Secrets Keep You Sick

I cringe as I admit I heard that statement on a recent episode of the Real Housewives of New York. Yet, as the woman said those words they struck a chord with me. Secrets have enveloped my life for more than four years. Secrets crafted behind my back, secrets that I uncovered, secrets I chose to keep private, and secrets I have conceived on my own too. Secrets are ultimately destructive and, yet, the excitement that embodies the pure psychology of a secret is so damn tempting.

This blog started out as a catharsis for me. A place to purge all my emotions, fears, and secrets. As much as I write and divulge it’s never a complete story, never enough to fully purge my fears or heal every emotion.

My marriage is different now. The truth is my marriage will never be the same. I don’t think I will ever be able to completely breathe a sigh of relief or go to bed and not feel this weigh down on me. It’s hard to admit but I know I am responsible for so much of this.

5d1d495bdae42e3941e8e5103182b0e4When my husband and I first met our relationship wasn’t by any definition “normal.” The foundation of our relationship may have not been constructed on the sturdiest of soil and with the best pieces us. We were both involved with other people when we met and those relationships and their issues bled into our relationship. My insecurities were compounded by his request to not discuss the former relationships.

Secrets.

We tried to bury those secrets and paint over them with our life together. We painted this beautiful story together on a really crappy canvas. The “us” part of our picture or story was solid, good, beautiful, and wonderful. It was the bits and pieces of us as individuals that were cracked. All of my insecurities kept me from being the best version of me and being a good partner. If I couldn’t discuss my husband’s failed relationships then how could I fully understand him? His needs? His insecurities? We buried layers of ourselves and pretended like it was unimportant. I learned the questions I never asked were the most destructive. They created triggers, defense mechanisms, and insecurities that I never should have harbored.

I chose my blogging username, ThisWillNotDefineUs, because I truly believed that my husband’s affair should not and would not define our marriage. While it doesn’t define our marriage, it did end up being a definitive part of my life and our life together. Secrets have a riptide effect on relationships. The emotions, fears, and moments I didn’t talk about ended up impacting my decisions and the people around me. I often filled in the empty spaces with answers that complete the sentences.

Three years later it’s hard not to fall back into the same relationship patterns from our past. Sometimes I have to stop myself when I feel recognize myself slipping inside myself, building walls, because it will only lead to me pulling away from my marriage. I also fear repeating the same mistakes that pushed my husband into the arms of another woman. I am not saying that it’s my fault, but I am saying that how I treated him and how I was living was a factor in his affair. Post-affair, as life settles back into normalcy, I fear that it’s not enough to keep him here. As the words flow through my fingertips I realize that I have this fear and it’s a secret harbored within me. The cycle continues… I need to be brave enough to end this pattern of secrets.

Surviving Infidelity

There are stories that hijack our lives. They freeze our thoughts and capture our minds, taking hold of our emotional and physical state. My husband’s affair hijacked my life. I chose my username on WordPress, thiswillnotdrefineus, thoughtfully because I rejected my husband’s actions. My disappointment was fueled by rejection, loss, and pain. I had to believe his affair could be cleaned up like spilled milk. I wished I could get to a point where I forgot the affair ever happened.

His affair has been over for three and a half years and I have not forgotten it. It’s not a gushing wound anymore but the affair redefined our marriage. It changed me, him, and us. How could it have not?

The moment I fell in love with my husband my life was hijacked. It was permanently set on a course I had not planned but I embraced it. Most of us would be fools to reject love. We watch movies and cry for lost love and wistfully champion the story that captures our inner longing to be loved. We all want to be loved – and we want to believe in the moment of falling in love.

My love story is my favorite. In the wake of my d-day I began a long road of questioning if my love story was ever real and if I made the right choices. I spent most my life believing that finding love may be a struggle; getting the guy to commit may be difficult; but once you both fall in love and promise for better or worse – the rest is “happily ever after.” I thought that once we promised each other forever it would be smooth sailing.

So here I am. Post affair. I am long past the two year point where therapists claim it becomes easier or that healing is more complete. Yes, I am better. It’s easier and I would consider myself healed. But the thing is, “healed” doesn’t mean the pain is erased or that I even understand how I feel all the time.

I read in Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong that for forgiveness to occur something must die, you must face the pain, and simply hurt. I agree.

Recently someone asked me if I had gotten past the affair – you two are solid now, right? Yes, we are solid but let me clarify. I now understand not only the strength of my love for my husband but my limits too. I know our marriage is different. We have changed and it’s really freaking uncomfortable to change. Most of us resist change, especially in our most treasured and intimate relationships. My husband and I, we are changed. There will always be the knowledge of this affair between us. There will alway be an awkward silence when a friend brings up their opinion on infidelity, or we watch a movie and the main character discovers her husband’s affair. There will always be the squeeze of my hand on his knee to say: I love you in spite of this.

Infidelity is not black and white to those of us that have survived it. On a daily basis it can be more than 50 shades of gray. The point is we are surviving infidelity.

Love, Acceptance, Belonging

A Mindfulness Objective Takes Root

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I find myself craving love, acceptance, and belonging in my weakest and best moments. I want to be worthy of being loved, accepted, and to belong; and I want to love, accept, and belong to my life story. My struggle with all three became magnified in the aftermath of my husband’s affair. To understand my struggle, I identified the opposite of these mindsets:

Love – Indifference, Neglect

Acceptance – Rejection

Belong – Disconnect

There have been so many times during the last three or more years that my mind felt chaotic. I would be fine and then one stray thought about the affair sent me into a panic, making me feel neurotic. I could trust my husband completely and not trust him at the same time. I’ve spent countless hours writing mental rationalization lists of why or how my husband is not still cheating on me or lying to me. I often have to be mindful of what is real versus the triggered emotional memories that awaken in my most insecure moments. My most insecure moments were affirmations of the opposite of what I truly need and want to feel. In the movie, Pretty Woman, Vivian and Edward are lying in bed in an incredibly intimate moment and she says:

The bad stuff is easier to believe. You ever notice that?

Yes, I have noticed the bad stuff is easier to believe. So I’ve made a resolution for 2016: Mindfulness. For me, mindfulness means awareness and acceptance of my thoughts and feelings without judgement or belief. My goal is to bring myself closer to truth and become more objective of my experiences and see my life with greater clarity. My life choices and motivations need to align better with my authentic essence.

On Christmas Eve I sat in the back of the church sanctuary next to my husband and children. As I held my lit candle in my hand I felt a moment of complete stillness and peace wash over me. There can be so much discontent after an affair. We are left with thoughts that race through our minds when there are no distractions, and mindfulness can feel unattainable. My moment of peaceful mindfulness on Christmas Eve was comforting. In that moment, I felt content.  My mind was not wandering to sadness, anger, frustration, or guilt. Instead, as I sat in my pew, I meditated on those three words:

Love, Acceptance, Belonging

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Three Years

Three years. As I was planning to set aside time to write this post last week I had to stop and think: “When is my D-Day? What’s the date?” Which is odd for me because I generally recall everything especially marker dates in my life. [Un]Fortunately, one of my friend’s was married on my D-Day and she reminded me her anniversary was Tuesday. Thanks, I thought, I was just getting to a point of possibly erasing that date from my mind. BUT, reaching a milestone is an opportunity to reflect, take inventory on the journey I’ve been on, and look forward and into the future. This process has taught me a lot about who I am.

So much of the beginning of my journey was wrapped up in the magnitude of the pain I felt. I directed my disappointment, anger, and sadness at Bat Shit. I named her Bat Shit and I hated everything about her and I needed to be nothing like her. She became the representation not just of my pain, but my failure. Three years later I can honestly say I do not obsess over Bat Shit at all. I do not compare myself or fear she’s lingering in the background waiting to reemerge. I will confess that I do not want to bump into her at all and I am starting to wonder how long I can dodge that bullet. I guess that chapter is yet to be written (but let’s hope not).

One of the biggest struggles was dealing with the death of my expectations. I was disappointed in my husband for cheating and lying, I was disappointed in myself for not being a “better” wife, and I was disappointed in my marriage because it wasn’t strong enough to prevent an affair. I was facing a roadblock of shame. I was ashamed of myself, my marriage, and how my husband’s affair reflected on me. What I valued most in life had been tarnished and damaged, and I wasn’t sure that I would ever recover what was lost. I wanted to go back – back to how I felt pre-affair because then I was whole.

During the last few months I’ve begun to accept that what was lost is gone. I cannot regain whatever it is you want to label that feeling – maybe it’s innocence, or naivety, or purity. It’s hard to let go of that yearning because there is a wholeness connected to whatever that feeling is. Instead, I desire to live wholeheartedly. This journey has taught me not only who I am but also how strong I can be. My failures can be just as meaningful as my triumphs.

I wish I could say three years later that my life and marriage are better than ever. The truth is that we are two imperfect people in a lifelong partnership and there will inevitably be highs and lows. Our goal is for the lows to never be as low as they were during the affair and post-D-Day. The highs should always be contenders in the grand view of our marriage and lives. Our sex life is still amazing but we’ve fallen off the wagon lately as work and children’s schedules have become an obstacle. What is amazing is that once a week now seems like not enough. We’ve managed to align intimacy and desire (for the most part).

This year more than last, I recognize this is my D-Day and I am carrying this burden alone. What I mean is that my husband has no memory of what today is. My instinct is to not say anything with the hope of giving this day a new definition but I think that may be the wrong reaction. My healing stems from understanding my emotions, being honest about my story so that I can get to a place of genuine truth. Ignoring the emotions and memories stirred by this day would not be authentic.

I’ve spent the last three years rebuilding myself and learning to accept this affair and the failures in my marriage as a part of my story. I’ve learned that I can never go back to who I was or how I felt before the affair. I’ve let go of the fear that I am broken. I am writing a new story and I am all in.

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Infidelity Trax | Little Do You Know | Alex & Siera

I am sitting at my desk and this song just began playing on my Pandora. And even luckier for me, the lyrics were right there on the screen for me. How could this song be about anything else besides infidelity?

Little Do You Know by Alex & Siera

Little do you know
How I’m breaking while you fall asleep
Little do you know
I’m still haunted by the memories
Little do you know
I’m trying to pick myself up piece by piece

Little do you know
I need a little more time

Underneath it all I’m held captive by the hole inside
I’ve been holding back for the fear that you might change your mind
I’m ready to forgive you but forgetting is a harder fight

Little do you know
I need a little more time

I’ll wait, I’ll wait
I love you like you’ve never felt the pain,
I’ll wait
I promise you don’t have to be afraid,
I’ll wait
The love is here and here to stay
So lay your head on me

Little do you know
I know you’re hurting while I’m sound asleep
Little do you know
All my mistakes are slowly drowning me
Little do you know
I’m trying to make it better piece by piece

Little do you know
I, I love you ’til the sun dies

Oh wait, just wait
I love you like I’ve never felt the pain,
Just wait
I love you like I’ve never been afraid,
Just wait
Our love is here and here to stay
So lay your head on me

I’ll wait (I’ll wait), I’ll wait (I’ll wait)
I love you like you’ve never felt the pain,
I’ll wait (I’ll wait)
I promise you don’t have to be afraid,
I’ll wait
The love is here and here to stay
So lay your head on me
Lay your head on me
So lay your head on me

‘Cause little do you know
I, I love you ’til the sun dies

Revising Infidelity Beliefs and Theories

Infidelity Does Not Have to Mean the End of Your Marriage or Relationship but it Will Change You

I’ve been struggling with this idea that if most marriages will encounter infidelity in their lifetime then why is open discussion of infidelity taboo? Why are we not more prepared? And why do we continue to teach that affairs are unacceptable and represent the end of marriage?

I realize now that my entire life has been relatively easy. I grew up in a normal upper-middle class home, my parents are still married, my siblings are highly functional, and I was married to my husband a year after graduating from college. There were “struggles” along the way but nothing that changed my way of thinking. My family dealt with my sister going through teenage-angst and defiance which meant drug experimentation, sex, and risky behavior but she came out of it unscathed. In fact, she has become the embodiment of everything she was rebelling against. I was always the good girl and never broke the rules. I’ve never smoked a cigarette or been high. When I met my husband I bent the rules. I was completely infatuated with him. He was perfect and for the first time, a man loved me and I loved him in return. I’m certain our love story is probably more romantic in my head then on paper but because it was ours it was special.

A little over a year into our relationship I found out I was pregnant. I was twenty years old and pregnant. Prior to the affair this was what I would point to as the most difficult time in my life. I finished college, had our first child, and we were eventually married. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows before we were married either. I was scared that I might end up raising our child alone. It’s not until recently I realize that as difficult as that period in my life was and as much as I fought for our relationship and our baby – it wasn’t traumatic. It didn’t change my way of thinking or my belief system.

chaos-in-your-soul-infidelityMore importantly, my romantic idealism was never challenged by the struggles we faced at the beginning of our relationship because he chose me. He was “the one” and I was his other half, his greatest love, best friend, and lifetime companion. We were made for each other – soulmates, lovers, whatever you want to call it. I believed all of it.

My husband’s affair shattered that belief system. If he wanted, desired, craved, and (gulp) loved another woman it was not just a betrayal of our marriage but a betrayal of a sacred belief that we were special. It shattered my sense of self because my identity was so wrapped up in my marriage – how my husband felt about me was my anchor. I felt our life was like some cheesy romance song or movie where the couple can live off ramen and barely scrape by but their love is what makes it all worthwhile. But betrayal? That signified I was no different than anyone else and our marriage was no different either – maybe even less.

Yet, in the wake of D-day I didn’t want to end my marriage. In fact, my husband and I slept in the same bed every single night after D-day. Even when I was crying and upset I didn’t kick him to the couch or ask him to leave. I needed him. Maybe I needed him to see the pain he had caused or maybe I didn’t want him to go to Bat Shit. I don’t know but I knew this was not the end of us. I may have been the end of our first marriage but not us as a couple.

I keep asking myself how you can enter a marriage understanding that infidelity is probably going to be encountered. Is it possible to marry someone and accept that one or both of you may cheat in the lifetime of your marriage but it does not need to be the end? Or does the affair need to be revealed in order to salvage the marriage? For a long time I questioned whether my discovery of my husband’s affair saved our marriage. There is an intimacy we discovered in hitting rock bottom in our marriage. There’s honesty different than anything I’ve ever known revealed by his affair. And, as much as I would never want to go through that pain again – I wonder if I needed to be shaken to my core. I needed to discover my own sense of self and self-love. I needed to learn that there are things that even a good and happy relationship cannot provide.

There’s an amazing Ted Talk on infidelity that I recently watched that touches on all of this and I recommend it highly. But if you don’t have time to watch the entire video just read the closing from the video:

I look at affairs from a dual perspective: hurt and betrayal on one side, growth and self-discovery on the other — what it did to you, and what it meant for me. And so when a couple comes to me in the aftermath of an affair that has been revealed, I will often tell them this: Today in the West, most of us are going to have two or three relationships or marriages, and some of us are going to do it with the same person. Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together?

Marriage Without Guarantees?

Last week I read an article that was entitled 7 Rules Guaranteed to Prevent Infidelity. The article means well and has some good advice but the title made me roll my eyes. The list of guarantees also removes the element of trust from the marriage with rules like share all your passwords and cc your wife on all messages to females. The rules on the list are actually many of the guidelines I demanded after D-day so I see the value – but after D-day I had zero trust in my husband. I needed 100% transparency because I lost faith. Two and a half years later we’ve regained trust in our marriage. We may not ever have the same level of trust we once had but I don’t want to live in a world where my husband cannot have a conversation with another female without my knowledge or involvement. Frankly, it’s unrealistic.

I don’t believe there is a guarantee to prevent infidelity. Here is what I do believe.

Marriage is a commitment. It’s not just a promise but it’s keeping the commitment. Love is a decision and we make it many times every day. Marriage is when you commit to love someone even when you might not want to anymore. Marriage was the moments after D-day when I didn’t know what to do or how to feel but I stayed.  It means doing what it takes to make the relationship work.

The goal is happiness but there are going to be times when you aren’t happy. It’s kind of like the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities:

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Even when I felt like I reach my lowest low after D-day there were still moments in my life that were good. Not just good, wonderful. Don’t let the bad be the defining factor.

There is bound to be disagreements in a marriage but conflict is a choice. Life is not always black or white; wrong or right; yes or no. There is grey space and sometimes we are both right (and wrong). My husband and I don’t argue often but when we do it’s often because one of us cannot concede there’s a possibility the other one could be right. I’m learning to be more accepting of our differences. We don’t need to agree on everything all the time.

Our friends (regardless of whether they are his, mine, or ours) are friends of our marriage. Our friends need to like and want us to be together. Before my husband’s affair he had a friend at work that was openly cheating on his long-term live-in girlfriend. I was aware of this guy’s behavior and my husband and I openly disapproved. But yet my husband was friends with him and had conversations about this man’s affairs. I think subconsciously his behavior gave my husband permission to cheat when the opportunity presented itself. It’s the if everyone else is doing it why can’t I? concept. Needless to say, that guy is no longer my husband’s friend anymore.

Marriage requires maintenance. Just like a car – a marriage may need a tune-up or require service after a few thousand miles. There may be moments you don’t know what is going on with your marriage but you hear rattling sound. Don’t ignore the rattling or check engine light. Before my husband even started his affair I was concerned about our declining sex life and considered going to a sex therapist. I could see the yellow check engine light and knew my marriage needed service but I ignored the warning signs.

Communication is key. Communication is not just talking and honesty, it’s also listening and being open to hear things you may not want to hear. There are times in my marriage that my husband tried to talk to me about his concerns but I felt criticized and shut down. It’s okay to disagree. I also learned (the hard way) it’s important to validate my husband’s feelings. Our emotional state isn’t always rational or a reflection of the love from our spouses, but they deserve validation.

L.L. Bean 100% guarantees your satisfaction with their products. That doesn’t mean their products are perfect and won’t fall apart. It means that I can buy a backpack for my son and when the zipper breaks I can go back to their store and exchange it for a new backpack. The guarantee is a promise that even when things go wrong L.L. Bean will stand by their product. That’s a guarantee I  believe applies to marriage too. Even when the relationship has a malfunction take it back to the beginning and try again. Perfection is unrealistic. Even the best marriages are going to experience failure on some level at some point.

The more I write this post I realize it takes more than just five or seven bulleted points to sustain a marriage. There are no guarantees for a perfect marriage and the more we learn to let go of the idea that we can control the negative elements in life and marriage, the better off we will be.

healing-after-my-husbands-affair

Moving past the Betrayal of my Beliefs after the Affair

I finished writing a post last night but decided this morning not to publish it. I was reminded this morning on the fragility of life and that healing is not a journey that has a definitive end point. For many of us, the healing process has become easier with time but it’s never easy. Our pain becomes more tolerable, we learn to manage the pain, and we cope. I think the trick is to move past the “coping” and into the realm of living again.

There are no promises or guarantees in life or marriage. Throughout my lifetime there have been reminders of life’s fragility but for some reason marriage appeared to be the antidote to life’s unpredictability. Perhaps marriage is veiled as the antidote because it all begins so perfectly – we fall in love, we feel so vibrantly the love we receive from our partner, and we start a life together. When I reflect back on my view of my marriage from my wedding day to D-day, marriage felt like a protective barrier around my life. Marriage was my superhero power. It made me better, stronger, happier, and meant I had an ally for life.

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One of the hardest battles for me to overcome is the betrayal. Not necessarily the sexual betrayal, but the betrayal of my belief in who I thought my husband was. I mistakenly put my husband on a pedestal. I believed he loved me more than himself. Often my struggle goes back to the thought that an affair was so far out of my realm of possibility and I was completely blindsided. After all, my marriage security blanket was wrapped around my life – my husband and I were supposed to face the good and the bad together. Our marriage was supposed to be rock-solid and the affair proves it wasn’t. The affair proves that my beliefs about marriage were wrong.

Marriage is a vulnerable, evolving relationship. It takes two people to make a marriage work and only one to end it. Saying “I do” is the beginning, the actual marriage is everything that happens after the ceremony ends.  You have to keep earning the love of your spouse every single day. I’ve learned that saying I do is an everyday vow that needs to be renewed each and every day of my marriage. Keeping the spark alive isn’t always easy or fun. Loving my husband is sometimes difficult. It’s a choice I have to make every day, even when he’s annoying me.

One of the biggest lesson I’ve learned since D-day is that marriage is not always happy or fun. I wish on my wedding day someone had told me even in the best marriages experience bumps and pains. Everyone is flawed and sometimes the marriage will reflect those flaws. Love and marriage will not always be a safe harbor in life but facing a crisis together will strengthen the relationship and the individuals. I need to remember that pain in a relationship can produce greater people and enrich the marriage.

On my journey I’ve rediscovered my inner self and realized I am my own soulmate. No one can break my soul, my spirit, and my being. Life is ambiguous and accepting my imperfections will release me from those uncertainties.

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