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.

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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.

Loving with my heart, not with my head

Try as I might to calm my active mind, I lean toward being an worrier and an over thinker.   I worry about things I have no control of and have a low level of anxiety on a daily basis.  To gain some false sense of control, I have historically thought myself straight out of all of my serious relationships in the past.  I would find a ‘flaw’ that I couldn’t accept and would walk away without another thought.

When I married my husband just 6 months after meeting him I knew the risk I was taking.  I realized that it could all go horribly wrong.  I also knew that if I didn’t marry him right then that I would find a reason not to do it.  I allowed myself to be hasty because something inside of me (inside of my heart) recognized that I had found a soul mate and I needed to commit.  Waiting the socially appropriate amount of time to marry him absolutely would have been the end of us.

I grew up in a family and an environment that didn’t really see divorce as an option.  So when shit hit the fan and my husbands addict wreaked havoc on our relationship, leaving him wasn’t really an immediate option.  The marriage certificate kept me by his side when the easier and more familiar thing to do would have been to leave.  In choosing to stay, I was challenging myself to find a way to forgive and love despite the massive obstacles.  I learned that the solution wasn’t entire up to him.  Marriage is a team effort and I needed to do my fair part.  The result of this has been my incredible growth as a person.  Growth that never would have occurred had I left.  Change is never easy, but it is one of the most vital parts of a rewarding life.

It’s hard to say what would have happened if I had left, but I have a pretty good idea:  1. I would have stayed with my pattern of developing temporary, unfulfilling relationships.  2. My fear of pain and imperfection would paralyze me to move forward.  3. I would be alone by choice.  

In my head I still recognized some very strong arguments why leaving would have been, and still could sound sensible.  But to really experience all that this amazing journey has to offer I willingly take the less obvious path – I push myself to sit with the uncomfortable parts – and I am a better, happier and more fulfilled person for doing so.    I still have many days when my brain wants to overrule my heart but I am finding more balance and more contentment every day.

Taking the training wheels off

It was a warm weekend day in June, 1978.  I was 8 years old and my dad had just taught me to ride a bike without the training wheels.  My confidence was at it’s height as I graduated to my big girl bike and dreamt of all the wonderful places I would go on my bike that summer.  After supper that day my best friend Kimmy came over and rang the bell.  When I answered the door she asked if I wanted to come out and play with her.  I said “No”.  I told her that I had learned how to ride a two wheeler and that I wasn’t going to be her friend anymore until she learned as well.

I looked at her disappointed face through the screen door and realized two things: 1. her dad hadn’t the patience to teach her as my father did and 2. I didn’t want to spend a single day of summer without my best friend at my side.   So I opened the door, walked outside and said “come on…I’ll show you how”.  We spent the rest of the evening with me holding the back of the seat and running beside her as she tried to balance between the training wheels.  It seems like it took forever to get her to stabilize the bicycle.  The sun was setting and we knew we would need to call it quits as soon as our parents yelled for us to come inside.  But as the North star started to shine she finally caught on.  I had taught her to ride the bike.

I wasn’t a little brat who wouldn’t play with my friend because I thought I was superior with my newly learned skills.  I had learned that we were capable of growth and was confident enough to hold my friend to a higher standard.  I was also generous enough to help her get there.  I was encouraging and helpful and in the end we had a wonderful summer riding around on our shiny new bikes.

I think marriage should be like this…and luckily, for me and my husband, it is.  We have started to hold each other to higher standards of trust, responsibility, transparency…and love.  We are also helping each other arrive at our goals.  My husband, in the midst of his crazy addiction, didn’t know how to be honest.  He didn’t believe that he could show me his weaknesses and still be accepted.  But after 50 years of living a tortured life, when he stood at my doorway and showed me that same lost look that Kimmy had I just took his hand and said “C’mon, I’ll show you how”.

Totally in love (for today)

I am in one of those wonderfully glorious moods when I am head over heels in love with my husband.  We just spent a relaxing weekend together in the desert with no tv, no phones – just the two of us in a warm and calm environment enjoying each others company. 

I love the feel of being in love.  I really do.  But the weekend is over and it’s Monday now and I know that inevitably the feeling will pass and I will return to just loving my husband – with a little bit less of the “in love” part attached.  

I know why I do this – why I back off.  I don’t want to be hurt.  I live with an underlying fear that the rug will be pulled out from under me again and when it is I don’t want to be entirely in love.  I want to care less so that it hurts less.  This is my pattern.  I build up my resistance to the potential pain by controlling the amount of love I allow myself to feel for him.  It’s so very sad that I do this.  

I can’t change my ways overnight.  I was traumatized by his betrayal and I do need to respect my own pace and allow myself to do what’s needed to feel safe.  But rather than starting to turn off my love today, maybe I will let myself feel it for just an extra hour, day or week.  Maybe I can try to lengthen the time I spend being in love before I need to run to my safe little place where there is less of it.  

I think I will let myself be in love tomorrow too…and I’ll see how that goes.