Thursday, November 21, 2013

Where Does the Hate Go?

Amy recently posted on this page asking a really powerful question: Where, she asked, does the hate go? She wrote that it has been 2 1/2 years since she found out about her husband's affair. In many ways, she says, life is good. Her marriage feels strong. Her husband has worked hard to deserve his second chance. But, she said, in the early days of facing betrayal she poured so much of her anger and pain into hating the Other Woman. And now that hatred burns as fiercely as ever. It's eating her up from the inside.
Hatred is powerful stuff. It poisons us, while doing little to the object of our hatred. It casts a shadow over everything in our lives. There's little room for a broad range of feelings when hate takes up so much space.
However, in the early days of discovering a spouse's affair, hate can serve a purpose. I'd far rather see a betrayed wife filled with hatred for her spouse and the OW, than a betrayed wife who's being understanding or blaming herself. Hatred is outrage. It's a way of saying you can NOT do this to me. I do NOT deserve this. It's a way of saying No way, no how. It's setting boundaries. I will not put up with this any longer.
So yes…in small doses at a certain time, I'm a big fan of hatred in the form of outrage.
But then it serves us no longer. It turns toxic. It keeps us locked in a past that we need to move on from.
It keeps us tethered to a person who, honestly, isn't important.
I know it sounds crazy. How can someone who slept with your husband and helped unleash the destruction that became your life not be important? Because she's not. There are plenty of posts here, here and here about the Other Woman, in which I…ummm…express some of my own thoughts about the role these toxic people play. Weird thing is…I don't hate these women. They make me sigh out loud. They sometimes make me laugh. They make me roll my eyes. They exasperate me with their teen novel philosophies about love and life and destiny. Or they frustrate me with their "enlightened" bullshit about archaic institutions like marriage and "if you set something free…" lunacy. But I don't hate them. I don't even hate THE Other Woman in my life (though I hope she doesn't test this by showing up at my front door).
How did I get here?
By deciding I wasn't going to give her that much energy. By refusing to give up valuable real estate in my brain to her. By finally understanding that she wasn't the problem. She had never been the problem. She was willing and available. That was it.
And it was knowing, really knowing, that no matter how awful it felt to be me, I wouldn't have wanted to be her. I knew she hated herself. Not for what she'd done (she lacked the insight), but I understood that only someone who hated herself would allow herself to get involved with a married man who offered up nothing but misery.
I know lots of Other Women convince themselves that our husbands are their "soul mates". They spin fairy tales about how our husbands are misunderstood, or trapped. The convince themselves that they "couldn't help" themselves. Love, they say, is like that. (And let's be honest, our husbands are often active participants in these stories.)
We, of course, know that's bullshit. You simply don't get involved in the deliberate deception of another person unless you're capable of ethical gymnastics together with a deep belief that you don't deserve better.
The guys who stay with their wives and fight their way out of the hell that is post-betrayal marriage are caught in their own self-loathing.
In other words, these people hate themselves enough that we don't need to pile it on further.
So…where does our hate go? It slowly dissipates, as long as we don't feed its fire. It's smothered by compassion, for ourselves and our husbands and, with time, her. When we can recognize that our spouse's affair and his affair partner really had nothing to do with us. They're just two messed up people who lost their self-respect (along with their pants and any sense of decency).
The hate goes when you refuse to give it a home. When you will no longer be an incubator for an emotion that is turning you into exactly who you don't want to be. Her.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Marital Magic Bullet?: Experts Propose That Cheating Can "Save" a Marriage

I stop short of saying that my husband's affair(s) helped our marriage, though there is at least one woman who hails it as "the best thing that ever happened to me". I think the emotional (and physical) wreckage from infidelity is simply too devastating for me to ever consider it a good thing. I can, however, recognize that all that agony also brought with it some gifts. Wisdom, for lack of a better word, that I might not otherwise have…and that has contributed to greater joy in my life.
But I worry, when experts are hailing cheating as something that can "save" a marriage, it's giving implicit permission to those considering an affair to forge ahead. After all, it might even be good for their marriage. Who wouldn't want the opportunity to screw with impunity, all in the name of self-improvement?
I understand the point these experts are making. I'm living their point. And I sing their same song post after post on this site: An affair does not have to sound the death knell for a marriage. It's a position contrary to…ahem…some others on the Web, with whom I've had my difference of opinion (and to whom I won't link because she tends to trigger those of us early on the path of healing).
I think it's important to offer up a different message to women facing their husband's cheating because, for far too long, we've been shown two options: Throw the bum out or sweep the affair under the rug for the sake of our marriage.
There is, of course, another way. To use the affair as an opportunity to deconstruct a marriage is crisis and then rebuild. But we can't gloss over just how brutalizing an affair is to the betrayed partner. We can't subscribe exclusively to an "he-had-an-affair-but-look-on-the-bright-side" way of thinking that does little for the betrayed or the betrayer. I remain convinced (though I am an incurable optimist) that if more people saw the effects of infidelity up close, they'd keep their pants on and their legs closed to all but their spouse. They'd think twice before they sent flirtatious texts to a co-worker. They'd walk away when opportunity arose, knowing that the brief pleasure simply wasn't worth the sacrifice of their partner's sense of safety in the world.
Unfortunately, given our cultural conviction that any woman who stays is a doormat and any woman who kicks him out is a warrior, we don't have much evidence of how betrayal impacts those of us who chose option 3 – to rebuild our marriage with the person who broke our hearts. We need to have that conversation too, along with the proposal that it's possible to learn lessons (incredibly painful lessons) from a spouse's affair.


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