The Girl on the Plane

I got on a plane today. HUSBAND and I booked the window seat and the aisle seat and hoped no one would climb into the center seat – and they didn’t. That gave us the whole row to (relatively) stretch out and relax.

I had a hard time relaxing though. See…I realized it is an anniversary of sorts. Or as betrayeds often say, an antiversary. As I looked out the window and saw the city we were in get smaller and smaller…as we pierced through a thick layer of clouds…as we settled out above the clouds…my mind began to wander, and then to remember.

clouds from plane 2

Back when HUSBAND and I had been married just a little more than two years, another girl got on a plane. On this same day, all those years ago. She didn’t get on with HUSBAND, with my husband. But she got on to fly to HUSBAND, my husband. To meet him and spend a couple days and nights and in-betweens with him.

woman on plane

I don’t think about this all the time anymore. HUSBAND and I have done such good work and we have grown and healed for the most part. But there are things – things like getting on a plane on February 13 – that shake my heart’s healing and cause me to think about the girl who didn’t get on the plane years ago – the one back at home, missing HUSBAND and seeing him for things he wasn’t and realizing the other girl – the one that did get on the plane years ago – also was seeing him for things he wasn’t.

My thoughts chewed over the lies and deception. It chewed over the two realities that were lived side-by-side that I didn’t know about. It chewed over the emotional distance that characterized so much of our marriage because the protection of lies destroyed any chance of real intimacy. It chewed over lost years and lost moments. I grieved.

And then I put it away. I chose to hold the hand of the one who’d been the cause of so much pain, and yet, so much strength and so much pleasure. I looked at his worn face and his eyes that are full of life now. This man who was my husband then, when the other girl got on the plane. And the one who is my husband now, when I got on the plane.

hands

And together, HUSBAND and I, got off the plane.

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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

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.

CrazyLove

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.

what-i-thought-was-true

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?

how-can-i-trust-again

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.

hold-the-vision-trust-the-process

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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Betrayal Story

healingdamagenolongercontrols

Saw this quote, and I read it. Then I read it again.

Then I read it again…and again…and rolled it around in my brain, in the way-beyond-just-the-glance-and-yeah-that-is-true part of my brain. I began to reflect on this journey of cheating, of being a betrayed woman, of realizing how lies had permeated the majority of my 27 year marriage when the truth began to unfold. And then the steps in to healing.

It’s going-on-three years: two years, seven months and 14 days to be precise since I had the full picture of HUSBAND’s deception laid out before me. Not that I am counting, although I guess I am. When I reflect on this time, I see some things that I don’t think I could until now. It is likely this process will continue throughout my life…actually…I hope it does, so all this pain can always be moving toward something better and good and beautiful. I never want the pain to suck me back, incrementally or in one big swoop, to the place of despair and blackness so it is essential to keep moving away from it with bold intentionality…right? I have learned…

The utter despicableness of HUSBAND’s actions: Don’t think that is really a word, but it is obvious what’s meant. There is nothing redeeming, nothing to support, nothing to cheer about a person who cheats. Nothing. NOTHING. There is no cause, no reason, no excuse that makes it okay to cheat. And cheating? Well…I see now that cheating is taking any part of who you are that is intimate (emotionally, physically, spiritually) and sharing it with another outside of the marriage and not being able to tell your spouse. This is NOT to say that I don’t see much more clearly now how affairs and cheating happen…I do…but the more I understand the twisted hows, the more I see how despicable they are. From start to finish they are lies. Lies to self. Lies to others. Lies upon lies upon lies that will not lead to anything but PAIN.

its-all-lies-darling

The ripple of pain: Cheating isn’t just about the cheater and his partner(s). They can’t keep their smut and filth in an isolated place. No…spouses are obviously at risk. First, there is the emotional devastation if they find out. But guess what? There is emotional devastation even if they don’t find out. There is no way a person can be engaging in giving away their intimate being to another on a chat room, or in a bathroom as they jack off to a porn-hub delivered video, or having a happy ending at a massage parlor or meeting up with their flesh lover in a hotel room and it NOT impact their spouse. The cheaters tell themselves there is no clashing of their worlds (unless there is discovery) but that just isn’t true. Let me be BOLDLY CLEAR HERE: I did not know my husband was cheating on me with other women, or with porn. I had no idea. But now that there are no other women between us on screen or in person, our lives are entirely different from start to finish. He spent all his time hiding, and worrying about hiding, and being concerned he hadn’t hidden well enough and there could be no real intimacy between us with all that shit present. Whether the spouse knows or not, cheating is devastating to the marriage relationship. PERIOD.  And then…then there is the physical risk. If the cheater doesn’t use protection, which shockingly they often do NOT???…then the risk of STD’s is high. Or a pregnancy with an affair partner. Lifelong ripple effects. And our children, our babies. Just like the marriage relationship, whether the kids ever know or not, whether discovery ever really happens or not, THEY ARE AFFECTED. Our four children ranged from 17 to 25 when the truth came out. Not babies, not little kids. Young adults. And they all admitted that things now made sense. That there was a hypocrisy they couldn’t quite put their finger on in our perfect little family, an underlying current of something they could not identify that was always present (uh….that would be that their dad was living a double life, perhaps??). So whether our children had ever found out or not, they were victims of the rippling out impact of pain caused by cheating.

hypocrisy

It wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t about me: Such a hard one here. But if I am to continue to press toward healing and wholeness and away from the vortex of pain, I have to keep this front and center. HUSBAND’s cheating was never about me, always about him. It was never against me, always about him hurting himself. It was never whether we had enough sex, or my body was attractive enough, or my willingness to give him oral sex. It was always about his deeply hidden but widely open wounds that he covered with the sick salve of illicit sex. His healing has been a deep, deep dive into those gashes and slashes, taking him to places he never dared share with anyone. Places so raw that he had spent his entire life carefully covering and reshaping and renaming so he could keep living…

I had some wounds too: Obviously, when 4/12/14 followed by 4/29/14 followed by 5/9/14 followed by 5/13/15 followed by 5/24/14 followed by 6/12/14 occurred…successive trickle truth/DDays…there was massive RIPPING OFF of my personhood to reveal a bloody, wounded me. But there was so much more beneath those layers. There were wounds that I’d worked my whole life to bury deep in my soul…and for the first time, I had nothing to lose to look at that pain too. Look at them, name them, grieve them. And forgive them. For the first time ever in my life, I became free.

I don’t want my old life back: As the reality of betrayal unfolded, there were numerous times that I would say or think that I wanted things to just go back…I wanted to wind the clock back to April 11, 2014. Now I see I don’t want that. Even though I had no idea that I was married to a cheater, I was married to a cheater. All of the impact of his cheating was woven throughout our marriage and parenting and financial decisions and lack of ability to see, much less create, a real vision for our future.  I don’t want to go back there, ever again. I want to look into HUSBAND’s eyes and see a real man, and be connected and intimate and passionate. If I am brutally honest and don’t rewrite the past, it really wasn’t that way before. In our new marriage, I am valued. I am listened to. I am cared for. I am loved.

It isn’t the end of the story: It still, to this day, takes my breath away when I have those a-ha moments and I remember I AM A BETRAYED WIFE.  I can feel my heart race and my vision go dim around the edges. But more and more quickly, I am able to see this new marriage and new history we are creating. I am grateful for the chance to meet with hurting women and hold their hands and cry tears with them as they discover their lives are not what they thought. I’m overwhelmed to sit with HUSBAND in a restaurant booth across from a couple that is in a devastated place but wants to work toward healing and that together, we speak life into them. It is surreal when HUSBAND and I stand up in front of couples at retreats and intensive weekends and tell our story of filth and pain, and then tell our story of healing and intimacy. No…I see now that for me…for us…our story isn’t betrayal. That’s just a bunch of chapters. Our story is life. And in such an odd way that I know makes no sense at all, our broken/twisted/shocking story is moving toward beauty.

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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.

sandwich-bread

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.

smokingpot

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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