"Jennifer Aniston hires confidence coach to help her face Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie." If I had read that headline before I had been cheated on by my husband of 21 years, I would have rolled my eyes and thought, "Seriously? Get over it. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have six kids together — they're still together — time to move on." Having suffered such betrayal at the hands of someone I committed my life to instead made me say, "Oh, honey. I feel ya. Do what you need to do to get through it."
Unless you have been the victim of infidelity, you can't understand the permanent scars it leaves. And that's OK. Those of us who have been subjected to this particular cruelty accept that others don't get it. Most of us have chosen to not remain a victim, and not let the situation define us. But that doesn't mean we don't have triggers.
When you've been cheated on, you forgive, rebuild your life and in Aniston's case — make piles of cash and get engaged to a total hunk. But just because you get revenge through living well doesn't mean that your scarred heart isn't going to react negatively in certain situations. You make peace with your ex eventually but your heart will never accept, like or understand the other woman. Life isn't like Friends where exes hang out with each other (specifically if infidelity is involved) and real people aren't Rachel and Ross.
My son recently graduated from college. For 22 years, it's a day I've worked and waited for. I worked my tail into the ground on his graduation party. I assembled my "she-army" — women who I knew would help me get through the day emotionally. And as I sat there, watching my baby achieve one of life's biggest accomplishments, there she was. A physical manifestation and unwelcome reminder of the most painful time in my life.
For a few seconds I went there. "What fresh new hell is this?" I asked myself. What right did she have to be at his graduation? My kids have been successful on the backside of my ex-husband's tacky midlife crisis in spite of this woman's presence in their lives, not because of it. Her presence on this special day was an affront to me. She paraded through my home afterward, a home that I have worked incredibly hard to build — a sanctuary from all the unwanted ugliness she helped bring into my life — as if we were good friends. I was so offended. I had to actively force myself to not focus on the possibility that she may muck up every future special family occasion. I had to force myself to remember that graduation day was about my son. I had to force myself to be gracious.
You might be thinking that these are irrational reactions, or maladjusted attitudes. You're wrong. They are scars that the cheater has left on the heart of the cheatee. In our heads, we know. We know that in some ways our lives are better. In our heads, we congratulate ourselves for not just surviving this situation, but thriving. Intellectually we know that the other woman is just part of the reason our ex cheated. We get that. We're scarred, not stupid. But our heart has a mind of its own. In some ways, our heart is our most loyal ally, because when it is confronted with the other woman it says, "Oh hell no. I remember. Her part in your pain is not OK, and it never will be."
So before you judge Aniston for getting some help before having to look at her ex — whom she loved very much at one time — be happy with another woman, have some compassion. For those who have suffered such cruel betrayal at the hands of a loved one, we carry lifelong scars we didn't ask for. All we can do is try to deal with them, which is exactly what Aniston is doing.
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