Thursday, April 29, 2010

Extreme Measures: How Far Did You Go To Heal?

The days and weeks (and months!) following discovery or disclosure of a spouse's affair (D-Day) are fraught with drama. While much of it is warranted, it's worth considering that some...might be over-reacting.
Stay with me here.
I'm not suggesting that you're not entitled to the blind rage my friend Dana felt when her husband finally confessed to a workplace affair with his boss, something he'd been denying for more than two years. Or that you're not entitled to the incredible pain associated with learning that the one person who you thought had your back...was flat on his back with another woman.
What I'm referring to are the extreme measures that some of us go to...or at least an attempt to stop the pain. Sometimes it can be exactly what's needed. For example, I know of one BWC member who burned her mattress after learning her husband had brought his OW to their bed. Extreme. But, she reports, cathartic.
I wanted to sell our house when I learned that "encounters" had taken place here. In our laundry room! (The least she could have done was throw in a load or two for me while she was screwing my husband...). I couldn't imagine the day when I could separate my whites and colors, without wanting to separate my husband's head from his body. I gave up the idea when I realized that it would likely be me packing up our lives and getting ready for Open Houses. It was all I could do to get dressed and brush my teeth; moving was just too extreme, even for me.
I know of Betrayed Wives who burned items they learned were given to their spouses by the OW. (Come to think of it, fire seems to be something of an obsession with betrayed wives.) Or demanded their spouses quit jobs if it was a workplace affair.
And, of course, the most extreme Betrayed Wife move of them all: Lorena Bobbit dismembering her husbands...ummm...member.
What's the most extreme move you made when faced with betrayal? Did it lead to healing? Or harm? Would you do it again? Or do you regret it? Share your thoughts...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Diary of a Mad – I Mean Really, Really Mad – Wife

I've often thought of excerpting clips from my journal on this site. I'm a firm believer that misery loves company and if there's anything revealed in my journal entries it's misery.
The thing is, I can't bring myself to go back and read them. It feels like trying to go back to sleep after a nightmare. I just don't want to close my eyes and face those frightening images again.
Or face those pages on which my pain is written so clearly.
I've suggested often on this blog that readers keep a journal. And it's advice I stand by.
I've always kept a journal. In fact, I recently pulled out my journal from grade 8, in order to read a passage or two to a grade eight class I was visiting to talk about writing. It had the usual adolescent angst – a vow to "stop letting Allison bug me", the thrilling news that a boy I liked – gasp! – looked at me and his look "lingered" least in my imagination, if not reality.
But as I read further, I found a note I had tucked into the book. A note that my mother had written in the midst of psychotic episode. Her alcoholism, combined with a prescription drug addiction led to some pretty wacko times in our family. She spent a number of years in and out of psychiatric hospitals, being misdiagnosed until some exasperated psychiatrist finally told her to get the hell out and go to an AA meeting. She did. And remained sober – and sane – for 25 years until she died in 2007.
That was then. But for me, when I opened that book from 1978 and found that bizarre note, it felt like now. Right this second. I could remember so clearly the anger. The sense of loss. The confusion. Feelings I had so successfully buried.
And feelings that I've quite successfully buried, I fear, again.
The reason I think they're buried rather than "processed" is that I can't bring myself to open my journals from three years ago. I don't want to feel those feelings again. I'm fine. I can function. I can smile and do my job and parent my children and, for the most part, forget that my husband betrayed me in the worst possible way.
Which tells's time to get excavating.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What We Know Vs. What We Think We Know

A friend of mine recently left an abusive relationship. She can name it "abusive" now. Now that she can look back and really be honest about what was happening.
At the time, she was telling herself something completely different. That he was jealous because he loved her so much. That he demanded so much of her attention – even away from the children – because she was so incredible he just couldn't get enough. And blah blah blah.
It took her not only leaving him...something she insists she didn't plan so much as simply do...but spending the next six months poring over the relationship to figure out just where it went off the rails. She surprised herself the day she finally walked out the door. Now, a half year later, the only surprise for her is that she didn't leave a whole lot sooner.
It's incredible how large the gap can be between what we truly know and the story we tell ourselves.
It's a gap that might be created when we notice something that strikes us as odd, yet when we mention it to our family, we're told that it's not odd at all. Or we confide something that shames us...and are told we're liars. Or to just keep quiet.
For me, the gap was created when my parents – raging alcoholics when I was a child – would argue into the wee hours. The next day when I would mention it, they would respond blankly. Argue? No, we weren't arguing. I was told I had an "imagination". I was a "storyteller". And they would laugh.
I learned to not trust what I knew. And instead trust I thought I knew. Or what I was told I knew.
It happened again, of course, when I suspected my husband of having an affair. I mentioned it to a friend. "He'd never do that," she assured me.
I mentioned it to my husband, who scoffed at the notion.
Of course, I was crazy. He wouldn't do that. And not with her.
Except that he was. He did.
These days, I refuse to silence my inner wisdom. Instead, I try to shut out that voice that makes excuses. That looks on the bright side. That offers up rationale.
That voice of wisdom doesn't always tell me what I want to hear. Quite the contrary, it often opens my eyes to things I'd rather not see. Like where I'm letting myself down. Where I'm sacrificing myself for the sake of peace.
But it also promises me that I can trust it. And I know, I absolutely know that to be true.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rebuilding Your Life After Betrayal: Slow and Steady

"Good things happen slowly," is a line I read recently in a wonderful book. "And bad things happen fast."
The author, Abigail Thomas, writes about dealing with her husband's brain injury from being hit by a car.
And though we betrayed wives may lack the physical scars of a car crash, few among us would argue that betrayal feels exactly like being hit by a car. Again. And again. And again.
Yet her words resonate. Bad things do seem to happen fast. Years of what seems like a solid marriage can suddenly unravel like an cartoon sweater. A life that seemed trustworthy suddenly feels like it's built on sand. In a blink, what longer is.
But the first part of Thomas' sentence is also true. Good things do happen slowly, which can sometimes feel frustrating...but can also indicate that they're based on careful thought and intention, rather than fate or circumstance. And what we build on thought and intention remains ours, even after it's gone.
Like trust. And love.
A wise soul once wrote that with waiting comes wisdom, healing comes with time. And anything good we've ever had is ours to keep forever.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Betrayed Wife: Not the Whole of Who We Are

A strange thing can happen in the weeks and months following the discovery of a spouse's betrayal. And I'm not referring to the magical weight loss (oh, if I could bottle that, I'd be rich, rich, rich) or the fact that you can barely get out of bed in the morning, yet dread the idea of going back to bed at night.
Nope, I'm talking about the stage when pain becomes as comfy as an old sweater, so we keep putting it on, even when the weather has warmed and perhaps the sun is filtering through the clouds. 
It's not uncommon. Though we would swear we're desperate for the day when happiness returns, as if we expect it to arrive via post with a big bow around it, we often unconsciously keep the doors locked against it. We become so preoccupied with our worries, our doubts, our conflicts – indeed they seem to give our lives meaning. We define ourselves by them – and any glimpse of joy can seem startling and discomforting.
It's a struggle I've had to consider carefully. Creating a site devoted to betrayed wives meant that I was identifying myself by that single aspect of my life. And though it has unquestionably altered my life in ways I'm still grasping, it isn't the whole of who I am.
It can feel that way in the short term. But staying there doesn't serve any of us well.
Ask yourself if your pain has become something of a security blanket. If you balk at the question or feel uncomfortable, it can indicate that maybe, just maybe, it's time to open yourself up to the possibility that life can offer up joy, too.
It'll come slowly, tippy toeing into your life. Perhaps in the form of a lovely spring day when, for a few minutes (seconds?) you aren't obsessing. Perhaps in the form of a good book or a beautiful garden.
Whatever form joy takes, let it in. It doesn't mean your pain isn't valid. Or that you're letting yourself down.
On the contrary, you're giving yourself permission to be all of who you are.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

If You Knew Then What You Know Now

I like to think I'm wiser. I'm certainly older. And a bit more battered. But though I may have more wrinkles, less energy and a diminished capacity for alcohol, cheesecake and marathons (not necessarily in that order), you couldn't pay me to go back and live my life over.
Thing is, I like where I am right now. Despite the pain I've gone through, thanks to my husband's betrayal, I feel more solidly "me" than ever before. Perhaps it's not "in spite of" but because of the pain I've gone through.
That said, I wonder sometimes what advice I would give to my younger self. Is there a way to achieve wisdom and compassion for self and others without going through a painful journey?
Would I tell myself to go left when my not-yet-husband is approach from the right? Would I warn myself against taking chances in order to play it safe? What, exactly, have I learned that I could offer up the former me?
It's a tough question to answer...and frankly, I'm not sure answering is as important as considering the question.
What about you, BWC readers? What hard-won lessons would you offer up to your younger you? Or do you believe that the only lessons that last are those we bear the scars of earning?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Funny Friday: It's Official. Only Idiots Cheat!

Thanks Telegraph for finally printing what we betrayed wives have known all along. Our husbands cheated because they're stupid
Turns out men who are more fully evolved are less likely to cheat, says a group of researchers from the London School of Economics. "Only intelligent men are able to shed the psychological baggage of their species and adopt new modes of behaviour," says the study, pointing out that multiple partners no longer has the evolutionary advantage it once did. 
The study revealed that the same doesn't hold true for women, whose IQ has no bearing on their inclination to cheat.
But, women can now protect against heartbreak by marrying smart. 
Though my husband's three university degrees might indicate a higher intelligence, this study reveals it's all been a ruse. He's a moron. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pain Shopping: How to Stop Seeking Out More Hurt

I've written on this blog before about The Dead Zone, or what some call the "plain of lethal flatness", that stage of numbness where you don't really feel much of anything.
It can be a nice place to stay for awhile, to catch your breath after the wild ride of D-Day. But feeling nothing is no way to live.
But nor is feeling nothing but pain. And that stage also carries with it the danger of sucking you in and keeping you there.
It seems counter-intuitive. Who would deliberately seek out pain? Well...someone who has been so traumatized by the betrayal that they simply can't stop obsessing over it for fear that it will blindside them again.
I confess I did a bit of pain shopping myself in the weeks following D-Day. My husband would no sooner be out the door than I'd be rooting through his drawers, his suit pockets, his files -- looking for something, anything, to confirm what I already knew.
And that's the rub. I already knew. What difference did it make if I found yet another restaurant bill? Or another phone bill detailing the length of the zillion phone calls?
So why was I doing it? I could plead insanity quite convincingly. But, in some weird way, I felt afraid of getting past the betrayal. Not that I was even close -- I still had a long way to go. But as I inched closer, a small part of me worried that if I put this behind us, it could sneak up on me again and knock me down. And I wasn't so sure I could survive it again.
And so, on some level, it made sense to me to keep it in front of me. To be so focussed on the betrayal that it couldn't be behind me. As long as I was raking my husband over the coals for his affairs, he couldn't possibly think that it wasn't such a big deal. Or that I had handled it fine. There could, quite simply, be absolutely NO mistake that this was NOT okay with me. And would never be okay with me.
The thing is he already knew that. He watched me crumble and it devastated him. He told me once that my eyes looked dead and he knew that he had done that to me.
What the pain shopping was doing was keeping my eyes dead. It was preventing even a glimmer of light from re-entering because the long shadow of the betrayal was still there, casting a darkness over everything: my joy in my kids, my delight in my pets, my love of my work. I still had all that. But not as long as I only focussed on what had caused me pain.
So I issue this caveat: When you're rooting around for bills, or a cell phone, or checking his Web history, ask yourself: Are you looking for necessary evidence to confirm what you suspect? Or what he's denying? Or to get answers to questions he refuses?
Or are you, like I did, pain shopping? Focussing on the pain to ensure that it can't blindside you again...

Monday, April 12, 2010

"A Willing Participant": Can a Wife Truly Not Know About Her Husband's Cheating?

Jim Carrey went on Twitter yesterday with a bizarre "tweet". He noted, in 140 characters or less, that Elin Nordegren, Tiger Woods' wife, must have known about his infidelity. "No wife is blind enough to miss that much infidelity," Mr. Carrey tweeted.
He then went on to, essentially, blame the victim, suggesting she might be motivated to "participate" in her husband's infidelity due to "lifestyle/kids."
I've got news for all the Jim Carreys out there who consider us "willing participants" – I'm neither willing, not a participant...but there were certainly days when I wondered if I was blind, deaf and incredibly dumb.
I had not a clue. I used to laugh at the fact that the edges of my husband's mouth would twitch if he tried to lie to me, like about who polished off the Ben & Jerry's the night before. Turns out, 12 years of bold-faced lying later, the joke was most definitely on me.
My friend Annie was similarly blindsided to learn of her ex's affair. "I used to think women who didn't know their husbands were cheating were stupid, naive or ignoring it," she says. "I always thought that I would know..." Her voice trails off. She didn't know. It took a phone call from the other woman's boyfriend to alert her. Even then, she was disbelieving. It was only when the boyfriend played an incriminating voicemail recording of Annie's husband that the truth sunk in. It had been going on for months. And she'd been clueless.
But no. We're not blind. Or stupid. Most of us are simply loyal. Perhaps a bit too trusting. We're generally highly principled people who couldn't imagine cheating. (Though I'll confess: I can imagine the cheating part. It's the coming home and looking my spouse in the eye and lying about where I'd been that I knew I could never stomach.) And we tend to think that everyone else operates with the same moral code.
Willing participant? Nope. And, I feel quite certain, neither was Elin Nordegren.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Infidelity in the Public Eye: When Society Plays Judge and Jury

Though statistics about adultery vary widely, even conservative estimates put one in four marriages as victim. Some go so far as to say 60% of marriages are subject to infidelity. But even one in four means that most of us know plenty of others who are in the same situation as we are. But do we know them? While we might be aware of a few friends' marriages that fell apart due to cheating, there are likely plenty more that stayed intact and in which the partners kept the infidelity under wraps. Which means there's a lot of us invisibly wounded listening to all the commentary about various public infidelities – Tiger, John Edwards, Jesse James – and feeling a wee bit uncomfortable.
With Tiger's return to the golf course yesterday, I was subject to plenty of discussion regarding his addiction ("addiction -- ha!" scoffed many), his wife's actions ("she should just take his money and find a decent man!") and Tiger as role model (no less than Augusta chair Billy Payne noted that Tiger has disappointed all of us...and our children). While I simply repeated the fact that he's a golfer, not the Dalai Lama, and if we're idiotic enough to set up men who are paid enormous amounts of money to play a game as role models, then we have no-one but ourselves to blame when it turns out their moral compass doesn't always point true north.
But regardless, it puts us in an uncomfortable position. If these men are scum, then what does that make our spouses (scum, in some cases...but certainly not all). And if the women who stay are doormats, what does that say about us? If those who leave are champions of wives everywhere, what does that say about us?
The thing is we live in a world that loves things to be black and white, evil and good, wrong and right. And yet...lives are inevitably shaded in grey. I, for example, do a lot of work around environmental issues. A wealthy woman I know recently bought herself a tiny Smart car, a symbol of environmental responsibility. Of course, she also has an Escalade. An enormous house. And a boat. So...what does that make her purchase of a Smart car, which was bought more as a status symbol than in a desire to reduce fossil fuel consumption? Does it make it right (she's now burning considerably less fuel as she drives around)? Or wrong (it nonetheless takes resources to produce any item, whether "green" or otherwise and she could use her feet or a bike. Or sell her Escalade and donate the money to the Sierra Club)? The thing is, it's not black or white. As my husband pointed out to me, doing the right thing (a more fuel-efficient car) for the wrong reason (status) is still the right thing.
Which is a long way of saying that none of us should really stand in judgement of anyone else. While we love to call cheaters cads and scumbags, it's not always that simple. And women who stay aren't necessarily doormats and those who leave aren't necessarily champions.
So please, all you judges of morality. Stop broadcasting your opinions of every public figure that cheats. Given the one in four statistic, methinks you doth protest too much.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Mother's Love Turned Upside Down

My mother-in-law inevitably makes me cry. Though it was a blog post, a tribute to a mother lost to Alzheimer's, that just set me off, I realize that at least some of these tears belong to my mother-in-law.
Not in a sappy, gee-I'm-lucky-to-have-such-a-wonderful-mother-in-law way. But in a how-does-she-always-manage-to-find-my-Achillees-heel-and-stick-in-the-knife? kinda way.
I've spent my entire marriage trying to figure this woman out. For years, my husband defended her unkind gestures, her cutting remarks. She lived through the Depression, I was told. She lost her father as a child. She was an immigrant with a language barrier. And on and on and on.
And I, to a certain extent, bought it. I excused her and shouldered the blame myself. I was too sensitive, I've been told my entire life. And I believed it.
Thing is, I don't buy it anymore. I'm starting to see that the problem isn't MY sensitivity, it's everyone else's INsensitivity. Admittedly, my response to these people is my problem. But I refuse to believe that the answer is for me to become less sensitive.
Still, when I'm weeping in frustration because yet another family holiday passed during which my mother-in-law managed to find fault with me, the meal I cooked, my children, my home, my hair and my pets. I take bizarre comfort (and some amusement) in the fact that she also finds fault with her daughter, her daughter's family ("too many boys"), her son (my  husband) and her other son. Oh yeah, and her nephew. I'm sure you get the picture. The woman is a walking talking toxic dumping machine.
I looked at my husband after she left. We had been to a funeral last week for a friend's daughter who committed suicide, after suffering depression that simply wouldn't lift. "How," I asked him, "did [our friend's daughter] kill herself...and you didn't?" It was an honest question. I can barely manage 24 hours with his mother without wanting to kill (a) her or (b) myself (though I'm leaning toward (a)!)
I don't know how I would have survived her (s)mothering. While  my own mother was a raging alcoholic, she was – if you could understand her slurred words – a really nice person. A bit sloppy when drunk. A bit embarrassing. But I always knew I was loved, even if that love didn't exactly look like the type of homemade-brownies-and-hand-sewn-clothes love I would have preferred.
My husband, on the other hand, knew absolutely that love depended on performance. If he made her look good (good grades, nice friends, acceptable girlfriends, presence in church, decent haircut, etc. etc.), he was loved. If, however, he pursued interests, friends, girls, goals that did not meet with her approval, it was made abundantly clear that love would be rescinded.
The result? A man who became a master at hiding who he was. Who never learned how to experience love or trust love. Who used sex with strangers as a way to manage feelings of anger, resentment an anxiety.
Am I blaming her for my husband's infidelity? Of course not. He's a grown man who made choices.
I am, however, blaming her for laying the groundwork for a lifetime of unhealthy coping. For creating a childhood environment so toxic that love became currency. And for costing us a small fortune in therapy fees to undo much of her damage.
Oh yeah – and I'm blaming her for ruining my Easter weekend.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Coping in a Time of Crisis

I just watched an interview with Laura Munson, author of This Is Not the Story You Think It Is in which she makes some powerful points about how we can handle betrayal.
Munson had been married 20 years when her husband offered up the "I'm not in love with you and don't know if I ever was" speech. Though it seems there wasn't infidelity, he was certainly primed for it, given his disconnect from his marriage.
But Munson, rather than adopting some of the more...ahem...common strategies (kicking him out, threatening to screw him financially, begging him to love you, etc. etc.) decided to simply...wait. She says she "believed in us" and knew she had to get our of his way to let him find what he seemed to be searching for.
Despite her husband's desertion, Munson maintains that she managed to find peace and happiness, quite unexpectedly. And though she didn't know how her story would end, she was determined that she would live happily ever after.
As it turns out, her husband returned to the marriage, having gone through his crisis and become clearer about what really did matter to him.
So much of what Munson relies on ("just breathe", "live in the present moment") offers up balm for all our wounded souls. Not easy, but simple. And effective.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hurt People Hurt People

No I didn't hit copy and paste. Though it reads like a riddle, it's the sad truth. Hurt (adjective) people hurt (verb) people. It's one of those things I came across when I was deep in my "why, why, WHY??" stage of healing. (And make no mistake, it is a stage of healing. Though it seems as if you're wallowing in betrayal muck so thick and deep, you'll never get anywhere, you really are getting somewhere...just really, really slowly.)
Hurt people hurt people. And, just like that, I got it.
My husband didn't hurt me because I was 10 pounds heavier than when we first met.
He didn't hurt me because I sometimes interrupted him when he was talking.
He didn't hurt me because I'd become boring in bed. Or I hated the movies he loved. Or I stopped shaving my legs except when other people were going to see them.
Nope. He hurt me because he was hurt. As in wounded. Damaged. A broken man.
And when we accept that truth, it frees us. It lets us off the hook (that we hung ourselves on) for his actions.
I hadn't recognized the extent of his hurt, his brokenness, and frankly didn't really want to. I wanted him to be who I wanted him to be...not who he actually was. I, who had grown up with alcoholic parents and benign neglect, was sick of taking care of everyone else. I wanted someone to take care of me. And though my husband tried over the years to get me to really see him, I didn't want to. I wanted strong. Capable. Infallible.
Not him. But the him I thought I could wish him into being.
And so he gave me that...except when he couldn't, which was much of the time. And those times he lied to me so I wouldn't see that he wasn't that person.
Hurt people hurt people.
Ain't it the truth.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

"It's a Deal-Breaker"...and Other Things We Don't Always Mean

My friend, who doesn't know about my husband's affairs, dropped by the other day in search of a cup of warm tea and consolation. She had married her high-school sweetheart...and four of her closest friends had married theirs. Of the other four, all marriages were crumbling because of cheating, the wives in two cases, the husbands in the other two.
Her world was rocked. She was aghast at how rampant infidelity seemed to be. Why? she kept asking me. Why would these people risk their families for affairs. And, the mother of three added wryly, where the hell do they find the time?
I offered up platitudes, and women's-magazine wisdom. I mumbled about feeling broken and seeking wholeness outside. I suggested short-sightedness. I think I even said something about Facebook and predatory ex-girl/boyfriends.
"I told my husband it's a deal-breaker," she said emphatically. "I told him that if he ever cheats on me to not bother to come home. I said I'd cut off his penis, feed it to him and then take everything he's got."
I smiled. My friend is, despite her fighting words, one of the most compassionate people I know. I've no doubt she'd respond with anger should such infidelity occur – many of us express fear and hurt through anger.
But I think her husband's penis would be safe.
The thing, though, with ultimatums is that it often creates exactly the type of scenario we're trying to avoid: one in which one partner decides that lying to the other is preferable to potentially hurtful honesty.
I understand my friend's thinking...because it was my thinking, too. I was sure that if my husband believed that I would be out the door at the first whiff of infidelity, he'd never dream of it.
Thing is, anyone who engages in affairs generally isn't thinking too clearly and they're certainly not thinking they'll get caught. So consequences aren't really part of the equation. At least not at first. And then, if they do experience a crisis of conscience or someone else stumbles onto their secret, rather than come clean, they have thoughts of "But she'll KILL me!" and instead go to often ridiculous lengths to conceal it further.
All quite amusing in a slapstick kinda way...unless it's happening to you.
I confess I can't really offer up a solution except to note that it's frequently the marriages in which one partner thinks the marriage is invincible to an affair that are often the most vulnerable. Thinking that you've "affair-proofed" your marriage because your spouse is too afraid of your wrath to risk an affair is naive at best. The truth is, good marriages fall prey to infidelity. And good people do bad things.
The best way to affair-proof your marriage is to acknowledge that it's possible, statistically even likely, that your marriage will experience infidelity. Then work hard to create an atmosphere of honesty so that potential dangers can be discussed openly and thwarted before they cause problems. It's hard for one partner to feel warmly toward someone whom both partners in the marriage acknowledge as a threat to the union. It keeps you both on the same team, which is critical to a healthy marriage.


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