You want to say I’m brave, telling this story? Okay, fine, for this one post I’ll go along with it.
Brace yourselves, because shit is about to get crazy sexist and totally un-PC up in here. You can call me brave. . . NOW.
I believe I bear partial responsibility for my husband’s infidelity.
It was normal day when he called, midweek. The big kids were still little kids then. It was cloudy, a little drizzly, not unlike today. I was home for the morning, and had just been thinking how much I hated our floors. Seriously, they were so ugly.
His voice was tense, a little needy. He hesitated, and when he spoke, he sounded . . . weak. “I think I need to talk to someone about my anxiety. Do you think -- Can you help me find a therapist or something?”
A need expressed, clearly, humbly, from the person to whom I’d committed the very best of me.
I said sure. Yeah, okay. Fine. I then suggested he take a deep breath, get over it, and get back to work. Oh, but I tacked on an “I love you” at the end. No need to be callous, right?
Bear in mind, professionally I had directed multiple people to therapists. I had reassured them there was no judgment, no stigma, nothing to feel bad about. He was asking not just because I was his wife, but because I knew how to handle a concern like this one.
Not when it was my husband I didn’t.
There was another time, when I told him he didn’t care about his kids because he wanted to make cookies, and they’d already had a lot of sugar that day.
Then there was the time he’d had a bad day at work, and vented about a harsh comment on a review until I changed the subject. He sounded so weak, talking about the things that hurt him. Whining that it was unfair. I hated weakness in a man. Oh, somebody hurt your feelings? Dude, just no. Don’t. Get over it.
And there was the time he finally told me everything, in the middle of night, in a whisper. “I’m sorry I’m such an asshole.” Then he cried.
If I had held him before like I was finally able to hold him then, our story might have been different.
Before, I only wanted his strong side.
If you know my husband personally, you know he is a strong man. He has strong muscles and bones, with an equally strong personality. In a word, Jake is a force. If he is in the room, you know it.
It’s hot. And it’s endearing. I love it, always have.
He’s also a human being, with the full range of emotions human beings can have. Oh, and he cries when animals die in movies.
Actually he cries at most movies. Deadpool was the most recent.
When we were engaged, the movie-crying thing was a weird little slightly uncomfortable quirk I decided I could tolerate. Because, tears. On a man’s face. <cringe>
If you were at our wedding you will remember I sobbed uncontrollably through my vows, by the way.
See, what I really wanted was my idea of Jake. I wanted his sensitivity when it suited me, like when I needed to be listened to, or when my feelings were hurt, or when I felt afraid. I was the woman, so I got to have hurt feelings and moments when I was scared. He was the man. He didn’t get the luxury of uncomfortable emotions.
Oh, and it’s not just me. In Daring Greatly, which every single person on the planet should be reading, author Brené Brown writes about our cultural attitude toward men and vulnerability, with this unsettling quote from a one-time lecture attendee:
“[Men] have shame. Deep shame. But when we reach out and share our stories, we get the emotional shit beat out of us. . . My wife and daughters . . . they’d rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off. You say you want us to be vulnerable and real, but c’mon. You can’t stand it. It makes you sick to see us like that.” (Brown, 2015, p. 85)
Of course, when you marry someone, you don’t actually get to marry just the parts you like. I had committed to living the depth and breadth of the human experience with this man, fears and hurts included. There was no contingency for picking out the parts that didn’t suit my (completely antifeminist, fairytale, painfully limited) notions of what a man should be.
I constructed our marriage until he fit – or I thought he fit – my ideas of what a good man was.
That, I believe, made it infinitely harder for him to be a “good man” when the choice was set in front of him.
Choosing to accept emotional availability, or any other form of intimacy, when it’s offered is a personal choice, and I do believe we are all individually accountable. I don’t blame myself, nor do I take responsibility for, Jake's actions. Yes, those choices were wrong; no, he shouldn’t have made them. I do not offer and he certainly has never offered an excuse for any of it. But I believe my attitude towards him, my preconceived notions of what I was supposed to have in a husband, made it far easier for him to make the choices he did.
I wasn’t there for him, for the first ten years of our relationship. I made it look like I was, even to myself. But I was only there for the aspects of his fully human experience with which I was comfortable. As far as the rest was concerned, he was on his own. Or, preferably, not experiencing them at all.
And no, I don’t believe anyone else was there, ever, to love him unconditionally and without judgment in his most vulnerable moments. I certainly don’t think he found that elsewhere.
In fact, I don’t believe he found it anywhere, ever, until we were able to surrender the weight of our preconceived ideas and find genuine acceptance in each other.
Finding someone who knows you – even the worst and weakest parts of you – and loves you fully anyway: That’s everything.
Too late, perhaps, but not too little.
Brown, B. (2015). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Avery.
There is a scene at the beginning of Wild in which Cheryl Strayed first realizes the gravity of her undertaking. Her pack is too heavy, she is ill-equipped, and only steps into a 1000-mile hike her face begins to betray anxiety and self-doubt. What have I committed myself to? What was I thinking? She trudges on, dropping F-bombs with every heavy step.
I watched the movie with a couple of friends last night, after a brief but cathartic review, if you will, of my recent revelations. And found parallels that weren’t supposed to be there.
Truth be told, that’s kind of where I am right now, a few miles in from the trailhead, questioning my wisdom and possibly my sanity.
I guess I knew, maybe, probably, that sharing this story would include moments of doubt. I just didn’t expect them yet. I imagined them surfacing when the first harsh, judgmental comment came. When someone was disappointed, when friends and family were something other than supportive. I did not brace myself to wake up less than 48 hours after posting, Jake and I both having received nothing but warmth and love and positivity, and still think, Well, THAT was a terrible idea.
Because I had convinced myself, sharing our story was not a part of the healing process for me. No, Jake and I, we’ve done our healing already. In our story, this is not a new chapter; it’s nothing more than an epilogue.
The healing process now was supposed to be for other people. Not us. We’re done with that part. Friends have messaged to check in, and I respond, Oh, no, don’t worry about me, I’m fine. I’m good. I feel great.
That’s what this was supposed to be. A story from years past, shared for the benefit of others. The account of a wound received and how it healed. A story of a scar.
No matter how intact and healthy it’s become over time, if you keep a scar covered up for years, it’s still going to be sensitive to sunlight when you first expose it.
And yet – I know this feeling, these moments of confidence and surety interwoven with nagging self-doubt and what-ifs. Knowing the right choice for our family, but letting fear creep in at the most unexpected times. Questioning my inner wisdom when it defies my understanding of societal convention.
Yep, because our first year after the affair was, well, exactly that. Confidence with doubt. Wisdom occasionally overpowered by anxiety. A constant steeling of the will bolstered by a prayer that we might be guided by love and not by fear.
I thought I was going to tell you all about what that was like, then.
Turns out, to some extent, we might just wind up living through it together.
A few points worth clarifying, before we continue:
• This is a story from the past. Not the distant past, however you care to define it. Other than the fact that I imagine making the information public will change the dynamic somewhat, this is not something with which we’re currently coping.
• The only names that will be used are mine and Jake’s. In this context, those are the only stories I’m interested in, and the only stories I have the right to tell.
• Don’t come here looking for sordid details or gossip tidbits; you won’t find them. This is a story of healing, in hopes of helping other people find the same.
• Everything I share is with Jake’s explicit permission. As much as I appreciated the compliments yesterday, he’s the brave one.
• Vilification of either party in any marriage will not be tolerated. There are no good guys and bad guys in this equation; this is not a story just for the spouses who were cheated on. If you’re reading with any intent of casting judgments, probably wise to just unfollow this story now.
• Some content may be triggering. I can’t tell this story without also discussing, however briefly, childhood sexual abuse. What happened to Jake as a child and what happened to us as adults is fundamentally connected, and there is no avoiding that fact.
• This is not a how-to guide for saving a marriage. We had one counseling session together. We’ve screamed at each other. I’ve said terrible things, and I don’t recommend that. My idea, rather, is to make this a safe place for sharing, for me and for anyone else. But please don’t do as I did. The fact that we “worked out” strikes me as somewhat improbable.
• Most important of all: This is not a story of infidelity. Yes, that’s a part of the story, and a fundamental one. But what I’m really interested in discussing is getting honest about what marriage is. Recovering from infidelity taught us a lot about that, but not everything, and that part of the story will be in the context of something bigger (and infinitely better) than a single issue.
• If you are interested, at any point in time, I invite you to share your story. For me, it was important to use real names, but that’s a personal choice. You are welcome to comment or share in whatever way suits you, with or without identifiers.
• We don’t have a perfect marriage now. Never will. What we have is a really, really good marriage, one based on honesty, candor, vulnerability, and faith. That’s the only way it can work for us.
And lastly, I don’t really know, yet, the direction this will take. Writing this story is something I’ve pondered for years, from very early on in the recovery process. All the same, I woke up this morning and thought, Well, shit, guess I just committed myself to talking about that. Now what? Your patience, as well as your feedback, will always be welcome and appreciated.
Now then. Let’s see where this goes.
“Every love story is beautiful, but ours is my favorite.”
Good lord how I hate that meme.
It’s like opening the card that speaks to you so personally, then remembering it’s been mass produced. Because everybody likes that sentiment. Everybody want to be the special one.
(This thought process, incidentally, is probably one of the reasons everyone in my family now refuses to go near the card aisle of Target with me.)
Pretty hypocritical for someone who just titled her new blog inspired by one of like the top five wedding readings ever, right?
Pretty hypocritical for someone who read posts on one, or two, or maybe five popular blogs this past week, and thought, repeatedly, Dammit she just told my story before I got a chance to tell it.
There should be a Facebook button for “Jinx, I was just gonna say that!”
This morning, that silly little meme of master bedroom wall decals and painted wood pieces over the couch, the one that makes everybody and therefore nobody feel special, slapped me in the face and scolded, “No, jackass, nobody else told your story. They told their stories. If they have similarities, so much the better.” And then it whispered, gentle but insistent. “You tell your story.”
My story, our story, my favorite one, is the one I’ve wanted to write for years. It runs deep under the current of what I have written, in my braver moments, and what I have had the courage to say. It’s the story that otherwise stays pushed off to the side in my heart, a little too heavy, a little too soon. It’s a beautiful story, really (but aren’t they all). And it’s a good story. It’s also ugly at times, and raw, and painful.
Again, aren’t they all.
So, why tell another love story? Does the 21st century really need one more myopic, self-indulgent blog devoted to exploring the day-to-day ups and downs of a stuffy and outdated social institution?
Yes, I believe it does.
(Oh, great, and now she’s gonna tell us why, isn’t she.)
Yes, I believe I am.
One, I would argue, in an entirely biased manner, that marriage is neither self-indulgent, nor stuffy, nor outdated, if you’re doing it right. And two, hell yes, you can absolutely do marriage wrong. It’s not like the trite anti-mommy-war parenting sentiments where we pat each other on the back and say there’s no wrong way to do parenting. Nope, there’s a hell of a lot of wrong ways to do marriage. Like, a LOT. (More to come, that part of this beautiful love story.)
And three. Which, to be honest, is everything: Our story is the story I needed, when it wasn’t there. It isn’t the kind of story that gets shared often, not the kind that’s easy to find, because it’s too personal. It’s too private. Too painful. Oh, and what will people think?
It’s the kind of story you learn about a couple long after the fact, when it’s a part of their history. Even then it’s the kind learned entirely in whispers, raised eyebrows, quiet nods. Them?
It’s the kind of story a woman writes, but she changes her name and identifying details. I know this, because I have books full of anonymous stories lodged in the bottom drawer of my nightstand, unread to this day. Unread probably forever. I glanced through once; they weren’t the stories I needed. Don’t tell me there’s no shame in it then change your name.
Here’s what Jake and I learned, together, even without the books we were supposed to be reading: You can’t heal what you won’t talk about, or what you won’t own. You can get past it, in time. But healing doesn’t happen for as long as you keep a cloak of shame over your pain. For as long as you let the pain define the story, it will hold you captive.
I will always wonder if my own healing process would have been faster, or felt safer, if more women and men before me had thrown off the Shame Cloak, exposed the pain, and owned their love stories.
There’s freedom in telling, and owning, a good story.
We’re working so hard in this country, finally, to undo shame and stigma. From addiction, to mental illness, to eating disorders, to childhood trauma, we tell people recovery is possible, that shame is unnecessary and damaging. And yet. We struggle to say that about < spoiler alert, only not really because you’ve probably figured it out by now > infidelity. I know we still struggle to say it, because I can count on my fingers the number of people to whom I’ve ever told our story.
Until I decided, my marriage is stronger than some preconceived, ill-advised need for anonymity.
If our story is one I needed, maybe it’s a story someone else needs, too. Maybe if we all told our stories, they wouldn’t seem so scary, and those of us who find ourselves mired in the ugliness wouldn’t have to confront those horrible, self-esteem destroying myths that only compound the pain: Strong women leave. Once a cheater, always a cheater. Your relationship is ruined.
So let me state, unequivocally, what no one could tell me when it happened (because I refused to let anyone know I needed to hear it): Sometimes, strong women stay. Cheaters can change, if they want to. And your relationship can heal, I promise. (Will it? I don’t know. But it can.)
The night he told me, I never thought I would be able to say it again. There were times it seemed impossibly far-fetched. However – healing happens. I know it does. Because our love story is beautiful. And it’s still my favorite.
And it’s time to tell it.
He's late coming home again.
Stupid late. Of course it's for a good reason. Of course it's beyond his control. Truthfully, he has probably done it for me more than anyone else. But it was still a stupid late night that ruined my plans, at the end of a stupid busy week, when everything has felt stupidly haphazard for a month.
I've already changed out of the jeans and sheer sweater he likes, into fleece pajama pants and a stained sweatshirt that has somehow remained intact since college. I've fallen asleep putting the (possibly hyperactive) toddler to bed.
I wake up when the door opens. Nobly, I stumble out of bed and gave him a hug. Like a martyr I ask about his night, yawn, recap more stupid busy plans for the following morning.
He responds, “You know I have to leave here first thing in the morning tomorrow, right?”
No, no, I did not know. I make it abundantly, loudly, stupidly clear I definitely did not know. I make it even clearer how much this screws up the inner workings of my morning. Our morning.
If our family schedule is a well-oiled machine, his frequently changing calendar is endless grit between the gears.
He makes it abundantly clear, even more loudly, how much he thinks my attitude and response suck.
Earlier in the week, a couple of friends and I compared notes on spousal arguments. Their husbands are both the quiet-angry type. Very little yelling. One of them said, “But you and Jake, you guys fight.” It wasn’t an accusation. Rather, a simple observation. There is no quiet-angry person in this relationship.
I conceded, with a qualifier. “When we started dating, our families liked that we stood up to each other. We couldn’t push the other one around.” Because when you’re dating, it’s cute, all that stubbornness.
When you’re married fourteen years, it’s just damn loud.
When you’re married fourteen years, suddenly it’s almost midnight, and you’re two tired people yelling at each other in the kitchen.
I break my own rule and go to bed angry.
We are civil the next morning. No, more than civil, we’re working as a team again. At 3 am, in fact, when I notice the baby is wet, he hands me a diaper and lights up the flashlight on his phone. I hold the squirming baby’s legs as he tapes the left side. We are seamless, wordless, expert.
At 8 am we snuggle briefly, without talking, before getting out of bed. I’m about to speak when our three-year-old walks in, asks for oatmeal. We grunt in acquiescence, and so the day begins. I make coffee. He changes the toddler. We revisit the logistics of the morning, no yelling. I put the water on the stove, get the oatmeal canister. He measures it out, stirs, turns down the heat, reminds me it’s almost cooked as he heads out the door.
Such a good team, Jake and I. A well-oiled, complicated machine.
He sticks his head back into the room. "Are you mad at me?"
I shrug. "No. We just haven't had a chance to talk is all."
Or rather, I slept through the one chance we had.
I text him ten minutes after he leaves. “We should go to a movie.”
He texts back immediately. “We should.”
Subtext, in both directions: We need an effing date night.
People say it all the time. Hell, we say it: We know we’re a good team. We’re partners, best friends, each one the other’s closest ally. We can tag team bedtime and divide up the household chores and know which days each person is responsible for arranging the babysitter. We can manage four kids and two jobs and grad school and a business and homeschooling like it’s no big thing.
We’re such a good team.
Only, here’s the problem, and here’s why we need a date night: I didn’t fall in love with Jake because he’d make a good teammate. We didn’t get married because we collaborate so well together, or because our strengths and weaknesses balance out so nicely, or because together we feel equipped to take on the world.
All of that is true. It’s true, and it’s wonderful. I love it about us.
It’s not why I love him.
I love him because he’s funny, and caring, and unique, and generous, and smart. I love him because he challenges me and supports me, because his heart will always be bigger and better than mine. I love him for the reason I loved him on our wedding day, from the far end of a long aisle - because seeing his face feels like coming home.
It’s too easy to forget that, in the midst of carefully oiling the machine of another busy, hectic week. It’s too easy to remember what I like and what’s practical, functional, and forget what makes me love him.
Yelling in the kitchen, hashing out this stupid week, his strong opinions frustrate me and piss me off.
Out to dinner, commiserating on this stupid election, his strong opinions amuse me and turn me on.
I love him because he’s stubborn as hell.
Because when you’re dating, all that stubbornness, it’s cute.