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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

After Being Cheated On: Distinguishing Between Fears and Warnings

“I never want to go through that again,”

I think we all say after being cheated on once we’re through the initial whitewater of the discovery that bashes us upon the rocks. We examine our memories for the missed clues about the affair and we scan the horizon carefully, looking for signs of another impending discovery. 

In some ways, we’re more equipped to spot the signs of trouble. After all, we’ve been down that road before. Yet in other ways, we’re handicapped by our experiences because our heightened fears can have a tendency to see trouble where it doesn’t exist.

It’s a scary place to be after being cheated on, where you’re wondering if it’s happening again while at the same time you’re doubting your own judgment. 

The following can help you determine if what you’re seeing is a genuine warning or if your fear of being cheated on is whispering falsehoods into your ears:

 

1 – Get Out of Fight or Flight

It is impossible to distinguish between a legitimate threat and a harmless – yet painful – echo from the past when you’re emotionally elevated.

Take a step back. 

When you’re in this state, your brain interprets everything as a threat. Before you can determine if the danger is real or imagined, you have to first calm and connect your body and your mind. Go for a walk. Engage in your favorite hobby or activity. Get some sleep. 

If it is still bothering you when your body is no longer in fight or flight, it is something that needs to be addressed.

 

2 – Be Mindful of Your Energy

After being cheated on, we often go to one extreme or the other, where we either obsessively look for evidence that it is happening again or we bury our heads in the sand, afraid of what we might see if we look too carefully. 

Both approaches can be deceptive as they either minimize or amplify the information that you have. 

Ideally, you want to be between those two states, where your eyes are open yet you’re not peering into every crevice looking for the monster that you imagine is there. 

 

3 – Avoid Listening to Too Many Voices

One of the more painful realizations I had after discovering my ex-husband’s betrayal was that I had allowed myself to trust him more than I trusted myself. (Hello, gaslighting). And one of the best silver linings of being cheated on was learning to trust my own voice again. 

It’s natural to want to reach out to others to either validate or explain away your suspicions. But too many voices can muddle what is already unclear. Remember that they are hearing this through your filter and then adding on their own motivations of not wanting to see you hurt. 

Sometimes the best thing to do is allow our own voice the time and space to speak and to listen without passing judgment. 

 

4 – Weigh Both Your Intuition and the Evidence

When properly tuned, our guts are quite an impressive lie-detecting instrument. Yet being cheated on often has them out of tune, playing discordant notes regardless of the stimulus. 

On the other hand, waiting until the evidence piles up and crushes you isn’t ideal either. 

Listen to your gut, but don’t believe everything it has to say. Consider both your intuition and the facts. When they’re in alignment, it’s time to listen.

 

5 – Choose Your Approach Carefully

If all of the above indicate that it’s time to have a conversation, be mindful of your approach. If the evidence is subtle, state what you’re feeling and seeing without immediately becoming accusatory. 

Opening with the assumption of cheating will only prompt a defensive posture that will try to protect at all costs. If you’re looking for truth, you have to give it space to come out. 

 

When the wounds from being cheated on are still fresh, you’re naturally guarded and distinguishing between fears and warnings is quite challenging. With time and practice, you’ll become better at discerning the difference and your trust in your own perceptions will grow. 

 

 

 

 

A Win, a Lose and a Dawning Realization

I’m not sure what happened to September. Or August. Or July, for that matter.

Between the Groundhog Day-esque nature of COVID-era living and the magnitude of the work required to teach both remotely and in-person, the days have both been endless and indistinguishable: walk, work, cry, workout, work, sleep, repeat. During the tearful moments, I would tell myself, “You just need to make it to fall break.”

And I made it.

The Win

Thanks to being raised by a counselor-mom, I’m pretty good about boundaries in my personal life. But I struggle (i.e. completely suck) at them when it comes to work. And this year, with so much of my job intruding into my evenings and weekends with the never-ending needs of the kids, I’ve been even worse about drawing hard lines. But as my mental health plummeted and my anxiety sky-rocketed, I knew how important it was for me to truly step away.

I spent the first Saturday of the break grading the tests that came in overnight, posting answer keys to the assessment, creating and posting retests and answering questions. Then, I logged off and closed every single work-related window on my computer. Within an hour, I realized I forgot to disable notifications on my phone when, in rapid succession, I get the following messages:

“Mrs. Arends – I need to talk to you.”

“I want to… How do I do this?”

“Can you please answer me?”

“Hello???”

I turned off notifications and went for a trail run where I talked myself out of responding to the message thread (and secretly wondering how long it would be by the time I decided to respond).

The next day, my husband, the pups and I packed up and went to stay at a cabin in North Georgia for a few days. Despite the rain and the pain (more on that soon), it was glorious. My big morning commute was to the hot tub, where I enjoyed the sounds of the rain on the metal roof and indulgently read one of several books that I brought. After a real hike on the first day, we were relegated to exploring the local roads on subsequent days because of the downpours. We both remembered staying in that area before, so we enjoyed searching for the cabin we stayed in previously (we never found it, but that didn’t lessen the enjoyment of the hunt). The dogs were awesome and got to enjoy lots of time off-leash just being dogs, exploring and sniffing.

And even though we had great WI-FI, even though my husband had to spend the majority of one day working and even though I was feeling anxious about work, I never checked my work messages until we returned back home yesterday:)

The Lose

From January to July, I was doing so well with my career-change goals. I decided what I wanted to do, I committed significant time each week to study, I worked to silence the “You can’t do this” voice and I even navigated changes to my plan based on the fallout from COVID.

And then July happened.

It’s now been almost 10 weeks since I’ve done any coding or studied any math for my new career. There are a variety of factors, some more prevalent than others on any given day: available time, available brain-power and motivation. Even though this has been an agreed-upon plan, whenever my husband mentions something about this being my last year in the classroom, I get angry. Angry, because I again feel stuck.

I know that my mindset right now is the biggest thing keeping me stuck. It’s a story I’m telling myself and I even wonder if my current lack of motivation is my passive-aggressive subconscious way of recruiting evidence to support my narrative.

I’m scared to log in to the websites I was using to teach myself (I can’t even remember the name of the program I was last using right now; how on earth can I expect to remember how to write a for-loop???). I’m worried that if I don’t balance the demands of the school year with time off-computer that I won’t make it until May. But most of all, I’m afraid to try at this new thing and fail.

But I fired fear as my life coach when my first husband walked out of the door.

Growth is messy. Learning is non-linear. Change is scary.

And none of that means impossible.

The Dawning Realization

For the last three years, my lady-parts have hated me. There are a variety of reasons (I feel like with every ultrasound I have, another malady has been invited to the party). Basically, I’m just waiting for menopause to turn the lights off and send all of those uninvited guests away.

Most months, it’s hardly noticeable apart from a miserable 24 hours or so.

But some months, it flares, swelling my midsection until it’s hard to breath and turning my pelvis into some twisted art exhibit where screws repeatedly tighten metal cables strung across in random patterns.

And with this being my fall break, guess what kind of month it is:(

But I’m not going to whine about the pain.

I’m going to talk about how amazing my husband is and by extension, what I realized about my ex.

As a child-free married couple who has been very busy these past several weeks, we both went into this week with certain expectations about couple-time. When the flare-up began to build on the day we left, I grew increasingly frustrated and in denial (“I’m fine,” I kept insisting, as if I could speak it into existence). But my husband never got upset or disappointed (and he only had to scan my face to call BS on my “fine”). His only reaction has been concern for me. He clearly put my physical comfort above his desires.

It made me reflect back on a time in my early 20s when I had shingles in a very unfortunate location. My then-husband was attentive and nurturing, taking me to doctor’s appointments and fetching the ice and medication when I needed them. Yet, even though on the surface he was loving, he still clearly put his desires above my physical comfort. Which, in retrospect, was how he was in all areas – a great exterior hiding a rather dark and secret interior. Blech.

With all of the uncertainty in the world right now, I am beyond grateful that my first husband chose to leave. He is definitely not the one I want by my side when things are hard. In contrast, I now feel like my husband and I are a team. Even when one of us is struggling, we are strong together.

 

 

 

 

Focus On Where You Want to Be, Not Where You Fear Ending Up

I just couldn’t seem to get it right.

My body was in the correct position. My muscles were contracted. But every time I tried to find my balance, I would wobble and fall back onto my feet.

“Maybe you just can’t do crow pose,” I told myself.

“Bullshit,” I replied.

For months, I kept trying. During one practice session, I grabbed a pillow off my couch, placed it on the floor in front of me and promptly nailed the pose. never even coming close to face-planting in the pillow.

Curious, I removed the pillow and tried again.

No bueno.

It was then I realized the role that pillow was playing. Because the pillow was uncomfortably close to my face, I craned my neck slightly and shifted my gaze forward. Without the pillow, I was looking down at the ground, which was exactly the place I feared ending up.

 

Focus on where you want to be, not where you fear ending up.

 

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Yet, it’s far from easy.

We all have a tendency to put our focus – our energy – on those things that we fear.

And much like a new driver who instinctively steers into an adjacent lane when looking in the sideview mirror, we tend to move in the direction of our focus.

Where are you looking?

 

 

 

 

 

8 Surefire Ways to Drive Yourself Crazy Trying to Get Someone to Change

It seems so clear – if they would just change in that one small (or not-so-small) way, everything would be better. You’ve tried one tactic after another, convinced that the right strategy will be the key to unlocking their potential.

Yet each attempt falls flat.

We all do this to some extent, focusing on how somebody else could mold just a little better to our needs. And in the context of a relationship, it’s appropriate to communicate your needs and to ask your partner to try to meet them. Yet, we don’t always go about this in the most productive way.

The following are common strategies that we use to try to change others that often backfire:

1 – Wanting Them to Change

It’s amazing how easy it is to tell ourselves stories about other people’s desires and motivations. We can so easily confuse our desire for them to change with an interest in their part on engaging in transformation.

 

2 – Loving Them Harder

This is one you see so often with addicts as their loved ones try to give them everything in an attempt to out-love their compulsions. Yet even though love provides the security to anchor oneself in order to grow, love on its own does not create growth.

 

3 – Making Yourself Smaller

When the other person’s personality is strong or they have a tendency to respond in anger, it can be tempting to shrink in order to avoid prompting outrage. Yet no matter how carefully you tiptoe on those eggshells, you cannot prevent their reactions.

 

4 – Begging

Maybe they didn’t hear you the first time (or ten times). Or perhaps, they didn’t understand that this is important. What feels like reminding on your side can easily feel like nagging on theirs. And nobody responds well to that.

 

5 – Giving an Ultimatum

There’s an important distinction to be made here between ultimatums and boundaries. An ultimatum says, “If you don’t do x, I will do y.” An ultimatum is a threat to the other person.

In contrast, a boundary says, “x is important to me. Do you think you can help make that happen?” And then if the boundary is crossed, “x is important to me. I need to do y to protect that.” A boundary is keeping a promise to yourself.

 

6 – Comparing Them to Others

Comparison rarely inspires growth. Instead, it breeds insecurity and contempt. In order to change, a person needs to first feel accepted and safe. Comparison is the enemy of that.

 

7 – Shaming Them

Shame often has the opposite effect of what is intended. The teenager who is shamed by her parents for her excess weight sneaks extra snacks at school with an, “I’ll show them” attitude. Shame leads to the digging in of heels and secrecy, neither of which are good for any relationship.

 

8 – Tell Them They’re Wrong

Their view or approach is different than yours. That doesn’t automatically mean that it is wrong. An overly dismissive approach leads to a situation with a “winner” and a “loser.” Change happens when it’s approached as a problem for both to solve.

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