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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

Learning to Trust Again

It is easier to assume a protective stance than it is to trust that you can relax out of it.

 

Just over a year ago, we were advised, that for the safety of all, we should makes our worlds small. “No problem,” I thought, ” I can do small.”

Almost 12 years ago, I received a text that was like looking through a pinhole, reducing my world to only the next moment. Senses were dulled, the ability to think, erased. It was breath by breath.

 

And so, like others around the world, I cut out unnecessary physical contact, approached the grocery store as cautiously as a poison ivy infested garden bed, and crossed the street whenever I encountered another another person while walking.

After learning that the one person I trusted with my inner self had betrayed me in the worst way possible, everything became a threat. Nothing was safe. The world became unfamiliar and hostile. I curled up tightly within myself in an attempt to avoid further harm.

 

The world contracted. And even while grieving the loss of normal life and facing the anxieties about the unknowns of this pandemic (which were quite numerous in the spring of 2020), there was comfort in the absolutes. Stay home and stay safe. 

I had a singular focus in navigating the legal system, seeing a favorable outcome in the courts as a sort of salve for my pain and confusion. It felt good to have something to fixate on. I made me feel as though I had some sort of control in a world that had gone mad.

 

I was fortunate to be able to work from home through the spring. But come July, that changed as we went back to school with around half of our students in person. After months not getting within 10 feet of anyone other than my husband, I had to lean in close to teach 6th graders how to open lockers and to show 8th graders where their equation veered into nonsense. 

After weeks without sleeping or eating, I accepted that I would need to ask for help. To allow some people in. My world grew slightly bigger, but the walls stayed just as reinforced.

 

It took weeks for my body to adapt to the new environment. As a middle school teacher, I’m used to being on alert – for cheating, for tears after a breakup or argument with a parent, for fights, even for shootings, but I didn’t know how to be alert to something invisible. Since we were one of the first schools to go back in person, there was not much data on what to expect. I find comfort in risk-assessment, so this void was quite scary early on. 

I knew to be wary of dangerous men – the aggressive ones who yell and hit and threaten. I had no idea that some of the most dangerous people are the ones that gently hold you and whisper their declarations of love.

 

All around me, I saw people acting as if Covid didn’t exist. At the same time, I knew firsthand of others that refused to step foot outside their home even to visit the mailbox. And from both extremes, ones who got sick. Very sick. Meanwhile, the media alternated between, “We’re all going to die!” and “This is government’s way of controlling you.” Every voice seemed to hold some element of truth, but it was hard to sort the facts from the filler. 

My husband painted me as a horrible wife, unfaithful and unable to stop spending money. He spoke of a miserable and disconnected marriage. His version of our lives crashed into what I had lived. I desperately searched for the hard evidence to refute the lies he spread in an attempt to purify his own image. Even with evidence in hard, it was hard to know what to believe.

 

Eventually, I found a comfortable sort of compartmentalization – at work, pretend that everything is normal and outside of work, avoid any unneeded physical contact. Like many others, I eventually got sick, spending Christmas holed up in my office while my husband slipped sweet notes under my door. For weeks after, immense fatigue made my world smaller still as I struggled to get off the couch. 

I tried to merge the memories of the man I loved with the current reality. I questioned whether any of it was real. Eventually, I settled on the belief that there was the man I married and the man he became. A compartmentalization that brought some peace.

 

Finally, the weather warmed. Life stirred. A small needle introduced into my shoulder offered promises of normal. But after months of assuming that I can catch – and carry – this invisible threat, it’s hard to trust that it’s safer now. The data are still new and the messages are still conflicting. I find myself wishing that I had a LCD display on my arm that would show current immunity level as well as current risk. 

Eventually, the acute phase passed. I wanted love again. But it was hard to trust. I examined each date carefully for signs of potential threat, quickly retreating at even the slightest indication.

 

And so now I maintain my protective stance while slowly lowering my guard. “There are no guarantees of safety”, I tell myself. “Yes,” I respond, “But don’t be a fool.” I am learning to trust again.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Not You, It’s Them: 10 Signs You’re NOT the Reason They Cheated

Even though our heads know we’re not the reason they cheated, sometimes our hearts can get confused.

We wonder why we weren’t enough for them. We hear their words blaming us for making them vulnerable to an affair. And we even face accusations from others, accusing us of doing (or not doing) something that caused them to stray.

Yet no matter what you did or didn’t do, no matter the issues in the relationship, you are NOT the reason they cheated.

Here are 10 signs that it’s not you, it’s them –

 

1 – They Have Had Multiple Affairs

When a person has multiple affairs, they are often searching for something outside of themselves to fill something missing inside of themselves. Because this is a fruitless hunt, they keep looking for the “right” person to make them feel whole and alive. In this case, you can’t be enough for them because nobody is enough for them.

 

2 – They Cheated in Other Relationships

Since you were variable that changed and yet the outcome remained the same, it’s very clear that you were not the cause of the affair. Apparently cheating is their default setting no matter who they promised fidelity to.

 

3 – They Did Not Disclose Any Unhappiness in the Relationship Until They Were Caught

“I haven’t been happy for a long time” is a common phrase uttered by those caught in an affair. There’s often an undercurrent of, “You should have known,” as though you should have been a mind reader. If they were unhappy with some facet of the relationship, it’s THEIR responsibility to bring it up BEFORE they make any decisions to act on their unhappiness. As a side note, often they weren’t unhappy; it’s just another excuse they tell themselves and others in an attempt to justify their behavior.

 

4 – They Use Projection to Make Assumptions About You

Are they accusing you of the very things that they have been doing? It feels horrible – and confusing – to be on the receiving end of this, but if you cut through the gaslighting, you’ll see that they are telling you what they have been up to.

 

5 – They Blame Anyone and Everything Other Than Themselves

Maybe it was a bad childhood. Or the nagging pain of an injury. Or the jerk of a boss that has it out for them. There’s always a reason and it’s never their responsibility.

 

6 – They Have a Pattern of Leaving Jobs or Friendships On Bad Terms

Do they tend to blow things up before they exit or simply walk away without a word? Those that cheat often lack the courage to have difficult conversations in a mature and healthy way.

 

7 – They Criticize Qualities in You That the Affair Partner Shares

They claim that they are not happy with you, yet they select an affair partner that mirrors you in some key ways. Either they are delusional, or those qualities they criticized in you are not really at fault here.

 

8 – They Have Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Those that cheat on their partners often exhibit unhealthy coping mechanisms in other areas of their lives. Instead of dealing with a situation head-on, they generally lean towards escapism – using substances, video games, or other people in an attempt to self-regulate.

 

9 – They Are Prone to Falling For “Quick Fixes”

Instead of digging in and having the discipline to see something through, they look for the easy road. They not only jump from one money-making scheme or weight-loss program to another, but also leap from one bed to another.

 

10 – They Have a Drive to Be Admired

They want to be liked because they do not like themselves. They thrive on that early relationship energy where they are more fantasy than reality and the affair partner is blinded by both limerence and bullshit.

 

 

 

How Could They Move On So Quickly?

My ex-husband certainly wasted no time. He didn’t even bother filing for divorce before he married his second (I’m assuming here; there could have been others) wife.

Among all of the myriad thoughts that crashed around my mind in the aftermath of the discovery, one kept popping back up to the surface,

“How could he move on so quickly?”

I just couldn’t understand how he could go from sixteen years with the same person to seemingly head-over-heels within weeks of meeting this new woman. Here he was celebrating his newfound love while I was still struggling to sleep through the night.

Of course, it was apples to oranges trying to equate my mental state at the time with his. For so many reasons, we were at different places when it came to our readiness for moving on.

The following are some of the reasons that your ex may have moved on (or appeared to move on) soon after your breakup:

 

They have pre-grieved the breakup.

In some situations, one person has known (or at least suspected) that the relationship is over long before it is pronounced terminal. In these cases, the one with the prior knowledge often begins grieving the end of the relationship months or even years before it is truly over. They may begin to withdraw, they might start to expand their social circle and hobbies to fill anticipated gaps and they have time to process the loss. They will be ready to move on before you are because they have been attending to the breakup for a longer period of time.

 

They want you to think they’ve moved on.

Sometimes moving on is an illusion, a play put on social media or spread through mutual acquaintances in an attempt to make you jealous or regretful. The urge is understandable, although childlike. It can be driven by a, “I’ll show them that I am desirable” attitude. Others try to appear moved on soon after the end of the relationship because they don’t want to be seen as “weak” by appearing affected by the breakup. These people are motivated by a need to be seen as strong.

 

They are afraid of being alone.

Some people hop from relationship to relationship like life is a rocky river crossing. They cannot stomach the thought of being alone and so they waste no time in lining up the next partner as soon as a relationship implodes. This is less “moving on” and more “grasping on;” they’ll hold onto anyone like a life raft. Learn more about the underlying issues that lead to a fear of being alone.

 

They are able to compartmentalize your relationship and the new one.

For many us, we cannot enter into a new relationship before we have fully dissected and processed the previous one. Others are able to keep those two processes more separate. It may be that your ex seems to be moving quickly because they are doing the often- invisible internal work concurrent with reentry to the dating scene.

 

They are using dating as a distraction.

Let’s face it, divorce sucks. And while you’re going through it, you’d rather think about anything else. For some, this distraction comes in the form of dating. Although this can look like they’re moved on, they’re are really using others as a bandaid to temporarily stop the pain. Early dating can also be motivated by the blow to confidence that often accompanies divorce; it’s good to feel wanted.

 

They started seeing this person before your relationship ended.

If your ex seems to have moved on quickly, it may be that they were having an affair during your relationship and now that your partnership has ended, the love interest is brought to the surface. Of course, this revelation brings with it it’s own set of problems. Betrayal is a uniquely piercing pain with long-ranging repercussions.

 

They met somebody who is a good fit for them at this point in their lives.

And here’s the hard one – maybe they have met somebody that is a good match for them. I know that can be difficult to stomach when you still might be wishing/hoping/believing that you’re that person. It’s important here to remember that not being the right person for them does not mean that you’re a bad person and it certainly does not mean that you’re not the right person for someone else. It simply means that your ex found a better match for them and now you have an opportunity to look for somebody better for you.

 

 

In my ex’s case, he knew that the end was approaching and so had time to process the divorce long before it happened. He was having affairs and so his other wife was lined up and ready to go. And, from what I learned, she was a good fit for him at the time – trusting, nomadic and in possession of a decent credit score.

In time, I no longer questioned how he could move on so quickly. Instead, I got busy with moving on myself with a sense of gratitude that she helped to take him out of my life and far away.

 

How to Ease the Torment of Infidelity

Finding out that your partner has cheated is a special kind of hell. From the incessant questions that plague your uneasy mind to the sense of rejection and unworthiness, an affair causes pain like no other.

It was only later, once I had gained some perspective on that period in my own life, when I realized that I was unintentionally doing some things that made my torment even worse.

Could you be doing the same and not even realize it?

One of most common side effects of being betrayed is an obsessive drive. This can take the form of wanting to hear every little detail about the affair or the affair partner. It can manifest as a relentless need to analyze the marriage and cheating spouse. Perhaps it takes the form of a fanatical attempt to perform CPR on a struggling marriage.

Regardless of the form, these compulsive thoughts and actions only serve to magnify the torment of infidelity. Fortunately, you do not have to allow these obsessive tendencies to take root and thrive. By making sense of why you’re responding that way, you can begin to find new ways to cope that don’t make you feel even more miserable.

Busyness

Infidelity is an ugly pain. And one we would rather not face. Often, the obsessions act as a distraction from the true issues at hand. This is often the case when the betrayed spouse becomes a self-appointed private investigator tasked with finding out every little detail about the affair partner.

This need for knowledge is driven less by necessity and more by a fear of looking at the cheating spouse and the troubled marriage. The problem is that when we try too hard to avoid something, we unwittingly give it too much power over us. Busyness may keep you from exploring the pain head-on, but it also prolongs the pain as its presence is always felt.

Slow down. Allow yourself to feel. Breathe and trust that you’ll be able to handle whatever emotions come your way.

Control

 

Being cheated on is like discovering that you’ve been a blindfolded passenger in a runaway train. And a common reaction to this discovery is an intense need to control everything. This relentless drive can manifest in a variety of ways, from an obsession with a new diet or exercise program to an overwhelming urge to know every detail about your spouse’s location and actions.

There is some comfort felt initially by exerting this control. It makes the world feel a little less scary and a little more predictable. Ultimately, however, this need for control becomes it own source of misery because control always has its limitations.

Rather than trying to keep the unknown from ever happening, strive to build your faith and confidence in yourself. You may not be able to stop it from occurring, but you can survive it.

Purpose

 

One of the cruelest aspects of infidelity is that the unfaithful spouse holds most of the power – they can decide if they want to end the affair or continue to pursue it, they can commit to working on the marriage or they can elect to keep hiding behind lies and misdirection.

And a sense of purpose helps to counteract the awful feeling of waiting. Purpose in life is important. It gives us a reason to keep going even when the going gets tough. It gives us a sense of the bigger picture and the connection between ourselves and others.

After an affair, purpose is often misappropriated. What feels important is really just noise and the all-consuming drive can overwhelm. Obsessive purpose often mutates, taking on a life of its own. And taking over your life with it.

Rather than making the affair and its components your focus, shift your purpose to yourself and your own wellbeing. Put your energy into making you better. That’s never a waste.

Understanding

 

I think every betrayed spouse utters the words, “How could you do this?” at least once. And the need to understand why and how can easily become a neurotic obsession. A belief that once that question is answered, everything will again make sense and moving on can begin to happen.

Yet the truth is that no explanation will ever suffice. There is no reason that will excuse the pain or the betrayal. And strangely enough, accepting this can lead to a place where you are able to view the entire marriage and affair with a more rational eye, which is where you can find some insight into the particular environment that allowed this betrayal to grow.

Understanding doesn’t happen when you aggressively demand it. It comes when you are ready to listen and accept with an open mind.

Release

Being betrayed is scary. It throws everything into doubt and makes you question your own perceptions and sanity. And all of that fear has energy. Energy that demands to be released.

Undirected, that energy will often find its way out through obsessive acts – refreshing your ex’s Facebook page in an attempt to find information about their new relationship, endless talking and thinking about the betrayal, or planning ways to spy on your repentant spouse.

Find healthier ways to release your energy. Move your body to free your mind.

There is no easy road back to happiness and trust after an affair. The pain is real, the impact significant. So be mindful that you’re not adding to your burden by tormenting yourself. You’ve got enough of that to deal with already.

 

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