How am I supposed to create a life I don’t want? This was a question that haunted me after my divorce. I had wanted so very much for my marriage to work. I didn’t want to be divorced, single again, trying to figure out how to start my life over. I wanted to still be married. I wanted to not ever be or have been the partner of a sex addict. I wanted the life I had dreamed of, not the one I was currently living.
So I would wake up and wonder to myself, how do I create a life I want when it is full of realities that I don’t want? I think this is a key question that every betrayed partner faces whether they are able to stay in their relationship or not.
I wish there was an easy Oprah-esque answer to this question that would make us all immediately feel that our ‘best life’ was just around the corner. (Don’t worry, I love Oprah too but you know what I mean.) The true answer is not so quick or easily come by. The true answer is that little by little, stone by stone you end up building something different for yourself.
In the beginning you can’t even think about this. In the beginning you feel great if you got a shower and the kids all got to where they needed to be. Survival is your focus and everything else just has to wait. But eventually as you get help and support and things start to calm down you start to face these bigger life questions.
For me, figuring this out was a big developmental process. I had never been single. I went from my parent’s house to college to married life. I had never lived alone. In fact, much of my life I had shared a room and a bed with my sister and lived in a tiny house with one bathroom and six other family members. From home I went to a three-person dorm room and shared one-bedroom apartments. And then I got married. So living alone was incredibly foreign to me. I was used to a crowd.
I remember when I got the apartment that I moved into after separating from my spouse that I painted the walls. I painted the living room bright red (it sounds bad I realize but it actually worked) and my bedroom a lovely periwinkle blue. My friends helped. I still remember rolling one of my friend’s butts with red paint and her making butt cheek prints up and down the wall before we painted it. We had fun and I was creating a home for myself that felt like me. I was working on figuring out who I was and what I wanted my life to look like. And at that point it looked like red and periwinkle walls.
There were other decisions I had to make. Do I stay in school or drop out and if I stay in how do I support myself while I get my Master’s degree? What should I do with my degree once I get it? I needed a new car and for the first time in my life had to figure out what car I wanted to get that would be good for me. I had to make decisions about how to spend my time, who to spend my time with, how to manage my finances, how to suddenly be responsible for all the life tasks that before had been shared.
Your life might look very different from what I’ve described here and the decisions that you are faced with might be quite opposite. However, here is the piece that I think is the same. Building a life that you like and eventually want means paying attention to yourself in a new way. It means listening to what your deepest truest self is telling you about what you value, what you find meaning in, what is important to you, what awakens your passions or puts you in a coma of boredom, what fun and play draw you, and what relational connections are the most fulfilling.
Betrayal brings profound disruption to our lives. Our dreams are shattered, life as we know it is swept away, and everything becomes uncertain. It is easy during this kind of stress and distress to scramble for the status quo. To try to get our worlds back in place as fast as we can. However, as we know, there is no going back.
So instead of scrambling for the status quo, I encourage you to take advantage of the disruption. It’s happening anyway and the hidden gift that it provides is an opportunity to reassess your life and your relationships and from the rubble start to ask yourself what it is you want to build.
After a while (and we’re talking months here not weeks), my life started to feel different. I started to like my life. It started to feel full instead of empty and rich instead of poor. I felt connected and supported relationally and engaged and interested in my work. I knew myself much better and had gotten good at making positive choices and decisions about crafting my life in a way that creating something good for me. It was not perfect. It never is. But it was a life that one morning I woke up to and realized I wanted to be living.