Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tend To the Wound: Your First Step to Healing

I always love to receive e-mails from readers that thank me for "getting it" and for putting their pain into words. I love it because, if I can take what was total agony for me and turn it into something positive, something that helps other people feeling the same agony, then I can almost convince myself that it was worth it. And I love it because I'm so incredibly grateful when someone puts my pain or my experience into words. It makes it real. It makes me feel less alone. It makes me feel less crazy, which is no small thing.
So I was thrilled when I read this post from Bindu Wiles. Wiles is one of those magical writers that takes our messy world and distills it with words into a thing of beauty. In this post, she shares a story that works as a perfect parable, with the moral being we must truly tend to our wounds.
At no point in my life did I need this lesson more than when I first learned of my husband's affair(s). Instead, like so many of us, I focused on the marriage. I needed to save the marriage, I believed. I needed to protect my children. I needed to protect my husband, who was having to face the consequences of his actions at work. I did exactly the opposite of what Wiles recommends. Rather than tend to the arrow in my heart, I made sure that anyone who might even witness the arrow was told that they were imagining it. I was fine. I smiled at acquaintances at the grocery store, though later I couldn't recall a word I'd said. I chatted with my kids' teachers. I assured friends who cautiously asked if I was "alright" that yes, of course I was. Just a bit tired. And each night, I begged and pleaded with my husband to explain to me why he shot the arrow.
In hindsight, I should have closed out the world as best I could and tended to the arrow.
And though it's a lesson I didn't learn then, as fate would have it, I can learn it now. As our new marriage counsellor recently informed my husband and I, we haven't even begun our "recovery work."
For weeks now, we've sat in her office, me with an arrow in my heart, my husband holding the bow...and talked about anything but. We've talked about division of labor. We've talked about respect. We've talked about our renovations until my head was going to explode. And then last week, I brought up the arrow. And at that point she looked at both of us and said, "we haven't even begun..."
No surprise to me. The wound around the arrow has grown tough. But recently it has started to hurt again. I've felt hopeless and helpless. Wounded and weak.
I should have tended my wounds better back then.
But I can tend them now. And I will.
I hope you will, too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tee-Hee Tuesday: The Ex-Girlfriend Song

Okay...so it's about an ex-girlfriend. But it's pretty easy to imagine your ex (or your not-ex-but-you-re-still-thinking-about-it-so-he'd-better-be-careful) in her place:

Guaranteed to make you giggle...

What do YOU wish on your ex (or your not-ex-but-you-re-still-thinking-about-it-so-he'd-better-be-careful)? Share your worst!

Monday, September 12, 2011

When I Knew...

I recently came across an article in which an Other Woman insisted that wives inevitably know when their husbands are cheating. In this particular OW's view, the fact that we don't do anything about it is a sort of implicit acceptance, if not approval of the affair. It hearkens back to the day where it was assumed that men's appetites were simply different than women's...and if men discreetly satisfied those appetites elsewhere then no harm done. It reminds me far too much of the sense that women are almost grateful to not have to satisfy their husband's desires because, after all, we have laundry to do and children to raise.
But it did get me thinking about how much I knew...and how much I knew.
My case is perhaps different in that my husband's sex addiction pre-dated me. In other words, he came to me broken...he didn't break after I knew him.
So as the years rolled by, I didn't really notice a change in him, so long as he stuck to his standard method of operation, which generally included discreet, anonymous encounters long after I'd gone to sleep or when he was out of town. It was when he became involved with his assistant at work that I started to develop suspicions. But even those were easily pushed aside – after all, I believed with my whole heart that he loved me. People who love each other don't do that. At least not in my world, which also includes cheesecake that doesn't make you fat.
But despite the fact that I can now look back and see telltale signs throughout our marriage, like a popcorn trail that leads me to the truth only in hindsight, I only really knew right before I confronted him. And at that point, there was no talking me out of it – though he tried doggedly. I knew. And it was simply a matter of time before he admitted it. It was the difference between knowing something in my head – kind of an "if it looks like a duck" analysis – and knowing it in my heart which is a knowing that floods your body all at once.
What about you? Did you know before you felt you had enough evidence to confront? At what point did you know? And what advice do you have for others who think they know?

Friday, September 9, 2011

"Aren't you over that yet?": How to deal with those who think betrayal should be healed with a pedicure and a night on the town

There comes a time in most betrayed wives' lives when someone gently or not-so asks "aren't you over that yet?"
Which is about the time many of us compound our emotional maelstrom by adding shame for not healing faster. 
Sometimes these others don't put it quite so forthrightly. Instead, they might say, "are you still having trouble with that?" Or "don't you think it's time to put that behind you?" Or, in the case of our spouses, that perennial fave, "We can't move forward if you keep bringing up the past."
However it's phrased, the point is the same: Get over it, already. You're making me uncomfortable.
And that, of course, is the thing. You need to heal on your own timeline, which is likely a whole lot longer than anyone, including us, ever imagined it would be. But healing isn't a straight upward trajectory from total collapse to bright-eyed recovery. Sometimes you gallop along, sometimes you slide backward, sometimes you just sit and stew in your own pain.
But it's all valuable and part of the process. (Well, unless the stewing is becoming some sort of self-serving masochism. How can you tell? Time...that old healer. And the help of a good therapist/counsellor/friend.)
But it will make others uncomfortable. For some, it's the discomfort of seeing a friend in distress and not being able to "fix" things.
For others, it brings up uncomfortable feelings about their own relationship. If you're clearly dealing with the fallout of infidelity, it might conjure up anxiety about their own spouse. Or even guilt if they've committed adultery themselves. I had a friend, who'd left an unfaithful spouse, dismiss my healing because I chose to stay. If I wasn't going to take her advice and leave, went her thinking, well then I deserved what I got.
And, of course, for our spouses – or ex-spouses, as the case may be – it's a lot more complicated. Seeing in you the consequences of their actions can make even the scummiest adulterer feel at least pangs of guilt. And these guys hate to feel guilty. Quickest solution? Tell you to buck up and get over it, already.
Your challenge and it's a tough one given how fragile we are in the wake of betrayal is to stand up for yourself and your healing. You didn't invite this into your life. You're having a normal reaction to an extreme trust violation. And you will heal at your own pace.
It's not fun feeling like crap. You're not doing it to make a point (and if you are, stop!). You'd love, as much as anyone else, to just "get over it." But grieving doesn't work that way. The only way out of this misery is through it. And these others could help you a whole lot more by letting you process your pain surrounded by love and support. The quickest way out of pain is through it. Cramming it down simply makes it seep out of the cracks in your heart, which is a whole lot slower.
So next time someone asks "aren't you over that yet?", look them in the eye and tell them No. You're not.
But someday you will be and you'll be a whole lot more careful about who you let into your heart.

Friday, September 2, 2011

It's Not Enough to Profess Love...It Must Be Practised

Brené Brown, a shame researcher, expert and author of The Gifts of Imperfection, has this to about infidelity:
I don't know if you can love someone and betray them or be cruel to them, but I do know that when you betray someone...you are not practicing love.
I once worked with a woman whose husband seemed like a dream mate. Her desk was constantly crowded with fresh flowers that he had delivered with notes professing his love. She told us stories of arriving home from work, tired and cranky, only to have him pour her a warm bath and massage her feet. I, unmarried at the time, thought her marriage sounded like heaven.
Turns out it was hell.
I found out years later, after she'd left this seeming wunderhusband, that he beat her. The flowers were apologies...and from the blooms on her desk, he clearly had a LOT of apologizing to do.
He told her constantly that he loved her.
But, reeling from his latest blow, what the hell difference did that make?
I'm still pondering Rabbi Gorman's recent post about betrayal as abuse.
It might not leave bruises on our cheek but who among us can say it didn't bruise our souls?
And yet, betrayal so often occurs in "loving" marriages.
My  husband often told me he loved me. He still insists that he did, even when he was lining up his next encounter.
And what I can't seem to get him to understand is that professing love isn't enough. Even feeling it makes absolutely no difference. Practicing it, however, now that's something that counts.
Brené Brown is right. You can't practice love for a partner while you're with someone else. It simply doesn't compute – emotionally or intellectually. If loving someone includes a promise to be sexually and emotionally monogamous – to share intimacy only with that partner – then becoming intimate with another is a denial, or at the very least a neglect, of that love.
So while it's possible to love another and engage in extramarital affairs, it isn't possible to act loving within that context.
And I've spent far too many years accepting professions of love instead of insisting on practice.
How about you?


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