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. Needing information, I ran background reports. I combed through scraps of paper and old pay stubs looking for any relevant information. Driven, 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. And most of all, 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. And even 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.