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.

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.

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.

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.

Liar: No longer an adjective that describes me

There were a lot of positive side affects that came with the disclosures that my husband and I both did last fall.  As hard as it was to tell the truth, and to hurt my husband deeply in the process, it is such a relief to know that he has all the information about my actions.  Finally he knows “all of me” and still loves me, still accepts me and has actively chosen to stay with me.  The same goes for the reverse.  I hated hearing about his activities and the memory is still difficult to think about.  But I am happy that I know the truth and that he can feel truly loved as the man he is – not the one he pretended to be for so many years.

 
The best result of coming clean is that I absolutely don’t want to dirty the water again.  If I were to cheat on my husband, I know I would tell him.  In the end, I believe he would forgive me and stay with me…regardless of that belief, I don’t want to create that kind of turbulence in our relationship. I don’t want to take us back to square one.  I don’t necessarily have all of my cravings under control, but for the first time in a long time I know that I wouldn’t hide it if I made a mistake….in that regard I am holding myself to a higher standard.  Lying isn’t an option for me right now.  That means that cheating isn’t an option.  How nice to have the freedom to do the right thing.

It’s probably not a surprise that I went to an all girls Catholic High School

I kept a pretty detailed diary in 8th grade which included in embarrassing detail my sexual experimentation with a few of the boys in my class.  The day that I got home from school, walked into the kitchen and saw my mom sitting at the table with the diary as it’s centerpiece will go down in history as one of the worst days of my life.  I literally wanted to disappear.  Apparently my brother tattled to my parents that there were some stories in our public junior high about me and my mom did the best worst thing she could have.  In hindsight I can see the love in how my parents handled the situation.  I didn’t get into “trouble”, my mom and I had a long honest talk and then I went to weekly therapy with my parents for a few months.  Of course, I should have told the therapist about my 5th grade molestation but I still felt that my parents couldn’t handle that kind of pain so I didn’t.  Such silly beliefs we hold when we are 13 years old.   No child has the capacity to handle such things on their own – but 13 year olds don’t realize they are children.

At any rate, the discovery about my promiscuity with boys forced my parents to bring up the idea of transferring me to the Catholic Girls School for 9th grade.  I resisted, I begged, I made a million promises if they would please not send me to that stuck up school!  Then my junior high had a track meet against the girls school.  I stood there with my friend Leanne watching the pretty, well groomed girls in their matching track suits warm up.  Out of the blue, Leanne said “the girls at that school always get laid”.  The rest is history.  I went home that night and told my parents I was happy to switch schools.  My mom was suspicious…she had recognized early on my ability to manipulate… but her hands were kind of tied with this.  You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  So off I went in my little uniform to join the class of 1988.

Leanne was wrong.  The girls didn’t all get laid.  But of course, I did.  I lost my virginity mid way through my sophomore year to a senior with a girlfriend.  I desperately wanted to have sex with this very popular guy and one night I was lucky enough to be offered a ride home from him after a keg party.  We parked in a lot up the street from my parents house and had sex in the back seat of his parents car.  By Monday morning the whole school knew…including the boys school which was across town from ours.  For a while, I became the girl you went to if you wanted to have sex for the first time.  Two boys lost their virginity with me because their girlfriends (my classmates) wouldn’t do it.  So much for Leanne’s theory.  When I was a junior, my friends older brother took me to a movie and then date raped me afterward.  And senior year I fell a little in love with an outcast and we had sex the night before he moved away.  He left behind a case of chlamydia to remember him by.

One would think that the displaced validation I felt when these boys ‘wanted’ me would have been outweighed by the negative affects on my reputation and health.  But it didn’t.  Being ‘easy’ started to define me and it was a label I decided to embrace.  It made me feel different…and different can feel special.

Hypersexual Behavior Disorder

It was a pretty big deal in the sex addiction community that “Hypersexual Behavior Disorder” wasn’t included in the 5th edition of the DSM – V (Diagnostic Statistical Manuel for Psychiatric Disorders).  As the spouse of an addict, I agree that this addiction should be recognized and treated with the same attention as other process addictions – Food, Gambling, Debting, etc.  The DSM is revised every so often, and is making steady but extremely slow progress in the area of addiction.  For instance, Gambling Addiction was classified in the DSM-IV under the section called “Impulse Control Disorders Not Elsewhere Classified”.  This is the same category as things such as pyromania.  It has been ‘upgraded’ to “Gambling Disorder” in the DSM-V which is great news for those affected by and treating this disorder.  But Sex addiction is still left out.

As much as I would like to see it included in the sixth addition – I have to say that I take issue with calling it Hypersexual Behavior Disorder.  I am not a psychiatrist, but in my opinion it’s the “hypersexual” part that is not accurate or inclusive enough to be the official name of the addiction.  Hypersexuality is certainly one extreme of the problem – just like bulimia is one side of eating disorders.  But there is another side to sex addiction – it is the equivalent of anorexia.

I have been highly sexual my entire teen and adult life.  I’ve had countless sexual partners and when I was in monogamous relationships I had sex, on average, at least once a day, sometimes a dozen.  The surprise isn’t that my own sexuality led me to a relationship with a sex addict but that my husband, the ‘sex addict’, barely has any sex at all.  Am I a sex addict?  Unlikely.  Is my husband a sex addict?  Absolutely.  So the one in the relationship who acts in a hypersexual fashion isn’t an addict – but the one who goes months on end without sex, masturbation, sometimes even an erection is one?  Very confusing to the onlooker.

When I was first dating my husband, we had sex at most 2 times a week.   By the time we got married (6 months later) we were down to a few times a month.  And when we went to Hawaii for our honeymoon – with much prodding I convinced him to make love with me just once, on our last night there.

It seemed like a cruel joke that the girl who grew up as the town/high school/fraternity ‘nympho’ ended up in a sexless marriage.  I constantly craved sex with my husband, but no matter what I did I could rarely interest him.   I eventually told him that if we didn’t start fucking that I would need to take a lover – he promised to start paying more attention to me sexually and blamed his lack of interest on age, antidepressants and stress.  It was a few weeks later that I found out about his cheating and everything changed.

In the 7 years that he was cheating on me, he attempted to have an orgasm about 2 dozen times and achieved orgasm 15 times, give or take.  This includes sex partners, erotic massage parlors, masturbation – ALL OF IT!!!  This certainly doesn’t sound like someone who is hypersexual.

Sex Addiction isn’t about the sex, and most certainly isn’t about the orgasm.  My husband is a prime example.  It makes it harder for me to tell people that my husband is a sex addict because I think the image that goes through their minds is of him having sex and masturbating all day, every day.  It’s just not so.  He has such intimacy issues that he can’t go there and his shame makes him a sexual anorexic.  It would be helpful to have the DSM reconsider the addiction for the 6th edition and to include a broader definition of the disorder.  Maybe “sexual behavior disorder” would be more accurate.  But with or without the medical validation of the DSM, anyone with an addicted family member knows it to be a very true, and very lonely problem.