I am five years out from D-Day, also known as the day my husband revealed he’d been having an affair.
At the time I never thought I’d survive it. It was unlike any pain or devastation I had ever experienced before. But I did. And to my own surprise, I came out of it stronger, happier, and more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been in my life.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t remember EXACTLY what those first few months and years felt like. When you wonder if you are crazy or broken for good. If you are stupid for even considering staying – and if you will regret the time put into trying with someone who has broken your trust.
I remember searching through the thread on another Forum (now defunct which is why I started this one) looking for understanding – but even more – for a shred of hope. That someday this pain would not consume me. That THIS, a pain I didn’t deserve or ask for, would not be what my whole life became about. That I would feel good again, love again, trust again – whether with my husband or someone else.
And so for those who may be asking those questions right now – let me say this. YES, it can get better. A LOT better. At least in my personal experience and I doubt I am unique.
I’d like to pay back all the beautiful souls who helped me more than they will ever know, by spreading a little hope and light for those still struggling along this painful road.
Below I’ve listed some things I discovered/learned along the way. I am no expert and what worked for me may not work for you. But on the off chance it can help someone struggling right now, here it is.
- Everyone’s path is different. Everyone’s time frame is different. Do NOT compare yourself to anyone else. So many factors will be different from situation to situation that there is NO WAY to compare. Seemingly “unrelated” factors such as stressors at work or health concerns can have a huge impact on how much time and energy you can even give to your own healing. There is a famous quote that says “Comparison is the thief of happiness.” Believe it and STOP. Only compare your progress to YOU.
- On that same note – celebrate every little bit of progress you make. No matter how small. Did you only cry once a day this week instead of non-stop? Then congratulate yourself. Get over a trigger in less time than you expected? Fabulous! On the bad days, it will be easy to focus on what you perceive as your “failures” but DON’T. You need to believe you are getting better – albeit maybe slower than you like – or it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Don’t feel pressured by ANYONE to make any major decisions in the first few months if possible. This includes your spouse, your kids, your family, and even YOU. You need and deserve the time to cool down, ride the wave of powerful neurochemicals coursing through you right now and catch your breath. I remember I immediately wanted a divorce even though my husband wanted to reconcile. However, I was adamant and I made my WH tell his whole family and our daughter while I told all my friends and family. Two weeks later, when I realized that I wasn’t sure I wanted to throw away 20+ years of an amazingly loving, supportive marriage because my husband had lost his way during an extremely difficult time in our life, I had to deal with the fact that everyone now knew. In the heat of anger, I had made my life very public. Which sucked because I am by nature very private.
- Give yourself permission to “not know”. You may feel like you should know whether you want to stay in your marriage or leave. Your spouse may try to pressure you to make a decision – a lot of WS’ are very insecure (I’d venture to say all, hence the need for so much validation) and don’t want to say good-bye to their AP without knowing you will not leave them. They are terrified of ending up alone. For lack of a better way of putting it – too bad. The only thing I could honestly tell my husband was that I would try. As long as he did his part (which included NO CONTACT)– I would do mine. But I could make no promises on whether my efforts would be successful or not. He had to accept that there was a 50/50 shot he might put a ton of effort into loving me and healing me – and still lose me in the end. I had no way of knowing whether I could learn to trust and love as openheartedly as I had before – and we both knew I wouldn’t settle for less for the remainder of my life. What really helped me in the first year when I had no clue what I really wanted was a suggestion from another forum user. Give yourself a timeframe in which you don’t need to make a decision. It can be 6 months or a year – it doesn’t matter – just set that date in your calendar and then let yourself off the hook until that date comes up. When it does, reassess. See what progress you and your partner have made. If you still aren’t sure, set yourself another date. And so on. I had to use this method for almost 18 months before I didn’t need it anymore. But it REALLY helped.
- You need to be selfish about your own healing. In the early days, it will be amazingly difficult not to focus on your WS and/or the AP. You will be trying so hard to figure out “WHY????” that it will consume you. While this is inevitable, it’s also the single biggest hurdle to your healing. There will definitely be a time for trying to understand the “how” and “why” later. But it is not now. Right now, you need to get out of their head and focus on the one person who really deserves your attention right now – YOU. Self-care should be your number one focus. Elicit help if you need to in order to eat healthily (even if you can’t eat much get some decent nutrition because your body needs all the help it can get), take supplements designed to help the body withstand stress hormones, exercise, or walk as often as you can stand, get out in nature, spend time in your spiritual practice/prayer, basically do any positive thing that supports your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. It will pay HUGE dividends over the coming weeks and months. I cannot stress this enough. I think this was possibly the biggest contributor to my well-being.
- Expect set-backs. The sad truth is that this is not a linear journey. Every day will not be one step forward. You will go in starts and stops. Particularly in the first 18 months you will find that “good times” are OFTEN followed by bad ones. It’s common and normal in trauma, a survival strategy that doesn’t work as well now as it did in our caveman days. Read or listen to books that help you understand the process of what you are going through. It will help you feel less crazy and you can learn strategies and techniques to begin to retrain your brain into a less reactive state. This will bring an enormous amount of relief when you find yourself no longer staying in a state of hyper-vigilance. You will find that the periods between the triggers and set-backs will get farther and farther apart and you will begin to bounce back quicker and quicker over time.
- Create an arsenal of methods to distract, calm and uplift yourself. When the bad times came I found that what worked for sadness or hurt, didn’t work for anger. When I couldn’t stop obsessive thoughts, a different strategy was needed. I found that sometimes reading books on infidelity would help me stop the rumination. But other times I needed to get out with friends or watch something uplifting. But sometimes when I was so angry sitting still would have been impossible. I had to get out and ride my bike as hard as I could or practice kickboxing until I had exhausted my anger and myself. I also used many other ways to soothe my body and mind – essential oils, salt baths, Bach flower remedies, Homeopathic remedies, mantras/prayers, and on and on… try everything that makes sense to you. Over time you will figure out what works and if you practice them often enough, it will start to become a habit. Later, when this is no longer the focus of your life, you will find that these new skills of self-regulation will benefit you in every facet of your life.
- No matter what they say – this was WAY more about your partner and what was going on with them. It actually has very, very little to do with YOU. It’s a hard pill to swallow that something that can have such a devastating affect to you, could have so little to do with you. I am not saying that you may not have contributed in creating the vulnerabilities/environment that this happened within. And if you choose to rebuild the marriage there will need to be honest exploration of that. But remember – you were in that same marriage and you did not make the same decision. That is 100% on them. So in the beginning when you are wracking your brain to decide whether it was because you weren’t successful enough, skinny enough, sexy enough, good enough in bed… etc – let me assure you. YOU WERE, and ARE, enough. The person who was lacking – in communication skills, in self-regulation, in self-awareness and integrity was your partner. Not you.
- Take control of your self-worth. Do not allow someone else (even your spouse) to determine how good you feel about yourself. If you’ve been putting everyone else first and letting yourself go – now is the time to stop. Find the things that build your self-value and DO THEM. Volunteer you time to help others, commit to spending more quality time with your kids, get back in shape, learn a new skill. Fall back in love with yourself. A big part of why people make the mistake of affairs is because they need to see their worth and desirability reflected back in someone else’s eyes because they can’t find it in themselves and their spouse is distracted – by work, kids, their own stuff… life.
This trauma is debilitating and can make your self-confidence hit an all time low putting YOU in danger of making poor decisions in order to make YOU feel better, more powerful, more worthy. Don’t fall into this trap. Drinking, acting out, revenge affairs, etc. – none of it is going to make you feel better in the long run. Acting on your values, and reminding yourself of WHO YOU ARE and WHY THAT IS GREAT, is what will make you feel better – and you will be less likely to struggle with healthy boundaries because you will feel WORTHY of them.
- Whether you stay in your marriage or not, finding a place in yourself where you can finally put down the anger and the pain WILL BENEFIT you. It will, and should, take a while because anger can serve many healthy purposes – like creating boundaries, not settling for less than you deserve, etc. But there will be a time it will become self-defeating. Where it keeps you trapped. When you find that it is no longer is serving any useful purpose in your life – work to let it go. This is important for YOUR health and well-being and has nothing to do with what your WS or the AP deserve.
Do not let this experience make you into someone you are not. If you’ve never been a vengeful person, don’t become one now. It will hurt YOUR soul far more than the people you are trying to hurt. It is giving them the power to CHANGE you and no one has that right. No one. Write out a list of who you are or want to be – the attributes (kind, generous, a good friend, an amazing parent – whatever.) It may even include things that feel really far away right now (light-hearted, fun-loving) – put them on the list anyway. This is your road map back to yourself. When making decisions, ask yourself if it betrays any of these core values/attributes. If it does DON’T DO IT. If you fail at this at first, be kind to yourself – it is understandable – but keep trying to remind yourself of WHO YOU ARE. This is for you. Again, it may seem like it benefits your WS or the AP because you may choose not to seek revenge, or poison your kids against them, etc. But don’t let that stop you. Don’t be so determined to hurt them that you drink the poison. Make YOU your first and last allegiance right now. In time you will be REALLY happy you did.
There is a lot more to this journey, but I think these are some of the keys that kept me (somewhat) sane and on the road to where I am now – happy, healthy – feeling like myself again.
Is it forgotten? Hell no. But it does not hold me back from my life or my enjoyment of it. Other than coming here and helping others, I rarely think about it.
In many ways, I like and value the person I am even more now than before. I know what I am made of – and it is strong stuff. I weathered a storm (okay, a tsunami) and rather than let it harden me into someone angry and bitter – I let it soften me and make me more compassionate and more kind. But I’m no saint and there were some angry, bitter moment in this journey – I just resolved not to STAY in that place.
While I will NEVER say I am thankful for what happened – I am thankful for who I’ve become. That is a LOT to be grateful for, and proud of.
I wish you peace on this painful journey.