Then, then again, and now

On Valentine’s Day 1989, I woke to the cries of my almost year-old first-born. His nursery was next to our bedroom, and my regular routine was to change him, then bring him back to bed where he would nurse, and we would cuddle and snuggle. HUSBAND was long gone…on regular days his work schedule started in the early morning hours and this particular day, Valentine’s Day 1989, he was in New Orleans.

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Sixteen months earlier, HUSBAND and I had been in New Orleans for a convention in his industry. At the time, I was pregnant so we had enjoyed the sites, eaten some fabulous meals and taken in the bigness of both the city and the convention – but I had stayed away from alcohol and partying. I was surprised when HUSBAND told me he wanted to go this time…his industry has two main conventions and he had never affiliated with the one scheduled in February. He told me this alternate convention was far more policy oriented, and he wanted to engage at the policy level – to bring young energy and ideas and solutions to the old problems. I was proud of him and excited for his vision and enthusiastically endorsed his attending. My memory tells me that we talked for a brief minute about the logistics of me attending with him, but our baby…and I was pregnant again…and so I sent him off with good wishes.

In the later morning the doorbell rang, and a beautiful bunch of roses was delivered to the door. Our little one was taken by the pretty flowers, and we had fun smelling the roses. When the phone rang a bit later (pre cell phones and texting and facetime), I answered it. HUSBAND was on the line. I told him thank you for the lovely flowers and he told me Happy Valentine’s Day. And that he loved me.

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The scene was lovely and sweet and appealing…just what books are written about. Considerate spouse. Grateful spouse. Happy home.

Except this wasn’t the whole story. It was only the part that I could see. I wouldn’t know the whole story for 25 years. The rest of the story was that before he made that phone call to me on Valentine’s Day, he had just had sex with his affair partner. He had flown her from our home town, arriving on the 13th and they had taken in alcohol and partying. And sex. Sex the night before and sex that morning. And then he rolled over in the bed, reached for the phone and called me to tell me Happy Valentine’s Day – had I gotten the flowers – that he loved me.

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Apparently his affair partner didn’t like this too much. She didn’t let him know then, but when she left that little love nest, she had decided she was done. That was the last time they saw each other during that affair. And 3 months later, our second baby was born.

If you have read our story, you know that I never knew about this affair. Or the other affairs. Until the last affair that broke everything open. The last affair, 25 years later, was with this same affair partner. Once she got him engaged again, she reminded him of the Valentine’s Day in 1989 and told him how it made her feel. You know, like a whore or something. To make it up, he invited her to a neighboring town for two days of dining and romance and ocean the week before Valentine’s, when I was out of town. And then he arranged to send her an enormous bouquet of flowers and for me, the unsuspecting wife both then and now, nothing. Interestingly, he mentioned to her that he was sending something to her office – she now lived in Atlanta – and she told him she wouldn’t be there that day. She went on to tell him she hated flowers (really??). So he cancelled the order. He did everything he could to make up those hurt feelings from 25 years before. To make her Valentine’s special.

This year, on February 14th early in the morning, I woke up to the smell of coffee, and turned to see a cup on my nightstand with the perfect amount of foam. HUSBAND embraced me strongly, looked into my eyes and told me he loved me. A bit later, when I got in my car to head to the office I found a card on my dash board. A loving, emotional, passionate card. During the day, HUSBAND and I were interviewed on a local radio show about how our marriage had gone from devastating to incredible…and a couple hours later, we appeared on a local television show sharing the same story. When I arrived back at my office, I got a delivery…two more fabulous cards with great meaning and lovely additions in HUSBAND’s own hand. When he came home from the office, he brought bunches of flowers in beautiful colors (and I love flowers – really). He had made a reservation for the two of us at our favorite French restaurant where we shared an intimate meal, fabulous wine and connected conversation.

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It’s odd. I needed to know the sub-story of our lives and HUSBAND needed to tell the sub-story of our lives if we were ever going to have a chance. If we were ever to have the transparent and beautiful relationship we now share. But lurking around the edges of the joy and the intimacy of today is the burned edges of yesterday. I can still see it in my mind’s eye…still see the naïve trusting young wife overlaying the sex scene of a New Orleans hotel…then, then again, now.

And such is the story of betrayal.

 

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Trust.

We just passed a milestone in our world, HUSBAND and I. This past weekend, we passed the 3 year anniversary of the last time he was physically with SW, the last AP. Who was also the first AP twenty-five years before that, when we had a baby marriage of less than 2 years.

I remembered, not because I was overcome with a massive trigger this time. Not because I was fixated on the date or the questions or the anger or the despair. I remembered when Facebook sent me a memory of something I’d posted the day I arrived home from my trip that I’d been on, affording HUSBAND the opportunity to set up the tryst.

I remembered and looked at IT, looked at then and looked at now. Looked at what I thought was going on in my life, based on both the FB post and my memory, and what was really going on in my life, uncovered two months later.

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I remembered and considered how different everything is now: the person I am. The person HUSBAND is. The marriage we have.

People often ask how we got here, how we made it through not just to “stay married,” but to have a marriage we really never had before. A marriage of connectedness. A marriage of intimacy. A marriage of passion. A marriage of love.

And now, a marriage of trust. Trust?

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I would have sworn I couldn’t. Trust him again. Maybe anyone. Almost every adage told me my gut was right. Almost every saying on pinterest. Almost every book, and certainly ChumpLady. Yet…here it is three years out…and I realize that I do, trust him, that is. With healthy reservation, and intermittent verification, but overall, I trust him. So how did this happen, how did we get to this place despite the savage destruction of HUSBAND’s past actions?

He got sorry. Really, really sorry. During our marriage, HUSBAND would rarely say “I’m sorry.” The words sometimes came out of his mouth, but with that inflection that says I’m not really sorry and it is really all your fault but you are so crazy/bitchy/stupid/nasty that I’ll just say it to shut you up. Or sometimes the words came out of his mouth followed by all the reasons whatever had happened (that he was sorry for) was REALLY MY FAULT. But this time, once he began to embrace the bigness of his wrongness, he began to be sorry. No blame. No excuses. No hidden messages. Just sorry.

He received my emotions. Once he moved into real sorrow and began to see what he had done, he allowed me to feel. Somedays I felt rage. Somedays I felt disgust. Somedays I felt sad – really, really sad. Somedays I felt stupid or humiliated or embarrassed. But on the road to trust, for the first time ever in our marriage, I was not manipulated into thinking my feelings were wrong. He just allowed me to feel.

He did not hurry the process. HUSBAND did not say “aren’t you over this yet?” He did not ask me if I was going to punish him for life. He did not push me to move at any pace other than my own as I moved into my own healing, and began to consider whether I had interest in being married. To him.

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He allowed me to ask questions. And ask them again. And again. Betrayal is trauma. Trauma survivors often need to relive and rehash the times and moments as they work to put it all together in their brains: to assimilate the perception of reality with reality.  HUSBAND did not enjoy my repetitive questions, but he endured them. He endured them and answered everytime I asked. He did not act frustrated, or put-upon.

He practiced truth telling. Even in the little things. Instead of telling me he had left the office while he was still packing up, or that he was on the highway when he was still a mile from the entrance ramp, he started telling the truth. And if he reverted back to those habitual untruths, he told me. Quickly. “I told you I had a burger for lunch…actually, I had two.”

He became consistent, and wanted to show me. His actions started to match his words. They really never had, but they’d never been HUGELY off, so I was conditioned to just believing he was a poor planner, or miscalculated time or money or whatever. But once he moved into recovery, and he began to see truth and practice truth, he wanted to demonstrate to me that he was different. Going to Lowes? I was sure to get a text part way telling me where he was. And when he got there, a selfie with the store sign behind him. A text when he was leaving, and his arrival back home in a reasonable time frame.

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He became transparent in any way I needed. Or even ways I didn’t need. He shared all his passwords. He showed me his phone log. He told me when he spoke to people that I might have fear about. He shared conversations with coworkers and friends and neighbors. He told me any struggles or thoughts that he had about the process, and revelations as they unfolded in his recovery. When he didn’t know what to do with some of my pain, he held me. He held me and prayed for me and stroked me and told me again, and again, and again, how sorry he was. He became bare in every sense. Bare, and vulnerable.

And slowly, without me being able to perceive it happening, I began to trust. To trust this new man that had I shared my bed and my life and my heart with, yet whom had never really shared back. Now, after three years, our two broken souls have mingled intricately and I see that we are beginning to fill the wounds with truth, and with love.

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