Sometimes things happen that turn everything we thought we knew upside down and inside out. Recently, a woman wrote to me because she found out her husband had another family “on the side”. She and her husband have a son who’s five. She believed their son was her husband’s first child, but it turns out he has a daughter a year older. She told me she’d been impressed with her husband’s ability to change diapers and his ideas about breastfeeding, and just generally how comfortable he’d been when their son was an infant. She didn’t realize he’d been through it before. And when she approached him about wanting a second baby, he told her he really felt he was a “one-and-done” kind of guy, but it turns out he has another son, too. He had a second baby with the other woman.
You might wonder how he was able to pull this off for so many years, but he travels on business all the time, and she never thought to worry. She said she believed they were happy. That in their social circle, they were the couple everyone envied because they were still so romantic and seemingly in love with each other. College sweethearts, the whole nine. She found out because the other woman called her. She didn’t want to live in hiding anymore. She wanted to be able to have a normal life. She wanted to post pictures of her kids on Facebook, and go to school gatherings with the father of her children. I mean, it was only a matter of time before this whole thing exploded. The kids are getting older. He has three children calling him Daddy, in two different states.
Anyway, it’s a total mess. And clearly, this man needs some serious help. I don’t know enough about him, his background, his pain, his mental condition, and nine hundred other factors to even begin to comment on what could drive a person to wreak havoc on so many lives, including his own.
The wife is reeling. She’s trying to keep it together for the sake of her son. She told her husband to get out, and she called a lawyer. But it’s the emotional part that’s brutal. A lawyer can’t help you negotiate an earthquake that shakes the foundation of your life. That makes you search back and relive every moment that didn’t quite add up, to replay every conversation, to find the thread that began to unravel when you didn’t notice. In addition to a lawyer, she also called a therapist, her entire family, and her closest friends. She asked me to write about it. She needs support, and she’s reaching out, which is good.
Obviously, this is an extreme example, but most of us have experienced betrayal of some kind. Or we’ve been blindsided when something ended and we just did not see it coming. Or we thought we knew someone and it turns out we didn’t, not really. The hardest part in all of that is feeling like you cannot trust your own judgement. Do you remember that inane conversation about the color of that dress a few weeks ago? Was it black and blue or white and gold? What an extraordinary amount of time we wasted on that. But that’s what it’s like when something rocks the foundation of everything you believed you could count on. Was my marriage real? Was anything he said real? Was the love real? Was the family real? I’m looking at this and it looks purple, but is it? I mean, you just can’t trust anything anymore.
The key toward putting your world back together in times like those is just to take it one breath at a time, and to allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel. Heartbroken. Enraged, Astounded. Depressed, scared. She told me she feels ashamed and humiliated, amongst many other emotions. We talked about the shame part. I told her there’s never any shame in loving all the way, and trusting and giving. There is a clear lack of self-respect when someone lies and betrays and sneaks around, and I told her those are things her soon-to-be ex-husband will have to grapple with, but she has nothing to feel ashamed about.
Humiliation is another thing, though. That word comes from the Latin “humus”, which means ground, soil, or earth. As if we’re being returned to the ground, to the dirt. And I’ve felt that way before myself. As much as we wouldn’t wish it on ourselves or anyone else, there’s something freeing about being returned to the earth. And about questioning everything. I’m definitely not suggesting this is some blessing in disguise, although clearly she’s been building her life with a person who has deep-rooted problems, I’m just saying once she allows herself the time and space to grieve and heal, she can start to build something new. She can begin again, from the ground up. And there’s no doubt this experience is going to make her grow and open and strengthen in ways she wouldn’t have without out. It always comes down to what we do with what we’re given.
Life is full of curve-balls, and many people are in unfathomable pain. There are also beautiful people in this world who would never, ever betray you, and there are experiences that take your breath away with the sheer force of their awesomeness. We never know what life has in store for us. It is humbling, but it’s also interesting and amazing. Whatever’s happening in your world, remember there’s only one you in the known universe. Only one. Feed your spark, and try to trust in your process. Leave room for life to show up with the joy, too. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton