It’s that time again! In this episode of The Loving Truth podcast, I’m doing another Q&A about your greatest relationship challenges. And today, you’ll hear my answers to the following voicemail questions from an anonymous caller and Jennifer:
Is it normal to want to know all the details of my husband’s affair in order to process and get over it? Am I wrong to want to leave my husband of 23 years (who I’m still with out of guilt) so I can find love and be happy again someday?
In the process, you’ll learn what you’re actually looking for when you want to know all the details about an affair (and why you should be careful what you ask for), the line you don’t want to cross to remain in a relationship, and why asking if you’re right or wrong to end your marriage doesn’t have a wrong answer.
I’ll also reveal the danger of over-functioning for other people in your life and why you shouldn’t concern yourself with what others think about the ending of your relationship.
Listen to the Full Episode:
What You’ll Learn In This Episode:
1:00 – Why wanting to know all the details about an affair is a form of self-abuse
5:43 – Why it can be difficult to get past the details once you know them
9:53 – The choice between placing your focus on feeling good or heaping on more trauma
14:16 – Unpacking several things in Jennifer’s multifaceted question
22:02 – How Jennifer can ease the guilt she feels about ending her marriage and what she can expect going forward with a divorce
26:13 – The best and healthiest thing Jennifer can do for her and her husband’s 21-year-old child
Featured On The Dangers of Over Functioning & More of Your Relationship Questions:
Have a Question? Leave Me a Voicemail Message at 727-537-0359.
Struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you’re serious about finding that answer?
Book a Truth & Clarity Session with a member of my team. We’ll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there’s a fit for you and I to work together so you can make - and execute - the RIGHT decision for YOU and your marriage.
Welcome to The Loving Truth Podcast where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now your host, relationship expert, and certified master life coach, Sharon Pope.
Sharon Pope: Hello, loves. This is Sharon Pope. This is The Loving Truth. This is the time of our month where I take your questions and give you the very best answers, insights, or things to think about, a little bit of direction in the area of your specific relationship challenges.
Now, if you have a relationship challenge that you would like to be able to ask me about, all you have to do is call 727-537-0359. Leave me a voicemail message. Maybe it'll be one of the questions that are chosen to be on these once-a-month calls. Let's get started.
I want to begin with an anonymous caller. I want you to listen to it first, and then we'll come back and address it.
Anonymous: My question is this, is it normal for me to want to know all the details of my husband's affair? I feel as though I need to know everything in order to process it and get over it. I would love for you to answer this question for me. Thank you.
Sharon Pope: Okay, so, Anonymous, I hear you that you're saying or that you think that you have to know all of the details about your husband's affair in order to process what has happened and then in order to move on from it. But what I want to suggest is that is just a story that you've made up in your mind because you don't have it.
You're looking for the answer of “How can I feel better? How can I feel more secure? How can I forgive him? How can we rebuild trust? How can we create a relationship that feels good again in the future?” Those are all great questions. The problem is that your mind has made up this idea, and it's just an idea, that once you know all the details, then you'll feel better.
Here's what I want to tell you, just from experience with my clients, because I've had many, many, many clients over the course of 10-plus years who have either had an affair themselves or have endured an affair in their relationship, almost everyone thinks that the answer is to know all the details. However, I have been with women who, on the other side of knowing all those details, boy, do they wish they wouldn't know what they now know.
Because if you think about it, one generation ago, your mother's generation, I don't know how old you are, but I’ll speak for myself, my mother's generation, if a woman had found out that their husband was having an affair, what they found was a note, like a handwritten note, lipstick on a collar, or a receipt. That's what they saw and they had to then understand what had transpired and be able to heal and move forward from that.
Today, now we see thousands of text messages, hundreds of photos being sent back and forth. We know details about that relationship that once you know them, you can't unknow them. Once you see them, and even if you didn't see it, when someone explains to you what happened, you can't unsee that in your mind.
What I want to suggest is that this is a real burden that you're asking for. It's a form of self-abuse, I would say, because your mind made up this idea that if I know all the details, then I'll feel safe. Because that's all you're reaching for is you just want to feel safe. You want to know you're not going to get hurt like this again.
But the path to understanding that you're not going to get hurt again is in healing the relationship and in addressing the core issues in the relationship that made the relationship vulnerable to an affair to begin with. That is the answer. No one wants that answer. They're like, “Just tell me all the details. Tell me all the dirty details.” But now it's even harder to get over.
Now the rebuilding trust, believing in your partner, and knowing that you won't get hurt, now you've just layered on more and more and more problems that now you have to overcome in addition to the very real problems that existed inside the marriage in order for the relationship to be vulnerable to an affair to begin with.
Because the affair is a symptom, and it's not the core issue. It layered on a whole nother big issue that now the relationship needs to deal with but there were issues before that. It's either within the relationship or within your husband that caused the vulnerability inside your marriage.
What you're looking for is safety. More detail is not the path to safety. Doing the work and showing up for the relationship, being honest about where you're at now, what you want moving forward, and what you're willing to do and growing as individuals and as a couple, now that's work that can help you move forward together as a couple.
I want to share with you this story because it was a real poignant moment for me. It was early on in my coaching practice and I was working with a client who I just adored her. I adore all my clients, but I remember her so clearly. She and her husband had been together for more than 30 years. At one point, she even arranged because he wanted to speak to me and so I met him as well. He's a lovely person and so is she.
No one is the bad guy here. No one is the villain. But he would travel a lot for work. He would go to, I can't remember but I remember it was somewhere in Asia. I can't remember exactly where it was. He would go there a lot for work and overall the times that he would go there for work, he established a relationship with one particular woman.
What she had found out about is that they were having an affair, that he had sent her money, and that this had been going on for years. They had been together for more than 30 years and honestly, they had a lot of love for each other. They had a lot of respect for one another. But she was hell-bound on knowing every single detail so she would just hammer him with questions.
I kept advising, “Be careful, because once you know these things, you can't unknow them. Once you see them, even in your mind's eye, you can't unsee them so maybe you don't actually want to know all the details.” But she wouldn't get out of her own way. She kept hammering him.
He wanted to answer her questions. He was trying to be forthcoming because he genuinely wanted to try to save the relationship. He gave her something. He answered her question. It was probably a question about, “Tell me what the two of you did when you were together.” He answered her in a way that I bet he thought to himself, “This is the safest thing that I can share with my wife that my lover and I did and that will appease her.”
Here's what it was: he told her about how he and this other woman would shower together and how one time, he washed her hair. He probably thought that wouldn't get her to upset. The problem was is that now, she saw him in her mind's eye having this very intimate moment of where he's in the shower with another woman and he's washing her hair.
Now, to some people they may go, “Oh, that's it? That's all you did? Okay, fine,” which clearly, it's not all he did. This had been going on for years. But it was such an intimate moment that she could never get past it. She could never get past what she now knew, which is what was created between them was real intimacy and something that she and him had never had before. She couldn't get past it and they divorced.
Now, what's amazing is that the last I checked in with her, they still go out to dinner every year on their anniversary even though they're divorced, because there's still so much love there for each other and so much care. But that one piece of knowledge, she couldn't see a path towards ever getting over so she ultimately ended that 30-plus year marriage because she knew that one detail.
Now, that's why I want to say just be careful. Sometimes we ask questions that we think we want the answer to but once you know the answer, you don't know. You don't actually want that answer.
There's something that I often think about and it relates to this, but it's like let's say you're humming along in your life and everything is great and you feel really good. You feel secure, you feel good, you feel happy, and things are good and then something happens that you find out about, like someone you thought was a good person now is not a good person.
Or let's say it's like a tragedy that happens. Like right now where at the time that I'm filming this, the Maui fires had just happened about a week or two weeks ago. I'm thinking, “Life is good. Life is good. Life is good,” then more than 100 people, I don't know where the end count is going to be, but let's call it more than 100 people will have passed in the fires on Maui. Now that I have that information, now I don't feel so good anymore.
You know how they say ignorance is bliss, there's a reason why they say that. Because the only difference in my life between the time when I didn't know about those fires, and a day later when I didn't know about those fires, I felt very different on those days and the only thing that was different in my life, the only circumstance that had changed was that now I had information that I didn't have previously.
It didn't help my experience. It didn't make me feel any better. If there's anything that I want you to be able to feel for yourself is I want you to feel as good as you can feel as you move through your life given the circumstances of your life. I want you to care about how you feel.
Now that doesn't mean lying to yourself. It doesn't mean bullsh*tting yourself. It doesn't mean telling yourself untruths and just putting a happy rosy face on everything. That's not what I'm saying. The circumstances of all of our lives, it's going to feed us a sh*t sandwich occasionally, isn't it?
There are things that are going to happen that we are not going to like and life is hard enough. But do we have to go looking to layer on more bullsh*t that now we're trying to feel good in our lives but now we heap on more and more and more trauma?
This is the reason I don't watch the news is because life is hard enough, I don't have to go looking for more reasons to feel like sh*t, which is all I'd have to do is watch 30 minutes of the news and I won't feel as good at the end of that program as I did walking into that program.
You could say, “Well, Sharon, you're just living in oblivion then. You're just living in denial, keeping your head in the sand.” Well, maybe. Maybe, but all those things that I can't control, they're happening. But there's a whole bunch of things that I also don't have any control over that are miracles and magic. They're just as real and just as true.
The bad stuff that is happening around us is always available to us and so are all the good things but we get to choose where we place our focus. Wherever we place our focus is going to get bigger. So, my friend, this story that your mind has made up, that once you know all the details, then it's going to be so much easier to process it and heal from it, is a lie. It's going to make it even harder to process and certainly to ever heal from by you knowing all the details.
Every adult gets to do whatever they want to do. You get to do whatever you want. You get to ask question after question after question. Your husband gets to either answer or not answer those questions. I just want you to be more intentional about it and not believe every thought you think as if it's fact because it's not fact that once you know all the details, it'll be easier to heal. I have plenty of evidence that would show you that it is so much harder.
We're going to go on to our next caller and her name is Jennifer.
Jennifer: Hi, my name is Jennifer and I'm calling from Texas. I'm 50 years old and my husband is 67. We've been married for 23 years. I've been very unhappy for at least the past 15 or 16 years. I would really like to leave but guilt is making me stay. I have a good career and I make good money but he's never been able to keep a job due to his explosive temper.
He's a narcissist, and well, he's pretty much just lazy. I feel bad leaving him at his age with no retirement and no job. But I really want the chance to maybe find love and be happy someday and I know I'm not getting any younger. Am I wrong to leave? What do I do about making sure he won't be homeless without me? I don't want him to be a burden on our 21-year-old child. He doesn't do housework or cooking and it's very hard to get along with him, but I still pity him. Thanks, Sharon. I appreciate you. Bye.
Sharon Pope: Alright, Jennifer, thank you so much for trusting me with your question. There's a lot here so I want to take some time and really unpack this. First of all, you ask “Here's what's happening in my marriage, am I wrong to leave?”
Anytime that life or a relationship requires me to abandon or betray myself, not honor myself in some way in order to remain in that relationship, that's the line. That's the line we don't want to cross is that if loving you requires me to abandon or betray myself, I'm not willing to do that. That's the distinction.
The “Am I wrong to leave or right to leave,” you're kind of asking “Is it socially acceptable?” My friend, I'm not the moral police. If your answer is that in order for you to feel good in your life, in order for you to feel at peace, and in order for you to honor yourself, that your best next step forward is to end the marriage, then I personally don't see how that can be the wrong answer.
But I don't subscribe to a lot of societal, cultural, or religious constructs that say, “This is when it's wrong and this is when it's right.” I don't have that baggage. I just want to offer that that is an option that's available to you is that nobody else has to understand your reason for your choices that you make for your one precious life, but you have to understand them because you're the only one that has to be able to look yourself in the mirror a year from now, 2 years from now, 10 years from now and go, “You know what, that was a really difficult time. But that was the right decision for me at that time and I'm proud of how I handled it.” That's all that we're going for.
If you can do that on any given day, or every given day, you're winning, my friend. Because no matter what you choose to do, someone's going to judge you for it. Especially if you decide that you're going to end your marriage no matter what you think your reason is. Whatever your reason is, someone is going to say, “Oh, that's not good enough. You should try again. You should keep trying. You should do it anyway. He's older than you. He doesn't have a job. He's not going to make it without you.”
Well, here's another perspective, and this is along the lines of him not being steady without you, this is the equivalent of the definition of codependence is that “I need you, someone else outside of you, outside of each of us, to be steady enough so that I can feel steady in my life. I need you to do all the things because I know you can do them but I can't do them.”
See, what we're teaching when we overdo for people, when we over-function for the people in our lives, and I don't care if you're talking about your husband or your kids, when we over-function for the people in our lives, what we are teaching them is that we can do it, we can live their life, we can make decisions, we can function, we can navigate change, and we can overcome failure. We know we can do that. Now they know we can do that but what they don't know is that they can do it too.
We rob them of their power by over-functioning and we teach them that they actually can't do it without us. So maybe the most loving thing that you can do is stop showing your husband how powerless he is and instead, back away and let him either step into his power, his control for his one precious life or not.
But continuing this charade of “I'm going to over-function for you so that you can underfunction, feel safe, feel protected, and not have to step into what is your life,” this is not a winning strategy for either of you. Indifference, which is what I hear in your voice, pity for him, enabling, and codependency, my friends, that is not love.
Overfunctioning for other people isn't love. Equipping them, encouraging them to stand on their own two feet, to step into their own creative power in this life because we all have it available to us, that's a loving act. But just continuing to over-function to prove to everyone else that you can do all the things and you can live life but showing them in an unconscious way that they can't, that's not love.
If someone judges you for that, okay. But if you end the marriage, someone's going to judge you anyway so let's just get comfortable with the judgement. Someone's going to judge me, they're not going to understand. They're going to have some opinions that is completely based on their life experience but without any real knowledge about your life experience.
Because here's what I do know is that there are only two people in this relationship: there's you and there's him. If I came to you and said, “Tell me about what the struggles are inside your marriage. Where are you guys struggling? Where's it gone? Left of center, what's happening?” you would have a whole story for that. We'd probably spend an hour or two where you could tell me all the details.
Then if I went to him and I said, “Tell me about the struggles in your marriage. Tell me about what's going on. Where do you think the problem is?” he would have an entirely different story. But you're the only two that are in their relationship, living it day to day, existing in your heart, in your mind, in your life.
If the two people that are actually in the relationship don't see it the same way, how can anyone outside of the relationship ever really get it? How could they ever really understand what's really transpiring inside that relationship? They can't. They can barely understand what's happening in their own relationship, much less yours.
While someone might create an opinion, it doesn't have any bearing on the reality of your life. You say, “Guilt is making me stay. I feel bad for leaving him. I don't want him to be homeless.” Okay, so that speaks to how you unwind the marriage. That's the how, it's not the what.
The what is “I know I need to end this relationship and that it's not healthy for me. Now Sharon has given me an indication that it's actually not healthy for him either. But the guilt is making me stay and I feel bad,” now it's about the how. If you can unwind the relationship in the most loving, peaceful, and compassionate way possible, then you can ease your guilt.
I know you said that you're calling from Texas. It's important to know the laws in your state or in your country because not every place is the same. There are many states that in the US are 50/50 states, which means divvying up the income is a math equation. There's math and there's drama when it comes to divorce.
The courts do not give two craps about your drama. They don't care about who you're sleeping with. They don't care about how he treated you, what he said, or whether or not he works or she doesn't know. They don't care about that. What they care about is the math. It becomes a math equation. That's how it is in most states. Texas is not one of those states.
You probably have already engaged with an attorney. If you haven't, I would recommend that you get some advice from an attorney so that you have the facts and you know what's in front of you.
Now, if he is in fact narcissistic, you can bet that there's going to be a fight, and this is going to be a high-conflict divorce. But that doesn't mean you can't move through it, it just means it's not going to be easy. But no divorce is easy. It means it's not going to be short and sweet. You're both going to just come to an agreement and sign off on it. No, there's going to be some battle. But lots of divorces have some battle. That doesn't mean you can't move through it, it just means you can't quit.
Once you start, you have to see it through and you have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I don't know how the math will shake out but my hunch is that he's not going to be penniless. He's not going to be living under a bridge with no health insurance, no relationship with his children, and all that kind of stuff.
He might even, for the first time in his life, step forward in his life in a new way and really pull himself together because when do we as human beings really embrace change? Only when we have to. Only when we have no other option. It's the glamour and the beauty, the brutality of hitting rock bottom. We wait until she gets so bad that then we embrace change. It doesn't have to be that way but that is human nature for most people.
Things might have to get really bad for him in order to step into his own power for his own life. But you continuing to enable him is not helping you. It's not helping your kids. It's not helping him. Guilt, there's not much you can do with guilt as an emotion. It's not a high-functioning emotion. The reason for that is because guilt is all about the past and you can't change the past.
But what you can do is decide, “You know what, I'm going to make this separation and divorce process as drama-free as I can. I can't take responsibility for him and how he handles things. But what I can do is take responsibility for me, and how I show up to this, and I don't have to be hateful. I don't have to get into the scarcity mindset. I can move through this in a way that I'll be able to look myself in the mirror and say you know what, that was hard and I'm proud of how I handled it.” That's all we're going for.
I hope that gives you something to really go on. The other thing that I wanted to say is you said, “I don't want him to be a burden to my 21-year-old,” because you're assuming that because he can't take care of himself that someone's going to have to take care of him and as soon as you step out of the picture, now that duty is going to fall to your 21-year-old.
Here's what I'm going to tell you: It only falls to your child who isn't a child. I'll just keep calling him or her the 21-year-old because I don't know if he's a boy or a girl or whatever. But that responsibility will only fall to your child if your child has the same kind of boundaries that you do, which right now isn’t a lot.
Maybe the best thing that you can do is demonstrate how to set healthy and loving boundaries for yourself in your life and then have an open dialogue with your 21-year-old about how to create healthy boundaries. Because it's not anyone else's responsibility to take care of this man who could take care of himself but chooses not to.
Your husband becoming a burden to your child is only going to happen if your child allows that to happen. Now your child can choose to take care of dad in the way that feels good for them and can step away from things that feel like obligation or they have no choice because, in fact, everybody has choice.
You have a choice about whether or not you're going to keep enabling the same destructive and toxic situation and your son or daughter has a choice as well about how they want to engage with their father, what kind of relationship they want to have, and how and in what way they might support him. But that is completely up to them.
The best thing, the healthiest thing that you can do is demonstrate how to set healthy boundaries. If you need support and understanding how to demonstrate healthy boundaries if you don't have them yourself, it's one of the many things that I teach inside my programs.
There are many ways to get in touch with me to see if there's a fit for you and I to work together. You can go to clarityformymarriage.com and that can help you see if working with me is the best next right step to help you really understand how to set healthy boundaries for yourself.
But our kids don't learn from our words so this isn't about getting the words, it's about your life experience. When you can start setting healthy boundaries for yourself and honor yourself, because I hear you, you want to be happy and you want to have a loving relationship and you absolutely deserve that, and so does everyone else, when you can demonstrate that, then other people get inspired by the demonstration of it, not by the words of it.
Thank you so, so much for being here with me today. Thank you so, so much for all the questions that you continue to call in. I love doing these calls once a month where I can take your specific relationship examples and give you something to really chew on that maybe you're not thinking about today.
If you want to get your question answered, again, the phone number is 727-537-0359. You can leave a message. You can be anonymous. You can just leave your first name. You can do whatever feels good for you. Until next time, take really good care.
If you're listening to this podcast because you're struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage, and you're serious about finding that answer, it's time to book a Truth & Clarity Session with a member of my team. On the call, we'll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there's a fit for you and I to work together so you can make and execute the right decision for you and your marriage. Go to clarityformymarriage.com to fill out an application now.