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.

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.

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.

Denial: Is it a necessary component to a relationship?

Faith, trust, belief, confidence.  These are words that regularly show up in discussions about love and relationships.  I am pretty sure that each of those words and their flowery synonyms were spoken multiple times during my own wedding service.

On the day that I married my husband I was in a beautiful dream state about what my future would hold.  My fantasy world hadn’t allowed me to delve into my fiance’s history and how it could affect my life.  He was very upfront about having cheated on his first 2 wives and fully admitted that he was a sex and love addict.  But I wasn’t willing to consider that his history could affect my future.  I believed him when he said it would be different with me.   I had blind faith that our love was stronger than the others.   I was confident that I was not the kind of person he would cheat on.  If you have read any of my other posts, you know that my fantasy life eventually exploded to reveal a hard truth and I was forced at once to become a realist.

Once a wife has been lied to and cheated on, I’m not sure she will ever be able to fully trust her mate again in that area of her life .  I think there is always that very real concern in the back of our minds that the lies and affairs could happen again.  This is especially true when the lying and cheating happens over and over again as it did in my case.  This doesn’t mean I don’t trust him in other areas of our life.  I believe with 100% of my being that he would take a bullet for me.  I know he will be there whenever I ask and do anything it takes to rebuild our marriage.  I have faith that he will not leave me.  But in order to trust him in the area of fidelity, I need to employ some version of denial.  If I don’t go to this place of denial, I will always worry about the unknown.  My husband thinks this sounds pessimistic.  On the contrary I say.  It is sensible and is the very thing that allows us to move forward and to rebuild.   Perhaps it would soften the blow if I were to call it faith rather than denial – but really, in the end, both of these words deal with possibilities too frightening to consider.

I can’t spend my days dwelling over his past wrongdoings.  I know they exist but I am in denial that they could be happening today.  I have set the boundary that if he betrays me again and lies about it then I will leave him.  There will be no 3rd chance. I have a plan of action, and there in lies my self protection and my relief from worrying on it.    I won’t put my head in the sand, nor will I ignore signs that he has strayed.  But until there is proof of further infidelity I will use a version of denial as a coping mechanism.  Until that time, if it ever comes, it does no good to worry about it.  Every day, people on this Earth put blind faith in important areas of life – from our doctors to our Gods – we sometimes have to just believe in order to get past the scary parts.

The more you look the more you see.

I have never been an overly empathetic person.  I have built up walls and donned armor since childhood to protect myself – and to protect others.  Even as a child I felt a great responsibility to shield my parents from what I considered unnecessary pain.  I did not tell them that I was molested when I was 11 by a stranger.  I thought that I could handle it myself and they never needed to feel the pain of knowing that their daughter was violated.  I was proud of that decision at the time.

What I have pieced together now is this:  After that unfair loss of innocence, I learned to camouflage my pain with attention from other boys…and as I grew up those boys turned to men. No matter how unhealthy the relationship I was in, I convinced myself that it made me complete.  I really thought I had it all figured out.  I thought that being with ANYONE was better than being alone.

When I found out that my husband had betrayed me, I used my only learned coping mechanism which was to replace his love with someone else’s.  I felt justified.  I felt due.  I needed to be validated.  I flirted with people at work and strangers at the gym, I ‘friended’ old flames on facebook and I rekindled a relationship with an ex-boyfriend who I thought I could return to if the pain got too much.  I was looking for any response to validate myself.  In hindsight, it seems insane to think that someone friending me back could ease the unbelievable pain I was in.  But for a moment, just a split second, it did.  In the end, I didn’t get what I needed through other men.  What I needed – was I was missing – was to feel my husbands love.  What I see now is that his love was there – but my ego couldn’t look past the betrayal to accept it.

That was 6 painful years ago.  This summer I learned that my husband had relapsed 6 months into his sobriety and had been acting out for the past 5 1/2 years.  The pain was immense, but it isn’t as bad as the first time.  This time is different.  This time I have made the decision to do everything differently.  I am doing it “by the book”.  I am not masking my emotions through attention from ex-boyfriends.  I am tearing down my walls.  I have learned that my walls don’t protect me – the isolate me.  My armor doesn’t make me strong, in my aloneness it makes me weak.  I am accepting my role in this relationship.  I am committed to being completely transparent and honest with my husband.  And, you know what?  It is really, really, really hard to do.

It took 30 years to recognize that I still keep secrets to protect the people I love…just like my husband who learned to lie at a very young age for his own legitimate reasons.   The parallel’s have always been there, but it took this long to see that.  I have no choice but to tell him what I did over the past 6 years.  Not only will learning of my actions hurt him – but he will have to live with the knowledge that it was his behavior which caused mine.  He will blame himself.  Every part of my being is fighting to keep up the lie in order to protect him.  But this time around, that isn’t a choice.

Sex addiction is a horrible disease – and like all horrible diseases we need experts and support systems to get us to the other side…to get us to healthy again.  So I attend S-Anon, I am exploring the 12 steps, I am seeing a brilliant therapist who doesn’t let me ignore truths.  I am lucky enough to have a husband who now is removing the blinders from his eyes as well.  He had been attending SAA for all those years that he was living in relapse.  He had a sponsor.  He went to weekly therapy.  But he was still keeping his shameful secrets.  But this time he is doing it all differently.  He won’t give in and I won’t give up.

By looking at my own secret keeping (which I literally didn’t know was there) I have been able to move past angry.  I can EMPATHIZE with him for the first time in my life.  I know that telling me that he acted out is as hard for him as if I had to tell my parents what happened when I was 11.  Yes, yes…I see the difference.  I was a child who had done nothing wrong.  I was a victim.  But my husband is a victim of his own tortured childhood as well.  His history gave him a terrible disease.  But with his willingness and my empathy – together we can look at it and conquer it.

My husband has told me all of his secrets.  Now it’s my turn.   There is no way of knowing if he will still love me after he knows everything about me – which makes this the scariest thing I have ever had to do.  But I can’t expect him to be completely open with me if I am unwilling to do the same for him.  My love for him has endured the unimaginable.  Hopefully his love for me with have the same capacity.   Hopefully our truths will lead to greater understanding and a more powerful love.  Hopefully.