The world I work with is dark. The divorcees I see hide behind a mask of secrecy and shame. My clients have relationships laden with unrepentant partners who have betrayed them through obsessive viewing of pornography, sex addiction and narcissistic abuse. Many of my clients described themselves as “dirty”. My clients flirt between exposing their truth and protecting their children, family, friends and church community from their self-defined “ugliness”. They sit in silent agony.
Grief stricken, burdened and broken. These betrayed partners have lost everything they dreamed their lives were going to be.
The husband or partner they believed to know is dead. They are widows now.
I’d like to share with you what I experience when I see clients, women mostly, and how our journeys typically unfold.
That first session when I see a woman, staring at me with hollow eyes on the other side of my Zoom lens, fearful, uncomfortable, confused, and frozen is heartbreaking.
For her, nothing makes sense and nothing is clear. Her eyes are blinded by tears forcing their way out, demanding she speak her truth. She is yearning for it all to make sense and stop hurting.
Her body is penetrated by adrenalin, pulsing through her fingers as she tries to steady them, hiding them below my view. Her voice is shaky and she attempts to strongly affirm her reason for calling me. She is desperate for affirmation. I don’t know her story yet, but I know her pounding heart.
I’m just one more person she is hoping will help stop her merciless pain.
She takes a breath, her face becomes flaccid, and she speaks. “Thank you for seeing me.”
(If you only knew how my heart aches for you and it is my honor to be in your presence.)
I respond, “I’m glad you are here. What can I do for you?”
And then the story begins to unfold. She hesitantly speaks the word “pornography” and pauses to see my response. Will I flinch? Will I roll my eyes? I do neither but look as gently as I can to encourage her. I have no doubt this will be a story similar to another I heard earlier.
Seeing no aversion from me, she uses another word, “prostitute”, and waits to see if I will recoil in disgust. No. In fact, I lean closer to the screen, silently encouraging her.
After a moment, I speak. “That sounds devastating.”
And she feels heard. The tears timidly break over her eyelashes. She hears no judgement, no criticism, no deflection. Just my invisible hand reaching through the screen welcoming her into this safe place. It will be her space as long as she needs it.
As our sessions continue, weeks turn into months. We move through her discovery of the true details of the deception. We look at how she will move on single, with her children. She has very few friends or church support. Those words of “pornography” and “prostitutes” were just too alarming for her friends or pastor. She will never know if they turned away from her because they too experienced infidelity or whether they feared being tainted by the sinful nature of her story. They fled under the guise of business or they simply avoided her. No matter what the truth, she feels they are repulsed by her story.
She is alone. Unlike a widow, as we (the general public) understand the term, she has no compassionate support system and her husband has not left her with a life insurance policy promising financial stability. The insurance policy she owns today promises financial insecurity.
As the months continue, her fears mount. She worries about her own health. It is so hard to eat, sleep, exercise or do anything remotely healthy. Her children need her; her children are confused; her children are hungry for a truth they cannot carry.
Daily she wakes and fastens an immense, invisible backpack tightly around her body. No one sees the veiled burden she carries. It is exhausting smiling at all those moms in school, waving at them in the parking lot, and wondering what they are saying behind her back.
Her church used to be her safe place. It was a sanctuary. She could rejoice with the Lord, sing during the service, praise Him but now, she feels no peace or comfort there. She feels like an outsider because she is divorcing for a reason she cannot clearly explain. The verse “God hates divorce” runs through her head, even though she knows she is justified. God hates sexual sin as well.
Let’s return back to my time with her.
She knows I will listen without reproach. She knows I will honor her feelings. And as the months progress, I see her chin shift slightly with each visit. It becomes firmer, more directed and more confident. A glimmer of who she is returns as a flicker in her eyes. Sometimes, I see an uptick of the corner of her mouth in a real smile as a touch of actual joy flitters across her face.
I embrace that as reassurance she is beginning to wrap her arms around herself as a woman, eager to begin asserting her truth.
Next, we tumble into her divorce proceedings.
With wide uncomprehending eyes, she is frozen with grief all over again. Her finances are microscopically picked through. Her daily routine with her children is being questioned. The paperwork is mountainous and still, she carries that invisible betrayal backpack, smiling at the other moms in the parking lot, snuggling her children in at night, and finally, heavily putting herself in bed wondering if she remembered to feed the dog.
Many of her mornings consist of her alarm going off at 4am, before the children rise for school so she can organize papers for her attorney who seems more interested in getting through his day than her emotional state or recognizing how exhausted she is. Every corner of her brain is used to make sure she gets it right. She knows this is a fight she has not learned how to prepare for, but it will determine her life, her future, her very being.
Back to us and our time.
She squeezes me in between grocery shopping and school runs. We sit in her car, me looking through that Zoom lens at a tiny version of her sitting in the driver’s seat, engine off with the sun on her face. I see the dark shadows under her eyes representing the grief she experienced as she held on to the tangible, paper evidence that morning which represented her husband’s unfaithfulness. Each page she gave to her attorney bears the mark of her unbearable admission of his behavior.
She asks, “When will this be over? And will I be strong enough?”
My answer, “I don’t know when, but yes, you are strong enough.”
She is another one of my widows. My widows are unique.
They don’t receive the benefits from a life insurance policy.
They don’t receive unconstrained empathy from our community.
There are no casseroles in their freezers.
But my widows are amazing. They are resilient, tenacious, courageous, honorable, reliable, faithful, and brave and so much more.
Courage is not having the strength to go on; It’s going on when you don’t have the strength ~ Theodore Roosevelt
These widows epitomize “going on.”
I have a request.
If you know one of these widows, offer them a casserole of love.
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