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.

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.

privacy in a marriage: what are the rules?

Their are a lot of definitions of privacy.  Freedom from the state of being observed.  Being apart from other people.  Solitude.  The state of being concealed.  Secrecy.  How does this multi-dimensional word fit into a marriage that has lost it’s footing through a series of lies and deceits?  Maybe it doesn’t.

I ate 2 chocolate bars yesterday.  This is my right.  This has no bearing on my husband.  It’s not a great nutritional decision but I don’t have compromised health so it won’t affect my life, nor my husbands.  I find it somewhat embarrassing that I couldn’t control my desires.  I couldn’t stop at one…or bet yet at one half.  I devoured two.  It is no one’s business but my own.  I struggled with an eating disorder in college so I find the fact that I lost control to be rather shameful. Yet, told my husband.

The reason why I told him is simply because we are practicing what it feels like to have complete transparency in our relationship.  It’s not always easy to do, and truth be told it took me 24 hours to tell him what I had done with the chocolate bars.  But I did it – and it felt good.  Of course, chocolate is the easy part.

After our infidelities, both my husband and I needed to come clean to one another about our betrayals of each other.  In the presence of my amazing therapist, we told one another all of our secrets.  This was one of the hardest exercises we have ever done.  My husband went so far as to take a lie detector (his idea) so I could be confident there were no other secrets.  Even one morsel of a lie is a foundation for another.  Once we came clean, we truly don’t want to dirty ourselves again.  It’s like a shiny new car – the first speck of dirt is noticed and examined and wiped away quickly.  But once you let it go, you barely notice when it’s become weeks since it’s been washed.  My husband and I are hyper vigilant to keep that first speck of dirt from landing on our marriage.

Is this the right path for everyone?  Honestly, I don’t know why it’s not.  What is the point of keeping a secret from the person you love most in the world.  How does that honor him/her?  How does that show respect for their ability to be empathetic?  I argue that it doesn’t.  For a relationship to be truly honored, it needs to be free of lies and the pain that comes with them.

There is, of course, a flip side.  There are rules.  1.  Each partner needs to willingly give the other space.  There is no benefit to listening to every call, reading every email and otherwise controlling all of their communication.  Maybe in the immediate aftermath of an affair discovery this would be the case – but that needs to be eliminated or reduced as quickly as possible.  If it’s not, the betrayed will become obsessive and this will hurt them.  2.  If the spouse judges everything that they are told – this is also disrespectful and won’t further the relationship.  This will make the person who is trying to share want to revert back into their shell of secrecy.  If you are being respected with the truth, then you need to be mature enough to handle it.  3.  Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.  This isn’t an exercise for those who aren’t committed to rebuilding a healthy, happy marriage.  It’s not a way to get ammunition to use against them.  4.  This is a two way street.  You can’t expect honesty if you aren’t willing to give it back.  What did you do this week that you didn’t share with your mate?  Did you say something disrespectful about them to someone they know?  Did you act inappropriately in any manner?  Did you eat 2 chocolate bars and hide the wrappers?

Once the one who was hurt by a secret or a lie learns that they have access, when needed, to any information they require – then hopefully they can become less concerned with it.  Once this fight for knowledge is put to rest – a more open, loving, intimate, equal relationship can start to grow again.  More importantly, once they witness their spouse telling them their inner most truths – then, and only then, can trust begin to reemerge.

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.