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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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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Questions.

Curiosity is something I often simultaneously value and disdain at once. When each of my children began to talk, I embraced their newfound voices and was excited by their questions. And then they hit the “why” stage…I found myself gritting my teeth as I searched for a response to satisfy their curiosity and then they would ask that profound question that I was elated to be able to address.

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It’s like that in much of my life. I am thrilled when we bring a new strategy to my company, and excited to train staff…embracing their questions through training and even early stage implementation. But it becomes tedious after a time, and the questions become a source of low-level irritation as I find myself hoping employees will stop asking and start doing and if they need support then? Welcomed.

So when sexual betrayal was revealed in my marriage, I was surprised to find myself overwhelmed with the need to ask questions. Questions. Questions. And even more questions. For the first two months of initial denial, leading to one small revelation and the next small revelation and eventually some enormous revelations that dramatically altered everything I understood about the whole of my married life, HUSBAND was avoidant – answering questions with minimal responses – at best and lying – at worst. But once he broke and quit hiding bits and pieces, he became transparent as my myriad questions continued. Questions as I tried to make sense out of all that was senseless and the revelations that had created a new was that didn’t look like what was before.

I asked questions that made sense: when, where, who, how? I asked questions that were important: protection, pregnancy? I asked questions that were driven by my pain: how could you? Do you know you have destroyed me/us/your children? I asked questions that revealed my confusion: why didn’t I know? How did you hide it? I asked questions that showed my anger: you spent our money on her? You talked to her for 2 hours and me for 2 minutes? I threw out questions that were traps:  who did you love more at that time? Did you ever really love me? I craved answers for questions with no answers: what caused you to fuck other women? How did you come home and look me in the eye?

And HUSBAND answered them. And answered them and again, he answered them. Once he moved into remorse, and the progressive realization of the depth of devastation he had wrought, he never faltered in his resolve to answer any question at any moment at any time. No defensiveness, no frustration. Nothing out of bounds, and no resistance even if I’d asked the same question many times before. At some desperate moments, I asked outrageous questions – and he answered them. Sometimes, the answers felt hurtful, but the beauty was that this willingness, this transparency resulted in a couple of huge strides: I began to believe his answers. Since he was no longer lying, his answers didn’t change. Over and over I could ask the same question and get the same answer. So before we both knew it, I began to realize I had a baby-amount of trust beginning to form for him – something I never thought would EVER be restored. Another result was that the more open he was and the more willing to bare all – even if the answer did hurt me – the more I felt like we were on the same team, and his past affair partners were off the team. As I learned of the secrets they’d shared with him, words they’d spoken, places they’d gone…I now was on the inside and they weren’t.

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I know questions are hard from the betrayed to the cheater. Especially a cheater who has turned from his behavior, and is really committed to moving forward in honesty and newness…but if there is one thing that seems to really be beneficial for helping a spouse heal it is the willingness to be transparent. To meet her where she is, with whatever level of needing to know that she has (and we are all different – no “normal” or “regular” here….) If HUSBAND had been unwilling to take my drilling, or acted exasperated or looked at me and said STOP! Enough!…I’m not sure I would have been willing to move forward with him at all, and it definitely would have been a more rocky path.

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