But that wasn’t how this couple’s life turned out.
James and Priti both grew up in the same city. Their parents were good friends. The kids attended the same schools. And they started dating when they were only 14.
When she graduated high school, Priti moved away from home to study Law in a far-flung province.
But time and distance didn’t separate this couple, and five years later James and Priti were married.
And so begins a wonderful fairy tale.
Then, three years later their first child was born. A boy with Down’s syndrome, and some health complications.
Then, two years later a little girl was born. A child who had autism, and some learning difficulties.
This was followed by three heartbreaking miscarriages. So much grief and heartache. So much sorrow and stress.
It takes a strong marriage to survive something like this … And one day James packed his bags, and walked away.
His wife was left alone to take care of their two kids. The fairy tale was over. There would be no happy ending.
But today, Priti works in a special needs centre. She counsels hurting parents who have children like her own. She offers them support, and she helps them to find courage. She helps them to keep going, and to find joy in the pain.
The journey you are on forges the person you become.
And Priti became someone who was beautiful and strong. A person with compassion who became a rock for others.
“In the wounding you become the story that brings hope to others.” – Erwin McManus
I once heard the story of a man whose wife divorced him after he lied about putting out the trash. This was in the aftermath of an affair.
He said that he had done it when he hadn’t done it yet– and that was enough to tip the scales, for her.
Over the top? Perhaps it seems that way. But maybe you would feel that it was understandable if you had been lied to, and betrayed, by your spouse.
Why the Strong Reaction?
If you have been betrayed then you have also been deceived. And the decision to betray you was a serious breach of trust. It’s also very hard to recover from.
In contrast, if you are the betrayer then it’s likely you will think:
“But I never deceived you about anything else. It was only about sex. And you can understand why. Of course, I was afraid to be honest with you.”
And, yes, we understand it – but it doesn’t change a thing. It doesn’t change the fact that the betrayal’s wrecked our life. For, if you choose to lie about the big, important things, it means I cannot trust you with the smallest thing at all.
That’s why you must be honest, and be honest all the time. And even when it’s something that seems insignificant.
The sex therapist, Rob Weiss, puts it this way:
“Relationship trust is not automatically rebuilt just because you stopped cheating, nor is it rebuilt because you managed to stay stopped for a certain amount of time. Instead, relationship trust is regained through … being rigorously honest about pretty much everything, all the time, from now on … With rigorous honesty you tell the truth and you tell it sooner. You keep your spouse in the loop about absolutely everything: spending, trips to the gym, gifts for the kinds, issues at work, needing to fertilize the lawn, and, on yeah, interactions she might not approve of. If your spouse would want to know, then you tell her. Period.”
So, after a betrayal you can’t peddle in white lies. For if you do, prepare for the relationship to end.
 Weiss, R. (2017). Out of the dog house: A step-by-step relationship-saving guide for men caught cheating. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.
My name is Eleanor. Here is a summary of my story, and my question for you …
My husband was addicted to porn and sex which resulted in several online affairs and a couple of hooks ups. He admitted this to me about 3 years ago. I know he is genuinely remorseful and has been working hard to put all of that behind him. He is very open with me today, and will always answer any questions I have. He appears to be completely accountable, and seems to be genuinely committed to helping me recover, and to doing whatever is necessary for me to trust him again. Basically, he seems to be doing all the right things, and for all the right reasons. If you asked me if I thought I could trust him today, I would say “yes”, and mean it.
But here’s my problem, although I think I can trust him now, I am afraid to trust him. I’m always on my guard, and am watching carefully, so that I’m never deceived again. Can you help me with my issues around trust?
Hi Eleanor, Thanks for contacting us.
Wow! You’ve been through a lot. It’s not surprising that you are finding it hard to trust. Your husband has shown you what he’s capable of, and those are memories that you simply can’t erase. They’re painful, traumatic memories. So, it’s very normal to be on high alert when you’re in a situation like this.
From what you’ve shared, it sounds as if you are being very wise in checking out all the evidence, to make sure your husband continues to be the person that he appears to be. This is crucial; it’s a healthy thing to do.
However, even if you’re trying to be objective and alert – and you it looks like your husband is trustworthy today – it’s almost inevitable that doubts will creep in, and you’ll find yourself playing the “What if?” game:
“What if he gets drawn back in again?”
“What if he meets someone that he can’t say ‘no’ to?”
“What if I relax, and I let my guard down, and he deceives me all over again?”
Those are very natural anxieties.
And how you answer those questions is important here – for it’s how you will quell your anxieties. Those answers hold the key to what you’re searching for (which is having peace of mind, and not worrying all the time).
In summary, your ability to trust your husband again is not so much tied into predicting the future, or in trying to control how your husband behaves. For neither of those are possible.
But what is completely within your control is your ability to handle what the future brings. Trust comes from knowing you are strong enough to survive receiving devastating news. It comes from knowing you can trust yourself to ‘not go under’, to ‘find a way through’.
So, maybe, let’s stop here, and think about this …
– You survived it before, and you’ve rebuilt your life. You have strategies to handle the trauma and the pain. And you likely have a strong support system in place.
– There are also other people who matter to you. Your husband’s not the only person in your life. (And there are many other people who you matter to, as well.)
– Also today, you’re well aware that your identity and worth are not tied in to what your husband does. You are independent people. You each make your own decisions. You are valuable and loved because of who you are. It has nothing to do with your husband at all.
So, these are the keys that enable you trust.
You are betting on yourself, and not on him.
“Trust yourself. You’ve survived a lot, and you’ll survive whatever is coming.”
“Trauma is any experience of threat, disconnection, isolation, or immobilization that results in physical/ emotional injuries that dysregulate the optimal functioning of one’s body, emotions, brain, spirit or health.” – Mastin Kipp
“Trauma by definition is unbearable and intolerable. (Traumatized people) become so upset when they think about what they have experienced that they try to puh it out of their minds, trying to act as if nothing happened, and move on. It takes tremendous energy to keep functioning while carrying the memory of terror, and the shame of utter weakness and vulnerability.” – Bessel Van Der Kolk
“Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma was still going on – unchanged and immutable – as every new encounter or past event is contaminated by the past.” – Bessel Van Der Kolk
This is a difficult way to live. But below are some keys to help you walk this road, and tap into your inner strength and power.
1. Practice self-kindness and self-compassion. Be there for yourself when you’re having a hard time. Notice any tendency to criticize yourself, and replace those judgments with warm, affirming words. For example, you could tell yourself:
“It’s absolutely normal to feel like this,” … and … “I’m doing the best that I can right now”.
Think about how you would speak to a child or to a good friend who’d gone through what you’ve gone through.
2. Allow yourself to feel all your feelings. You need to ‘feel it to heal it’ … and that is simply a fact. The worse thing you could do is repress your emotions – for they will just come back to haunt you at a later date. Don’t sanction any feelings; don’t judge anything.
Also, don’t listen to the people who would try to shut you down, and who deny the legitimacy of your emotions. This is another form of gaslighting.
3. Work on your breathing. During traumatic experiences, and then during flashbacks, our breathing becomes shallow, and we feel extremely anxious. However, slow deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve which tells the brain to relax and calm down.
4. Slow down the tempo. Rushing, working quickly, and talking very fast all add to the level of stress we feel.
It also drags our thoughts to painful past experiences so we feel agitated, and out of control.
So, try to slow it down, and do one thing at a time. And do that one thing mindfully.
5. Let go of disempowering, self-victimizing thoughts. Don’t let your brain create a mental world of suffering, being a victim, and being devoid of power. It’s true that you’ve been hurt, and have suffered, and are scarred. But don’t let this define you; it isn’t over yet. Don’t let intrusive thoughts knock you off your course.
6. Call to mind past situations where you’ve shown resiliency. Remembering how you’ve shown resiliency before can reminds you of the strategies you’ve used before – strategies that worked for you, and helped to push on.
7. Connect with you soul. With the core of who you are. This is a place of contentment and strength. A place of self-acceptance, and of quiet confidence. The centre of your being, and the real, authentic you.
“You are stronger than the things that make you feel weak.”
Below are some common trauma lies, and some ideas on how to reframe these thoughts so they’re more in line with reality.
1. The LIE:“There is no-one who is safe. There is no-one I can trust. I need to look out for myself – for I can only trust myself.”
The TRUTH: There are people in this world who are trustworthy and safe. They won’t deceive you. They won’t gaslight you. They won’t manipulate me. They won’t lie to you. With these individuals ‘what you see is what you get.’ The majority of people don’t want to hurt or harm you.
2. The LIE:“I need to keep my guard up in order to be safe. I can’t ever risk being open, or being vulnerable, again.”
The TRUTH: You will likely be more cautious if you’ve been traumatized, but you can learn to trust your instincts, and to be more vulnerable, with people who have shown you they are trustworthy and safe.
3. The LIE:“I need to stay alert, and be hyper-vigilant.”
The TRUTH: You will wear yourself out if you stay on high alert. Yes, you need to be aware of what is happening around you, but there are numerous situations where it’s OK to relax.
4. The LIE:“Sleeping isn’t safe as I can’t protect myself.”
The TRUTH: The trauma’s in the past. It is over. You survived. It is healthy to sleep, and to renew your strength.
5. The LIE:“Don’t be deceived: Things are never what they seem.”
The TRUTH: There will always be some tricksters and a few manipulators. But in most situations, there are no hidden agendas, and peoples’ intentions are genuine and sincere.
6. The LIE:“I can’t trust my instincts or my intuition.”
The TRUTH: We can learn how to listen to our bodies again, and to notice those small clues that say ‘we need to be on guard.’ Your body and your brain are finely-tuned to pick up signs. With patience and with time you can trust yourself again. And it is wise and safe to choose to trust yourself.
7. The LIE:“I’m never going to recover, and live a normal life again.”
The TRUTH: Recovery is a journey – and it isn’t a straight road. You’lI have good times; you’ll have bad times. And it’s going to take time. The bad times are less frequent, and less scary, than before. You can see you’re making progress. You’re not in the same place.”
“It’s okay if you thought you were over it but it hits you all over again. It’s okay to fall apart even after you thought you had it under control. You are not weak. Healing is messy. There is no timeline for healing.”
“Own everything that has happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” – Anne Lamont
There are so many reasons why we keep it to ourselves. Why we choose not to talk about the things that we’ve been through. These include self-protection, feeling it is pointless, and because of messages we’ve picked up from our family.
Let’s break this down further ….
Because it isn’t a safe thing to do.
Because we’re afraid of being judged, shamed, or attacked further.
Because we haven’t got the emotional reserves to deal with being judged, shamed, or attacked further.
Because we haven’t got the energy, or mental head space, to carefully explain our side of the story (and, if necessary, ‘argue our case’).
Because we don’t think people will believe us (or even want to believe us)
Because we don’t think people will empathize with either our perspective, or experience.
Because we think other people will spread gossip about us, or will derive great satisfaction from thinking we’re in pain.
2. It’s Pointless
Because we don’t think it would help (and it may even leave us feeling worse).
Because we know other people aren’t good at handling pain and suffering. They can’t deal with it in their own lives, and they certainly can’t deal with it in other peoples’ lives. So, they don’t want to know about our heartache or trauma.
Because what we are going through is bigger than anything our friends have gone through (as far as we know). It’s beyond their experience and comprehension. They wouldn’t be able to put themselves in our shoes. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t really help.
Because we have picked up the message that: ‘What we go through is irrelevant to others’. Sadly, it’s a fact that many people are narcissistic, and are completed focused on themselves. So they don’t really care about what’s happened to you.
(Related to this) … Because we think there’s a reasonable chance that what we are sharing (which is huge to us) will be trivialized, downplayed, brushed aside – or ignored, by other people.
3. It’s in our Script/ Messages we’ve Picked up from our Family
Because we grew up with the message that you don’t share your dirty laundry in public.
Because we’ve picked up the message that we must never talk about (or betray) our family in any way at all – even if they’ve treated us badly, or have seriously harmed and damaged us. The family’s reputation comes before our own – and is more important than our pain.
Because we’ve picked up the message that our needs have been placed at the bottom of the heap; that we’re not the kind of people who are taken seriously, and so we can’t expect understanding and justice.
Because we’ve picked up the message that no-one wants to hear negative things or complaints. They only want to hear happy, positive things. (“When you laugh the world laughs with you; when you cry you cry alone.”)
Because we’ve learned that society expects us to bear our burdens alone. So, it’s weak or pathetic to need, or ask, for help.
These are some of the most common reasons for keeping our heartache and trauma to ourselves. Perhaps there are reasons you can add to these – based on your personal experiences …