17: Broken Promises


Shame needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment.

The two most powerful words when we’re in a struggle is “me too.”

Brene Brown

The Doctor asked me: “What was your vow to your Painter?”

It was simple:

I’ll take any slings and arrows. I promise I’ll be there. We are partners and I’ll always share everything I have with you. I’ll protect you and keep you safe.

My vow came with a white horse and silver bullets for every problem.

In hindsight, I recognize my vows created a situation where I had nowhere to go when I needed help. That isn’t my xp’s fault, it is one of many ways I create a loyalty trap. Where do I go when I make bad decisions? Who has my back? How do I face the shame? How do I face my partner?

Reading my vows it is obvious, no matter what I did, once I made a bad decision, I was bound to break my vows. I said to my Doctor that the only way to completely honor my vow was never to make a mistake or bad decision, and to never fail.


The vow was non-sustainable across a lifetime.

“Shame is an epidemic in our culture,” states Brene Brown. According to Brown’s research, unless you are a sociopath, you have been washed in shame, to be human is to experience shame.

In her TedTalk, Listening to Shame, Brown relates the story of a man that came to her at a book signing and confronted her about why she doesn’t talk about shame and men.

Talking about the expectations of the women in his family he said:

My wife and three daughters would rather me die on top of my white horse than see me fall down. When men reach out and are vulnerable we get the shit beat out of us. And don’t tell me it’s by the guys, the coaches, and the dads because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else.

Unlike women, whose shame is driven by competing expectations, “for men,” says Brown, “shame is being perceived as weak.” Every day this man lives with the expectations of people he loves, and that love him, to never fail, to never show a weakness.

As such, when he does fall off the horse, what are his options? Who can he turn to for help? To admit his mistakes? To be vulnerable? What does he stand to lose if he takes the risk, faces the uncertainty, and is emotionally transparent?


Who or what makes it safe for him to feel courageous if he cannot be vulnerable at those he loves most?

Whiskey? A gun collection? A mistress? Hating immigrants?

Research says that for men to conform to male norms they must always show emotional control, financial success, achieve status, and leverage violence.

Where does vulnerability and empathy fit onto that scale? Asking for help and admitting failure is the anthesis of those norms.

The Lone Ranger that confronted Brown and her research was making the point that the expectations of the women in his life were part of a Pattern preventing a deeper vulnerability in the relationship. The expectations were based on his vows.

On more than one occasion I have heard a woman betrayed say, “He betrayed me and to make it up he needs to step up and be a man.”

In many respects, I think that is precisely the problem post discovery. It sounds to me many of the betrayed spouses want a man that meets their expectations but are unwilling to change the expectations to adapt to the new paradigm of the relationship. All because they refuse to renegotiate the vows.

I’ve been told it is the man’s job to “fix it.”

However, couples like Moisy, Dolly, and Elle consistently describe seeing their partner’s vulnerable as essential to healing and finding empathy and compassion. Healing comes from more vulnerability not less. As Brown said, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of…change.” Stoicism and rigidity is not the solution, it is the trap.

Setting aside the morality and romanticism perspectives, I think this is the mindset I brought to my vow. In a situation full of failure, Shame used my vows to convince me the important thing was to stay on the White Horse, that to be a man meant to fix it without asking for help.

I believed, rightly so, if Painter, or others, knew I had vulnerabilities, frailties, and failings they would be used against me. They would be perceived as a weakness. And frankly, if you look at the way Painter, Beatrix, interlopers, and flying monkeys have responded, that is precisely the narrative being peddled.

Too often my behavior and my vulnerability are treated as a character failing, a weakness, a pathology.

Something to be ashamed of and hidden.

Rarely, has Painter or her supporters treated me as simply a human being learning to be human. My behaviors et al are treated as a weakness while they have treated her as the damsel, a victim of an out of control weak man.

It’s actually fascinating.

This leaves me wondering, “Was my vow realistic?”

And the way Painter accepted it, was that appropriate? Did it leave her feeling entitled when I fell off the White Horse? Did I allow her to take advantage of my vows? Was she even aware of the Pattern we were living? Are vows renegotiable? How do we confront the conflict when the vow doesn’t match reality?

At this point, I will never make a vow like that again.



And this too is part of my struggle in deciphering the patterns: the vow becomes a trap.

I thought I knew, without asking, the expectations of Painter, plus I had expectations on myself. Once I fell down and knowing what the promise was, I had no way to recover. My sense of responsibility, honor, loyalty, idealism, and hunger for my life with Painter conspired with my vows, shame, and anxiety to make addressing the issue head-on seem insurmountable.

I was left to deal with it alone; killed by my own silver bullets, a dead man, riding a dead horse.

This morning I found this comment in my Facebook Esther Perel Discussion Group and I think it summarizes the trap well.

I can only speak for men and what I feel about a lot of us, based on how I’ve acted in relationships and how that correlates with what other men do, but I think a lot of men devalue their opinion, their emotions and there sense of self to preserve some nebulous noble sense of romance that they think they have to attain and uphold for the sake of the relationship instead of letting themselves get annoyed, angry, mad, irritated, speak up, doing that thing they honestly just don’t want to do, avoid an argument, avoid a discussion- all because we think relationships are built on peace rather than true expression of our own emotions and taking a chance that another person will love us inspite of possibly hurting her, annoying her, irritating her, making her mad, making her sad. That’s what I mean. So, maybe the next time a guy shuts down, it might be that he doesn’t actually value his own opinion or thinks the woman he is arguing with won’t value his as much as he thinks she values her own. I think a lot of men don’t feel heard, sexy or seen and assume it is not their right to either. It’s usually the more abrasive men who do value themselves in those ways….which is what makes them abrasive, but also more attractive. He’s being himself. Or he allows himself to be so. That’s how I see it anyway. I had to learn myself, how to express myself without being abrasive and without sacrificing the truth, and I went a period of time “being an asshole” until I adjusted and calibrated to my own feelings after suppressing them for 31 years (my whole life up until that point) out of a sense of duty in accord with what I was told I was “supposed” be all my life which was a “gentleman”. Gentleman to me came to mean suppressing my own truth in feeling out a sense of duty to not hurt other’s feelings (especially women- and especially ones I was attracted to), and trying to become a gentleman killed any sense of self I might have developed had I been encouraged to express my emotions for what they were, not avoiding them for the potential damage expressing them might cause. After I stopped sacrificing honesty in my attempt to fulfill this role of what I thought was a gentleman, that is when I truly started to love. And, myself first.

Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior. Brené Brown, whose earlier talk on vulnerability became a viral hit, explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Her own humor, humanity and vulnerability shine through every word.

5 thoughts on “17: Broken Promises

Add yours

  1. A relationship without shared emotional intimacy is a pretty shallow pond. And what is emotional intimacy, really, but the expression of vulnerability? It’s where you expose yourself to another human – your good, band, and downright ugly – and hope they don’t run for the exits. Failing to confront mistakes and/ or shame is based on the assumption that you couldn’t possibly be loved or cared about if you were exposed. (Thus, the belief in certain circles that infidelity is often a sign of an intimacy disorder.)

    That’s certainly where my husband finds himself. He struggles now with believing that I actually love him, now that I know (some/ most of) what he has done. It is literally unbelievable to him that he could possibly still be loved. I don’t think that he needs to “step up and be a man.” I think it would be 100x more accurate that I need him to “step up and be vulnerable.” We can’t heal if we don’t have emotional intimacy, and we can’t develop that if he isn’t able to express vulnerability and, I would add, empathy. He’s working on it. Hopefully he’ll be able to achieve your degree of enlightenment on his own path.

    1. I sound enlightened because you aren’t sleeping with me.

      I just told someone in Esther Perel Discussion Group on Facebook that I’m an “emotionally intelligent person” right up until you are sleeping with me and then I’m an anxiety monster doubling down on avoiding loss and conflict.

      I’m a bundle of joy.

      This is why Brene Brown’s lessons on vulnerability are so important to me. A misunderstanding of vulnerability is a weak link in my relationships. I’m working on learning.

      I need a partner that is willing to learn too.

  2. “Shame is an epidemic in our culture,” states Brene Brown. According to Brown’s research, unless you are a sociopath, you have been washed in shame, to be human is to experience shame.”

    This is where I differ from Brown. I grew up with a pretty solid sense of self. I grew up learning right from wrong and that behaving in a way that hurts other people never solves my problems.


    I have felt guilt over decisions I have made that potentially hurt people I love. I do not feel bad about myself because of things other people do to me or say about me. I am confident in myself. This is just who I am. No judgment, but I certainly do not consider myself a “sociopath” because I don’t feel shameful about myself. My husband grew up and harbored very different feelings about himself. He absorbs the awful things people (mostly his parents, but others too, siblings, teachers, etc… ) said about him. Unfortunately, he was surrounded by a lot of broken, abusive, and hurtful people. He lives in shame and I don’t consider him necessarily “normal” and myself a “sociopath.” Shame is about how we feel about ourselves. That is my definition, and I am after all the only person I have any sway with. Personally, I try to do and say things to myself and others that harbor confidence and love. I have always been understanding of my husband and how he grew up, way before I knew about his secret life. I never expected him to be an alpha male. He simply isn’t. I have raised my sons to acknowledge their own needs and choose pathways in life that provide them with the care and nurturing they need. Jobs they love. People that are kind to them, etc… I understand we all have experiences that shape us and we all have people that speak to our needs, and we are all fallible, but generalizing about how “men” or how “women” are raised, act, behave, feel, treat each other, doesn’t fly with me. We are all individuals dealing with unique circumstances and I, personally, don’t want to be lumped in with everyone else.

    After the nightmare I have lived through the past five years with my sex addict husband, I would say that this particular Buddhist mindfulness teaching does hit home with me:

    True Love
    Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

    Looking deep inside ourselves for the answers is important. Sometimes constantly reaching out just creates more noise.

    1. Can you bottle some of that for me?

      Its odd, when I hear you talk I realize how far I have come since my betrayal et al was revealed.

      I feel guilt, remorse, regret, and some other feelings about my behaviors but the shame is largely gone. I feel it is gone because I realize how much of the shame was a lie that helped perpetuate my behaviors. Mostly.
      In order to take a different approach to my life requires seeing shame for what it is, and not what I think it is.

      Shame clouds perspectives and eliminates options.

      Being free of shame means I am free to make better and healthier choices moving forward.

      I fucked up. I’m not a fuck up.

      Always a pleasure Kat.

      1. Absolutely! You fucked up, but you’re not a fuck up! I hope you truly believe that!

        I hope my husband is better able to tackle his own shame as he moves forward with his recovery, and simply, with his life.

        His shame runs deep and is intertwined in a lot of the decisions he makes. The specialist who treated him for sexual compulsivity figures he was neglected from the crib, left to cry, deprived of the nurturing he needed. Couple that with overt abuse and you’ve got a mess of an adult who truly doesn’t always understand why his instincts are so fucked up.

        He has no contact with his family, and that is difficult for him, but when he’s around them, he is that desperately deprived child seeking love and approval. So, despite what I have gone through with him, in the scheme of things, I have what it takes to survive and thrive what is thrown at me. He, is working on it.

        Happy Thursday! 🙂

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: