It’s almost universally accepted that a woman who has a cheating husband is a woman who is going to struggle with confidence and self esteem. I have to admit that I HAVE known women who remained steadfast in the knowledge that they were wonderful individuals who did nothing wrong. A neighbor and close friend once said of her husband and her self esteem: “why should I change my view of myself? The problem is with him, not with me. He is the one whose self confidence should take a hit. As far as I am concerned, I hold all the cards. I get to say what happens to our marriage and to our life.” I used to envy this outlook, especially initially. Because no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t adopt it for myself.
Intellectually, I knew that I wasn’t at fault. I also knew that, technically, nothing about me had changed and so I should not feel “less than.” But I could not help all of those nasty concerns creeping into my mind, like: “I am getting older and there’s only so much you can do to turn back the clock.” Or “maybe I have gotten boring and am not as exciting to be around since I became a mother.” Or “how can I compete with younger, more enthusiastic and naive women at my husband’s office?” All of these concerns whittled away at my self esteem.
And I know that I am not alone. I have wives reach out to me who tell me that their self esteem and confidence have taken huge hits after they learned of their husband’s affair. They might say things like: “I will admit that I don’t look exactly the way that I did on the day that my husband married me. But who does? And normally, I would give myself a break about this. But I feel like my looks may have come into play in terms of my husband’s affair. I wonder if he would have looked outside of our marriage if I had been thinner or more attentive. I admit that most of what I talk about these days centers on child care. And now I wonder if my husband just thinks that I’m brainless and boring. He says that he wants to save our marriage and he says that I am as beautiful and interesting as I have always been. He seems to be trying to communicate with sincerity. But I just have a hard time believing him. If all of this were true, why would he have cheated? When I am with my husband, sometimes I have a hard time looking him in the eye. I have caught myself starring at my feet sometimes. My husband is a successful person. He is very smart. His brain is always working. I feel like he may look down on me because all I do is stay at home with the kids. When I told my mom this, she told me that I needed to drop this attitude and raise my confidence level pronto because no man is going to stay attracted to someone who doubts herself. She says when I act as if I am not good enough, my husband might eventually start to believe this.”
I do agree with your mother. Presenting yourself as “less than” to both your husband and to yourself doesn’t help anyone. It’s not fair to you and it isn’t accurate, either. That said, I know how difficult it can be to act or pretend to be confident when you are feeling anything but confident. But I learned that you really must try. In this case, you really do have to fake it until you make it. If you go around presenting yourself exactly the way that you feel, then you’re walking around as someone who is unsure, broken, and only partially whole. That’s not who you are and not how you should see yourself (especially when you are not the one who did something wrong.)
I can and will share some things that helped me to regain some of my confidence, but you have to just play around with different things until you find what works for you. I took inventory about things that bothered me individually – (and not things that I perceived might bother my husband.) For example, when I evaluated the worry that I was too old, I looked at things objectively and told myself that this was something that wasn’t really valid. Other than looking my best and trying to maintain my enthusiasm and energy for life, I just was not comfortable pretending to be younger than I was or trying to be someone that I am not. My husband is well aware of my age. I can’t fool him into thinking that I am younger. I can look as good as it is possible for me to look. And I can stay in shape to be healthy. But part of being healthy is not to become obsessed with this. And it isn’t respecting myself to begrudge my life experience.
However, one thing that I did not discard was the feeling that I was becoming isolated because of parenting. Please don’t misunderstand this. I adore my kids and consider parenting as one of the primary reasons that I am on this Earth. But I did decide to take some classes just to continue to use my intellect in other ways in order to boost my confidence. It felt good to know that, if something should happen to my marriage, I could take care of myself. And I think that made both my husband and myself respect me more.
I did address parts of my appearance and my dress that made me happy. I did not make changes based on what I thought my husband might want. I made changes based on what I wanted. I believe that this is a very important distinction. I made changes that made me feel good. When you feel good, it is much easier to project confidence because you genuinely feel it.
Again, these things are going to be very individual. I can’t know what bothers you when you are objectively determining where you lack confidence. But we all have these places. The affair just shines a light on them. They were already there, but now they are intensified, of course. So now is the time to address them and to know that you never have to let anyone see you or treat you as “less than,” and that includes yourself. Do your best to hold your head high and to project confidence – and eventually true confidence will follow.