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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

After Being Cheated On: Feeling Like You’re Not Enough

It’s a common reaction when you discover you’ve been cheated on:

“What did the affair partner have that I don’t?”

We dive headfirst into the assumption that we’re somehow lacking and that our deficits prompted our partners to stray. After all, if we were enough to satisfy them, why would they be hungry for more?

Sometimes, we funnel this into trying to make ourselves “enough” for them, morphing and minimizing in an attempt to be wanted. Other times, this feeling of not being enough is carried quietly as the rejection is internalized and self-worth is minimized.

Yet this narrative – that they strayed because we were not enough –  is categorically false.

Before you accept that the affair(s) happened because of what you’re lacking, consider the following:

 

The Cheater Benefits From Blaming You

It is in their self-interest to spread the blame for the affair as much as possible to limit their own responsibility. They will gladly declare that, “If you only…” or “You never…” in order to deflect your attention from their betrayal.

Sometimes these accusations hurt because they contain a kernel of truth. Maybe you haven’t been giving the relationship the attention it deserves or you have let yourself slide from the early days of the marriage. Yet, those are no excuse for infidelity nor are they a critique of your character.

If the cheater can get you to believe that “you made them do it,” they can continue to see themselves as a good guy as they cast you as the villain. They are not an impartial director. Fire them and embrace the true nature of your character.

 

The Affair Partner is a Blank Slate

Once the affair begins, you, through no fault of your own, become a source of discomfort for your partner. When they look at you, they may feel guilty about what they’re doing behind your back and they feel a tension between how they’re viewed by you and what they are doing. Or, if they delight in getting away with deception, they begin to see you as weak because you’re falling for it. (Yet, in my book, trusting in your spouse is not a character flaw.)

The affair partner is a fresh start. They may be complicit in the affair, in which case, the guilt is shared and in the open. Perhaps they are gullible, without the knowledge that you have to counteract the image that the cheater wants to project to others. Or, maybe they are a fresh person to deceive, bringing the cheater a sense of delight in again being able to fool people.

In these cases, the affair partner does have something that you don’t. But is it something that you want?

 

Cheaters Want Fantasy, Not Reality

And the affair partner can provide that for a time.

They often remain mysterious for longer as dalliances are limited by external factors. The affair is carried out in a bubble, separate from the real-world pressures and challenges. Those unknowns and time apart are filled in with mental images and assumptions.

You can’t compete with that any more than a real woman can compete with an airbrushed image in a fashion magazine. It’s not that the affair partner is better, it’s that in many ways, they are created by the cheater’s projections and desires, unchallenged by the harsher light of the real world.

Instead of trying to compare yourself to fiction, celebrate the fact that you’re real, authentic and multidimensional. That’s better than a fabrication any day.

 

One Person’s Choice Doesn’t Determine Value

When you see the person in front of you at a buffet pass up the strawberry cake (your personal favorite), do you jump to the conclusion that something must be wrong with the cake?

So why assume that your partner’s choice of something different is a direct reflection of you?

 

I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating:

Never let a person of questionable character determine your worth.

 

 

 

 

Normal Isn’t On the Menu

Normal Isn’t On the Menu

It’s a hard time to be a parent right now.

I can feel the trepidation and frustration in their frantic posts. They’re worried for their kids, emotionally and academically. It’s been a rough few months, having to balance work and childcare, trying to be a parent while also playing the heavy when it comes to schoolwork. They desperately want their kids back in school so that they can reconnect with their friends, not fall too far behind academically and have structure again. Yet they’re also scared. Unsure about the safety plans put forth and the ability of children to follow guidelines. They crave the normal fears and excitement that surround a new school year.

It’s a hard time to be a teacher right now.

We’ve struggled teaching into the void with emergency distance learning and we’ve been worried about the well-being of our students. We desperately want to get back into the classroom where we can verify that each child is okay and we can facilitate the energy and excitement and community that form around learning together. Yet we’re also unsure, trying to problem-solve how to build a sense of collaboration when students are distanced and masked while simultaneously working on developing virtual lessons. Underlying that is fear. Fear that we’re going to see our students get sick and our colleagues fall ill. We wish we we’re busy decorating our new rooms instead of trying to make them safer.

It’s a hard time to be a human right now.

Back in the spring, we all had a sense of, “Okay. If we do this for a couple months, we can then get back to normal.” And now we’re here. Months have passed and there is still no end in sight. We know we can’t lock down forever, but we’re struggling to figure out how to live in this new world. We’re all grieving the way things were just a few short months ago. We all want normal.

But normal isn’t on the menu.

I see so many people (myself included) fighting against that fact. Arguing that normal must be available, maybe it’s just hidden in the back stockroom. That if we just ask nicely enough – or scream loudly enough – that normal will be served.

As far as defining moments go, this has been an odd one. Often, these life-changing events are quite sudden, clearly delineating a before and after – the accident that takes a life, the DDay where you learn of an affair, the diagnosis that steals your health. With those, it’s clear that there is no returning back to way things were. They require a recalibration of normal.

But this one snuck up on us, allowing for plenty of denial along the way. If we can believe that this is overblown, we can get back to normal. Or, if we cherrypick our data, we can convince ourselves that normal is just around the corner. We place our faith in an election, a vaccine or a treatment. But those are not quick fixes, flipping the switch back to normal.

Because right now and for the foreseeable future, normal isn’t on the menu.

It’s time to explore what IS on the menu.

We all tend to veer towards what we know. It’s comfortable and we like to be comfortable. Part of what makes this so hard is that we feel like we have no control. We want to choose different, not have it forced down our gullet.

Yet we’re here. Hungry to live again. And until we accept that normal isn’t available, we won’t be able to partake of what still is on the table.

And just maybe, we’ll find that some of the new options are preferable to the old and that we choose to leave some of normal behind.

Wondering if They’ll Cheat? Look For This…

I had the honor of joining Helen Tower last week on her podcast, Sail Infidelity. A listener, an unfaithful spouse, sent in the question, “How can I get my wife to move on from my infidelity?” My first thought was,

“I wonder if he’s asking because he hates seeing his wife suffer and wants her to feel better or if he’s uncomfortable with her strong emotional response and he wants to alleviate his discomfort.”

Nobody likes to be on the receiving end of someone’s anger or disappointment. None of us like to examine our own fears and regrets too closely. We all can use avoidance tactics to put off difficult conversations or decisions or find an illusion of security in denial.

Those who choose to cheat cannot handle emotional discomfort.

Yet for most of us, difficult doesn’t mean we don’t do it. We accept that the emotions – either our own or those of another – are uncomfortable and yet we do not turn away. But the cheater? They run. Or shut down. Or turn it back towards you.

Those who choose to cheat seek to outsource their emotional regulation.

When they are feeling insecure, they look for others to alleviate that feeling through attention and accolades. If they’re anxious, they use sex like a drug to feel better in the moment. Instead of learning to self-soothe, they expect those around them to make them feel better.

Those who choose to cheat struggle to stay present with difficult emotions.

When faced with intense emotion, those who cheat are more likely to flood or flee. They have not learned to name and accept myriad emotional responses as a natural side-effect of being human. Instead, they become fearful when emotions run high. But of course, they can’t accept that fear either. So they dismiss it all entirely or stuff it into their shame sack where they can pretend it doesn’t exist.

Those who choose to cheat fail to recognize the impact of their own traumas.

For so many of us, we continue to play out our childhood traumas in our adult relationships. With awareness, this can become an opportunity for growth and healing. Yet those who have a propensity for infidelity often remain unaware of the impact their own past has on them. Instead, they act out their pain in unhealthy, immature and selfish ways.

Once a cheater, always a cheater?

People can grow. People can change. If the unfaithful spouse is willing and able to give space for your emotional reaction without seeking to control it or stifle it, that’s a sign that they’re learning. Furthermore, look for evidence that they are becoming more comfortable sitting with – and taking responsibility for – their own emotions. And finally, if they’re trying to make amends, pay attention to whose pain they are trying to alleviate – yours or their own.

How Can I Get My Ex Back?

How Can I Get My Ex Back?

When we lose someone important in our lives, it’s common to miss them and to wish they were still in our lives. If we ended it, we may wonder if we made a mistake. If they made the decision to leave, we want to know how to get our ex back.

Every situation is different; I cannot provide you with one-size-fits all directions that will bring your ex back. What I can do is give you a series of questions for you to ask yourself. Not all will apply to you, but the ones that do can help provide clarity and direction.

Are you in contact with your ex?

This is the starting point. Is there an open line of communication between you? Have they reached out to you or responded when you contact them? When you do have contact, what is the nature of it – bittersweet, angry, sexual, longing? In order to try to win them back, you have to first be able to have a calm conversation.

If you don’t have contact, why is that? Did they ask for space? Are they refusing to respond? It’s important to remember that a relationship takes two and that you cannot force them to engage if they do not want to.

Who ended things?

If you ended the relationship, you may have a better chance of rekindling it, especially if they did not agree with the breakup. Whereas, if they left, they left for a reason. Even if it’s one that you you don’t understand or agree with. It still may be possible that they are open to the idea of starting again with you, but they will likely be wary. If you have a chance, you must be willing to listen to them without becoming defensive. You have your version of the end; it’s time to listen to theirs.

Do they know you’re interested in working on the relationship?

They cannot read your mind. They don’t know you’re up every night pining after them and regretting what happened unless you tell them. I know that this can be a scary admission; you’re risking a second rejection. A rejection, that if it comes, you have to accept. If you have a chance at getting your ex back, it begins with you stating that you want them back and why you want them back.

What were the circumstances surrounding the breakup?

In the best situation, there were outside circumstances that contributed to the end of the relationship. Circumstances, that once removed or dealt with, are no longer a threat. Yet that’s rarely the case.

Every relationship has its challenges – what were yours? Were they always there, or did they suddenly appear? Be careful here. It’s easy to fall into the magical thinking trap. Much like we always believe our future selves will be motivated to stay on that diet or stay away from our phones, we can paint our future relationship with that same rose-color. If you want this to work, you have to be willing to explore what made it fall apart in the first place.

Have you had a history of on-again, off-again with them?

Why is this time different? What is driving you two apart and what is pulling you back together?

Do their words indicate they are interested in a relationship with you?

Because you want them back, it’s easy to interpret anything they say as interest. Are there words clearly expressing that they not only miss you, but that they want to try to work it out?

Do their actions match their words?

Words are easy and often offered without much thought. Actions, less so. Are they saying what you want to hear while acting in opposition?

Are you healthier apart than together?

This is a hard one. Sometimes love isn’t enough. We can adore people that bring out the worst in us or pair up with those that allow us to reenact the traumas from our childhoods.

It may be the case that you two are better off apart. And when that happens, the most loving thing you can do is let them go.

ex back

Are you feeling lonely?

If you’re lonely, it’s natural to want your ex back. After all, right now you feel that gaping hole where they once were and so you want to fit them back in place to relieve that ache. But loneliness isn’t a solid foundation to build a relationship upon. Loneliness encourages you to need a partner, yet strong relationships can only happen when you WANT a partner.

Before you try to get your ex back, it’s important to fill your life up again. Spend time with your friends, throw yourself into a hobby, strive to meet some goal or finish line. Work on making yourself complete and whole first. Only then are you ready to try to bring them back.

Are you just wanting the pain to end?

The end of a relationship hurts. You’re grieving so much as you adjust to life without them. We don’t like pain and much like we pop an Advil to relieve a headache, we reach for the fastest way to alleviate our emotional pain too.

Be honest with yourself – are you reaching for them simply so that you don’t have to feel this pain? Is that fair to them? Is it good for you?

What do you miss more – them or the idea of them?

I know you miss them. But do you miss who they actually are, flaws and all. Or, do you miss who you’ve made them to be in your mind? Sometimes, we get so caught up in someone’s potential that we neglect to realize that we’re not seeing them at all.

Have you both had space to figure out your feelings?

The emotions that surround the end of a relationship are messy. It takes time and space to begin to unravel those. If you’ve been in consistent contact with your ex since the breakup, neither or you have had the opportunity to fully dig into your own feelings.

Take some time without contact to muddy the emotional waters. Talk to a therapist. Write in a journal. Have long conversations with yourself as you go on extended walks. You owe it to both of you to start from a full understanding of what you want and need.

What change(s) have both parties made since the breakup?

Have you made some legitimate and lasting changes since the end of the relationship? Have they? Again, this is about actions, not words.

If you have made changes, did you do them only in the hopes of getting your ex back? Or, were these changes that you wanted to make for you, to make you better? The latter is more authentic, meaningful and lasting.

How do you want your relationship to look differently this time?

Sometimes, we think we want to go back to the way it was. But the way it was didn’t work. So something needs to be different. Relationships can become like a well-traversed dirt road with ruts that we easily fall into. What will you do to avoid that?

What have you done towards this goal?

Again, wishes and words won’t get you anywhere. What actions have you taken?

Are they feeling lonely or insecure?

Tread lightly. Just as I cautioned you about wanting your ex back when you’re feeling lonely, it’s not a good idea to start back up again if they’re coming from that place. You want them to WANT to be with you, not for them to use you to make them feel okay with themselves.

Are they looking for something in their contact with you?

Sometimes people will reach out to an ex to gain a confidence boost (this is often the case if the contact is sexual in nature). Other times, they are looking for a quick connection because they’re feeling isolated. And sometimes, they just want to see that you’re hurting too.

When you want your ex back, it’s easy to read too much into their communication. Pay attention to patterns and trends. If they only reach out when they have something to gain, they’re using you, not sad about losing you.

Have they told you that they are not interested in a relationship?

If they have stated this, believe them. It’s not your place to question their decision. You don’t have to understand it and you don’t have to agree with it, but you do have to accept it.

Are they in a new relationship?

It’s common for us to want what we can’t have. Sometimes, we only desire to get an ex back when we see them with somebody new. Yet, that’s not a reason to try to win them back. Just like you expected others to respect your relationship with them, respect the new relationship they have, even if it’s one you don’t approve of. It’s not your place to monitor, judge or try to undermine the new partner of your ex.

Have they moved on?

This is independent of their current relationship status. If they have rebuilt their life and not made a space for you in it, it’s time for you to move on as well. And that starts with learning how to fall out of love.

Are you motivated to get your ex back because you feel like you’re quitting, failing or losing?

We call them “failed” relationships. We talk about people “giving up” on their partners. It’s easy to equate a relationship ending with failure. Yet, that’s not actually the case.

There is a different between quitting and letting go. The first is born from fear or frustration. The latter comes from acceptance that something has reached an end. Letting go is a gift, a way of releasing the hold on the past to allow the space for something new to move it.

What would happen if they agree to get back together for your sake, but it’s not what they really want?

Do you want them to be with you out of a sense of guilt or obligation? Are they trying to make you feel better to alleviate their own discomfort? Much like the father in Pet Sematary, we can go to great lengths to try to get our ex’s back, only to discover that they aren’t really there at all.

Refrain from begging or pleading. Don’t work to create an argument on why they should come back. If they want to be with you, they will be. If they don’t, you don’t have anything to gain by trying to convince them otherwise.

Are you feeling overwhelmed at the thought of starting over?

Starting over is hard. Sometimes, we are drawn to our ex’s because it’s a shortcut. You don’t have to do all of the work that happens as a relationship transitions from something casual to more serious. Yet sometimes a blank slate is exactly what we need.

Are you afraid that you won’t find love again?

You have lost one. But you haven’t lost the only one. Yet, as long as you’re holding onto your ex, you are not allowing the space for new love to find you.

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