The importance of change after an affair

It’s the life force of civilization.  It’s the one constant in life.  It’s uncomfortable and frightening and ignites our fears.  It’s CHANGE.

When I look at my past, the most profound times in my life were during major life changes.  All of these changes weren’t perfect in and of themselves.  But they all improved my life by the way they affected me.  The experiences surrounding changes in my life made me a better, more experienced, more open minded person.

When your relationship becomes affected by infidelity, there are a number of different paths you can take.  You can stay or you can leave.  You can go into denial or you can face the situation head on.  You can forgive or you can resent.   I challenge you to explore the path that involves the most change.  I don’t mean surface change, as would occur if you moved out and got a new house, a new mate, a new life.  I mean deep, profound, internal change.

I am over simplifying a bit, but lets look at 2 options and what opportunities they hold for change.

1.  You leave your husband.  This is sometimes the best or only option.  For instance, if your partner is not willing to take responsibility for his actions, or if he is abusive or if he wants a divorce.   In this case there will be an unsettling period of situational changes while you go through separation and divorce.  However, once the dust has settled, who are you going to be?  Will you remain the same person you were prior to the divorce?  If so, statistics show that you will probably enter another relationship with someone who is exactly like the one you just left.  You won’t recognize it to begin with, the decision is a subconscious one, but eventually it will come to light and you will find yourself if the same place as you were before.  It’s a strange phenomenon, but if we don’t change ourselves, we all tend to repeat our relationship patterns.  The challenge here is to deeply and honestly explore how you ended up in this position in the first place.  The answer isn’t as simple as “he is a lying cheating asshole”.  The answer lies in the reasons YOU CHOSE TO BE WITH this lying cheating asshole in the first place.  What familial patterns attracted you to this person?  What signs did you ignore along the way? What role did you play in enabling his behavior?  If you don’t want to repeat your cycle, then do this work, answer these questions and MAKE CHANGES IN YOUR PATTERNS before you start a new relationship.

2.  You stay.  Maybe he apologizes and promises this will never happen again.  Perhaps he makes some grand gesture that convinces you to believe him.  You will probably have a few blow up flights, a couple of nights with him on the sofa, some very real and very wet tears.  You might convince him to go to a therapy session or two.  Then, you get back to your routine and quite frankly, you don’t want to think about it or talk about it again.  You tell him that you will let it go this time but threaten if he does it again you will dump him.  This isn’t using the situation to better yourself.  This decision is based on fear.  Fear of the truth.  Fear of uncovering painful pasts.  Fear of change.  Life events that are this traumatizing can’t be swept under the rug.  The entire foundation of your relationship, your trust and faith in the one person who was supposed to protect you has been shattered.  This deserves your attention.  Not a little bit of attention –  A LOT OF ATTENTION.  You need to mourn and heal and talk and grow.  You need to look at your roll in his behavior.  You need to look at why you want to just ‘forgive and forget’ (as though that is possible).   You need to look at what you need to start feeling safe again.  You need to rebuild (more likely you need to build for the first time) a basis of intimacy with your partner.  You need to slowly allow yourself to be vulnerable again.  You need to share all of your feelings and listen to all of his.  You need to learn self care.  You need to learn to decipher intuition from fear.  This is an amazing opportunity to grow into a more trusting, vulnerable, communicative, smarter, more confident person.

In both of these scenario’s there is a choice.  You can ignore your role in the events.  I don’t mean that you caused him to cheat  or that his affair was your fault.  I mean that you selected this person as your mate.  You probably ignored suspicions about his fidelity long before you got proof of his activities.  You may have contributed in any number of ways.  But here is a chance to learn about your self – about your coping mechanisms, your intuition and how your childhood and past affects your current relationship.  You can learn how to care for yourself, how to put your needs first, set personal boundaries and become a more confident, secure person.

This affair doesn’t need to swallow you hole.  It doesn’t need to leave you numb.  It can be the beginning of an amazing future relationship either with your current spouse or with a new mate.   But, first, you need to welcome the change.

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Sometimes our affair partners stand on such green grass. Oh wait..it’s just a mirage.

I missed my boyfriend today.  I shouldn’t call him that because he is no longer my boyfriend – but it’s the name I have given him in this blog.  I should rename him for the sake of this post.  Let’s go with Mr Jameson – one of his favorite drinks.  Mr J was my boyfriend on and off for about 12 years before I met and married my husband.  We were pretty serious for a few of those years – 4 years here, 2 years there, a bunch of break ups and get backs in between.  It was my most significant relationship in my 20’s and 30’s prior to meeting my husband.  He was driven, charming, super successful, adventurous and a whole lot of fun to be around.  He was also short tempered, afraid of intimacy, occasionally abusive and non committal.

I came from a proper, conservative upbringing so I had put Mr Jameson behind me when I married.  I figured he would be the guy I might eventually send a Christmas card to (once he married as well, of course).  I thought it would be nice for my husband to meet him some day (I know they would like one another).  He was my ex but I certainly didn’t hate him.  In fact, about 3 weeks before I met and got engaged to my husband, Mr Jameson and I were planning a getaway to Mexico.

After my wedding, I stayed away from Mr Jameson.  No emails, not phone calls, nothing.  It was the proper thing to do now that I was married.  But the day after I found out that my husband had been cheating on me, he is the person I reached out to.  I didn’t initially tell him why I reached out – I just sent a benign email saying ‘hello’ and asking if he ever visited California (where I moved when Mr J and I broke up).  An email volley ensued – polite and friendly to begin with – then a subtle suggestion that we missed one another – and then a full blown exploration of ‘what if’s’ and ‘could we’s’ and ‘maybes’….

I didn’t physically see Mr Jameson for a few years.  We emailed and texted and flirted intermittently.  I would reach out when I felt lonely or angry with my husband.  He would provide a distraction which I mistook for comfort.  It wasn’t comfort of course – it was just fuel for my fantasy of a better world with a better person in a better place.  Ah, how green that grass can seem!

After a few years of putting off the inevitable, we started a physical affair.  Mr Jameson lived on the other side of the country – and I was married – so we didn’t see one another often – but we did see one another.  During those random days and nights I appreciated the familiarity most of all.  It was our history together which drove me to him.  He knew me when I was 23 and hopeful and young.  He was a reminder of who I was in a time before life and husbands and aging and cheating became concerns.  It wasn’t that I loved being with him as much as I loved who I was when I was with him.   To be honest, when I was feeling so much confusion and pain in my own marriage I couldn’t imagine having an affair with a stranger – it doesn’t make sense to me at all – but I know many people do that.

About 2 years ago, after years of inappropriate behavior with Mr J, I told my husband about the affair.  It was REALLY hard to do – but I knew that if I kept that secret to myself then I would be tempted to reach out to Mr J again.  Once the slate is clean it’s a much bigger leap to dirty it again.  If you don’t understand that concept – just think about eating cake.  If you are in great shape and good health and regularly eat cake you don’t think twice about ordering it.  If you are however on a strict no sugar diet because you are diabetic and it can truly harm you then it’s quite a big decision to take a bite.  By telling my husband everything that had happened – I put myself on a very strict diet which does not allow any Jameson.  I can’t say it’s impossible that I would ever contact him again, but I definitely won’t ever reach out to him mindlessly, as it would literally poison everything I have worked for.

To get to the point of this post – yesterday, I wrote on someone’s comment page about affairs and loneliness and blah blah blah.  So last night Mr J creeped into one of my dreams.  It wasn’t sorted or dirty – I just ran into him and we embraced and it was nice.  Needless to say, that led to him being on my mind after I woke this morning.  Not because I want to continue our affair (I don’t) but because he was a massive part of my life for 2 decades and when I am reminded of him I do miss him.  I miss him as I would anyone else who was that important to me for so long.  It saddens me that I can’t send a text saying “hey…I was reminded of you today…hope you are well”.   But I can’t.  Because I crossed a boundary that was not good for my relationship.  Had I not allowed my heart and body to crossed that line, Mr J could still be in my life as a friend.   We could grab a beer with my husband when we are visiting Chicago.   But this is not longer an option.

The moral of this post is this – and it’s intended for those who are cheating:

1.  Be honest with yourself about your feelings.  I confused loneliness for love.  I thought that because I craved Mr J that I loved him.  That’s not true.  I craved him because he could distract me from my intense pain.  Mr J couldn’t fix my loneliness – only reconnecting with my husband could do that.

2.  When I felt myself thinking about Mr J today I didn’t allow it to take over my mind.  I instead focused on what I could do for my husband and for our relationship.  I planned and prepared an amazing dinner and can’t wait for him to get home so I can share it with him.  When you are drawn to another – stop and refocus your energy and your mind back to the place where it belongs.

3.  Don’t mess up your relationships with co-workers, neighbors or ex’s to have an affair on your spouse.  In the end, you aren’t going to end up with that person and you will have destroyed what could have been a lifelong friendship.

4.  Finally, cheating will never, ever bring anything but loneliness and loss.  No matter how ‘justified’ it seems – all it does is breeds distrust in the other and shame in yourself.

The grass is always greener over the fence.  And it will remain that way until you start to water your own lawn.  Speaking of..I need to get back to making a feast for my husband and I.

Ashley Madison is just another distraction. You can do better.

My mom still occasionally recounts a story about being in the basement in our family home and hearing a ruckus on the 2nd floor.  It was my older sisters who had started a screaming match.  My mom ran up the stairs toward the bedrooms.  As she passed by the kitchen she suddenly stopped and backed up.  She needed some m&m’s before she could emotionally deal with whatever was happening on the floor above her.  She jokes that she is a chocolate addict.  Who’s to say she isn’t.

We all use distractions as a coping mechanism.  When we are stressed at work we mindlessly eat some chips.  When we get home to a house full of needy family members we tune out with the tv.  Our boss criticizes our work and we have an extra drink at dinner.  Cigarettes, food, tv, internet, exercise, shopping, drinking – and porn – are all forms of distraction.  Some of these distractions are obviously more harmful to our health and/or relationships than others.

Lets take Ashley Madison for instance.  I remember the first time I saw a billboard for this website.  It said “Life’s short – have an affair”.  I thought it was an advertisement for an upcoming movie or tv show.  More and more of these ads started to pop up around town and one day curiosity got the best of me.  I went to the website and learned it’s purpose.  It scared me.  I knew my husband was a sex addict and I thought ‘oh great – it just keeps getting easier for him’.  The truth is, if someone is an addict – or if they are just a jerk looking to cheat – no one needs Ashley Madison.  They will find a way.  History has alway had an Ashley Madison – Los Angeles had Heidi Fleiss, Chicago had Iceburg Slim,  “Gone with the Wind” had Belle Watling.  Of course the internet has made it easier to procure a lover.  It’s also made it cheaper and more legal.  In the past, men went to prostitutes to fill their sexual needs.  Now people of both genders go to Ashley Madison – maybe for sex – but more often to temporarily cure their loneliness.  I’m not sure what percentage of people actually have physical affairs as a result of that site.  Probably less than you would suspect.  The thrill of the online profile and an occasional email is probably enough to bring people back to the present and out of their bubble of obsession.  But this porn has destroyed plenty of marriages.  Even if the person who paid for the website never had an affair, the trust was destroyed when the spouse found out and a marriage and family fell apart.  It’s really sad.

Here is a bit of advice/warning for anyone looking to join this site.  Ashley Madison is evil.  Not because of the ‘service’ it provides – but because of the greed it displays.  Ashley Madison claims to put charges through to your credit card under a benign name.  That benign name is ADL media.  Ummm, not that hard to figure out if you just google that term (adult dating life).  If/when you realize it’s mostly fake ads and sex workers and you wise up and decide to cancel the account they charge you to do so.  Here is the kicker – the cancellation charge is listed under ASHLEY MADISON on your credit card statement.  It may show up as ‘AM media’ or some such thing – but regardless of the wording, what they do is make it completely obvious what the payment is for and as a result many relationships are destroyed.  The irony is that it’s when someone decides to do the right thing and remove their profile that their behavior is usually discovered by their spouse.  Damn.  That’s harsh.  Of course you can get around this – use a prepaid c/c or whatever.  Where there is a will there is a way.

I may have digressed in this post.  So back to the topic.  Ashley Madison, like any other version of porn, is a distraction from our daily stress.  If you’re drawn to these sites they become addictive.  It’s a thrill to get a secret email from an admirer.  Doesn’t make you bad to have that feeling – it’s human.  But it would make you a better human if you could try to find a different method of obtaining your thrill and validation.  There are a lot of distractions to chose from in the world – would be nice if you could choose one that won’t destroy the worlds of those you love.

Why do feelings hurt so much worse than flesh?

Everything that is hurt needs to heal.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a stubbed toe or an ego.  Scientists have proven than emotional and physical pain are both centered in the same part of the brain, so why is it that feelings – which exist only in our brain – can take so much longer to heal than an actual flesh wound.

I watched my mastectomy scars improve every day when I first had surgery.  I was amazed by how quickly my body rallied to heal itself.  Within weeks they looked pretty amazing.  They still exist, and always will, but they don’t hurt when I touch them. When I look at the scars, there is nothing triggering.  I don’t feel the pain of the surgery or the anxiety surrounding it.  They are just a lasting but benign result of an incision which may have saved my life.

How funny that our bodies can recuperate so completely and swiftly – but when our feelings are hurt the pain is so much more intense – and hangs on for what seems to be forever.  Even when the feelings start to heal, one wrong reminder can reopen the emotional wound and we are right back where we started feeling all of those hurt feelings again like they just happened.

When I first found out that husband was unfaithful the number of physical symptoms that went along with my hurt was shocking.  The lump in my throat, the nausea in my stomach, the uncontrollable shaking, the weight loss, the fear.  I even got a fever the night I found out.  I knew that it was just my feelings reacting to the stress in my body but I didn’t have any tools that could control it.

I think that part of the difference, and one reason why old emotional wounds are so easily accessed, is because we don’t tend to emotional pain in the way we do physical pain.  With my mastectomy I started taking supplements a month prior to surgery so my body would have the vitamins and minerals it needed to heal.  I cut out wheat, sugar and alcohol to eliminate inflammation and added in white chicken meat to up my protein level.  I made sure everything I ate and drank was organic and fresh.  I consulted with many surgeons to make sure I had the right team of doctors.  I read books and researched how to heal quickly and painlessly.  After the surgery I rested and slept and saw my doctors for lots of check ups.  I was tended to night and day by my husband and mother.  I was prayed for by countless friends and strangers.  I listened to healing meditations at least 4 times a day.  I repeated mantra’s to tell my body to heal.  I applied creams and salves and had physical therapy for weeks.  All this to recover from a surgery.

By comparison, the first time I found out about my husbands infidelity I cried alone, I yelled at him and then ignored him.  I didn’t tell any friends and didn’t have a therapist.  I refused to hear about – much less learn about – sex addiction.

I think it’s obvious why my body healed better than my feelings.  I helped my body in every way I knew to heal itself.  But when I was emotionally hurt I didn’t tend to my feelings with the same commitment. My feelings didn’t heal and I suffered for many years with insecurity, anger, confusion and suspicions.

Cut to the discovery of my husbands relapse 2 years ago.  That time, the initial pain was equally as horrible as the first time around.  All the symptoms that were there the first time – the shaking, the nausea, the tears – were all present.  But this time around I healed.  Instead of getting angry and yelling at my husband I held him and comforted him and helped him.  Instead of keeping it all to myself I shared it with other wives of addicts who I had met over the years.  This time I attended and shared at S-Anon meetings.  This time I found an amazing therapist who deals specifically in this area and I committed to letting her help me.  I journaled a lot.  I read lots of books on the subject of sex addition.  I talked to my husband for countless hours sharing every feeling and fear with my husband.  And like with my mastectomy, I can still see the scars, but they don’t trigger me the way they did the first time around.  I took care of myself – and it shows.  I am working on my meditation practice (I wish this came easier to me!) so it is in place the next time I have an emotional or physical trauma.  It’s life.  Things happen.  We need to prepare.

I’m sure there is an entire scientific study about physical versus emotional healing which would be way over my head.  But I am pretty sure that taking care of our emotional wounds with the same care and gentle touch that we do our physical wounds will help them heal better.  At least it can’t hurt.

Remembering D-Day

I follow a lot of other women who, like me, had their worlds turned upside down due to infidelity and/or sex addiction.  Many of these women regularly talk about and refer to “D-Day”.  From what I gather, this is the day that they found out about the transgression(s) of their spouse.  I suspect that “D” stands for “Discovery”.

My D-Day is coming up sometime in the next week or so.  I don’t remember the date exactly, though I could look it up by checking my old emails.  I’m not sure the exact day matters, but I will pick a day later this month and my husband and I will celebrate.

In U.S. history D-day was the beginning of the end of the Nazi invasion of Western Europe.  There was a lot of loss during the invasion of Normandy, but yet we celebrate the day as it was the beginning of the end of a horrible time in world history.

I think of the day 2 years ago when I discovered my husbands unbelievable behaviors as the beginning of the end of a horrible time in my marital history.  The details of the day would certainly be painful if I chose to dwell on them.  But the longterm growth and benefits that resulted from that day have made the pain worth it.  Had the discovery not happened, we would have both spent the last two years in the limbo that was our relationship.  We would have been perfectly amicable with one another, but not intimate.  We would have cared about one another, but not loved unconditionally.   If D Day didn’t happen, he would still be acting out with strangers and I would still be cheating on him with my ex.  We would be sharing the same house, but not sharing our truest selves with one another.  We would be lying to each other as well as to ourselves.  We would be lonely and unfulfilled.

We have both grown and changed so very much in the last 2 years.  We love one another with transparency and respect.  We communicate with our hearts, not just our minds.  We can count on each other with a confidence that I have never felt before.  This wouldn’t have happened without the discovery.

I’m not sure how other’s get through their “D-day” but I will call is “Devotion Day” or “Determination Day” or “Damn it if we didn’t make it Day”.  I will dress up and wear expensive perfume and hold my husband tight and celebrate all that we have endured – together.

You WILL trust him again. So stop the negative thoughts.

I wrote yesterday and a handful of other times about rebuilding trust in a marriage after an affair.  In reading other people’s posts, the word ‘trust’ comes up over and over again.  The statements are usually ‘I will never trust him again’, ‘if he did this once, how can I trust he won’t do it again’, ‘can I stay with a man I can’t ever trust’.  And on it goes.

I understand as well as anyone why the thoughts always lean toward the negative.  We have been deeply hurt and betrayed by the one person who was supposed to love and care for us.  Our instinct is to protect ourselves from repeating the same mistake twice.  But is all this negative thinking really going to help protect us?  What if we could turn our thought patterns around.  What if we could say “I will trust him again”, “He deserves my trust as I do his”, “I have forgiven him”.  Isn’t the power of positive thinking going to get us further than negative gloom and doom?

Among other things, negative emotions have been proven to decrease our health, raise our stress levels and limit our ability to see our options clearly.  Positive thinkers have lower stress, boosted immunity, live longer lives, succeed more at work, have better coping skills, etc.  Being positive is by far the better choice and though it’s not easy to change thought patterns, it’s definitely possible.

I’m not saying that you should live in a fantasy world of unrealistic optimism – but positively considering that you will someday be able to trust this person who hurt you is actually a realistic option.

We are hurt, yes.  We need to heal, absolutely.  But we should be looking forward with hope and faith.  We should gather up all of our positive energy and throw it toward trust.

Redefining trust after an affair

My husband lied and cheated his way through many years of our relationship.  At the same time, using revenge as an excuse, I had an ongoing affair with someone I used to love.  When my husband and I both completely disclosed our pasts to one another our egos took a big hit but we were in it together and we immediately started to rebuild.  I underlined completely because we had both told portions of the truth to one another over the years.  But humans seem to have an odd instinct to keep a little bit of the secret to ourselves.  I can’t explain this – but it seems to be the case.  The problem with keeping ANY part of it a secret is that it can fester and regrow.  It’s only with complete disclosure that a relationship can rebuild.  Without that, the foundation is cracked – and that’s no place to build anything that is going to last.

At the sage advice of our therapists, we put short term safety nets in place to keep one another comfortable.  My husband even did a lie detector to put aside any fears that there were still secrets lurking in the corner.  This sounds extreme – but for sex addicts it’s a tool to check sobriety – not unlike a urine drug test for an addict.  It’s unrealistic to think that one can control all of another actions and thoughts and, quite frankly, that is the last thing in the world that I would want.  But in the beginning, before the dust had settled, we used every method imaginable to prevent his addiction from interfering with our marriage ever again.

After my husbands disclosure he told a friend that he always thought if someone knew everything about him he would no longer be lovable.  How empowering it must have been to show me his entire self and to know that he was still loved – probably more than ever before.

I think when women say they can’t trust their partner – they mean one thing and one thing only – that they can’t trust him not to cheat (in whatever way you define that word).  Trust in a relationship is much bigger than that.  At the beginning of our recovery I was rightfully nervous about the possibility of him cheating again.  But any time my head started making up stories I turned my attention to focus on the ways I did trust my husband.  For instance: I know my husband loves me.  I trust that completely.  I trust him to listen to my concerns and address them no matter what it takes.  I know that I come first and he would abandon anything to take care of me if I am in emotional or physical need.  I trust my husband with my secrets.  I believe my husband would take a bullet for me.  I would think about solid examples of his loyalty to me and it would calm my mind and my nerves.

Through our transparent communication we have both become more trustworthy.  One of the most important lessons I learned was to tell my husband when I was having unsettling thoughts about his past behavior.  Suffering in these crazy thoughts alone isn’t fair to me – especially when he is the one that brought it on.  He should witness my feelings – only in this way can he truly know me.  We share the things with one another that we both thought we would never share with anyone.  It’s not always easy to hear the others thoughts and fears, but THIS is where the trust is cultivated.

I don’t think trust can ever be perfect. But today I trust my husband.  And he trusts me.  I couldn’t ask for more.