“I will breathe. I will think of solutions, I will not let my worry control me. I will not let my stress level break me. I will simply breathe. And it will be okay. Because I don’t quit.” ~Shayne McClendon
It was a Wednesday afternoon in late July, and I felt like my entire world was coming to an end. My husband of almost eleven years had become distant, and during a phone call on my lunch break he told me he couldn’t do this anymore. That evening he told me he no longer loved me and wanted a divorce.
It wasn’t until several weeks later that I learned about another woman and reached a low I never thought possible. What just happened to my life? Just a few short weeks ago I was laughing, smiling, and enjoying my life to the fullest. Now I could barely get out of bed.
I spent the next several months feeling like I had no control over my own emotions.
I’d see pictures in our home where he no longer lived and break down sobbing.
I’d hear songs while driving and literally have to pull over until I could pull myself together.
I’d hide in my room for hours at a time so our children didn’t see mommy crying.
I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping, my work was suffering, and I was barely making it through my day. I wanted to make this pain stop, to sleep until I figured out that this was all a bad dream. It never happened.
I had to face the fact no matter how much I wanted it to change, the facts were the facts: My husband was having an affair and I had no idea what to do.
I had spent my whole life saying if I were ever cheated on, I just kick him to the curb and never look back. So why was I feeling like I didn’t want my marriage to end? No one ever tells you that this conflict might come up, and no one tells you this is completely normal.
I began reading everything I could find. I was desperately trying to make sense of a situation that made absolutely no sense to me.
We were happy. We were the couple everyone wanted to be. I beat myself up wondering how I missed this coming. I wondered why I even cared, and why I would want to save a relationship that was causing me so much pain.
Was I so selfish that I never saw how unhappy he was? Could I have prevented it from happening? How was I going to become a single mom? How were our kids going to get through this? And the biggest question: Am I going to just give up without a fight?
That question changed everything for me. I decided, right then and there, that I would not just give up.
I was a fighter, and no matter the outcome, I would give my all. While I knew I couldn’t make any choices for him, I also knew I couldn’t live with just giving up on him and my family. This man I knew and loved for so long had to be hurting too.
The information about affairs online is absolutely overwhelming. My search engine became my best friend. As the questions came, I would type them in and search through the thousands of articles for hours and hours. Below are the top ten things that would ultimately give me back control over my own life.
1. Stop and breathe.
It sounds so simple, yet when you feel like you’ve just been punched in the gut, breathing can seem like the hardest thing in the world to do.
When strong emotions came up, I learned to count backwards from a hundred by threes. A hundred (big breath in through the nose), ninety-seven (exhale through the mouth), ninety-four (big breath in through the nose). Counting by threes forces your brain to focus on something other than the intruding thoughts and worries.
I did this a lot of this throughout the days to come. After a while, I finally felt as though I could control my own breathing no matter what was happening around me. At a time when I felt as if I had no control over anything, I finally discovered that I could control something: I could control myself.
2. Start writing.
Get a pen and paper, grab your computer, or put a journal app on your phone. Whatever works best for you, just start doing it. There is something about writing down whatever you are feeling that allows you to release some of the emotion behind it.
In the beginning I felt like I didn’t have the energy to do this. Once I started writing, I realized how much of my energy I could get back by releasing some of the pain I was feeling.
I literally stopped eating. The thought of food made me sick to my stomach. I had no energy and dropped an entire pant size in two short weeks.
Eat anything. Soup and watermelon became my lifeline. Make it simple, make it nutritious, but make it happen.
You need your energy to get through this, and I promise, you will get through this. I began to notice that when my body was getting the nutrition it needed, I was able to think more clearly and sleep more soundly, which leads me to the next tip.
Maybe you’re like me. All you want to do is sleep, yet when it comes time to go to bed you are haunted by thoughts and emotions you never knew existed. For me, going to bed was just a reminder that my husband was not there. We used to cuddle every night before falling asleep, and suddenly I was left with an empty bed.
I learned about guided meditation and would use it to drift off to sleep. If I awoke in the middle of the night, I stopped fighting it, got up, and wrote, and allowed myself to cry. I would write and cry for hours until I had nothing left to say or feel and drifted back to sleep.
I never realized how creative my brain was and how many false ideas and images it could conjure up on its own. We want to believe we know what is happening, and when we don’t, our brains create some pretty convincing visuals.
Find someone, anyone that you can talk to. Make your intentions clear. I wanted to save my marriage. I didn’t want people telling me to forget about him, that I deserve better, to just move on. So I stopped talking to anyone.
When we only have our own voice, we have no choice but to believe all the lies we tell ourselves. I would tell myself I must not be good enough, I must have been doing something wrong, maybe I’m not pretty enough, smart enough. The list is endless. We need our people now more than ever.
I needed someone who could ground me when my brain was running wild. Whether that’s a friend, coach, therapist, or family member, just find someone you can talk openly with. Find someone who will listen without judgment.
6. Get active.
Maybe you already exercise daily, and that is great. I never exercised, ever. I hated it and I still do. But during this time I found the value in it.
Yoga was easy and relaxing, and so was walking. I realized that it gave me some me time. It allowed space to clear my head if only for a few minutes, and those minutes were glorious. It didn’t always work. Some days I just couldn’t clear my head, and I learned that is okay too.
I learned how to give myself grace. I learned that there is no perfect way to do or get through this. Just take one step at a time, keep putting one foot in front of the other, and don’t stop trying.
7. Know that whatever you are feeling is normal.
You will experience a rollercoaster of emotions that you never thought were possible. How can you possibly love and hate someone so much at the same time? How can you go from laughing to crying in a matter of seconds?
You may feel embarrassment, shame, guilt, love, hope, and everything in between. The rollercoaster is real, and you know what, it is completely normal. This realization was one of the most freeing.
No matter how you are feeling at this very moment, it will change, I promise. No matter what you are feeling, it’s normal. There is no right or wrong way to feel with this, it just is. It is just how you are feeling right now, and that’s okay.
8. Know that this has nothing to do with you.
It was all too easy for me to blame myself. It was my fault that he no longer loved me. I would learn that this never had anything to do with me.
I did not make these choices for him. I did not do anything to cause him to make these choices. He didn’t ask me ahead of time. He didn’t even tell me that he was unhappy. These were choices that he made completely on his own.
He was suffering, and when someone else boosted his self-esteem, he latched on as if it were his only lifeline. He didn’t realize how much he had been hurting over the years. All he knew was that he wanted to feel good, and because he didn’t know why hadn’t felt good before, he blamed me for his years of misery.
He eventually learned that it was never about me. He learned that no matter how far he ran, he couldn’t out run his own demons.
I later learned that while we can all work to improve how we show up in our relationships, nothing we are doing or not doing excuses an affair. However, since I wanted to save my marriage, I had to take a long hard look at myself and see where I could show up better in my marriage.
I learned how to be a better listener. I learned how to be more compassionate and understanding when my husband was going through a difficult time. I learned the art of patience. And I learned what unconditional love really means.
9. Make time for you.
What did you enjoy doing before you were a couple? What hobbies or activities do you have on your own? If you don’t have any now is a great time to find one.
Look at what is being offered in your community. Look at local schools. Did you always want to learn to cook? Take a cooking class. How about sewing, yoga, finances, painting, or computers? Take a class. Whatever it is for you, find something. Find something you can do at least one night a week and commit to it.
Sometimes in marriage we forget who we are as an individual. Now is the time to rediscover that person. The added bonus to this if you are looking to save your marriage is that your spouse fell in love with who you were as an individual. Bringing that person back can be eye opening for the one who left.
10. Give it time.
Last, but definitely not least, know that this will take time. Research shows it takes an average two years to heal from the pain of an affair. I hated this advice in the beginning because I wanted to feel better right then. But time has helped me realize that it really is the best medicine.
Right now all you can do is decide how you will spend that time. You can fight to find the blessings in disguise and learn and grow, or you can choose to become bitter and allow yourself to remain the victim of the cards that were dealt to you.
I choose to fight, I choose to learn, I choose to grow.
Change and healing didn’t happen overnight. Both my husband and I had to put in a lot of hard work. We read and listened to more information than I ever thought possible. We sought out therapy as a couple and as individuals to heal our past hurts and coaching to help move us in the direction we wanted to go.
Ultimately, we learned that our communication had to improve. He needed to be able to communicate when he was upset about things, and I needed to be able to receive this information without becoming confrontational or defensive. His openness and honesty allowed us to begin our healing process and start restoring trust in our relationship.
One day it dawned on me that I hadn’t thought about the affair at all for several days. I wept as I realized I had my life back, only it wasn’t the life I had thought I wanted a few years ago. It was a life that had become better than anything I could have ever imagined.
Three short years later and both my husband and I will tell you we are happier than we have ever been. Our marriage is stronger than it ever was. Our connection is greater and our communication is better.
Looking back on that day when I thought my life was coming to an end I now smile, realizing that for us, it was the start of a new beginning. While I never wish the pain we endured on anyone, I have learned that sometimes the greatest pain brings us the greatest blessings.