One of the things I have struggled with most through this ordeal is the memories and connections that come back unbidden and take my breath away. I could see an item or a gesture, remember an event, and be unexpectedly and utterly overrun by a vivid cascade of betrayal. For instance, I remember pulling into my driveway one day and being happy that the corn was growing well. I remembered last year’s small harvest and the joyful pictures we had taken of my husband shucking corn. Then I remembered that he had shared these pictures with the women he had been cheating on me with. At the same time, I felt unreasonable and sheepish that I was upset because someone had seen pictures. I felt like I was overreacting in a way that was totally not me and I felt disturbed by this uncharacteristic reaction, like I was becoming something other than myself.
It wasn’t until months later when I was reading Dignity by Donna Hicks that I figured out what was going on and why that mundane task, and truthfully many others, had suddenly taken on what seemed undue significance. She states, “love is attention.” She was arguing that the ample and positive attention that parents show children affirms that the children are loved and valued more than the simple words “I love you.” When I heard this, a couple puzzle pieces fell into place for me and led me to better understand how mundane acts can unexpectedly link together memories and trigger moments that take my breath away.
I remember a time not long ago when I was doing our laundry. As I laid out one of DH’s shirts so that he could hang it later, his words rang through my head: “I came home, took a shower, and washed my clothes after I saw her. I didn’t want you to smell her on me.” The next thing I knew, completely unbidden, I was taken back to the day of that particular, mostly forgotten incident.
I had come home from work as usual. My husband and I had a short conversation and then he went to switch over the laundry. I remember being glad for his help. I thought in some small way he was starting to come out of his depression and help a little more around the house. We went about business as usual. I cooked dinner, we watched some TV, that sort of thing. Later that evening, I remember him getting the laundry from the dryer. When I saw he had only washed a few things and that the few things were his things, I was disappointed that he had not really done everyone’s laundry, just washed a few of his things. I didn’t say anything, though, because I was hoping he would continue to do more things around the house. He didn’t.
As I laid out his shirt, an everyday act of love and care, it dawned on me that his actions that day had nothing to do with helping me or contributing more to the family. They had more to do with maintaining his deceit and making sure that I did not discover what exactly he had been doing while I was at work. The picture of what had actually happened that day became depressingly fuller. I had to stop folding for a few minutes and catch my breath. Thankfully, I do not remember exactly when that happened, but I do remember the event because of the hope and disappointment I felt, a disappointment which was then compounded by the knowledge of why he was actually washing his clothes.
Everyday acts of attention and care affirm love. Tending our gardens, washing someone’s clothes, making someone dinner, these are all acts of love. During the era of his infidelity, during his depression, he was giving his positive attention in to other people. He contributed less around the house, was distracted when we were doing things together, and would not engage me in real conversation. He was giving me as little attention as possible and seeking to exclude me from many of his activities. He would speak words of love, but he would not put time into our family. His attention was in maintaining his façade and in the women he pursued.
Understanding the significance of everyday acts of love helped me to understand my reactions. Him sharing the pictures of our corn shucking with his girlfriends was him showing them attention. It was him taking our moment and including them in it. Him washing his clothes as an act of deception felt like a slight on the love that I regularly show by doing our laundry. The laundry list goes on…
Principles of the day:
- Romantic attention directed elsewhere is love directed elsewhere
- Attention directed towards maintaining lies is attention not directed to love