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.

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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.

4 Years

Sometimes I forget the date.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I Choose Wrong?

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

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

Recently a friend of mine posted this quote on Facebook:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Can I Ever Trust You Again?

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

Can I ever trust you {my spouse} again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Weight of Failure

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

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

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

Gone but not fatal.

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

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.

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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