Telling and hearing the truth

I was talking to my friend Lisa – the one with the husband who keeps getting caught with emails and texts from some woman he has been in some way involved with for maybe a few years.  All we know is what she has found – graphic photos and highly sexual texts and emails between her husband and another woman who he knows from work.  Her husband has never come clean with any information about the relationship.  Every time Lisa finds an email or text chain he says things like this:

“That was the last time I texted her.  I called and ended if right after sending that one”

“I never have touched her – it’s only emails”

“I swear it’s over and will never talk to her again”

You get the drift.  You probably won’t be surprised to know that he has never kept his word to end it.

When Lisa found the latest slew of intense emails, I suggested that the first thing she should do is have him get a full STD check.  It’s easy to do in big cities, it can be done anonymously, but she will be putting her needs first by protecting her own health and also making him have a consequence to his actions.  It’s not therapy, it’s not divorce, it’s not a decision about anything other than making herself a priority.  Her response is that she really believes he hasn’t ever been with this woman!!

Listen…I get wanting to trust the man she is married to.  But if he has never – not once – come clean about ANYTHING – or provided a detail that she didn’t know about BY CHOICE then I really think that she needs to do a reality check.  She can’t believe a single word from him as it relates to this other woman.

It’s hard to tell the truth.  It’s also hard to hear it.  All of it raises fears.  But if a relationship is going to work, then both parties need to start coming clean about their actions and feelings – and both parties need to know it’s safe to do so.  Being honest and telling the truth are skills that need to be learned – especially after a relationship has been upended by betrayal and infidelity.  It’s not easy – but it’s doable.  And until your partner can  be honest – you best do all you can to protect yourself.

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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.

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.

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.

This is how progress feels. It feels like freedom.

My husband, being a sex addict, had countless liaisons with people over the years.  95% of these acting out partners were strangers.  He didn’t know their names, didn’t care who they were, and probably wouldn’t recognize most of them in a crowd.  Of course, there were a couple of women who he did know.  They weren’t close friends, just acquaintances who made it clear they had loose boundaries and he ended up having sex with them.  Never more than 2 or 3 times – the thrill would wear off for him by then and he would move on.

I’ve written before about this one person who still contacts him.  The emails from her are few and far between – maybe twice a year – but every time she reached out to him in the past it really triggered me.  I felt sick to my stomach and got angry with my husband and started to ask questions that had already been answered.  Until now.

A few days ago, my husband saw an email from this person.  she sent it late at night so he received it when he got up in the morning.  He needed to leave for work before I got up so he came to wake me.  He said “I didn’t want to wake you but I need to tell you that I got an email from that lunatic”.  At first I didn’t know who he meant, but I figured it out pretty quickly.  I asked him what it said and he said he hadn’t read it yet.  He asked if I would like to get up so we could read it together.  I rose and we read the stupid email.  It was just a sentence or two of no consequence.  I don’t understand why she writes to him especially since he hasn’t had contact with her in 2 years.  From her emails, it doesn’t appear to be romantic or with a desire to see him.  The simplest explanation is that she is afraid of him being her enemy since they work in the same industry.

I don’t know her reasons, but still she writes.  Every time she does, we read it (and delete it) together.  But one thing changed this time.  I didn’t have a negative physical reaction.  I didn’t dwell on it all day.  I didn’t feel anger toward my husband.  I saw this for exactly what it was.  I’m not talking about this woman and her motivations.  I am talking about my husbands actions.  He isn’t hiding anything from me.  He didn’t pre-read her message to find out what it said before alerting me to it.  He loves me and wants me to learn to completely trust him again.  This is the truth.

My husband has offered for me to put a rule on his account so that her emails will forward to me, or will be immediately deleted, or bounce back to her.  Anything I want.  Anything that makes me feel comfortable.  I used to want to read them for some clue about his relationship with her.  I thought perhaps there were secrets I didn’t know.  But that’s not the case.  I know everything I need to know.  I know he is sick and acted out with her and others.  I also know that he is recovering and changed and worthy of my love and trust.  I don’t need to control his emails to know all of this.

This gal may write again, she may not.  I don’t really care.  I couldn’t much control it if I did.  But, from here on out, it won’t affect my relationship with my husband if and when she does.  This is freedom.

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.