Aspects of this process keep getting referred to as a “reckoning” because it’s a lot easier to say reckoning than it is to say “having all your biases laid out on a table and correctly picked over because it’s time we addressed this shit head-on.”
He'll do just about anything to avoid that, won't he? Addressing this shit head on? He'll minimize. She meant nothing to me. He'll deflect. Our marriage was really bad. You know that. He'll blame-shift. You said yourself that you weren't happy. He'll reassure. I never stopped loving you. He'll defend. I was never going to leave you. Why won't you believe me?
He'll do just about anything except the one thing that he absolutely must do. Address his shit head on. Traistor, in the quote above, is referring to the reckoning taking place politically in the US. And I am, of course, referring to a more personal reckoning in the wake of infidelity. But the two aren't necessarily as separate as we might think. Even our cultural understanding of infidelity is through the lens of misogyny, entitlement, patriarchy. "Addressing this shit head on" is about examining what made cheating okay for him. "Addressing this shit head on" means turning the light on the stories he told himself, long-held beliefs, a value system that was malleable enough to make space for cheating (or that never excluded cheating as unacceptable in the first place). Because if he's asking you for a second chance, what exactly is he offering to make that second chance seem like a fair bet?
It will be painful. For him but likely for you too. It's hard to look deeply at our shadow selves, behind our polished exteriors. And it's something that will likely require a professional, not only to open the path toward a deeper understanding but to offer support when what's discovered is hard to look at. When it feels easier to turn away, to say that's enough, to figure that not cheating is as good as understanding why he cheated in the first place.
It's not. It never will be.
Addressing this shit head on is the admission price of a second chance. What? He thought there wouldn't be a price? He thought he could make promises and plead for mercy and wipe the slate clean? He thought the price was paid by being a witness to your tears, your pain, your shattering? Absolutely not. Observing the pain he created is never to be confused with reckoning with his own.
Besides, we're likely having our own reckoning. Addressing this shit head on. Because although we are never to blame for another's choice to cheat, there are often ways in which we betrayed ourselves. By ignoring our anger. By silencing our wants. By denying our needs. By allowing him to abandon us in ways we barely recognized but nonetheless felt deeply. We felt alone, didn't we? We were alone.
Infidelity is a nuclear bomb. And pretending it's not only reduces the likelihood that the necessary rebuilding will take place in its wake. If he can pretend that it wasn't so bad, that it was a small aberration, that the damage was contained then he can avoid his reckoning. But only if we go along with it. Only if we don't demand he commit to his reckoning.
Let's not. Let's make absolutely sure that he addresses this shit head on. Let's insist that the price of his second chance is his commitment to doing everything he can so that he never needs to ask for a third chance.
I'm convinced it's the only way to rebuild a marriage in a way that creates emotional safety. Only when we have seen his reckoning, only when he has examined his actions through the lens of how he got there, what he told himself, what he lied about – to us and to himself – can we begin to let down our guard. Only when he will make himself vulnerable can we begin to trust him with our own vulnerability. Only then.