The Longest Day

It was good to be with friendly faces but I was wary of the impending confrontation that I knew was looming in front of me.

Continued from The Tipping Point

“Those who are heartless once cared too much” – unknown

When my tears were spent, I stood up and squared my shoulders. I was finished. Done. Through. Right there – in that moment, I knew that this marriage was gone. I was no longer willing to spend another minute allowing myself to be disrespected in the manner that had been a hallmark of this union. As the saying goes – ‘fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice, shame on me’. This was the third time and this time, my mother could fend for herself…  It was time for me to think of me – the messages I was sending to my children, my daughters – about self-respect.

I had things to do today. I was scheduled to get my hair cut and then meet some friends for drinks. I thanked my therapist for being there, for allowing me to breach a boundary in the most unforgivable way and scheduled an appointment to sort this all out.

I headed to my hair stylist, approximately a thirty-minute drive. I had first met him two years back after my hysterectomy when I realized that I had the same hair style for twenty years or more. I had researched stylists in the area and his name came up as one of the best. My primary interest was finding someone who could look at my face and determine – for me – the best hairstyle based on the shape of my face and my hair texture. In past attempts, a stylist would ask me what I wanted, ‘look through a book’ they would say… well – that’s like buying a pair of panties that I like from the Victoria Secret catalog and then being pissed that they don’t look like ‘that’ on my bottom!

Michael had cut my hair that very first day – trimming at least eight inches or so – and gave me a new look. It was something completely different and I loved it… I’d been going to him ever since. Funny that this particular day I was seeing my hairdresser, the proverbial therapist…

I recall being there and obviously emotional. There is no hiding this kind of emotional devastation even if I had wished to. When he asked me, what was happening, I put forth an avalanche of verbal expression, detailing each minute of the morning with explicit detail. It was a safe place, a location where no one knew me or my family, and I was free to exhibit any amount of animosity that popped up in the conversation. I was incredulous. I was beginning to get pissed, pissed at Hubby, pissed at Abee, mostly, pissed at myself. For a while, I forgot all the spiritual development that had been a part of my recent life and moved back into this rudimentary human reaction space. I wasn’t focused on forgiveness or spiritual growth, just the pain of my immediate experiences and it was raw.

Michael listened, like any good therapist – hairstylist and proposed blonde accents to spice up my look. Thankfully, that meant another two hours at the salon and I was grateful for the diversion. I didn’t care what he did, sex me up – spice me up – make me look younger… it didn’t matter. What did matter, was my plan. I needed to create a plan.

I never planned to divorce my husband. Years back, the first time I had discovered infidelity, our business was young, I had a newborn baby and our finances were just budding. Today was different. Our children were older; our business was established and we were much stronger financially. This was better than at any other time before, to think about leaving our marriage and believing that I would be ok. I had never finished a bachelor’s degree. I had taken a voluntary second place, a submissive posture with our business in terms of production – running most of my earnings through Hubby’s position because of the tax advantages. On paper, I was worthless except that I owned an equal fifty percent of our company. Otherwise, my resume demonstrated twenty years of partnership but no production quotas to support successful claims.

We were earning good money so I knew that it would all be ok, that it would work out, but there was a moment of anxiety when I realized that I had not personally produced a dime in income for more than ten years. I needed to put a plan in action but I had no idea where to start. I sat there with foil protruding out from my skull thinking carefully about what I must do next. I knew that first and foremost – I was finished with Hubby. There was an absolute in my heart, an unequivocal finality in regards to the future of our relationship. We would co-parent… that’s it. There was no denying that we had four children to raise. Even though Frank was in college, we still had three girls, the oldest of which was about to begin high school.

Oh. Our girls. What would I say to them? The breadth and width of Hubby’s betrayal is his story… not mine to tell but it clearly would have an impact on our family. I had to find a way to frame this morning’s experience in a way that could be digested by adolescent girls. I was willing to take the fall, to say that I was no longer willing to be in a marriage where I didn’t feel valued. I could say it in a way that didn’t disparage Hubby but still honored me. Why in the hell was I concerned about his favor??

“A heart can only take so much pain, and although it won’t shut down, it will begin to shut out.” ~ unknown

There were a gazillion thoughts swirling through my mind as I sat in Michael’s salon; some of which made sense, some did not; some were rational, others not so much. My defense system kicked into high gear and I formulated several automatic responses in anticipation of greeting Hubby later that night. I was going to stand my ground – we are done. Period.

My hair turned out fantastic. I was blonde from ear to ear and by any measure, the cut was sassy and the color was sexy. Michael was good at what he did and perhaps a little impartial to me, protective of the perceived injustice that existed in Hubby’s behavior.

I finished up the day at a restaurant / bar in a small neighboring town where one of my good friend’s and her friend – an acquaintance of mine – were catching up. I was exhausted, completely spent and somewhat unwilling to relive the melodrama of my day. I just needed to laugh, to think of something neutral, to escape the reality of my life so that’s what happened. We talked and laughed about kids, life, and busy schedules. It was good to be with friendly faces but I was wary of the impending confrontation that I knew was looming in front of me. I needed to go home.

When I got there, Hubby was sitting on the couch, watching television. I hadn’t spoken to him since earlier in the day when I told him I wanted a divorce. I suspect he had realized at some point that he had left his email account open, that there was a lot of evidence to suggest that he had significantly betrayed everything our matrimony vows embodied; so much evidence. He was regretful, remorseful, and repentant. I sat down on one side of a very large couch to listen. He stretched out and put his head on my lap after commenting on how much he liked my hair. He cried. I sat there quietly and still.

My heart was stone cold.

The Tipping Point

I was screaming vulgar, violent words that no one could hear as I pushed the print button, time and time again.

Continued from Discovering My Soul

“Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not, With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.” ~ Malcolm Gladwell

I believe that much of life is what we make it. I had decided to think about the adversity in my life differently and in fact, my life was different. There was a ‘settling down’ of things. Every once in a while, there were ‘twinges’ of fear that activated my internal alarm system and I addressed it in counseling immediately. I wasn’t about to allow ‘gaslighting’ to re-enter my world – I wasn’t going to be a ‘fool’ again. My ability to trust was exceptionally fragile. Anytime a comment, behavior, or action didn’t fit into the schematic of my reality, I addressed it. I was learning. It was still far from perfect but there was some peace in my heart for a change.

It was the holiday season and Christmas was always a relaxed time for us. We made sure the focus was on family, food, and time together. That doesn’t mean that I was calm, cool, and collected for sure as during this time of year my definition of ‘relaxed’ changes a bit. My emotions were relaxed – my stress level of completing everything that needed to be finished, stayed elevated – which was the norm. It had become my Christmas Eve challenge to finish the matching jammies that the kids would wear to bed but it always got accomplished and by midnight, I was sipping a glass of wine next to the fire anticipating morning smiles.

It was a good Day. We had gotten the kids a pinball machine that year as a collective gift and most of the day was spent downstairs in our rec room taking turns to see who could rack up the next ‘highest score’. Mom and Abee had come by earlier in the week on their way south to spend a few days with Emma and her family. I was especially grateful that I wasn’t facing having to dedicate a holiday to the rigorous attention of emotional regulation. In that way, it was particularly ‘relaxing’. Hubby and I actually had fun together as we interacted with the girls, now eight, eleven & twelve; there is something endearing about that ‘tween’ time in adolescence.

We typically spent one day over Christmas week with Hubby’s family; exchanging gifts, catching up, and enjoying cousin interactions. It was a full day as we watched all twenty-two open gifts one-person-at-a-time, in order of age – oldest to youngest. What else does one do on a day like this but eat, drink, and be merry?! It was a tradition that we all held in the highest regard. Spending an entire day with extended family was always a holiday treat.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve in a traditional way by hosting a small get together with friends. Our children had basically grown up together and it had become customary for us all to gather, let the kids hang out, and ring in the new year – quietly – with friendly faces. There were two to three times as many tweens as there were adults and so by midnight, it was noisy and late… the evening didn’t last much past the stroke of midnight. We had closed out another difficult year and ushered in 2004 with a promise of impending dreams come true.

Just a few days later, on a Wednesday morning, after everyone had left for school and work, I sat down at our home computer to check my email. Hubby and I shared a computer, the girls had their own desktop although when everyone was home – it was a free for all…. Whatever chair was empty. As I moved the mouse to ‘wake up’ the screen I noticed that Hubby’s email was open. That was unusual. He must have been on it this morning and forgotten to close it.

“It is strange how often a heart must be broken before the years can make it wise.”     ~ Sara Teasdale

I didn’t intend on doing anything but clicking on the upper right-hand corner – the little ‘x’ that promises to end your view but his inbox was right there, in front of me and full of emails from Abee. A quick glance at the topic line indicated that many of them were work related and then I saw one that said ‘apartment’ and another that said ‘meet me’ …

I wanted to vomit on the spot. I began to shake uncontrollably. My heart began to race and I couldn’t find my breath. They weren’t the only emails. There were emails from several different women – not related to business – women I knew. I instantaneously lost my sanity. I became unglued – a crazy woman. My perception of good judgment, rationale, or sound conscience disintegrated on the spot. My insides erupted in an explosion of panic and my nervous system took over reading, one by one, letters that were right there in front of me, depicting a life I knew nothing about. It was the closest thing to an out of body encounter that a living person can spontaneously experience. I noticed a vibration in the room that I soon understood was a result of the violent spasms occurring in my body. I was screaming vulgar, violent words that no one could hear.

I made my way to the car stopping just long enough to pick up the phone and call the man who had shattered my life for the last time. “We are done. I want a divorce.” And I hung up the phone. I probably added some expletives, most likely strings of them before we disconnected and still shaking, drove straight to our therapist’s office. In the demonstration of my lunacy, I entered her waiting area, walked right up to her office door, and began pounding. She was in session but I had no regard for anything except the prevailing annihilation of my morning; of my life. An emotional nuclear detonation had just obliterated my heart so completely that I was a walking, talking, shell of the woman that had awakened that day.

She came out, annoyed that I was being so disrespectful but as I shook a wad of crumpled papers in front of her with the announcement that “they’ve been lying, I’m done… I can’t do this”… she ushered me into a small kitchenette with instructions to ‘hide’ here for a minute. I had no idea who she had in her office but occasionally it’s important to protect the identity of one client from another for confidentiality’s sake; a task that can be challenging in a small town. I waited a bit, having no real concept of time passing as my head was still reeling in another dimension and then she came to get me. She only had minutes as I obviously wasn’t there for a scheduled appointment but quickly, as any good therapist would, she assessed me for suicide ideation and or violent considerations.  I hadn’t gone quite that far off the deep end thankfully and I was slowly regaining my sanity, my breath, and collecting my thoughts.

“You can’t stay in this marriage,” she said. “I know, I know…” I replied and without the protection of delirium, I slid to the floor and the dam of sorrow, of broken dreams, of failed hope – collapsed with me into agonizing heartbreak.

Silver Linings

I knew that the loving energy of God worked in mysterious ways and we were learning how to love despite the tremendous pain.

“We must assume every event has significance and contains a message that pertains to our questions…this especially applies to what we used to call bad things…the challenge is to find the silver lining in every event, no matter how negative.”  – James Redfield

It’s challenging to write about this time in my life because literally, every day felt difficult if I moved outside the protective walls of my home where my children provided the padding with their smiles, hugs, and loving presence.

To emotionally survive, it was necessary for me to adopt a way of thinking that provided encouragement and hope. I used the basic tenets of my belief structure which are embodied by the quote I use in this post – that ‘in each negative experience, there is value’.  I found strength in the notion that my role in this experience was to search for the lesson and grow.

Our therapy took on a different structure as we began weekly individual sessions and I started to look at myself more closely. I wanted to understand my role in the craziness that was my current life. After the first affair, I could accept that I had room to grow as a wife and a partner and I worked hard to ‘shore up’ those behaviors that contributed to more harmony in our lives. I believed that we had grown as a couple and had become stronger partners, better parents, and good business partners. Our remaining challenges focused on the differences in our sexual needs and I had surrendered myself to the extent that mine were unrecognizable.

This second affair suggested that our problems were less about my ability to be a good partner and more about the individual psychological deficiencies that kept us engaging in dysfunctional behaviors; Hubby having affairs and me staying in such a relationship.

Today, I teach people that behavior is only dysfunctional to the extent that it interferes with your life and/or your relationships. If it works in your life – great. If it doesn’t – fix it.

Something about me had to change. I discovered that my self-esteem had suffered considerably throughout the course of my marriage. Indeed, it hadn’t ever been tremendously strong but the erosion over time in this relationship had diluted what little there was. In therapy, I was able to identify body ‘issues’ that were triggers for me and understand how emphasized they became with the sexual discourse that reigned in my marriage. She helped me define sexual boundaries that were healthy for me – based on my interests and pleasure. Most importantly, she helped me know how to communicate them and stay grounded there.

I judged myself very harshly. The more aware I became; the more devastated I was about the behavior I had allowed myself to tolerate. I was a smart woman, a product of the Women’s Liberation Movement, independent and reasonable. How in the world had I evolved into a woman who had allowed herself to be so blatantly disrespected?

My therapist introduced the term Gaslighting.  It is an effort of one person to ‘overwrite’ or reformat the thoughts of another person with their own. It originated with the 1938 play Gas Light where a woman developed a belief that she was crazy when her husband manipulated information about reality. It has been used psychologically since to describe the manipulation of someone’s sense of reality. Gaslighting is common in cases of infidelity, the continuous denial of the cheater can eventually undermine the affected partner’s sense of reality – leading one to question what, often most, of what they believe to be real.

Learning about Gaslighting was a turning point for me. I was incredibly grateful that I wasn’t crazy!! I allowed myself to reflect on a proliferation of memories and see them more clearly. I slowly relearned how to trust my senses and how to validate myself. The flip side of this was understanding just how deeply my trust in Hubby had been dismantled. I found it difficult to believe anything he said to me, which didn’t help in the process of restoring some semblance of a relationship. I started to see myself differently.

I continued to read every self-help book that called to me. I was hungry to learn about myself and to understand why I chose this relationship – this difficult – seemingly impossible liaison with a man who was also, in his own way – broken. I wanted to comprehend what it was that brought us together and discern what potential there was for us. I grew to believe that we were together ‘for a reason’ – that we had chosen one another for the lesson that existed in our union. What was it??

The Conversations with God series by Neale Donald Walsch continued to provide inspiration for me and I found my spiritual instinct more pronounced, more substantial. I found that as I stepped away from what I perceived as a ‘religious’ view of God – some man on a throne – and thought of God in a universal sentience, the creating energy of all things, existing everywhere at all times, the purest vibration of love – I was experiencing God in a very new, consistent, and comfortable way. I found peace in the idea that I was constantly shrouded with a universal energy that consisted purely of love. I would imagine myself in a God bubble, healing my heart by its grace.

In this spirit, I could get up each morning and look at my husband. I was able to go to work and engage with my sister. I could imagine a time when my extended family might again go on picnics and gather again for Thanksgiving. Our healing was slow, the growth sometimes painful. It was exceptionally challenging for me to begin to trust Hubby. First, I had to trust that he and Abee had terminated their personal entanglements. We rearranged the work schedules, which presented a myriad of complexities and frankly, wasn’t as successful but I was unwilling to have them interacting so closely together any longer. I became a private detective; keenly observing every little detail and deciding about its authenticity in context to my reality. I developed an ability to honor my instincts. I noticed every little detail and was constantly on guard. My therapist taught me how NOT to file stuff away in disbelief but to present information and check for its accuracy. I learned the danger of assumptions and developed a process by which I could fact check and dispel accusations.

Hubby was learning too. Not long after this all blew up; he took some time off and intently addressed his emotional composition. He immersed himself in personal growth also, delivering him to a point where he committed himself to me and to our family in many of the ways I had been yearning for, for years. Maybe this was it – maybe we had been brought together so that we – both – could grow. Perhaps we were catalysts for one another. I knew that the loving energy of God worked in mysterious ways and we were learning how to love despite the tremendous pain. I believed that was part of what Jesus taught us to do… love and grow through pain. We were doing just that.

The transformation for both of us was far from complete but we had risen from the ashes of this debacle deeply scarred but hopeful for our future. I was far from trusting. In fact, the absence of trust contributed negatively in our rebuilding efforts and for every five or six steps forward we moved, there was two or three back. However, I believed in our advancing momentum.

Needs

I went into hyper-control mode – attempting to manage some degree of emotional safety.

“You know, life fractures us all into little pieces. It harms us, but it’s how we glue those fractures back together that make us stronger.”  -Carrie Jones

I felt foolish and stupid and lost. I stood by the front door of our home and looked out at the gorgeous open space in front of me. We had built this house when all of that was just farm land. Today, there were twenty-five other houses in our neighborhood and I wanted to be in any one of them – any home but mine where only chaos seemed to perpetually exist. I wanted to be someone else, any one of those neighbors.

It was an upper middle-class neighborhood, mostly families, about half were single income households. It was the kind of neighborhood where the parents stand at the bus stop in their slippers holding coffee cups that were either empty or turned cold as we stood there – no matter the season – and chatted about our busy lives, children, and home life. They thought mine was great because I didn’t ever let them see beyond the wall that I had built to keep the absurdity contained. Some of us attended the same church, most of us were involved at the school in some capacity, and if nothing else, we ran into one another at the grocery store at least once a week. In all those places, perception – illusion – was important. I had fought hard to fortify the mirage no matter where I was, to hide any indication that ours wasn’t the typical suburban marriage. Only a handful of very close friends got to see the garbage in my life and even then, it was only the stuff that was still floating on the surface. No one got to unlock the mental drawer and open that file tucked deeply inside.

My heart was shattered. I didn’t understand how it could – again – be decimated so intricately. I thought I had stitched it together with glue and string and secured it with locks… I thought I had buffered its ability to be broken ever again. This time it was so, so complicated. My family, my mom, my sister, the rest of us – our daughters – what do we say to our daughters?

I didn’t ask Hubby to leave, he didn’t seem to want to go. We didn’t know how to move from this point. Hubby could not explain how or why things had gotten to this point, only that he was confused, ashamed, hurting, and undecided about the next step. We scheduled back to back therapy appointments to try and unravel all the emotions and thoughts that had us both thinking we must be crazy.

Abee didn’t come to work on Monday and I was a little worried. I called Emma to make sure someone was looking out for her – after all, she was my baby sister. “She’s here” is all Emma said to me. Of course. She would run. She ran to the only place that was safe since mom was away – to her twin.

Mom flew home but she didn’t fly into our area – she flew to Emma’s city. She went straight to Abee who apparently was comatose or something. WTF?? Because I had three kids and a business and a life – I didn’t get support? No… it wasn’t that. It was because I didn’t surrender to the pain. Not yet anyway. When I finally got to talk to mom she was a little less adamant that it hadn’t happened but she did point the finger directly to Hubby. He was the problem! Being almost 20 years older, he should have known better – he was a devil. She hated him. She was going to take Abee and move, far away – out of Hubby’s reach.

Wait, What?

“You’re leaving again? what?” I didn’t know how to respond to this. I didn’t know how to process the words that I heard my mother speak. Abee was the victim here? Seriously? I got mad. All the feelings that had been abated over the last several months as I saw them – well, didn’t see but felt them carry on an affair right under my nose – with total disregard for me and our family – lashed out at my mother.

“What about me? Why do I end up being punished for this? I’ve waited more than twenty years to have you be a part of my life in a meaningful way and you’re leaving again? Because of this?”

I unleashed all the abandonment sediment that had rested in the riverbed of my soul for all these years and thoughtfully dared my mother to do it again. I wasn’t going to let it happen. “Please mom, please stay. We’ll make it work.” I said. “I need you”.

Mom was house rich and cash poor. She would have lost a ton of money if she left. Sadly, she was financially dependent of Abee for the lifestyle that they lived. It wasn’t possible for mom to stay and for Abee to leave. Abee was dependent on us for income.

It ran over and over in my mind and I couldn’t find another solution. If I wanted mom to stay – Abee had to stay – Abee had to work – she worked for us. Shit.

My back was against a wall. In therapy, all I did was run through possible scenarios and none of them ended with mom staying a part of my or of my children’s life unless Abee continued to work for us. We paid her more than she could probably get somewhere else and mom’s livelihood was directly tied to her income. I was between a rock and a hard place; cornered, if I maintained the need for mom to be here. She was the only person I felt like I could count on. For me, healing required her presence.

Our therapist thought I was crazy and Hubby was against it but I demanded that we find a way to work through it and keep everything as it was. I went into hyper-control mode – attempting to manage some degree of emotional safety. I squared up and directed almost every detail of my day so that I could stay in ‘safe mode’. I turned into a robot of sorts – moving from one task to another so that our children were as insulated from the trauma as they could be. Clearly, something was wrong and we tried to comfort them but we were entirely imperfect. Our fighting was too loud, our words too strong, and our uncertainty too deep to maintain consistent levels of composure.

I couldn’t talk with anyone except mom and my therapist. Who would believe this? Even the therapist was incredulous that we could make this work. I insisted that ALL of us be in therapy – with her. It seemed logical to me that if one person was on the inside of our thoughts and emotions, our dysfunction, and our healing process; it would be easier. I refused to listen to her challenge to my rationale and she eventually yielded to our request albeit with the caveat that it was highly unusual and may someday make a great story. (!)

I felt incredibly alone in my anguish. My best friend, my sister, my confidant, was no more. My husband, my partner, my supporter, was gone. The combination of the betrayal and loss of what I thought I had was more excruciating than even the death of Rocky twenty-one years earlier. With death comes finality. This was different. Even though I moved my desk into a different room in our building, when I walked into the office every day I was reminded of the deceit and deception that had existed in my life. We still had to work which, meant meetings, phone calls, and planning sessions; it couldn’t be helped. We were small, there was no place to hide.

My instinct, my priority, my need …was to keep my family together and that’s what I set out to do.

Liar, Liar

My knowledge was confirmed with his answer to my single question and the validity of it filtered into my body one cell at a time.

“When your lover is a liar, you and he have a lot in common, you’re both lying to you!” — Susan Forward

Continued from Lightening Strikes

My head started swimming on his words “I’m in love with Abee” – I knew it! I knew something was wrong – I had felt this way before, with Dee. I didn’t connect the feelings – or maybe I had simply refused to look. I needed to get out of there. I looked at him with disgust. I wanted to vomit. So many things ran through my mind but none of them seemed appropriate at that moment and I found myself standing, robotically; moving toward the door, and walking out. I got to my car by memory and in a state of shock, I pulled out of the driveway and headed west. I could not get the idea out of my mind “I knew it!!, I’m not stupid, I knew it.”

I picked up my cell phone and called Abee. “Hubby thinks he is in love with you.” “What?” she says? “That’s crazy” but I disconnected. I didn’t want to hear what she had to say. I called mom. Unfortunately for mom, she was traveling in Hawaii of all places – trying to enjoy a vacation of a lifetime. I couldn’t care. I needed my mom and this wasn’t going to be pretty. Everything I had feared was being validated. She, of course, was in an impossible position and while she wanted to comfort me, she was also concerned about Abee… She offered to come home but that wasn’t what I wanted. I just needed to vent.

I was beside myself as I found a parking lot behind a large church. I sat there and chain smoked cigarettes – one after another – in an effort to calm myself. Reflections from the past several months as I noticed changes in the way they interacted, the way that they spoke to one another, laughed together, in the way that Hubby scheduled business events. Abee called me to ask if I was ok. What??

She claimed to not understand, to say that he was crazy, that it must be a mistake. What the heck? She seemed confused and hurt.

I trusted that woman. I didn’t trust that man – he had already proven that he was untrustworthy – that he could betray me; she has had my back.

She exhibited all the behaviors that I needed – confusion, surprise, and support. She told me it would be worked out that this wasn’t real.

I went home and waited for hubby to come home. I was fed up with is inconsistency – his denial – his betrayal. I didn’t understand his mind, the way he thought. He seemed confused too. He demonstrated a perplexed persona – stating that he didn’t know how he felt… he was trying, to be honest with me. He had feelings for Abee, he loved her, he loved us both. Fuck you, I thought.

I drove to Abee’s house, the house she shared with our mother who wasn’t there. She was pensive but seemed to be on my side – she was persistent with her feelings of confusion and empathy for my pain. She appeared to ‘not understand’.

The next day was Saturday and I was a wreck. Hubby went back and forth with his feeling – one minute he loved me more, the next he didn’t know. It was one of those experiences that seemed surreal in every aspect. I felt as if I was floating in the world – between realities – hoping that the one I was in would fade away at any moment and leave me back in something that felt less intense. Three times that day I went from my house to Abee’s – we went to lunch. I distinctly remember being at a diner in Amish country with her – the drive did me good – as I recalled, the details of the last time this happened to me. I spelled out how I felt, what I thought, I recounted the pain and agony that I experienced minute by minute during the discovery of Hubby’s first affair. I spoke – in detail – the way I felt about my friend’s deceit and betrayal. Abee stayed silent; austere.

Later that evening, I drove to her house – again. I was relaying information that Hubby was claiming – that she reciprocated his feelings – that in their travel together, she ‘held hands’ and echoed his claims.

She denied feeling anything for him – she stood firm in her state of confusion and deference to his claim. She rebuked his assertions by claiming that he had misunderstood her. She would never do ‘that’ to me she says.

By Sunday, I was spent. Literally just empty of emotion and energy to sift through the differences that Hubby and Abee presented to me. I was trying to simply *be* that day and it was difficult with three kids in the house and the constant influx of questions that were infiltrating my mind. I was in a state of suspension trying to remember to breathe because I constantly found myself holding my breath and waiting. I was waiting to wake up from the nightmare that had unfolded three days prior. I wanted to crawl back into my oblivious and protective hole where I just lied to myself about how everything was fine – that my life was a normal one.

And then… in a very quick and simple moment, I realized that Hubby didn’t just ‘fall in love’ – not without sex.

It was so clear – the realization that sex had to have transpired in order for Hubby to be ‘in love’ – I knew. I simply knew that this was more than some skewed fantasy in the mind of my husband. This had been a full-on affair and most of what I believed to be true about my life was currently – a lie.

My knowledge was confirmed with his answer to my single question and the validity of it filtered into my body one cell at a time. For the second time in our fourteen-year marriage, Hubby had exited our union to meet his emotional and/or physical desires. This time, it was not a random stranger or a friend of mine, it was my sister – yes, my half-sister – but my blood relative, my best friend, our employee. I tried to call her but she didn’t answer. I didn’t care really – I didn’t know what to say or if I would even be able to contain my burning emotions. I called mom.

I’m pretty sure I was screaming at her while she told me all of the reasons that I must be wrong. She was coming home she said – she didn’t say it, but I knew I had ruined her vacation with my ranting – I felt guilty. It wasn’t ‘my fault’ per se but I was the one calling her – needing her. Who can I talk to? My husband loves my sister – they have been having an affair. All this time – lying to my face, right in front of me – one lie after another. Where do I go? What do I do? In one part of my mind, there is a tiny, quiet voice that simply repeats over and over…

“help”.

Lightening Strikes

Everything except his face blurred out of focus and I concentrated on the sound of his voice as he hesitated and then said …

“The cruelest lies are often told in silence.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Continued from Missing Pieces

Nothing was ever resolved from the medical tests that had consumed my early winter. The cardiologist concluded that I had a healthy heart; a near perfect echocardiogram confirmed it.  The dizziness and manic pulse had calmed down a bit but still interrupted my day from time to time. Occasionally, for no apparent reason, I would have a mild ‘freak out’ physiologically speaking. My body was attempting to tell me… something.

It’s interesting to live life in a way that finds you questioning most things you know. There were so many pieces of the ‘puzzle’ of my life that didn’t register as logical or plausible and almost all of them related to Hubby and inconsistencies that I was experiencing at least weekly, if not daily. I interpreted something based on what I saw, heard, and encountered and yet when confronted, there was an absence of validation – in any regard for how I perceived a situation. I felt as if I was crazy at times. Didn’t I know what I know? How did I misconstrue so many things? I began to experience a depleted sense of self, of confidence, of morale. I questioned so many things that even the things that looked like facts with blatant evidence, I would simply pass over and discount as nothing.

Some of what I had begun to consider seemed like madness, ridiculous. The thought occurred to me that there was too strong of a connection between Hubby and Abee; it looked that way. Abee was so deeply involved in our lives that I feared she could simply ‘step-in’ and replace me at any given moment. Would I be missed? My family would barely skip a beat… My children loved her, she was instrumental in our business; knowing all the nooks and crannies there, and my husband seemed enthralled. I asked him over and over – “what is going on” – only to be brushed off and deferred. Eventually, I stopped asking because I knew what he would say. I mentioned something to mom but like me, she thought it was an absurd consideration. Abee’s behavior hadn’t changed, she wasn’t any different with me… I never brought it up to her because there wasn’t any evidence on her part to support an accusation. I felt ashamed and guilty even considering it. I basically sat on the information, the lack of substantiation and my confusion in silence because to consider the ludicrous notion that my sister would entertain any kind of relationship with my husband beyond what would be typical of an in-law – well, that didn’t register.

I don’t recall the specific time frame of this event, but the details of the moment are another that is deeply embedded in my mind. There was a storm of some kind, perhaps a Nor’easter – common to the mid-Atlantic area. We were all at our house, Mom, Abee, Hubby and the girls when a phone call notified us that the alarm system at the office had been activated. The police had been called but we should also check it out. Hubby turned to Abee and asked her to ride along in case he needed help. Under normal circumstances, this may not have activated any internal alarms but things were not ‘normal’ for us. I was right there and couldn’t comprehend why he didn’t ask me – a co-owner – and his wife – to go with him. I challenged it but again, my rationale was contested and a half dozen reasons why I needed to stay at home with mom and the girls ensued. It always took too much effort to argue and with other people right there, I fumed, but relented. The office was thirty minutes away and it was uneventful – the wind had blown open the front door, tripping the signal. I stayed angry.

Hubby and I were in critical mode. Most of our discussions were negative and ended up with us each yelling or me crying. The distance between us was farther than we could bridge on our own and so we started marriage counseling again with the therapist that I credited with saving our marriage from infidelity eight years previous. It started out rough and I realized that I had been suppressing much more than I ever realized. I was withholding so much feeling that much of what came out of my mouth was tainted with its flavor. Instead of speaking about what I was thinking and feeling (mostly because I thought it was frequently dismissed), I became passive aggressive.

Passive aggressive behavior is frequently the result of someone who experiences a constant abuse of their inability to say no. People who do things even though they don’t want to will ‘fight back’ passively by using sarcasm or ‘digs’ whenever they can; indirectly expressing negativity. My vocabulary was heavily weighted with PA remarks such as “I’m not mad”, “Whatever”, “Sure if that’s what you want”, “I thought you would know”, etc… words that imply discontent without actually saying ‘hey, this isn’t working for me’.  This defense mechanism is created when we perceive that our feelings were an inconvenience, problematic, or cumbersome on someone. With Hubby, I had grown to believe that my feelings were inconsequential and so, they came out – but in a completely unproductive and ultimately – unhealthy way; both for me and my relationship.

I learned a lot about expressing myself and I would try to practice what I learned at home. I used “I” statements to the best of my ability (no one is ever perfect in this regard) and tried to make sure that feeling words dominated my vocabulary when we were speaking so that I didn’t elicit his defense mechanisms. This communication style takes patience, practice, and determination. It also takes the cooperation of BOTH contributors to the conversation. I’m not sure we were both on the same page each time we attempted to exchange our thoughts. It was slow going and I was wearing out.

By early March it felt as though we were ‘stuck’. Things weren’t changing much and the frustrations continued to manifest and collect – at least on my part. Regardless of how many times he denied it, I could tell something was different. We weren’t connecting – our emotional intimacy seemed impossible to reestablish no matter our effort. There was a strong stirring in my spirit – a provoking sense of familiarity that I was unwilling to acknowledge yet it stayed there, constantly knocking on my heart – that someone else was in the picture. My unwillingness to look in that direction, to confirm my worst fears, was conspicuous.

During a routine weekly counseling session, my frustrations were accentuated and our impasse felt impenetrable. I was crying. Our therapist, also appearing frustrated made the statement “you need to tell her, I’m not willing to keep this secret any longer” and looked directly at Hubby. I looked at him with inquiring eyes and momentarily stopped breathing. My body felt heavy and the air in the room became suddenly thick. Everything except his face blurred out of focus and I concentrated on the sound of his voice as he hesitated and then said slowly and quietly…

“I’m in love with Abee.”

Rebuild & Repair

There was a resurgence in our commitment to one another and in our desire to be together.

“Only in the shattering can the rebuilding occur.” -Barbara Marciniak

Hubby moved back in and we began rehabilitating our broken home. Recovering from infidelity is difficult for any couple. Rebuilding trust happens slowly – painfully slow at first. For the injured party, it is not uncommon for questions to linger, for visions of the indiscreet couple to overtake intimate moments, and for fear of more indiscretions to overwhelm typical days. The only true relief comes with time. I was no different in that regard. As much as I tried, I couldn’t erase the vision of Hubby and Dee in his office, or in her bedroom. I learned to shake my head quickly when these images flooded my frontal lobe; to think of something else. It was more difficult to settle my heart rate and respiration when he was a little late or didn’t answer his cell phone. I was automatically and instantly thrust into neurotic angst wondering where he was and who he might be with. I didn’t reason with myself or process the fear, it built into a frenzy and exploded upon him in the form of emotional vomit the minute he walked in.

Our therapist worked with him to be patient with me as I began to heal and I worked on acquiring better skills that allowed me to emote differently and to cope more effectively with the volatility of my feelings. I learned to journal. I would write my thoughts and their corresponding feelings whether they were rational or not. I had a lot going on in my mind every day and I had to figure out how to validate myself.  I started smoking again. Hubby never had quit through all my pregnancies and we were spending a lot of time outside on the deck talking. Many of those conversations were difficult and having a cigarette in my hand somehow helped. It gave me something to focus on and strangely, connected us again. When we were first married, both of us smoking, we would sit outside and talk well into the evenings. Our talking time had been significantly curbed after I got pregnant and stopped smoking. I wouldn’t sit outside with him mostly due to my aversion to cigarette odor but also because I was also annoyed that he was still a smoker. Now, it was just easier to join him. I was mad at myself for picking up such an undesirable habit again but it served a number of purposes – at least in my mind.

There was a typical honeymoon period where we were all ‘in love’ and ‘romantic’ again. There was a resurgence in our commitment to one another and in our desire to be together. Money was still really tight, especially now that we were spending a car payment amount of money on counseling. It was difficult for us to ‘go places’ or ‘do things’ due to budget restraints but we would just take a walk or plan a picnic lunch from time to time, which helped us stay focused on one another. I tried to make sure that there was good balance between the time I spent on home, family, work, and Hubby. I was successful some days, others… not so much. There are only so many hours in a day and I couldn’t figure out most days how to make it all happen. I still feared that if I wasn’t fixing this element in myself that he would just keep looking elsewhere. I lived with an underlayment of that fear Every. Single. Day.

In therapy, I was learning about self-care. She had helped me to see that I was in a co-dependent relationship characterized by three distinct elements:

  •             Attempting to please another person in an effort to garner love or affection
  •             Making excuses for another person’s bad behavior
  •             Constant support of my partner at the cost of my own happiness

She motivated me to start thinking of myself in a healthier way, to develop interests beyond my husband and family. She taught me to think about my needs and to discern what was important to me. One does not simply ‘change’ thirty years of habit overnight (although I didn’t realize that) and so I experienced a great deal of frustration in my pursuit of perfecting the changes I wanted to facilitate. I felt as though I was entering a period of self-discovery and indeed, it was a beginning.

Our pastor had been grossly supportive, offering additional counsel as needed and always had a smile, an approving hug, ready for us on Sunday mornings when we entered the building. On more than one occasion I was moved to tears as the sermon or the readings would touch on a scar or still sore mental spot if it pertained to forgiveness or family or on being a ‘good’ person. I was occasionally conflicted about the ‘trauma’ we had experienced as a family and the way that it had been ‘glossed over’ simply because no one knew. Hubby – understandably – wasn’t keen on people knowing he had cheated on his wife and I didn’t want people to think badly of him going forward. I had largely, suffered in silence. At least as far as our community was concerned but I did have family.

I had a tremendous amount of support in my life and I used their counsel frequently. My friends Michele, E., my mom, and surprisingly, my twin sisters. Technically, they are half-sisters as we have different fathers but we never used that terminology and I didn’t love them any less. I had been a part of their entire lives; from changing their diapers to working on high school term papers for them. They were turning twenty that year and transforming into really great young ladies. College hadn’t proven to be their vibe and so they demonstrated how hard working they were by holding down jobs in a variety of genres. Cellular phones were just becoming big business and they had an opportunity to participate via sales. They were spectacular! No one I was aware of knew more than they did about cell phones. It was fun to see them blossom into women. When they got to spend time with us, they brought fun and light into our home; we were always laughing. After years of having them visit as kids and then babysitters, it was great to experience them as adults. Our families were central forces in our life. Hubby’s family was closer in proximity and we saw them more often, but I was particularly close to my own. Even though it was a contemporary conglomeration of step-parents and half-siblings who lived far away from me, they all were the grounding strength of what drove and guided me.

We had a party that fall. We were putting ourselves back on track and it was the right time to celebrate not only Baby Em’s baptism but our renewed marital spirit. We invited everyone in both families and a number of distant friends. It was a time of leaf raking, wood stacking, and pumpkin eating. Everyone helped and it was easy. Love was abundant. I was proud of us. We were weathering the storm. We still went to therapy weekly but it had transformed from pain management to skill development in a short time frame. I believed that therapy had saved our marriage.