When a thunderbolt strikes, and you learn a secret that changes your life — either making you rethink the past, or causing you to re-imagine the future, anger at the betrayal is natural. The rage courses through your body, cauterizing the pain over time, and energizing your efforts to adjust to the truth.
Anger is good for that. It burns brightly at first and glows in the aftermath, like the embers in a dying fire. For some people, the anger never goes away, and for others it wanes over time.
But the emotion that I have found more difficult to experience and deal with is the love. I mean the real love, the connection that brought a couple together in a relationship so deep and powerful that betrayal means something. Strangers or casual friends can’t betray us. They don’t matter. It’s the people we love, the people we trust, who have the power to break our hearts.
I have written about the pain I felt when my first husband revealed his homosexuality to me after fifteen years of marriage. Because we chose amiability over anger and decided to stay married until our sons were grown, I suppressed my negative feelings in order to be at peace with my circumstance. We fell into a friendly relationship during the years we were married and the decades after our divorce, when each of us found a new love. We checked in with each other every other week. We compared notes about our two sons, their careers, their marriages, and eventually their children. On Mother’s Day and Father’s Day we called to congratulate each other on our success as parents — and grandparents. Birthdays, too. We checked on each other’s spouses. We met at family gatherings and hung out together at the grandkids’ birthday parties. People thought it was amazing. They were right. I had long since buried my strong emotions and opted for a surface relationship. Digging deeper would have made trouble for me. I never challenged him to tell me why he never told me about his sexuality when were dating, and he never apologized for the deception. The status quo was just fine.
But no status ever stays quo. When he died a year and a half ago, I was shocked but couldn’t cry. At first I didn’t feel much. My concern was for my sons, who had lost their father. Then, gradually, a wave of anger overwhelmed me. It colored my response to my sons’ eulogies at their father’s funeral, and I have to admit that I threw the sod on his coffin with unseemly energy. Pow, I heard, pow, pow. You’re dead, I thought, you can’t hurt me ever again. I was shocked at my feelings, and I didn’t like myself.
Over the next months, I grappled with my rage. I struggled with feelings I had never dealt with when we were together or divorced. I slept the anger and it woke me up. I walked it, and I spoke of it endlessly to my friends. I eventually began to cool down, so that I could get through a day without fury. That came as a surprise.
Gradually, as the sand shifts on the shore, I began to recover the memories of our love. I didn’t mean to find these memories. They contradicted the story of betrayal and disappointment I had told myself all those years. And then I had to face a very hard question.
After the anger over a betrayal, what do you do with the love?
You weep over it. You honor it. You dig deep into your being and let the good moments, the years before the betrayal, seep into your body. Eventually, I faced what I had long suppressed.
I know we loved each other. I know we admired and respected each other. I know we had each other’s backs. I know we giggled together in the face of pomposity. I know we raged together in the face of injustice. I know we worried about each other and comforted each other. I know we had wonderful years together. I know we built a life together. I know we managed to raise two remarkable sons. I know we loved each other.
Anger and outrage were at first good, healing emotions. They provided me with the strength to get through. But when I faced the love, that act lightened my burden of rage. It left me with an acceptance of what I had, what I lost, and what I was able to create thereafter. “At least I know,” I tell myself, “and I stand on solid ground.”
Read more about Secrets and Lies