The most unexpected part of this journey has been the messages from women asking for hope.
How do I get over betrayal?
Can I survive this?
Can our marriage survive the affair?
How do you ever recover from the lies?
How do I get over this?
I get emails in my inbox and messages on any social media platform I belong to.
How? How do you go on living after this type of devastation?
My initial thought is I HAVE NO IDEA. I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know how you recover. I don’t know if you ever get the safety and security you once felt ever again.
But the truth is, I do know. Because I’m living it right now. I am living in the after of a marriage built on lies and while the lies might not be the same lies you were damaged by, the feeling and the pain and the hopelessness is very, very similar.
Betrayal is betrayal is betrayal.
I don’t know if that should make us all feel better or worse, but there it is.
Before I tell you how to get better, I have to tell you I only know what works because I did it the wrong way first. I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me twice. The first time I learned my husband was a drug addict and had been lying to me for our whole relationship. Then seven years later when I learned he was still drug free, but now living as a high functioning alcoholic and had been for a long time.
Betrayal hurts every time, but the second time hurt worse because I felt like I should have known better this time. But I didn’t. And I know why I was blindsided the second time just as bad. I know why it was just as shocking the second time as it was the first time: because I didn’t heal or do the work the first time this happened. So I didn’t see the patterns when they started again, because my husband was a drug addict, not me. What did this have to do with me?
Except when it happened the second time, I wondered if it really did have something to do with me.
Wait. Don’t leave. I did not cause my husband to drink. I did not cause him to be an alcoholic. You did not cause your husband to cheat on you. You did not force your husband to do drugs because you’re just a bear to live with. We are all in complete control of our actions and choices and we do not control other people.
But I can be a healthy version of myself or I can be an unhealthy version of myself and after the first betrayal, I let myself continue to be an unhealthy version instead of doing any private work to heal or grow or look critically at the life I was living.
And that’s why, when it happened again, I realized if I wanted to live differently, I had to respond differently to the situation this time.
So I found a wise therapist.
Notice what I just wrote: I found a wise therapist. Me. Only me.
And here’s where people will argue with me, but this is my blog and no one else has the password so I get to write this and turn the comments off if I so choose. (I don’t actually do that, but I’m just letting you know my power because I’m an asshole like that.)
When your marriage falls apart, when your relationship is destroyed by betrayal, when the bottom falls out and you don’t recognize the person you love, the life you’re living, or the place you call home, I want you to run to a counselor. Not a marriage counselor. Not a couple’s therapist. I want you and you alone to walk your beautiful-and-hurting self into an office and demand a smart counselor for you and only you.
Here’s why: you are going to want to think and say and do some really shitty things when someone breaks your heart. You are going to want to ask lots of really embarrassing questions and say lots of things you think are shameful. You are going to want to ask what is wrong with you and why you were treated like this and if you hold any value. You are going to cry some really hard, ugly cries and you are going to scream some really unladylike screams.
You need to be able to do that without the person who hurt you in the room.
You need to be able to sit with a patient, wise therapist who lets you sit in grief and anger and pain and not run from it. You need to be able to talk to a kind counselor who doesn’t rush you to heal or forget or show compassion.
There will be a time and place for that. Eventually. But there’s an order to things and if you skip any steps, you’ll be right back where you started. You’ll end up angry and bitter and hard and no matter how much you strive to fix whatever broke, it will not work.
When women write me and tell me heartbreaking things about their relationships, I grieve with them. There is not a moment in sharing my story that made me hope other people knew what I was feeling. I’m not naïve to the fact this pain exists in other relationships, but I didn’t dwell on it while I was writing.
If you have shared something hard and painful with me, know I carry your heartbreak with me. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. You are worthy of good, loyal love, free of lies and deceit. I am sorry you relate to my story. I am sorry your soul remembers this breaking.
But what about marriage counseling? When I tell women to go find a good counselor for themselves, they respond with arguments of it being selfish or they’re already in marriage counseling.
And then I want to shake them really, really hard. I want to shake them because I see myself, years ago after the drug rehab, thinking things were going to be okay and our marriage was being worked on.
Listen carefully, friends: You need to heal yourself before you can heal your marriage. You are NOT your marriage. You are a person who needs to be whole and healthy so you can spend the time and energy healing your marriage from a place of strength and recovery. You do not sit two broken, sick people in a room and ask them to fix something else that is broken.
Why do we think that works?
Why do we think two struggling people can suddenly have the wherewithal and health to mend a relationship? Taking two hurting people, no matter who did what, and giving them some tools to heal a marriage is ignoring the idea that they have to be a healthy person on their own first.
I’m not saying “on their own” with any suggestion of divorce, but healing a marriage while not healing a person who has lots of relationships and areas and situations that happen outside of marriage implies that the marriage is the only thing of importance as opposed to the overall health of a person who just happens to be married.
There is a time for marriage counseling. I do not believe it is the moment things fall apart. Everything is too fragile and raw to suddenly be on a rampage to fix it. If we tell women it is not their fault their husbands have cheated, then why do we immediately want to include them in the husband’s healing work? Does anyone think maybe he has some work he should be doing on his own? Since I didn’t make Chris drink, do you think he might have some things inside him that must be looked at apart from me?
I don’t encourage divorce. I don’t want families to be torn apart. I don’t want the pain and destruction that comes with marriages ending. I am pro-marriage.
But I’m a fan of healthy marriages. And that only comes when the two people inside the marriage are healthy. You can’t have a healthy marriage without healthy people. So go get healthy and then work on the marriage. It can wait a little bit. But here’s a secret: if you’re working on getting healthy individually, it will improve your marriage anyway. It’s not an all-or-nothing. When you put in the work of therapy, it changes and improves everything in your life. That’s just the way it works.
I know people are going to disagree with this advice. It gives me a little thrill just thinking about it. But I don’t have to argue with anyone. I’m just telling you what worked and is working for us. I’m just telling you want I keep typing in emails and direct messages on Instagram.
Last spring my husband confessed to lies and betrayal for the majority of our marriage. Last summer my husband was in a car accident while driving drunk and it didn’t upset me, I actively wished he would have died. Last fall I was talking with a divorce attorney and working on legal separation so the dangerous choices my husband was making weren’t going to be my downfall as well. Last fall I called the police on my husband. Last fall I checked out of my marriage because my husband had done it first.
Last week I went on a date with him and I thought he was just the cutest little thing I had ever seen. Even hearing myself admit that makes me nauseous. But it’s true. Of course, there are a lot of other answers that follow this first one of get a counselor for yourself, and they include things like Jesus, obedience, an amazing support network, lots of people who told me the truth even when it wasn’t easy, cookie dough, and a few ill-advised trips to Target, but the first step is a counselor. For you. No one else. Not a marriage counselor. Not for your husband.
Find a counselor and get really ugly with her. Let it all out and then you can start the healing. That’s how you survive this. That’s how you get back to freedom and light and joy and laughter and wholeness. You sit on her couch and you get really, really ugly and then you slowly work back to beautiful. It’s in you, I promise.
You are strong enough to do this. You are worth the expense. You are worth the time investment. You are worth the time off work. You are worth the babysitter expense. You are the only one who will make your healing a priority. You. You are strong enough to do this. You are worth it.
2015 family picture by Huff Photography
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