“I met my husband in church when we were both in our mid 20s. We have been married for 33 years. We were both very involved in our church, and my husband regularly volunteered to build homes with Habitat for Humanity. He also had a wonderful career, rising to top management in an international company. He’s been an awesome dad to our daughter and son, and has always been deeply interested in their lives, and their various interests and activities.
However … About two years I learned my husband had been leading a double life. He was using dating apps to meet up with other women while on business – and this has been going on for many years. Ten years at a minimum.
He is getting help today and is deeply remorseful. I believe he genuinely regrets the way he’s lived. He said he always loved me and this was an addiction. I think it’s likely true, and I want to stay with him. However, this has really done a number with my brain!
In some ways nothing in my life has really changed. I could easily argue that this is just new information related to my husband, and choices he made (not me).
I’m essentially the same person.
It’s still true that he was there for me when I had a hysterectomy. It’s also true that we spent most of our free time together. All the things we did with our kids really happened. I’m still the same mother, sister, daughter, and friend. Who I was as a wife was genuine, as well.
And yet, somehow I feel as if my whole life was a lie. It was all built on sad, and I’ve lost myself.
How do I make sense of this history? Of who I thought I when so much wasn’t true? I feel as if I’ve lost my identity. Can you help me understand what’s going on in my mind?”
First, let me say how sorry I am that this has been your experience. It’s extremely traumatic to learn something like this.
As to your question … Our identity is really a conglomerate of many things. It consists of how we see and think about ourselves. It includes who we are. Where we’ve come from. What we’ve achieved. What our different experiences mean. And what these say about us as a person.
This is the story we tell ourselves.
It isn’t something we tend to be aware. It exists in the background yet it guides our lives, and the way we interact with others and the world.
Our relational identity is part of this identity. We relate to people as we think they are. So, when we learn they are someone very different, this is very hard for us to reconcile. Especially if that person is close to us. And especially if they chose to deliberately deceive us. No wonder you feel you have lost yourself.
So what can we say that might help with this? In summary:
1.There are no easy answers when it comes to grieving over something like this. Be patient with yourself. Expect to struggle.
2. It is going to take some time to start to process all the facts, and to straighten out the truth about how things really were.
3. It’s likely you will always have to live with some grief around being deceived, and never being able to have the life you wanted. The life you thought you had. The life you’ll never, ever have. This is likely to be hard to accept.
4. As you said, there are parts of your life’s narrative that are still true. Perhaps you will be able to reconnect with them. The fun holidays were still fun holidays. You were still a great mother to your two kids. Who you were with your friends, and in your faith community are all valid pieces of your history and story. These haven’t changed. These are all key parts of you. In time, you’ll find a way to string these pieces back together. And this will help you find your identity again.