Once upon a time, I expected my husband and my marriage to meet my every need, fill every void, soothe every fear, supply all my joy… do you see where I’m going with this? I’ve filed this version of insanity away in my, ‘what the hell was I thinking?’ folder. It’s a fatty.
When that didn’t happen, because duh, I thought it meant we weren’t good together, good for each other, good enough. And as a result, I gave up on us a little bit. I lost faith in us.
If you’re a woman, you might resemble this ridiculous expectation. Damn those fairytales, romance novels, chick flicks, magazines, TV shows, and Boyz II Men ballads. Because we pay attention to those unrealistic representations of relationships. That stuff seeps in. We begin to want what we’ve seen portrayed as possible. We know exactly how Ryan Gosling treats his woman, and if he can do it, well then? When we throw in what each of us brings to the marriage table as an individual, which in my case were overly lofty standards and ideals for marriage brought to me by the letter D, for divorce, as in the one that ended my parents’ marriage, our vision of what marriage should be can be even more out of whack.
Many of us marry feeling like we’ve found the golden ticket to all our hopes and dreams. But we are each and every one capable of being self-involved, stubborn, persnickety creatures who get bogged down by obligations, stress, and disappointments and in the wake of all that we can end up turning on each other, instead of towards one another. We know the statistics on failed marriages as we step up to the altar but we also know we aren’t going to become one of them, so we vow. There is little to no fear of failure in that moment. We are sure.
But the failures do come. Sometimes right out of the gates. Sometimes slowly, taking years to send us plummeting down that first plunge on the roller coaster ride. The circumstances vary, but no marriage is exempt from failures, whether big or small. The trick is to face them head on and work through them, or else.
When our children were small and we each took time away from home to decompress, we would end up punishing each other for the departure. Listless and lonely from the effort a 15-hour day of parenting exacts, I’d give my husband the cold shoulder in response to the extra hours I’d had to parent on my own. My husband would be quick to snap, making it clear I had been gone too long, that I was too greedy and expected too much from him after his long, taxing day at work. This kind of low-grade radiation went on for years, until we reached dangerous exposure levels. Until we both realized that time away from the fray of family life, from the relentless duties and demands, is how we get to breathe in fresh enough air to be able to dive back in and give fully of ourselves again. And that we simply could not continue to punish each other for wanting and needing some space on occasion. We made the conscious choice to celebrate each other’s time away, to campaign for each other even, to take that fishing trip or go off on that girls weekend.
There were other failures that we successfully worked through and that never threatened our peace accord again. But there were some disputes that we merely swatted at and never fully took up arms against. And some issues that just one of us would mount a serious offensive against while the other proved too stubborn, too oblivious, too unconcerned or uninterested to engage in the battle for resolution. Unresolved problems in our marriage just led to bigger ones. And what could have been categorized as minor skirmishes, had we met them head and squashed them before they could unite in revolution, eventually escalated into a full-scale, DEFCON-5, potentially catastrophic conflict.
At the height of the cold war in our marriage, my husband was unfaithful to me. After the shell-shock subsided, and a few miles down the road of recovery from the blindside, I felt the need to explore how and why infidelity occurs. Because I could not even begin to fathom how this happened in my marriage. You might think, given the disturbing prevalence of infidelity, the world’s bookshelves and blogs would be teeming with thickly bound tomes and oodles of posts on the subject. But no, not really. And of course not, right?
Because being forthright about infidelity is beyond taboo. The betrayed don’t want to acknowledge they were betrayed; it’s demoralizing. The betrayers don’t want it broadcasted that they betrayed; it’s shaming. One book I consulted seemed to be the official word on adultery by all accounts, but I couldn’t get through it. It felt clinical and I couldn’t relate to its content or extract any healing from it. I tried to forge on but each time I picked it up, I just felt overwhelming sadness at the need to be reading it in the first place.
Then a friend recommended Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton (she’s sans the Melton now). And hot damn! This story of hers and why she wrote it grabbed hold of me and gently lifted me up and out of the depths of being clueless on how to begin to survive this miserable circumstance in my marriage. This book is the sole reason I write and publish today. And if you’re dealing with betrayal, I am confident it will help you get where you’re going, wherever that may be for you. Even if, maybe especially if, you don’t know where that is yet.
What spoke to me and met my needs was her story. Someone else had lived through this, while feeling like she wasn’t going to live through it, and she was telling me all about it? It worked wonders on me. In telling her story, she broke through the silence that so often accompanies infidelity and in that breakthrough she annihilated silence’s shady best friend, shame. I knew immediately after reading it that I would do the same; I would enlist as a warrior for love too.
I’m heeding two pieces of top-notch advice in regards to writing about my husband’s affair. The first is to write from my scars and not my open wounds. It really will be better for us all that way. Hindsight gained through the lenses of healing softens the sharp edges of what we have to say until it sounds like learning and growth instead of thrashing and raging and oozing all over everyone. The second is; in regards to that thing you’re afraid to write, write that. I believe in this sage wisdom 100%. Because sharing our stories is what connects us, helps keep loneliness at bay, and allows us to march shame out the door and refuse to let it regain entry.
I will be part of the truth-telling about infidelity, how it rips you apart from navel to stern, as I am able to do it, in the speed of me.
In the meantime, I wanted to give you some sugar. If you’re seeking understanding and healing in the aftermath of adultery, especially if you never saw it coming and you got scorched in the flash burn revelation of it, listen to the Dear Sugars podcast. Specifically, the four-part series on infidelity. You all know how to find and download podcasts, right? If not, Google is your friend, she’ll help you. I’d give you instructions, but I’m not sure which platform you’ll want to listen on. If you’re not sure about that either, Google will step up here too. Click here for the 10 best podcast apps for iOS, click here for Android.
There are two Sugars; Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed. You know Cheryl’s name from the little memoir she wrote called, Wild. Her story resonated far and wide, evidenced by it becoming a best seller and then getting snatched up by Reese Witherspoon’s production company. Reese proceeded to portray Cheryl in the film and was nominated for an Academy Award for her efforts. Do you see what I see here? Women telling their personal stories, stories that we own because they happened to us, is beyond powerful, y’all. And this is a trend that must never end.
Anyhoo, together, Steve and Cheryl respond to listener’s letters in their podcast; doling out large doses of empathy, hard-won wisdom, and requested advice to those in need. Their particular intersection of real, messy life and genuine connection is soul affirming to listen to. If you’re feeling at all anxious, alone or adrift; together, they are a lighthouse that will help guide you back to shore and unite you with those who hit the rocks ahead of you. The incredible number of letters they received about infidelity led them to produce a two-part series in response. The response to the series was so overwhelming, they expanded it to a four-part series and they’ve since replayed the whole series due to huge demand. People need to hear other people’s stories of surviving and recovering from infidelity; they are longing for the connection they crave inside this solemn, shared circumstance of suffering.
Part 1 focuses on the betrayed. Part 2, the betrayers. Part 3 is an in-depth look at betrayal with Esther Perel, an accomplished psychotherapist with an acute focus on relationships and adultery. She will blow your mind. Part 4 focuses on the ‘other woman.’ In addition, Steve and Cheryl each offer up and explore their own experiences with being both the betrayed and the betrayer. They tell it like it is, like we need to hear it. The canyonesque depth of their candid coverage of infidelity was exactly what I needed, when I needed it, and it helped me put some pieces in place in this most challenging of puzzles.
For me, the hardest thing to overcome in order to move forward was the lack of understanding of how my husband could have made this choice. I could not get my brain to accept what had happened to my heart. It was hell-bent on some deep, solid avoidance. With each excruciating step along what often felt like a single track trail of healing, I gained a little more understanding. A bit broader perspective. The better I could understand it, the better I could deal with it. Parts of Esther’s explanations created instant comprehension for me, and her ideas are still bouncing around in my brain. They are wanting me to pass them on to you I think, and so I have.
We can heal quicker if we get off that single track, and advance towards the front lines together. It’s a well known and proven fact that running with a partner or a pack will make you faster. Some days you’ll want that camaraderie and speed. Some days you won’t be able to take a single step. Those days look like being huddled low in a bunker, laboring to calm your erratic breathing and just striving merely to survive the melee, and even one small step forward will be unthinkable. On the days you’re able to mount the effort, when you’re in need of allies, count me in. I’ll be using the pain, ALL OF IT, to warrior on for love and I’ll keep telling you my story.