Some of the most difficult to grapple with aspects of infidelity are not part of the relationship proper. When I found out about DH’s betrayal, I immediately knew that it was not something I could talk about with the people closest to me, which made me feel even more alone. Involving my family and friends in our relationship troubles would fundamentally change the way DH was seen and also the way that I was seen in ways that would be irrevocable and possibly undesirable. My siblings, for instance, would have a harder time forgiving DH than I would. They knew in some ways of our difficulties after the birth of our child, but if they knew about his infidelity and my resulting heartbreak, that would be all that they would see. I knew they would pressure me to leave, and I could not have that informing my decision. I could hear the “I would never stick with him after he did that to me. Have more self-respect!” kind of lectures. Their support would be just what I needed if I did decide to dissolve the marriage, but it would be precisely what I did not need if I decided to stay.
I also deeply felt the shame and loneliness in a different way. I felt like people, my friends and family included, would on some level wonder what is wrong with you that your husband would do that? The speculations they could make rang in my head: she must be awful in bed, she must be a bitch to him, she should have known better than to marry someone so different than her. The thought of others judging me in this way was harder to bear than the loneliness of not sharing.
I did seek therapists to help me through this dark time. Unfortunately, therapists are not entirely free of judgement either and the ones that I found have values that did not sync well with my own. One lady basically said that there was nothing she would do for us until my husband stopped drinking. Her assumption was that alcohol was a root of the problem rather than an effect of it. Try as I might to explain to her that the problem lay deeper, it had no effect and colored her perception and treatments. At one point, she suggested I go to support groups specifically for wives of alcoholics and listen to their stories so that I would know that my perspective held validity. For me, “validity” was never an issue. Standing up to my husband was never an issue. I wanted practical support and direction, not the scapegoat of alcohol. I wanted to know if the relationship could be saved, was worth saving, and what steps to take.
I found the supports that I needed creatively in a few places:
- Books–I began reading a lot on a variety of related topics. Sometimes, the books I read were about infidelity and relationships. The challenge was to find things that would align with my values. Esther Perel’s work on relationships was particularly helpful and insightful. It helped me to understand the idea that affairs can be an expression (albeit an unhealthy one) of a need that is not being met. Some of the other books I read, such as Brene Brown’s work, focused on how to sort through the complex jumble of emotions I was experiencing, shame, resentment, forgiveness, boundary setting, as well as establishing realistic expectations of my husband. Books, while not being terribly personal, were also non-judgmental. They presented information in the “take it or leave it” sort of way and did not keep forcing ideas that did not apply to my situation.
- Physical/Somatic Therapy--I also found other forms of therapy to be more helpful than talk therapy, massage therapy for instance. I was introduced to this idea in Bessel Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score. Van Der Kolk is a therapist and researcher, who over the course of his studies, has found that traumas and emotions of various sorts are held in our bodies and that treating the body can be a very effective way of treating the trauma. I decided to test this idea. I figured the worst that would happen is that I would get a massage. What I found, though, is two sessions in particular that were very effective. One was with a craniosacral therapist, one with a lomi-lomi specialist.
- Healthy supplements—Something nearly impossible for me to do when upset is sleep well, even when it is what I most need. Taking Kava Kava or L-Theanine before bed really helped with this.
- Writing—Writing allows me to vent my feelings and organize my thoughts so that I can more clearly think about what I actually want to say and where I stand on certain issues.