I view my life as a journey: one of constant discovery, and adaptation and change resulting from each discovery. After each discovery, I am never the same person as I was before the discovery. Sometimes, the discoveries that come to me are complex, and sometimes they are humorously simple and have been right under my nose all along. Sometimes the discoveries are painful, and sometimes they make me doubt or lose track of who I am; sometimes they erode the earth beneath my feet and have me falling and not knowing where I will land. I am pretty sure, however, that this fall is always temporary, and that it has a larger purpose in the scheme of my life (even if I only recognize it in hindsight, years later). Right now, I am in the middle of one of those falls, waiting to see where I land.
About one year ago, a complex discovery knocked at my door. This discovery arrived in the midst of many other ongoing discoveries, mainly about who I am, what I want, and finding courage to own that. While moving through period of personal transformation and feeling like I had a lot of new things figured out for myself, this complex discovery threw me off course. Since this secret entered my world, my integrity has been tested like never before. Not a day has passed in which I have not felt the “ick” of this discovery, or in which I have felt confused and unsure of how to best handle what I know.
I am the keeper of a dark and destructive secret. This secret has a life of its own, and the longer it is a secret, the more destructive and toxic it becomes. Someday it will likely be discovered by the person to whom it rightfully belongs, and it may come back to me that I knew all along and chose not to reveal it. I am not the only keeper of this dark secret, but one of several keepers. However, to my knowledge, I am perhaps the only person who is aware of the enormity and the toxicity of the secret. The secret means that the person’s spouse is in the dark, living in a lie, and removing his/her choice to be with or to leave a partner who has deeply betrayed him/her.
It feels like a dark, rotting blob of toxic waste is living and growing inside of me. I have spent the last year trying to ignore it and pretend it isn’t there; “it isn’t mine”, I try to tell myself. I have tried to pretend I’ve forgiven and forgotten, only to realize that I can’t forgive or forget something that is happening in this very moment, something present and alive inside of me. Until the secret is no longer a secret, this is a present reality that I must face each day.
I have been in the fortunate position of receiving solid advice from a variety of professionals through my school, and am so thankful for having that opportunity. In addition, I have received support from my wonderful, wise husband who has the healthiest boundaries of anyone I’ve ever known. There is a reason this secret came to me when I had so many resources to help me handle it, and I am trying to remember that someday I will be thankful for this.
The consensus from my wise advisers has been this: secrets are destructive. We’re not talking about keeping a secret about a surprise gift or party; we’re talking about secrets that cause harm. Spouses eventually find out about betrayal, and the longer the time goes by, the more it hurts. Spouses would rather know than not know, and be informed by the spouse rather than an outside informant. Keeping the secret only temporarily benefits the secret-keeper, and is done in self-interest so that he/she can continue the path of self-serving behavior. As relationship therapists, we do not keep secrets from partners and spouses. As friends of people in the relationship, we do not keep destructive secrets from partners and spouses (although there are some therapists who will keep secrets between spouses, but I am not one of them). When dealing with relationships as a therapist, we leave work at work, and go home to our personal lives. This is very different from having toxic relationships in our own personal lives, and this is a boundary in progress for me.
The parameters for relationship boundaries, ie the “no secret-keeping” rule, must be set up at the beginning of the relationship. I did not set up this parameter with this person. At all. In fact, when I received this secret, I didn’t even realize how I felt about it until I ad stewed about it for quite some time. It was a first–I can definitely say that much.
So, through my complex discovery and being the keeper of a toxic secret, I have learned some important lessons. There has been a lesson of what different relationships mean and what I must to to maintain my own marital bond. There has been a lesson of integrity that has not yet been fully resolved. There has been a lesson of beginnings and endings, of commitment and loyalty. There has been a lesson of what it means to be a friend versus what it means to be a therapist. In this situation, I am a friend, not a therapist. It is my personal life.
I’ve learned that when a person is in a marriage or committed romantic relationship, there must be a limit of intimacy in friendships outside of the marriage. Over-sharing in friendships can be addictive and destructive in a friendship, and also often a betrayal of the marriage. Friendship must exist outside of the boundaries of marriage, and some things must remain private to the marriage, only discussed between the couple. This is called “primacy”, and it is the key to a long-lasting and healthy marriage. If we can’t find the strength to be honest with our spouses, then we can seek the help of a therapist. Together. These are all things I have learned over the past year, and I am grateful I made it this long not knowing those things and not practicing them until now.
I sit here today, in a cafe with a decaf cafe miel beside my laptop, waiting for Mia to finish her writing camp. Anna is at a play date with her cute little friend, and Alan is at home prepping the house for our big siding project. My life is sweet, and simple and good. I love my people. I am surrounded with people who care about me, far and wide, and I care for them right back. My life is filled with goodness, and this “complex discovery” is just a little something that has been mixed into it. It’s both necessary and unpleasant, and I will grow and move on from it. I am remembering that today, and I am grateful.
Here’s a picture I randomly put in, because I wanted some kind of photo with this post. Strength and standing tall.