How you handle difficult times is what sets you apart

Infidelity in a marriage isn’t easy on anyone.  It hurts, it triggers fears, it ruins the status quo, it just totally and completely sucks. Once it enters your world you will never be the same.

I wonder then why some people are able to move beyond a betrayal to rebuild a stronger relationship or to at least improve their own character – and others never do.   Some women just get stuck.

I read some blogs recently that were posted on a ‘divorced moms’ site.  I think what struck me most is the self-righteousness of the author and the anger that lurked behind every word.  One blog in particular was fueled by a belief that simply by kicking her husband to the curb that she had somehow become a stronger, better person.  I’m not saying that it doesn’t take a degree of strength to kick your spouse out of your life – but in the case of this particular woman that act alone didn’t seem to change her.  Years after the divorce she was still experiencing the same degree of hate and anger – but now she was doing it alone.  The hatred that seeped into her words were heartbreaking.  Hatred for her husband, for men in general, for women who sleep with married men…it was pretty upsetting.  This woman has children with her ex – I can’t help but wonder how much of that hate is felt by those kids – and what happens when one day those children are old enough to read their mom’s blog.  Ugh.

I do understand when women decide to divorce their husband because of infidelity.  As much as I’m a believer in staying, I do think there absolutely are cases when leaving is the best thing to do.  But it doesn’t negate the need for those women to try to move beyond the anger, to deal with the pain, to forgive rather than hate, to own up to their own patterns and to open their hearts.  These things that need to be done whether you stay or you go.  There is no sense in dwelling in the pain.  It’s needless suffering.  Holding onto that hatred and all the feelings that go with it can never benefit anyone and won’t prepare you for the possibility of a healthy future relationship.

If you are struggling with the idea of forgiving an ex or a current partner who betrayed you – maybe you can start by praying for that person.  Perhaps that can be the first step down a lighter more positive path.  A path that is lit by empathy, caring and love.

Did Ashley Madison ruin your week? What do you do now?

I was going to entitle this “did ashley madison ruin your life”.  But I can’t manage to give this company that degree of power.  That being said, I’m guessing that more than one wife found out recently that their husband had sought an affair.  That’s a tough blow for even the strongest marriage to take.  Overnight there is anger, anxiety, fear, shame, disgust and a million other emotions swirling.

I’ve written about this site before because my husband had signed up for it once a number of years ago.  From the ‘history’ it seemed pretty clear that nothing amounted from it and truth be told I think he found it incredibly boring and he likely never accessed it after his initial ‘sign up’ high.  I’m sure he found the site ‘boring’…but that’s because he spent a few years acting out A LOT sexually – visiting chat sites, frequenting massage parlors, having sex with a couple women he knew – lots of horrible and unacceptable behavior.  I think the ‘vanilla’ nature of A.M. didn’t capture his interest as much as his other activities.

So you’ve just found out that your trusted mate has an Ashley Madison account.  Now What?

I think that most men on that site fall into 3 different categories.

  1.  The most harmless category will be the one that everyone is claiming to belong to.  The “I was just curious what it was but never sought an affair”.  A prurient interest can get the best of anyone and lead them to explore a website like this.  Someone sees a commercial – can’t believe what is being advertised – types in the URL and next thing you know the company is charging a monthly fee and you just wish you had never heard of the thing.  Honestly, I think this is probably true for some people.  I believe it because I am one of those people.  I saw a billboard and thought, what is that? A movie ad? A TV show? I searched the site – was pissed off it existed – and emptied my history.  OK, I never made an ad or paid for the service but men can be pretty dumb about these things and I don’t put it past someone to go that far down the path of fantasy only to realize they have no interest in being there.  So if your husband is claiming that this is his story then maybe it is.  Ask him to share his password – go to the site – see how much activity he has and go from there.
  2. A truly repentant man.  Let’s face it – people screw up.  A man can stray for any number of reasons but it doesn’t always make him a horrible or unloving person.  Marriages get over infidelity (or attempted infidelity) all the time.  Tust gets rebuilt.  Scars heal. Take for instance a man like my husband – a sex addict who has struggled for years with maintaining honest and loyal boundaries with me.  He is fully accepting of his mistakes and seeks every day to be a better man.  He shares his ‘slips’ and takes total responsibility for his actions.  In my situation, I knew long ago that there was an AM account so when this leak happened I just made sure that we cancelled the credit card he used to use for his secret activities so the info doesn’t get into the hands of hackers.  I don’t know if my husband was one of the people leaked, or if his account was even still active (I think we cancelled it but sites like this make that really hard so it may have still been up) but it doesn’t matter as I knew all about it and he has long since been forgiven.  As hard as it is to learn that your mate was seeking sex outside the marriage… if he seems truly remorseful and willing to be truthful and honest then try to remember who he really is as a person before throwing him to the curb.  He might deserve one more chance.
  3. The last group is of course the guys who cheat but have no guilt, no remorse and no interest in changing.  This is the guy who swears it will never happen again only to turn around and do it the next day.  This person may be an addict, or a disrespectful person or no longer in love, or maybe he is just a jerk – but this is the danger area.   He probably blames everything and everyone externally and doesn’t take responsibility for his own actions.  He is the kind of guy who thinks he deserves more than the rest.  You know the type.  Maybe you are married to him.  In this case there are a lot of decisions to make – but it’s important to not delude yourself into believing his words.  If you do, chances are you will just be hurt again and again.  You may decide to stay with this person for your own reasons…children, money, familiarity…but try to protect yourself and understand that another woman/women are just going to be a part of your life.  He may change eventually – but if not, just know your own limits.

All 22 million people (if that is the current number) on that AM site aren’t horrible people.  Some are.  Try to know who you are dealing with before taking the next step.

A blog for both the cheater and the cheated upon.

I certainly don’t claim to be an authority on the subject of marital infidelity, but I do think I offer a unique perspective on the subject.   My understanding arrived first as the unknowing wife who was cheated on – repeatedly – by her sex addict husband.  Second, as the lonely, confused woman who sought comfort in an affair in order to escape the pain of my husbands actions.

Many of those who follow my blog are women who themselves have experienced the unimaginable pain of discovering their husband has been unfaithful.  Another significant group of followers are men who are married but cheating on their spouse.  Interestingly, I also have women following my blog who are the the mistresses of married men.  I appreciate that there are people from all sides of this complicated subject reading my posts.   I have no ill will toward any of these people and I sincerely hope that once in a while something I say resonates with each one of you.

This diverse audience is the reason that I write in equal parts from the viewpoint of both the hurt wife and the cheating spouse.  It’s natural to just want to read the parts that you personally relate to – this selective reading provides support through familiarity but not necessarily any growth.  I encourage everyone to read both sides of my story, perhaps by doing so one can begin to find some empathy or understanding toward the other parties involved.  Trying to understand isn’t the same as condoning lying and betrayal  – but by examining the flip side of the situation I believe we can start to move closer to the goal of healing.

Here are some of the feelings that I have experienced over the past 10 years through my discovery of my husbands addiction, his acting out, his relapse, my affair and our recovery.   If you have felt any of these feelings then I suspect many of my blog posts could be of interest to you – no matter which side of the affair you fell on:

Humiliation, disgrace, embarrassment, denial, apathy, pity, anger, hatred, loathing, rage, contrition, revulsion, guilt, superiority, shame, wrath, resentment, pity, indifference, compulsion, disgust, preoccupation, fixation, anxiety, obsession, passion, longing, craving, desire, loneliness, controlling, fearful, comprehending, powerlessness, forgiving, compassion, understanding, gratitude, empathy, tolerance, trust, love.

How badly we crave what we don’t really have…the allure of our lovers

I am always astonished by my mom’s insightfulness.  We were speaking recently about how desire inevitably ebbs and flows in long term relationships.  During the conversation I mentioned that in my relationship with my ex-boyfriend the physical desire for him never wavered.  In fact, I said, it grew and grew over the years and when we finally broke up it was at it’s height.  I used this personal example to ‘prove’ that the curse of long term relationships to destroy passion wasn’t always the rule.

Once I finished telling her my thoughts she responded with an observation that had never crossed my rose colored mind.  She said “the passion lasted because you never really had him”.  Wow.  That is absolutely true and it took me over 20 years to learn it.

This is the ex I have written of before.  We met when I was 23 and were together off and on for 12 years.  We were serious for long stretches of time, then would break up, and eventually would find our way back to one another.  Sometimes the break up lasted a day, sometimes a few weeks, and once it lasted almost 2 years.  This is also the ex that I had an affair with once I learned of my husbands infidelity.  This “affair” was mostly emotional since he lives in another state but it had it’s physical moments as well.  I finally ended it for good almost 2 years ago.  21 years after I met him.  But my mom was right – I never really had him.  I always knew that he could walk out the door the next day.  I felt insecure in the status of our union and anxious about our future.  I never truly was able to depend on him and when I did he usually let me down.  It was that thrill and that uncertainty that kept the flame alive.

I think this is the case with most affairs as well.  We feel a heightened sense of passion because we know at any time the person is going to be pulled from our grasps.  We desperately cling to the moments we can hold them, touch them, see them.  And we are left longing for him/her in those long lonely nights when they are not with us.

This is a horrible way to live.  Always worrying that it’s the last time you will be together, wondering if the feelings are true, imagining them with their spouse and their families, knowing deep down that if they really wanted to be with us they would be.   We go days without hearing from them and our anxiety builds with each hour -then comes the thrill when they reach out again and this act calms all of our insecurities while setting us up for yet another round of passion followed by loss.  It’s a painful cycle.  We want so badly to believe in the fairy tale ending.  But at some point in our adult lives we need to accept that fairy tales are not true.  We do not have them.

Meetings of Two – rebuilding after an affair.

My husband and I have a weekend ritual when we sit down for a ‘check up’ with one another.  During this time we talk about how we are feeling about our relationship and ourselves.  We tell one another if we have struggled with trust, anger or resentment.  We announce the thing we did during that week that most improved our relationship and on the flip side the one thing we each did that hurt our relationship.  Sometimes the conversations are stimulating and go on forever – other times they are a little lackluster and neither of us have much to talk about.   I never know where these meetings will take us.

We like to go to our favorite coffee shop for these weekly discussions – it makes it feel more like an event or a date.  Since we had brunch plans with friends later this morning we decided to hold this weeks meeting at home, giving us the perfect opportunity to watch Esther Perel’s TED talk entitled “Rethinking Infidelity” about why people cheat.  This talk was such a great catalyst to conversation.  Both my husband and I found so much of what she said to be of interest.  It raised incredibly interesting points and questions and led to another very honest discussion about my husbands addiction-related infidelities as well as my own affair and what the two had in common.   We talked about how we felt during and after our trysts, we talked about the fantasy aspect of our actions, we talked about the power of our disclosures, we talked about anxiety and longing and desire and regret and sex.

Seeking out sources of smart, insightful information is so important when confronted with an issue such as marital infidelity.  I have gotten a lot of help from books and therapists in the past – but somehow, Eshter Perel can cut to the quick in a riveting 20 minute video.  If you haven’t already seen it, and are in a relationship, it’s worth watching.  I highly recommend watching with your spouse and see where the conversation takes you.

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.

Metamorphosis

When this all began 6 years ago, I met some wives of other sex addicts.  In the few short times I met them, I concluded that these women lived, breathed and slept “program”.   They could spout off a 12 step saying for every situation, they attended as many meetings as their addict husbands and from my misguided perspective they were being duped into having every waking moment of their lives revolve around an addiction that wasn’t theirs.  I swore up and down that I would never be like one of them.  Needless to say, I was wrong about them and, as you can see from many of my past posts, I have indeed started to transform into one of those women.

If my husband had any other disease in the world – diabetes, heart disease, scoliosis, MS, even a drug addiction – I would do everything in my power to learn about the disease in order to be able to support and help him.  Why did I think that sex addiction was any different?  It’s not.

I clearly see that this change in me is a very good thing, but dare I say at times I feel a little “uncool” about it.   In the past, I always thought of myself as an independent, adventurous, resilient, strong, edgy, confident & cool chick.   If you had told me 5 years ago that I would use words like “higher power” or that I would actively encourage empathy and forgiveness on a public blog I would have said you are crazy.  It’s embarrassing to admit, but I looked down on these traits as some sort of pacifier or crutch and thought that if I practiced these things that I would become weak, dependent, predictable and, of course, completely uncool.  The contrary is true.  All of my growth and self examination and faith have started turning me into a truly strong person who is more resilient than ever and this in turn is helping me become a good & honest wife.  I see in hindsight that I wasn’t any of these things before.  It was all just a story I told myself.  I had an unreal image of myself that wasn’t allowing myself to see anything beyond my own fantasy.

Like anything else, this revelation is a process.  On the one hand, I still think I am edgy and cool and I celebrate the things about me that set me apart  and make me feel unique and special.  On the other hand, I have opened my mind to ideas I wouldn’t previously consider and have slowly become a part of groups that I would have turned away from before.  It may take a while for me to be able to bridge the concepts of these two different people and make myself feel comfortable with their co-existence, but like anything else on this journey, that’s OK….as the program says “you can’t know what you don’t know”!