Infidelity Trax: Welcome to Wherever You Are

I’ve been silent for a long time on here. It’s not 100% neglect. It’s not avoidance – at all. Life moves at a pace that it’s often hard to find time for reflection and then capturing those reflections on a page.

I’ve been in a podcast phase again and I recently heard a completely [unrelated to this blog] podcast about finding yourself in a historical event that you did not intend to be a part of or foresee as being a defining moment in their life. Yet, here they were.

Infidelity is like that. It felt like I woke up one day and was dropped into a new reality. A reality that I wasn’t prepared for and I just wanted to find a way out. I just wanted to rewind my life and get a do-over. The problem is that I didn’t know how far to rewind. And when I realized I couldn’t change the past, I wanted to press fast-forward and skip ahead to the future. I was assured by every book I read that the first two years are the most difficult and if we put in the work then we would be fine. Then two years came and went, and I was better but I didn’t feel like the books told me I would. I set my sights on five years – that’s got to be enough time for me to heal and move on, I thought. Perhaps, you can’t set a timer for healing. Perhaps, these wounds cut me too deep. Perhaps, I need to just let go of the anxiety and emotions attached to the affair. But is that even possible? Or right?

The problem with affairs is that you wake up to find your spouse/partner has been cheating on you. I realize that our “first” marriage ended during his affair – not upon my discovery of the affair. For my husband, our marriage changed (died/ended?) upon his decision to be involved, emotionally and physically, with his affair partner. Which means my marriage died without me even being told or invited to the funeral. I was living in a marriage for just over a year that wasn’t really there anymore.

So much of that first year was the shocking reality and pain that I felt from my husband’s affair. In those moments we were going through everything together and while I was angered and hurt by him keeping secrets from me for over a year, I didn’t realize that he already mourned the death of our marriage. He already moved past that, perhaps he truly mourned it, or perhaps he accepted it and moved into a new phase, the infidelity phase. It’s strange to think that my marriage was dead and I didn’t even know it. I was living in it, frustrated by it, celebrating it, and believing in it, but it was gone. It’s kinda like Santa Claus and I was the child believing in something that wasn’t real. Maybe that’s not a good example but you get it.

Marriages might never really be what we believe they are. We may never really understand how we arrived where we are now. It’s hard at times to believe that here in this moment is exactly where I’m supposed to be… but perhaps it is.

Lyrics 

Maybe we’re all different but we’re still the same
We all got the blood of Eden running through our veins
I know sometimes it’s hard for you to see
You’re caught between just who you are and who you want to be

If you feel alone and lost and need a friend
Remember every new beginning is some beginning’s end
Welcome to wherever you are
This is your life, you made it this far
Welcome, you got to believe
That right here, right now
You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be
Welcome to wherever you are
When everybody’s in and you’re left out
And you feel you’re drowning in the shadow of a doubt
Everyone’s a miracle in their own way
Just listen to yourself, not what other people say
When it’s seems you’re lost, alone and feeling down
Remember everybody’s different, just take a look around
Welcome to wherever you are
This is your life, you made it this far
Welcome, you got to believe
Right here, right now
You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be
Be who you want to be
Be who you are
Everyone’s a hero
Everyone’s a star
When you want to give up and your heart’s about to break
Remember that you’re perfect, God makes no mistakes
Welcome to wherever you are
This is your life, you made it this far
Welcome, you got to believe
Right here, right now
You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be
And I say welcome
I say welcome
Welcome
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“I fell apart, and I survived”

c703fee12ef1a6dbf67106408e55054aWe all have days that mark different moments in our lives. Some of those days are remembered for joy and others for devastation. Today is a marker for me.

Six years ago I felt my world implode. I was utterly devastated, confused, and broken when I discovered my husband’s affair. As I type these words, my memory surges and the pain I haven’t felt all day is now lingering in the back of my mind… the back of my throat… like a dark shadow that can flood my being at any moment. But I’m okay. I’m really okay.

Six years later and my emotional attachment to my D-day is no longer a weight. Today could have gone the other direction completely. For starters, the exact day of the week aligns with my D-day in 2012. The other strange piece is that my husband is, once again, away on a camping trip just like he was six years ago. I spent a lot of time alone today just like I did six years ago. But I was okay. I haven’t cried. I haven’t been sad or melancholy.

I worry that an emotional detachment from my D-day is signifying something is wrong. Lately, it feels as though my marriage has slipped into that comfortable place it was before he cheated. Sometimes I worry that I am sharing everything with him – but is he sharing everything with me? I notice how much I talk and how much I feel the need to fill the silence. I also notice how much he doesn’t share with me and that I have to probe to find out what is going on during his day. I try not to be suspicious, but I am. I try to trust, but I don’t think I can give trust completely. I live in this space of uncertainty – can I trust him? Is he faithful? Were there other women before Bat Shit? I try not to dwell in this dark space. I find myself asking if I should even care if there are other women because he’s here with me.

That. Is. Fucked. Up. Or is it my reality?

During the last six years I’ve experienced the most rickety emotional roller coaster ride. Surviving an affair is no small feat. Every day I think about all the women out there that are on this ride with me – whether we know we are on it together or not. I think about how hard that first month was after my D-day. I didn’t know if I wanted to live. I just kept waking up each day and focusing on getting through each day. Survival mode.

I was naive once. I believed love equaled faithfulness. I believed marriage was pure. I believed my husband loved me more than I loved him, which meant he could never hurt me and never, ever cheat. I had chosen him time and again. Now I know he didn’t always chose me.

This post is feeling really glum and I that wasn’t my intention when I opened my laptop and started to write. The reality is that on this day, six years ago in the wee hours of the night… my heart stopped and it’s never truly beat to the same rhythm again.

Yes, I am happy.

Yes, my life is blessed.

But my heart beats differently now.

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.

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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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.

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.

bird-in-hand.jpg

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.

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.

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.

Marriage Without Guarantees?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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