3 Years (and a day) since DDay
Before I get to a specific update about my reconciliation/relationship updated, I'm going to make a post a little more about this forum and the advice that's often given here. I hope that it can be a useful summary and "decoder ring".
Out of all the things I did wrong, one thing that definitely went right was joining this forum. I know that I have been a prolific poster and contributor for a while here. Some of you may have noticed my participation has dwindled a bit. That's perhaps a reflection of the healing and that I don't feel like I need to be here as much, but I also think it's because getting in and through some of the difficult JFO threads is something that has it's own emotional toll. So especially there, I have sort of stopped jumping in as much as I used to for boilerplate advice. So, here is some distilled advice:
The two best books:
"Not Just Friends" by Shirly Glass. This book is very effective at showing how affairs happen, and what you can do to defend against them (though it makes it obvious you cannot affair-proof your marriage).
"How to Help Your Spouse Heal from Your Affair" by Linda MacDonald. This is the book that will most importantly help your WS avoid the "haphazard"/"detain and torture" actions in recovery and reconciliation.
Things you need to avoid/chief bad behaviors of a WS:
Blameshifting: making it seem like the affair is somehow the fault of *anyone* other than the cheater. The affair is the fault of the cheater. The marriage could have been better, but cheating wasn't going to make it better. The AP might have been attractive and relentless, but WS should have protected your M. The world and other external circumstances are not to blame.
Rugsweeping: refusal to talk about and address the affair. "I don't want to talk about it", "We need to move on", "This again?" But also, rugsweeping by the BS. Not talking about the A because you don't want to "ruin the mood" or just classic conflict avoidance. To recover from the affair conflict is necessary.
Minimization: the WS will make it seem like the A isn't that bad. It could be worse. We never did XYZ. Doesn't matter.
Catastrophizing: the WS will declare that they are a bad person and hopeless. This is perhaps accurate. But this is usually followed up with something like, "Nothing I ever do will be good enough!" This is generally used as a sort of excuse to then do actually nothing, when they should be trying everything they can to make amends.
Continued Lying/Trickle Truth: self explanatory. To avoid this, a complete *written timeline* should be one of the first demands of the BS along with complete electronic transparency. In a sense, this is also where the "marriage police" thing comes in. For some time after the A, you'll need to get a VAR, maybe hire a PI. You start recovery in an informational war with a person you can't trust. You can't use tools to fight this forever, but if you don't use them at all, you'll get lied to.
And now for the "decoder ring" of phrases you'll hear and maybe not know what to do with:
Sorry you're here, glad you found us.
What it means:
We all understand the pain you are going through right now. It feels like you have been ripped in half. Your mind is probably telling you to run and your heart is telling you that you still love your WS. It's devastating. You might think things like, "It would have been easier if you would have died." This is normal, though I think in the long run, for most people that's not really true. We have been there to and we have a wealth of experiences that we can provide to help you through it.
You're old marriage is dead.
What it means:
The one thing most of us long for most is to return to before the A. We wish that our relationship could just be like it was before, but it simply cannot. Even if you eventually do choose R, you have to understand that the marriage you rebuild (or build from scratch) is going to be completely different than the one you had before. There are permanent losses you will have as part of the death of your old marriage. You will not return to implicit and arguably naive levels of trust. You might still love your partner, and perhaps even recommit for life. I'm not there yet personally. In my new marriage it's basically "for as long as I can hack it" and one whiff of a repeat and I'm out the door. There is permanent damage, and when you enter the new marriage you will almost certainly have to change what your original thoughts were on some important topics. Attaining this level of "flexibility" is certainly offset by the loss of "something integrity adjacent". The reason being most of us never thought we would tolerate cheating.
You have to be willing to lose your marriage to save it. OR You have to let go of the outcome.
What it means:
This doesn't mean you should threaten divorce to get your WS to shape up. It means if you aren't genuinely ready to leave the relationship with an unsafe partner, they simply will not change. It might feel like splitting hairs, but it's very important. I don't think there is any skipping to the end on this one. This is where a lot of the mess happens. You may *want* to save your marriage, and most likely you will do whatever you feel will work best to do so. I'm not saying to not try that, I'm just saying that part of the work and lesson is that you have to be ready to walk away when you aren't getting the actions you need out of your WS.
You both have to do the work.
What it means:
What is "the work"? This is a harder one to define in short, but it means a few things. For the BS, a lot of the work is unlearning societal beliefs about infidelity and what it happens. Really refusing to accept blame, but still be able to admit you could improve as a partner. Being able to separate the relationship from the affair is one of the heavy lifts for the BS. Another is understanding what you need to feel safe again. I think one of the biggest things that helps restore safety is "transference of vigilance". This is covered in a book "How Can I Forgive You" by Janis Spring which I wouldn't recommend right out of the gate, but maybe after you think you can let up on being the marriage police. All this takes time and effort for the BS to work through. I think another important part of "the work" for a BS is dealing with the permanent losses including "something integrity adjacent". You might no longer be really proud of your marriage, but after your work you will certainly be proud of your contributions to the marriage. And if you think about it, if it takes two people to have a good marriage, you can't possibly hold yourself responsible for the other person's half. You need to own your half though.
For the WS, the hardest work is driving down into the "why?" of the A. Not the surface level, blame shifting "why". The internal machinations that they used to give themself permission to cheat. What is that thought process? How is it flawed? Are there FOO issues or trauma issues that led to that type of decision-making? How will you identify when you are in that thought pattern and break free from it? Becoming honest not just about the A, but most likely in general, is going to be a long journey for the WS.
After the infidelity is over, the goal is then to restore a sense of love, support, and safety.
I could probably write more, but I think that's some big topics. Now onto my generic update.
When I found out my wife was definitely cheating on me (and I should have figured it out sooner), my whole world came crashing down. "Somewhere between a nuclear bomb and an earth destroying meteor" is how I described the damage my wife did to our marriage to my friend. You guys all helped me through it, and I did my best to take what I needed and leave the rest. Certainly the harder of a line I took the better things went. I allowed for "work only NC" against the advice of many here. I didn't force the polygraph that she offered. And I learned of many other A's in her circle of friends. But I think it's very hard to hold a hard line, at least for me. The main reason being I never did stop loving my wife.
The first year was very hard, included broken NC, and I thought was going to end in D. I had to fire our first MC because she was less than useless (sometimes you should take some advice you decide to leave :P). On the board my signature was about embracing limbo. Once I asked for the D in writing, my wife really turned things around, even if it wasn't a truly miraculous and perfect recovery, it was a major shift in how she was thinking and behaving. She got a new job, established true NC. She found another MC with expertise in betrayal trauma/recovery from an A.
She did meet a male coworker that she made friends with at her new job. I don't think I've talked about this much but I do think she has handled this pretty much perfectly, which is almost better than "no opposite sex friends". She has maintained very solid and open communication with me about him. The first time she hung out with him outside of work, it was him and his wife with me and mine. He is a great guy and they are legitimately "just friends" because they aren't going and spending a ton of one on one time together. She isn't sending him tons of texts. The ones she does are typical friend type messages and shit talking fantasy football. She is totally open with it, and we maintain electronic transparency.
Our marriage itself is functionally much better in a lot of ways than before the A. All of the "work" has resulted in way better communication skills. We did do the Gottman thing and I think those tools are a great way to get on the same page and use the same language to address issues in a marriage. I also think we could have gotten all of those improvements without the A. Here is one of the few places I sort of agree with Esther Perel. An A is like cancer, and if you find out you have it, fight it, remove it, you might also find other things wrong with you in a full body scan and fix those as well. You can end up healthier on the other side, but it wasn't really *because* you got cancer.
Recently I had complained a little and wondered if I was in the Plain of Lethal Flatness, but I determined that life was just hard, and that having an A in your history can make a hard part of life seem harder. I talked a little bit about that as part of the "work" of separating M problems from A problems. We got over that little speed bump. We had a really wonderful Halloween and Thanksgiving. We are so far having a very nice December. While I think I've been using fWW for a while for my wife, I'm still not quite ready to call myself fBS. We have a very solid M and R is going very well. I'm still just short of saying something like "I'm happily married", but I am married and happy (which I have been for a while).
I'm looking forward to my thirteenth anniversary, which we have maintained in a bubble away from the A even from the beginning. I don't know if I would generally recommend what I did. It has been a sort of explicit rugsweeping. We have had really nice anniversaries each year aside from the whole no gift situation on our eleventh. She did a great job last year. It's nice to have a special day to appreciate each other even when dealing with the shitstorm that is the A.
One thing I don't talk about a lot and that never went wrong is that we have both put our boys first. It has never been a question with either of us. We want what is best for them and have done what we can to talk to them about things in an age appropriate way. Neither her nor I would consider weaponizing our children as it relates to our M or potential D. They know we had problems but that we love each other and got through the problems. They are doing well in school and in general. I didn't talk about it much either, but one of my sons nearly choked to death, was passed out, and needed rescue breathing. This was it's own traumatic experience for our family, but having a lot of the trauma tools available has been helpful. Even with this experience, they are healthy, wonderful, smart, and loving boys.
Where I am right now overall is in a pretty good place. I'm very happy with the effort I've put in, and I'm happy with the effort my wife has put in the last two years. We have a good life together. So if you JFO, or you are in limbo, or things are a mess, it's possible for them to get better. It just won't happen on hopium alone.
15 comments posted: Monday, December 12th, 2022
Empathy Fueled Deceit
So I was thinking about empathy the other day. By itself, it's understanding how someone else feels. In order to manipulate and deceive someone, you have to anticipate how they will behave based on the information they have available.
So to start this exercise in empathy driven deceit, the WS buys into the lie "If no one finds out, no one gets hurt". This is a foundational belief that allows many of conclusions of a WS to take place. I don't think holding this belief is inherently due to a lack of empathy, and is more due to a lack of ethics. In fact, even under the golden rule, if they *really* believed it, they would say "If you cheated on me, I'd rather never suspect and never find out".
So starting from there, we can get to some very common phrases that a WS might use. For example, "I didn't tell you because I didn't want to hurt you". Since it's the telling that would hurt, they use empathy to NOT tell you. They know the truth would cause you to be upset (they put themselves in your shoes to know this). Thus it uses the empathy function of the mind. I would share more examples here, but as many areas that are "avoiding consequence" could equally be thought of as "employing empathetic deceit". I've seen it suggested the WS knows just how much pain their BS can take at once, and that leads to trickle truth. Admitting an amount that feels appropriate, but not "unnecessarily hurtful" to the WS.
If the WS really didn't have empathy, they would likely be more upfront about their behavior. It is the knowledge that what they are doing is wrong and painful that leads them to hide it. They have to anticipate how we will feel in order to manipulate and deceive us. The same way a white lie is used to save feelings, but on a much larger, self-serving scale.
Essentially, it's not the lack of empathy that allows them to lie and cheat. It's the selfishness, lack of ethics, and lack of compassion that drive the WS to lie. Empathy is used all along in order to determine what lies to feed the BS.
I don't think this necessarily helps anyone here, but I thought I'd share.
27 comments posted: Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022
Plain of lethal flatness? Just a bad mood?
Long time no update on my R.
Right now things are going well for me materially and physically. But I'm emotionally spent.
Specifically, I have hit all my fitness goals (strength and aerobic) except a pretty ambitious weight loss goal. I have been promoted in a rapidly growing company that I have worked at for over a decade. I have completed the vast majority of house remodeling projects the house needed when we bought it. School just restarted and the kids are doing well. Things are objectively good.
As I said though, I'm just not really happy. I'm a baseline happy person, so it doesn't really track how I feel historically. I find myself unexcited when I do hit personal bests. I generally enjoy my work but have started to find it grating. I am not really interested in sex like I normally am. No ED or anything, just I could take it or leave it, which isn't something that's gonna turn my wife on.
I'm often impatient with the kids and pets, but I'm managing it just fine. I'm not raising my voice or anything but I'm still a little short with them. My wife sees that I'm not really OK and has been trying to help. She tries to take stuff off my plate at home and to make time for us to cuddle, go on a walk, etc.
It's not low T. I'm fine on that front. Anyway I've scheduled IC appointments again. My IC had been fired but he is at a new practice now. So I'm doing what I can to figure it out. It just feels like I wake up every day ready to do a day full of tasks I don't really want to do. Maybe "welcome to being an adult", but it's not like I haven't been one for a while. Anyway, advice is appreciated. Also happy to answer clarifying questions.
19 comments posted: Tuesday, September 6th, 2022
Today my wife is finishing up the annual review process at her new job (maybe not super new at this point). She was asked to join a colleague (male) for drinks some time this weekend. Both the colleague's spouse and myself were invited initially (potentially kids too depending on location TBD at the time). We looked a little more at plans and it made more sense for them to just meet without everyone getting together. This doesn't bother me at all. There is no pattern that would match what I saw previously, and no risk in my mind of this being another EA.
That said, our conversation was WAY different from the last time she went to go get beers with a friend (who was a mutual friend with the AP). At that time it had been something like, "Do whatever you want." She said, "But there will be consequences?" I said, "Yes." and she went anyway.
This time, I said, "You should just go alone and talk shop. I don't want to deal with a baby sitter, I'm not going to drink any beer anyway (New Year's Resolution in play). I'd rather just stay home with the boys."
She said, "No really, we can just cancel, I don't have to go. I promise you this isn't anything but I don't want you to be even a little uncomfortable."
"It's really totally fine. This is way different than the last time you went out for drinks alone, and I think you can feel that difference."
"I really don't want you to be anxious. It's really no problem if it doesn't fit in our schedule."
"It doesn't bother me at all. Go have a year end beer, and I'll see you when you get back."
"I understand if you are anxious at all though. I could see how it could look."
"That's a solid transference of vigilance, you know from that book on forgiveness, and I think you've handled this really well. Seriously, just go have a beer."
Then we hugged. That's it.
18 comments posted: Wednesday, January 12th, 2022
When things get easy again
I feel like sometimes we only post when bad stuff happens, or at a specific interval (X years since D-day) to give some high level update on healing. I wanted to do something a bit different and just describe what I've notice in my M with my fWW recently. Try to get some information out there that isn't just complaining, venting, or trying to problem solve.
After a long struggle in limbo and a difficult start to real R, things have been pretty smooth. We have discussed the A here and there, and had a very good conversation about it over drinks. About the damage it caused, the feelings, what we still feel. My wife apologized again, and thanked me for my persistence in sticking around. She thanked me for "letting her" go on a girl's trip (upcoming). I still wouldn't call it giving or not permission, but simply put I said something along the lines of, "I don't think you are going to do anything, it doesn't even give me anxiety like some other things you have done before." She said she understands I'm not concerned, but that I would right to be concerned if I was, and just thanked me again for sticking with her. She also thanks me when I tell her the truth about what I feel even when it is negative. This has been a big breakthrough compared to the defensiveness I encountered frequently after the A.
For example, she has been working long hours, it doesn't really cause me anxiety related to the A, but we have been able to discuss that without getting it entangled, which was an issue before. We would bring any little thing up and it would get connected back to the A. We can basically treat these types of discussions as something other than make or break issues. It seemed like for a long time any complaint in either direction would end up almost discussing D (very early on I had posted a question asking when minor issues could go back to being minor, and I think I'm there now).
We have also been good about going on dates. We tried a new restaurant a few weeks ago and had a lovely time, discussing future plans, vacations, and life. We went to an Oktoberfest (outdoor, proof of vaccination required) which was really nice. It rained on us and we stopped for some soup before going home. We really do enjoy each other's company. Intimacy frequency is back to normal and quality is up after a lull I had described a few months ago.
Overall, it feels a lot like the ease I felt in our M before the A. The slightly weird thing about it though, is that after all the work, and effort, and teeth pulling, and foot dragging is that the relief is almost like an eerie silence after being at a concert or something. I'm not sure how to describe it. I wouldn't call it the POLF. I'm content and comfortable. I'm getting along well with my wife, kids are doing well, and work is going well.
This lack of fatigue in real life caused me to want to try to take a break from the forums, since it was starting to be the only time I would think about infidelity. I would get angry, especially in JFO, and I didn't know if it was something I could or should keep returning to. This ultimately felt a little too much like rugsweeping the last of my feelings on the topic about it. Plus, you have all helped me so much and I want to continue to pay it forward.
So that's my little update for today. Thank you all for the help along the way. I wouldn't be where I am emotionally without you.
27 comments posted: Tuesday, September 21st, 2021