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 are so many more happiness than not. It’s when the shadow feels heaviest that I need to push it aside and remember to feel and love again.

handmaids tale quote

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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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.

 

 

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.

steve-jobs-brick-quote

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.

Triggers (again)

My husband and I were at Target last weekend doing some holiday shopping. It was late in the evening and we had just gotten in line to pay. My husband pulled his phone out of his pocket and saw he had two new text messages. It’s a new phone and he didn’t transfer his contacts properly so both text messages were from unidentified numbers. I glanced over to watch him open both messages. The first one said:

Thank you for making Thanksgiving special. I love you. ❤

My heart immediately swelled and sunk like an anchor in my chest. I stared at the number and found my voice in time to ask:

Who’s that text from?

It was from his sister but before I realized it was her cellphone number I panicked. As we waited in line I thought about my reaction. I trust my husband. I am as positive as I can be that he’s not screwing around behind my back. But there I was, over two years since D-Day triggered by a text message. The triggers are different now than they used to be. Immediately after D-Day a trigger would send me into an emotional downward spiral. Once I was spiraling my thoughts would become daggers, stabbing me repeatedly until I was emotionally numb.

It’s different now. Now, it’s just a sinking feeling in my heart. The fear that this feeling will never completely go away. Fear that in spite of the affair losing its significance in my day-to-day thoughts, there is still an element of distrust that creeps in and has the power to steal my breath and stop my heart. After that, there is only one thought left:

Is this the rest of my life?

There is an episode of Sex and the City I recently saw that is all about triggers and the loss of security. Once Samantha decides to take Richard back after discovering he’s been cheating on her, they go away with the rest of the girls to Atlantic City. One night Richard cancels on tickets to boxing match because he needs to work. Samantha’s immediate fear is that he is cheating on her up in their hotel room and she races to the room in an attempt to catch him in the act. When she storms in the room she finds him sitting on the couch, laptop open – working. It’s in that moment she realizes that she can’t live her life second-guessing Richard’s every move. She breaks up with him to save her sanity and because she knows the trust they once shared is gone. I think Samantha’s reaction is common: leave the relationship because the triggers will never go away.

I see things differently. I know that breathless, heart stopping moment is fleeting. Triggers don’t have to be life defining. I can understand why betrayed spouses sometimes end their marriages/relationships because of that feeling and fear that you will never regain that security you had before the affair. I get it. But I believe my anxiety will continue to subside with time. I also recognize that the closeness and bond I share with my husband is something special. The way we fit together emotionally, mentally and physically is unparalleled and I don’t think I’ll ever share a connection like this with anyone else. So I carry on. I’m confronting my triggers. Mostly I continue to have faith that someday I will let go of all these insecurities.

this too shall pass

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.

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

Love, Life and Marriage After the Affair

The words in my head, the emotions I am feeling and the moments of my day-to-day life don’t always make it onto paper. Finding time and the right words has been a struggle lately. Finding the right words to express my experience is even harder.

I feel as though I am in a good place in my marriage right now. That does not mean I am always happy or that I don’t still feel the betrayal but it does mean that I am not consumed by it anymore. While thoughts of my husband’s affair may enter my mind or be passing thought, I no longer spend much of my day focused on his affair or Bat Shit. I’ve reached a milestone where I can even hear her name (not in reference to her) and be okay. My decision to keep her name off my blog was not to remain anonymous but to remove the emotion from her name and keep the blog neutral because I know some readers share her name. I realized I no longer felt a burning singe of pain when I sat at a table this summer drinking wine with a woman with her name. It didn’t bother me. It did mildly bother my husband and I watched him out of the corner of my eye, worried about me-which I didn’t mind at all. He should be aware of possible triggers and be my support. I’m not saying I want to be friends with any female that share’s Bat Shit’s name but I can be in the same room without getting angry or falling part.

I want to spend more days appreciating the good things in my life. I want to stop the mental focus on the negative and holes I still feel within me. Sometimes I struggle to find a balance between letting go of and repairing what is broken. There’s a strange guilt I feel in moving past the affair. I question whether I am healing or if I’ve just become numb to my own experience. I know it’s less of the latter but I do feel there is a hardening and separation from the emotional pain over time. Perhaps it’s part of the healing process. My brain protecting me from my own negative experiences and emotions or fears.

soulmate-eat, pray, loveThe last few months I’ve been thinking about love, soulmates and marriage. Every relationship scars or changes us for all the other relationships in our life. A boyfriend that tells a girl she looks beautiful in pink will likely wear the color pink throughout her life and feel pretty. A boyfriend that resists acts of romance and love could make a girl feel like flowers are overrated and random acts of kindness are unnecessary. Years ago when money was tight in our household I told my husband that buying me flowers was not important and not to waste money on them. Over the years I’ve seen women receive flowers from their husbands/boyfriends and realized that it’s not about the money. Sending flowers is part keeping the romance alive. But it doesn’t even need to be flowers—just tokens of affection. I watch my son beginning to navigate through his first real relationships with girls. I watched his heart break this year and I’ve seen his expectations change as he entered his next relationship. The second girlfriend filled the void the first girlfriend left behind. Is that fair? Or is that just how love works? We drift through life just trying to fill the gaps left from relationships from our past. I think we also learn from each relationship what we need and want in our lives but I don’t know if we ever heal completely from heartbreak. This makes me wonder if my acceptance of where I am at right now is me healing or accepting there are parts of me that may remain broken. I  wonder if we actually have multiple soulmates over a lifetime. People we connect with and need at different points in our life. A soulmate is supposed to make you feel whole and complete-something I lost in the affair. So what does that mean? Do I redefine my belief in a soulmate or accept that maybe my belief was based on the fiction that Disney movies are created from? I’m not sure how to reconcile all this yet. My love for my husband is true, deep and passionate but that doesn’t fill the hole inside me. 

Despite saying all this I feel content with where I am at right now. I realize love does not need to be perfect and having love does not mean your life will be perfect. I read this definition of love on Urban Dictionary and feel I cannot say it any better than “kb ss candy” (obviously a legitimate source for knowledge):

Truly loving someone means that you care deeply about another person. You care if they screw up their lives as you want them to learn to love themselves. Love doesn’t mean life is going to be perfect, it shouldn’t be taken lightly, and the word shouldn’t be misused, if it is used in a romantic way. There will be arguments and misunderstandings, but love will mean that you will try and get over any hurdles and issues together. True love isn’t selfish and can bring people together in a way nothing else can, it is a soul connection, a commitment of the heart. Life can tear people apart but love may bring them back together again. Love should never be taken for granted, although often it is. Love is more balanced than the highs and lows that passion and frustration bring. Love will conquer all, but only if work and effort from both sides is implemented in order to not destroy love. Love can be slowly destroyed piece by piece by violence, abuse, neglect, dishonor, and disrespect. So always make sure you honor true love. Understand that it is not perfect, then you won’t feel let down by love. Each time you fall, love should be there to pick you up again, but sometimes it takes effort to remember not to misuse love by taking it for granted. Love doesn’t happen as often as people think, but if you have lost love, you will find it again one day, – never lose hope.

 

Nothing ever goes away quote