Showing posts with label adultery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adultery. Show all posts

Monday, March 24, 2014

I Cannot Walk Your Path

"The maps and travelogues left behind by others are great blessings, full of useful information and inspiration, but they cannot take the journey for us."~Author unknown

Many of us knew exactly what we would do if our husbands cheated on us. And then it happened. Suddenly we not only weren't doing what we always said we'd do (almost without fail, throw him out), we were behaving in ways that were confusing to us. That made us wonder if we'd lost our minds. And within that confusion lay such judgement of ourselves. So many of us were ashamed of ourselves for not sticking with what we said we'd do.
Thing is, none of us really knows what we'll do until we're in the situation. And once we're in that situation, the best we can do is treat ourselves with compassion for the challenge we're facing.
And, of course, none of us knows what another woman should do because we're not in her situation.
I bring this up because a BWC member commented a while back that she had taken my "advice" and stuck with her husband only to find out that his affair had never really ended. There she was, another year or so invested in her marriage, and only deeper in pain.
She was leaving him then and only wished I had encouraged her to do so earlier.
I told her I was very sorry for her pain. Sorrier still that her husband wasn't able to accept the deep gift of her desire to rebuild their marriage.
But, I pointed out, I never told her to stay or leave and I felt badly that she had interpreted my response to her as such. I, frankly, haven't a clue whether any of you should stay or leave. Actually that's not true. If there's abuse of any kind, get out. Now. (Though even with that, I know that some women simply can't leave for any number of reasons that I might not understand.)
But beyond that, there's isn't a right way to respond to this. 
Life is messy. Marriages that look hopeless somehow get stitched together to everyone's benefit. Others just don't make it despite valiant attempts. Some survive betrayal only to fall apart down the road for other reasons. 
I wish I had a crystal ball and could therefore predict which marriages were worth fighting for and which should be hastily exited. Of course, I don't. I don't pretend to.
What I do offer here is hard-won wisdom from walking my own path. Though each of us is unique we face similar challenges. Our husbands behave in bizarrely similar ways. We can benefit from each other's experience as long as we recognize that we don't all walk the same path to healing. As long as we understand that what worked for her mightn't work for me and vice versa. 
There are times when I will use such words as "here's what you should do" and then outline the steps a BW can take to, for example, get back on her feet, get some sleep, or regain her self-respect. But I don't have all the answers. I haven't even faced all the questions. I have my own experience and an understanding of what so many of you have faced as you've trusted me with your stories. That's all.
Each of our stories is our own. Each of us walks her own path to healing. I cannot walk yours and you cannot walk mine. But we can hold each other up along the way.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Why you should stop asking "why"...and instead ask "why bother"

"Men don't cheat because of who she is, they cheat because of who they're not."
~Charles J. Orlando, author of "The Problem with Women...Is Men"

We often talk on this site about the question of "why". It's generally the first word that forms in our brain when we learn of a spouse's affair. But sadly, we often answer that question with a catalogue of our own perceived failings: I've been preoccupied with the kids; I've been busy with work; I've been stressed with moving my parents into a nursing home; I'm aging; I'm fat; and blahdy blah self-flagellating blah.
It's all, of course, bullshit. So is all the stuff we tell ourselves about what she has that we don't. As my husband's therapist once said to me, "what she's got, you don't want."
No matter what your spouse tells you or what you tell yourself, he cheated because opportunity met moral failing and wound up in bed together. That's not to say that your list of "why"s aren't necessarily true. Maybe your marriage was under strain. Maybe you could have spent a bit more time at the gym. Maybe you did take your stress out on your husband. All of which are absolutely valid reasons for your husband to suggest counselling, or anger management, or even a separation. They're not valid reasons for cheating. I'm not sure there is a valid reason for cheating. 
The time will come when the two of you, should you choose to rebuild your marriage, to pore over your marriage like a couple of forensic detectives, looking for just where it went off the rails. Ideally you'll do this within the context of "where can we improve our communication so neither of us feels so alone again" rather than "this is the long list of ways in which you're a complete asshole". But sometimes that compassion and willingness to be open to your cheating husband's pain takes time.
It also takes strength, which doesn't come from beating yourself up about the myriad ways in which you somehow brought your spouse's cheating on.
Your task, post-betrayal, is to keep yourself strong. No easy task. It means extreme self-care – avoiding anyone who isn't loyal to you; it means avoiding any commitment that makes you feel more vulnerable; it means eating and sleeping; it means avoiding excess (or any!) alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping or other means of numbing your feelings. And it means stopping, at least for now, asking "why".
Your husband likely can't tell you. Not really. People who cheat aren't generally the most self-aware. They can learn self-awareness and the fallout from cheating often spurs them in that direction. Decent people who cheat are often so disgusted with themselves that they want to know how they were able to do such a thing in order to ensure they'll never do it again. But there are plenty of guys equally disgusted with themselves who simply can't admit that – it's far easier to blame something outside of themselves (your work schedule; their boss) than own up to their moral failing.
The first group generally make rebuilding a marriage as easy as it can be (which, frankly, still isn't easy); the second make it a whole lot harder and should prompt you to ask whether or not it's worth trying. Without a clear understanding of how people can use other people to avoid feeling pain or shame or loneliness or stress, there's little to prevent them from doing it again.
As Charles J. Orlando points out in the quote above, men cheat because of what's missing in them, because of who they're not. Who they're not is a guy who recognizes when he's seeking escape in an unhealthy way. Who they're not is a guy who recognizes the damage created by cheating before he does it.
Instead of asking why he cheated, the question you should be asking is why – and if – he deserves the chance to rebuild your marriage. It's the question he should be asking himself too.

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 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?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

You're Getting Warmer...or Not

Martha Beck advises those of us struggling to make tough decisions (like perhaps, whether to forgive a cheating spouse? whether to stay in the marriage? whether to tell people what's happening?) to treat life like a game of "you're getting hotter, you're getting colder..."
My seven-year-old daughter LOVES that game. Ya know the one where one of you think of something or hides something and, as you try and figure out what it is, the other player helps you along by advising you whether or not you're getting close (hotter) or further away (colder).
Beck's approach is a good one for those of us whose minds are so muddled by the shock and trauma of discovering that our lives aren't what we thought they were that we can barely decide what to make for dinner. If we can find someway and somewhere to get still, most of us can identify a physical response to various questions – a sort of internal "you're getting warmer..." reaction.
It will likely take practice. Once dealt the blow of betrayal, your internal radar can often malfunction. Post-trauma, you might find yourself reacting in extreme ways to benign circumstances. The dog barks suddenly, for example, and you respond with a heart-pumping, car-lifting adrenaline surge. Again, that's where you need to be still and get back in touch with your gut/intuition/wisdom/whatever-you-want-to-call-it. It's there. It might need dusting off from years of neglect. You might need to apologize to it for ignoring its sage guidance. But if you take the time to refamiliarize yourself, it will be more than happy to play the game with you.
Do I want to leave? How does that feel in your gut? Terrifying? Liberating? Terrifyingly liberating? If you picture yourself on your own, how does that feel?
Can I forgive him? Getting warmer? Colder? Can you picture a marriage (forget for the moment how you're going to achieve it) in which the two of you are happy and fulfilled? Or is your gut freezing up at the possibility?
Get the idea? Give it a try...and let us know what you find by posting here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dear Elle: A Letter to My Shattered Self on D-Day

Dear Elle,
I. Am. So. Sorry. You've dealt with a lot of pain in your life...but nothing like this. You thought you'd found your safe place in the world. And I ache for you that you believe it's lost. 
It's not. But your world has changed. You're right about that part. Years from now you still won't believe absolutely that you can trust another person. But I've got good news for you. You will learn through this how to trust yourself. And that's a gift that I'm not sure you could have received any other way.
The thing is you've spent your entire marriage trying to make him happy. To create a home that he wants to return to. To create a family that nourishes me. To be pretty. To be smart. To be fun and interesting and a perfect hostess and wife and friend and mother. And... And... And.
And it didn't work, did it? All that work, all those compromises you were making even though he didn't know you were making them. All the words you swallowed. All the dreams you put aside. None of it made a bit of difference, did it? And do you want to know why? Cause you were fine all along without having to try so damn hard. You were enough. You still are. He didn't cheat because you haven't lost that last 10 pounds of baby weight. He didn't cheat because you aren't a gourmet cook. He didn't cheat because you prefer to read over watching his favorite shows. Or because you prefer jeans over tailored suits. He cheated because he was looking for something in himself that's been missing for a long time. And you couldn't give it to him. And she couldn't give it to him. And the other "she" couldn't either. And that's because none of us have it to give to him. It's something only he can give to himself. And it's approval. And it only ever really fills that hole when it comes from within. 
And that's the same lesson you need to learn. You don't need his approval. You never did. And even if he'd given it to you unequivocally (impossible for him because he couldn't even give it to himself), it wouldn't have mattered. Because you've never believed you were enough. Not pretty enough. Not skinny enough. Not smart enough, or interesting enough, or anything enough. Just. Not. Enough. 
And so he sought that feeling in other women. And you sought it in him and in work and in toxic friendships and, too often, in alcohol. 
So while this betrayal by him might seem like yet another kick when you've had so many. It might feel as though your heart is shattered beyond repair. 
But when you begin to re-piece your life, you'll understand that this time it's truly going to be your life. On your terms. A life that's full with or without him in it. A life that's full because you're full. You. Alone. Are enough.
Perhaps there are easier ways to learn that lesson. But this is the lesson you've been given. You are your own safe place in the world. Learn it well and you'll never have to learn it again. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Guest Spouse: Infidelity is Abuse. Period.

       [Rabbi Sean Gorman and I met on this site here, where he commented to a betrayed wife that all cheating is abuse. I disagreed and our conversation began. Though I maintain that, in my case, the infidelity was not a form of abuse (though I can see aspects of it as such), I nonetheless appreciate the expertise and compassion that Rabbi Gorman brings to the issue and invited him to post here. I'm sure many of you will recognize your situation in what he describes...and I hope you'll find his views help clarify and strengthen your understanding. In any case, as always, I invite you to share your story and your thoughts.]

As a married man who has never gone astray and whose spouse has never gone astray, I feel a little out of place writing for betrayed wives.  Elle, the owner of this blog, invited me to write here after we disagreed on another blog.  The invitation is most flattering.

            The disagreement that led to this article has to do with whether or not adultery is spousal abuse, specifically emotional abuse.  I maintain that it is, in all cases.  For now, we can certainly agree that flagrant adultery is.

            What led to this conclusion?  A friend had a husband who was a philanderer.  He made no effort to hide the indiscretion.  Cell phone records and e-mails stayed visible.  Some of those phone calls took place during dinner.  The lightning flash was when I realized it was abusive.  After he physically attacked her, it became easier to point out the adultery as part of a picture of abuse.

            What is abusive about adultery?  Let us take a look at some of the blatant lies adultery attempts to present as truth:

            1.  The other one is better in bed.
            2.  What you give only to me, I can get anywhere.
            3.  You bore me.
            4.  You do not “put out” enough.
            5.  I will come to our bed when I am good and ready.
            6.  Being in someone else’s bed is more important and more meaningful than being in our own.

            The constancy of those statements demoralizes and humiliates the target.  The sneakiness of the tawdry behaviour leaves the betrayed spouse wondering if the perceived reality is correct.  Such demoralization, such humiliation, and such wondering about reality are all constants in abusive situations.

            We would not accept such statements in any other room of the house.  We would not accept constant statements about our cooking or our driving.  No matter what the subject, that type of statement is humiliating and demoralizing.  Nothing has changed just because we are talking about sex.  In fact, the statements are more insidious for being of that subject.  No other piece of our marriages cuts as much to the very essence of who we are. 

            Furthermore, it is a violation of the one room of the house we share with no one else.  We can have guests in the kitchen.  People can sit in the living room.  The marital bedroom has a lock on the door.  No one else is allowed in.  When one member of a couple unlocks that door, it states that the one part of our lives that is not for open consideration means nothing to the one who opened the door.  Sacred intimacies (and more) are thus bared to the world.

            When Elle asked me to write for this blog, she suggested that I write about how people recover.  The first step to any recovery is to label the problem.  Labeling adultery as abuse yields the immediate response.  In a relationship that is physically abusive, the first step is to ascertain safety – stop the immediate abuse.  The second step is accountability – appropriate apologies that mean something.  The third step is taking actions that build trust and prevent future abuse. 

            It applies here.  Stop the adultery.  Make sure that the offending spouse admits guilt and understands the impact of what happened.  Put rules – yes, marriage has rules – put rules in place that prevent it from happening again.  Verify that those rules are being followed and that they are accomplishing what they need to accomplish.

            A wise pastor once taught me that we should not confuse forgiveness with reconciliation.  These are two separate steps.  Forgiving a philandering spouse does not mean that all is better immediately.  As betrayed wives, you should not feel pressured to reset the clock and clean the slate.  That will take time.  Trust is hard to build.  It is even harder to rebuild.  For your husbands to expect that everything will immediately go back to the way it was is naïve, as well as a continuation of the abuse.  It is often difficult for an adulterer to understand that a shower and a couple of counseling sessions cannot wash away the scars of such an injury. 

            In any case of abuse, we do not blame the recipient.  An abused spouse did not fail at various parts of the marital role, thus leading to the next outburst.  Accepting blame for the actions of others is not appropriate here.  Do not fall into the trap of accepting blame for actions you did not commit.

Rabbi Sean Gorman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Pride of Israel in Toronto.  He is also a US Navy Chaplain attached to 218 MEFREL.



Sunday, July 24, 2011

Who defines cheating? And should we care?

There was much debate, the wake of Anthony Weiner's resignation, regarding whether what he did was, technically, cheating.
And it's a point that has, occasionally, raged here and in our own lives.
Many of us pre-D-Day, would have said that we were comfortable with our husbands having female friends but that any sex outside of our marriage, even a one-night-stand, was "a deal-breaker." Post D-Day, we've often reversed that view, discovering that it's not the sex that's so troublesome but the lying and the intimacy shared with another. Many of us discover that our husband's emotional affair – sharing dreams, hopes and, often, dissatisfaction with his marriage – is excruciating and hard to handle. Making it harder is sometimes the notion of others that "he didn't have sex", therefore he didn't technically break his marriage vows.
But there's nothing technical about healing from an affair. It's complicated and painful and doesn't follow prescribed rules. Most of us muddle through, hair unwashed and heart broken, until the day we feel a sliver of light shine through the dark and we realize that we just might survive this marital apocalypse.
And then comes the process of sifting through the rubble and trying to make sense of what the hope that if we understand it, we can protect ourselves from it happening to us again.
But I'm not sure, unless we've been tempted ourselves or are capable to truly putting ourselves in our spouse's shoes, we'll ever really understand it. So often I hear the familiar Nancy Reaganesque refrain of the betrayed – "He could have just said 'No'."
Sure he could have. But whether he didn't say "no" to actual sex or didn't say "no" to cyber sex or didn't say "no" to sharing intimate details of his life, all the analysis in the world isn't going to change that. And, oddly, it stops really mattering at some point whether he had actual sex, cyber sex or emotional intimacy. The point is he shared something private – that was supposed to be between you and him – with someone else. And that hurts like hell.
The only people who get caught up in the semantic gymnastics of what cheating really is are those looking for a loophole out of their own guilt...or those who've never had it done to them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Say It Out Loud

I have a framed print beside my bed with the infamous Emile Zola quote:
If you ask me what I came into this world to do
I will tell you:
I am here to live out loud.

It has always resonated with me. I tend toward the apologetic. The people-pleasing. The swallowing of true thoughts. And yet, I desire to live out loud.

Two days ago, I heard a radio documentary about domestic violence. It followed a young man who had been sentenced to community service and counselling following an incident in which he punched his wife. He was telling his story. And when he got to the part where he told the reporter his wife had called the police, he said that the reason was because he punched her. He exhaled audibly. "Wow," he said. "I just said that out loud."
He noted how, for years as their relationship got increasingly abusive, he allowed himself to believe that was how couples dealt with frustration and anger. His parents had. And his wife frequently let him off the hook, by apologizing for making him angry. By agreeing with him that she, too, lost her temper.
And yet, when he spoke the words out loud, all that changed. There was no more hiding the truth in the shadows.

It got me thinking about betrayal. And how frequently we don't speak the words out loud that we're thinking because we fear them being true.
When our friends note that our husbands seem to be working "a lot" and we defend their work ethic, though we feel a kick in our gut. When our parents point out that our husbands seem disengaged with the kids and we defend them, though we frequently feel alone in our parenting.
Not, of course, that workaholism and absent parenting means cheating. My point is simply that we frequently have a narrative in our heads that simply isn't the truth. And by not saying the truth out loud – by hiding it in the shadows of excuses – we lie not only to the world but more importantly to ourselves.

We see it all the time. The parent who refuses to acknowledge that her child's behaviour indicates a serious problem, dismissing it at a "phase". The woman who ignores the lump because she's sure it's "nothing." And the wife who defends her husband's emotional absence instead of saying – out loud – that he's checked out of the marriage.

I don't know what would have been different if I'd been able to say out loud what I feared. I tried. I said I didn't like the late dinners with his assistant. I pointed out that, if she was truly a loyal and valuable employee, she would want him home with his wife and kids. But I didn't say out loud what I truly feared because I also feared looking crazy, or jealous, or hysterical.

These days, I'm living life out loud. Which means talking about a whole lot of things that make me uncomfortable –  from discussing STDs with my newly-teen daughter to talking stuff over with my husband.
But the alternative, hiding truth in darkness and silencing myself, is no longer an option.

Monday, June 27, 2011

How "It Could Be Worse" Keeps You Stuck

I'm the queen of "it could be worse."
No matter  how much my life sucks, I can always (and easily) come up with myriad ways in which it could be worse.
It's a long-held personal tradition.
My mom's in the psych hospital after attempting to kill her self? Well, it could be worse. She could have succeeded.
My dad's passed out most nights? Could be worse. He could be a drug addict. Or simply gone.
Best friend steals boyfriend? Could be worse. I could be dying of cancer.
And so on.
It was a great survival skill. I was like a Weeble who got knocked down but always ALWAYS popped back up, ready for another round.
And it's a skill I use still.
Kids driving me crazy? At least they're healthy enough to drive me crazy. They could be hooked up to machines in a hospital.
Dog poops on new Persian rug? At least I can afford a Persian rug.
Roof leaking? At least I have a roof over my head.
Husband cheats? At least my kids aren't dead (I trotted that one out a LOT. By all means, I told the universe, give me betrayal. But please don't take my if I was bartering with Satan.)
Not that "it could be worse" is necessarily a bad thing. I'm the eternal optimist – always looking on the bright side of life.
The thing is, I'm learning – thanks to all the it-could-be-worse scenarios I've invented in the past few years, that it can also keep me stuck.
It's easy to stay in muck up to your knees when you tell yourself you're lucky it's not up to your neck.
And it's a great way to avoid getting out of the muck altogether.
And, I've decided, I want a muck-free life.
I'm learning (slowly...thanks to those survival skills which served me well as a kid...but now stand in the way) that it's absolutely my prerogative to say, "sure things could be worse...but they could be BETTER, too." Better might mean a husband who not only doesn't cheat on me, but also helps around the house and shares my values. Better might be a fixed roof. It might be a kids who behave more respectfully (let's remind will treat us respectfully until we treat ourselves respectfully). It might be a whole heap of things that could be worse...but that I don't want to tolerate any more.
I don't want the pendulum to swing totally the other way (those people are called pessimists/in-laws...and I avoid them the same way I avoid Tea Partiers and the Kardashians). I like seeing the glass as half-full. I'm just going to remind myself with a bit more regularity that, with some self-respect and determination and firm boundaries, the glass can be completely full...ideally with a nice Shiraz.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wanting what's best...

The Redbook article that I cited here continues to weigh on my mind. Though I've known about and have written about it here and here and here, and though I've gained considerable insight into the psyche of cheaters, I nonetheless consoled myself with the belief that these guys were the exception, not the rule.
Now...I'm not so sure.

I've spent a lot of time trying to find the best in myself. When you're raised in a dysfunctional home (alcoholism was the dysfunction of choice in my family....but it, of course, spawns all sorts of others: neglect, abandonment, intimacy issues, for starters), you often feel "bad". As a child you believe that if you were good, then you would be treated well. There's such shame around dysfunction that you grow up convinced that you, too, are shameful.
I tried to get better. I spent years in therapy, struggling to understand what it was about me that made me put up with all manner of neglect, abuse, betrayal.
And then I met my husband. And, for the first time, I felt safe.
And we all know how that turned out for me.

The thing is, we all deserve to feel – indeed to be – safe. When we choose to commit to someone else in this life – whether that commitment looks like marriage or parenthood or friendship – we owe it to that person to provide a basis for their happiness. Not that it's our job to make them happy. But it is our job to want their happiness. And to not stand in the way of that.

Which is why the Redbook story has me feeling so sad. The men featured are themselves sad. And by that I don't mean pathetic, though they're a bit that, too. They feel cheated by life. Their wives aren't who they ultimately feel connected to (though, perhaps, that's because they're trolling sites to hook up with other women rather than actually listening to their wives thoughts and dreams). Their lives haven't measured up to their dreams. So they dip a toe into this fantasy world, where they're sexy and desirable and life is good and exciting.

But where they're so lost is not that they're putting their own happiness before their wives. Indeed, I think we owe it to ourselves to strive for our own happiness. But where they're lost is that they're actively standing in the way of their wives' happiness. How? By not giving their wives the truth about themselves.

We all deserve that truth. We deserve to know who it is we're married to because we deserve to make the choice about whether or not we want to be married to that person. I don't dispute another's right to have sex with whomever will have sex with them. What I object to is the lying and betrayal. If my husband loves me but feels he can't connect intellectually with me and therefore would like to forge a relationship with another woman, fair enough. But let me decide if that's okay with me.

A truly enlightened relationship operates on that level of honesty. I'm not sure I would consider "open marriages" in this category...but perhaps at least some of them are.

As for me, I want a relationship in which my husband wants the best for me. And respects me enough to be honest – which allows me to decide what that "best" is.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What My Dog Has Taught Me About Trust

My dog has a bit of an attitude problem. At least, that's the human assessment. He doesn't think he has a problem at all. There are just some dogs he doesn't like. And some people. But just the jerks.
How does he know they're jerks? He relies on instinct, something we humans long ago stopped trusting in favor of our heads and hearts (and Lord knows how they've got us in trouble!).
And it dawned on me the other day that I could learn a lot about healing from betrayal from my dog. He had been betrayed. By the people who first owned him. He was rescued by the sheriff after someone squealed about his living conditions. He was removed from the barn where he was found, malnourished and full of parasites. He had clearly suffered neglect...likely abuse.
And yet, he loves me unconditionally. He was willing to give people another chance. Not all people...but me.
And so...I offer up the lessons he's taught:
1. Give second chances. But not third. Or fourth.
2. Be fiercely loyal to those who deserve it.
3. Trust your instincts more than your training.
4. You're capable of great love. Don't be afraid to show it.
5. Don't be deceived by looks or words or even treats (though don't turn them down. Just don't let them change your mind about someone you don't like).
6. Be willing to treat each day like a new adventure, neither defined by the day before, nor a dress rehearsal for what might happen tomorrow.
7. When you're happy, wag that tail with all you've got.
8. When you're angry, don't be afraid to let them know you've got teeth...and you're not afraid to use them.
9. Protect what's yours ferociously.
10. Understand that looking someone else trying to make you look foolish (for example, putting reindeer antlers on your head for a Christmas card photo...) doesn't make you a fool. Trust in your own dignity.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Women Cheaters: Is There a Double Standard?

Tom Matlock, in The Good Men Project Web site, writes that there's a double standard when it comes to adultery. Men are vilified when they cheat, he argues, pointing to Tiger Woods, Jesse James, Spitzer et al. Women, on the other hand, are pretty much let off the hook, such as Tori Spelling, Leann Rimes, Jennifer Lopez. And most notably, he says, Elizabeth Gilbert, who admits to infidelity in her blockbuster bestseller Eat, Pray, Love.
I find myself somewhat stunned.
For starters, though I read Eat, Pray, Love before it became a household name, I somehow missed the part where she admitted to cheating. Sure, her subsequent relationship came pretty quickly on the heels of her marriage breakup...but it didn't occur to me that she'd cheated. Given that I was coping with my own...ummmm...stuff at the time, perhaps I just missed a few paragraphs through my tears.
And, in a fit of total irony, the Eat, Pray, Love that I'd loved because it gave a voice to that pervasive shame that so many women feel for not fitting into the mold morphed into the Eat, Pray, Love that I hated when Julia Roberts was cast at the main character. Why? Because Julia Roberts took great delight in taking husband Danny whats-his-name from his then-wife. And then rubbing the woman's face in it.
It was nasty and low and utterly childish.
So I loved the book by the author that admitted to infidelity...but hated the actress playing the author because she committed infidelity. Yeah, I'm confused too.
So...back to the original topic of this post: Double standard? Certainly not by me. And frankly, I judge cheating men less by their cheating than by their response to getting caught. Is there remorse? Is there some intention to at least allow both parties to maintain some dignity? Is there some desire to protect their spouse from further humiliation?
Which is why (don't hate me please!!), I didn't hate Tiger Woods. I felt sorry for him. Yeah, he was a scumbag for sleeping with not only the 8,000 pancake waitresses, but his neighbor's daughter (ugh!). But I still felt his remorse was real, his shame deep...and he went out of his way to allow his wife to handle the fallout in a way that allowed her privacy and dignity. Too little, too late...maybe. But still.
Jesse James, on the other hand, has revealed himself to be a total creep...with his public engagement blah blah blah.
It's not their gender that makes their adultery so's them.
On the female side, we've got Tori Spelling as the poster girl for vacuous adulterers. Off the hook? I don't think so. Most people I know think she's pathetic. Same for Leann Rimes. Jennifer Lopez? Well, perhaps she's off the hook simply because it's too hard to keep track.
Seriously, though, I know far too many guys who've cheated on their wives. And far too many wives who've cheated on their husbands. And I know that marriage is complicated and tough and that none of us on the outside of another's marriage can possibly know the whole story.
But a double standard? I really don't think so.
What do you think? Do men get roasted for their transgressions more than women? Do we let famous women off the hook when they engage in extracurriculars? Or are we a group of equal-opportunity dissers?? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Funny Friday: Another round of "Stupidest Things The Cheater Ever Said"

A radio station in my city is having a Valentine's contest in which it's promoting the most romantic thing your partner/spouse has ever said.
I'm perhaps, the least romantic person on the planet and can't help but giggle at so many of these utterances. I honestly think if someone said these romantic things to me, I would die laughing. My husband has tried, former boyfriends have tried...and I've generally gone into hysterics (though I've tried to disguise my laughter by pretending I'm weeping with joy). Instead my husband I resort to showing affection to each other the way eight-year-old boys do – we hit each other in the arm, we tease each other mercilessly... and we laugh. A lot.
In fact, laughter is undoubtedly part of what gave me seconds of joy when I was at my darkest point. And much of that laughter came courtesy of my husband and the OW, who said such stupid things to me...and allowed me, for a brief period of cruel, un-enlightened time, to laugh, figuratively, in their faces. Felt rather empowering, come to think of it.
So...let's laugh.
I'm bringing back that perennial fave: What's the stupidest thing your partner/spouse/ex/OW said to you in the wake of the affair.
Some I've already heard include, "You'd really like her if you got to know her." And, "Under different circumstances, I think you two could really be friends."
My husband tossed out this little gem, in defence of his honesty: "I've never lied to my clients." Made it clear I should have put my business with him...just not my heart.
So...c'mon ladies. Give us your best, your funniest, your most shockingly stupid comments. And let's have a laugh!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Moment-by-Moment Survival Guide for the Heartbroken

So often I hear of betrayed women feeling "stuck". They don't want to leave their marriages, at least not yet. But they just can't seem to move past their pain. And though I wish there was an easy fix for such "stuck-ness", I know of none. I do, however, know of a not-so-easy fix. At least it wasn't easy for me.
It's a matter of focusing on the "now".
It's perhaps no coincidence that, perusing the bookshelves for something – anything – that would help me cope with my maelstrom of pain, I picked up a little book called The Power of Now, by a guy named Eckhart Tolle. (This was in his pre-Oprah days and I'd never heard of him.)
I began reading through my tears. And though it's not a simple read, I managed to discern this: Pain comes from focussing on the past. And anxiety comes from focussing on the future.
Yet we live in the present. All we ever have is this precise moment.
Consider that so much of the pain surrounding betrayal is about focusing on what happened (the mind movies imagining the two of them together, the reading and re-reading of text messages and e-mails, the triggers that transport us back to the moment when we first discovered or that remind us of what was happening one week/month/year ago) or on what might happen (he could do it again, I could wind up destitute and alone, they could be laughing at me from their yacht...). In both cases, however, you're not focusing on the now. Right now, for example, you're reading this post. Whether or not he is or is not still having an affair isn't the point. You, right now, are okay.
That's not to say you're not hurting. Probably a lot.
But you're alive. You're breathing and functional and able to read. So, for all intents and purposes, you're okay. Stay focussed on that simple truth.
You are okay. I am okay.
And guess what? What happened is over. All the hand-wringing and finger-pointing in the world is not going to undo what's already occurred. And about what might happen? Well, you likely have a lot less control over that than you realize. You can control yourself. And that's about it. The rest, you have to take on faith.
It's not easy. Certainly not for a reform(ing) control freak like I. To give up the long-held notion that I can magically control those around me was tough. But the evidence that I couldn't – for all my best intents – was all around me.
I had "now". So I held on tight.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Putting Down Your Pain

A friend gave me the most beautiful daybook over the holidays: The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. I'd never heard of him before, but already – on January 4th – he feels like an old friend.
On January 2nd, he tells the story of a friend who was preparing to paint a room in his house. He went to the store to buy the supplies – the paint, brushes, rollers, drop-cloths, etc. He returned home, then loaded it all up in his arms to carry it into his house. Of course, he reaches the door and has no hands free to open it. He refuses to put any of the stuff down and struggles to get the door open. He juggles, he twists. Eventually, of course, everything crashes to the ground, including him.
The lesson?
Sometimes we've got to put our stuff down to open the door.
It's a pretty straightforward metaphor. But how many of us do it? I know I'm guilty of carrying a whole lot more than I should. I somehow determined that the more I carry, the more I'm a martyr. And I've spent a lot of time over the years polishing my inner martyr until it's blinding.
The problem is that being a martyr doesn't really get you where you want to go. Which, in the face of betrayal, is beyond the pain – or, to stick with our metaphor, through the door. Being a martyr – you know the one who constantly reminds your spouse that you could "never" have done what he – keeps our hands full and our heart closed.
Holding on seems like the easier option. Or at least the safer one. To put everything – or even some things – down to open the door seems like more work. We think that we'll have to pick everything back up again.
But by putting down some of our "stuff" – our bruised ego, for example; our clenched fury – we're then free to pick and choose what we truly need. When it's all spread out in front of us, rather than piled in our arms, we can see what is useful to us and what is perhaps weighing us down.
It's hard, if not impossible, to walk through the door into healing when you're holding on to:
• blame (a favorite of mine was reminding my husband that he'd "ruined" me)
• ego (too frequently I reminded my husband that the OW was truly repulsive, comments that never failed to make me feel small and petty)
• fear (how could I ever be sure he wouldn't do this to me again? Truth is, I can't ever be sure)
• regret (how often did I wish I could turn back time and scream "Not in this lifetime!!" to the "do you take this man..." question)
• and on and on.
Once I could see how much all this was holding me back, it became easier to put it down. It became easier to focus on that which would take me through the door and prove useful to me once inside. Such things as compassion (for myself, as much as for him), patience (Good LORD, healing takes time...), faith (that I would continue to heal despite setbacks), and wisdom.
Is there anything you're holding on to that you could put down (like your 5th martini, for example? Or that Twinkie?) to help you through the door? Consider it. There's no prize for getting through without effort. The prize is simply getting through at all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Open Letter to the Other Woman

Dear OW,


Honestly, just what the f&$k were you thinking? You knew he was married. You knew he had children. You knew he slept beside me every night. And you knew that I knew nothing. Is that what made it so delicious? So tempting? That I appeared by his side at various events, utterly clueless to what was going on behind my back? Did you feel triumphant? That you'd beat me at something?
Okay, so I looked stupid, at least to you. Is the satisfaction of that worth sacrificing your own dignity? Because, really,  how can you have any dignity when you're pulling on your panties as he races out the door to be home in time for dinner? How can you have any dignity when you're alone – again – on a Saturday night while he's  watching Toy Story with his children and tucking them into bed?
And frankly, though I might have looked stupid, and perhaps pitiful, to you...and some less-than-compassionate others, I'll take stupid over sleazy and low and cruel any day of the week. No matter how awful it felt to be me when I found out, I'd still take that over being you. No matter that my eyes were practically swollen shut from crying, I could still look myself square in the mirror without shame.
Did you think it was simply a matter of time? That you would be appealing enough for him to walk away from the life he'd built? That all those fantasies you'd convinced yourself of – that I nagged, that I was lousy in bed, that I was boring and bitchy – were actually true? Did you really believe that any relationship based on deception would deliver you from your unhappiness?
My guess is, yes, you did. My guess is that very few Other Women honestly admit their role as an accomplice in the intentional hurting and decepition of another human being. Often another human being you don't know. Or barely know. Or perhaps, shockingly, know well. Instead, they sell themselves clichés. Something along the lines of "we're soulmates", "we couldn't help ourselves", "the chemistry was too powerful" or "you can't stop love." All of which, I suspect you recognize on some level, is total bullshit. All of which allows you to divorce your abhorrent actions from your intent. "We didn't mean to hurt anyone," you wail.
Oh. Yes. You. Did.
Because you knew. You knew that I was being hurt, even if I didn't yet know it. You knew I was being lied to. And betrayed. And you participated in that. Knowingly. Willingly. Perhaps even happily.
What's more, my children were being hurt. And though I don't expect you to take total responsibility for that (after all, HE was their father), you nonetheless contributed to the potential dissolution of their family.
And for what?
Was the sex that good? Were the feelings of superiority, if only for the brief time he was with you, so intoxicating that it made all the humiliating departures, all the embarrassment when you were caught, all the shame this no doubt triggered, worth it?
And if he left me for you? What would you have gained? Three emotionally damaged children every second weekend. A man who lies and cheats. A man who doesn't have the self-control to stop himself from doing something he knows to be wrong. To be hurtful. What a prize. Guess what? If he's not willing to become something better than that – he's all yours. At least until he meets another you sometime in the future and you become cast as the betrayed wife.
In our case, you were shocked when he, after being caught and given the choice between me or you, didn't hesitate. Not for a second. And, believe it or not, I felt sorry for you. Though I raged at you in my head, loathed the look of you, wanted to spit each time I said your name, and shower each time I imagined you two together, I nonetheless felt a sliver of pity for you. Because no-one does this unless they value themselves so little that they settle for another's scraps rather than demand respect and kindness. Or unless they're so delusional that they really believe that this is how true love manifests. Unless they've fallen for all that "star-crossed lovers" and "us against the world" crap.
It has been almost four years. December 11, 2006 - a date that's seared into my mental calendar. I have no idea where you are now. And though I still taste anger when I think back, I'm able to wish you, if not well, then at least better than what you had. If only to spare another woman the agony of finding out that you're sleeping with her husband.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Three to Five Years: There Are No Shortcuts...

"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going," said Beverly Sills.
And ain't THAT the truth.
Still, we think we should get there faster. Whether "there" is getting over our husband's betrayal. Or, perhaps, "there" is no longer caring that he's with the other woman because you're separated. Perhaps "there" is feeling ready to date again. Or maybe "there" is no longer beating yourself up for something that was never your fault in the first place.
But wherever "there" is for're likely not reaching it nearly as quickly as you think you should.
And, I believe, you won't.
It's gonna take a whole lot longer than you expect.
But that's okay. Because, if you take your time... if you really do the hard work necessary to peel back the layers of pain and really turn them all over in your mind and heart, when you do get there, you won't need to keep looking over your shoulder to make sure heartbreak isn't gaining on you.
Three to five years, say the experts. Three to five years!
Yep, I know it sounds like an eternity. I'm with you. For gawd's sake, I could have conceived and given birth to an entire basketball team in that time.
But – and I speak from experience here – I'm finally starting to feel as if I'm wearing my own skin again. And it has been – get ready for it! – two months shy of FOUR YEARS.
When I first heard the three- to five-year timeline – about one month after D-Day – I didn't believe it. Didn't want to. Figured that maybe it takes OTHER people that long. But I'll just fast-track this healing stuff and be back on my feet in a few months.
That was around the time I was face down on my bathroom floor, sobbing into my dog's neck (who, incidentally, was just diagnosed with bone cancer. Honestly, can't I catch a break?? Please??).
It was around the time I had lost 15 pounds without even trying (I'll be honest – the highlight of my day was stepping on the scales...then I'd go back to feeling miserable) and I didn't bother applying any makeup because it was just going to slide down my face by 9:15 a.m.
You could probably reduce that time-frame if, unlike me, you manage to skip the whole self-loathing suicidal period, which lasted close to a year and forced me to face all sorts of childhood abandonment issues I thought I'd successfully drowned in copious amounts of wine when I was 15.
But though it seems like a long time (and it is!), the place you'll end up is really amazing.
Having to reassemble my heart took time and courage, but it also allowed me to step into myself fully – something I'd never done. It offered me a glimpse into how much of my heart was going into relationships (not just my marriage, but with friends, colleagues, hangers-on...) that drained me. I'm far better able to recognize these emotional vampires, and to protect myself. As a result, I'm less blurry around the edges. I know exactly where I end and someone else begins.
So, yeah, three to five years.
But you just might find, as I did, it's worth the trip.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Getting Unstuck: Ask Your Body For Answers

In many ways I envied the women who, upon learning of their spouse's infidelity, simply walked out the door with a breezy buh-bye over their shoulder. But even more than I envied what I believed to be the shiny new life they were walking into was their certainty.
I sometimes blame the fact that I'm a Gemini (on the one hand..., but on the other...) for my inability to simply, uncategorically make choices without second-guessing, regrets or what-ifs. But whether it's the stars or my parents or my second-grade teacher who's to blame for my wavering, I seem stuck with it. I can barely decide whether to buy the generic toilet paper or pay extra for the name-brand, let alone whether to stick with my unfaithful spouse and keep my family intact, or make for the hills.
Which is why I found the following (thanks to Martha Beck's Finding Your Own North Star) so interesting:
Your social self lives by what psychiatrist Alice Miller sees as the cardinal rule of all repressive social systems: "Thou shalt not be aware."... Don't know what you know, and don't feel what you feel.
Once you've learned to obey this rule, you can easily lose access to your own experience of joy and desire, loathing and revulsion... Since the only way to find lost feelings is to feel for them, the search for your own heart is always a blind one. Instead of any clear impulse, you register only flat nothingness, a hollow, yearning ache that doesn't lead you clearly in any direction at all.
Wow. Sounds a whole lot like me. And, likely, a lot like you if one of the ways you coped with your spouse's betrayal was to stop feeling.
Cutting yourself off from feeling can work in the short-term. It can get your kids to soccer practice. It can get you to your desk. It can get dinner on the table.
What it can't do is get you to your next step. At least not decisively.
It's taken me a few years of putting in time to realize this. Of not feeling and simply moving along in my life and marriage. Not so much deciding what I want in my life as letting life decide for me. Which isn't a bad thing for a period of time. It can make sense to simply bide your time until choices become clear. But they won't – can't – become clear if you're so divorced from your own feelings that you don't even feel them anymore.
What Beck suggests sounds rather odd. She maintains that the answers rest in your body. Literally. That by taking an inventory of your body parts and soliciting their opinions (I'm not kidding here!), you'll find your answer. She takes her view on this from Asian philosophy which, as she points out, insists that it's our bodies that hold the answers, not our minds, which bend and change to all sorts of untrustworthy beliefs.
It's an interesting exercise and one that I recommend, if only because it can't hurt and doesn't cost a thing.
Get as relaxed as you can without the benefit of drugs/alcohol. Try and still the mind, which, if yours is as annoyingly toddler-like as mine, is no easy task. Then start paying attention to your body, starting with each toe. (Settle in, this is going to take awhile.) Ask yourself what it's feeling, Beck suggests. Hot, cold, itchy... "Don't think," she admonishes, "just describe." Again, if you're like me, you'll likely start to notice, if you don't on a regular basis, that certain parts of your body are...tense or tight. Beck advises us that there's likely a lot of information being stored in those parts.
Think of these tense parts as frozen. Try and breathe warmth into them and let them thaw.
This is where the exercise can get uncomfortable emotionally. Locking feelings up keeps us safe from them. And letting them out releases the capacity to once again feel pain. And as we all know far too well, pain sucks. A lot.
The thing is, NOT feeling pain doesn't serve us either. It keeps us alive...but not living.
The time will come when you have to let it out. Sadness, anger, hatred, fear. You have to allow the feelings to breathe...and within them to find your answers.
You'll also be surprised to discover that, rather than paralyzing you with pain (though it can be excruciating to feel them) these feelings will actually make things a whole lot clearer. You might not miraculously know what the rest of your life will look like, but you'll be far clearer about what you want it to look like. And therefore, what you should do to create it.
It's not magic. And it takes a certain conviction, not to mention suspension of judgement to undertake such an exercise.
But if you stick with it (even making it a daily practice, as Beck does), you just might find your answers aren't in the stars at all...but in your kidney.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

For the newly betrayed...

Though I'm more than three years out from D-Day #2, lately I've felt as if I'm dealing with it all over again. And though I know this happens (it's called "recycling", says my therapist, and it's NOT to be confused with regressing), it still frightens me that I'll never get past this.
And it reminds me of those first few weeks/months. Perhaps by outlining what happened to me in those hell-filled days, I can help someone else whose days seem too dark to ever see light again.

Or rather lack thereof. Though I'm tossing and turning lately, immediately post D-Day I barely slept a wink. If I was able to fall asleep at all (thank-YOU Gravol!), I would awaken a few hours later with that horrible pit in my stomach and the tears would flow again.
Rest assured (ha!), you will sleep again someday. Melatonin can work wonders -- it's non-addictive, available in the vitamin section of your pharmacy and basically gets your adrenal system under control so that your body isn't sending shots of adrenaline to warn you that you're under attack. The attack is over. Now's time to figure out what the hell happened...

Though I suppose it's possible to turn to food for comfort, every BWC member I know couldn't touch a think – not even Brownie Fudge Meltdown with Skor bars sprinkled on top. The upside was a butt considerably smaller than pre-D-day. The down side was, well, the down side was that I felt like absolute crap, no matter that I looked awesome in skinny jeans.
Eat what you can – a small bowl of soup, a few bites of grilled cheese. Whatever you can get past that lump in your throat. Steer clear of junk food...and alcohol. Both contain the wrong kind of calories and can lead to increased self-loathing. Keep your loathing targeted where it belongs – at your husband.

Staying sane
I'm not exactly an expert on this one. I swear I'm nowhere near as sane as I once considered myself. However, I'm still standing and my children haven't been taken from me so I must be doing something right. The best advice I can give is to keep the focus on you. As much as you can, resist indulging in fantasies of what you'd say to the OW, given the chance. Or what you'd do to her. Or trolling Facebook to find out what she's saying. Or calling her cell phone to leave nasty messages. Or. Or. Or.
It might be a struggle (some days more than others) but focus on what YOU need: a warm bath, a good run, some new clothes, lunch with a trusted friend, a movie marathon... Whatever! Give it to yourself. And when you find yourself thinking of the OW or your husband with the OW, picture a huge  STOP sign. Or put an elastic band around your wrist and give it a good snap when you shift focus off of you.
There's nothing you can do to change what's done. But you can treat yourself with the respect that everyone should treat you with. And, in the process, find your way back to sanity a whole lot faster.

Find help
I was more devastated by my husband's betrayal than I ever dreamed I would be. It, quite literally, killed my spirit and send me spiralling down. If, like me, you find yourself harbouring thoughts of suicide, run, don't walk, to your phone and call a suicide hotline or find yourself a therapist who can pull you back. For me at least, suicide looked like an escape hatch from seemingly insurmountable pain. But the pain is surmountable. It's an illusion that you won't get over it. You will. That I can promise.

Gather strength from those of us who've been there
There are some great online groups with plenty of wonderful, wise people who can assure you that life will get better. is a great site, which saved me from total despair more than once. And please don't hesitate to share your story here (or just lurk, if that's all you're ready for!). We're a great bunch of women. Though the details of our betrayal might vary, we share a strength and a compassion. And a road back to happiness.


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