Tomorrow is the two year mark of my Dday–my Dday antiversary. To say that it does not bring up a lot of feelings and insecurities would be a lie. I have had a rough week and have had some triggers. I feel crankier than usual. In the past two years, I have been through more pain than I ever thought was possible and been betrayed by more people than I care to think about. Each betrayal was another blow, adding on to this crazy ride.
Two years ago, I found the photo on his computer after following a feeling I had–a gut instinct that I should dig. When I found it, I knew. I just could not accept the reality, and I even contacted her via Facebook. First she denied, then she told me to talk to my husband, and then she threatened me and told me to stay away from her family–you know, the way she stayed away from mine. Two years ago, my world imploded, along with everything I thought I understood about my life and the people in it. It took him ten days to admit to the physical affair, and I kicked him out. Two years ago, I was forever changed. The person I was is no more.
In her place is this new person–stronger than I ever thought I could be (than I ever wanted to be). I have grown and am healthier, I suppose, because of all of the therapy. My view of the world and the people in it, unfortunately, has changed. I go through my day-to-day, but there seems to be this overlay of sadness that seeps into my pores. I feel unsure of the future, even though I know I will be ok. It is this sense that at any time, I could find something new or realize that this was a deal breaker for me. I now know all too well what he is capable of. I pray he is changing, but as we know, nothing is for sure.
I will never say I am glad that this happened or that we are better for it. I will never say I have a better marriage because it is just different now. My innocence is gone, and I wish I had the trust I once did. I wish I could just sink into his hug and feel the relief you get from knowing the other person has your back no matter what. I know I will spend moments over the next few days, reliving that day two years ago and all of the pain and fear. I will remember finding out that people do not always keep their promises, even when said before God. Yet somehow, I will find a way to make the day just another day. I will stand firm in the knowledge that I know who I am, and though I wish I could change this part of my story, I can’t. I will move forward because that is the only choice. I move forward because I am seeking my new happiness.
One of the most painful and difficult parts of healing from infidelity, is riding the roller coaster of emotions. One minute, I feel really good–maybe even joyful–the next, I’m sobbing in the bathroom. I often feel crazy. Like many of you, I have to work through all of this, and the trauma of this experience has made it very difficult for me to feel confident in my work performance, even though I am an extremely hard worker who cares about my career. Some days, I am very forgetful, and others, I am on the top of my game. I’m never sure which me to expect to show up.
In the April 24th issue of Time, Belinda Luscombe interviews Sheryl Sandberg, who lost her husband suddenly in 2015. As COO of Facebook and the author of Lean In, Sandberg is living a life most of us would agree is successful. Yet when her husband unexpectedly died, she crumbled to the ground in grief. In the article, she shares how people did not reach out to her because they were afraid of saying the wrong thing. They were afraid of opening her wound–yet as most of us know, when your wound is open and you are basically bleeding out, there is no time when you are not thinking about it. Each day we start the roller coaster over. Sometimes, I start out doing really well, only to crash an hour (or even a minute) later. Sandberg shares how grief and loss made her feel less confident. People would think they were helping by taking work away from her, only for that to make her feel less self-confident than ever. And this particular grief? The one we are hurting from? Well…those who have not experienced it simply have no clue. They say they know they would leave, but I said that too. They do not understand why even a year or two later, we are still in so much grief. It is one of the reasons that I sought out online forums, along with the reason I started this blog. I needed and craved understanding and connection. It is not as if we can openly share what has happened to us without worry about commentary and judgment. Our society believes infidelity means the wife/husband deserved what happened. Certainly a spouse should not attempt to stay after such a betrayal. Going through this is very isolating.
In my own job, I have experienced another betrayal. My boss knew about the affair because on Dday, I was honest and told her. I needed a few days off. I felt I could trust her. Months later, I find out that the knowledge of my deepest pain in my boss’s hands was a mistake, and she used the knowledge to manipulate me at work, and in fact, re-traumatize me. One of the things that Sandberg states in the article really stood out to me based on my experience. She says, “Expressing emotion when you’ve gone through extreme pain is not weakness. It is humanity.” Exactly that. You see, it seems as if in our culture, the strong do not express emotions. Ah, ok. So that got my husband where? He shoved his emotions down until he resented and became a person I did not know. In the midst of your deep grief, you need to be able to have a safe place to express your pain. It is NOT weakness. Showing emotions at work means you care about your performance or that you are struggling. In those deep moments of grief, that is the time colleagues should hold us up because who among us has not suffered from loss and pain? And if someone has been that lucky, they soon will have their own experience where they will need a tribe of people to support them.
Along with the grief, for me, comes the near constant anxiety, anxiety about how my boss sees me and will evaluate me, over small things in my day-to-day life that rarely bothered me before, and over what is to come. What choices will I make? What choices will he make? The anxiety, for me, is the worst. I almost can handle the grief more easily than I can handle that constant sick feeling that sinks deep into my gut. It is like we take the normal worries of life and compound them exponentially because we are grieving. It is overwhelming.
We go through the grief, anxiety, and then the fear hits. I try so hard not to operate on fear. The fear of now, the fear of what he will do, the fear of the future, the fear of not knowing the past, the fear of making the wrong choice…my gosh, can we list the fears now, or what?
I want to rise above all of this pain to become the stronger, amazing person I know is here. So today, I am taking a step toward the future. I’m riding the roller coaster but taking breaks waiting to ride the ride again. Sometimes, I enjoy the downward coast after a very difficult climb. Sometimes, I feel stuck at the top. But today? Right now? I am going to choose to live. I will feel the pain, the grief, the fear because I have to in order to heal, but I am also going to find moments of joy in each day. If we string enough of those joyful moments together, we can dig out of this hole and see the beauty through the pain and the tears.
Do you speak those words to yourself? Stand in front of your mirror and say them out loud over and over. My gosh, I hope you believe them. In the midst of all of this, I think we lose that belief. We compare and we wonder, “Why wasn’t I enough for him/her not to cheat?” “Why wasn’t our marriage enough?” The stark reality is that we ARE enough. We have always been enough. These horrible choices our spouses/significant others have made had NOTHING TO DO WITH US. They certainly have a lot of work to do to figure out why truth, love, family, and frankly, the reality of a beautiful life was not enough for them, but that is not our work.
Our work is to rebuild ourselves. We must dig deep and find the strength that is buried there to move forward, to know that no matter what, we will be ok–even amazingly wonderful. I am slowly getting to this point, and for the first time in two years, I have moments of peace. This journey requires us to put our oxygen masks on first and to stop trying to save our marriage or fix our husbands. It means doing things for ourselves–getting a manicure, meeting a friend for coffee, seeking out a therapist or spiritual advisor, taking walks, writing in a journal, making time for meditation, getting a luxurious massage, or really being present in the moment with your kids. You see, somehow in all of this, we lost ourselves. We have questioned who we are. It is time we find out. You know those times when you have curled up in a ball and have been wracked with sobs? When you have said to yourself, “How did I not know? How can I survive this? Can I stay? Am I betraying myself for trying? Am I strong enough to leave?” THIS IS YOUR TIME. We owe them nothing. We owe ourselves everything. We must know who we are and why we are making the choices we make moving forward. To do that, we must allow ourselves the gift of time.
Oh, I know. You don’t have TIME. You must know the answers immediately. You have kids. You have to work. You can’t even get out of bed, so how can you figure this crap out? The same way you have lived through anything else. You take one small step toward YOU. Ten minutes. Give yourself ten minutes.
Thursday is my two year Dday. Certainly, I have a lot of painful memories to process. After a bit of dread, I realized it was my chance to be gentle with myself. I took a personal day today, friends. I have a full, glorious day of time. Guess what I’m doing? I’m in a perfectly quiet house. I’m watching rated R movies! I’m painting my nails (I haven’t done this in months!). I’m going to take myself to lunch. I’m going to read–uninterrupted! I’m going to spend time NOT THINKING ABOUT THE AFFAIR. You know what? I am so excited to do this for myself. I promptly dropped my kids off of school and feel so free. This day? It is for me. Honestly, we deserve this and so much more. It is never wrong to take care of ourselves when we know things are particularly hard, yet as women, we tend to fight it. Give yourself some wonderful, juicy moments of time today. Comment and share what you will do for yourself today. Come on, you can do it!
Isn’t that how we see it? It’s like we are in this alternate reality. Before the affair and then after. Before–when our lives seemed what we thought was normal. When we thought our significant others loved us and would never betray us. When the day to day had a rhythm and a comfort and sometimes, even a joy to it. Then, the after. NOW we know the reality. We have seen what they are capable of. We know our lives are not what we had thought. Was it all a lie? How can they do it? Who IS this person? How could we not know? How could they not SEE us for who we really are?
Do you see the world differently now? I used to believe more in love and goodness and gave of myself so freely. Now it’s like I see the seedy underbelly of the world. I haven’t given up on integrity, morality, and love in the world, yet it seems like the nastiness and darkness have driven it out some? I keep remembering finding out all of the things he had done, each new finding a blow to my heart and to my logical mind. I remember trying to understand the world of cheaters, so I Googled all of the things. I KNOW you have done this. You Google and find pages of other women and men who have cheated. You try to understand how they think, how people can hurt those they love. You end up on disgusting porn sites, dating sites, and Craigslist and see things you NEVER KNEW EXISTED because why would you? I wanted to stab my eyes out after seeing all of these married men posting from my city on Craigslist. I have lost so much of my innocence and the part of me that just trusted that…well, that love wins. My gosh I was and still am stunned at the things people will do for attention or to seek…what? These things will never fill the holes in their heart.
Before, we had this history and a beautiful family. We had lost grandparents and friends. We had been through four job losses together. Lost babies. I felt that all of those things held us together, weaving all of the strands of our lives and experiences together into one life tapestry. Surely he valued marriage, family, love, memories as I did.
After, I realize that he said “I love you” and pulled my car out for me that morning, but then went to her two hours later. I find out that he valued sex over commitment. That bullshit comments from someone simply to boost his ego meant more than the years of a life together. It occurs to me that my texts telling him I loved him reached him while he was with her, and of course, he did not answer. I realize that whether his wedding ring was on or off–he destroyed the sacredness of our bond for “just sex.” That’s quite the shit sandwich to swallow.
As I sit here, holding my glass of wine, I think of all of you out there, also in pain, and I wish we could all sit together on a porch and drink some wine together, share our stories and support each other. So, dear readers, grab your glass and raise it high. We are survivors. Cheers to all of you walking this path. I know we are changed. I know we are strong. Together, we will survive this and grow. Leave me a comment and share what you are raising your glass to today.
Trigger. For those of us who have experienced the trauma of infidelity (and make no mistake, this IS a trauma of the deepest kind), the word “trigger” now has a new meaning. It means that the smallest of things can send us back to Dday–or any other painful place along this journey. According to PsychCentral, “A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.” Suddenly, you are shaking or are mentally back to the place where you are reliving the greatest pain. A trigger is the reason why even after trying and trying to sleep, here I am typing this blog at 4 a.m. Fantastic. I am living the dream.
There are many things that seem to trigger me, and the most annoying thing is that I never know what it will be. It can be the seemingly most innocent thing, and then, WHAM. It is like I am time traveling back to two years ago. For me, it is things I never gave much thought to like Craigslist, previews for this week’s episode of Scandal. or the “joking” in our culture about no strings attached sex. It could be that someone mentions the wife must never have given him sex. Yesterday, it was reading a statistic on how women orgasm. Sometimes, it is simply when my husband tells me he is running to the grocery store because hell, that is when he would message her with their amazing sexting. Who sexts from the grocery store, and how the hell is that sexy?
Last week, I took my kids to an Easter egg hunt, and I triggered to the point of hyperventilating in the car. You see, the park where the egg hunt is located is literally right near the house they used to have the affair. I try hard to stay grounded and in the moment, but unfortunately, I do often avoid that road. I feel crazy to say that because seriously, what does the road have to do with any of it? It’s a cut through and sure would make things easier if I could just drive on it. Still, it is such a huge reminder of the deepest betrayal and how close to my house it was. Right. Up. The. Street. And so, home is our sanctuary right? Yet after infidelity, it isn’t. It is the place of fighting and questions, and insecurity, and fear, and worry, and…well, what I wouldn’t do to just have that feeling of home again. That safe, I can’t wait to go home feeling. The “I can’t wait to see him and get a hug” feeling is one I miss so terribly that I cannot even type that without crying. I hope one day to feel that way again. There’s no place like home. Ah, the irony of that statement.
There is no doubt that ending on that last sentence would have driven home my feelings right now, but as much as I wanted to do that, I am going to find some way to try to end this post in a more uplifting way. I hate every minute that I spend on these thoughts, and I resent every bit of sleep I lose, as he sleeps.
How do we come back from triggers? One of the strategies I learned was to ground myself in the moment–to try to think of five things I can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. It often pulls me back some now to do this. The other thing I do constantly (especially in the shower. Do you all think too much in the shower, too?) is yell “STOP” in my head. I try to force myself to stop thinking about whatever the trigger is and to force my thoughts to something else I have planned in advance to think about. For me, that is usually something about my kids. In the midst of the deepest nights, thoughts of their daytime antics has kept me sane. Whatever that thought is for you, go to it. Know in advance that you will switch to that thought and then try it. I think this strategy works for me more often than the grounding. The last thing I have been doing lately is more of a preventative measure. I have been spending ten minutes meditating every morning. By training my mind, it seems easier to pull my thoughts back to today and out of the horrors of the past.
I by no means am saying that any of this just happens so effortlessly for me or that I am not sobbing in the shower or in my car because I am. I just know that the triggers are fewer now and that they last less time than before. I hate that they happen at all, but friends, lets take our power back together. We can’t let these triggers win. What are you doing for triggers that helps? How are you doing out there? Leave me a comment and let me know.
It’s funny how when you talk to others who have been betrayed, you notice that there are many of the same characteristics in those who have cheated. When I first started noticing red flags, I was SURE he would not cheat. Don’t we all say that? Aren’t we all sure that our spouse or significant other would never hurt us like this? Until they do.
I wish someone had told me that distance was a red flag. Sure, I felt distance in our marriage, but I assumed he just felt the distance the same as I did and realized that life events would change and shift, and things would smooth out again. It was a season of life we were going through, and though it was difficult, we would survive the craziness. I wish, too, that I had known that anger was a red flag. During the affair, he was ALWAYS angry. It was like I suddenly realized that no matter what I did, it was wrong, and he was angry with me. He was the same with our son. At that time, home never felt peaceful, and unfortunately, it slowly dawned on me that this was my new reality. I had no idea that it was one of the signs of an affair.
Looking back, I see these characteristics as qualities that contributed to the perfect storm. It makes me sad to know that with just a few words, he could have changed the trajectory of our life and chosen not to cause me pain, not to destroy the sanctity of our marriage and not shove down his feelings but give voice to them (ah, that amazing conflict-avoidant behavior). It is something we both have to live with now. I’m not saying that EVERYONE who chooses to cheat has all of these qualities, but in my experience (and after reading the stories of hundreds of others), they unfortunately have many of the same character traits. Add to my life situation both of us in graduate school, young babies, and a husband who worked every weekend and nights, and one can see how difficult things can get. I keep hoping that my words will help someone else, and if I can save anyone from this pain, it is worth it.
One of the character traits they all seem to have is immaturity, and it is often partnered with seeking the attention of others. I know he was immature. Even in his 40s, he acted like a teen. It was exhausting. There were ridiculous comments and even sexual ones, comments that hurt but hey, they were just a joke. This always seemed to combine with attention-seeking behavior. He always needed to be the center of attention and had to make people laugh. The more shocking the comment or behavior, the better.
Another characteristic they seem to possess is a total lack of boundaries. It starts out with just talking to others, but it continues to chip away to the point where they are able to say or do anything and justify their behavior. My husband was always helping others, especially other women. He liked how it felt to help them, even if it took time away from home. The lack of boundaries partners with their lack of self-esteem–when they don’t feel good about themselves, it leads to them having poor boundaries in order to seek approval from others. Soon they are looking for attention and comments from others simply to feel better about themselves. They don’t seem to realize that the only person who can change how they feel about who they are is them. Most seem to lack self-awareness at all.
The ability to compartmentalize can be a major character flaw in relationships. We all have the ability to compartmentalize, and it is not always a bad thing. Sure, it is important for firefighters and those who work in extremely stressful situations to be able to compartmentalize, but a spouse who can compartmentalize can easily make excuses and live two separate lives. One has nothing to do with the other in their minds, and they can sort of just put their actions away when the other woman or man is not around them. Certainly what you don’t know won’t hurt you, right? You will never find out. If it makes them happy in the moment, they go with it, and almost never seem to think through what the true consequences will be.
They tend to be selfish and feel entitled to having everything in life. What they lack in their relationship, they will just get elsewhere. In their minds, they deserve…love, sex, whatever they deem necessary and whatever they feel their spouse is not doing for them (To be clear, the “love” they seek is not healthy, mature love. They are seeking something that makes they feel special, that gives them ego boosts). It is all about THEM and not about a marriage or a partnership. The things that many of us value seem to be pushed aside–growing old together, family, someone you can trust–all of this is shoved aside for whatever the immediate need is, and instead of turning toward their partner to discuss what they are missing, they go outside of their relationship, not realizing that no one can fill the holes they have in their life. They must fill these holes themselves. No person can complete another. That just is not reality.
Those who choose infidelity often lack the ability to empathize with others. They seem to not be able to put themselves in others’ shoes. They don’t think through their actions and how they might hurt others. Empathy seems to be something they were never taught. My husband would make very judgmental comments about the weirdest of things–even a news story would receive an unnecessary commentary. It isn’t that he was not physically there if someone needed him, it just seemed like he lacked the full ability to feel their pain. It makes sense, then, that if a person doesn’t feel empathy, it would be easier to ignore the pain their choices might cause others.
Life events seem to set all of this into motion. Infidelity becomes an option when life stressors are added. They see it as an escape. Events such as the birth of a child, job loss or unhappiness at work, the death of a parent, and financial difficulties just seem to send many people over the edge and with their lack of good coping mechanisms, they choose to cheat. However, some seem to cheat simply because they have the opportunity to do so.
Do you notice these qualities in your significant other? Were they present when (or if) they cheated? I look forward to hearing your experiences.