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.

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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.

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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.

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Still saving shards…

Susan

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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.

CrazyLove

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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Intermission: Thankful and Thanksgiving

Taking another break from the chronicles of infidelity. Because I am overcome today with thankfulness that I can celebrate, no, really celebrate Thanksgiving in my home again.

In November, 2013, I have a moment encapsulated in forever. All my children had gotten home from college or travel, and were going about the business of reconnecting. HUSBAND was in the kitchen taking the turkey out of the brine and I looked up, was filled with an overwhelming sense of thankfulness. I snapped a really awful iphone picture, threw it up on my social media captioned, “Heart is full…Everyone I love is right here…” It was just one of those moments, indescribable really, but the very essence of life.

Except that it wasn’t real.

I didn’t know it then, but HUSBAND was plotting the exit from our marriage to be with his AP. He was present but not present, figuring out when he could sneak his next text and make a quick call and send her a photo of the same scene I was savoring as sacred. He was getting through this last Thanksgiving with me, and his mind was anywhere but on the joy of our being together, the fullness of reaching this incredible stage of real relationship with our precious children. After discovery of his cheating then, and ultimately cheating numerous times, I was unable to process my naiveté, my foolishness and my complete ability to be deceived. I have not been able to spend a Thanksgiving in our home, to carry on the tradition of the 27 years…the pain was too great.

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But this year, we are home. This year HUSBAND and I spent days planning our meal together. It took trips to Costco, Fresh Market and Publix to get every detail right for the culinary prep which we started a couple days ago. It took purchasing flowers and arranging them just so. It took my mom helping me set tables and place candles. Our kids started arriving and there were hugs and joy and excitement. They weren’t aware of the pain related to hosting Thanksgiving. They know our story, but they don’t know details like this so we just gracefully decided to explore farm house dinners with friends and plantation dinners in other states for the last couple years. They don’t realize how special this Thanksgiving is for me, for us.

This Thanksgiving, I’m overwhelmed again. I’m overwhelmed to be able to look at the journey my life was on for so many years that had prepared me for the fight of my life. A fight for my sanity and for my wholeness and for my voice. I see the subtle brokenness that I so cleverly hid in myself and my marriage and that in its shattering was the choice to get rid of the pieces, or figure out a way to put them together to create something new, something so piercingly beautiful and so incredibly strong. I’m overwhelmed in thinking about the betrayeds that have gone before me, and shared their hearts and thoughts and struggles and pains and victories in this community – that have given me the strength to take one more breath and one more step and one more chance. That have helped me navigate my own screaming pain and challenge HUSBAND to be real and whole and transparent. I am overwhelmed with the understanding that it has been your care of me, your bravery to speak into me, your strength when I was weak that has helped me in this path that I never, ever would have chosen.

I am thankful that my house looks beautiful and welcoming, and that the seats will be filled by those I love so much. I am thankful that the smells are already permeating and that there will be laughter and good food and toasts and love. Yes, love. Real, true, love.

But around my table, I see each of you too. All of you…you amazing women and men who have taken time to care for me throughout these last 2 ½ years. I could not be at my table in my home with my family without you. You are here, tucked in every part of who I am now, and I am overwhelmed with my thankfulness, and my love, for you. Happy Thanksgiving.

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Intermission: Grateful in the Chaos

Taking a break from the chronicles of infidelity. Because I am overcome today with gratefulness in the midst of the pain and confusion we are seeing around us here in the US.

It is Veteran’s Day. And I’m grateful. I’m overwhelmingly grateful that we have brave men and women who literally place their lives on the line for the rest of us unknown and unnamed Americans. I’m grateful for my father, a 25 year Air Force vet who flew over 150 missions in the Viet Nam war, and helped to identify a missile base that was blasting SAM missiles at US planes, shooting them out of the sky. I’m grateful for my brother-in-law, a 25+ year Army vet who fought hard for our freedom in several fronts around the world. I’m grateful for my friend’s son, her only child, who lost his life defending our country and our most precious freedom.

I’m grateful, too, for my overwhelmingly brilliant and opinionated and verbose children who eloquently and frequently express their thoughts on political and social issues. Who exercise their freedom of thought and choice and speech, and band together with such passion to bring change they desperately know will make our nation stronger and better. I’m grateful they listen well, and believe in collaboration and will leave this country, and this world, a better place.

And I’m grateful to live in the United States. A country in which we are allowed to disagree and duke out deeply dividing differences in public forums, yet free to choose to find the common places and spaces where we will…WE WILL discover and defend a better solution than any of us could singularly create. We are stronger, together, doing the incredibly difficult work of learning about, hearing, understanding, embracing, caring, loving. Anyone who doubts this is listening to forces and voices that need to be overcome – because they know we are weaker if we are pitted against each other – through our dedication to what this country is all about: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I’m grateful “they” cannot make us believe that this is not at the core of our people, our focus, our commitment.

I’m grateful, today, for this unique, diverse, beautiful tapestry of individuals that have chosen to allow a common thread to run through us and that is defended, brilliantly, by our service men and women. But also by those who work so hard to ensure their voices and causes and victories and battles are heard. We have so much in common, so much more than people outside our unique country could ever understand. I’m grateful for you.

Real

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Revealed betrayals that were repeated and repeated

Led to a ruptured heart

And reduced me to a remnant of myself

Running…returning…running…returning…

RETREAT

And then there was radical regret

And then there was radical regard for the ramifications of choices along the way

And then there was radical responsibility acknowledged

And then there was radical reconstruction with him

With me

With us

I was on a roundabout and could have gotten off

Considered removing myself as I went round and round and round

Yet remained

And the result is his redemption

The result is my rescue from repose

Regret?

Revulsion to the remembrances of the life-rape resonate…

But reverence to the reconciliation of two souls is

Real

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