Bad things. Bad choices. Bad people.

I am a researcher. It is part of my DNA. No matter the issue or situation or challenge or victory, I research. Often when I’m watching a “historical” film, I pull out my lap top and begin to research to see how authentic the presentation actually is.

So when I found out that infidelity was a theme in my marriage, research immediately became a big part of the process. I researched to see the impact of divorce on older kids. I researched statistics. I researched methods of revenge. I researched practices for healing. I researched who and why men cheat. Why women cheat. How cheaters get away with their lies. Whether the betrayeds know. (How I could be so stupid).

I researched other women, and dug deep into the hearts of the betrayed. I tried to find evidence that there could be healing for me. Eventually, I looked into healing for us.

There is a recurring theme of conversations that niggles in my soul. It is about bad. Here is this healing, madly-in-love-with-her-former-cheating-HUSBAND betrayed’s view on bad:

Bad things:

Affairs are bad things. Period. No matter the situation or the circumstances. No matter the ten-year sexless marriage, or the financial trap, or the abuse. Affairs are not the way to solve problems, and ultimately only lead to more problems. If you are desperately – or even pretty – unhappy in your relationship – get help. If you have tried and your partner won’t (cause you cannot do it alone), get out. If you think you are trapped, that is a lie.  But so is the lie that an affair will be an answer. It is heaping more problems on an already really shitty situation, no matter how good it feels in the moment.

cheatingsucks

Bad choices:

Affairs don’t just happen in an instant. There are always a series of small, infinitesimal choices along the way that get you to a place of vulnerability and risk. Choices like not addressing your spouse’s sadness at the dining room table. Agreeing to go separate ways more and more frequently, even in your free time. Not being brave or aware enough to see that the only thing you are talking about is finances, kids, or problems. HUSBAND and I both own these choices, and work hard now to press in to these places and not allow them to gather dust.

But then…there are choices like finding yourself talking about your spouse in less than positive ways. Sharing intimate details about your thoughts and hopes with someone other than your spouse. Forsaking real intimacy for porn. Hoping your feet don’t touch in bed. Every one of these moments is a choice. And then, taking her number, or texting back. HUSBAND shared that he sent a text to his last AP the morning after running in to her at his high school reunion, saying “Are you headed back to Atlanta?” (She had traveled to the event with her 16-year live-in-lover). She responded, “Not yet. Why…what do you have in mind?” His choice: text her. Her choice: respond provocatively. Choices. A series of bad choices.

The Town With Britain's Highest Youth Unemployment Rate.

Bad people:

No doubt, there are some really bad actors out there. Narcissists who are incapable of really deep compassion and affection for anyone but themselves. Serial cheaters who never own their painful behavior. Partners who continue to lie and deceive But aside from those scary people, the majority of people that end up in affairs and ripping the very soul out of their partner are men and women who can do and be positive and good in many ways. It’s one of the reasons I never suspected any betrayal…after all, HUSBAND was such a good guy. HUSBAND is the man who is the first neighbor to help in a crisis. He lends our equipment and stuff to friends, and shares our abundance with everyone. He loves to help people learn and takes time to teach the best methods of fishing and hunting to kids, to other dads, to anyone interested. He is dad-extraordinaire, creating fabulous science projects with each of our children and never missing a game or event throughout their lives. He was team-dad alongside me as team-mom, dragging coolers and water and meals and snacks and never getting cranky or frustrated (I did). He loves to engage and interact with anyone and has a real skill for making them feel good.

This goodness is real, but it was also a desperate and constant attempt to hide the dark side of himself, the reality that he was capable and culpable of lying and betraying and cheating the ones he loved most. His goodness convinced him for a very long time that ‘he wasn’t that guy’ and yet one day. One day he was gripped with the reality that he was that guy. That guy who cheated, who betrayed, who had taken the most precious ones of all and blighted them with lies and deception.

NotproudNowproud

As far as his cheating partners…one of them has evidence of goodness in her life too. She is married, and was married, when they had their year-long affair. To hear HUSBAND tell the story today, the work-place affair started years before with mild flirting and low-level sexual tension between them (see above: bad choices). They’d actually gone on one date many years prior to their affair, before either was married. It was around her ten-year and our seven-year mark that things shifted. All it took was that one choice – that one innuendo carried a little further with a “do we dare try it” kind of dangler and they were off to the races. Pure sex, nothing emotional on that one. If I’d known then, perhaps I’d be less able to see the evidence of goodness in her but…I see she reconciled with her husband. I see she loves her kids. I see she left the company after the affair ended. I see that she is caring for a dying family member. I see some good in this woman who stole from me without me having any idea at the time.

The other major AP…the one HUSBAND was going to leave me for…the one who showed up at his house before I was in the picture – when he was a young, single working man to tell him ‘she’d always wanted to jump his bones’ (after which they had their first roll in the hay). The one who came to our wedding and watched us pledge ourselves to each other. The one who, less than two years later, drove him to her house rather than home when he was too drunk to drive (where they rolled in the hay again) and then proceeded to engage in an affair – his first – while I unsuspectingly took care of his firstborn and was nurturing our second in my womb. The one who, 25 years later, asked the leading question after he made the (bad) choice to text and embarked on another affair with HUSBAND. The one who encouraged him to have the best rest of his life – with her – and to forsake me and his children and his faith and all that he deeply wanted to be. That one? I have a hard time seeing the good in her. Never married, works a corporate job, doesn’t spend much time helping others or making a difference in her community. Lies to her own long-term lover (and as it turns out, to HUSBAND as well). I do see evidence of her being good to her dog – guess that’s something.

And then I’m faced with the reality that she was someone’s little girl. She had hopes and dreams once. Now, she is at this stage in her life and can look at lots of things she has been able to accumulate, but little if any people and relationships in which she can find joy and hope and peace. When I can see her through those eyes, through the eyes of my Savior who gave His life for me – and for her – I feel sad. I don’t see her badness as much – I see her brokenness.

Bad people? There are some. Broken people? Seems like we all fit in that category. I’m grateful that there is a path from broken to healing, and that as rocky and dangerous as it is, I’ve found it. My plea for you is that whichever side of broken you may be…don’t stop fighting for whole.

rockypath

Still saving shards…

Susan

Advertisements

More Hard Things

Today, I sat helpless in my kitchen knowing that a friend was facing a hard thing.

Her hard thing isn’t one that I have experienced. Her hard thing is one I can’t really imagine. Her hard thing is one that has stretched and limped and roared and picked but no matter what, she couldn’t make it go away.

Her young adult son has cancer, and today, he closed his eyes for the last time.

As I’ve sat here alone, I have tried to imagine. I have tried to imagine if you see the infant baby staring up at you with utter trust. I have tried to imagine if you see the first day of preschool or the last day of high school. Do you see the moments of frustration or fear that you undoubtedly had and wish you had do-overs? Do you feel the pudgy arms hugging you and the sweaty face pressed against yours with dirty tears running down after a crazy child-moment? Do you see the movies you didn’t allow and the parties you did, or the times you postponed a conversation  because the laundry wasn’t done or didn’t go on a walk because it was too hot out? Do you remember the last carefree laugh, or dinner that wasn’t carrying a shadow, or worrying about things that didn’t include forevers? Do you see past the pictures of the tubes and the needles and the possibilities of potential help drifting by and shouting NO! STOP! YOU DON’T GET IT- this is MY SON to the moments of caring about the color of tie for prom?

Oh my friend, this is a hard thing. A hard thing that will make you dig deep in your soul and shout out in pain and look at the rest of the world like it is nuts for moving on.

A hard thing that will keep you up at night and not let you get out of bed. That will create moments of thinking you could do more and moments of knowing everything was done. A hard thing of pain and sadness and loneliness and utter, despicable emptiness.

But beautiful girl, you can do hard things.

20170630 More Hard Things1

And you are not alone. He did hard things first, and He will journey to and through this hell with you. Nothing you can throw on Him will make him leave you – not rage, or disappointment, or anger, or contempt, or doubt. Take his hand, beautiful girl. Go.

20170630 More Hard Things 2

 

Anatomy of Infidelity, Part 4

Just looking back through the life of my infidel…looking at gaps and patterns and moments and experiences and ways-of-living that could give us both clues into how. Into why. This isn’t a treatise for explaining cheating; rather a process of working through for both of us…so we never end up there again.

lessonspastmistakes

On to Part 4…

He was smitten by this crazy girl. She had a different kind of home life than the one he knew, and she had traveled roads he hadn’t been down. She was unpredictable and passionate in good ways and bad ways. They continued to party…drinking…smoking pot…going to concerts…trips to the Keys and the Bahamas… Between her voracious sexual appetite, knowledge of ways to please and strong personality, he was in a state of constant confusion. For the first couple years it was exciting…so exciting that HUSBAND decided to marry her which angered his family. They got engaged, but the ring came off and on depending on the status of their relationship. At one point she disappeared and left town with another man, but returned soon and the relationship resumed. Finally the ring never did go back on her finger, and there are lifelong wounds that have been difficult to reconcile.

returning-engagement-ring

But there was another side to the man, HUSBAND, during those years. I met him then, at the end of his tumultuous relationship. I was a determined and goal-oriented young professional and a mutual friend brought us together for business reasons. The man that I met was kind, a bit shy and open to the business assistance I could provide. He was a solid manager in a successful company, and seemed to have his future planned with quiet confidence. Even then…he was able to put on a mask when needed. We were both engaged at that point, and I thought nothing of our meetings other than what they were intended for.

hiding-self

A couple years later, a Board member and I were targeting HUSBAND’s company (along with several others). We provided several occasions to share our services and products and got some interest from the leadership team of HUSBAND’s company. Eventually I took a tour of the company, led by HUSBAND. I was impressed with his deep knowledge of a really complex business, his breadth of vision for upcoming changes in technology and business methodology. At the end of the tour, he walked me out to my car and asked if I’d ever gotten married…no…nor had he.

Within a few weeks, our business relationship moved to a personal relationship and six months later, we were married.

wedding

The man I was getting to know admitted he had partied some in the past. But not so much, really not much at all.

The man I was getting to know admitted he’d had sex with his long term girlfriend, and two other times/people. Not much of a conquest guy, really tame compared to some of the things I’d heard from other men.

The man I was getting to know had a vision and plan for his future. Yet he had a charming way of being humble, and uncertain that was endearing.

The man I was getting to know loved me so much. Loved me more than hunting. Loved me more than fishing. Loved me more than anything, and wanted to be with me more than anything. Told me on more than one occasion when we were forced to be apart overnight due to previously planned trips…just think…soon…we will never have to be apart again…

Turns out the man I was getting to know wasn’t the man I married. Not that I had any clue for a very long time.

And turns out that I did turn a blind eye to some things.

That all comes next.

So as you put on your masks and costumes tonight, think about how many people you know who wear them every day…wear them so well that they are nearly impossible to detect. Halloween…a celebration of illusion.

lifelike-masks

The Language of Betrayal

We have all done it. We have all gotten to new places in life that bring a whole new language. Some are kind of mundane – like when I took my first accounting class in college. There was a whole host of new words like gross revenue and accounts receivable and cost of goods sold. Words like credit and debit took on new meaning.

Sometimes we learn a new vernacular at special times, like becoming a parent – a mom. Phrases and words like swaddling and breast feeding. Or bumper pads and touchpoints and pacifiers. We have to decide things that include a new language like cord-clamping and cord-banking…co-sleeping or crib sleeping…public or private or home…

And there are times of sadness or challenge that expand our vocabulary to words that may have lurked somewhere in our minds, but become routine. Times like medical challenges and death that make words like treatment or hospice or casket routine. Words that lived out there but not in here yet now they are uttered regularly right from our own lips.

Affairs, though, are different. I didn’t know the language of affairs, or the vernacular. I’d never perused Huffington Post for articles on affairs, or searched for the Other Woman. The words weren’t lurking somewhere in my mind. They just weren’t there in my conscious thinking. But the language is universal, and within literal days of discovery, the words were tumbling into my knowledge base almost like a download of a computer program.

Affair Partner.

Discovery.

Trickle Truth.

Hysterical Bonding.

Wayward Spouse.

Gaslighting.

Blameshifting.

Affair Fog.

The 180.

The acronyms: M. A. EA. PA. EMA. LTA. BS. OW. MOW. FWB. AP. WH. STBXH. MM. xMM. NPD. IC. CC. MIL. FIL. FOO. DDay. FWH. NC. SA.

Literally overnight these words became the language of my life. Any betrayed reading this right now gets it…they know these words…or if they are in the devastating newness of discovery, they are learning them. All of my being hated that I needed to know these words, yet some came absolutely instinctually, without even needing the betrayed-spouse-dictionary. No Contact. Please, please have no contact with HUSBAND anymore…and HUSBAND…have no contact with her. The Other Woman. The Other Woman that I discovered on that day – that Discovery Day. And now…I am betrayed. I didn’t need a dictionary.

language

There were options as this new language became my life language. I could have, and deeply considered, DIVORCE which would have launched me into another whole new vernacular. I danced at those words and that option, seeking advice on the process and laws in Florida and division of property. And then I did research on the impact of divorce on older children, on young adult children. I was astounded to see that these beautiful older children often take the divorce of their parents hard. So hard that 3 and 5 and even ten years later, they are posting on their blogs about the hurt they still carry. The questions they now harbor…was anything real in their childhood? Was there ever the family they thought they remembered, and if that family broke up and broke apart, what chance did they, or could they, possibly have at love themselves?

I hated these words. I hated these thoughts that were hidden away from public view, only found with intentional research and eyes. I hated that as much as HUSBAND’s unfaithfulness was ripping me apart, and casting pieces of my heart all over every part of what I thought my life was, now I had to make decisions. I hated him and force him to leave me and get all my just due in every feasible way. I wanted to think of just me and wanted that to be the best for me and for everyone I loved.

I did not – let me repeat that – DID NOT decide that I would stay married. No, I absolutely was not that altruistic, or able to consider the twenty-year-from-now impact on my kids over my own right-this-minute impact. But I did decided that I would not decide. That I would wait. That I would worry about me and what it would take for me to be able to breathe. And then think. And then maybe feel. And if, along the way, I wanted to look at my marriage, then I gave myself permission, but not a mandate.

forever

And then…slowly…there was another language that began to creep into the vestiges of my brain and soul. The language of healing. I pushed it away for awhile, wanting and needing to embrace the pain. But it was quietly persistent. This language is more complex, requiring me to grieve and learn transparency and become oddly more vulnerable in the face of fear and pain. I can’t say that I know the whole language yet. And that’s okay. One word at a time…

 

Choosing

I read a post this morning in an “other woman support forum” that was talking about choices and responsibility for pain. In a nutshell, the author of the post, an OW herself, insisted that her choosing to engage in the affair had nothing to do, ever, at any point, with the pain of the betrayed spouse of her AP. That any damage done to the marriage would lie fully on the shoulders of her AP, as would the responsibility be fully on her to her own marriage.

Her other big point was that every day was a choice…to continue to engage in the illicit relationship alongside the official relationship and that made the illicit just like any other relationship – normal, you see? And if DDay occurred and her AP didn’t do as he promised (not throw her under the bus…and ultimately choose her) then she would have choices. She even ends her piece with saying, “I chose to love him because he offered his love to me.”

Am I alone in thinking this is really destructive thinking all the way around?

destructivethinking2

That there IS a choice for a person in a committed relationship to offer, as her lover did, and to receive, as she did, love from another? Isn’t this the crux of the deceit and the filth and the pain? I’ll say it as simply and succinctly as I know how:

IF YOU ARE IN A COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP, DON’T REACH OUT FOR ANOTHER OR ENGAGE WITH ANOTHER PARTY IN A POTENTIAL FRIENDSHIP OR RELATIONSHIP. PERIOD.

stop

Just don’t do it. Don’t let the conversations go there, the body language flourish, the glances happen. We are not victims of those circumstances – those are things we actively do or allow or partake in. It isn’t the power of the universe pulling words out of your mouth, or the angels shaping your face in a seductive glance. It. Is. You.

If you engage in an affair, you chose to go there, and you are responsible for the pain of your partner, along with the pain of your AP’s partner. And what about all the other collateral damage…the children? Friends? Extended family? But you can absolutely avoid it, avoid being a pain-maker, two ways:

Do not engage in any way with the development of a friendship or flirtatious/intimate relationship. Period. Cut it off. Much to the surprise of other women, us betrayeds have actually found ourselves in these same places from time to time throughout our marriages. We faced moments when our marriage relationships were far less than fulfilling, and another person suddenly said something compelling, or appreciated something our husband had missed, or noticed our new haircut. But we didn’t bite. We chose to honor ourselves, first, and our commitments and all that goes along with that. So stop biting. The OW said “I chose to love him because he offered his love to me?” Make a different choice. That is way #1 you can avoid being a pain-maker.

The second way is be authentic in your official relationship. If you are unhappy, talk about it. Do something about it. Whatever somethings you think may have answers: books, seminars, trainings, faith-leaders, prayer. And if your partner won’t engage, won’t work toward change and you want to leave, then leave. But don’t be so weak that you have to have the next relationship lined up to do so. Not with a single person, which puts them in the position of becoming a pain-maker, and not with another married. Just leave with your big boy/girl panties on, face the reality of your broken relationship and all that means, and then engage in whatever friendships or flirtatious/intimate relationships you choose with other single people.

Don’t tell me it isn’t as easy as all that. That I just don’t know your story. That your situation is different. That he’s been locked in misery for years, or that you have been alone in your marriage for years. That there hasn’t been intimacy between them for a really long time, and they aren’t intimate during your affair. That the financial situation…or the children…or the dog… You can justify your wrong, pain-making behavior all you want, or you can decide that you won’t be a victim or a perpetrator – instead you will be courageous and strong and write the story of the next chapters of your life without decimating other people and children and extended family along the way. We betrayeds agree with the author. You do have choices, far more than you allow yourself to see. Choices to be a whole-hearted (as Brene Brown has coined) person, choices to value yourself, choices to live in integrity so that your one life is just that – one life – rather than having little secret lives tucked around the pockets of your other life.

And the final choice. HUSBAND’s AP must have been shocked. You see, they had an elaborate plan. One that included our DDay, and counseling, and separation, and mutual decision to divorce. One that included HUSBAND dating another mutual friend of AP and H briefly. One that included HUSBAND connecting back with AP, and them dating and falling in love. It was all planned, just so. But that isn’t how the story played out. HUSBAND had a choice. As did I. Somehow under the rubble and rubbish that was tied up in a neat little Affair bow, we found the vestiges of our deep love and it was far more powerful than the empty promises of the AP or the pain of their actions. He chose, and I chose. We chose each other.

bikeride

 

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.

sticksandstones2

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…

Waterball3

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.

love4

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