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

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Reflections of Betrayal

A memory popped up on Facebook yesterday. It is a picture of me with one of my dearest friends, four years ago yesterday, enjoying a fabulous event given by a vendor for my company. We have huge smiles and look silly – a photo booth picture.

Photo booth

I was transported to that event, that moment. It was odd that HUSBAND wasn’t with me. We have always made a habit of supporting each other at corporate events, and for some reason, he didn’t really want to go to this particular one. I remember him saying he WOULD go, but… Despite the reality that it was at a very swanky place, with really awesome food, great company and open bar. I honestly didn’t care much one way or the other, and I didn’t think much about it at the time.

We weren’t arguing or at odds over anything. We weren’t seething or saying snarky things or sending mean texts. We were just living our daily lives of disconnection, plodding along, getting up in the morning and doing what needed to be done to take care of our home and our jobs and our kids and ourselves. We were living as we had much of our married life – no big ripples, just the constant pressure of dissatisfaction and hoping there was more but having too much on our plate to really think about it.

dinner disconnection

Yet there was a sub-story going on that that girl in the picture didn’t know anything about. I thought we were in this reality together, but there was another plot running concurrently that had a thick curtain covering it from my sight. Only 8 days prior, HUSBAND had taken the opportunity of delivering our son for a college sports tryout to meet up with his new affair partner. With SW. He had offered to take him, several states away, at the last minute claiming he would combine it with a couple work visits and get in a couple nights of camping – clear his soul – fish on a creek – cook his own meals by campfire –

Craigs Cabin Number 10

My heart had broken for him – this man who had sacrificed so much of his desire to hunt and to fish and to camp so he could be a good and present dad. All our kids were heavily engaged at high levels in a sport and he was almost always at every event with me, handling the coolers and providing encouragement and calming me down…leaving very little time for him to do the things he loves. I was excited he had figured out a way to nurture our family/son, get some work done AND find time to do the things he loves. We spoke on the phone after his arrival at the little cabin by the creek…I could hear the excitement in his voice…and I was happy for him.

Oh he was excited. He was excited to hear the sound of his new mistress’s voice telling him all the things he wanted to hear about himself as a person, as a man, as a lover. He was excited to have dinner with her and then head back to the cabin and culminate their phone relationship into a physical relationship.

That girl in the picture, with her friend, had no idea. No idea at all.

No Idea

Anatomy of Infidelity, Part 3

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

diggingdeep

Prepping for college included the requisite compiling of necessary things (laundry detergent and personal hygiene items; clothes and underwear; school supplies). But for HUSBAND, that summer also included other prep. It included sex with a married employee a few years older than him who just wasn’t happy in her marriage…all fun and games until she indicated she was starting to have feelings for him…and then he ran far and fast. It included sex with another older woman that he knew from a local vendor…and lots of drinking and smoking pot and altercations with other drunk and stoned people.

alcoholpot

College. The young man, HUSBAND, was smart – having clepped several classes – entered university with one semester credit. He sees now that his dreams were not so much, rather, not-at-all, of achieving academic success or getting a degree, but pushing the limit of freedom and pushing his body beyond what it had known in the past.

He pulled a roommate with a similar goal and together they, and some of his childhood friends, found plenty of drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll. They partied from morning til night, got into drug/alcohol induced fights, interacted with campus police, interacted with girls in their dorm room, in overnights at the beach and anywhere else it happened and hit every concert that came to town. What he didn’t do was spend much time going to class, or studying. HUSBAND didn’t delve into relationships, just sex. Often sex numbed with drugs. The end of the first year brought the harsh reality that the university wasn’t excited about having him back. He was on disciplinary probation. He was on academic probation. The Dean told him he could not return to the school until he had obtained his associates degree elsewhere. And so he left.

If there was any recrimination from his parents, HUSBAND doesn’t remember. He doesn’t remember either of his parents being involved in his college decision, his college year, or his college failure. He doesn’t remember any consequence, or deep conversations or confrontations at the end of the year. He just kept going, and was shuttled to one of his branch offices 150 miles away where he moved in with a relative. A relative that was married, but only a few years older than HUSBAND. A relative who also enjoyed much of the wild life, and the college life basically continued on for him in his early professional life. Once a week, HUSBAND had to return to the home office for a specific job duty, and within six months, was called to return full time to headquarters.

HUSBAND and a couple of his friends found a rental house in a low-end area and moved in. The house quickly became party-central for his old friends and his new friends and friends-of-those-friends. People came and went, bringing their individual brand of fun and there was always something and someone to share an imbibed moment with. HUSBAND remembers one day sitting in his room, smoking a joint and listening to music while a few friends partied outside in the common areas. The door to his bathroom opened (it was also accessible through another bedroom) and a girl from his home room class walked in. She walked over to his bed where he was sitting and started talking about inane happenings. Then, she said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to jump your bones.” And so they had sex and she got dressed and left. She wasn’t the only one during that time period, and that wasn’t the only time with her, or with others. No interest in relationship, but lots of interest in sex. That characterized this period for him.

house-party

Eventually HUSBAND desired a little nicer space, and less constant company and he found a better townhouse in a better area and moved in with two friends. There was still some serious partying, but less of a frenetic pace inundated with known and unknown partakers. More of the semblance of a home. All three roommates were hard working, although the pot smoking before work continued, and usually after work, too. But they saw themselves as moving up in their respective jobs, and beginning to look toward growing up.

About that time, HUSBAND had some tense moments with members of his family. In somewhat of a rebellion from what they envisioned for his personal life, he went out with friends, and mentioned he wanted to find himself a “rock ‘n roll girl.” He ran into the former girlfriend of someone he knew…a beautiful girl…an available girl…a wild and exciting girl…and they came back to his place where they explored every part of each other’s anatomy. It was sex on steroids for him, and he was hooked.

rocknrollgirl

The story continues…

 

Stockdale Paradox

Admiral James (Jim) Stockdale. Amongst many other things – former President of the Naval War College, US Vice Presidential candidate in 1992 – Admiral Stockdale was the highest-ranking, longest held captive in the Viet Nam war’s infamous Hanoi Hilton and even worse, the prison they dubbed ‘Alcatraz.’

The infamous North Vietnamese prison was the site of incarceration, torture and interrogation of US military personnel and included a predominance of pilots shot down during bombing raids. North Vietnam had signed the Geneva Convention of 1949 which included the requirement of decent and humane treatment of any prisoners captured and held during war…yet…the prison was the site of horrific atrocities to the American servicemen: extended periods of solitary confinement. Rope bindings. Shackled in 15 pound leg-irons. Intermittent beatings. Hung by their wrists, still tied behind their backs, from a meat hook. Kept at states of near starvation – then fed watery soup laced with pebbles or feces. Forced to stand on stacked stools for days on end. Held by stocks at the ends of their beds, lying in their own excrement while rats and roaches ran freely around and on them.

HanoiHilton

Unimaginable atrocities that tore at them physically, emotionally, mentally.

Admiral Stockdale was interviewed for a book, and the author mentioned that obviously, Stockdale was an optimist, which had helped him endure his nearly 8 years of hell.  Not so, Admiral Stockdale declared. The optimists actually were some of the first to succumb, and some of the least likely to survive. He went on to explain: “They were the ones who said ‘we are going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say ‘we’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again, and Easter again. And they died of a broken heart.”

The author was puzzled…then how did you survive…through physical hell, but also through the mental and emotional devastation and torture?

Admiral Stockdale had remarkable faith in the unknowable and never stopped believing he would get out. He would be reunited with his family, return to the country he loved. He never lost site of the vision, yet ‘he faced the brutal realities along the way.’ In so doing, he set up ways to cope with whatever situation he was in in a given moment – leaving messages in the latrine, creating set times to say the Pledge of Allegiance or leaving code messages in letters home to his wife – even though he wasn’t sure his letters ever got sent.

The optimists failed to confront the reality of their situation, to face the challenges authentically and to use whatever resources they had to deal with that specific and particular moment.  They just kept hoping for the difficulties to go away – which may have made it easier in the short-term, but when again and again and again their expectations did match up with reality – they were broken and succumbed to death.

Several years prior to DDay, and my coming to find out that my 27 year marriage was really fraught with deception and betrayal, I had read about Admiral Stockdale…his Paradox of survival – even more – flourishing after the extended period of pain. It intrigued me…and I adopted this attitude, which required diametric change from my FOO. My family was filled with optimists who denied realities along the way, and always believed it would all just work out. I never saw, prior to uncovering Stockdale’s Paradox how ill-equipped this left me, and perhaps could be a reason for some of my blind acceptance, or out-of-bounds frustrations. I became committed to seeing and believing the vision for my life, my marriage, my family yet to face the brutal realities along the way. Of course…I had no idea what that would mean a few years later.

That is how I have approached betrayal, cheating and lying as it all unfolded. A vision – for me that I never stopped believing. For who I was and where I wanted to be. Did that include HUSBAND? Not so sure…because as each brutal reality unfolded, I faced it and continue to face it. I didn’t do it alone. I used the resources I could find. I dug through articles and sites and forums on the internet. I called out to a couple of therapists and spent time on their “couches.” Sometimes we, sometimes me. I reached back and reexamined memories and tried to see them for what they really were, not what my idealized mind had made them. I joined a support group with whom I am still intimately engaged, sometimes needing their help & guidance, and sometimes now, being able to offer my perspective.

I found this amazing community of bloggers who press me further and challenge and support. And care.

Slowly, I have come out of this torture more battered and bruised and broken yet more humble and grateful and whole. The Stockdale Paradox. Lived out.