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.

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.

 

 

Love, Acceptance, Belonging

A Mindfulness Objective Takes Root

mindset

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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Will my marriage survive infidelity?

Often when you are diagnosed with a disease there are statistics that will tell you the survival rate. Those statistics can either give you hope or fill you with fear. Infidelity is not a diagnosable disease but recently I wondered:

Can you calculate the five-year survival rate for a couple after infidelity is discovered?

The first thing I discovered when I dove into my research is that there are no concrete statistics and information on infidelity. Infidelity is usually kept private. Many couples are just like my husband and I —anonymous. Infidelity is estimated to affect between 50—80% of marriages. Interesting enough, the statistics are almost even for men and women as the betrayer. I read a few different articles online and it’s very difficult to calculate how many marriages survive an affair. In most states, couples can have a no-fault divorce. In the state I live in, infidelity has no bearing on the divorce proceedings or child custody agreements. I only know that because I looked it up on my D-day. I wanted to know if I could take my children away from my husband if we decided to end our marriage. I look back now and realize how vindictive that thought is but I was hurt, lost and afraid. According to divorce records infidelity is stated as the cause of the end of marriage 17% of the time. Therapists surveyed have stated that infidelity is to blame for divorces as high as 80% of the time. The numbers are all over the place because infidelity is private. One also has to wonder if will couple site infidelity for their divorce if they try to make their marriage work and decide to end their marriage years later.

Native American Proverb-Healing after my husband's affairMany people go will never disclose infidelity occurred in their marriage. It is estimated that 2/3 of spouses will never find out their spouse cheated. I also read that most cheaters will never cheat again. I’m not sure if I believe that statement but it debunks the statement “once a cheater always a cheater.” I question that people only have one affair because I think most people would lie to cover an undetected affair to make themselves look better in the eyes of their spouse and/or anyone else. Although, I’ve also read that when an affair is discovered and the betrayer repents and atones for their mistake then another affair is highly unlikely.

All of these statistics are just numbers. When I started reading about infidelity survival rates it was because someone asked me if I believed my husband and I would make it five years. My reaction was immediate and spontaneous – I said yes, absolutely. Yet, a few weeks later I’m sitting here realizing that the survival of our relationship is not a guarantee.

Infidelity is like a disease in marriage. The instant I discovered my husband’s betrayal I was confused, angry and hurt. I married my husband because I loved him. I believed we were destined for each other and that he would never hurt me. His affair stole my sense of security in our relationship. The person I trusted the most in this world lied, deceived and betrayed me and I was completely unprepared. I look back on this “journey” now and realize that in the beginning I believed that my husband loved me and our marriage could kick infidelity’s ass. I want to silently prove to Bat Shit that she meant nothing. Sex every day of the week signified his commitment to me. I wanted to erase the affair from our life.

Two years later, I have a new view of my marriage and myself. I recognize that I chose my husband and there are likely no stars aligned that pre-destined our relationship.  Our relationship has never been perfect but the innocence of my love for my husband pre-affair allowed me to only see the good. Sometimes I wonder if my unflawed view of him clouded my judgment. Maybe that’s how love begins; we cannot see our lover’s weaknesses or our relationship’s flaws. Perfection is unrealistic and unattainable. Two people cannot be perfect in life or for each other. Two years after my D-day I can appreciate the imperfections of my marriage. We are together because we choose to be here, fighting for the survival of our marriage together. Just like being diagnosed with a disease, you can choose to fight for your life or you can accept defeat. Infidelity is not a death sentence.

Healing after affair

Two Years Later

730 days. 2 years

The past two years have been building up to this so-called anniversary. I read in a book shortly after my D-Day it takes two years to heal from betrayal/infidelity. All I wanted in the beginning was to get to this point: Two years after D-Day. In two years I hoped that I would have clarity on my husband’s affair. I hoped that I wouldn’t be angry, sad or damaged in two years-time. I hoped that the affair would be far behind me. . I hoped that I would be healed in two years-time. As I was approaching the two year mark I started to ask myself: Am I where I hoped I would be or has this journey led me to a place I did not expect?

Year One = Survival Mode

Healing after my husband's affair-move onThe first year I counted each day following my D-Day, then weeks, then months. I wanted time to pass quickly. In the beginning I wanted to wake up from the nightmare that had become my life and reawaken years later in a happy place. I believed there was something I could have done to prevent my husband from cheating. It was also the year I put my husband and marriage on trial. I asked him questions about his affair. I wanted to know everything. I believed that if I knew every detail of what went on behind my back that I could evaluate and figure out why my husband cheated. I wanted to have a reason this happened to me and my marriage. I needed to understand how Bat Shit penetrated our life. I couldn’t understand how we got to a place where my husband was having sex with another woman, writing her emails, lying to me and risking his career for his affair. If I had all the facts, understood the deception and intention then I would know what to next: stay or leave.

The first year was the emotional rollercoaster year. The first year was full of tears. I cried on my way to work on a daily basis. I cried at my desk at work. I cried at night when the house was dark and quiet. I cried as I watched my husband with our children. I cried until I became numb. The first year was full of triggers. By the end of year one I was beginning to focus on learning to live with the affair and not letting it control my emotions.

Year Two = Moving Forward

As I began year two all I wanted was to leave the affair in the past. I hated the baggage that I was carrying. I hated that I was left with a scar on my heart. I hated that my mind would drift to thoughts about the affair arbitrarily. I resented the control the affair took over my emotional and mental sanity.

Healing after my husband's affair-acceptanceI began year two with some acceptance of the affair in my life but I still felt unsettled and frustrated. I still hated Bat Shit. Hated, detested, cursed, etc. I wanted her to live a miserable life and I was still processing thoughts of what I would say to her given an opportunity. A year ago I was still contemplating contacting Bat Shit and having fictional conversations with her in my mind. At some point during year two I let go of the anger I was harboring towards Bat Shit. I do not forgive her. I do not like her. I do not empathize with her but I do not have to spend my energy hating her anymore either. I accept she targeted my husband, offered him the opportunity for an affair, and he accepted.

Year two was about moving forward and leaving the affair in the past. The pain subsided over the past twelve months but this feeling of emptiness lingered. The more I felt like I was moving past the affair, the more I felt a hole inside me. My husband’s affair attacked and shattered my inner-self (soul/heart/?) and left me with an empty space. I’ve spent the last six months trying to fill that empty hole I feel inside myself. I wish I had the answer on how to feel whole again but I don’t. Maybe year three will bring more answers.

What I’ve learned in two years is that marriage is not easy or black and white. I understand that choosing to stay or leave a marriage after infidelity is not always clear. Immediately after D-Day I decided to stay in my marriage until or unless I reached a point where I knew I needed to walk away. In two years I’ve had more instances that pushed me to stay in my marriage than leave. Actually, I can’t think of one moment I considered walking away. The last two years have been about appreciating the love and the relationship in spite of failure. I’ve learned that perfection is not everything. Sometimes the flaws in our relationships can transform into our most attractive features. I’ve learned more about myself during the lowest point in my life than any other time.

Healing after my husband's affair-chaosSo here I am, a little more than 730 days later. I am confident in my marriage. I am in love with my husband. It’s possible I am more in love with him now than when we first married each other. I’ve learned to let go of the pain from my husband’s affair but that doesn’t mean I’m over it yet. I still cried the day before my D-Day. I still struggle with my emotional memory of the past two years but, mentally, I know it’s in the past. I am certain I am where I need to be right now in my life. And really, that’s all I could ask for.

Questions I Asked After Discovering My Husband’s Affair

A few weeks ago I wrote a post and mentioned some questions I found right after discovering my husband’s affair. I was searching for answers. I was completely unprepared for what happened to me and I wanted someone to just tell me what to do next. The truth is no one could ever tell me how to navigate my life or make decisions about my marriage but I just wanted to hand my life over to someone else. I wanted to escape my life.

I’ve mentioned this before but the first question I asked my husband when I discovered his affair was:

Did you cheat on me because you wanted our relationship to end?

Truth Healing After My Husband's AffairThe reason I asked that question was because I needed to understand if he had already decided that our marriage was over. The media, Hollywood and everything we are ever taught teaches us that people have affairs to escape their marriages and begin new relationships. I find it interesting that now I’ve lived through an affair I see that affairs are generally not about the betraying spouse wanting out of the marriage. My husband never considered leaving our marriage while he was cheating. When I discovered the affair he had the opportunity to leave. I didn’t beg him to stay. I didn’t ask him to take care of me. He chose me and he chose to work on our marriage and himself. 

Some of my readers asked me to post the questions. I don’t know if I can find them all but while I was cleaning my bedroom today I found a notebook that I used after D-Day. It’s a little funny that I took notes on articles and books that I read since there wasn’t going to be an exam or a test on this crap. I guess I wanted to make sure I was paying attention. Here is what I wrote:

Gain Control

What are my emotions really telling me? 

What needs to change and what can I do to take those necessary steps? You cannot change what has happened to you but you do need to take responsibility for how you are handling the situation. 

Should I trust my feelings?

How can I tell if my partner is right for me?

Free yourself from the betrayal, the blame game, live in the present and move forward with positive thoughts. 

Trust-> Rebuild

Actions speak louder than words. Feeling safe becomes paramount. 
“I’m committed to you. You are safe.” You need to feel valued. 

Forgiveness

You are not pardoning the betrayers actions, forgiveness is an emotional release. You are not condoning. You do not need to accept the behavior.

Forgiveness is not a reconciliation. Forgiveness is about lessening our emotional burdens and healing the pain of your heart.

People harm us from weaknesses that compel them to act. 

Forgiveness is inner healing not behavioral change.

We are responsible for what we do with our hurt. 

Courage Healing After My Husband's AffairBetrayer -> Solely responsible for their deception. Holding onto guilt is a choice. Self-forgiveness doesn’t relieve you of your responsibility for words or actions, but it releases you from self-contempt. With self-forgiveness brings compassion and understanding of who you are and why you acted the way you did. Reclaim what you must value in yourself. 

What is required for us to stay the course?

That’s all I wrote. I can tell you that after I asked my husband the first question about his affair we spent two hours sitting on a grassy hill near our house. I cried, I yelled, I felt hatred, anger and pain. I don’t really remember the questions I asked on that grassy hill but I do remember my husband kept saying Bat Shit was his friend and things spiraled out of control. I remember questioning if I would ever be able to forgive him. I wasn’t sure if an affair was something I could get over. He was terrified that I was going to leave him. I didn’t make any immediate decisions because I didn’t want to disrupt our children’s lives. I felt strongly this was our issue as a couple and we would only involve the kids if there was no other choice.

The questions I asked my husband continued from these notes for months. Almost the entire first year was spent asking everything and anything I could about my husband’s affair. He answered everything. I asked some pretty crazy questions too. I found that if something was bothering me or stuck in my head it was always best to just ask my husband. Usually, whatever was paralyzing my thoughts was much worse than the truth. I found that in asking questions that were so intimate and difficult my husband and I became closer. We started talking about topics that couples don’t generally discuss openly. Sex, emotional insecurities… everything. Looking back now I realize I wasn’t just asking my husband the tough questions, I was asking myself too, 

Strength Healing After My Husband's Affair