friends of the Marriage, Friends of the Affair

Once an affair is blown open, it's almost impossible not to draw a line, divvying up friends who are collateral damage of the affair...and those who can be brought forward into the new reality.
Friends who knew of the affair but did nothing to discourage it can seem threatening, justifiably so, to the partner who feels betrayed not only by his/her spouse, but by a friend who seemed to offer implicit approval. Friends who did, in fact, assist in the deception, by offering alibis are clearly not "friends of the marriage". And I've heard plenty of tales of "friends" who seem to gain some sort of vicarious thrill by actually encouraging the affair.
While my own experience has none of the drama of that, I had to cool things with one my closest friends, whose own marriage was destroyed by her husband's affair, because she didn't seem able to handle my own emotional upset. Conversations in which I brought up various issues (cutting the Other Woman from our life, for example) were cut short with a "well, I couldn't stay with him" and seeking advice only got me more of the same. There was one way to handle an affair in her estimation: Dump the loser and move forward.
Other friendships haven't weathered my new reality either. Some friends seem unable to let go of it themselves, bringing the topic up though it doesn't seem warranted.
Though I've never experienced serious disease or the death of a child (and pray to God I never do!), I suspect it raises similar issues: There are those who can be there for you in ways that propel you forward...and those who, for whatever reason, simply can't.
Nonetheless, it can seem like simply another loss during a time marked by losses. Of your dreams. Your convictions. Your family.
Unfortunately, many people simply can't cope with BIG pain. Or can't cope with you dealing with it in a way that isn't consistent with how they think you should deal with it.
Your challenge is, of course, to take care of yourself. Surround yourself only with those who can offer strength and support, whether you've chosen to confide in them or not. Good friends will leave you feeling buoyed...which will help you cope.
That said, sometimes friends offer us advice that we don't want or aren't ready to hear. Ensure that you're not shooting the messenger, even if you're shooting down the message.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Advice for the Betrayed Wife: Take Your Time...

I didn't receive a whole lot of advice regarding my husband's infidelity, mostly because very few people around me knew I was dealing with it. I did confide in my friend Ally in large part because she worked at the same office as my husband and his OW and had asked me, point-blank, if anything was going on. I've never been a good liar and so I sang like a heartbroken canary.
Though she was wonderful support and a true, "I'm-in-your-corner" friend, she never really offered advice, trusting that I was getting through as best I could. And I did well to put on a brave face. Behind that facade, however, I was crumbling. And one of my biggest challenges was thinking that I should be doing something. As in filing for divorce. Or at least meeting a lawyer. Or packing my bags. Or...or...something.
Instead, I was mostly roaming my own house at all hours, like a ghost of marriage past, occasionally pausing to sob into my dog's neck. For someone like me, who'd always prided herself on getting things done, I seemed unforgivably pathetic.
And yet...those months of apparent nothingness were actually quite important. While I may not have been actively doing anything, I was emotionally processing the shock and subsequent fallout of the betrayal. And in that time, I got clear about a lot of things. That, though I was angry and more hurt than I'd ever felt, I wanted my marriage. That though I'd always said infidelity was a "deal-breaker", I wasn't ready to break the deal.
A year or so later, I came across the advice I would have loved then on Surviving Infidelity. Don't make any major decisions for six months to a year is perhaps not a cardinal rule...but one worth observing. And one that would have made those decision-less months seem less like a character flaw ("I'm weak", "I'm a doormat") on my part and more like careful consideration. Which, of course, is what it was.
So that's my advice to you, if you're still sifting through the wreckage wrought by betrayal. Give yourself time to excavate. To figure out what's worth salvaging...and what's just too wrecked to bother.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sandra Bullock Betrayed: Another Heart Broken...Publicly

I've never been much of a celeb-watcher, except for a regrettable period during my third child's infancy. She nursed nightly from 7 - 8 p.m. and I developed the habit of watching Entertainment Tonight. When I realized that I actually cared about J Lo and Ben Affleck's on-again/off-again relationship as if I actually knew them, I realized it was time to...get a life.
That said, since my own D-Day, I tend to hang on celeb's infidelity woes as if they're happening to a close friend. Perhaps it's because so few people in my real life know the truth about my marriage so we don't talk about infidelity. Perhaps it's because misery loves company. Most likely it's because, having become acquainted with the pain of betrayal all too well, it's hard to watch another go through it without wanting to reach out a hand to help them along.
The latest casualty is one of the most surprising, given her beautiful Oscar speech and equally heartfelt Barbara Walter's interview. Sandra Bullock has reportedly moved out of her home with Jesse James, following allegations of his infidelity. He's pleading "privacy for my family" but will admit that there's no-one to blame for the hurt his family his going through except himself.
Betrayal is painful, whether suffered privately or publicly. And James is right. There is no else to blame.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Finding the Courage to Reconcile

Optimism is the foundation of courage. ~Nicholas Murray Butler

I'm an unapologetic optimist. In spite of overwhelming evidence that it's going to rain, I leave the umbrella at home and pack sunglasses. I tend to operate as if what I want to happen...has already happened. And then, of course, I'm surprised when it doesn't.
Which doesn't exactly set me up as the best person to offer advice to women whose husbands have betrayed them. Clearly, I'm either an optimist...or a moron, depending on your point of view.
Frankly, I like Butler's point of view. Butler was no fool, even winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and his notion that optimism often spurs us on when we're scared is a valuable one, I think, to those of us whose future looks frightening.
Once betrayed, we're also susceptible to degrees of post-trauma, navigating a world in which suddenly everything seems topsy-turvy and terrifying. Accepting a wayward husband's attempts at apology and promises of future fidelity can seem like the height of foolishness. "Once a cheater, always a cheater," being a popular saying.
But is it true?
Not necessarily. While stats on repeat offenders seem hard to come by, anecdotally I know of quite a few husbands who kept their promises of fidelity after betrayal. The pain, the resultant fragility of their marriage, the reality of an affair is enough to keep them from ever making that mistake again.
Of course, none of us can really know what the future will deliver. Whether our wayward spouses will keep their new promises...or betray us yet again.
Still, I've cast my vote for optimism. And courage. Life may not always serve up sunshine. But when it does...I'll have my shades.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Not-So-Funny Friday: Tiger's Mistresses Vie for "Prettiest"

The thing is, the "other woman" needs some good pr. Someone to make them seem...well...less morally challenged. Less he-loves-me-more-and-I'm-prettier-than-you and more I-didn't-know-he-was-married-and-I-was-lied-to-also.
Sadly, they're not getting it from Tiger's other women, who are cheerfully emptying their souls (souls? They have souls?), smiling pretty for whatever reality show promises to extend their 15-minute shelf life and avoiding putting in an honest day's work. On their feet. In short, they're taking the "other woman" to new depths of shallowness.
Consider this latest: Howard Stern hosted a beauty pageant (beauty being defined by breast implants and hair extensions...which, I guess, pretty much sums up society's view of beauty, not just Stern's) featuring a few of Tiger's more celeb-seeking mistresses. The winner (and I use that term loosely – pun intended) got a nice chunk of cash and the honor of being considered the prettiest of the pancake waitresses. Check it out here...or, better still, don't.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Bounce-Back Book

I came across this breezy little slide show on Oprah.com, offering up pithy wisdom on how to bounce back from pain. While I'm not convinced that sleeping while facing North would have made much difference to my D-Day recovery (I was having enough trouble sleeping at all!!), most of the tips can create a deeper change than you'd expect.
The thing is, when we're drowning in pain, someone suggesting we take a vacation, or "turn over a new belief" or "think like a lion" strikes us as a crack-smoking simpleton.
Yet it's these small choices we make, barely perceptible to those around us, that move us from our quick-sand existence onto solid ground.
Check it out! You might be surprised.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

You Don't Have to Hide Anything if You Have Nothing to Hide

There was recently a comment on a BWC blog post on emotional infidelity.
The writer describes an all-too-common scenario, wherein a wife questions a husband's relationship with another woman. The husband, almost always, accuses the wife of being jealous. Or insecure. Or crazy. Or all the above. Some wives start to wonder that themselves. What the husband has successfully done is change the subject. Suddenly you're no longer discussing his relationship, you're defending yourself. Well played, gentlemen,...but entirely dishonest.
If there's anything that one spouse is doing that is being kept secret from the other (I'm not talking 40th surprise birthday parties here!), motives need to be questioned.
My friend Jane's husband is still in touch with an ex-fiancée, and he will swear on his mother's grave that there's nothing inappropriate going on. When then, asks Jane, can't she participate in the friendship?
Jane herself offers up this advice: If your husband insists that all e-mail correspondence is utterly casual and friendly, then ask to be copied on it. If his phone conversations are innocent, then you should be privy to them. And so on.
You don't have to hide anything if there's nothing to hide.

Wounded Love? Is It Possible to Love Someone and Still Betray Her?

How many of us have agonized over that question...
My mother told me,  shortly after D-Day, that she believed my husband loved me "the best way he knew how." Unfortunately for all of us, his best wasn't particularly good. But, she added, pointing to the new improved him, "now that he knows better, he can love you better."
At first I scoffed. Honestly, I thought, how hard is it to NOT have sex with someone else when you're in love with your wife? And for me, the answer is, not very hard at all.
Still sinking under the weight of betrayal, I couldn't really see my husband...or acknowledge that I never really had. He wasn't the person I thought he was. That much was clear. But could I love the person he was? Did I want to even try?

It's small comfort that your husband may well have loved you...the best he could.
But for those men who were never loved particularly well in their own lives, the whole notion of love and marriage can get a little sticky. (I'm not talking about your standard-issue asshole here who simply doesn't care who he hurts...but rather those who genuinely seem as baffled by their behaviour as the rest of us).

In my case, I agreed to stick around long enough to get my bearings. To not make any decisions for 6 months or so. To sit back and really get to know this man – and decide if he was a man worth knowing.
If he hadn't worked so hard on exorcising his own demons, on really getting to the root of his beliefs around love and marriage and self-respect, I would have continued to doubt his love.

But my mother's words continued to play in the back of my mind. And encouraged me to examine my own thoughts and beliefs around love and marriage and self-respect. I came to understand that my husband did love me...the best he could. And I hadn't loved him perfectly or purely either, despite my self-righteous conviction that I always had.

So now, even amidst the detritus of a marriage made messy by betrayal, we are both able to love each other...better.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Who Do You Tell When Your Husband Cheats?

Joannie Rochette emerged from the recent Olympic games as a consummate "grace-in-the-face-of-devastation" performer. The young skater arrived in Vancouver for the games, followed by her mother a week or so later. Her mother died shortly after arrival at the age of only 55, leaving Rochette to deal with the incredible pressure of world-class performing and the completely unexpected death of her mother.
One comment made by Rochette struck me. She noted how she stayed away from the crowds and didn't look at their faces because she didn't want their "sad eyes."
I know exactly how she feels.
When you're barely holding it together, when you're living your life moment by moment, unsure how you're going to function, those "sad eyes" can make you crumble.
For exactly that reason, after D-Day, I chose not to tell most people in my immediate circle. Hours after the news, I arrived at my children's school to pick them up. A friend looked at my quizzically and asked if I was okay. I said I was. "A little tired...," I admitted. And that was it.
The temptation to tell was huge. I wanted the world to witness my pain, to hold me when I cried, to tell me my husband was a cheating bastard...
Or did I?
The truth is I didn't want to hear other people's opinions of my husband, my marriage or me. I didn't want their advice. I didn't even want to hear their own stories of pain. Not at that point.
And I knew the time would come when I wouldn't want their sad eyes following me around. When I would have moved forward and wouldn't want their eyes constantly reminding me where I'd been.
For me, it was the right choice. A few close friends know, though most of them live far away from me so I only see them occasionally. None of my "daily" friends know...and I'm glad. I get to be "normal" with them. And though I went through a stage where I felt like I had a mask on, I got through it and am glad I kept it on.
Getting over betrayal is a step-by-step process. What is a good choice one day mightn't be the next. We can change our minds. We can adjust our thinking.
What about you? Who did you tell?


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