5 Years Later

Life keeps moving. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Five years ago, the life I thought I had was shattered by the discovery of my husband’s affair. His affair flattened me, it buried me, and it changed me.

I am not the same person I was five years ago, nor can I return to the person I was before my D-Day. I’ve accepted that last part even though I am still nostalgic for the old me that trusted, believed, and loved without fear. I’ve learned more about myself and grown into a stronger woman in the past five years. Here are some truths I’ve learned along this journey.

d99c7cd528f128497ec8993a540e77dd--ocean-quotes-beach-quotesFive years later so much has changed in my life. We sent our oldest child off to college this fall and our younger two boys are in high school. We live busy lives and our children are becoming increasingly independent.  It’s bittersweet to see your children become adults. In the same moment I am feeling love and pride, I am also feeling sad and alone. Love is not always brilliant. Sometimes love means letting go. Sometimes love means change. Relationships exist as waves. We need to learn how to ride them if we want them to grow, expand, and succeed. Sometimes we must simply ride the waves with the people we love, regardless of where they go. Because ultimately, none of these waves last.

There have been many days over the past five years where I felt lost and alone. It’s normal to have these days but I’ve learned it’s important not to fall down into rabbit holes. Being the victim of an affair can make you obsessive compulsive — or at least that has been my experience. I can find myself hyper-focused on an idea, a moment in history, or words that once meant nothing but now have meaning. I’ve learned to push away pain that serves no purpose but I still have moments that creep up on me and doubts that surface. There are days I question every decision I’ve made. I still have days where I crave to touch what is lost. Every so often I have a day that I’ve lost my capacity to trust. Those days are hard because I feel most alone and I am afraid that I’ll never get past it. I wish I could stop myself from feeling or thinking this way.

Five years later I can’t remember what life was like before D-Day. I think I know how it was but I question my memories all the time. Was I really as happy as I say I was? Or did I have plenty of lost and alone days then too? I don’t know. I’ve adjusted to life post-D-Day and all the permanent self-doubt that his affair introduced into my life. Sometimes I held my story so close it became airtight and began to suffocate. I have learned to take a step back and let the air in. I must learn to live with my past before I can live in the present.

Being vulnerable is tough. After my D-Day I built a wall around my heart. It felt like my heart retracted and a steel wall was erected around it. I’ve opened my heart again and it’s scary. I have found that I am more accepting of my own flaws, weaknesses, and to ask for what I need. I have found that when I am genuinely vulnerable that is when I feel most connected. I am gaining strength, love, and courage as I am learning to embrace and expose my vulnerabilities.

Resiliency and acceptance is key to moving forward. Affairs break marriages. regardless of whether the couple decides to work it out and stay together, the marriage is forever changed. Five years ago, it felt as though my marriage had become a broken promised land. Letting go of what I believed defined my marriage was hard. And I don’t know that I am always moving forward but I must keep going.

Knowing that you can heal allows you to be open to the power of resiliency. I’ve faced my failures, setbacks, and pain with confidence and courage (and sometimes fear and tears too). This journey is hard but it’s not impossible. Affairs don’t have to be a dead end for marriages. It is okay to decide to stay or go. Love is not perfect. It is not always kind, but love can heal.

Raymond Carver

 

 

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The Shadow of Pain

When I was a teenager I babysat for this family. They were perfect. The husband was charming and handsome. He reminded me of one of my old Ken dolls. The wife had the right combination of sweet and assertive characteristics. They had three children that they often dressed alike, which may seem alarming but it was cute in the 80s. I became their regular Saturday night babysitter and sometimes even slept over when they were at social events until late in the night. I admired both the husband and wife because they appeared to have the life I might want someday. They looked after me and I always knew that I could come to them if I ever had a problem or question about life.

The husband passed away from cancer last month. The services were this week and it was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that he was gone. It’s hard to imagine her without him.

As his wife and I hugged in the funeral home, she told me that it didn’t feel real. She told me she hasn’t been able to eat. Being alone is difficult. She doesn’t want to drive alone because the emotions come flooding in all at once. I understood those feelings and fears. I understand that food just seems so unnecessary when your heart is breaking and your dreams are disappearing. Death of a human is different, but maybe it’s that death of a marriage doesn’t always have to mean the passing away of one spouse. Marriages die every day.

I stood watching the video montage of his life. I stared at the pictures of their life and I wondered if life was as perfect as it had always appeared. I wondered if their marriage was as idealistic. The pictures sure made it look like it was just as wonderful as I believed it was as a young girl.

I’ve always loved video montages. I was a soap opera fan for twenty years and soap operas make the best video montages. Before my wedding day I would play a video in my mind of all the moments that defined our relationship. In true soap opera-style, ours included a few “tragic” moments too but it always ended with the most romantic kiss and always a perfect ending.

The night of my friend’s wake, I wondered what my life’s video montage would look like and if anyone would ever know or see that sadness that has cast a shadow over the last five years. I hate saying that. My husband’s affair still feels like a darkness that fell over our lives. I still have days I struggle to reconcile his actions. They are fewer and further between but I hate that I can’t just put everything in the past. I’m hurt and I’m struggling to let go of the fear. I look at the pictures and moments that make up my life and I wonder how many smiles were genuine, and how many were artificial. How many moments are legitimately true? No lies, no faking it, no dishonesty. In the end, I believe there is so much more happiness than sadness. It’s when the shadow feels heaviest that I need to push it aside and remember to feel and love again.

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Marriage always seemed so simple. Once upon a time, I didn’t understand people that said that marriage was complicated or hard work. I thought that meant their marriages were doomed or perhaps they settled for an imperfect mate. I believed my marriage was simple. And in so many ways it is picture perfect. We have a pictured lined hallway that showcases some of my favorite memories from our life. The details from the past eventually become foggy, and all those pictures become the memories I’ve engraved in my mind. I keep hoping with time that the emotions recede and my memory will be filled with the moments captured in the pictures lining my hallway.

I don’t know if all my ramblings tonight make sense. I’m sitting in an airport alone watching busy travelers on their own journeys. These moments will likely not be remembered in the video montage about my life, but they are real. They may not define my life, but they have changed me.

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The Cycle of Anger, Hate, and Forgiveness After the Affair

Recently I’ve experienced these surges of anger that take hold of my emotions. It’s almost like a visceral hatred rises out of nowhere and fills my brain. I was sitting on the couch saying good-bye to my husband as he left for work and as I watched him walk out the front door I was angry. But not just angry, I was vexed with idea of him having sex with Bat Shit. As I stared at my husband I was internally infuriated, but on the outside smiling and wishing him a good day at work. He closed the door and it took everything inside of me to breathe out the hatred and let go of the past. Two weeks later, that same feeling swelled inside me as I watched my husband getting ready to go to a meeting.

During the first two years of this blog I regularly received comments from women (some OWs) that pointed out that my anger was misdirected. I was seething with anger for Bat Shit and there was a huge part of me that wanted to prove that she was a horrible woman and my husband was a pawn in her game. While I think that my mindset during that time was essential in order to move forward and continue to care about my husband, I know Bat Shit is not part of my marriage. Her intentions and actions have nothing to do with my husband’s decision to cheat on me.

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Is it possible that all of those emotions just caught up to me or is this just a normal part of forgiveness?

During the first few years it felt like it was up to me to forgive my husband. He apologized, showed his love for me, and met me more than halfway. He did everything I needed. He answered every question I asked. He was opening up and bringing me back into his world. I was falling apart and trying to find my balance in a world that seemed more foreign than I ever imagined. Loneliness took over after D-Day and I still have to remind myself not to completely disengage from the world. It’s easier to be sad when you are alone and sometimes I have just wanted to feel the pain.

I just read a quote that said:

Forgiveness is the gift you give yourself.

A few years ago, I might have pinned that quote on my Pinterest board and agreed. Forgiveness has been largely about me needing to make peace within myself and not continuing to fault my husband for his actions. It meant letting go of my hurt. But what if forgiving my husband for his actions is superficial serenity? Obviously, my anger means that I haven’t dealt with something.

cd04430dcf9befa46df1f3dad0d4727bBoth times I was able to let go of the anger and fill my mind with loving thoughts of my husband. I had to tell myself that I am happy with our life together. I focused on our future and thought about how much I love not just our life but the way he loves me. Maybe angry emotions are normal post-affair but I am not comfortable with them. Even in the beginning, I was uncomfortable hating or being angry at my husband. Is it possible I buried all these emotions so deep that they are now just surfacing? I know anger is a response to my problems. I just need to figure out where those problems are arising from and why am I still angry about the affair? I thought I was over that part.

Finding Gratitude After an Affair

Gratitude can seem like a superpower in the wake of a discovered affair. It can feel like a superpower that is not only unattainable, but undesirable. When your morning begins with tears and pain it can be difficult to see any silver linings or good in your life. But there is goodness buried deep in the pain, there are smiles that emerge when you least expect them, and there is laughter that can fill your heart with joy even in the bleakest and darkest moments on your journey.

cebhnrfvaaatdyuMy family has a tradition of going around our Thanksgiving table and each person sharing what they are thankful for in their lives. My first Thanksgiving after D-Day my chest tightened and my throat tensed as the tradition of sharing gratitude began at our Thanksgiving table. I can’t recall all the thoughts that went through my head but I know I held back tears and I felt more resentment than gratitude. I resented my husband for cheating on me and I resented my family members around the table that were easily sharing their happiness. My pain was trapped inside me while my mother-in-law smiled looking over her family. There was also a part of me that wondered if this was my last Thanksgiving Day celebration with my husband’s family.

During our darkest hours where can we find happiness this Thanksgiving?

It is important to remember not to compare yourself or your life to the people that surround you. It’s hard to see people happy and, seemingly, on top of the world when you feel like your life is at its lowest point. Stop looking at your life through the lens of other people and focus more on the moments that surround you right now. I have found that even in my darkest times if I focus on the present I can find perfect moments surrounding me. Even when I felt like I might be swallowed up by the pain of my husband’s affair – I could still feel love and I could still choose hope over fear.

c2255add0872a22723e2f7843f4aa6e0Sometimes you need to press the reset button on life just like we do on our phones when they are malfunctioning. There is no shame in getting away from everything and clearing your mind. Following my D-Day I began practicing yoga on a regular basis. It was my place to get away from everything that was causing me pain and (try) to empty the thoughts in my brain for an hour. I found my yoga mat became an oasis for me – a place for me to grow stronger and heal my wounds. That doesn’t mean my practice is perfect because there are times I’ve laid in savasana and wept. But I left those emotions on my mat – in my safe space. Yoga is a practice that tested my strength, my ability to flex and flow through movement, and forgive myself when my body would not do what it could do yesterday. I urge everyone to find a place where they can focus on their inner being, away from everything that has caused you pain, and begin to bring the happiness and light back into your life.

Remember that fate is not in control of your life. I asked my husband hundreds of times: Why? Why did he cheat? Why did he do this to me? There is really no good answer to these questions. There is no answer that would satisfy or heal my pain quicker or easier. My desire for the facts and tangible answers did not heal me faster. I think the most impactful choice I made was to take control of my life – be the one to make decisions for me and not allow external factors to influence my happiness. I choose to be happy with my life every day. It took time to get to a place where I could accept this is part of my life story, but I know that I am stronger now.

I can’t remember what I said I was thankful for that first year after D-Day.

Reflecting back upon that day I think it may have been easier to name my blessings because in darkness the light shines much brighter. My children would be the brightest light of all. Through everything that has happened in the last five years, my children have been a beacon of light. In my worst, darkest, and the most difficult days of my life they kept me moving, going, smiling, and caring. I had to love even as my heart felt like it was contracting. My children were my key source of happiness and they remain my primary source to this day.

I am thankful for everyone that has read this blog throughout my journey because you have made me stronger and let me know in my darkest moments that I was not alone.

I wish you happiness today. I hope you find a peace and joy.

4 Years

Sometimes I forget the date.

Most of the time I try not to remember when my D-day is but it’s difficult to separate myself completely. There will always be reminders or connections to my D-day. I’ve always had a unbelievable memory, so it’s unlikely I will ever truly forget.

After four years I don’t have the same emotional connection I once felt on this date. I did find myself emotional yesterday but it’s not the same feeling I once had. I no longer spend time wondering or wishing I could have done something differently that could have changed life’s course or my husband’s decisions. I accept the decisions that were made. I don’t agree with them but I can recognize that his choices are not within my control.

I no longer feel that knife in my heart, or lump in my throat, or sinking feeling in my stomach. I’m no longer physically impacted by the affair. Yes, I admitted  that I cried yesterday but I think that’s normal. I was also realizing how far we’ve come since September 22, 2014. I also remember that it was more than one day that I suffered. I had been suffering before my D-day without a clear understanding of why and I was devastated for a long time after my D-day.

Four years later there are still reminders that I am not completely healed.

I struggle with trust. There are times when my husband works early, or late, or maybe it’s just a normal day and doubt creeps into my mind. I find myself questioning him about his day every so often in a way that is not healthy for me or us. I try to let go of my doubts but I’ve found burying doubts can lead more to stockpiling my fears than a peaceful resolution. I want to trust again but it’s difficult not to doubt. It’s difficult not to wonder if I am a fool to believe a cheater can change and be faithful. Learning to trust again is my goal for year five.

There are times I still feel like something is missing. The strange thing is I don’t really feel broken anymore, but I feel like there is a piece of me missing that my husband can no longer complete or fill. With every day that passes I find that this hole is being filled, but not by him. Sometimes that scares me.

In four years, I’ve learned that I love my husband with a love that I cannot define. I spend days and nights with him and realize our lives are forever intertwined and I do not want to change a thing. Over the past four years I’ve witnessed my husband become more engaged with our children, our families, and our marriage. Sometimes I am afraid that I have become less engaged as a result of his affair. I often have to check myself to make sure I am not pushing myself away from the rest of the world. It would be so much easier to hide and block out the rest of the world. The challenge is to keep going and be an active participant.

lionkingI no longer feel so absorbed by the pain of my husband’s affair that I would characterize it as the worst thing that ever happened to me. I won’t say his affair is the best thing that happened to me but the pain is separate from me now. I can look back and remember the horror of the first week, month, and year, but it doesn’t suck me in now.

One difficult part of being at four years is that we no longer talk about the affair or how we are feeling. I know that I could bring it up if I needed to but I also know that I don’t want to open up that box. I don’t want to have to talk about all of this with my husband. I don’t want him to feel like I am punishing him. I know it’s not good to stay silent but I guess I am not ready to go back to the past. I know I need to learn from the past but I’m not always sure how to navigate this now.

Four years after the affair I feel like we have begun a new chapter in the story of our life. Maybe it’s even a new section – Part 3. Life goes on and we must continue on too.

Did I Choose Wrong?

This year has been full of doubts, flip-flopping, and wondering if I made the right decision. In one moment I am happy, confident, and blazing forward. In the next moment I am hesitant, untrusting, and overwhelmed with fear. Luckily, the latter moments are not in the majority. But the mere fact that they exist bothers me. All the books and articles say it takes two years to heal from infidelity as a betrayed spouse. But what does it truly mean to be healed?

To love is to be intensely vulnerable. To choose love means we also choose to know the loss of love. We are raised to believe that love is the antidote to loneliness, and all the emotions that accompany being alone: sadness, rejection, misery, and heartbreak. We live in a world that equates love with hope. But the truth is that choosing to love another person is the equivalent of asking them to hold a glass egg forever – at some point it will be dropped. And heartbreak is, well, heartbreaking. I believed with all my heart that my marriage was unique, our love was pure and unbreakable. The heartbreak I felt, and sometimes I still feel, was as if I lost something essential to my existence. Sometimes I still yearn to touch what I lost; to grasp it in my hands, pull it tight into my chest, close my eyes, and cherish it one last time.

Recently a friend of mine posted this quote on Facebook:

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Heartbreak is heart breaking. It is painful and it is paralyzing. But we cannot let it define our future. Love can break us into a million pieces but it can also fill all the dark places that we never thought could be filled. Love, at it’s finest, feels as though I finally fit into myself. I clearly see myself, feel myself entirely, and my confidence exudes from my being when I give and receive love. Betrayal made me doubt all of that.

Somewhere along the path of healing I asked myself, repeatedly, did I choose the wrong man to marry? What if the answer is that we all choose wrong. It’s impossible to expect I knew at 23 years old what my needs would be at 35 or 46 or 52. I chose my husband because he offered familiarity, a compliment to me. I chose him because I never felt love in the way he gave it to me. I needed him and he needed me back. For better or worse.

Is it ever possible to know if we married the right person?

Every time I begin to fall into the doubts that still linger in the shadows of my mind I remember that love does not mean perfection. Love is having hope that as we break we will recover. Love is having the courage to believe that heartbreak does not mean devastation. Loving is risky business but somehow it’s the most desirable dream we share.

Sometimes I feel as if I am stuck in a Chinese finger trap – the more I pull, the more I am stuck in the same place. I just need to push, redefine the things I cherish, and move forward.

 

 

Can I Ever Trust You Again?

Last week I stopped listening to music during my commute and started listening to podcasts. Which means that I come home and retell all the stories that I just listened to in my car for my colleagues, husband, children – anyone that will listen. Tonight, my retold story is for you and the topic is trust and reconciliation. Maybe we can answer the question:

Can I ever trust you {my spouse} again?

Trust is like holding a bird in your hand. If you hold the bird too tightly then you will crush it and it will die. If you hold the bird too loosely then it will fly away. This metaphor is an adaptation from a story told within the podcast but I believe it is brilliant. It tells you there is an appropriate balance required to trust another person, and falling out of balance and into extremes is destructive or negligent.

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Prior to my husband’s affair I believe I trusted him naively. He promised he wouldn’t cheat and therefore he would never cheat on me. And the longer we were married the more I believed it would never happen because we were the center of each other’s world, the most intelligent mate, my trusted confident, and my best friend. And vice versa – I was undoubtedly all those things to him too. Except I naively trusted that nothing could ever change between us and that we did not need to worry or cultivate this trust post-wedding or post-kids. I believed in status quo.

Except I didn’t really. During my husband’s affair I realized that our marriage was no longer fulfilling my needs. My husband was failing me. I was lonely and felt as though I was raising our children solo. He would go to work and come home unconcerned with anything within our household that required effort or dedicated time. I cried alone many times throughout the year of his affair because I couldn’t understand why my marriage was not working for me anymore. I wanted more too.

Post D-day, I was holding the “trust bird” too tightly. In fact, there are still times I am clutching trust like it’s a stress ball and releasing the tension that trust requires from me. Just last week I practically put my husband on trial to find out what he did before going to work that day. It turns out he ran errands for his business. For me, those two hours of errands were a reminder of the affair and his behavior.

The question remains: Can I ever trust him, or anyone, again?

Trust is fragile and when trust crumbles it can have a ripple effect on every relationship in your life. It has been very difficult for me to trust anyone on an intimate level after discovering my husband’s affair. I had to redefine trust, rebuild relationships with the people I truly care about in a way that fits into my new definition of trust. For me trust will never be absolute again. I have learned that in order to trust I must accept the unknown. I must understand that in trust there is doubt and I need to learn to be comfortable with that the unknowns.

For my readers that are in the beginning stages of discovering their spouses affair I implore you to find out the meaning and motivations for your spouse’s affair. You do not need to know the facts or the story of the affair. The goal is to restore trust, not create a narrative. Understand the crisis you are going through together and this will become the beginning of your new relationship.

Learning to hold the bird in your hand is a delicate balance of holding on and letting go.

The Weight of Failure

I’ve never been comfortable with failure. I was the child that sat in the front row, center desk in school if seats weren’t assigned. I learned very early that not only do teachers tend to favor those students, but it is literally the best seat to learn from in a classroom. I also recall this feeling of failure or separation within me if I was seated in the back of the room.  It was hard to be a part of the discussion and I no longer felt included. I believed I could control my successes and limit my failures if I made all the right choices.

I was never taught to plan for failure. Relationships are not very different from everything else we engage in life. Yet, in business we understand that getting fired or a failed business plan can lead to success. One of the most famous stories of failure turned success is Steve Jobs. We herald Steve Jobs and view Apple dumping him as a catalyst for what we now use to define success. Steve Jobs may have never reached his full potential if he hadn’t been betrayed, devastated, and faced with failure – reassess and rebuild. Steve Jobs is quoted saying that what separates successful entrepreneurs from the rest is perseverance.

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Very few of our failures are fatal. Yet, post D-day I felt as though I might collapse. I felt as though the weight of my husband’s affair might slowly suffocate me and there was a piece of my soul that was suddenly stolen. There is an emptiness within us that accompanies failure. I’ve spoken about this emptiness many times throughout the blog. There was a time I believed I could solve why I felt this way or maybe with time whatever was broken would heal, or maybe even regenerate like a starfish. My therapist told me three years ago that I should mourn the loss of this unnamed feeling/sense/being and acknowledge that it is gone.

Gone but not fatal.

Failure is a part of my story. But I keep going. I’ve picked up the pieces, reassessed, and rebuilt my life. My marriage is not the same as it was when we first fell in love. It’s different. Not every betrayed spouse can forgive and stay with the partner that cheated but we can all heal ourselves. The healing part of my story is what has defined this journey.