It’s Just Not That Easy

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I have a friend – let’s call her Jane – whose husband has been viewing webcams for years. He has also had a couple of one-night stands. (Let’s call the husband Joe.)

When all this came to light, Jane was absolutely shocked. The couple had been married for over 20 years, and Jane had never thought that Joe would do something like this. There weren’t any signs – and Joe “didn’t seem the type”. (Jane’s words.)

Also, to the outside world they were the best of friends. They had three lovely kids; their lives were intertwined; and they spent their holidays and leisure time together.

Who would have believed it? A total shock to Jane. But, sadly, not an uncommon storyline.

So what happened next?

Joe was sure that Jane would leave him. He wanted to get help. He begged for Jane’s forgiveness, and he went for counselling. In counselling he learned the following:

  • Joe had always had troubled with intimacy and had formed an avoidant attachment to Jane. This was something Joe could recognize, and wanted to work on.
  • Joe started viewing porn at around 12 years of age. Hence, his brain had become primed, and then addicted to porn. As a consequence of this, sex for Joe meant secret thrills.
  • In his mind, all this was separate from sex with Jane. It was something very different. An illusion and a game. The women were just objects. They were tools to turn him on. There was no competition. They would never replace Jane.

But here’s the thing …

  • To Jane this sounds like garbage – for he chose them over her (or as well as her). He says it all meant nothing. It was just a mental thing. But it all feels real to Jane, and especially since she knows her husband had a couple of one-night stands.
  • Perhaps he was addicted, but Joe made choices too. There were numerous points in time when he consciously gave in. He knew what he was doing when he broke his wedding vows.
  • Joe would say it was a way of avoiding intimacy. But paying girls to strip, or to have illicit sex, sounds intimate to Jane (though she “gets” what Joe says too).

Why recovery is a slow and messy process

Understanding can be helpful but it doesn’t ease the pain. Betrayal’s still betrayal. The wounds are just as deep.  If only mental knowledge was enough to heal our hearts. Jane’s trying to forgive – but it’s not an easy road.

Thus, there are four realities that make this journey so complex: Joe’s actions, and the reasons, the questions that remain, and the damage that’s been done – and can never be undone.

We’re in this Together

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Being part of a group of betrayed partners and spouses was nothing I envisioned in a million years. For who of us expects to be betrayed by their spouse, or expects to be married to a sex addict? It’s not the kind of thing you ever think or dream about. And it’s not the kind of thing you really want to talk about.

In fact, you think you must be starring in some other person’s life – for you simply can’t believe that this is happening to you. It’s scary, and it’s crazy, and it cuts you to the heart. And that’s why it’s so important to encounter wives like you.

A community of women who are walking this road, too. And a group of shell-shocked women who just get what you’re going through. It becomes a kind of life-line for these women understand. There is no need to explain things. It is obvious to them.

You can feel the deep compassion. And you know they’ve struggled too with the unanswerable questions and the overwhelming pain. We are all disorientated. We all wish that it would end. We all struggle with deep feelings. We’ve all hate this is our life.

But there’s also strength and hope from those who’re further down the road. They’re real about it all, and never hide what it’s been like. You know they’ve had low lows, and they’ve been desperate just like you. But they’ve survived and made it – so, perhaps, there’s hope for you.

So, thank you to each woman who has opened up and shared. We’re thankful you’re there for us. You’ve enabled us to cope.

Letter to a Betrayed Partner or Spouse

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This is a letter to anyone who has discovered that their partner or spouse has been unfaithful to them. It’s especially relevant to those who have learned that their partner has been heavily involved in pornography or has developed a sex addiction. It’s for anyone whose partner has led a double life, and lied, and kept secrets you knew nothing about.

  1. Let’s start with trust. Trust is at the heart of all relationships. It is normal and should be a given. Something you can assume and rely on. Period. You shouldn’t have to look over shoulder to make sure your partner or spouse is still trustworthy. You shouldn’t have to check to see if they can still be trusted, and are still telling you the truth. That is an absolutely crazy way to live.
  2. You were not naïve, you were deliberately deceived.
  3. Once trust has been destroyed it’s almost impossible to regain. There will always be that fear at the back of your mind. Even when you choose to trust again, and are relatively sure that your partner is trustworthy now, that simple, carefree trust will never return.
  4. It’s not your fault. You did nothing to deserve this. You deserved the kind of relationship where you felt loved, treasured, valued, respected, honoured and safe. That is truth. Anything else is a lie.
  5. You shouldn’t have been the one to pay the price for your partner’s undealt with baggage and sexual unfaithfulness. It is totally unfair and unjust.
  6. Whatever you are feeling is right and OK. It is much better to be 100% honest about how you feel, than to repress your feelings, or to try to talk yourself out of (or to allow other people to talk you out of) negative, angry and painful feelings or thoughts.
  7. Living with fear is an absolute nightmare. Fear that you were wrong to stay with them. Fear that they’ll go back to their old ways again. Fear that some other painful truths will come to light. Fear that you this will affect your health (because of the stress you are living under, or the insomnia and broken sleep you now live with, or because you might still have an undiagnosed STI).
  8. You will constantly feel that no-one truly understands what it’s like to live through a trauma like this. The chances are that none of your friends will have learned what you have learned, or gone through what you’ve gone through. And that leads to a painful sense of isolation. Also, it’s not the kind of thing you can discuss openly, so you end up pretending in front of everyone.
  9. You can’t just put it all behind you, as if it didn’t happen. You can’t just start again – though you really wish you could. Healing is a process, and the time it takes feels endless.
  10. You are stronger than you think. You will find unknown reserves. You will make it through the pain. You are going to survive.

When Paths Diverge

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Today we learned that two of our friends had separated, and intended to divorce. The second set of friends in the Christmas season.

None of these people expected this to happen when they tied the knot many years ago.

But life rarely gives us what we expect.

And I think that makes it especially hard.

There’s no script for the future as the map has been destroyed. It’s like being in limbo, immersed in hurt and pain.

But we humans are resilient, and that engenders hope. Who knows what will happen once the trauma’s been worked through, and they find the strength and courage to re-create their lives.

What to Expect When You’ve Been Betrayed

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In previous posts I have talked about the pain, and the various effects of living with betrayal. It will dominate your thinking and take over your life.

And if you’ve been along this path, then you know that it is true. There are no shortcuts. You just have to plow on through. So be patient with yourself, and allow yourself to heal.

Some of things you will struggle with are likely to include the following:

  • A million questions will plague your mind
  • You will want to know all the facts (what, when, how often, with whom etc)
  • You will want to know all the details (even though the research states that details make recovery slower and longer)
  • Every question will lead to more questions
  • You will never be sure that you have the whole truth
  • You will doubt everything your partner says
  • You will constantly ruminate on all the lies they told you; the pain that you have suffered; the way you have been treated; on how this could have happened; and why they didn’t love you
  • You’ll be plagued by anxieties and fears for the future
  • You will constantly be fighting powerful feelings and lies related to not being enough (not being pretty enough, not having a good enough body, not being interesting, smart or funny enough etc)
  • You will struggle with shame and a loss of respect
  • You will feel you have lost your identity
  • You will fear and dread being judged by others
  • You will have poor or broken sleep, or will be wakened constantly by anxiety attacks or panic attacks
  • You will have no energy
  • You will lack enthusiasm
  • You can’t think, plan or set goals for the future.
  • There will be constant triggers – everywhere you look.

However, eventually you’ll start to recover your old self. There will be times when you “forget” and normality returns. But even then, there will be times when the past will hit or haunt you, and you’ll feel that you’re a mess, and “you can’t get over it.”This is all part of the journey, and it doesn’t mean your crazy. And although it is frustrating and discouraging, hang in there, keep believing, and let the process heal you.

But the Times They are A-Changing

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60 years of marriage and never a cross word, and never a serious argument. We never went to bed without making up. We always sorted out our little differences. And any differences were, really, insignificant.”

So said my Dad when he and my mom were celebrating their ruby anniversary.

Now I grew up in that very same home, and my recollections differ somewhat from my Dad’s. But, to be completely honest, their marriage is inspiring. It would be hard to find a couple who have loved so honestly. So, I’ll allow my dad to have his select memories.

But, still, it leaves me wondering how many young adults will be able to look back and say they, also, knew true love. Is it still possible to be so faithful to another, and to always love that person, and treat them with respect? I’d really like to think that the answer is yes.

But today we all have cell phones, and we have the internet … and I fear that this has altered and changed relationships. But maybe that’s not true, and there’s room for idealism. Perhaps there is no need for that dash of cynicism.

So for my daughters, and the daughters of my friends and relatives, here is what I still wish, and hope, for you:

I hope that you will marry, or partner, with someone who will always be faithful – in every way – to you.

I hope that you’ll find someone who cares about your heart, and chooses not to hurt you, or damage, or betray you.

I hope that you’ll both choose to admit if you feel tempted – because you have resolved to keep the promises you made.

I hope you won’t have secrets that hurt and separate – but you will choose to value and practice openness.

I hope that you’ll feel cared for, protected, safe and loved.

And I hope that you can say that your partner was your friend, a lover who was loyal and caring to the end.

 

“And They All Lived Happily Ever After”

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One of the things I like about “The Buried Giant”, a novel by Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro, is it explores married love across a couple’s lifetime. So it’s not about romance, or the early dizzy years. Its subject is a love that has been tested in the fire. A love that has survived some really serious hurts and trials.

One of the interesting features of the book is a mist that envelopes and permeates the world. This is both frightening and comforting. Essentially, the mist hints at buried memories, and the need to forget, and the decision to forget (for otherwise relationships could not survive.) You see this in the fear that the characters display when they sense that the mist is beginning to rise, and they start to worry about what they might learn.

Indeed, as the story progresses, we learn of the betrayal that is part of the narrative of Beatrice and Axl, the two main characters in the book. Nevertheless, they have managed to renew and rebuild their love; and on the journey that the novel mainly focuses upon, they display a tenderness that is somewhat enviable.

At the end of their journey, and the end of the book, when they’ve reached the river, and the final crossing point, each is questioned individually about their love. The questions they are asked leave the other wondering, “Has our live been sufficient; have we loved enough?”

I would venture to say that there’s no couple on this earth who’ve loved perfectly and who don’t carry buried wounds. We have all known betrayals – and some of these are serious. But maybe this enables us to build a stronger love. A love that is informed. A love that’s deep and genuine. A love that can forgive, and can accept forgiveness, too.

And maybe this is actually a truer kind of love.

 

You will Know the Truth and the Truth will Set you Free

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Last night I watched a movie on Netflix called “Tell me who I am”. The film tells the story of a set of twins: a young man who lost his memory after a motor bike accident, and his devoted brother who helped him to remember everything again. Everything from learning to eat and tie his shoe laces, to recalling what their shared childhood had been like. Everything, that is, except one painful truth.

*Spoiler alert

The truth that was hidden, for the best of motives, was both of the children were repeatedly abused, and their mother was the person behind the abuse.

Shocking – absolutely … And maybe you would have hidden that painful truth as well, to protect your twin, if you were in their shoes. It would be easy to believe you were doing them a favour.

Fast forward several years ….

Eventually events caused the truth to come to light. (That is, the twin told his brother they’d been sexually abused). However, he refused to share the details – despite relentless pressure – and that was hugely damaging to his twin. He felt his existence had been based on a lie, as his sense of who he was had been based on partial knowledge.

I suspect this story resonates profoundly with many betrayed partners who’ve learn they’ve been deceived. They need to piece together a new narrative as the story they’d been living is now a fantasy.

Hence, perhaps it’s not surprising that their mind is full of questions. Everything about the past must be reinterpreted. And they feel that they’re relating to a person they don’t know, who’s concealed the truth from them “to protect them from being hurt.”

Returning to the movie …

Eventually the twin finds the courage to record all the horrors of the past – which are then shared with his twin. Of course, it’s very painful, and it’s hard to take on board. But he, for one, would say that he’d rather know the facts. For now he knows the truth, and is able to move on.

 

Is it Worth Rebuilding the Relationship?

This is a question that only you can answer. But it’s best to do it in a clear-headed way, perhaps with the input of a counsellor or coach.

Aspects to consider include:

  • How much do you trust your partner or spouse? Clearly, discovering that they’ve led a double life is going to rock and undermine the relationship. However, you might still conclude that this person would be there for you if you needed them, and they are someone you can trust with your children and finances, or with your worries and concerns.  At the end of the day, those things count for a lot. 
  • Do you basically respect them? Do they respect you too? 
  • Do you have children? It’s essential to consider the impact on them – both if you stay or decide to go. There are lots of lives and futures that are going to be affected by what you decide to do at this time.
  • How much do you like, and enjoy spending time with your partner? Is it fun and rewarding, or tiring and a bore? Are you comfortable around them? Do you wish they weren’t there?
  • Do you have the same core values and beliefs? Of course, you won’t agree on every little thing but there must be common ground in the key areas. Also, the relationship won’t last or be truly satisfying if one of you is forced to believe certain things – for fear of rejection or abandonment.
  • Do you share common interests and hobbies? If you really are companions and enjoy the same things then this can be a glue in the relationship. However, if there’s little overlap in the things you like to do then, perhaps, you’re really going in the opposite direction.
  • Are you free to be yourself in the relationship? Is this a smothering, fear-based relationship, or do you have your own, separate identities?
  • Are the partners adaptable and willing to change? The relationship is going to have to change a lot to recover from betrayal and deliberate deceit.
  • Does the partner have a history of infidelity? Is this first time? Has it happened before? Are they able to come through when they say that they will change?
  • How invested are you both in the relationship? You need to take a long, and a cold hard look at how much you both want the relationship to work. Will you both do the work that allow it to survive?

These are useful starting points for talking through what might come next, and whether it is wise to rebuild what has been lost. They are questions that both partners should consider honestly – and perhaps gets the output from some others that you trust.   

Betrayal and Numbing

Emotional numbing is a reaction to events that are shocking, terrifying and which cause us great distress. That is, our brain seeks to protect us against being traumatized by erecting strong defenses which are hard to penetrate.

Thus, when a secret life’s discovered and the truth first comes to light the shock can lead to numbing in the partner or the spouse. This happens automatically; it’s outside our control.

However, ‘(although) we might use this coping mechanism during traumatic events … what is dangerous about numbing is that it doesn’t work as selectively as we might like it to. Generally, when you use numbing as a defence, it numbs not just the bad stuff, but you experience good feelings less vividly too.[1]

Perhaps this is something you’ve experienced as well.

So, what kinds of symptoms indicate emotional numbing? They include:

  • A dampening of all emotions. This includes being unable to experience positive feelings (such as hopefulness, enthusiasm, optimism, excitement, happiness and joy). This state is known as emotional anesthesia.
  • Feeling detached and distant from others (so their experiences, or what they say and do, have little or no impact on you).
  • Being unable to feel close to others with whom you share an intimate relationship.
  • Being unable to express, give or receive affection or tenderness.
  • A loss of interest in activities, hobbies, or work which were previously rewarding.    

Also, it can hamper our ability to concentrate and think, and impact our ability to function properly. That can make it hard to cope and deal with normal daily life.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, and are dealing with betrayal, please know that it is common. It’s a struggle many face. However, it could be helpful to discuss it with a counsellor or doctor. Don’t isolate yourself. You do not have to cope alone.       


[1] Cori, J.L. (2009). Healing from trauma: A survivor’s guide to understanding your symptoms and reclaiming your life. Boston, MA: Da Capo Lifelong Books.