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Burden of Responsibility: Is a mother to blame for her son’s infidelity?


I received an email from a reader of the blog today.  She is devastated because she just learned that her son has been unfaithful in his relationship, and she feels that she has failed as a mother.  As a betrayed spouse, she had a horrible experience, and wanted only the best for her children.  She shared the infidelity openly with them, in the hopes that they would see the pain their father had caused, and know the impact and devastation that an affair can bring.

She emailed me today to ask if I thought that she was a failure as a mother as a result of her son having strayed.

I picked up the email as I was stepping into the car to pick up my children from school, so I didn’t have the chance to send a detailed reply.  Since I was going to reply further, and since I know she reads the blog, I thought that others could also benefit from the post, and also chime in with their thoughts and support for her.

In my opinion, she is no more responsible for her son’s adulterous ways than she was for the affairs her husband had.  These are grown men, with free will, who should know better, and who chose to commit infidelity in their relationships…JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER MAN/WOMAN WHO DOES IT.  I told her in my reply that she is not responsible, and then I wanted to go into more detail and couldn’t.  What I would have added was:

My Mother in Law (MIL) was repeatedly cheated on by my FIL.  He took several mistresses, including my son’s nanny, and my MIL’s best friend.  Repeated infidelity over a long period of time, and infidelity that she came to know about.  Surely, she sought no help, and received no support.  I know this not only because this wouldn’t have been as commonplace (the support, not affairs), but also because she is not one who would know how to solve the issue, how to communicate effectively around it, how to seek support, and  is someone who would instead internalize it, thinking herself the cause, shifting the blame onto herself.  After many years, and a divorce, he abandoned her when she started to show signs of mental illness.  She was increasingly afraid to go out on her own, paranoid from time to time, and just not her old self.  She was damaged, and he moved on…married the best friend that he had once cheated with (needless to say that relationship didn’t last either).   She was, and still is, a broken woman.  She lives with her elderly mother, a woman who puts her down, makes her feel incapable and has essentially infantalized her into being completely dependent on her.

My husband had an affair knowing FULL WELL what the consequences of affairs can be.   He watched his mother disintegrate into a shell of a woman.  Is his mother to blame for not having “raised him right?”.  Absolutely not.  Should I blame her for not being proactive enough and educating him on how to prevent an affair?  No.  I can’t blame her anymore than I can blame myself for his affair.

So, dear reader, unless your son consulted with you, and asked you whether he should seek an affair and you helped him to have one, you have no responsibility for his actions.

Last night on the news, I sat transfixed on the story of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, who were kidnapped and help captive for ten years, repeatedly raped and beaten by Ariel Castro.  I watched as they interviewed his mother, sitting in the front seat of her car, overwhelmed with grief and shame for her son’s actions.  She wept, speaking in Spanish, telling the news crew how she is so sorry for what he has done, and how she feels so badly for those girls.

I think we would all agree that this mother can’t be blamed for her son’s wicked actions, and we can all be fairly assured that she did her best in raising him, and cannot be held responsible for his decisions, many years after she has completed “raising him”.

Ted Bundy’s mother, Paul Bernardo’s mother…pick any sociopathic individual who has commited the most heinous of crimes, and we can still say with certainty that their mothers didn’t influence their actions, or play a role.

Dear reader, I know it is hard to learn that someone you love has been so hurtful to someone else, especially when you feel he should have known better, seeing what you had gone through.  It is hard to look at him, and not be triggered once more, feeling like the devil is too close.  It is hard to see him as your son, and not as a man who is capable of such deceit and causing such anguish.  Remember, that if he is remorseful, and truly wants to learn from this and grow, that he will need your support.  You are in a great position to be a support to his partner, and to help her through this.  You will help bridge the gap between them, and offer them hope and solutions.  You are, however, in no way responsible for what he has chosen to do, any more than you would be responsible if he woke up tomorrow and robbed a bank.

Stay strong.

 

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Seek out like others


Being betrayed by an affair has to be the most devastating thing a person can go through.  It has been said that the pain that comes from someone betraying the most intimate part of your life is far worse than going through the loss and death of a loved one.   Seeking appropriate support is necessary.

What is appropriate support?

Well, that definition will be different for many, but for me, it was in finding people who would support me without judgement and equally importantly, would support me without putting my husband down.

I had made the decision to work on my marriage and to heal it after his betrayal.  I knew I needed people to talk to, but I didn’t think bad-mouthing my husband was enough.  That was surface shit, and I needed deeper.  I wanted people to hear ME, listen to ME, heal ME….tearing up my husband was just anger-management, not healing. It feels good in the moment, but long term…it’s crap.  Besides, I’d made the decision that he was worth fighting for…and if they didn’t stand by that choice, they weren’t good enough to let into the “circle of trust”.

Shirley Glass calls these friends, “friends of the marriage”.  They are friends who will stand by you and your partner, helping you navigate the journey without suggesting separation, bad-mouthing the other, or sabotaging your efforts at regaining intimacy.  They can play devil’s advocate – sure – but in the end you need to feel like they do so only to help you clarify, not to dissuade or influence you.

I lost friends as a result of my husband’s affair.  Now, I may have lost these friends anyway, but it was the beginning of the end.  In one friend, she was unable to see my husband positively, and I felt the tension every time we were together.  I knew it would never be the same.   In another friend, my husband’s affair and the resultant conversation from it took up too much space in our friendship.  I was in the heat of the pain and needed to talk, and I am sure I talked about it a lot.  The main problem here?  She is an unmarried friend who doesn’t have the same insights into marriage and commitment that I have.  That statement would no doubt be perceived as condescending by her if she read it, but the simple fact of the matter is that until I was married, I too thought I knew what it takes to make a marriage work.  I had no idea.

Finding “LIKE” others means finding those who are like you.  Find those who have gone through it, or who are going through it.  They will listen.  They will tolerate your rehashing of the same sticky point over and over, and help you move past it.  They will offer invaluable insights.  They will be patient.  They will not judge.  They will care.  Have more than one.

Attending support groups, like the ones offered through Beyond Affairs Network (BAN) are a great resource to find local people who are willing to meet and share their stories.  The support feels great.  You aren’t alone, and there are those living within your city going through the same stuff who want to hear you.

Attending seminars and talks, reading books about infidelity, or seeing a therapist TRAINED IN AFFAIR RECOVERY are crucial too.   I mention the latter in capital letters because a therapist isn’t enough.  You don’t want someone who just sits and nods their heads. You want someone who understands the devastation after an affair, and how to navigate your feelings with you.  The same goes for marital therapists….they need to be AFFAIR RECOVERY TRAINED.  Otherwise, you are getting marital therapy, and that isn’t what you need right now….right now you need crisis management around an affair. The marital work comes later.

No one can understand your pain who hasn’t been there.  Many times, often our spouses – the ones closest to us – don’t even understand it, so how can we expect a friend to?

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Finding “Like” others is helpful….I’d be so bold as to say it is crucial.  Surviving an affair is hard.  It is even harder alone.  Please reach out.

Remaining true to myself and my journey


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This weekend, I had the opportunity to be exposed to an individual who really pushed my buttons.  He had requested to be a part of the support group that I head up in my city.  It is for betrayed spouses only, and our only pre-requisite to join is that you are a betrayed spouse seeking support who has never, in turn, betrayed someone else. I will call this member, “memberX”

We meet in the same place every month, and we take turns sharing an issue which is coming to a head for us at that moment, that we need support on, or share something that has helped us in the hopes that it helps someone else. Over the months since I started the group, we have developed quite a strong and supportive network, and we look forward to our monthly meetings.

As we sat together this week, we had a couple of new faces.  As is usually the case, I take some time before the meeting to talk quietly with the new members to reassure them that there is no need for them to feel pressured to speak, and that they can share the details of their story at their own pace, if at all.  I hadn’t shared any of my story, or the details that my husband and I had fully restored our marriage.  I simply started the meeting, and allowed it to take its course.  Within a little while, as a member was sharing something about her pain and grief and the process she had undertaken and some choices she had made, he piped up and mentioned how he had done things totally differently, and how he saw no value in how she had handled it.  It was in respect to telling friends about your spouse’s affair.  This woman had opted to not share the details of her husband’s affair with anyone.  She felt shame and embarrassment, and didn’t want to burden others with her pain.  Instead, she was suffering silently.  I see value in sharing the details with friends, but being very selective in WHO you tell, as I had told some now who I wish did not know.  I feel regret. The support I got wasn’t worth the regret I now feel.  I chimed in that she need not suffer alone, and that she may want to tell one close person who she feels would be able to help her.  The other members piped in and suggested she might have family, friends, or people overseas that would allow her to share her feelings, but not burden them with the immediate compassionate response one would feel compelled to give when sitting face to face.  MemberX interrupted with the comment that he couldn’t understand why she hadn’t told anyone, after all, he had told EVERYONE. Completely discounting her feelings and showing no compassion for her process, he undermined her completely, offering instead his advice based on what he himself had chosen.  The ‘rulebook and healing wisdom’, as compiled by memberX.

Later in the meeting, I was asked how a wayward spouse can ever be certain that they won’t betray their spouse again.  My comment was a fairly straightforward one. ” If a wayward spouse has done the internal work on themselves and thoroughly made an effort to understand HOW and WHY their affair happened, to see what decisions led them to the path that they found themselves on, then when in the future, they come to that same fork in the road, it will arise in them a feeling of discomfort and familiarity.  They will know that they are sitting at a fork in the road, and be able to make decisions backed by a knowledge of where they are at, and why they don’t want to go that way.  The first time they were on that path, they were blind, led only by unconscious feelings.  Bringing those to consciousness and having a desire to understand is what will prevent them from going down that same road”.  “Bullshit”, memberX yelled from across the table.  With suggestions that he and I might have to “agree to disagree”, he told the members of the group that all wayward spouses will reoffend, that it will only be easier the second time.  The horror and pain in the eyes of those at the table who had been working to reconstruct their trust was palpable, and the discomfort around the room was thick.  “So you think that each of our spouses will do this again?” I asked.  “Absolutely” he replied.  I found it almost comical that someone who showed absolutely no insight into affair recovery, and who had done very little self-work or marital work, and wasn’t given a chance to heal his marriage, could do so with such certainty and faith in their position. I think opinions are great, and I welcome debate when it is done with intelligence and knowledge, but this was simply blind opinion, fed only by his own jaded and bitter perspective, and I felt sorry for those around the room that were hurt.

Later into the meeting, as we sat and talked about ways to maintain and restore trust, I talked about the ways in which partners could openly and together reinforce the boundaries of their relationship by constantly patrolling the integrity of their marital fortress, and patching any holes in its foundation.  Sometimes one partner can see what another can’t, and just like the umpire in a baseball game giving the pitcher direction about which way to throw to avert the other team, a spouse can offer insight and vision to his spouse about threats to their marriage that the other partner is blind to.  I told a story about another couple who have it as an unspoken rule that if one partner suspects someone else is interested in their spouse, they tell the other, and no-questions-asked, the exposure to that individual is limited.  They, as they say, “have each other’s backs”.   MemberX laughed loudly, tossing his head back with a non-chalance.  Once again, my story and perspective was called out as “bullshit”, and we were going to have to agree to disagree.  According to memberX, his wife was a grown woman who made her bed, made her decisions and should have known better.  While I agree wholeheartedly with that, I also know that there are a myriad of other factors, and that it isn’t as simple as that.  He commented that if an individual needs their spouse to externally govern their behaviour because they don’t have the internal fortitude to govern themselves, than the fault lies with the one who can’t be governed.  He also went on to say that he himself would never find himself in that situation, would never hurt and betray his spouse, and wouldn’t need someone else to be his eyes and ears.  I think that is wonderful, if he believes that, but I also know that no person and no marriage is immune.  I also know that to think that one is completely impermeable to an affair, that it is the biggest vulnerability that he can have, and is what makes him the most vulnerable of all to it.  His comment that he could have a woman naked in his lap and not be tempted simply showed the simplicity of his thoughts on the matter.  It isn’t about sex, it isn’t about being tempted.  It is very black and white thinking to think that every affair is borne from someone being tempted and then succumbing to the temptation and making a choice to have an affair. Yes, some affairs are pre-planned.  I would wager a bet that this is the minority of them though.  Most affairs aren’t intentional, and until you take the time to actually read up on, and understand the anatomy of an affair, and how they happen to otherwise GOOD PEOPLE, you will simply just go on being bitter.

I think the thing that perturbed me most about the exposure to this person was that his comments were made in an attempt to invalidate my experience. What I felt important were scoffed at.  What I felt had helped me (and countless others) to heal and find peace, was laughed at, and given no credibility, no weight, no acknowledgement.  I have just fought the war of my life for the one that I love, and I have been through hell and back a few times.  I’ve been bitter.  I’ve been jaded.  I’ve wanted to kill myself. I’ve wanted to not wake up.  I’ve gotten up, tried again, fallen down, and kept rising.  I’ve found resources to help me understand what has happened to me.  I have attended seminars and teachings about how to heal.  I have listened to countless stories from betrayed spouses, wayward spouses and couples trying to heal to see the pattern we all share, what works, and what doesn’t.  I’ve used this information to forge tools to help in my healing.  Not only did they help us to survive, they helped us to thrive.  When you have been through the devastation of an affair, and have put in the work to REBUILD your marriage, which means dropping the bitterness, dropping the sense of entitlement to your pain in order to hear out your spouse, dropping the feeling of superiority in order to get a true and honest appreciation of the COMPLETE picture, not just your side of it, and taking the time to LEARN things you perhaps DIDN’T KNOW, you learn to appreciate the tools you used to rebuild.   They have deep meaning for me, those tools., and I will be damned if someone is going to come in and ridicule them. These beliefs and tools continue to help me along this path, and have also helped countless others who forged the same tools.  Some things just WORK.  But to sit in a room and listen to a person discredit what I have found to work, to undermine the power in the techniques that I *KNOW* work, and to undermine my healing by telling me that I am full of shit, well that really impacted me.

You see, memberX, I don’t need people to agree with me or my methods, or my perspective.  All I ask for is to show COMPASSION for another person’s journey and what they have found has eased their pain.  Agree with it or don’t, it isn’t your place to ridicule it.  I won’t ridicule how you go about your healing and I certainly won’t tell you that you are full of shit because you choose to see those who cheat as eternally flawed and not worth being redeemed, even though I do disagree.  And when I do disagree with you, I will keep it to myself and simply allow you your time to speak because I am there to support you, in whatever way YOU need that to look like.  If that means stomping my feet and standing beside you while you scream out that the world isn’t fair, and that cheaters suck ass, then I will do that.  What I won’t do is ridicule you when I don’t agree.  Instead, I will simply remain quiet and give you the chance to process your feelings.  I simply ask you to do the same for me, and for all of us around that table because it is, after all, a support group.

And with that, I will say that I remain true to my feelings, and my process.  I have done amazing work and am proud of what we have accomplished.  I am not a naturally forgiving person, so to have the biggest hurt possible thrown at me, and to come out the other side able to forgive…I think I will pat myself on the back thank you very much, and I don’t need or ask for anyone’s agreement or recognition.  I was given the choice to be bitter or be better, and I choose to be better.  Choose whatever path makes you happy, and brings you peace and comfort.

At the end of the meeting, as we were saying goodbye, he smirked and said ” I hope I wasn’t too hard on you”, to which I replied “absolutely not, because I will always be tougher”.  He scoffed as I turned to leave.  After going through what I have, I firmly believe that I am tough.  I won’t cower to anyone, and if you choose to ridicule my process, and undermine what has been truly inspiring and helpful to me, you WILL see a strength you don’t expect.  Trust me, I didn’t know it was in there either, until I had to rely on it to survive.

 

“I never stopped loving you”


This post comes on the heels of an earlier post, where I discussed how a husband can have an affair, and claim to still love his spouse.  It’s crazy making, right?

As I mentioned in the above-linked post, this was something my husband used to say to me all the time when I was hurting.  He knew I felt unloved in his actions, so he reassured me that he had never stopped loving me during his affair.  It made me sick to my stomach, and almost hurt more.  Was this his twisted idea of what LOVE is?  Is showing love to me going out and creating false email addresses designed to sneak around behind my back?  That isn’t love to me.  Is showing me love going out and finding pleasure in the arms of another woman?  That isn’t love to me.  Is showing ME love, buying a hotel room in order to penetrate another woman, while I struggle at home to get the kids home from piano lessons, get dinner made, homework checked and kids washed and ready for bed?  That isn’t love to me.  But for him, it meant something different.  It meant that he had merely compartmentalized her, and kept her and their relationship in a separate box from the one in which the rest of his life resided.  He was able to open that box and visit it, and then when he was done, he could close the lid, and open his usual box.  They were never open at the same time, so when he was in one box, the other was out of mind.  Although, I would wager a guess that while I may not have come to mind while he was with her, she certainly came to mind when he was with me, and that is because she posed  continuous threat on our relationship, something I could never have done to them, as I was in the dark, kept in a box, with the lid on tight.

Nothing would infuriate me more than my husband saying the words “But I never stopped loving you”.  It was like a kick to the midsection.  Left me breathless and confused.

One day, as we drove back from therapy, on the way to picking up our children, he said it again.  I screamed at him in the car, trying to help him understand that those words are empty and hurtful, not helpful as he had hoped they would be.  He wanted me to say “Oh!  I understand you did this, but you still LOVED me throughout, so I should actually be happier about this than I am!”  That wasn’t my reaction.

At the end of my rope, as we drove, I tried to help him see it from my perspective.  I had to find a way for him to see my position on this.  Seeing my position meant standing in my shoes, and since I hadn’t cheated on him, I had to take him on a mental journey through part of my experience.

Now, he was driving at the time, otherwise I would have asked him to close his eyes.  Instead, I asked him to vividly picture the words I was going to convey. It needs to be said that in my line of work, I work alone.  I do not have employees or colleagues, and I work for myself.  And so I began:

“There is a man I work with.  He is tall, muscular, athletic and fit.  He makes me laugh, and has a great sense of humour.  He and I have been working together for about 6 months, just he and I, in my small office space.  He and I, spending so much time together lately, have been sharing more and more details of our lives with one another.  I have learned about his family.  I have learned about his likes and dislikes, and he has learned about mine.   Our friendship has grown stronger over the past few months, and we have taken to grabbing lunch together on most days, instead of splitting up and resuming work at the end of our lunch.  He has opened up to me a great deal, and shared some very personal details of his life.  I too have shared details about mine.  I think he appreciates the reciprocation, and it helps us as colleagues to open up to one another, as it makes us better work partners, not just strangers who have to be there, but want to.  A few weeks ago, while we were having lunch, his hand brushed mine, and I didn’t pull it away.  He turned to me, to gauge my response, and we looked at each other and knew.  The attraction that had been building between us over the past months was unavoidable.  As he looked into my eyes, we both felt it.  Moments later, I felt our lips touch, and we were kissing.  It was the passionate first kiss that everyone remembers.  My head was spinning with the excitement, as it had been years since I’d had that experience…” I looked over at my husband as he drove, and his brow was furrowed in either intense concentration on the words, or he was angry at being put through the exercise, or the content was bothersome.  I couldn’t tell, so I continued.  “Before long, I found myself wishing we were somewhere more private, where I could fully and completely express myself and my affection for him.  I asked him if he wanted to get a hotel, and he agreed.  We agreed to meet there, and take separate cars so that we were less obvious, in case we ran into someone we knew, and I needed to be available at 3:30 to pick up the kids from school.  I wouldn’t have had time to return him to his car back at work, and vice versa.  I fantasized throughout the entire drive about what was about to happen.  Would he find me attractive naked?  What did he look like naked?  Is he a good lover?  ‘Of course, he must be’, I thought, considering his sexual energy.  The traffic could not move fast enough to satisfy my hunger, and soon I had parked the car, and was running into the lobby.  He was already at the desk, making the arrangements.  He had obviously driven faster than me.  He must have been as excited as I was.  We hurried through the check-in process, giving fake names, and a credit card number.  As soon as the plastic key card entered his hand, his eyes met mine and he smiled.  This was really going to happen.  We rushed for the first available elevator. Truthfully, I would have taken the stairs to the 21st floor, it didn’t matter, but thankfully, it only took seconds for the elevator car to open.  Speed walking through the hallway, he held my hand tightly.  His hand was sweating, and I could feel his rushing pulse.  It matched mine.  We fumbled clumsily with the key card in the lock, and finally the door opened.  We crossed the threshold and the door slammed shut behind us.  The next moments are a blur as we peeled off one another’s clothes with an excitement that I had long since forgotten.  Revealing his body to me, and mine to him, we became ever more excited, and he kissed me.  Before I knew it, we were on the bed, his gentle caresses on my neck.  What followed was the most amazing and extraordinary sexual experience I’d ever had…”  I looked over at my husband driving, and his knuckles were white on the steering wheel, his jaw clenched, and I continued. “He gave me the most intense and body-consuming orgasms I’d ever had, over and over again, until we both fell onto the bed together, in a breathless and sweaty pile, our hearts racing, and our bodies satisfied.”

“So, tell me”, I asked of my husband while he drove, “where exactly in that situation was I loving you?”.  My husband’s eyes filled with tears, and he finally understood.  “I wasn’t”, was his reply.  “I was never loving you or showing you love in those moments, if I was doing something so selfish with someone else like that.  I wasn’t loving you at all”.

My husband got it.  He never again told me “I never stopped loving you”, because he realized that while he may have never stopped FEELING love for me, for those moments that he was deceiving me, he wasn’t LIVING his love for me.  For the first time in our recovery, my husband stood in my place, and felt the horror of what I was feeling.  Knowing that the pain and anguish he was feeling as a result of a made-up imaginary exercise had caused him such hurt, he knew that mine must be so much greater, and at that moment, he felt what it felt like to stand in my shoes, and the ugly view I had from where I stood.  From that moment, he invested himself in SHOWING me he loved me, and it has made all the difference.

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The big W


When we discovered our husband’s affair (or when it was disclosed willingly), the first set of questions we had were:

Who did you have the affair with?
When did all of this happen?
Where did you two go together?
What did you two do together?  What did I do to lead you to an affair? What is it about me that makes you not love me?  What gave you the right?  What were you thinking?

These form the bulk of our questions in the first months following the discovery of an affair. We want the details. We want to make sense of what has happened to us. If you are like me, you want to put the missing pieces of your marriage’s puzzle together so that you can see the picture more clearly (I can’t make decisions without all of the information). We ask question after question, ad nauseum. We feel like a broken record, going over the details again and again, asking the same question five different ways. But, above all, the question that most plagues us, and the one that eludes us the most is the question of WHY.

Why would a man, who has made a commitment to love and cherish you, suddenly turn his sights on another woman?  Why would he betray your trust so painfully?  Why would he risk all that you have built for this seemingly meaningless encounter, or second-rate relationship?   It is the foundation of what most bothers us, and the question that few ever get the honest answers to.  As painful as it would sound to hear it, we almost prefer to hear “She was thinner than you”, to “I don’t know why I did it”  After all, don’t we all have enough self awareness to know why we do the things that we do?  Don’t we all have some measure of self control over our lives, our decisions, and our circumstances?   The answer to that is “not always”, and most of us are less self aware than we think we are.  I think it gives us a measure of safety to think that we are in control of ourselves, and that our decisions are all made consciously with good intentions after much research and contemplation, but the fact is, they are not.  More on that later…back to the WHY question.

In the wake of my husband’s disclosure, I yearned for the why.  I wanted to know why a man who I *thought* I knew so well could have gone behind my back, lied, created opportunities for himself to philander, and have gotten another woman pregnant?  Why was I so unaware?  Why was I so blind?  Why didn’t I see the signs????  The biggest why of all, however, was “Why did you cheat on me????”.  He didn’t have the answer, and that hurt almost as much as the news itself.  It sounded like a cop-out.  It sounded like yet another lie in the web he’d created, and saying “I don’t know”, sounded like a way to avert the truth, to avoid hurting me, to avoid looking like an idiot.  It just sounded like a pathetic excuse.

Within an hour of ‘finding out’, I locked myself in my bedroom and pulled out a journal and began to furiously scribble my thoughts.  My pen could not move as fast as my thoughts, and I was having a hard time keeping up.  Here are some excerpts of what I wrote:

” …I am thinking that this is a nightmare, and I’ll wake up soon – I hope.  I fear tomorrow I will open my eyes and realize that the day is just beginning and this is real, and not going away.  I feel so stupid, so naive, so ridiculous.  Deep down, I know that I am not the fool, you are.  I’m just the one who opened herself up too much, trusted too much, and naively believed that I was the luckiest woman in the world…You and I used to talk about infidelity and how we felt lucky that we’d never find ourselves there, and yet here we are.  You told me that you’d never have eyes for another woman, that I was beautiful, smart, and everything you’ve ever wanted.  You gave me such a strong feeling of security and enclosure.  I never dreamed of this…Why wasn’t I good enough for you?  Why wasn’t I enough?  Did I get too fat?  Did I lose my youth?  Do you workout for her?  You started cheating around our anniversary and that kills me. You were intimate with another woman and that sickens me to the depths of my core.  You’ve touched and been touched by someone else.  What gives you the right to act so selfishly?  To turn my life upside down?  The kids lives?  How could you turn to someone else.  How could you turn to someone like HER?  I am insulted that I was picked over in favour of someone as sorry and pathetic, as mean, as superficial, and disgusting as her.  I am sick that my love for you has been made a mockery by you two…I find myself in a place I can’t describe.  On the one hand, I see you suffering and I want to reach out to you and make it all better.  I want to run to you and hold you and tell you that we’ll be ok, and have you wrap your arms around me.  You’re the only one who comforts me, and the only one I can turn to, and now I feel all alone. On the other hand, I want you to feel hurt, pain, and worry about our future. I want you to be DESPERATE and WANT ME.  Turning to you to comfort YOU makes me feel like the world’s biggest idiot after what I’ve just learned. She is carrying your baby – that is surreal.  I am the ONLY one who should have that priviledge, and that has been taken from me.   How could you be so stupid????”      

Looking back over my words, expressed over two years ago, I can remember vividly where I was, and how I felt.  My first entry was all questions, centred around my worth as a wife and partner.  I wanted to know that I was loveable.  I wanted to know why I wasn’t enough.  I needed to be reassured that it wasn’t because of ME or because I’d fallen short in some way.  My bruised ego simply couldn’t take that.  I wanted to know what she had that I didn’t.  I wanted to know why someone he had described as being so pathetic could ever have been considered as anything more?

Why became my biggest question over the coming months, and I was desperate to know how it came to be.  I wanted to understand it, anatomically pick it apart. I needed to see the affair from the vantage point of my husband, with all of the details. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t asked for so many details so quickly, but I was just emotionally wrecked and didn’t think I could take another blow, so I wanted it all at once.  Some of the information was tolerable, if I imagined it wasn’t really him, but a Hollywood actor, and he was telling me a story.  When I would snap back to reality and realize that he was describing true events that involved HIM, I was sick.  Some of the information was completely intolerable and left me with flashbacks for months.  In May 2010, I asked him whether he had ever done anything with her sexually that he hadn’t done with me.  His response was no.  I asked if the sex was better.  His response was no.  But, then he decided to add a little detail, saying “well there was this thing she did with her hips once that was amazing”…and I was right back to square one.  From that day on, I tried to imagine what it was she had done, and wondered why I couldn’t do it?  Did I dare try?  “No”, I thought, “I don’t want to aspire to be someone like HER”.  It grated in my memory for the longest time, and caused such flashbacks when we were intimate for the longest time.

We all want to know WHY, and yet it is the one thing they can’t answer much of the time.  Much of that comes from a lack of awareness of why.  After all I have learned, I think that many men really don’t realize WHY they did what they did, and it was that exact LACK of self awareness that put them there in the first place.  A few weeks ago, I posted about vulnerabilities and what factors can pre-dispose people to affairs.  Most of them shocked me.  I wouldn’t have known they were flags, let alone red ones.  I guarantee you men don’t know either.  Most men don’t make a conscious plan to have an affair.  It is a situation in which they suddenly find themselves after having slipped down a slippery slope, having allowed their moral compass to shift somewhat, allowing them to perceive previously actions previously described as irreprehensible as suddenly “tolerable”.  Little by little they slip, rationalizing and justifying their actions to themselves along the way until there is NO DOUBT that they have crossed that line, and now it is a matter of damage control.

Finding the why is hard.  It takes a man (or woman if you are a man and your wife cheated) who is willing to patiently answer all of your questions, who is willing to repeat as needed all of the details until you are satisfied, and then often repeat them some more.  It takes a person who is willing to be introspective and to look inside themselves at what was going on for them at the time, what the affair was giving them that they felt they were lacking.  It takes someone willing to do the work.

I can’t say enough good things about the “healing from affairs” weekend, offered by Anne and Brian Bercht.  Seeing the affair of other men, and realizing that my husband was not unique in his situation was tremendously healing for me.  Being able to see his lack of self awareness as just that, and not a bunch of lies aimed at avoiding the real reason for WHY.  The Beyond Affairs website has a lot of great tools and resources including the tele seminars which are recorded, and which you can listen to at your desk, or on a tablet in the privacy of your room.  The in-person seminars, are, however, the best option, if you can manage it.  If you are both willing to do the work, this will get you there, and WAY FASTER than what we have endured.  I recommend everyone to take a look at the site, and consider attending a weekend.  You will be so glad you did.  You’ll get your why.

**Edited to add as an afterthought***:

For those struggling with the why….it wasn’t about you.  It wasn’t something you did, or didn’t do.  It wasn’t because you aren’t pretty.  Studies have shown that strangely enough, men often cheat with women inferior in looks to their spouse.  It isn’t because you aren’t thin enough.  It isn’t because you burn dinner, or forget to starch the ironed shirts.  It isn’t ANYTHING you did or caused.  In fact, if you were the epitome of perfect, he still would have cheated.  I mean, take a look at hollywood and you will find a beautiful star who has it all:  looks, fame, money, a body to die for, and a husband who cheated.  It has everything to do with them. Sure, there are bad marriages, but a bad marriage doesn’t make an affair – it makes a bad marriage.  You need to separate the two because they aren’t linked.  Many men in bad marriages never cheat, and men in good marriages do.  Marital issues are marital issues.  They need to be worked on and settled.  Affair issues are entirely to do with the vulnerabilities in the wayward partner, and the opportunities that presented themselves at the right time.  Marital issues = both responsible.  Affair issues = Wayward spouse’s issue.  Please don’t mix the two and assume one has anything to do with the other, because they are separate, and need to be dealt with separately.  You aren’t responsible for your spouse’s affair.   The only thing we are guilty of is loving and trusting too much – and that isn’t a crime 😉

 

Forgiveness


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Forgiveness…it’s the other almighty F-word. We are always taught as children to “kiss and make up”, to “share”, and to “forgive”. None of those are easy, especially in the face of a trauma inflicted upon you by the person you are supposed to forgive. It is often the last thing that we want to do, or even consider. I mean, really, why would we forgive someone who has done us wrong, and done so INTENTIONALLY…why?

Forgiveness feels like the end of a long road, the final stage in the healing process when we have been wronged. It is what we ultimately strive for, isn’t it? Those of us who choose to stay, and even for those of us who don’t – to be able to put the past where it belongs, and to make a willing and thoughtful CHOICE to forgive. But, what is forgiveness, really? I can tell you without a doubt what forgiveness is not:

Forgiveness is not forgetting, it is not undoing, condoning, justifying, rationalizing, and it is not allowing. It is to make the conscious choice to no longer allow the event to rule over you, or for you to hold it contemptuously over the head of s/he who has wronged you. It is to acknowledge that something horrible happened to you that was not your fault, but to consciously decide to no longer give it power over you, your life, your choices, or your happiness. It is to free the one who has wronged you from the ongoing torment of your vengeful thoughts, your desire to want to exact revenge upon them, or to wish them unhappiness. It is to choose to be better, not bitter, and to move forward with new strategies to protect yourself and your relationship going forward, without the past holding you both back.

Forgiveness is scary, and feels elusive in the beginning. I used to think “if I forgive my husband, am I sending him the message that what he did is OK by me?”, “Am I telling him that he can repeat the same behaviour again and all will be ok?”, “Is it showing weakness to allow him to have harmed in such a deep way, and to “let him off the hook?”. I no longer see forgiveness as a weakness, nor as letting him off the hook, because for me, forgiveness comes at a significant cost. I know that some will not agree with me, but for me, forgiveness requires that my husband acknowledges what he has done, and shows adequate sorrow for his actions. I cannot forgive a man who does not acknowledge his actions, nor a man who cannot apologize properly for those actions.

What is a proper apology?

An apology, in every day life, has three parts:

1. An acknowledgement that you are aware of the particular act that you have committed which has brought pain to another.
2. An ability to view empathically, the situation through their eyes, and to be able to understand the feelings that your actions likely brought about (i.e. I can imagine you felt hurt, ashamed, frustrated with me, unsupported….)
3. A desire to never again bring such harm to the individual, and a desire to put into place certain safeguards, or to perform certain actions which will prevent re-injury.

With affairs, there is simply more to it than that. I could not simply forgive my husband if he said to me: “I understand that my affair was wrong and hurt you. I can imagine my actions made you feel foolish, belittled, uncared for, undervalued and betrayed. I will never do that to you again”. That simply would not be enough. So, what DO we need exactly, as betrayed spouses? Well, I think we will all vary on what we need to feel healed and supported, but for me, I need to re-establish trust in him, and that is accomplished by him:

1. Attending marital therapy, not because I make him, but because he genuinely wants to improve our marriage
2. Allowing me to ask as many questions as needed, as often as I need to ask them, even if I have asked them dozens of times already
3. Answering those questions honestly and without reservation (except for my feelings, in which case gingerly stepping around areas of sensitivity is appreciated, while being honest in the process)
4. Taking an interest in discussing our marriage openly
5. Trying to see the affair through my eyes
6. Being able to vocalize and express how his actions made me feel
7. Learning to see that we are all vulnerable to an affair, and learning what makes HIM vulnerable to an affair.
8. Setting into place safeguards to protect himself in those areas in which he is vulnerable
9. Promising to talk to me openly in the future whenever a sticky situation arises so that we can work on it together
10.Showing true and honest remorse
11. Taking the lead in helping me heal by taking the initiative to ask me if I have questions or needs around the affair, before I have to ask
12. Reassuring me that he loves me often, and treating me with kid gloves when necessary

I am sure there are more, but for now that list feels right.

Forgiveness is something which takes time, and no one can expect to get there quickly. In fact, I would surmise that someone who is trying to forgive too soon is simply trying to “sweep it under the rug” and trying to make it “go away”. True forgiveness comes with putting in the work, and watching your partner do the same. It is a private journey, undertaken on your own, while simultaneously part of a team. It isn’t the team who will get you there, it is YOU, but the team’s support is vital along the way. One day, you can just wake up, and feel like you are ready, maybe not entirely ready, but closer than before. Remember though, that forgiveness is a choice, and isn’t something that falls out of the sky for you. You don’t wake up one morning and say “I have forgiven”. You wake up and decide to start trying to go through the motions of no longer holding contempt for the person, and every day becomes easier, and you become lighter.

For those who are early in the journey, and who may have just found out about your partner’s affair, I give to you this song. I am a big lyric-listener, always trying to see my life in the lyrics of a song, and finding myself identifying with song lyrics. These really need no explanation, so I’ve pasted the lyrics here, and the link to the video for those who just aren’t ready, and to you I say: “take your time”.

I always said that’d be it
That I wouldn’t stick around if it ever came to this
Here I am, so confused
How am I supposed to leave when I can’t even move?

In the time it would have took to say
“Honey I’m home, how was your day?”
You dropped the bomb right where we live
And just expect me to forgive

Well that’s a mighty big word for such a small man
And I’m not sure I can
‘Cause I don’t even know now who I am
It’s too soon for me to say forgive

I should ask but I won’t
Was it love or just her touch?
‘Cause I don’t think I wanna know
So get you some things and get out
Don’t call me for a day or two so I can sort this out
[From: http://www.elyrics.net/read/r/rebecca-lynn-howard-lyrics/forgive-lyrics.html ]

Well you might as well have ripped the life
Right out of me, right here tonight
And through the fallin’ tears you said
“Can you ever just forgive?”

Well that’s a mighty big word for such a small man
And I’m not sure I can
‘Cause I don’t even know now who I am
It’s too soon for me to say, forgive

You know what they say
Forgive and forget
Relive and regret

Well that’s a mighty big word for such a small man
And I’m not sure I can
‘Cause I don’t even know now who I am
It’s too soon for me to say forgive
Oh, it’s too soon for me to say forgive

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The anatomy of an affair


Happy marriages experience affairs. It’s true. Hard to wrap one’s head around, I know. I’ve been there, and shook my head in disbelief too.

Being betrayed by your spouse, someone who is supposed to love, honour and cherish you, is the most significant betrayal of all, and cuts so deeply. Trying to understand an affair with a rational mind is not an easy task, partially because affairs aren’t usually a rational thing.

I would like to recount an experience of mine, if I can, in the aftermath of my affair, something that made me vulnerable to having an affair of my own (No, don’t worry, I didn’t, but the vulnerability was there).

A few weeks after I discovered my husband’s affair, a male friend of mine who was also working as my real estate agent, spent some time with me over coffee. I told him about the affair, and about the child. I guess, in retrospect, I wanted a man’s opinion on why it happened, not from the mouth of my husband, who, at the time, I felt would tell me anything just to clear his name. I wanted someone OBJECTIVE. My admission of something so personal, caused him to also open up to me. He told me that he always found me attractive, and that the first time we’d met, he’d felt something for me. I was flattered. When I didn’t rebuff him for that comment, he took a step further, and told me that he sometimes thinks of me in sexual ways. Again, feeling awkward, I didn’t rebuff him, but I expressed gratitude for him having shared that with me. So he took it another step further…

He ended up sending me a picture of himself naked. He also shared with me the fantasies that he had been having about me. They were pretty graphic. I will admit, it felt very awkward, but also felt so good at the same time. My husband had just cheated on me, so I assumed, as many wives do, that he must not find me attractive, and here is this man, professing his attraction for me, and going out on a limb to send me such a personal communication. I was so flattered, and wanted to spend more time with him, so that I could hear more about how he felt I was attractive. I was drawn in at a time when I needed that kind of attention.

Eventually, he asked me to send a picture of myself as well. I am pretty body-conscious, so I wasn’t prepared to provide a naked image of myself, nor did I think it was appropriate. I knew that I was married, and that my husband wouldn’t approve. But I was also angry with him, and wanted to get him back for what he has done. I ended up sending this gentleman a picture of my self in my bra and underwear. His reaction was intense. He affirmed once again that I was absolutely stunning, and I was on cloud nine. It felt so good to be appreciated by someone.

I started to feel incredibly guilty, and this had only gone on for a couple of weeks. I have not had sex with him, touched him, or kissed him. I simply basked in the glow if his loving comments. I ended up telling my husband about it, and he was incensed. He ended up calling the man, and asking him to never speak with me again. Suffice it to say, he is no longer our real estate agent 🙂

I say this because, in that moment, I was incredibly vulnerable. I was vulnerable to his advances, the attention, and the affection. I had just been told my husband had slept with another woman, and I desperately needed attention. I sought it in a very destructive way. Looking back, I loved my husband. I was head over heels for my husband. I would never want to do anything to hurt him. And yet, I found myself quickly involved in something that I couldn’t get myself out of, without telling him about it. I needed to tell him, so that he could help me get out.

All of this to say, it’s very easy to slip down a slippery slope, when you’re not feeling good about yourself. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with your spouse. Maybe you are passed up for promotion at work, maybe you feel like you’re in a dead-end job. Maybe you just experienced the death of a parent. Perhaps a new baby has come into your life, and the stress seems insurmountable. You’re looking for an escape, anything to get your mind off of your struggles. You need something new, something fresh, something different, or something completely destructive. This is how affairs happen. It isn’t because you worked pretty enough. It isn’t because you’re not thin enough. It isn’t because you don’t satisfy him. It’s because of something deep within him, that only he knows, that he needs to explore. Individual therapy around this is incredibly helpful.

Learning what the vulnerabilities are, and how to look out for them, is crucial. Learning how to really talk to your spouse, to communicate, to admit when you have an attraction to someone. That last one is a biggie. Most of us think that is a no-no. We’re attracted to someone on the street, and heaven forbid we actually tell our spouse!! I now understand that I was naïve in thinking before that my husband would only ever find me attractive. I have features that my husband finds attractive, and I share some of those features with other women. He’s naturally going to find them attractive as well. But it’s being able to admit that one find it attractive and someone else, and talking to your spouse about it. If that person works with you, putting up safeguards to prevent yourself from taking it a step further. Having knowledge of your vulnerabilities, allows you to protect yourself from yourself.

We are ALL vulnerable to an affair. Affairs happen in good marriages, and to good people. You don’t see them coming, the slope is slippery and gradual, and before you know it, the moral compass that has kept you on track, suddenly slides a little to one side. You don’t even know that it’s moved. You see what you are doing as OK because ________ (add your own justification here). The change is so gradual you don’t see it, like someone losing weight slowly over time. Before you know it, you are in an affair, and feeling badly about yourself, stuck, and unsure of how to make it stop without destroying your spouse.

According to Anne & Brian Bercht, there are many factors which render an individual vulnerable to an affair. They fall into several categories: Personal (work, family, self esteem, sex life), Marital (bad communication, money, childrearing, equality), Environmental (friends, the effects of others, pornography, work situations), and Opportunity factors (opportunities which make an affair more possible).

Although the list has more than 200 of them, and it is growing daily, some of the vulnerabilities include:

Personal:

  • Financial setbacks at work
  • Demotion
  • Workaholism
  • Boredom at work/feeling like this is all you will ever have
  • Feeling small, impotent, or unimportant
  • Loss of parent
  • Recent move to a new neighbourhood
  • Self-conscious about changing body (receding hairline, bulging mid-section)
  • Menopause
  • Medications
  • Boring sex life
  • Flirty personality
  • Change of career
  • Depression
  • Lack of same sex friends
  • Unresolved childhood issues
  • Naive thinking “this will never happen to me, I am not that kind of person, I would see the signs, my co-workers aren’t attractive…”
Marital
  • LAck of openness and communication
  • Feel unheard
  • Unresolved conflicts
  • Unloved
  • Lack of spousal support
  • Unrealistic domestic responsibilities
  • Feel “put down by spouse”
  • Lack of admiration/attention/affection
  • Lack of time together
  • Pornography usage interfering with marital sex
  • Lack of sex
Environmental
  • Interference from others/family into your marriage
  • In-laws or family moving in with you
  • Aging parents and the stress of caregiving
  • Are affairs condoned in the workplace?
  • Married friends who complain about their marriages/sex lives
  • Having friends who are single
  • Working shift work
Opportunity
  • Work closely with opposite sex team members
  • Out of town travel
  • 1 on 1 dinners with opposite sex
  • Work promoting non-spousal events
  • Flirting with others at social events
  • Coaching kids sports teams
  • Holding a position of authority
  • Wearing a uniform to work
  • Having outward signs of financial success
  • Being pursued by the affair partner
Although the above points are far from complete, there are simply too many to list, and I don’t want to reproduce the hard work that has gone into compiling this resource for couples who attend the retreat seminars.
What I didn’t realize was how many vulnerabilities there are to an affair. It is never as simple on the inside as it seems on the outside. Men/women don’t wake up one morning and decide that they are going to risk their marriages for a cheap fling with an easy lay. Instead, they are vulnerable for many of the reasons above, and then an opportunity exists for them. Without talking to their spouse openly about their feelings, their self-esteem, their risky behaviours, etc., they are at high risk of slipping down the slope.
Affairs aren’t always about sex. As women, we equate sex and love and assume he must love her. Not true. Men have sex for sex. Women have sex for love and connection. We can’t judge our husband’s decision to engage in sex by looking through the female lens – that will only lead to hurt when we think that we are the same. We aren’t. We need to look at it the way that THEY did, so that we can understand the intentions, because intentions matter. Affairs may have nothing to do with wanting sex or the quality of the sex they are getting from the OW. In my husband’s case, sex with her wasn’t better, in fact it was meaningless and that felt bad emotionally for him. It was mechanical. She would make strange faces which he found creepy, and his genitals burned when they were done (she is acid….are we surprised? No, there was no STD). Was her vagina tighter than mine? Yes. She’d never had children, so in that way, we were different, but the tight sensations didn’t make up for the intimacy that he was missing. Some men want to feel valued, some want to feel sexy, others want to feel young, others want to feel important to someone, others want to feel dangerous and adventurous in what they have deemed to be a boring life, and some just want reaffirmation that they still “have it”. Many times, it speaks to men lacking something emotionally, and that brings me to a whole new paragraph….
Men are not in touch with their feelings the way that women are. Men are conditioned to not talk about their feelings, and to deny them. They grow up emotionally starved and then we ask them to thrive emotionally. We wouldn’t ask a handicapped person to walk when they can’t. We wouldn’t ask a child to do something that they don’t know HOW to do, and mock them when they fail. We would understand that they are limited, and try to optimize their potential by exercising that muscle. When men aren’t in touch with their feelings, and are suddenly demoted at work, their potency, their impact, their influence are considered null and void. They are nothing. Men are also trained to be good providers, to always move forward, and to climb the ladder of success. To fail, to be fired, to be turned down for a promotion…it makes them feel shameful and embarrassed. Their self esteem is gone. Now, as women, we would say “losing your job says nothing about who you are, or how much you are loved and valued”, but men won’t come to us to gain that insight because they don’t talk about their feelings. The result is a man who feels badly about himself, and has no one to help alter this disastrous thinking for him, so it is absorbed and becomes part of his self-evaluation. All he needs now is an opportunity to meet a woman who is interested, single (or married but looking), who will shower him with compliments about his abilities (something his wife may not be doing because she doesn’t feel she needs to – we take for granted that he knows this, but rarely do we continue to reinforce this for them when life gets in the way). Now the woman who is interested is making him feel good, and he likes feeling good, so he wants to spend more time with her. She flatters him some more, strokes his fractured ego, and before he knows it, he is going out of his way to see her, and not telling you about it. He justifies it by saying that he hasn’t done anything WRONG, so you don’t need to know. He sees no need to mention something so insignificant. Slowly, his moral boundary which used to be firmly planted, with clear demarcations for proper and improper behaviour is shifted two degrees to the left. What was once close to improper is now seen as “ok” because it is justified away. Slowly, it moves further and further away, the slope becoming steeper and steeper, until he does something physically or emotionally that would devastate his wife. He is on the WRONG SIDE of his moral compass, and now can’t get back. What he needed to do was talk to his wife, when he first started feeling an attraction to spending time with her, and ask his wife to help him figure out what he is missing. If he feels supported and they can have these open conversations without her going mental, he can feel safe to tell her, and vice versa. She will help pull his moral compass back, and he won’t cross the line. It is the crucial ability to be able to COMMUNICATE that makes the difference.
My husband is a good man. He is an upstanding gentleman in a position of authority who works closely with members of the opposite sex. While his work schedule does not require travel, he does do shift work. At the time of my husband’s affair, his father had been arrested for having committed an act that he didn’t realize was wrong. As an only child of divorced parents, his same sex parent, with whom he felt most connected, was suddenly at risk of going away to jail. We had a 15 month old child at home, leaving me tired, and likely not as interested in sex. We had two other older children whose programs and schooling took up a great deal of our parental attention. At the time of his affair, he’d come to the realization that this was as good as it was going to get at work. He was bored, unstimulated and unfulfilled. Our children, who are young, prevented us from having a lot of alone time, and by the time we were alone, we were tired. It didn’t bode well for constructive conversation, patience, or understanding. In fact, we spent a lot of time competing over whose life was harder. And then he met HER. She was young, in the same line of work so they were able to have conversations about shared knowledge that I don’t possess, seemingly fun, energetic, and representational of a time in his life that was long gone (university days and all that comes with it, and she was still living that life, and he missed it). She represented fun and freedom (she is single). She praised him. She told him he was smart. She sought his advice in their field and now he was feeling important, and that he was useful (was bored before). She told him he was attractive and praised his physique. In essence, she fed his ego at a time when he needed it. He slipped, and then he justified his actions. Then he felt bad about it, and about himself, so he did it more (it’s like self soothing, I guess, but with a destructive soothing mechanism). When it got to be more than he could bear, guilt-wise, he told me, and asked for my help.
His affair happened, not because he was looking for an affair. Not because of any lack of anything on my part, not because he is a bad man. It happened because the stage was set, and we didn’t even know there was a play 😉

Finding my happy place


I love my husband.

There is no hesitation when I write that, or when I think about that.  I’ve loved him for almost 16 years, and a day hasn’t gone by that I’ve doubted that.  Despite the love that I have for him, he cheated on me with another woman for ten months.  Lacking something in his life that he couldn’t explain, he was inexplicably driven to seek out something destructive, and he found it. He tore me apart emotionally, broke my heart unconsolably, and almost shattered our beautiful family and our happy home.  Despite all of that, I love my husband completely.

For those who are reading this for the first time, or for those who have been recently affected by an affair, my words won’t make sense.  In fact, it would be easy to write them off as “just another woman with low self esteem who is ok with letting a man treat her like shit, and she will come back for more, and claim to love him because she doesn’t think enough of herself to leave”.  Easy to say, given the circumstances, but it would also be dead wrong.

We have done an enormous amount of work, he and I.  From the moment that the affair was revealed, my husband and I got to work, mobilized our best resources, and although drowning, fought to come up for air, convinced that we were going to come out of this hell hole alive.  We joined forces against the borderline personality disorder-afflicted other woman, sought out legal counsel, obtained advice from a marital therapist, attended weekly marital therapy every week for 18 months while I attended my own personal therapy every week.  We fought, we cried, we talked, we hugged, we held each other, we hated each other, but through it all, we also loved each other.  I have never stopped loving my husband, and that has been the hardest part sometimes.  I think, with all that we have been through, that it would have been easier to hate him.  It doesn’t hurt as badly when someone you don’t love hurts you, so hating him may have relieved the incongruity that I felt loving a man who had hurt me so badly.

I feel like I have been living in a bubble, surrounded by the affair.  Living inside the affair, you have a different perspective, and it can be easy to have your perspective affected by the constant, in-your-faceness of it all.  This weekend, I stepped outside of the bubble, and had the privilege to see it from all sides, not just the inside that I was living in.  I use the word privilege on purpose, because it was just that.

My husband and I attended the Healing From Affairs Seminar this past weekend with Brian and Anne Bercht.  You may know Anne, or have heard of her book, “My husband’s affair became the best thing that ever happened to me”.  She and her husband Brian travel the continent offering support and seminars to couples devastated by an affair, and I was fortunate to have learned that it was going to be coming to my city this past weekend.  I jumped on the opportunity, told my husband, and had his full participation.  We left the kids with responsible others for the first time in the time that we have had kids, and decided to give ourselves not the gift of time away, or the gift of a romantic weekend.  We decided we were going to save our marriage.  Together.

We spent three complete days immersed in understanding the affair, ourselves, our personality types and how that plays into our recovery as well as our married lives together.  We learned about affair vulnerability, why the affair happened, how it happened, and completely dissected it.  We learned about trust, forgiveness and intimacy in marriage, and how to strengthen our bond, our communication and our marriage.  It is no small thing when I say that my husband and I emerged completely changed by this past weekend.  It was the best investment that we could have made in our marriage, and I am so glad that we went.  I learned things about my husband that I didn’t realize were contributing factors, and he learned about me.  Having a couple like Anne and Brian who have been through an affair, and completely recovered, stronger than before, was inspirational.  I felt privileged to be asked to share my story with her, and to gain her perspective.  My husband, and the other wayward spouses had the same tete-a-tete with Brian.  My husband finally had the chance to speak to another man who had not only “been there”, but who listened to him without judgement, offering only loving support, and a willingness to help us succeed.   My husband later had the chance to speak with Anne, and hear a woman’s perspective on an affair, NOT from me, the woman he had betrayed.  I had the chance to learn about the affair through the lens of a man, thanks to Brian, who helped to solidify for me the knowledge that my husband’s affair had NOTHING to do with me as a person, as a lover, or as a wife.  It’s one thing for your husband to say that to you, but it is completely different and transformational when you learn that he isn’t just saying that to make me feel better, but that this is the case for most affairs.  Men don’t cheat because they aren’t happy at home.  Marital issues do not lead to affairs.  One does not depend on the other, and perfectly happily married men have affairs.  Their wives are devoted, loving, caring, compassionate and sexually available.  They, however, find themselves in a vulnerable place due to a myriad of factors.

I feel closer to my husband than I have in a long time, and I dare say, closer than I may have ever felt before.   We learned such deep things about each other, and ourselves as a couple, that we truly feel privileged to be together, despite all of this.  He is my one and only, and I am his.  That won’t change.

The seminar provided us with such hope for the future, and restored a lot of trust in my husband that I was missing.  It helped us to repair and rebuild.  In some ways, it feels like we are starting over, but with better tools to build a more solid structure than we had the first time.

It’s like my husband said at the end of the seminar: I wish we’d been able to gain these insights and have access to the knowledge that we now do, without having had to make this journey.  But, I have also come to realize that the journey is important.  Our struggle, the difficult days, the painful moments, the agony and despair – it was all necessary.   We need to have gone through that to see how resilient we are, to prove to ourselves how hard we would fight for one another.  If I’d been given the knowledge for free, without the mess, I’d just have the knowledge of how to make a strong marriage going forward.  What I would be missing would be the awareness of just how much I am loved and valued, something I learned this weekend, thanks to Anne and Brian, but mostly thanks to my husband who was willing to show that to me.

If you have the chance to attend, I would strongly recommend that you do.   Whether you want to reconcile, or whether you are still on the fence, your path will become more clear after you experience the seminar.  Hopefully your husband shows remorse for his actions, and shares with you a desire to make things right, to take responsibility, and a desire to be your healer in the journey.  To listen to a teleconference with Anne and Brian about how the spouse who had the affair can become the healer, and how to start on that path, click here:

http://www.beyondaffairs.com/MP3s/TS-2009-June30.mp3

 

I am in a much better place, and I am so thankful to Wendy, for her recommendation on attending this seminar.  She was completely right.

Where I was stuck was in how to forgive?  How to stop feeling contempt?  I was making the mistake of thinking that I would just wake up one day and feel healed.  I was thinking that I would suddenly no longer feel hurt or betrayed. I was thinking that I would wake up and no longer have a need to rub his nose in the affair for sport when I was feeling badly about myself.  I now know that moving forward to a place of forgiveness is a choice.  It is a choice that involves active effort on my part.  It won’t be given to me, and it won’t appear in my lap.  It will be something that I will choose to feel, when the time is right.  Knowing that it is under MY control makes it tangible and more attainable.

And because my husband will be receiving this post in his inbox as soon as I hit “publish”, and will read it, I wanted to say publicly:

I love you with every ounce of me.  You are my heart, you are my soul, and it is a privilege to be your wife.  I will work every day to keep strong what we have, and to foster a healthy, passionate, and fulfilling life with you.  I am so appreciative of your willingness to come with me this weekend, and so touched that the weekend has impacted you in the way that it has.  Seeing how much you enjoyed it reinforces for me that we are touched in the same way, and want the same things.  I am so thankful for your willingness to take responsibility for your actions.  Disclosing your affair to me voluntarily showed me that you have great character.  I am thankful that you have never blamed me for your affair, and for being honest with me in the details when I have asked.  I appreciate your sensitivity and your compassion to my pain, and am thankful that you have been willing to put yourself into my shoes, and see the affair from my side.  I appreciate your patience while I have been healing, and your willingness to act as a healer for me.  You know my heart better than ever, and I am confident that we are closer than we have been before.  I want to remain that way.   I look forward to deepening that connection with you.  Thank you for sharing your life with me.  I love you with all of me.

Finding others


I posted about it a few weeks back, but I wanted to reiterate the importance of finding supportive others as you are going through this.  Well intentioned friends and family are one thing, but nothing can replace or compare with the support of others who have been through a trauma like this.

It is akin to me trying to relate to, understand, and provide support to someone who has lived through a house fire.  I’ve never experienced that.  I can imagine the pain and the turmoil, but the trauma of having seen what they saw, felt how they felt???  I wouldn’t have a clue, or come close.  The support does pale in comparison.

You don’t get judgment, or someone who plays ‘devil’s advocate’, or who offers empty advice.  You get someone who nods knowingly, smiles compassionately, and listens patiently, not in a rush for you to finish.  It is invaluable.

I had the wonderful opportunity this weekend to meet for the first time with an in-person support group.  I’ve never attended a support group for anything, so I wasn’t sure what format it would take.  All I knew was what I’d seen on TV: “Hi my name is Susan, and I am an alcoholic….”.  Needless to say, we didn’t all stand up and tell our stories, prefaced by our first names.  We sat around a warm table at a local bakery and listened to one another talk about familiar circumstances, understood feelings and fears.  We talked about seemingly innocuous things which act as triggers for us, bringing us back to D day and the affair.  For some of us it was music, for others it was locations, and for others something altogether different.  We all had different stories, but all shared a similar outcome.  We’d been cheated on.  We’d been lied to, betrayed, and taken for granted, so that our spouses could reclaim the wild fun of their youth with someone “new”.   We all had different reasons for coming to that table, but together we all shared the same reality and could completely relate to the pain each of us were feeling.

Some of us, sitting around that table, had known for years.  Others were as fresh as three months ago.  Some were in the process of initiating divorce proceedings, while others were reclaiming their marriages, and trying to make it work.  We shared tidbits of our lives with one another, and opened each other up to new ideas, new reading materials, etc.  What I gained was a new circle of people with whom I can relate.  It was invaluable.  I was finally able to put actual faces to my situation.  Instead of reading case stories in a book, I sat next to REAL people, with REAL jobs, and REAL lives, telling their stories.  It was lovely to share the morning with them.  I find myself looking forward to the next one, even though it is a month away.  In fact, I started my own chapter of this network closer to my home, and I am hopeful that it will be of help to others as well.  Holding it on the off-weekends, I will be able to attend both, and to find the support I enjoy.

I really wish I’d found a support group like this one when I was first in the thick of this mess.  I longed so much for understanding, and had to seek it out from friends, and through therapy.  That is not to say that either of those are inadequate, but I think where my friends are concerned, they would have preferred me unload elsewhere, even though none of them would admit it.  You know how you can just tell when someone is tired of talking with you?  How you can tell when someone wants to get off the phone?  Well so too can you tell when someone has exhausted their interest in your story.  Try as they might to hide it, and to feign interest, I am sure they would have preferred to talk about ANYTHING else after a while.  I am sure it just became old for them.

I am really excited to attend the seminar next weekend, and so thankful to my dear friend and my father for tag-teaming in providing me the much needed childcare so that I could be away these 2 days.

If you are interested in finding a support group near you, go to http://www.beyondaffairs.com to find a BAN (Beyond Affairs Network) Support Group in your area.

Surrounding yourself with those who care about you


So much of what I’ve been focusing on so far has been linear.  I started with day one, the day I learned of the affair, and since then, I’ve progressed in a linear way, with you all hearing about the ups and downs, the one step forward, three steps back progression to this story.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflection the last little while, and with this upcoming seminar, I am really looking forward to taking my happiness to a new place, to take my marriage to a new place, and to rediscover who I am.

For the last 2 years, I have been immersed in my husband’s affair.  I’ve lived it, breathed it, slept it, dreamt it, ate it (in the form of any chocolate laden, champagne topped, delicacy I could find, even though I *knew* it was bad for me), talked it, cried it, wrote it, researched it…and I am getting tired.  Mind you, for the last 2 years, there has been an ongoing legal battle which has just come to a close in the beginning of 2012, so the past few months have been quiet.  It has given me a glimpse into what I think might be the new “normal”.

Those close to me know that the affair has been a big part of me for the last 2 years.  It’s dominated my thoughts, it has dominated my conversations at times, and whenever a friend has opened the door with “so anything new on the psycho mistress front?” they had to know they were in for a 30 minute monologue, cause there was ALWAYS something going on that was new, unbelievably painful or remarkable that I had to share.   Bless my friends who have stood by and listened to me, asked questions, been actively interested, offered help, or even just a shoulder.  It really does help to surround yourself with friends whose ultimate goal is to see you through this.

If you are in the early stages of affair discovery, you need to find support.  You ideally need to find a support group so that you don’t inundate your friends with constant affair chatter.  I’ve just learned recently that the amount of spotlight time taken discussing the affair or the issues that surround it can be perceived as hogging the limelight, so being able to offset that by having another outlet is probably a good idea.  Unfortunately, when I went looking, there was no support group for this in my area ANYWHERE, and I actually talked with my therapist about her and I starting one!

In the absence of a support network nearby, tell a few select friends about your experience, and let them help you.  Although as the betrayed spouse, you probably want to tell EVERYONE you know, be cautious who you tell.  I actually have great regrets over having told certain individuals in my life about the situation.  Looking back, I should have not confided something so personal, but hindsight is 20/20.   Your ideal support person will be someone who has been through an affair.  Since that is not always possible to find, your next best option is to at least find someone who is married, understands the investment you have made in your life into this relationship, and what it means to possibly face losing it.  If there are children involved, someone who also has children will also provide them this needed insight into seeing things from your perspective as you try and save your family and your shield your children from this reality.   You want someone who exhibits a lot of empathy and who will listen to you unconditionally and not limit your expression.

Shirley Glass, in her book “Not Just Friends” talks about a ‘friend of the marriage’.  In the aftermath of an affair, many people will question why you’ve chosen to approach it as you have.  Why did you stay?  Why didn’t you leave?  Why did you leave?  Why didn’t you kick him out instead of you leaving the home?  Why didn’t you tell the kids?  Some friends will provide advice based on what they THINK they would do, but we’ve already established that what people THINK they will do, and what they ACTUALLY do are two different things.  I’ll have more to say about that later.  So when your friend, with her expectations of what you should do starts telling you that your decision to stay is ridiculous, and that she would have kicked him on his ass, do you really think she can be supportive?  Will she really ever take the time to try and see your perspective with such a heavy bias?  A good friend of mine was the first person that I told about the affair.  I’d texted her from work to tell her that my life had just fallen apart and she called me within seconds.  I didn’t have much time to talk, since I was expecting clients, but in the brief time we had, I filled her in.   Over the next few days, we debriefed together, with her coming over as often as possible and checking in on me.  Within a few days, she shared a personal tidbit about her life as well.  Her husband and her had not had sex in 7 years.  SEVEN YEARS.  They no longer shared a bedroom, and he slept in the guest room.  They weren’t seeking divorce or separation – this has just become their ‘normal’.  When it was a question of what I was going to do, she encouraged me to leave.  She said she would help me leave, and find me a place if needed.  She was very keen on me not remaining in the marriage.  Fast forward a year, and this same friend tells me that she has reason to believe that her husband is having sex with escort services.  Credit card bills and internet search histories revealed as much.  Asking her if she wants to leave, her response is “No”.  Well wait a moment, my husband ADMITTED an affair, your husband is having sex with MANY people behind your back, so aren’t our situations similar?  We have both been betrayed.  Our husbands have slept with other women.  She wanted me to leave.  She wasn’t prepared to leave.  How can a friend support you fully in your decisions when they don’t accept your choice?  She will be the first to admit that my husband’s affair fractured her relationship with him.  It not only fractured her relationship with him, it also fractured her relationship with me.  No longer were we getting together 3-4 days a week to run.  No longer were we finding excuses to meet up for pre-dinner drinks at 5pm to unwind and gab.  Suddenly, there was a paucity in her availability.   She later told me that she had to “work very hard” to come to a place where she could be with my husband socially, and to this day, I still feel the tension like a thick fog.

When a friend is not a ‘friend of the marriage’, championing for your cause, you have to set them free.  In order for your marriage to heal, you need to essentially be surrounded by a network of friends all sporting a “Pro-your marriage’ T-shirt, offering their support for you BOTH without judgment.  Without this, you will always be exposed to second-guessing from those who don’t approve.

You also need to surround yourself with people who will be there for you unconditionally, and who won’t keep score.  It is expected that for the next while, you are going to be needing some over the top, extraordinary TLC from your friends and family.  I hesitate to say it, because I don’t like this term applied to me, but you are going to have to be “needy” for a while.  You WILL take up more of the conversation space with your friends because when you don’t offer up information about the affair when you get together, count on them asking about it anyway. I have a friend who once we exhaust all of the obvious front-line niceties, her comment is ALWAYS “so, anything new on the you-know-what front?”.  I don’t even have to want to talk about it, and suddenly we are talking about it.  Sadly, this has meant that I have had to make a concerted effort to  gauge the degree to which I feel my issues are dominating the conversation, and to which the balance is tipped towards me.  If you have friends who are equally extroverted, they will interject with their own stories too.  If you  have friends who are introverts, you will have to make a special effort to turn the light towards them too (but being introverted, 99% of the time, they will shine it back to you anyway 😉 )  It is unrealistic to expect a person who is going through a trauma like this to not change, or for your relationship with them to change.  Everyone involved needs to recognize and acknowledge that this person is hurting, and has been through a lot.  She WILL need more TLC than usual, she WILL need more talk time, she WILL sometimes NEED more than she can GIVE, and you can’t keep score.  Like any friendship issue, there will be days when one person needs more than the other, when one talks more than the other, and when one demands more of the other.  But in the aftermath of trauma, I think we can all logically assume that the person suffering the hurt will probably be in a deficit to you for a while because she just won’t have a lot to give back, having been emotionally and physically depleted.  I recently had someone tell me that over the last while it has been “all about me”, and that the balance of time and attention had tipped in my favour.  Initially disturbed by the fact that I possibly hadn’t kept myself in check well enough to balance my spotlight-time, I apologized for having been so demanding of late.  I also lost my mother a few months ago, and while I haven’t talked specifically about that issue as much, the emotional strain and drain from it has left me needier than usual and with less ‘reserve’ to cope as well.  I possibly relied on others too much, it seems.  A few weeks later, after some quiet introspection, I decided to give myself the self-love that I have been denying myself where that issue was concerned, and forgive myself.  Heck, I’d lost the intimacy in my marriage, discovered I had a betraying spouse in what I had thought was a perfect union, questioned everything about my family and marriage, watched it falter before my eyes, learned that there was a mistress who wanted me dead and who then spent the next 2 years plotting ways to harm me further and to twist the already plunged blade into my back even further, inflicting more harm.  To top it off, I discovered through therapy that my mother was a narcissist, and that I was the daughter of a narcissistic personality disordered parent.  (For those who want to see the impact of that, I encourage you to visit  http://daughtersofnarcissisticmothers.com/characteristics-of-narcissistic-mothers.html) and see how my past and my reality growing up made recovering from this affair so difficult due to the wounds that had already been inflicted early on.  So, on top of ALL of that, my mother passed away this fall, leaving me to care for my ailing father, the marital home, their finances, on top of raising my children, supporting my home, and oh yeah…..trying to recover from this affair.  To say that I have been through a lot has been an understatement, so I forgave myself for having felt the need to apologize for it, when it was brought to my attention that I hog the friend-spotlight.   The comment that had originally made me feel awkward and needing to apologize later left me feeling bitter.  As someone who is trying to practice more self-care, I had to forgive myself for having been “needy”, and see it as normal.  I had to forgive myself for not having policed my time, or stop-watched myself, and instead see what happened as a very natural and expected occurrence.  I’ve been through a lot, and it is normal to have needed more than usual, to have talked more than I’ve listened, and to have racked up some debts.  My disappointment in myself suddenly turned into disappointment towards this individual who has obviously been keeping score.  I’m a big believer in friendships being fluid.  Sometimes they are great, sometimes they are not.  Sometimes people are great listeners, sometimes they are not.  Sometimes people need more than they can give, and sometimes people give more than they ever ask back in return.  We don’t keep score, we just offer the best of who we are at any given moment, and THAT is being a friend.  Offering the BEST of who you are all the time, and not keeping score, not holding a mental score-card of who is owing to whom.

http://mainetaining.blogspot.ca/2009/09/friendship-vs-keeping-score.html

It made me think that in my time of healing and nurturance for my family, perhaps this exposure is not healthy, if I am going to feel like I am NOT GOOD ENOUGH, after all, it just echoes for me what I’ve been told by my narcissist mother my entire life….it is the mantra of a daughter of a narcissist “I am not good enough”, and here I was told that as a result of my neediness lately, I was not a good friend either, having hogged the time.  Here in the midst of my acceptance speech for “most hard done by”, they started playing the anthem and flashing the red light on the teleprompter.

When you have people around you who can help you, listen to you, heal you – you can get through this.  Your primary helper needs to be your husband, but you don’t want to sound like a broken record to him either, so having others, good friends, a therapist, a support group, family etc. is so beneficial.  In fact, second to a remorseful and willing husband, proper supports outside of your marriage from FRIENDS OF THE MARRIAGE is crucial.  Beyond Affairs http://www.beyondaffairs.com has a BAN (beyond affairs network) with listings of support groups for may cities.  Check and see if yours is there – mine has one now, so my friends will all be relieved that I can offload elsewhere for a while 😉

 

 

 

 

 

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