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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This too shall pass and you will be okay again

Immediately after my D-Day I was searching for the answers to questions I didn’t even have yet. I wanted to be validated, heard and know that there were women that survived infidelity. In the beginning I felt isolated and alone. I had no idea that I was joining a silent alliance of betrayed women. I had no idea infidelity was so commonplace. It’s possible I just had the misfortune of discovering the truth. Up until September 22, 2012 infidelity and betrayal was foreign to me. Affairs were reserved for the covers of magazines at the grocery store and the few broken marriages I knew of in my town. Pre-D-day, affairs = divorce. It had been ingrained into my head that an affair breaks the couple and eventually ends the marriage, women should not forgive a cheating husband because their behavior will repeat itself in time.

Betrayal Healing After My Husband's AffairThen, my D-Day happened. I was hurt, destroyed, and in pain, and I wasn’t sure if my marriage was over or not. I Googled questions and words and finally found a women that instructed me on what to ask my husband first: 

Did you do this because you wanted to end our marriage?

My husband’s answer was: “No.” I think he was actually shocked that I asked him that question. I imagine in his mind he was afraid that my knowledge of his affair was the end of our marriage for me. We sat at our dining room table when I asked that question. He sat with his shoulders down, fear and shame covering his face. I sat with blood-shot eyes, anger and sadness upon my face. I look back now on that moment and realize we both had no idea what to do next. We both wanted our marriage to continue but both of us feared the worst.

My Google searches eventually brought me to WordPress. I found countless blogs about betrayal. I found blogs written by betrayed wives, affair partners and wayward spouses. I had to learn a new language (AP, BS, OS, OW, D-Day, etc). I learned all the acronyms. Infidelity recovery is an underground movement. One that is amazingly strong but entirely clandestine. I wrote my first words about my husband affair on this blog. I hoped someone would hear me, respond, and let me know there was life after an affair. I needed to know I was not alone. Just like so many of my readers, I felt like I was treading water and I was afraid I might drown in my pain and sadness. It took the writer a few days to respond to me. She gave me a list of five things I needed to do and one item my husband needed to do on his own. I read her list repetitively and soaked in every word she wrote. I felt her instructions were my new Bible. Luckily, her advice was solid. [I only hope that I can give half the advice she succinctly gave me in five bullet-ed points.]

Eventually, I started my own blog and followed a few blogs including Surviving an Affair and Rescuing My Marriage. Months later, I saw on my reader feed that the Rescuing My Marriage blogger was going to be a guest on a conference call with Anne Brecht, the author of My Husband’s Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me. I marked my calendar and told my husband I had to participate in this conference call. The night of the phone call I gathered all the house phones in the house (so that no child could listen in accidentally on this call) and sat in my bedroom. I was half excited and half afraid of what I might hear on the conference call. I recall Anne talking about affair recovery being one of the most challenging traumas to overcome. She spoke of women who have dealt with incurable disease diagnoses, tragedy and death before infidelity. Each of these women claimed that the betrayal from their spouse’s infidelity was the most difficult. At the time those words seemed a bit far-fetched but they were comforting to hear. What I was feeling might be the worst thing I will ever experience in my life. Ever since I heard those words I have questioned the validity of that statement. Perhaps it is true but I hope to never know.

Infidelity brings out the worst in people. Infidelity shames the couple. My husband’s affair made me feel as though I was an incompetent wife. If I had only done “XYZ” then he wouldn’t have cheated. Even as we try to rebuild our marriage I receive messages from Other Women telling me I am a fool for staying in my marriage and that my husband will never be faithful. Infidelity made me hide from family and friends. I didn’t want anyone to see my pain, depression and the uncertainty in my life. I didn’t want anyone to know my husband cheated. I hid my suffering to protect my marriage. Infidelity divides people. For some reason, people feel inclined to take sides and make judgments on the couple and their marriage. Infidelity is difficult to forgive so I chose to tell no one in order to not have to manage other people’s perceptions, opinions and advice. Infidelity pushed me into a dark hole and made me feel more isolated than ever before in my life. The one person I thought I could always trust was suddenly and inexplicably untrustworthy. 

Moreover, I no longer trusted myself. I believed with all my being that my life was what it appeared to be. I began living in safe mode. It’s like I pressed F8 the morning I woke up as a betrayed spouse. When I discovered my husband’s affair I was devastated and even if I discovered another element to the affair or received bad news, I was already suffering. There were days I thought I would welcome death. While that statement is absolute truth, I feel self-conscious admitting it. I never wanted to hurt myself but in the beginning stages of discovering my husband’s affair I felt dead inside, numb to my life. It took time but it’s difficult to live in a box. I feared living outside of safe mode to avoid being vulnerable again. As my life moved forward the pain subsided.The haze lifted and I believe now, perhaps, this is my new normal. 

I write this post for every woman (or man) that has just discovered the affair. The betrayed spouse who has just discovered this is their new identity. The pain you feel will subside with time. You will know what to do in time. Trust yourself.

Empty Spaces Healing After My Husband's Affair

The Triggers Aren’t Done With Me Yet

Feeling Broken. Tyler Knott GregsonDuring the year following my D-Day triggers were expected. I hated them, but I expected them. I bought him new underwear so I didn’t have to think about Bat Shit’s hands pulling them down, touching him. I destroyed a pair of his jeans with a Leatherman because they aged to display the worn outline of the iPod Touch she gave him.

When the triggers became more sporadic I saw it as a sign of progress. I was healing and not everything reminded me of my husband’s affair. Even after a year I was still being triggered to think about Bat Shit when I wanted nothing more than to forget about her. It seemed as though I could erase every physical trace of the affair but I would never fully remove Bat Shit from my memory. Just after the one-year mark from my D-Day I wrote about how Bat Shit was still a daily passing thought. No longer was she a trigger for pain but she was a ghost haunting my mind, appearing and disappearing without warning. She was not doing damage anymore, just lingering around.

Then one day she was gone, in my mind, anymore. The mind triggers were lessening. I was replacing thoughts of her with positive, new thoughts. My mind was filled with authentic moments and memories in my life that she could not touch. People that she did not know about and she could never connect with. Bat Shit’s power over my life was gone. My life was my own again.

I haven’t been triggered in months. I recall breaking down in tears about the affair just after Christmas. I remember telling my husband I needed him to go to therapy on his own. I needed him to figure out the answer to Why and How he was able to cheat on me. And so he went. He found a therapist, made the appointments and he’s been going for three months now. My triggers seemed to diminish in direct correlation to my husband’s efforts to better self-understanding.

Dave Matthews Space BetweenThen two weeks ago I was triggered. It wasn’t the affair; it wasn’t a remnant of the affair or a reminder. It was the way my teenage son treated me that pushed me over the edge. He told me that he had been lying to me for over a month about a romantic relationship in his life. The type of secret I kept from my parents at his age. But this was different to me. My son lied to me because he was afraid of my response—a response he could anticipate but did not want to hear. The same exact reason my husband chose not to tell me about his “friendship” with Bat Shit.

I was falling apart. The trigger was not about the affair this time. My son triggered me to feel how I felt in the days just after D-Day. My son assumed my reaction and made the decision to lie to me about something he’d been honest about prior to this relationship. In that moment, I felt everything had changed between us: mother and son. It wasn’t necessarily the lie that bothered me; it was the intent of the lie.

I did not anticipate being triggered back to that feeling of insignificance. Maybe it hurt more because this is the same child that held me in his arms as I cried uncontrollably on my D-Day. Maybe it hurt so deeply because I thought our relationship was different. (How did I get caught up in that notion again?) Regardless of why I was triggered, this was a reminder that the affair and its aftermath aren’t done with me yet.

Insecurities & Infidelity

A million insecurities that had been long been buried deep inside me rose to the surface on D-Day. I would never classify myself as insecure or lacking confidence but I have doubts that linger under the surface just like anyone. In the moment I discovered my husband’s affair all those doubts and insecurities became true.

insecuritiesI felt insignificant. I grew up a middle child. I was never neglected.  I was loved and supported but I learned from a young age to fend for myself, work hard and be self-reliant. I developed a strong sense of identity inspired by my desire to differentiate myself from my older and younger siblings. Like most middle children there is a lingering belief that I was unimportant. I pushed that idea deep down inside. It only came to the surface when a friend snubbed me or a boyfriend broke up with me. In those moments it was clear that I was insignificant. I remember falling in love with my husband and believing he would never make me feel insignificant, unimportant or second.

As my husband’s affair was beginning I was disconnecting with some of my closest “mom” friends in town. I became a working mom therefore I was no longer invited to birthday lunches and Bunko nights. My friendship was obviously insignificant to these mothers. About five months into my husband’s affair my best friend neglected to tell me about a life-changing event in her life before she posted it on Facebook. I found out in the same moment as the rest of the world, or maybe even later than half her Facebook “friends.”  By the time I discovered my husband’s affair I was already feeling insignificant to most the people in my life. The affair was just the icing on the cake.

I felt fat and ugly. I suffer from the same disorder most women do. No matter what my body looks like it will never be good enough. I look in the mirror and see flaws. I stared at all my imperfections and blamed them for my husband’s infidelity. After the affair, every trip the bathroom became a staring contest with myself in the mirror. What did she have [physically] that I didn’t? Why was he willing to push-off sex with me and schedule sex with her?

I wasn’t sexy enough. I wasn’t beautiful enough. I wasn’t good enough.

I wasn’t good enough. No matter how far I travel down this road to healing that’s the one thing I cannot wrap my head around: our marriage wasn’t enough for my husband to hesitate before starting a relationship behind my back. I know now that’s not true, but for a long time I felt like I wasn’t good enough for him. Or really anyone.  If the love we share didn’t prevent him from cheating then is it really possible to have an affair-proof marriage? I hate to sound jaded but the more comments I read on my blog from women just like myself, the less I believe that fidelity is possible in a marriage.

I remember asking my husband why he told Bat Shit he wanted more sex in our marriage but not me. He told me: “Sometimes it’s easier to be honest with a stranger than your wife.” I recall being angry and dismissive of this comment. I want to disagree completely but I realize now he’s right. My husband’s affair was about something lacking within my husband that he was trying to fill and not something lacking in me. His own insecurities pushed him from asking me for help. At some point in our relationship something happened to make him believe that I wouldn’t understand what he needed. Is it possible for two people to fulfill every need for the other person throughout a lifetime? I have no idea but I have hope.

Navigating

I followed the sound of the hockey game into our bedroom last night. It’s the NHL playoffs and our home team was playing. I would never label myself a hockey fan but when you live in Boston you inherently become a Patriots/Red Sox/Celtics/Bruins fan. I stepped into the bedroom and saw my husband folding laundry with his eyes focused on the television. I had just come home and had two cocktails in me so I fell down onto the bed, atop all the laundry and positioned my head right under my husband’s crotch. In this moment I was teasing him, although if he asked me, I would have happily pleasured him. I looked up into his eyes as he dropped the t-shirt he was folding and placed his hands aside my head.

“I love this position,” I said.

“I’m not sure who enjoys it more,” my husband responded.

“Can you imagine a position we haven’t tried yet?”

He smiled and replied: “I don’t think there are any left. We’ve done everything I can think of.”

I smiled and rose to my knees to kiss his lips. My thoughts were drifting; after all, those two mojitos were floating through me. I felt good. I picked up a pair of black lace panties my husband recently gave me and displayed them on my fingertips for him. “I love these.” I remarked.

“I love taking them off of you,” he said.

And then, in a moment of cocktail euphoria, I began a conversation that had an uncharted course. “You know, if you had never met me you would never have seen a woman in panties like these. I mean, in real life. All your previous lovers wore cotton panties. I wonder how many men have never been with a woman wearing sexy panties. I just realized how many men don’t have the pleasure that you do.”

I kept folding laundry as I spoke and I heard a little voice in my head warn me: Watch where you are going. But I didn’t listen.

“I think we are lucky. We are so sexually compatible. I could have told a million men that I wanted to be handcuffed and they wouldn’t have responded or pushed my fantasies further. It always felt like you were waiting for me to come along in your life. I mean, you can sexually do anything with another person but it will never compare to what we share.  “ [here we go] “It’s like kissing someone and not feeling that rush. Why kiss them again? I couldn’t be in a relationship with a bad kisser or with someone that I wasn’t completely sexually compatible with. We have something special and I doubt something like this comes along twice. You know?”

Then I saw my husband’s face change and I realized the conversation had turned the corner. I knew I should have stopped talking but those two cocktails were like truth serum. His eyes were on me as the hockey game played in the background. Then he turned to put his clothes away in the closet.

“I’m not trying to drag up anything.” [and then I started back-peddling but it was too late] “I just was thinking about how many men probably wish they have what you have. You are lucky, you know. You have a hot wife that wears sexy lingerie, will try anything in bed and she adores you. You have it all.”

And then, standing in the middle of our closet he said: I do have it all. I always knew I had everythng I wanted and more but my narcissistic needs told me I needed more.

That wasn’t the direction I thought the conversation was going. I wasn’t picking a fight or trying to spark a conversation about the affair. I was [drunkenly] pondering the fact that my husband was lucky to have me because I love being his fantasy. But he brought up a good point.

What makes us think we deserve more, even when we know we have more than we ever wanted or dreamed?

What makes a person risk everything they hold sacred in their life?

I think we never consider the risks of betrayal, only the immediate gratification. It’s a secret box stored on a shelf. A box we not only want but begin to believe we deserve. Temptation is a power that taunts our vulnerabilities and entices our insecurities. I often wonder if my husband’s betrayal damaged his psyche more than mine or our marriage. Relationships with other people heal or you close the door and move on. The view you have of your own character when forced to really look in the mirror is a much harsher and difficult to escape. I know he needs to reconcile his actions with himself but I don’t think he ever expected he would face this mirror when he began his secret relationship with Bat Shit. I don’t think he ever thought anyone would find out or that it would last longer than one encounter. I don’t think he ever thought I would read his email messages to her. It was all part of the temptation. Preserving the temptation kept him involved in the affair. Yet, why are we all tempted at one point or another to believe we can have more than we need or want?

I realize this affair is never going to be swept under the rug and forgotten. It’s embedded in our relationship. Sometimes I still wish it didn’t always have to be there, lurking under innocent [or not so innocent] conversations. It’s funny how things can feel so normal but then one word can bring up emotions that you thought were resolved.

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Nineteen Months and Counting

Maybe the journey isn’t about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.

Oprah Quote ForgivenessI’ve been trying to compose this post for three days. I type and then delete all the letters with one long press of the backspace button.

I wish I could say that moving forward is always easy and always driven by the right motivations. In the immediate aftermath of D-Day I trusted no one but myself. Self-reliance became my mantra. I began to believe I would give more love to the world than I would ever receive back in return. I felt like a mouse trapped in a maze with endless tunnels and walls and no real escape. There were some days I just sat down at a dead end and stared endlessly at the walls. Other days when I could keep running through the maze regardless of how many walls I hit. I wasn’t going to stop. There were many moments were I felt there was no escape from my new reality. I was stuck in a maze I never wanted to be in and this was my life. Year one was the maze.

Recently I heard a Boston Marathon survivor say that the days, weeks and months following the bombing felt surreal. On the one year anniversary is when they absorbed the reality of what happened. It must be the same for all traumatic events. The first year after D-Day I was not only in that mouse maze but I was in a haze. I wanted to wake up and find out my husband’s affair was just a horrible nightmare. I am not going to lie, if I woke up tomorrow and found out none of this ever happened I would be ecstatic. A year after D-Day is when you realize the nightmare is real life.

 

So what changes in year two?

I’m a little more than halfway into year two of healing from the affair and I mentioned before that I feel a shift within me. There are elements of the affair that I just don’t care about anymore. I can no longer spend my energy hating Bat Shit. I do hate her (and I always will) but I spend very little time thinking about her. Every time I try to feel sorry for her I don’t. She’s guilty for targeting my husband and feeding him lies to manipulate him. I don’t need to spend my days wishing bad will upon her because I know she invites it in all by herself. When I think about her now I am apathetic.

It took me nineteen months to figure out that my husband didn’t cheat to hurt me or because I was a failing as his wife. He had an affair because it became an option that he didn’t have an answer for at the time. Throughout our marriage we never prepared for infidelity. We never thought it would affect us and that affairs only happen in bad marriages. It bothered me for a long time that he never considered how his affair would affect me. I felt like an afterthought and I probably was an afterthought. Being involved with Bat Shit gave him a high that he didn’t want to admit he needed. I understand what my husband needs now to feel valued, appreciated, adored and desired. I am starting to wonder if just about anyone could become the wayward spouse in the right circumstances. We all have insecurities and desire attention. It feels good to think we are special. It feels good when someone is thinking about you late at night or first thing in the morning. There’s a part of me that understands the appeal my husband felt. He felt important because she needed him and she wrote to him constantly. There’s a part of me that understands. It doesn’t necessarily excuse what happened but it wasn’t about me, it was about him.

I spent so much time grieving for my pre-affair marriage. All the books and therapists told me that my pre-affair marriage was over, accept it and then start new. I went through the grieving process. I blogged about it and I really felt like my marriage had died. After all the pain, tears and struggles I am starting to doubt this theory. My marriage did not end or go on hiatus because of my husband’s affair. Our marriage was not the best it had ever been but it wasn’t terrible either. Obviously, there were cracks in the walls we had built to protect our marriage, but we weren’t in complete ruins. I often look at our lives and wonder how different we were from any other marriage after three children and over ten years.  If you really look at my marriage, it didn’t die or end, it endured.

Letting go. Becoming strong.

Overcoming My Emotional Disconnection

Tyler Knott Gregson Typewriter Series #573When I was seventeen years old I would listen to this one U2 song on repeat with the volume maxed out in my car. My life was completely uncomplicated at seventeen. Yet there was something that drew me in to the soothing vibration from the car speakers. The blaring of the car stereo filled not just the car, but my mind. It was a way to abandon the thoughts, maybe even the doubts that fill a young woman’s mind at seventeen. Doubts that even a girl that seems to have the world in the palm of her hand. Sometimes it was easier to turn up the volume, let the noise fill my brain and just have five minutes where I didn’t have to think.

Immediately after D-Day I would have killed to reach that moment again. There is nothing I wanted more than to shut off the incessant chatter in my mind. I look back now and I realize how much I shut down. I pushed away emotional connections. I focused on what needed to be done: the kids, the household duties, work, commitments and trying to figure out my marriage. It actually seems like a long list now but at the time I was in survival mode. I pushed away friendships and anything that required authenticity. I didn’t want anyone to see beneath the surface, because I was broken. That same girl that once believed she had the world in the palm of her hand had been pushed down to the ground and the wind kicked out of her. I was gasping for air and there were times I questioned if I would survive the betrayal. I couldn’t allow myself to be emotionally vulnerable to anyone but myself, my husband and this blog. I erected walls around my life. I figured if everything in my life was susceptible to destruction then I would prevent myself from feeling pain.

Just like sitting in my car at seventeen with the volume turned so high I couldn’t hear my own thoughts, I was living my life without feeling anything except what emanated from the affair. Every moment since D-Day somehow related to my husband’s affair and our recovery. The good, the bad and the ugly were all connected to my husband cheating. Life was redefined: Pre-Affair and After-Affair. It’s unfortunate because betrayal does not destroy marriages as much as it destroys people.

There’s a struggle within a betrayed spouse after D-Day. We struggle with how long can we live like this; torn by the affair and feeling like life is now seen through betrayal goggles. For over eighteen months I would have given anything to eliminate, or even just dampen, the white noise in my brain. And then, it happened. A few weeks ago, I suddenly, without intention, broke out of the emotional prison that was keeping me captive. I didn’t realize it at first because I just noticed feeling lighter, freer and happier. I thought it was just a phase but after a few weeks I realized that I’ve exchanged destructive thoughts for more playful and carefree banter within my mind. I am not claiming to be free from the pain or even thoughts of the affair but I have a new outlook. Once I was able to open myself up emotionally again to my friends and family, I realized that they could fill those parts of me that were still aching.

I still have moments when I feel like there are shattered pieces of me that need to be found and glued back together. I am not “fixed” but I do feel like the cloud has lifted. I am opening myself up again to friendships, relationships and allowing myself to just live in the moment. Not everything in life needs to be defined by the betrayal. I exist with or without my marriage. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that I am an individual. I live and love independently of my marriage too. People and relationships are not responsible for my happiness; I am.  I must live fully from within always.

Sometimes it’s not about letting go of what happened to us–it’s letting go of our original belief of what defines a perfect, happy marriage.

The process of healing continues… but perhaps, this is a new chapter.

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