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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

Conversations Matter

Conversations matter.

Through hearing the stories of others, we allow ourselves to question the stories we tell ourselves.

By listening to how others experience the world, we give space to perspectives other than our own.

When we set down ego and assumptions and defensiveness, we create opportunity for empathy and new understanding.

Conversations matter.

To be able to accept that just because we don’t understand something doesn’t make it wrong. Or simply because something isn’t part of our experience doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

And that just because we believe something, that doesn’t make it right.

When conversations are real, they get messy. Uncomfortable. Some truths can be hard to hear. That doesn’t mean they should be silenced.

Conversations matter.

They cannot be rushed. Or distilled into soundbites and Instagram posts. They are ongoing and evolving, without a push to reach a false resolution in order to alleviate discomfort.

The best conversations are multilayered, comprised of tapestries of voices that are adding to and shaping the discussion. And perhaps even more importantly, the best conversations have an abundance of silence, recognizing that sometimes giving someone the space to speak says quite a lot.

Conversations can’t happen from a place of “us” vs. “them,” because then it becomes about proving one side right and by default, the other, wrong. Instead, conversations happen when different voices come together in the spirit of us vs. ignorance, us vs. harmful beliefs and practices, us vs. hatred.

Sometimes conversations can get emotional when they begin to threaten those foundational beliefs of self or safety. And as a society, we struggle with those feelings of vulnerability. And so often, we respond with anger or aggression or distraction. Because those things feel more comfortable than being laid bare.

Conversations matter.

Even as we’re wearing masks in public, many of our hypothetical masks have been stripped away. On Zoom, we’re seeing how people really live. Without access to as many services, we’re seeing how people really look.

Without the usual confidence it what is coming next, we’re seeing how people handle fear. Without the usual distractions to occupy us, we’re seeing what really is. We’re vulnerable. And that makes us uncomfortable.

Conversations aren’t enough. Words alone do not make outward change. But change starts from within. With listening. With confronting the stories that we’ve grown to believe. And with being brave enough to write new ones.

After the Affair: Unraveling the Excuses

Once caught, most partners who have been unfaithful begin to make excuses in a rather lame attempt to justify their actions. In fact, these excuses often begin even before the affair is uncovered. These are the same justifications that they often recite to the affair partner, to friends and to themselves (often to the point where they’re weaving an alternate narrative that alleviates the discomfort caused by cognitive dissonance).

All of these excuses that a cheater offers up neglect one basic fact – an affair does not occur in a vacuum.

There are often months or years between the start of the infidelity and the discovery. And during that time, you may not know, but you know. At some level, you are picking up that something isn’t right. You may question, only to receive reassurance, leaving you confused that your observations are being dismissed. You may sense a withdrawal and try to pinpoint its root cause, feeling trapped in a labyrinth of denial.

Much like a cancer before diagnosis, the affair affects you even before you can name it.

And many of the excuses that the cheater offers up are using your response to the unknown affair as justification for their decision to stray. They may be correct in those two things being related, but they have confused the cause and effect.

 

Unraveling the Excuses

 

They say that you’re needy, yet they are the ones that make you insecure.

Sometimes the usual affection lags, leaving you wondering if they’re still attracted to you. Or, it may come in the form of critical comments about appearance or increased comments about someone else’s. Other times, it’s a turning – or even a pulling – away.

When you’re afraid of losing something, grasping is a natural (although ultimately ineffective) response. When we feel a disconnect from our partners, we seek reassurance that everything is okay.

 

They say you’re crazy, yet they are the ones who drove you there.

“I wasn’t texting anyone last night,” they claim, causing you to question what you saw. Gaslighting is a common strategy used by cheaters to cover their tracks. It’s a form of mental abuse that leaves you doubting yourself and questioning everything you see and hear.

When you are living one experience yet being told it’s something else, it causes disorientation not unlike that which occurs with the optical distortions in a funhouse. Of course you’re going to act a little crazy when nothing makes sense.

 

They say you don’t give them enough attention, yet they’re too distracted to notice.

“They made me feel appreciated,” the cheating spouse often whines (frequently following up with the addition of, “I just wanted to be happy.”). They describe how they feel ignored at home. Yet the other side of this equation is that even when they are home, their attention is elsewhere.

This falls into the “grass is greener” misconception. They think it’s better with the affair partner because that is where they are looking. Meanwhile, they could be the centerpiece of your life, but since their head is turned, they are blind to it.

 

They say you’re distant, yet they pushed you away.

Sometimes, they claim that you have been the withdrawn one. Yet they fail to consider the reason for your disconnection. When we’re feeling rejection, one of the common responses is to wall-off, building a protective barrier between yourself and the world in an attempt to avoid feeling the pain.

When there is an ongoing affair, you most likely are not feeling safe in the relationship, even before you can pinpoint the reason. Since your partner isn’t provided you with that sense of security, you seek to create it yourself. By yourself.

 

They say you don’t know them, yet they refuse to open up.

“They know me. I feel seen,” the cheating spouse says of the affair partner. Yet, they fail to recognize that they have been closed off with their spouse (even when begged to explain what is wrong) and transparent with the affair partner.

One of the strange things about marriage is that it can become difficult to be vulnerable with your partner because the stakes are so high. And it can be easier to open up to a relative stranger because there is less to lose. But it’s not fair to get mad an someone for not knowing you if you do not provide them the opportunity.

 

They say you’re snooping and questioning, yet they are the ones hiding things.

They snap at you when you ask where they’ve been when they come home late again. They become angry when you glance over at their phone screen when it lights up. They accuse you of being jealous, of snooping and of being in their business.

Even for those who do not tend towards snooping behavior, an unconfirmed suspicion of an affair can lead to those actions.

 

They say you’re critical, yet they are the ones not holding up their end.

We all only have so much energy. During an affair, that energy is turned away from the marriage. Inevitably, that means that there is neglect of the life and responsibilities within the marriage.

An affair is a selfish act, and those that engage in them are often caught off guard when there are consequences. If they’re acting like an entitled jerk at home, they will face criticism. Probably justified.

 

They say you’re no fun, yet they leave you with all of the responsibilities.

“You’re just no fun anymore,” they whine, thinking of the alternate universe they have with their affair partner that is separate from mortgages and orthodontist appointments.

Life means growing up. It means sometimes setting aside what feels good in the moment for longer term goals. And those that cheat are more likely to be immature and want others to do all the heavy lifting for them.

 

They say you’re angry, yet they make false promises that lead to dashed expectations.

Of course you’re angry. They keep promising to come home on time, to put the phone away, to spend quality time with the family. Yet it never seems to manifest.

As your hopes and expectations are dashed again and again, you grow frustrated. Why can’t they do what they promised? Sometimes, they begin to see you in a disapproving and controlling parental role, keeping them confined. Yet they conveniently forget that they stepped into that life and its responsibilities willingly.

 

They say we’re the bad guy, yet they need us to be the bad guy to justify their choices.

This is what it ultimately comes down to. They want to have the affair. And so they’ll do anything they can to justify their reasons for doing what they want.

They blame their choices on your behaviors. Yet they fail to recognize the impact their choices have on you.

Living With Uncertainty

Like many (most? all?) of you, I’m struggling right now.

As a teacher, I’m used to a certain rhythm of the school year. And by now, I should be excited for summer, exhausted by the demands of the end of the school year and putting energy into finalizing plans for the next school year.

Instead, I’m sad about not being able to say goodbye in person, more blah than exhausted and the next school year is simply one big question mark.

I find myself increasingly distressed by the unknown of what’s coming. I keep reflecting back on the comfort (unappreciated at the time) of past years, when plans were in place and I could find peace in the surety of what was around the next corner.

But then I catch myself. Because those plans of past years were only certainties because I’m viewing them from the perspective of the future, where the scheduled events were carried out with only relatively small adjustments.

The truth is that uncertainty is always present, we simply hide it away beneath a veneer of imagined control, applied so that we don’t have to face the discomfort of admitting that we don’t have the ultimate say in what happens.

This year is no more or less uncertain than any other time. The outcomes are always in limbo and only seem inevitable once they occur.

Of course, the unknowns are more pronounced right now, like magma bubbling to the surface after a seismic event. It’s difficult to imagine what next week will look like, much less next month or next year. We are all being forced to drop our plans. In reaction, we’re grasping to control what we can – setting rules and boundaries for our families, calling out those who aren’t socially distancing the way we are and arguing against the ways our governments are handling the outbreak and the economic fallout.

It certainly FEELS different.

Because we become so accustomed to life unfolding in relatively predictable ways. And it’s only when it breaks open that we realize how that predictably is a story we tell ourselves so that we can sleep at night.

I keep thinking back to my summer 11 years ago. In a span of hours, I went from believing that I would never be apart from my then-husband to learning that everything we had together was a lie. Upon the discovery, I felt like I was in free fall, unable to trust anything. But in reality, the revelation of the duplicitous life wasn’t anything new, it simply uncovered what had always been there. I fought against that unknown for a time, craving the feeling of solid ground beneath my feet again. Yet it is was only when I stopped struggling to control every outcome that I was able to relax.

The lesson in all of this isn’t going to be found in finding a new way to try to control life. It’s in learning how to find acceptance that there is little outside ourselves that we can control and finding peace regardless.

Most days, I’m still struggling against this. But I’m finding moments when I can simply be in – and appreciate- today without undo concern for tomorrow.

Hope you all are well and are able to find your moments of peace.

This is hard. And also, in the words of Glennon Doyle, “We can do hard things.”

Lisa

 

Life is Not a Waiting Room

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