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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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.

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.

Post Mastectomy update

I expected to have had some depression by this point…or at least a touch of sadness or loss.  My bilateral mastectomy was 2 weeks ago.  Leading up to the operation, I had heard that the weeks afterward would be a physical and emotional roller coaster.  It’s not.  I am so filled with gratitude and relief I couldn’t imagine fitting in any negative emotions.  I understand that everyone’s road is unique – and I certainly understand why so many women experience depression after this type if surgery – I’m just saying that it’s not a rule, as I am an exception.

During the time I was in the hospital and recovery center, I had no time for self pity as 3 of my friends had worse things happen to them.  One friend’s wife was diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer, another was assaulted at gunpoint, and a third dear friend was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer.  It’s hard to feel sorry for myself while others who I love are experiencing equal or worse pain than I.  In fact, every floral arrangement that arrived or prayer that was said on my behalf made me feel a bit guilty.

My recovery so far has been comfortable.  I didn’t need my pain meds (other than tylenol), early to tell but it seems that the implants look acceptable and I’m already able to drive and get around.  I get tired easily as my body works to put itself back together so I give myself lots of naps and leisure.

Since the subject of my blog is about life with a sex addict I will address that aspect in relation to this experience.  My breasts are taped up and bruised and need soiled bandages changed daily, my bowel movements are an actual topic of conversation and I haven’t shaved in about 2 weeks.  Those temporary unpleasantries aside these past weeks have been incredibly stressful for my husband.  He is swamped at work, having to take days and hours away from the office to be with me, worried about me when he isn’t with me, sleeping on the sofa since my mom is here to help, etc ,etc.  I know that stress is his trigger and in the past it’s this overwhelming stress that led him to the beds of other women.  I sat him down a couple days before surgery and asked him to make me a promise.  I made the request that if he has a ‘slip’ while I am undergoing or recovering from surgery that he please not tell me until I am fully recovered.  I asked him that under those circumstances that he please tell his sponsor or therapist but to keep it from me until I am healed.  My body needs every ounce of energy to recover from surgery.  What it doesn’t need is a detailed confession of an addicts slip or relapse.  It’s just another example of how I can care for myself at times when I am not 100% confident that my husband will have the power to do so for me.

Boundaries and Consequences…an addendum

My husband pointed out that he felt my post about boundaries felt a little extreme.  He made some very valid points so I wanted to clarify and expand on a couple of things.

First and foremost – a list of boundaries is not intended to be punishment for your partner/spouse.  It is a list of behaviors that you will not tolerate.   If we don’t define what we think is acceptable behavior it’s pretty shocking the things we will end up accepting.   But if we utilize boundaries to create fences around our relationships, it helps us to stay on track. Once we know where the fence line is we know that we need to stop and reconsider our direction when we get to close to the edge.

Once we clearly state the boundaries in our relationship then there can be no excuses or misunderstandings.   You see, if I never say that I’m not comfortable with my husband going to a strip club – and then he goes one day because it’s convenient and those things happen – he could just say “It was nothing – I didn’t know it would bother you” and I wouldn’t have any legitimate repercussion.  Our partners can’t read our minds so we need to be very specific.   There can be no grey area when it comes to setting boundaries, especially around sexual activities or other addictions.

It’s not intended to be an unreasonable list which turns your mate into a married version of a monk.  The list needs to be reasonable and is best created with an empathetic heart .  It’s essentially a more detailed extension of a wedding vow.  If he was willing to commit in front of God and family that he would be faithful and loyal on your wedding day – then expanding on what exactly that means to you shouldn’t be an issue.  Your boundaries could include details about money, your children, how you communicate – anything that you feel is necessary to make yourself feel safe.  It took me weeks to finalize my list – to make sure that it was inclusive and that it was fair.

Most of all, it’s not about what he does – it’s about the consequences and how you will react in response to him overstepping his boundaries.  I have been in horrible relationships in my life.  I have accepted lying, cheating, drinking, abuse – you name it.  I had very few boundaries and the ones I did have kept getting pushed away as things got worse.  The reason my ‘boundaries’ didn’t work was because I hadn’t determined the consequences if they weren’t adhered to.   You need to state very clearly how you will react if boundaries are violated.   And you have to follow through with any consequence you set – if you don’t follow through then you’ll be telling your partner that your wishes don’t need to be respected.  A boundary without a consequence is just a hope.

None of this is easy but I am lucky enough to have an exceptional therapist who guides me through this process.  Also, my husband is committed to getting & staying sober and is supportive of implementing these tools.   I am so grateful for that.

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries…oh, and consequences

I was reading some posts from one of my followers today.  From what she says, it sounds as if her husband is extremely dismissive of her feelings  and doesn’t show her the respect that she deserves.  It makes me sad, because I remember so clearly how that feels.

I can’t stress enough how valuable it is – in any relationship, but especially those with a history of wrongdoing – to have a comprehensive, written list of boundaries and consequences.   It’s not an easy list to create, it takes a bit of time and editing to come up with something that both you and your spouse can abide by, and that makes you feel protected.

At the time I created my list, I didn’t realize how comforting it would be to pre-plan my reaction if there are any slips on his part in the future.  It takes away an unknown and is a sign of respect to myself to put my needs first in a time of fear or crisis.

This is my list with some explanations:

– Computers at home and work must have internet filters which allow me access to accountability reports.  (we have installed filters and he likes not having the option to look at porn, etc.  we have also disabled safari on his iPhone)

– You must allow me access to check emails, credit card statements, phone records anytime at my request (he has given me all passwords to do this as he says he has nothing to hide anymore)

– No contact of any kind – including emails, texts, phone calls – with any acting out partners without my prior approval (I added ‘without my approval’ as it seems more fair – I can’t imagine a reason why he would need contact with them, but I am reasonable enough to know that it could be necessary in which case I would insist on being a part of the conversation, or cc’d on an email or whatever)

– Must attend an intensive retreat once a year, either solo or couples (this is a good habit for any couple – especially one who has been through the wringer.)

– Take part in yearly disclosure/polygraph for the next 3 years and thereafter when requested by me. (It sounds horrible but I see it as the equivalent of having a drug addict pee in a cup once in a while – just to be sure.  After all, the number one common trait in addicts of any sort is the impressive ability to lie)

– Inform me immediately if any acting out partners attempt to contact you (for obvious reasons)

– No social activities (lunch, drinks, etc) with female friends or colleagues without my prior consent. (My husbands job requires lots of contact with lots of people including very attractive women in his business.  They constantly as for lunch meetings – but that’s breeding ground for flirting & thus, trouble.  He just needs to ask me if it’s OK, we will discuss and make a decision together.  If he needs to see someone for business then I can suggest he bring his assistant along, or they go to a restaurant where we know people so it’s not romantic, etc)

If any of those above things fall by the wayside DUE TO HIS UNWILLINGNESS we will take a therapeutic separation during which time there will be no contact with me and I will decide how to proceed.

– If you ever lie, omit or deceive me about any inner circle activities you must apologize and confess the truth within 24 hours.  I will take a therapeutic separation long enough for me to assess the situation and will decide how to proceed.

– If I find out that you have lied about inner circle activities and didn’t confess within 24 hours we will immediately separate and you will go to rehab.  There will be no contact with me until I decide how to proceed.

–  If you take part in any physical sexual activity behind my back I will divorce you.  This includes sex, erotic massage or other physical activities with both anonymous and known partners.

– If you have any contact whatsoever including email, text, phone, IM or in person meeting with “skank who you cheated on me with” I will immediately file for divorce, even if the contact isn’t sexual.

This list changed a lot from the original version which basically had him walking around with a male chastity belt.  But I realized that we still need to live in the real world.  It’s unrealistic to say  “if you ever lie, even for a second, about anything in the world, I will leave you”.  That’s crazy.  His learned behavior from his crappy childhood is to lie when under pressure.  He has been dealing with this a lot and has made progress but lying is an easy thing to resort to.  That’s why he has 24 hours to come clean.  That gives him time to call brothers from SAA, talk to his sponsor or therapist, etc.   It’s fair.  That’s what marriage is about.

I also find that the concept of a therapeutic separation is vital.  It gives me time to sort out my feelings and discuss my options with my therapist if something goes awry.  There is no time limit on this separation, but when the shit hits the fan it’s important to have a plan in place.  I have a specific plan in place – where I go for the separation, etc – so in the case of an emergency, I won’t have to worry about where I will go.

I am very lucky that my husband is so tired of living a double life and so very much wants to be “normal”.  He is willing to agree to my boundaries.  We discussed them thoroughly and he had a few minor issues but they were sorted out between he, I and my therapist who specializes in working with partners of sex addicts.  It’s a list all 3 of us can live with.

And by the way, this isn’t a one way street.  His behavior caused me to do my own shameful things.  He is working up his list of boundaries as well and will present it to me when he is done.

I’m sure we will amend and adjust our lists over time, but a starting place is really important.  I urge everyone in a relationship that has been fraught with secrets, lies, affairs, etc to create a list and stick with it.  If your list is fair and your husband won’t agree to it then it might be time to consider further your reasons for being in the relationship.  This is why the consequence portion of this list is so very important.

In a million years I never dreamed my marriage would end up with such a list attached to it.  But that’s life – and in this life us women sometimes need to put our needs first in order to thrive.

A Momentary Loss Of Control

It’s Friday at 6:30 PM and my husband is working late.  Not significantly late.  Just a few minutes past his normal quitting time – maybe 45 minutes – but later than usual.  My logical brain understands why he needs to stay.  But the irrational part of my imagination starts rippling and then, like a tidal wave it crashes onto me with overwhelming power.
This big wave of memories brings back all of those horrible thoughts about the not so distant past and my mind immediately tries to convince me he is lying again.  Is he on the internet cruising adult friend finder?  Is he creating a false email account?  Instant messaging with one of his old acting out partners?  His computer has parental controls on it, but his employees computers don’t.  If they left and he stayed then he has access to an unprotected computer.  Maybe he isn’t on the computer at all for fear of it showing up in someone’s history.  Maybe he had an “in call” gal come by or went to the bar nearby for a drink with someone with loose boundaries.  From here I spiral into where he was yesterday morning.  I forgot to check the GPS/find my iPhone to make sure he went to work when he said he did.  He mentioned that he had gone to the hardware store on the way in – I didn’t know that because I wasn’t paying close attention.  I think about the dinner I had with 2 of my friends the other night – what was to stop him from going to the strip club that is literally 5 minutes away from our house while I was out?  He says that the risk of running into a guy from his SAA meetings is the deterrent to walking into a strip club.  I’d like to believe that protecting our marriage would be all he needs to stay out of those clubs – but apparently the risk of losing me takes a back seat to that of being found out by someone in his program.  Reality check.
All of these scenario’s are possible, which is what makes it so incredibly scary.  It’s not just a case of an imagination gone wild –  all of these things HAVE happened before.  So how do I refocus and trust that it isn’t happening today.  Truth be told, it could be, but program says “I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it and I can’t control it”.  So what would my therapist tell me to do in this situation?  Self Care, Self Care, Self Care.  I never really knew what that was before, or at least I didn’t have any concrete way to practice it.  But now I do.  Now I write down these sometimes crazy thoughts and feelings and allow the process to ground me. This blog is such a safe and calming place to “go” in these moments.  In writing this I am not alone while I wait for him to get home, I am part of something much bigger than my fear fueled imagination.