Better Alone. Or Not.

I heard a wife say this recently. That she would be better off alone. I used to think it, but never dared say it aloud. I used to think that it would be better to be alone than to be in an empty marriage. In my empty marriage. To have the wrappings of a partnership and the title of a partnership yet no workings of a partnership. I didn’t permit myself to think that often, but that loneliness would press its way into my awareness sometimes, and be almost overwhelming before I could squish it back down to its hiding place in my soul.

I used to say that if anything happened to HUSBAND, I would not remarry. I didn’t say that because ours was a love that couldn’t be matched – rather because I felt I’d given him the best of me, all of me, for most of my adult life and I would be better just taking care of me. That I would likely get some funky amazing old place in a funky amazing old part of town and live there with lots of books and more than one cat and I would be happy. That I would know I was alone and not be pretending to be able to depend on someone else who wasn’t really available and that had to be better than an empty marriage.

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I was alone in the midst of my marriage. It was so odd…being in the same room with another yet so utterly alone. I could see HUSBAND there in the house, and we would talk when needed. We functioned in this well-oiled machine of knowing our designated roles and doing them well, taking care not to tread into each other’s realm of responsibility, or dig too deep into each other’s realm of the heart. And I was so very lonely.

I knew that I would gather the laundry and make sure it was in the washer and then the dryer and then folded and then in each respective person’s room. He knew he would make sure the cars got oil changes and had the right air pressure in the tires and got washed and cleaned out. I knew that I would pay the bills and determine where to rob peter to pay paul as HUSBAND walked by the office on his way outside where he knew he would trim the bushes and rearrange things in the garage to accommodate the current sports paraphernalia of our kids’ lives.

We were good at living well in our lanes and making sure they never intersected. Even when we dressed up and went out, or headed to church or on vacation, we stayed in our lanes. We could smile broadly and stand together with HUSBAND’s hand lightly on the small of my back. We could laugh at people’s jokes and engage in lively conversation. But I was still alone. HUSBAND could not read my glance from across the room, or tune into the subtle nuances of a conversation and support me with his words or actions. We got back in the car or on the plane and it was if there was a wall between us buffered only by our mutual love and care for our beautiful babies.

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Alone. Lonely. My plight in marriage for much of it, and as I looked around then, and even now, the reality for many, if not most, marriages. It was, after all, what marriage was and lonely as I was, it was good(ish). Until somedays it wasn’t so good, but then I thought really, it was because I just expected too much because, after all, we make our own happiness.

A jumble of loneliness and confusion.

When HUSBAND’s serial cheating and porn addiction came to the surface, I remembered being alone all those years. It weighed heavily on my heart and mind and decisions about whether to stay. I was so angry that I’d been used to give him a home and a family and he’d not only been unfaithful, but he’d allowed me to be so completely alone throughout the journey. There seemed to be nothing to salvage, no reason at all to consider staying married. I’d been betrayed by his actions sexually and abandoned by his responses emotionally.

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And I was right. There was no way or no reason to stay in that marriage. He got it. It was like something turned on deep in his being and he got it. He began to awaken as a person and as he moved into recovery he began to awaken in his capacity to care, to empathize, to love.

Now I know it is not better to be alone. Now I know that I was wired to be cherished and to cherish. To be cared for and care. To be loved and love. It is a vital part of my being that I had turned off but that’s just it…it is crucial and to deny that part of me is to cut off part of my humanity.

I don’t want to be alone. And I won’t ever be lonely in marriage again. Lonely together is not marriage, not the way it can be and should be. Lonely in marriage is soul crushing and body killing and mind jamming.  So when HUSBAND walked in our bedroom a couple night’s ago and said, “Please know that I don’t want to be on life support, should something happen…we’ve never really talked about that before…” I realized that if he left me now, I would miss him. I don’t want to live in that funky old house in the funky old neighborhood with a couple cats without him. Then I would be lonely, a different kind of lonely, all over again.

Lonely

 

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Transported

Have you ever had one of those moments…drifting into, or out-of, sleep, and time is suspended. Caught in a state of not being, yet being; and everything is completely not real, yet incredibly real.

I just had one of those moments. One of those moments between the state of sleep and awake, of reality and fantasy. And in that moment, I was watching my first born get out of our car at his new university campus and walk up to his freshman college group as instructed. I was dropping him with people that would now take my place – that would tell him right from wrong, and move into his head to determine priorities….and plans…and the future.

In that moment, I was there, I was RIGHT THERE and I was grieving and yet excited…not sure I’d given him everything I was supposed to give him and wishing I had just a little more time…just a couple more days when he was an infant and a toddler and a boy and a teen. I was desperate to turn back time, yet so excited to watch him step into his future.

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All that was real.

And then I saw me, and HUSBAND and for a moment, we were untarnished by betrayal. We were there in that car, together, yet quickly my mind saw that we were the young couple that had pledged love and fidelity, that had birthed this boy now leaving us for college, that had spent tears of worry and mountains of time and money together for his best, that had figured out how to make sure there was always good food to eat and clean clothes in everyone’s room and school supplies and he’d gotten all the required shots, and it took us both and even though we were older, we’d achieved this and it was good and we were real, we were us.

As this all fluttered by quickly in my head as dreams do and then suddenly the images froze.

And shattered.

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All that wasn’t real.

It wasn’t real, that picture that I thought was our life, and our family wasn’t the only story going on during much of our life together. I gasped, I jumped, I awoke fully.

In a rush, the pain and grief engulfed me, and I couldn’t get enough oxygen and I was being CRUSHED beneath the weight – yet as quickly as it came, it left. I still see it, but it is not covering me, and I can breathe again. I sit here now, contemplating the reality that I’m not sure what is reality then. Or then. Or then. So. Many. Thens.

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So I will choose to live in now.

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Cashing Checks

“You write checks with your words, and cash them with your actions.”

Profound statement, and one made by a beautiful young wife, pregnant with her first child, whose husband has struggled. The majority of his infidelity has been electronic relationships – porn – however he also reached out for a flesh person a couple times.

The brave young couple has chosen to work toward recovery (him – from sex addiction) and healing (her) and reconciliation (them). They have a long journey, but have made smart strides: individual and couple counseling. Recovery groups. Intensive marriage weekend. They have hope right now, and as coaches walking alongside them in the journey, HUSBAND and I have hope with them. And for their unborn child. And for all those who follow after their new marriage, their covenant of love.

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Back to the quote.

You write checks with your words. You cash them with your actions.

Therefore if your words are worthless, the check bounces.

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They Didn’t Ever Fight

Never. Not one time did I see my parents have a fight. I was born into a home with a dad and a mom and a big sister and I never saw my parents fight. My parents were married 59 1/2 years when my dad passed away, in my home, and I honestly never saw them have a fight.

When I was growing up, they made sure that we knew they didn’t fight. It was like a gold star they proudly wore, the “We Aren’t Like All The Other Couples Out There. We. Don’t. Fight” prize.

I was well aware they did not fight because I heard it regularly, and then observed it daily. Dad would get up and go to work. Mom would get up and take care of us. I would get up and go to school. The reverse happened as the day wore on. By the time dad got home in the evening, I was expected to defer everything to his will…didn’t matter what television show was on that I had watched 2/3 of, or what conversation I was in with my mom – if dad wanted a different show or to take my mom away for a conversation, not only did it happen, but I was considered ungrateful and inconsiderate if I expressed frustration.

As the years of my youth rolled on, we lived in detached peace in our home. No one ever really asked me anything about how I felt, or what I loved, or if I had fears. No one connected with my soul, and I got kudos for the good stuff and punished for the bad. I got adept at covering the bad, at just not talking about it. I learned to shield the responses of my spirit, my deep down, to protect it from injury. I learned to tell what would please my lovely, we-don’t-ever-fight parents and hide any of my questionable thoughts. Or actions. Or decisions. Or fears. Or hurts. I could wordsmith with the best of them, rewriting a situation or an incident so that I looked good, or at least, not as bad.

But inside, I was crushed and crumbling.

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I did not know it, because it was all I knew. But I gained great skill at shaping a message not only to those on the outside, but to myself. Since there never were fights between my parents, I knew any tension in the house or in our family life was because of me, right? And since no one ever talked about being scared or fearful, if I had those feelings, it must be me, right? But I just kept all that to myself, and figured out how to pretend I didn’t hear those voices.

As HUSBAND and I have worked so hard on ourselves, and on our marriage, these scary, tightly wrapped layers have begun to peel off my being. I don’t blame my sweet parents, oh no. They were trying so hard to be great together and great to us and their way of being great was to not have anything in our lives or in their lives that was un-great. So they were doing the same thing they were so effectively teaching me: pushing down any feelings and hurts and fears and pains as best they could. My therapist likens it to floating on a ball in a pool…you have to constantly try to keep that ball carefully centered and balanced precisely under you and it works and it works and you adjust and it works and you change pressure and then POP! Out shoots the ball from under you when you least expect it. If that happened, my parents would quickly grab the ball and put it back under themselves, balancing carefully…adjusting…and never acknowledging the ball had escaped…

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And so did I, for my youth and for 27 years of marriage.

I don’t balance the ball anymore. I have learned to allow myself to really feel, to grieve the sad things and rejoice in the amazing. I’ve learned to be realistic about my fears, and to find solace first, and then hope with the overwhelming promises of God lived out in Christ and evidenced by the beauty from ashes that is my life. I’ve ventured into the amazing place of freedom through vulnerability, and sharing my shattered soul, finding that it can really meet the other tattered soul in the oneness that marriage is meant to be.

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But it is luring, and a regular fight for me not to retreat back into my deep down. To make myself stay exposed and risking. I have to make sure I never, ever forget that the safe place really wasn’t safe at all but actually a place I was dying a slow death, and that out here in the risky places are where I found I could love. And be loved.

love heals

 

Vegas Feigns Freedom

This summer took me to a conference in Las Vegas. Seriously, Las Vegas. I’m in the business of helping design and implement community-wide prevention efforts related to substance abuse, and promoting health and wellness. And our national convention is in Vegas.

Vegas, where the perverted is promoted as compelling. Where temptations are touted as deserved. Where what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

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I’m not trashing Vegas…there are some amazing people doing good things and trying to rise above the onslaught of support for selfish indulgence that is sold by many advertisers. But it is a unique place to observe the dichotomy of humanity. For the most part, humans all over the world and right here in the US speak of wanting to find their life-partner and of living in harmony together, of raising kids that are healthy and happy, of doing work that is fulfilling, and playing in ways that are fun and challenge them to grow, and of investing in their community or world to make it a better place.

Yet the heart of downtown Vegas screams a different story. A story of entire self-satisfaction, of disdaining any inhibition because of values or commitments, of pushing limits of restraint whether related to money or sex or drugs or rock ‘n roll. It calls…begs…taunts…you to dare! To live! To try! From the garish advertisements that start inundating you at the airport, to the recovery water prominently available right in your room…from the legal prostitution and bare pools to the free drinks when gambling and concierge’s willingness to make anything available for you at any time…

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So what do we really want? What do we really value?

I think for many years, for all my years, prior to discovering the double-life that was my life…right in my own home…I somehow thought we could balance the onslaught of transgressions-made-to-look-pretty and not-making-bad-choices. I thought it was all about morality and being a good person and doing what was right and have a strong-will. But now I see that we are so incredibly multi-faceted and the normalization of the macabre does wear us down. It can, very subtly, without even realizing it, shave the edges off the strong parameters we have made in our own lives, we can find ourselves cheering for or engaging in things that would have caused us pause at one point. From the clothes we accept our loved ones wearing to the shows we watch ourselves…from the jokes we laugh at to the websites we frequent. We are inundated in a culture that flaunts it is all about YOU-yes-YOU, BABY! And it is all there for the taking and my happiness is the most paramount reality to be pursued and truth is all relative and by DAMN I deserve this or that or that or this RIGHT NOW…

You get it. We are affected by our culture. By no means in any way do I believe this is an excuse for betrayal, but we must begin to see it as one of the many root causes, core attitudes. Somehow the painful, ugly and devastating reality of illicit sexual and emotional relationships have been normalized. They are on every tv show and movie, often glamorizing the affair partner and reducing the spouse to a needy, driveling idiot. They are touted in magazines, and just search websites for affair sites…you find sites to help you have affairs, hide affairs and for sure, not-get-caught. Then search for apps that can help you out if you want to shop for lovers, chat with lovers, meet up with lovers or track your partners. There are thousands. Some of them help you out by deleting all the information with the simple shake of your device (you know, for when the spouse is asking to see your phone). Some look like stock apps or weather apps but when the secret pass code is entered, voila! There are all your secret communications with your lover along with storage for pictures and videos. Doesn’t it just make you warm and fuzzy all over? And of course, we need to start them young: youth love apps like Snap Chat that ensure no one can see their photo or video after 30 seconds. Why would such an app even be developed except for illicit purposes?

Culture

Over and over in all kinds of surveys, between 85 and 90% of people indicate marriage should be monogamous, yet (depending on the survey) 40-60% of those SAME PEOPLE admit to having been involved in an illicit relationship. So what is that? Other than cognitive dissonance? Our culture is boldly and subtly, overtly and covertly screaming to seek constant self-pleasure at all costs, despite costs, yet deep in our souls, it never satisfies.

And then…then the game comes to a grinding halt with discovery and devastation and soul-death and often divorce.

So, back to Vegas where I started this diatribe. Vegas is simply a symptom of the soul sickness we have allowed to permeate our culture. It makes so many promises, but ultimately, keeps none. Surreal experience visiting Vegas, promoting health and wellness in the midst of degradation and darkness. I am grateful, oh so grateful to have found the real light, the light of transparency and commitment and grace and truth. It cost everything, but what price freedom? What price love?

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Redemption in Telling

Recently, the great wordpress blogger, @crazykat, posted this about sharing her story. It was a really great post, and one that I found resonated in many ways for me. It got me to reflect on my attitude, on our attitude of revealing our story…so here it is.

I kept things very secret for a bit, but HUSBAND and I have a small, close circle (4 couples) of friends with whom we have traveled some other challenges. One by one, I met with the wives and shared our story…my story. HUSBAND met with the husbands and shared our story…his story. I blogged about telling our children (difficult, but ultimately amazing) and his parents (awful and ultimately a mistake).

Then, when the Ashley Madison hack occurred, a local tv station decided to make a story and called (our therapist) to see if there was a couple who would agree to a confidential (voices changed, faces not shown) interview. He asked us, and we did it. Interestingly, as it was airing on the news that night, one of my friends texted me that she was proud of us (so much for anonymity). Of course, this was one of that small circle of friends who knew, so I still felt protected.

A few months later, at a small retreat, HUSBAND told a very abbreviated, cryptic story (just said he’d done “everything to trash our marriage” but we were experiencing great healing) but it started a tumbling down of transparency amongst a few people at the retreat. That led to our church asking if we would consider making a video. We did. The morning it aired, to kick off a series on being “Strong and Courageous,” I felt anything but. Yet the individual people, and couples, that began to reach out and share their pain with us made me certain we had done the right thing.

That led to a local tv station asking if we would do a more in-depth story/interview about sexual infidelity and the possibility of overcoming the pain. We did. It was for a daytime (11:00am) very-low-viewer talk show, and we felt fairly safe watching it, knowing few people would see it. Until about 4 that afternoon when a friend posted a link of it to our facebook talking about our bravery. By the time I saw it, numerous people had liked the link (or I would have removed it). HUSBAND and I decided that it was meant to be, and more people poured out their hearts to us about their lonely marriages, their quiet desperation and sometimes, their own sexual infidelity.

At every juncture, we have encountered other brokenness…individual sex addicts who didn’t have a name for it, didn’t know there was help. Spouses who have been devastated by infidelity in all forms and either stay in silence punishing themselves (because it had to be their fault, right?) or leaving the marriage with their gaping open, bloody wounds and no healing. Couples who were white-knuckling each day but living in misery, thinking they were alone in the situation. We have discovered the problem of shitty marriage with or without infidelity is so widespread, so vast and we are incredibly overwhelmed, but desperately want to shine light on the darkness of this reality. The darkness that marriage is mediocre at best, toxic at worst, and often leads to cheating. We meet with couples almost every day, coach couples through an intensive weekend monthly and follow up with group meetings weekly.

There have been casualties of our openness: We have “friends” who have smiled, nodded and walked away…not wanting to “catch” what we had. I get it, I probably used to be that person although I would have denied it. We definitely have family that wants us to be quiet, that have clearly shunned us, but they were unhealthy relationships anyway, so for us there is no real loss other than what we always pretended family to be. But mostly what we have found is an ever-increasing number of hurting, desperate people who need to know they are not alone. Who need to know there is help. Who need to know there is not a path that is predetermined and that they must take. Who need to know they are cared for, and loved. So much pain, who knew?

For me, there is redemption in sharing our story. There is sharing the redemption that IS our story, obviously. But now, there is the deep awareness I have of the widespread sadness amongst married couples. It is more the norm than actual satisfaction whether there are affairs or not. The impact this has…that our children then grow up with deeply imbedded (where they cannot even identify it) pictures of marriage that is less than satisfying – countered by literal fairy-tales on the big and little screen that can’t be replicated and lead to even more confusion for all parties. This is the legacy we are leaving our kiddos when we live in mediocrity, when we live together and “stay married” but really, have no intimacy or connection or love. Seeing this, and speaking/living/walking into it…this is redemptive.

It is redemptive to walk alongside broken marriages and provide hope, encouragement and skills to increase their ability to reveal, to be safe, to love. To watch them heal, or make a healthy choice to part but with more care and dignity and kindness. Now, HUSBAND and I see that sharing our story is an incredible privilege, and one of the sweetest outcomes is that evil did not win. Instead, love wins.

 

Distorted Perception

It hit me today.

It hit me when I was thinking about a friend who is kind and gentle and trustworthy. And a cheater. Although I am far more hardened, less naïve and see cheating around me regularly now, this one took me by surprise. It hit me that I never thought he would cheat any more than I thought HUSBAND would cheat, and that the cheater persona, the very aura of who they present themselves to be is one of the reasons we betrayeds are exactly that: betrayed.

Betrayed

I have beat myself up over the last two years for not seeing. For not knowing. For being fooled by a cunning man who slept in my bed and sat at my dinner table and cried with me at the birth of our babies and worried with me about sending our kids off to college. I know that I have gone back and retraced moments in my mind that I now know were not as they appeared to see what I missed, to see how I was so oblivious to the deceit right there before my eyes.

But that’s just it.

It wasn’t right before my very eyes.

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Because right from the start, from the first date to the day of discovery, there were parts of HUSBAND that I never knew. Never, ever dreamed or thought or figured. He was so very careful to keep any vestige of them from me, to cover the tracks of that part of his being over and over and over. To shake his head in dismay when the pastor spoke of men using porn. To gasp and fold his brow when we heard about one of our friends’ husbands leaving the marriage…for another woman (although to date, only one of those has resulted in a new marriage). To join me in earnest conversation of ‘how could he’ when hearing a news report of a politician engaged in a dalliance.

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There is no shame for us. The shame is in these incredibly adept pretenders, posers who from beginning to end – until their gig is up – present to us, and to most of the world, an entirely different person than they are underneath. Our perception, crafted so very carefully and steadily and consistently, is what results in their ability to carry out deception. We are not flawed, we are only trusting and believing what we see and feel and hear every day.

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And then we find out, and we learn that we are not only trusting and caring. We are strong, and brave, and eventually…whole. How ironic that our belief in the skewed perception of our cheating lovers is what ultimately reveals to us our inner strength. A twisted path and one we would prefer not to have taken, that cost us so much, yet leads to its own kind of beauty…our beauty…

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