Own Your Role

Jodie Utter

Introduce yourself. Who are you? What do you do for a living?
I’m a fighter—by nature and necessity, both—who’s grown weary of fighting. So instead, I’m committing the second half of my life to nurturing, and hopefully mastering, the dual arts of softness and unconditional love. 

I grew up as an only child and a product of divorce. Today, I’m a grownup with two kids and one thriving marriage to my name. Professionally, I’m a multipotentialite; a Jill of whatever trade strikes me at the moment. Because pursuing one specific career, beyond that of being a mom, was never attractive to me. At the moment, I work part-time as an easy button—otherwise known as a virtual assistant. I have worker-bee DNA and am happiest when buzzing about, helping others meet their needs. Try to put me in charge and I will balk. Every single time. 

Two years ago, I answered the call of this one wild life we each get to live via adding freelance writing, blogging, and speaking to my resumé. Both of my current gigs allow for plenty of time for me to be home and present for my teenagers, while I’ve still got the short-lived opportunity to be. 

One of my lifesaving tricks is to listen to those who’ve gone before me, gathering up the parts and pieces of their stories I deem a good fit for mine. More than one wise woman once told me it can be even more important to be home with your big kids than it is with your littles. I paid attention to that wisdom and structured my work life around my kids’ lives. For this, I will never be sorry—but I knew I might regret doing it the other way around.

Why did you start your blog?
A year into recovering from my husband’s unfaithfulness, I read a book that helped kick-start my stalled out healing process. While spinning my wheels in futility, I read Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle. Glennon’s story read like a battle call. Because I’m still a fighter at heart, I responded by picking up my new weapons of choice—my laptop and the intention to lean into love and forgiveness for my husband. 

The more I wrote about our marriage, the more I healed from the painful parts of it. The more I told the truth about our marriage trauma, one that had been broadcast across all forms of news and social media in our community at the same time I was learning about it, the more I learned about the true nature of love and forgiveness. The more I learned, the more I grew as a woman and a wife. 

Initially, having our very personal and private story shared publicly felt like a burden I was scarcely able to bear. Until I realized the horrific experience of feeling utterly exposed in such a negative way actually presented an opportunity for me to use our story for something good. To encourage and inspire other married couples battling their own unthinkable circumstances. 

Once I started writing about what it’s like to navigate the heartbreak of infidelity, I felt the call to write about enduring toxic relatives, bumpy or busted friendships, and the thousands of tiny deaths embedded in motherhood, too. I write about the hard stuff because it seems too few are willing to. And because the hard stuff is what I want to read about. 

Our collective hard stuff is killing us all slowly, though it doesn’t have to. None of us are getting out of this life alive. But while we’re here living it, I want us all to feel less alone inside our often universal stories and more at home in our hearts, minds, and relationships. It’s the truth about others’ stories that helps me feel less alone in mine, and so the truth is what I offer up to others in return.

What has been the hardest part of sharing your journey?
Learning the inner workings of the publishing industry, along with the now inextricably intertwined entity of social media, is like trying to take sips from a fire hose. The most challenging part has been accepting my own pace of learning how to share my message of hope for hurting marriages, far and wide. That and realizing some platforms for publishing and sharing content are not for me and don’t mesh well with my brain or feel good inside my body. For instance, Pinterest. While purportedly blogger nirvana, Pinterest isn’t a platform that feels like one I need to have a presence on. I enjoy perusing all the lovely things and inspiring ideas I see on the site when time allows, but the time-consuming challenge of learning the back end isn’t something that beckons to me.

Glennon Doyle wrote that we can’t miss our own boat, only someone else’s boat. Our own boat stays docked for us until we’re ready. Picture me standing up and giving her an enthusiastic standing ovation for that notion I lap up like a kitten does milk. But even so, learning to recognize which boat is yours is no easy task.

What has been the most rewarding part of sharing your journey?
Too many women (and men, too) feel like they have no one to talk to about experiencing betrayal in their marriage. They don’t want to disclose to friends or family how bad they’ve been hurt by the one person who vowed never to do so. It’s too hurtful and embarrassing. Nor do they want unsolicited opinions or judgment piled on at a time when they’re feeling the lowest, most alone, most let go of they ever have. But trying to heal a shattered heart while shackled to the shameful and secretive qualities of infidelity is excruciating and nearly impossible. 

So I don’t simply tell my marriage story, I tell it loudly and proudly. And I invite others who find themselves devastated by an affair to contact me privately; to ask me questions or share their circumstances. My heart for the betrayed is a soft place for their hard stories to land. 

Hundreds of women have taken me up on this offer and my own heart rests a little easier in knowing I’ve given them some much needed space to express their pain. I’m rarely asked for advice, which I appreciate because I don’t really feel like I have any. I simply have my story to tell. But more so, I appreciate that women don’t usually want advice because they’d rather just be heard. Betrayed women want a witness to their pain and all-consuming grief. And they want to determine their way forward on their own, just as soon as they’re able to. Having someone to share their marriage story with helps to ready them sooner.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
In regards to marriage, the best advice I’ve encountered is to give each other your first and your best. My husband and I failed to do this for too many years. We paid a heavy price for giving others our first and our best instead. Today, we give to others of what’s leftover after first giving each other our best. This one big little thing has made the biggest and best kind of difference for us.

For personal growth and achievement, my favorite advice—that I take to heart on a daily basis—is some of my own. And that’s to own your role, own your role, own your role. We play a part in every interaction we have and if we’re not willing to be self-aware and choose to self-correct when we make a mistake or cause pain for someone, how can we expect others to?

What message do you think every woman should hear?
If your spouse chose to have an affair, their choice is entirely on them and not at all on you. It’s of dire import each of you own the role you play in your marriage. But no matter your shortcomings or how you’ve let your spouse down, the choice to cheat in response to unhappiness is but one—a poor one at that. Your spouse’s decision to cheat speaks to who your spouse is inside and surrounding that decision, not to you or who you are. And never to your worth.

Being cheated on is rarely about what you look like, how you’ve aged, how much you weigh or how exciting you are in bed. It’s almost never about whether you have shared hobbies, how much money you spend, how well you cook or how ambitious you are professionally. I could go on for days about how being cheated on is hardly ever about you, because it’s nearly always about the one who chose to cheat. 

As far as any role you may have played in the declining state of your marriage, a weakened state that allowed space for another person to wedge in between you—own it, own it, own it. But don’t you dare decide you need to own their role, too. Your spouse could’ve chosen to fill that widening space between the two of you with marriage counseling, drawing nearer to God and his vision for marriage, and/or a willingness to dig in and do the hard work of properly handling the issues that come up for all couples. 

It’s not that you deserved your spouse’s cheating behavior. It’s not that you weren’t enough to prevent them from making the choice to cheat. It’s that they weren’t enough. Willing enough to work it all out, strong enough to see it all through, selfless enough to keep loving you true. Be so careful not to confuse the two.

My husband and I don’t corner the market on marriage renewal or surviving infidelity together. Any two people who are all in and willing to own their roles can decide to let their failing marriage die and create a brand new one to take its place. Any two people committed to learning to love each other for no reason and without conditions—the way love intended—can overcome the ways they’ve let each other down. If the mutual desire is there and if the hard work they’re in for gets completed.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
We are not our mistakes, we’re more so what we do after. Maya Angelou cautioned that when people show us who they are, we must believe them. But what I’ve learned about people is we all fail each other in some way at some point. We want to claim some ways of hurting each other are worse than others and that may be true, though I’m just not sure. I left my husband mentally before he left our marriage physically. But just because I left him in that manner once, does not mean I will again. I am more than my mistake. I’m also everything I’ve learned from my misstep and everything I’ve done in order to atone for it. I’m all the mistakes I haven’t made, too. I want second chances from people. I want the opportunity to offer sincere apology and go about the business of doing right by the people I may wrong. And if I want that, I’m for darn sure going to be willing to give that, as well.

What do you love most about yourself?
I love that I love change—it’s how I know I’ll never be bored and that I can adapt to life’s inevitable curveballs. I love that I cry about everything, whether I’m feeling joyous or sorrowful—it’s how I know I’m alive and tuned in, showing up in the world and willing to fully feel all the feels. I love that I’ve learned to honor my body and retrain my brain by forgoing the crutch of alcohol; a drug I was using too often and with increasing dependency in order to check out of life and numb from pain—it’s how I recognize how far I’ve come on the healing continuum.

Have you always had confidence in yourself?
Inexplicably, yes. I’m the product of a teenage pregnancy that resulted in only one parent loving me the way a parent should love their child. My mom and I moved around a ton when I was a kid and we usually didn’t have two unallocated nickels to rub together. I had a hard time making friends and keeping them and feeling like I belonged in a group. But I was smart and capable of learning quickly. Oh, and I could run really fast. I kinda loved all that about myself. In addition to being abandoned by my father, I endured prolonged sexual abuse by a relative when I was young. While that abhorrent experience affected me in profoundly negative ways for years to come, it didn’t break my spirit or teach me that I’m undeserving of respect or autonomy over my own body.

I still battle with feeling like I belong in a group or a crowd. I may always prefer one-on-one encounters with people to large gatherings. But rather than decide to feel lacking over how I’m able to show up in the world, I’m going to call it a win that I choose to show up at all.

What is one thing no one really knows about you?
I can’t smell. Never could. I love baby bok choy. Probably an inordinate amount. I can’t dance, I don’t have a single move. But dancing is the thing that sets me the most free and fills me with the biggest sense of never-ending joy. I have fraternal twin bunions, one on each foot, but in a different spot. I don’t know what it is about the color mauve, but I have a real problem with it. When someone asks me to give just one example, I panic and can’t even.

Do you remember a specific time you overcame adversity?
I didn’t actually have a heart attack and die, though it felt like I would the night my husband confessed his unfaithfulness to me. I read somewhere that perhaps the most surprising thing about divorce is that it doesn’t actually kill you. I’d say the same about infidelity.

You don’t see it coming, it blindsides you, knocking what feels like your last breath clean out of you. Your entire world stops in the instant you understand you’ve been betrayed and set aside in favor of someone else. You can’t eat, for you’ve forgotten how to chew and swallow. You can’t sleep, though you’ve never known the level of exhaustion that’s overwhelmed you, coloring you so pale. You can’t think a thought all the way through; instead, each one twists, turns, or dead-ends on you for there’s no following them anymore. Life as you know it ends and you’re saddled with the too-heavy task of reinventing it, though you didn’t ask to. You want what you had, or what you used to want, or maybe just what you thought you had or wanted. See how confusing? And perhaps more defeating than anything—you don’t want this unthinkable act of betrayal to be part of your story and you know it forever will be. 

When you’re able to though, you’ll begin writing the rest of your story. It’s this reclamation of power that’ll save you from the part you know you’ll always hate.

So yes, I do remember. And I’ll remember along with all those who share a similar story, too.

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jodie utter

Aside from being a mother, Jodie is a Jill of whatever trade strikes her at the moment. Pursuing one specific career, beyond that of being a mom, was never attractive to her.

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