I empathize with the trials you and your family face. Yesterday, today, tomorrow, thousands of people have already or will enter a similar circumstance. Some will come as a surprise and live closer than you might imagine, while others will connect from afar. No matter the distance, we are neighbors in grief, and allies in healing.
The details vary, yet the foundation upon which an affair occurs is fairly consistent। What I have come to understand is that the infidelity has nothing to do with the spouse, and everything to do with the adulterer. And, though we may acknowledge this truth academically, the emotional element of the self often creates a deep, inner doubt. Doubts that often undermine how we feel about ourselves as a spouse, as a friend, as a woman (or a man), as a mother… Some of these conflicts will be resolved quickly, while others will nag at us for what seems like much too long to come…
Neither the level of our pain nor the outcome of our healing will be determined by our social status, our education, nor by any one of our individual traits, really. Our five facets–the academic, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual elements–blend together seamlessly. And though we may use one of these elements to propel us forward in healing, the end result will be a collaboration of all that comprises us.
My therapist once said to me that “there is too much emphasis placed on the affair.” It is as if the affair becomes the bull’s-eye of our relationship with our spouse and with our self. And though the affair is the cause of the current conflict, it is just that; the catalyst to the affair needs to be targeted, for therein lies details that can help bring about a better understanding, and afford us powerful insight and knowledge. Untangling the academic from the emotional is one of our greatest hurdles, yet one of the most useful instruments in healing.
This task of discerning the separate entities that comprise your grief may be convoluted by public scrutiny. The truth is, as you well know, that people talk. Regardless of national attention, small town gossip, or chatter amongst a small circle of friends, rumor, speculation, and dissection of our lives exists. And it doesn’t matter if it is an affair, a physical tension, an outright verbal fight, or a seemingly trouble-free relationship. Even in what is perceived as “the perfect couple or family,” people analyze… For some reason, however, it’s the “dirty laundry” that is hung from every natter’s flagpole… Nevertheless, any doubt, fear, humiliation, sadness or stigma we experience would exist no matter our circumstance.
Below is a September 2006 journal excerpt, written two days after I uncovered my husband’s second affair. I added it as an end note to a body of work I created once I had resolved inner conflicts I endured after the unexpected death of my firstborn, two miscarriages, hospitalization for depression, and a subsequent affair between my husband and one of my best friends. This first woman was a person whom also happened to be someone I employed, someone I entrusted my fears and doubts to, someone I welcomed into my home and into my heart, someone I encouraged my husband and children to embrace…an occurrence much more common than we wish to believe…
“Today, I face a new challenge in my life. To my utter dismay, I discovered, two days ago, that my husband has once again been unfaithful.
“You are not alone.
“When the initial, gut-wrenching shock wore off, mere hours after my discovery, I realized how strong I have become these past years. I remembered everything I’ve shared with you in this book. I cried on my friends’ shoulders until I felt my soul had been emptied. But by the end of that night, I also realized that his brief sexual rendezvous with another woman had absolutely nothing to do with me. Nothing.
“I know not where our marriage will go from here. But I do know this: I have considered Warren one of my best friends for twenty years. I believe his remorse is genuine, and as such, I must remain loyal to our friendship. I must help him realize that this sort of behavior bodes ill for his personal well-being and for that of any relationship to come.
“I don’t hate him, but I do hate the pain his actions have brought me. Nonetheless, I still love him. From this point forward, our relationship will be different. The original, emotional attachment is no longer intact; yet, no matter what, he will remain a friend, be it in divorce or in a marriage that will adapt to the changes.
“Initially I cried over this written story, my messages of hope, courage, triumph, and perseverance. I bawled as I asked my friend, ‘How can I still publish my book when my marriage has been nothing but an illusion? How can I inspire hope and courage in others when my life has returned to this sordid mess?’
“As angry as she is at Warren for hurting me so deeply, she replied, ‘This is a ‘for worse.’
“She is right. This challenge is a “for worse.” And this I know: My marriage hasn’t been an illusion. This situation is a tornado in my life. The winds will die down, the dust will settle, and we will begin to rebuild a new life. A different life.
“I often tell my children: ‘Life is what you make of it.’
“I choose to begin each day anew. Warren has sought the help of a professional. Warren and I remain in the same house, but in separate beds. We take time out of every busy day to discuss the issues we face. I talk (Yes. I’ve screamed a few times… Okay. More than a few times.) Warren listens. Warren talks. I listen.
“No matter the outcome of my marriage, I will be okay। Better than okay. I have faith in my strength, confidence in my courage to move forward despite the turmoil, and the ability to celebrate the marriage that existed prior to this upheaval.
“The merry-go-round of my life, with all of its upswings and downturns, continues… One day at a time.
“I am not alone.”
What I can tell you, nearly five years later, is that the initial shock I speak of turned out to be layered, as is the case following distressing events. I guess you might say those words, written two days after I uncovered his second sordid dalliance, were the first following a sort of Groundhog Day sticker shock.
Like an ocean, the realizations came in waves, as equally rewarding and subtle as they were random and staggering।
I was blessed beyond measure with a therapist who helped me realize that my husband’s affairs did not diminish or discount his love for me। His gaffes did not mean my marriage of seventeen years had been a sham. The two actions–loving me and breaking our wedding vows– were as autonomous as night and day. Pairing the two is ever so easy, yet so counterproductive to healing.
That early knowledge was also crucial in helping me in my role as Mom। The one issue tantamount to my healing was the well being of my three children. Though the error of his ways placed him in a pool of lousy spouses, his marital mistakes did not change who he was as a father. Loving the father while loathing the partner is difficult at best, but it is imperative that we do not place our children in front of the proverbial moving bus.
The road to healing is a long journey, one where the topography resembles a California highway when the poppies are in bloom: on one side is the most luscious landscape, the most vivid hues we’ll ever witness, while the other side of the road is similar to life without nurture, it is dried up, the vegetation brown and seemingly dead।
The way of this passage will be detailed with stretches of smooth, flat surface and runs of hilly, choppy, shifting terrain। The atmosphere will shift from thick to thin, from hot to cold, from stormy to still… When you remember to breathe, to notice the scenery’s beauty, the turbulence will settle, affording you respite along the way…
May your coming days be blessed with moments of vibrant color and clarity…may courage be your constant companion…may the love of family and friends lift you up। And may you know that, whether your name is Maria, Elizabeth, Sandra, Shania, or Person Next Door, you are not alone…