A week ago Saturday, I pulled a muscle in my neck causing excruciating pain and resulting in prescriptions for a very strong muscle relaxer and an equally strong pain medicine. The impact on my daily life was not too severe, as I scheduled medications around my work schedule and balanced daily activities with the sudden need for a 4 hour nap (and no, I did not drive or operate other heavy machinery while medicated). One interesting (in the Chinese curse meaning of interesting) side effect of the medications has been to remove all of the filters and controls that I have painstakingly layered over my emotions. I have spent the last 10 days feeling like an exposed nerve that just gets more sensitive every day. The pain in my neck has resolved, and the medications are a thing of the past. The emotional trauma, alas, has not been as easy to heal…or even to stuff back into the box where I had it stored.
The trauma started, oddly enough, in marriage counseling. With my self control slightly less controlled than usual, I responded less than favorably to my husband’s expression of his new found delight in me – in finding that I am passionate and sexy, that I am loving and caring and giving, that our child has turned out well in no small measure because she grew up knowing she was adored and appreciated and given limits mostly set by me, in rediscovering our history and the adventures we have shared, in my enthusiastic appreciation for everything from sex to wildflowers to old movies. In fact, if I am honest, I was so far from favorably impressed that I barely managed to pull myself back from a full scale meltdown.
His pleasure turned to confusion and then verged on anger as I expressed my feeling that while I appreciate that he once again finds me worthy of knowing, it tears a hole in my heart and in my soul every time he says something that brings home the realization that I am married to someone who forgot who I was – who thought I was someone who he is not even willing to describe. He is a very intelligent man, in some ways even brilliant, but in this particular instance he seems completely unable to see that sharing his new realizations about how much he now loves me infers as clearly as if he shouted it out loud that he spent a considerable amount of time feeling like I was boring and unattractive and unworthy of attention or love or even daily kindness. He is also unable or unwilling to explain how long he felt that way or to understand why his words hurt me instead or making me feel special.
Instead, he responded angrily “She obviously hasn’t forgiven me!” Hence the title of this post.
Have I forgiven him? Yes, yes I have. I think one of the problems faced by those of us who find ourselves in this situation is the difference between FORGIVENESS AND UNDERSTANDING and NOT HURTING ANYMORE. I understand and have forgiven him for making a choice – in an attempt to make himself feel better, to escape his turmoil and confusion – that ripped my heart into pieces. Why was I able to forgive so quickly? Because I love him, I know him well, and he was tearing himself apart. He didn’t do it on purpose, I know he is sorry, I know he wishes he could take it back, AND SO I HAVE FORGIVEN HIM FOR THE AFFAIR. I think the confusion for those on both sides of the affair is that FORGIVING the cheater and UNDERSTANDING why he (or she) cheated doesn’t automatically erase the pain. There is a reason that in many cases the cheater’s spouse is called the “injured” spouse, that the vocabulary for someone whose spouse has cheated includes “recovery” and “healing” and “treatment”, and unfortunately in many cases involves actual medication.
I have been in a downhill spiral for the last week – no matter what I do, I cannot seem to get a handle on my feelings. I would love to write it off as an unfortunate side effect of strong medication. After all, you might wonder why I am not flattered at such enthusiastic appreciation? BECAUSE THOSE TRAITS THAT HE FINDS SO APPEALING ARE INNATE PARTS OF MY PERSONALITY – THEY ARE A PART OF WHO I AM AND WHO I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN – they are the things that my friends and family value and love about me. They are those exact traits that led him to fall in love with me exactly 31 years ago. He just forgot them, or ignored them, or somehow was unable to see me. Now he does, and expresses his delight, even saying that we are so much better than we were before the affair.
The changes I see in myself since my life blew apart almost two years ago are NOT positive – I am less confident, more introverted, more tearful. I sometimes have difficulty feeling the empathy for others that has always been a core part of ME. I find myself wanting to run away when faced with emotional turmoil in the lives of my friends and family and sometimes have difficulty sharing the joy experienced by those I love. Not only do I actually find it hard to reach out to others and use them for support, I sometimes find it almost impossible to be supportive. I am working so hard to hold myself together, to be normal, to heal while I so often feel fragile….and this weekend I finally realized why.
I have been in a holding pattern, waiting for him to catch up, waiting for him to put in the work that I have. I researched and went to counseling and discussed and wrote and examined – and walked him through the reasons for what happened and why he made the choices he made. I put his feelings first and moved outside my comfort zone in order to make him happy and to feel secure so he could do the work he needed to do to heal himself. I never called him names or wished for vengeance or did anything to punish him or to make him feel more awful than he already felt. After discovering one lie after another, I insisted that he go to counseling – not with me, but for himself, so that he could rediscover the man that he really is and find some peace. I knew that he was going to have to heal himself if we were going to heal – that I couldn’t do it for him. A few months ago he told me that I had managed to hold us together until he was able to step up and do the work he needed to do to build a stronger marriage. At that point when I cried, it was because I was happy – I actually felt hope – like maybe it had all been worth it.
Unfortunately, I now realize that I will never have what I have been waiting for. He will never apply that singular focus that is so much a part of him when he is really interested in something to me or to our relationship – or even to self examination. He is not able to help me heal because he does not experience empathy or even sympathy when I am in emotional pain – instead he experiences it as a personal affront, as pain being inflicted on him. We appear to be at an impasse. Maybe that is always the way it is – whether the marriage stays intact or not, whether the person works or not – the healing has to be done alone. No real help is available.