Why “How Could You Do This to Me?” Is the Wrong Question to Ask

I was a playlist on repeat.

“How could he do this to me?” I wailed to my dad as he made sure I was restrained by the seatbelt before racing off to the airport to escort me to the ruins of my once-placid life.

“How could he do this to me?” I cried to my mom, recalling how she always stated she found comfort in knowing that my husband looked after me.

“How could you do this me?” I whimpered on my husband’s voicemail as he continued to avoid my calls. I screamed it into the phone hours later.

“How could you do this me?” I carved into my journal imagining I was carving into his flesh instead.

“How could you do this to me?” I keened silently from the cold courtroom chair as I scanned his face for any sign of the man I had loved.

It seemed like the most pressing question. Holding an elusive answer just out of reach that, once found, would make sense of the senseless pain. I struggled to comprehend how someone that had only recently professed his love could instead act with such apparent malice.

The question consumed me. Engulfed me. Propelled me.

But all along, it was the wrong question to ask.

—–

It’s a normal question. We personalize. Internalize. When we’re feeling the impact of somebody’s actions, we can’t unfeel them. And those emotions are struggling to understand as our expectations are rudely slammed into an undesired reality.

It’s also a pointless question. One that rarely gets answered and even more infrequently, answered with any truth and clarity.

Because the reality is that the person didn’t act with the intention of doing this to you. Instead, they acted for them.

And you just happened to be in their way.

 

Here are the questions to ask instead:

What did they have to gain by doing this? What discomfort did they seek to avoid?

I was actually relieved when I discovered that my husband had committed bigamy. It was the first moment when I realized that his actions said way more about him than about me. It gave me a glimpse into his hidden world, where he was trying to escape the shame of a failed business and was trying to create a fictitious world where he was successful. Yes, he lied to me. But he lied more to avoid facing the truth himself. I was able to see his actions from his perspective, each choice either serving to bring him enjoyment or to offer him relief.

People act to move towards pleasure or, even more frequently, to move away from pain. Take yourself out of the picture for a moment. What did they have to gain from their actions? How did their choices help them avoid discomfort?

Yes, it’s selfish to act for your own benefit without considering others. And being selfish may be their character flaw. But selfish is a sign that they acted without regard for you not that they sought to do this to you.

Understanding their motivations goes a long way towards releasing the anger. It doesn’t excuse their choices. But it does help to unravel them and in turn, release you.

Why did I not notice? Why did I allow this?

Disorienting is an understatement. I stood in the property impound room beneath the police station as the policeman pulled out my husband’s everyday workbag. Inside, there was a wallet I had never seen filled with cards that were foreign. A camera soon followed, a duplicate of the one he had in his other life. The entire bag was a mix of the achingly familiar and the shockingly new.

I was confronted with the reality that my husband had been living a duplicitous life for years. Maybe even ALL of our years. And I had been clueless.

His actions were his problem. My ignorance was mine.

If you were decieved and manipulated, dig into the reasons that you were blind to reality. Like me, were you too afraid to face the truth and so you didn’t look too closely? Or were you pretending that all was okay and distracting yourself to maintain the illusion?

If you knew that you were being treated badly, why did you tolerate it? Had you been taught in childhood that you were lucky to receive any attention, even if it was negative? Were you afraid of being alone, opting for the devil you know?

These are big questions and ones often rooted in childhood or in trauma.It’s worth spending time here (maybe with the help of a counselor), especially if you want to avoid a repeat.

What am I feeling now? Is it all directly related or is some of it associated with past trauma being triggered?

I was on a mission. I ran background reports. I combed through scraps of paper and old pay stubs looking for any relevant information. I triangulated his whereabouts using our checking account and used Google Earth to get a street view of his other wife’s home. I had one goal – to see him face the legal consequences for his actions.

It was all ultimately a distraction. If I focused on the detective work and the state of the pending legal action, I didn’t have to focus on me. On my pain. And on what I was going to do about it.

Are you focusing in the wrong direction? Maybe you’re busy attacking the other woman instead of looking at your marriage. Perhaps you’re busy going on the offensive for your day in court so that you don’t have to look within your own courtyard.

Be with your feelings. All of them. Even the ugly ones. Listen to them and then you can send them on their way.

Once I invited my feelings in, I was surprised to realize how much of my pain was only tangentially related to my husband’s disappearance. And how much was related to my own father’s perceived disappearance many years before.

It was an opportunity. A crossroads.

I could either ignore this triggered response only to have it return later.

Or I could address it. And work to understand how it impacted my adult choices and behaviors.

Stuff was done to you. What you do with it is up to you.

How will this impact me going forward? What do I need to do to move on?

“I need to find a way to make some good come from this,” I stated in a moment of profound clarity on the day I received the text that ended my life as I knew it. I had no idea how I was going to make that happen, but I knew on some level that creating something positive was going to be my key to survival. To thriving.

I had no idea just how hard that road was going to be. That even seven years on, I would still struggle to differentiate between true threats and echoes of the past. I have had to become an expert on my own healing, learning my triggers and becoming a master at disarming them.

Become a specialist in you. Explore your trouble spots and experiment with ways to strengthen them until you find what works. Be attentive to you. Be proactive. Be determined.

This is a defining moment in your life. You decide what it defines.

How can I avoid being in this position again? What are my lessons I need to learn?

A part of me – a BIG part of me – was surprised to see my fairly new boyfriend at the airport to pick me up. I had assumed that since my husband deemed it suitable to abandon me while I was visiting family, a recent beau would certainly follow suit.

I was operating from a place where abandonment was presumed. And if that mindset persisted, so would the discarding.

Instead of focusing on what happened, shift your attentions to what you can learn from what happened. They’re hard lessons, I know. The most important lessons always are.

Your power comes from choosing how you respond. And every bad moment is an opportunity to learn to respond a little better.

How can I turn this into a gift?

When I look at my life now, I am profoundly grateful for what happened years ago. I’m thankful for the shock. For the pain. For the confusion. For the anger. Because all of that has led to a much better place – a much happier place – than I could have ever imagined.

This is a hard question. Perhaps the hardest.

It seems impossible when you’re choking on the pain that it can actually help you learn to breathe. But it can.

Be patient. And be persistent.

Because finding the gifts hidden beneath is the best gift you can give yourself.

So that one day, instead of saying, “How could you do this to me?” you can say –

Thank you for doing this to me.

And mean it.

 

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28 thoughts on “Why “How Could You Do This to Me?” Is the Wrong Question to Ask

  1. Thank you for this post it’s one of many I have read during my own painful divorce which has/is taken forever! I love that I have proof not only that “this too shall pass” but that the best is yet to come! It is so easy to say and feel “yeah right!” I will never bounce back. I am not at the “thank you point” but can’t wait to get there.

  2. Funny the statement “How could you do this me?” has been a recurring theme in my head lately…Though my brain keeps modifying the statement, and I’ve been dragging this self inflicting wound around… consuming brain power!

    I hope I do get to that point where do say: “Thank you for doing this to me!”

  3. Thank you so much for this post. It is exactly what I needed to hear today. Your book and blog have been an amazing source of comfort and inspiration for me in the past few weeks. I am grateful for your experience and wisdom.

  4. Great post, thank you! I started coming out in hives from head to toe at the non acceptance of my divorce. I locked myself in my room with paper and pen and determination to get to the bottom of what my pain was all about and I came up with a process which turned my view around, I have never gone back to that pain since that day, not in victim mode anyway, maybe with a bit of sadness about what is, but no more inner struggle. I have taken responsibility for my own life and shifted blame and forgiven my spouse, so I am no longer bound by the torment of why me. I even landed up writing a book on my process in the hopes that I can help others to become unstuck. I do feel that the experience has taught me so much and that the lessons in these painful times are so deep and profound. If you ask the right questions you will get the right answers.

  5. Wow, it is incredible just how relevant this is to me right now. I have recently been trying to cones to terms with a betrayal and am struggling to let it go. I actually wrote about it a few days ago:
    https://lovelaughtertruthblog.com/2016/06/29/the-hurt-business-love-betrayal-deceit/

    I’m convinced I’m on a path to something better and learning valuable lessons but the pain and deceit is still difficult to accept and move on from. Thank you!

  6. excellent post. There is no way anyone could have convinced me anything good would ever come from the intense pain I was feeling 6 years ago. But I too, took the opportunity to honestly look at myself and find my true self. I have found an inner peace I never thought possible and I wouldn’t change a thing from my past because it brought me here. It was a hell of a ride getting here though! Forgiveness? for myself yes, for my ex, not so much. I don’t hate him, but forgiveness would require me to care. I am thankful that my healing brought me here.

  7. This is very powerful! I forgave my ex almost a year ago and it has been a freeing experience. Things are not perfect, he still doesn’t communicate about our kids well, but I am hopeful that one day we will be able to co-parent effectively.

    The whole time I read this is kept thinking of Adele’s new song, “Send My Love to Your New Lover”. It’s about forgivness, and wishing your ex to treat the person s/he is with better than previous lovers. It seems to go along with this post very well.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insight.

  8. “Music is my radar.” So songs Blur.
    Lisa is my radar. So says me.

    So much I could comment about but the part about you being surprised when your new boyfriend picked you up at the airport resonated heavily with me.

    Bob had traveled a lot and I always drove him to the airport and was there to pick him up. ( And this man was the king of delayed and cancelled flights…) I just never knew any other way. I thought that’s what people did. Actually, I didn’t even really think about it. It was just normal to me.

    The very first trip he took, I drove him to the airport, he actually had tears in his eyes. When he was growing up and also during his two marriages, which together totaled of a little more than 20 years, he told me no one ever saw him off or greeted him home from a trip. Never.

    And I know he always told me he had abandonment issues, and went into it somewhat, but maybe if he had been in therapy on a more consistent basis he could have gotten some help.
    Maybe we would still be together.

    It’s so ironic how someone with abandonment issues can abandon their children.
    How can someone who would cry to me about feeling unwanted and unloved for his whole life, spin on a dime after swearing I was his soulmate and he was the luckiest man alive, have an affair and leave?

    I know, unanswered questions. Questions without answers. Ever.

    It’s been more than three years. And I just know in my heart that I will never be able to say I am thankful for this experience.

    I am however thankful for you. xo

    1. A person who has been or felt abandoned in their past or childhood is prone to do the same to loved ones in their life because it is WHAT THEY KNOW. They are used to it, it is their comfort level. Like a person raised in a chaotic home often seeks or creates Chaos because they feel uneasy when things are quiet.

  9. Thank you. I came across this post at just the right time–when I feel like I’m finally beginning to turn the corner. I’m turning away from a focus on *her* and *her* actions, and back toward *me* and my responsibility to my two boys. This situation sucks, but I need to focus on finding my own way through it, and that’s not going to get done by being stuck on blame.

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