Life After Five Years

FeaturedLife After Five Years

It’s been five years.

Really, it’s been five years, four months, two weeks and 1 day since the finely crafted lies of our marriage began to seep out until they were full blown rivers of filth.

But here I am. Whole. Healthy. With more love for myself than I ever dreamed possible, or knew I needed. More in love with the perpetrator of my pain than ever.  More confident of his ability to feel and to love and that it’s all directed at me. More able to receive love without apology or manipulation, and to love with grace and abandon.

Beautiful women of betrayal…it can be so. I am living and breathing proof that there is life ABUNDANT after betrayal for you. That there is the potential for something that is so much more than what your marriage looked like prior to finding out you were living with a cheater. It doesn’t matter if that betrayal came in the form of an on-screen lover, a chatting intimate, a sex partner or any other form.

First reality is – YOU CAN HEAL AND BE WHOLE. With or without his partnership in the process. If he won’t join you? Move on and move forward. Move to become all that you are created to be which I can almost promise you is way more than you’ve been able to see up til now.

Second reality is – YOUR MARRIAGE CAN BE AMAZING. But here are some caveats:

  • Your marriage will be totally new. There is nothing…NOTHING about my marriage that looks anything like it used to. Not the way we hear or speak or make decisions. Not the way we go to bed or spend money. Not even the way we eat. Or how we see, talk to and interact with our kids. It is new because we are new. Don’t be afraid of new. Think of a bad cut you’ve had and the festering and nastiness of its healing. But then think of the precious, blemish free skin that appeared after the last scab fell off. There may be a scar, but there is beauty and simplicity and clarity.
  • You cannot achieve this kind of marriage without both of you being totally in. No holds barred. No chains not willing to be seen and broken – yours or his. No secrets, no lies. There has to be full disclosure, a grieving process, new pathways forged. Your cheater must be all in. You must be all in.

There were days, weeks, even months that I wanted to quit. I wanted the pain to go away, I wanted to go back to life before cheating. There were hours of frozen fear and moments of rage. There were tears…oh, so many tears…and then anger that I had tears. There was denial of everything I’d ever believed about me. About him. About God.

But there was a steadfast promise that I made to myself: do the next right thing. Maybe it was just breathe. That was the next right thing. Or stay in bed for the day. Yup, there were days that was the next right thing. Journal all my deepest hurts and then force him to sit and listen to what I’d written. That was the next right thing. Go to the therapist. Just going…that was the next right thing. I took the big decision – “staying married” – off the table. I couldn’t think about that one way or the other. I just focused on the next right thing. And then those things began to string together to more and more and more right things in my own life. Since my spouse was open to discovering the path that’d gotten him to this place, he was also learning to practice the next right thing that was opening into a journey.

We had support. Therapists. Support group for betrayeds. (He went to support groups for cheaters). Online support through blogging. I wasn’t concerned about our marriage. I was concerned about surviving.

One day, I realized I cared about thriving. It came in gently, without fanfare. I realized I wanted more. More for ME. I’d learned so much. I was able to feel again, see colors on the trees and hear the birds singing. I craved it and almost felt like it was all something I’d never quite experienced before. My brain woke up from the deep, destructive patterns I’d lived in since childhood. And there was this man, this man who looked like the same guy that had brought so much pain, yet he talked differently. He moved differently and looked at me differently.

So now, the next right thing was paying attention to the possible. A Marriage intensive. Marriage coaching. Learning new ways to address old things. Two stripped bare, crazy-honest people that had a history, a jaded history, stepping into the next right thing. But now, doing it together.

Here we are after these five years, four months, two weeks and one day waking up every morning with more love for each other than when we’d closed our eyes. There isn’t a crevice of his being that isn’t open to me now, and no look can cross his eyes without me knowing the story behind it. He leans in to my moments of questioning or triggers, he embraces my inquiry into his soul. He caused the most incredible pain I’d ever experienced, and he works every day to love me with all of his being so that I can become unblemished. Ya’ll. It is so much more than any marriage I ever knew of or saw before. It is intimate, real, connected, passionate. And trusting.

I just wanted to share that it’s possible. Your complete, utter personal healing. To love and be loved fully. To live again.

All my love,

Susan

 

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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.

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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.

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Hard Things

This has been a hard few weeks.

But my Father whispers, Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.

Hard things are first-world problems like my plane getting delayed and then delayed again and then canceled and then rerouted and the rerouted plane getting delayed and delayed again so that the connection was nearly missed and it was the last flight out to NYC for the night yet I finally arrived…5 ½ hours late and thinking the tide had changed…until my bag didn’t arrive and the massive delays and ensuing back up of flights resulted in an hour ½ wait for an Uber.

Hard things are sitting with a precious friend who had been excited to join her husband the next week on a little getaway before she faced a major surgery…until she discovered a social media posting by her husband’s former-but-not-so-former-lover at that same getaway place using all kinds of hashtags that made the illicit relationship clear.

Hard things are hearing my aging mom struggle with her purpose at this stage, saying that she wishes she was with my dad and that she lays in bed at night wondering why she is here.

Hard things are knowing that dear friends with whom we have shared a lifetime of marriage and kids and holidays and prayers and graduations and weddings and hopes and dreams are now considering those dreams may be over and watching the rippling out of pain across generations and places that they can’t really see because they are in the center of the storm.

Hard things are anniversaries of finding out the life I’d lived for just about the entirety of adulthood was based on illusions and lies and being triggered to uncertainty and doubt and knowing that double life is done but wondering if the triggers will ever go away. Completely.

But my Father whispers, Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.

And so can you, beautiful girl. You can do hard things.

Beautiful Girl Can Do HARD THINGS

Still More

A year ago, I wrote a post about how I began to understand the path to healing. Infidelity – serial cheating – rocked my world with four Ddays that started April 12, 2014 and finally ended two months later. Each revelation took me deeper and deeper into the abyss of pain and I had no tools, no belief, no comprehension that I could or would ever be able to become whole again.

But I have.

The funny thing is the whole I am now is MORE than I was before, when life was full of delusions that I could not see.

The path to my healing has been treacherous and raggedy and scary and I didn’t want to do it, didn’t want to go. My being screamed to run and hide and patch myself up with coverings and salve and platitudes and self-help books…to protect myself at all cost and be angry and build a fortress of protection.

Yet somehow, it didn’t work for me like that.

I ended up following the path forged by my Savior more than 2,000 years ago. The way was filled with stripping rather than covering. It required pouring out rather than patching up. It meant bleeding out rather than bandages. Nothing that made sense, and yet, it is in this dichotomy that I have found more…hope…more…freedom…more…love. I never would have chosen this way on my own. It was all because He went first, He did it first. All I had to do was follow.

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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.

 

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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Anatomy of Infidelity, Part 6

Looking back through the life of my infidel…considering 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.

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So now we were married. And in looking back…that blind eye…it was tough to open. Maybe all new marriages were like mine. I wouldn’t know, because I sure didn’t tell anyone.

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The day of my wedding, each of my parents privately told me their view of marriage. Mom found a quiet moment amongst the frenzy of the day, looked me in the eye, and told me the key to a happy marriage was to get what I wanted, but make him think it was his idea. I nodded and said, ok, and didn’t really think much about it at the time. But it is a key to who I am, rather who I was. Dad, right before we walked down the aisle, or rather as we began to step, said with all sincerity (although it is an interesting thing now that I know more about who my dad is and was in his marriage), “Wait. I know you’ve heard marriage is 50-50. It isn’t true.” He said it with urgency. “Marriage is 100-100. Ok?” I nodded and looked anxiously…the music was playing…we were missing our cue…

On the drive to our wedding trip, I was exhausted. I slept a good part of the nine hour drive and between naps made conversation, recapping the ceremony and the party and thinking about the food and the flowers. Somewhere along the way, brand-new HUSBAND mentioned that one of his friends had given us a particular wedding gift: pot.

I was a little stunned. Honestly, I was a lot stunned.

I didn’t smoke pot, and didn’t know pot was a big thing for my brand-new HUSBAND.

But I was also a brand-new bride and had absolutely no reference point for how to respond. In reaching back in my memory, I could not catch a moment in which my dad had told my mom that he had received something illicit from someone and was excited to share it with her. Nope, drew a blank. Had no resources to draw from to formulate how to respond. So I didn’t, other than to say something inane like, “Oh, wow. That’s a different kind of wedding gift…”

So my brand-new HUSBAND smoked himself some pot on our wedding trip, and I told myself it was an interlude since we were off and away. He didn’t do it too much, but I remember one flash-bulb moment on one morning when I was wearing a beautiful negligee and the matching robe, making us sandwiches for our horseback riding picnic lunch later that day. I was spreading the mayonnaise lost in thoughts about what had I done…was I really married to this guy…was it really for life…and I heard my name called, looked up and FLASH! He took a photo. I remember so well what I was thinking at that moment, but my face didn’t show it, and I didn’t tell him.

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When we returned from our trip, we moved into his little house in a before-it-was-an-up-and-coming-area area that was about ½ the size of my apartment that I’d shared with a roommate. I squeezed and cajoled my things into his home and tried to make it mine too. The first two weeks, HUSBAND would get home from work, and literally within 10 minutes one of his friends pulled up. They would be guys together, and several times walked out to the back of our little house. And light up a joint. I became more and more frantic as the days went by…that this new HUSBAND of mine was a pot-smoker, and that he wanted to hang out with his friends instead of me.

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Finally after those two weeks, I told him that we couldn’t draw a line down the middle of our house…we couldn’t have one side wanting to smoke pot (both illegal and unwanted by me) and the other with different rules. He agreed to tell his friend, and absolutely to not smoke…he didn’t realize it bothered me…no problem at all giving it up…and I believed him. The friend no longer stopped by. And he no longer smoked pot. I believed him.

We had weathered the first small steps of discord.

Because I believed him.

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