Thursday, September 27, 2012

When a Cheater is Just a Cheater: How to Know When It's Time to Bail

I'm reading Cheryl Strayed's wonderful new book Tiny, Beautiful Things – which is a collection of columns she wrote as Dear Sugar on The Rumpus. Strayed is pure magic. She offers advice with compassion and insight that I've never read in any other advice forum. Her book is a treat.
But a big part, beyond the overwhelming compassion she offers to people many of us think are undeserving of it, is her ability to draw sharp lines around a problem, thereby making it impossible to not see it clearly. Unless we're blind.
And blind is what so many of us are when it comes to the men in our lives. We want to believe they're better than they are and so we see them as better. We want to believe they're worthy of us and our loyalty and so we see them as worthy. And sometimes we're right. Sometimes they really are men who simply lost their way for a while and are desperate to become better and worthy again, despite having done something so egregious that our hearts lay shattered in a zillion pieces on the floor. Sometimes they really deserve that second chance.
And sometimes they don't.
How to tell the difference?
Stop lying to yourself.
It seems simple enough. But when many of us have spent a lifetime lying to ourselves, the truth and lies become so mixed up together it's hard to figure out where one ends and the other begins.
And so we end up with men who also mix lies and truth and it sounds so familiar to us that we settle in for the long haul.
Sometimes good men do bad things. Sometimes they don't even understand themselves why they do it. They've got their own history around sex and intimacy. Just like the rest of us, they're susceptible to our culture's marketing of love and sex as always exciting, always hot. And if it's not...well the problem can't possibly be them, it must be their partner. And so, when suddenly it seems exciting and hot with another person (or seems like it would be exciting and hot if we gave it a chance), they convince themselves that this other person must be "the one". And because they can't stand to think they're liars and cheaters, they tell themselves that they're "in love", they "couldn't help it", that they're "soulmates". And sometimes that's even true. But mostly it's not.  Mostly it's total bullshit and if they had an iota of self-awareness, they'd see that trading door #1 for door #2 just means they'll end up with a different colored door.
Some of these guys, at some point, recognize this. They realize what they were about to give up...for a fantasy. For the reflection of themselves (sexy! interesting! powerful!) in another person's eyes. A reflection that may have been missing in their partner's eyes, as time and inevitable disappointments pile up.
And maybe, with a lot of remorse, attempt at understanding themselves and a sincere desire to want to be a better person, these guys deserve a second chance. Which also means giving ourselves a second chance to make our marriage better. To ensure that it's equitable. That we're truly in a respectful relationship. That our own issues haven't also gotten in the way of a loving marriage. Because, rarely, do these things happen in a perfectly healthy relationship. Then again, perfectly healthy relationships are rare.
But this is the chance to try again to create one. To make sure that we're building a marriage on truth, not on lies we've told ourselves about our partners or ourselves.
But to figure that out, it's crucial to take a look at our partner through the lens of our entire relationship with them.
Sometimes a cheater is just a cheater.
Sometimes, when we look back, we see that they lie about lots of things. They might keep extra change that someone mistakenly gives them at a store. They might not return items loaned to them by friends. They might lie to insurance companies. To the government.
You might notice, with the eye of a forensic wife, that they lie when they don't want to get in trouble. That, for them, it's easier than telling the truth. That they hate when others are angry with them. That they can't stomach another's disappointment in them.
And so they lie. They cheat. They steal. And they refuse to acknowledge that anything – ANYTHING – is ever their fault.
Those guys? Throw 'em back.
But the others? The ones who hate who they've become and what they've done. Who shrink with shame at the pain they've cause. I'm firmly on the side of giving them another chance.
Cause sometimes a cheater isn't just a cheater. Sometimes he's good man...who did a bad thing.

42 comments:

  1. Elle how do you manage to post something that seems to speak directly to my (daily!) situation? I am going to read and re-read this post. Thank you as always!

    I do feel my husband is a good man who did a bad thing but after a fraught counselling session tonight, I expressed a desire to end it. End our marriage, prepare to get stronger and to live with the realisation that my kids would grow up in a "broken home"

    The reason?? The lack of trying. The lack of begging, pleading and crying for me not to leave, the lack of the grand gestures and expressions of love. He is caught in a shame spiral and believes he doesn't deserve a second chance and also (this is my MAJOR problem) the feelings aspect. Feelings for this cruel woman. You touched on it and so rightly say that the wayward husband might think he's in love or found his soulmate. My husband had to be almost scolded by our counsellor tonight as she urged him to think about what he wants...does he want a second chance at our marriage or does he want to separate or does he think the OTHER relationship is still open to him....he said he didn't know what he wanted. No wonder there are no grand gestures, he clearly doesn't love me enough (if at all) to fight to get me back.

    I should be the one making the decision about whether to give him a chance to prove himself but am so insecure and vulnerable that all I want is for him to put his wedding ring back on ("I don't deserve to wear it"), barge back through the door and swear he will love and cherish me forever. Hmmm, doesn't look like this reaction is forthcoming. So instead I am deciding that a decision about what I/we want needs to be made very soon. I cannot handle this limbo hell and my frustration with the thought that he is simply looking for a way out but wants me to end it, is driving me crazy. I have no idea what is going on inside his head and am just hoping that I don't make a rash decision that initially he goes along with then down the line regrets not thinking through things and communicating more because I'm gone

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    1. Lucy,
      Breathe. It's still early. And right now he can't give you what you need. It might well be that no-one can give us what we need after D-Day because what we need is to believe we're safe and loved and cherished. And we're clearly not safe. Not at all. We're vulnerable and fearful and filled with shame and disappointment and hurt. This wound tends to re-open all old wounds around being women and wives. You need to know that this isn't about you. It isn't about loving you enough or not enough. It isn't about the things you think it's about. It's about him. It's about him looking outside the relationship between the two of you for something missing in him. And until he addresses what's missing in him, he won't find it anywhere else. Not with her, not with anyone.
      But until he figures that out (if he ever does), you need to shift focus back to you. You can NOT control him. You can NOT dictate his feelings. You can only demand to be treated with respect...and then treat yourself that way. It's not what you want to hear, I know. I suspect this taps into some sense you have that if you were enough, he'd be begging for your forgiveness. But this, honestly, has nothing to do with you. You could be Elizabeth Hurley and he would still have stepped outside your marriage. (Remember that Elizabeth Hurley was cheated on. As was Sandra Bullock. And a zillion other women that we think would have men on their knees.) But cheating isn't about the wife. It isn't about the OW. It's about what's broken in the cheater.
      If he chooses to look deeply at that, then you've got the chance to rebuild a marriage. If he doesn't, then you'd be wise to walk. But give him time. You decide how long...then stick to it. Remember. Respect.

      Elle

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    2. This is EJ...I've posted a few times on the hysterical bonding thread. I just wanted to share a little context with Lucy. In some ways I know where she's coming from b/c my husband was not initially nearly as remorseful and demonstrative as I needed him to be. That is something I still struggle with. While he has done a lot of really hard things for us, he still is rather .... detached or something about expressing regret. On the other hand, the one thing that has been such a gift to me was finding out at he point I found out. My husband eventually went off the deep end--meaningless Ashley Madison hookups, sex workers, multiple emotional affairs talking about SEX SEX SEX and how deprived he was in that department, wading in the water of some really weird stuff. He is seeing a sex addiction counselor but still doesn't quite see himself as a "real" sex addict.....ANYWAY, I'm glad I found out at this point b/c it was obvious then that he did not love the original OW. HAD I FOUND OUT EARLIER, when it was more of a classic affair, that would not have been the case. He says at one point he thought he loved her in a way. Until very very recently he could not see her for what she is--a pathetic hypocritical emotionally unstable woman who used a tragedy in his birth family to move in on him. I swear she is the image of a witch to me now--and not the cool funky witch either.

      Now he cannot stand her. It's possible your husband simply had not moved on to that point. I forgot how long the affair lasted? Infatuation usually is spent within a year.

      It may just take time for him to get his head on straight.

      I'm hardly an expert, but I do hope that helps a bit....

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    3. EJ,
      You are an expert. Thank-you for weighing in with your opinion. I think I don't always "get" how to handle a classic affair. My husband had no emotional feelings at all for the various other partners. Though I do know how I beat myself up after learning about only one partner...before I knew about the sex addiction and the multiple other partners. But I didn't have to deal with what Lucy is dealing with – a conflicted husband.
      So perhaps I'm not the best person to be offering up advice on this aspect. Any others care to offer their thoughts? If this is something they went through?

      Elle

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  2. Lucy - it may be the case that your husband has no feelings whatsoever for the OW but is desperately trying to hold onto how HE felt during the affair and how he felt he LOOKED in the OW's eyes - strong, successful, sexy, blah, blah, blah. I imagine it's really hard to lose that fantasy feeling, and that's probably why a lot of affairs continue for a lot longer than one would expect. It's not about the sex, not about the other person at all, it's about feeling wanted and feeling that they're want-able, desirable. If your husband were to give up that feeling and were to look in the mirror, he'd see a (good) guy who (acted like a jerk &) cheated on his pregnant wife... and no one wants to see themselves that way! The shame might be too much for him right now so he's desperately, frenetically hold onto what he had in the affair. I echo what Elle said -- this isn't about you, please don't think it's a reflection of you, and it might not even be a reflection of what he thinks of and feels for the OW. With some time and de-fogging (to use a term common in affair-related lingo) he may turn back into the good guy again and show remorse and want to build something new. You're both experiencing major SHOCK at what has happened and it takes a while (for both people in the marriage) to get some sea legs for this very turbulent water.

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  3. Hey Elle,
    Well, it's been 15 months for me since D-Day. I really was doing well coping with it all after the initial months of no eating, sleeping, crying, hiding, etc (we all know). However, now I think I just buried it all to move on with my life. Yes, we did individual counseling, yes, we did couple counceling. Yes, we are still together. However, 2 weeks ago -- we drove 2 hours away past the "affair town", past where the "OW lived town", through where the "OW worked town"...bleh, puke, you got it.

    Needless to say, I have been a crabby, angry, upset, volitle person lately. I sobbed on the drive...it was all too much seeing signs, reminders, etc (went to town for son's athletic event). You see I always fancied myself as pretty lucky that the OW didn't live in my town, I didn't have to run into her, etc. But, I think all it did was allow me to forget it all a little easier.

    Now, I'm faced with your blog "title" all too much...will he do this again: I don't know. He had done inappropriate stuff in our past (stupid dating sites)...but had never crossed the line before. But now I'm second guessing everything. I truely in my heart, don't think he's dealt with things. He is on AD and is staying on them; which I think is part of the 'reason' for the affair. But, really...how do we ever know? I want the person on how he was acting after the affair. It sounds sick, I know. But, he was caring, did the dishes, helped with the kids, gave me hugs, asked to go on walks, etc. Now, he's back the couch-sitting, uninvolved person. I truely am sick of always being the one to ask him to do something. UGH...

    But, the overall question...did I put myself through this hell to only go through it again in a year? Where is that crystal ball?

    Shell

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    1. Hey Shell,
      Oh how we all wish we had that crystal ball. Instead what we have is "experience", which is a fairly good predictor of the future.
      I don't think your crying jag is necessarily that you haven't dealt with it. Even when we've done everything we can to move past something it's still painful to come right up against it. I often say on this site that dealing with an affair is traumatic. And post-trauma is the gift that keeps on giving. Even when you're past the event...triggers can put us right back there, at least emotionally.
      Your challenge is to figure out whether you want your marriage, even with your husband behaving himself. He doesn't have to be cheating to be a crappy husband. And if the sum total of his contribution to your marriage is not cheating, I think you know how that's going to turn out.
      Have you told him how you're feeling? I would think the ADs are helping him. But is he emotionally available for you to tell him how you're feeling about how badly you wanted the new-and-improved him after the affair – not just because he was no longer cheating, but because you felt connected to him in a way that gave you hope?
      As someone once said, you don't have to have an awful marriage to want a better one. Most of us who've decided to stick with our formerly cheating spouses at least expect that we'll get something for our troubles – a bit more compassion perhaps, help with the dishes... Not to reduce this to a transaction ("I'll overlook your ex-girlfriend if you take the kids to piano lessons..."), but rather to point out that we didn't just want our spouses back post-affair, we wanted a better marriage. Not simply one without cheating but one with shared feelings, shared labor...a true partnership.
      The thing is, as I also often point out on this site, you can't make him be that person. All you can do is tell him what you need...and determine what you'll do if he refuses to provide it.
      Try and put your out-of-town trip into perspective. It doesn't mean you haven't dealt with the affair, it likely just means there's pain that will surface now and again. What's more, you're not actually that far out from D-Day. It took me a good three years before I really felt like I was ON THE WAY to getting past it. It was five years before I thought it was really in the past. And even now, I get triggered once in a while.
      Hang in there...and stop putting your needs aside.

      Elle

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  4. Hey guys,
    I just thought I'd add my voice to the mix. Here's my quick summary: with my husband for 13 years, he says he cheated for 6 of them off-and-on with one woman, just for sex (mixed with drugs and alcohol). We have two little kids. I found out finally a month ago after checking emails for a long time. I never really believed I'd find anything.

    I feel like my life ended that day, but somehow I'm still here. Sometimes I want to scream it to everyone I know or wear a sign that says: help me! We are in the usual therapy and it does help, but I still feel stuck in this nightmare and I can't wake up. And I'm so scared of the future. I feel like I made these horrible life choices--even though I married this loving man and wonderful father. Somehow I thought his screwed up family history wouldn't be part of our lives together. I was so naive.

    Does the nightmare feeling end soon? Every morning, I wake up and it hits me again--this is really my life now.

    Liz

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    1. Liz,
      I'm glad you've added your voice to the mix...though so sorry you needed to find us. The short answer is, yes, the nightmare will end. It's almost impossible to believe right now...but the day will come when this will be a memory and you'll have moved beyond it -- either with him or without him.
      I'm glad you're in therapy and, assuming you have a good therapist, it will take you as far as both of you are willing to go. Your husband will need to be willing to face down those childhood demons...and you'll have to be willing to be patient while he does.
      It's possible to rebuild a strong, healthy marriage, but it takes a lot of time to let the wounds heal...and hard work on both of your behalfs to recreate the trust. Harder for you, of course, to trust again.
      You'll find lots on this site to help you through...both the posts and the comments. There are really wonderful women on this site who can assure you that the nightmare will indeed end. Not so sure about soon...but each day takes you a bit closer to healing.

      Elle

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  5. Thanks. This site has helped me a lot already. I have a good support group in friends and my mom, but nobody gets it like you guys do. I wish I knew which women in my life had been betrayed--a secret pin or something--so we could talk. And I wish my husband would read something (not sure if this site would be the right thing) so he'd understand that my reactions are "normal" and what he did is truly horrific. He still is the king of compartmentalizing feelings, and because I tend to have anxiety, he lumps this in with my past reactions to tough times--none of which compare to this. I'm going to look at some of the books out there, see if there's one I want him to read. He feels very badly but that isn't enough for me. It's more like he feels badly for me, and I feel like he needs to just feel badly for what he did--not just sympathy for me, but real empathy--for me to reach forgiveness and trust that he couldn't do this again. But I know I can't make him feel more. Argh, it is so frustrating, and sometimes feels like all the work is on me.

    Liz

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  6. Hi, I have recently discovered your blog and regularly use it to help myself understand that I am not alone in this. I am 14 months post D-Day and although the pain is more manageable, it remains constant. Just past the 12 month D-Day anniversary I decided to separate from my husband and asked him to leave. I had given it a year and wasn't willing to lose any more of my life to this man and his inadequacies. It is true that sometimes people do make life-altering mistakes but the person they were prior and the person they become afterwards are testament to their true value. My husband is not one of those people. I knew he was a compulsive liar ever before he had an affair and this discovery just exposed the depths he would sink to in order to live that exciting, double life of deceit. I am truly heartbroken by the end of my dreams for us as a family and will never understand how people who know they are loved and treasured can so cruelly destroy the lives of those who love them. My three children and I (along with my family and friends) are the collateral damage of his selfishness. I am determined that this will not be the case forever, but for now I have a lot of healing to do before I can begin to feel anything like the old me (or a new and improved version of me which is my ultimate goal). Sending love and good vibes for your recovery journey as well as mine. F x

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    1. Dear F,
      Thanks so much for weighing in with your story and thoughts. I think you're absolutely right in your assessment. Sometimes good people do bad things, to put it simplistically. And sometimes toxic people poison every relationship they have. It sounds as if you've made the wisest decision for you and your children.
      But, as you note, that doesn't mean you're magically free. I sometimes think that the "stay or go" argument is misunderstood by many who believe that the "go" part renders them magically healed and free to move forward into a blissful future.
      it simply means you're free to heal without the toxic partner continuing to do damage. The damage that has already been done nonetheless needs attending to.
      I'm sure your determination will take you far. And I'm sure you're still dealing with the emotional fallout of life with compulsive liar – the trust issues. And your attempt to understand how he could do this is probably wasted time. You don't think like that. He, however, does. And no matter that he was loved by you, he clearly wasn't loved by himself. So no matter what everyone around him said/did, he continued to see himself as unlovable. But that's his problem. I hope he addresses it in order to be the best father he can be to your children.
      I wish you the best going forward. The worst is behind you.

      Elle

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  7. I am trying to figure out if my husband is a chronic liar, or just going through normal changes following hsi affair: it was Facebook for a couple of months, then a 1 night stand (High School Reunion! woot!) then a year long very intense texting affair. He texted and set pix at very odd hours of the day and night. He swears that it was not sexting. Honestly, at this point I wouldn't care it fi t was. I just want the truth. Its been 12 week of him dribbling out little bits of the story, contradicting himself, lying, covering his track, doubling back. Deflecting, minimizing, denying. All that. In tears, and claiming that he loves me dearly and wants to rebuild a life with me.

    While still love him, sort of, I am so, so weary of deciphering the lies, figuring it all out. I want to be done with this part so I can do the hard work of healing. I do a lot of mindfulness meditation. But that won't make him tell the truth.

    I can't assess how to know--is he telling the truth, that he doesn't know what picture he sent her at 6:13 AM? He claims not to, somewhat hysterically.

    He just said, why yes, he did text her from out bed (when we were both in it--what is the issue with that?) after lying to me for weeks and insisting that he never, never did.

    I am just ready to give up on this man, After 25 years, I feel very sad. Any thoughts?

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  8. SeventhSisterhood,
    Unfortunately, the "trickle truth" as it's often called it as common during affairs as all the other crazy-making stuff. These guys are like kids with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar who still think a defence of "it wasn't me" is somehow going to work magic.
    I told my husband that he needed to tell me everything. I made it clear that if he didn't...and I found out something that he hadn't told me...then I would call a divorce lawyer. And so he did tell me everything...about the woman I had found out about. What he DIDN'T tell me about was the dozen or so others, and that he was in treatment for sex addiction.
    See what I mean? These guys are so terrified that if you knew the whole story that you would walk that they become masters at minimizing, denying, compartmentalizing, deflecting, lying by omission. What they don't understand is that the trickle truth simply drags out the whole thing, making it more likely that you continue to feel unsafe and off-balance, because just when you think you can exhale, another bit of info sends you reeling again.
    Can you have a calm(ish) discussion with him about what this is doing to you? How marriage counsellors, affair experts and I all say it's better for everyone involved to know the whole truth in order to move forward? If he's afraid that you'll shoot him or something perhaps you can meet at a counsellor's office, or somewhere that feels neutral and "safe", and discuss it there. Full disclosure is a critical step in healing a marriage. I've heard the analogy that the affair partner had a window into your marriage, while you were shut out. Now it's time to open the window to the affair to you and shut the affair partner out. It's the only way to rebuild your marriage.
    In the meantime, stop trying to decipher the lies because you'll make yourself crazy. Tell him that he's got the chance to tell you what you want to know (you might not want to know "everything" but you get to be the one who decides what you DO want to know). If he refuses then you need to create boundaries around that -- that you will enforce. Don't make threats that you won't follow through with. Does he sleep on the couch? Leave? Do you leave? There's no marriage without trust and honesty. And you can't have that with someone who's not being completely honest with you. It's that simple. He created the damage...and now he needs to follow the rules to clean it up.
    They're simple:
    •No contact with the other person. At all. Ever.
    •Full disclosure of his transgressions. You determine what you need to know, not him.
    •You have access to his cell phone, computer, credit card records, whatever you need to verify that he's not up to his old tricks. For as long as you need to. He gave up his right to privacy when he violated your trust.
    •Counselling. Though not everyone does this, I don't know of a single marriage that was able to heal after an affair with out one or both spouses in counselling to help them understand what went wrong.
    Hang in there. It's still really raw and new for you. But the sooner he understands how his trickle truth is actually making things worse, the better for both of you.
    Elle

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    1. Thank you Elle. I agree with what you say. We are a work in progress (see below). There is no contact-- the OW saw to that when she filed a harassment claim against me--no, really! I sent her a couple of emails--really we went back and forth--me teling her to get out of my life. She freaked and went to court in a state where I have never been. We brokered an agreement and it cost money, and my good name, but at least it made it clear to her that Husband and I play on one team, and not her.

      And, I do have access to everything in the way of numbers, passwords and whatnot.

      It's the part that is (or is not) in his mind, still that is the issue. He is very emotionally unconnected, that's his issue in fact, and part of what drove him to an affair.

      So, time will tell. And I need to heal, and rebuild my career, so I have time if I keep taking care of myself.

      I am doing a lot of Mindfulness meditating, studying German (daughter in Hamburg finds it funny...), and working on a variety of life strategies...like potentially living with my sister, who booted her husband after his umpteenth affair.

      I love your site. It is soothing and wise.

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  9. I have a question for you guys. What does transparency mean to you exactly? After checking my husband's phone for years before finally finding something, I am sick of secretly checking. Yes, that's how I finally found something but I find it horrible, exhausting, and it makes me feel a separation from my husband and like I am violating his privacy. Ha ha. Also, if he wants, he can delete anything. I don't want to secretly check his phone anymore and I've told him this, but I couldn't stop myself from doing it the other day...or I didn't want to. I found some old flirty stuff with a different woman. He says it was just flirting, which we've talked about but I hadn't seen examples of before. That's a separate issue, sort of. He hates me checking his phone like that and eventually got very mad about it. So what is the "right" way to check? I wasn't really looking for new stuff, just old stuff, since D day is still very new. But what about in another month on a very bad day? Do I tell him when I need to check? Does he have to agree to let me check without telling him? Is he allowed any privacy anymore? Help!

    Liz

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    1. Liz,
      It's a good question and I hope some others will chime in with their opinions. Transparency, for me, is based on the thinking that people with nothing to hide, hide nothing. In other words, it wouldn't matter when/where/how someone accessed my phone records, e-mails, computer files...they simply wouldn't find anything compromising because I haven't DONE anything compromising. I might not like having my privacy violated but I wouldn't be worried.
      And that's how it should be within a marriage. Not that you would regularly access a partner's privacy...but that you COULD. And not find anything inappropriate.
      Regarding how long you could/should check, there's no hard and fast rule. I did it sporadically for a few months. Once I trusted that my husband was leaving that life behind, I did it less. Like you, I hated it. And I certainly didn't want to be in a relationship where I felt the need to do that regularly. But it remained (and remains) something that I have access to simply because he understands that I might need to check in order to eliminate any worry. The other day, his phone beeped, we'd been having a rough week or so and I got that feeling in my gut. So I checked his phone. Nothing to worry about. But if he resents my checking, he doesn't show it. I think, at this point, he knows better. There isn't a "right" way to check. You check when you feel the need to check. And he needs to understand that, by checking and finding nothing, it slowly rebuilds your trust in him.
      Re. flirting?? I call bullshit on the "just" part of that. Flirting is disrespectful to you and disrespectful to the person being flirted with. I used to think it was harmless. Not anymore. It's too easy for one/both to get the wrong idea. It's playing with fire. ESPECIALLY when there has been infidelity. No flirting. Not with you there. Not with you not there.

      Others' thoughts??

      Elle

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    2. My husband's therapist wanted him to journal his thoughts but insisted that I not have access to the journal. Now, our couples therapist had ASKED me how I felt if he could write tings down privately to work out his thoughts. Big difference. The background: His previous therapist didn't either (1) insist he tell me about the affair & texting or (2) insist that it stop. In my opinion, she is guilty of at best enabling, at worst, malpractice (I did write to her--he has since left her practice.)

      The couples therapist's approach left me feeling much safer.

      I talked to husband about the difference between Secrecy--which triggers me to no end, and Privacy, where I know something exists, can ask about, but can also allow him to grow emotionally--since that is part of the self-healing he needs to do in order to have any kind of relationship with me. Hiding from emotions is a big part of what got him to an affair to begin with, so I view it in my interests to have him understand his emotions in a safe controlled way. That is, Privacy, vs. Secrecy.

      I have access to all passwords, bank accounts, phone records and the like

      Today he explained to his therapist about my horror of a secret writing book, and why it was such a nightmare for me, and especially the collaboration (collusion??) of a therapist. This one Really GOT IT. He said he would have insisted that my husband quit it and fess up immediately. I kinda like this guy.

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    3. You've hit the nail squarely on the head by pointing out that you're the one getting to decide what feels threatening and what doesn't. It goes such a long way toward restoring a sense of safety in the relationship when the betrayed partner can say that something makes them feel triggered or fearful, and the other partner can reassure her and prove that nothing is happening behind her back. Each time the betrayed partner can verify that their suspicions are groundless, trust is slowly rebuilt.
      Thanks so much for offering up your thoughts. And yes, the original therapist sounds a bit nutty, though I've heard of a few who think the same way. The couples therapist certainly sounds as if he has the interests of both of you at heart.

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  10. My husband's therapist also knew about the affair and didn't make him tell me. My husband feels the therapist can't make him do things and tries to stay neutral. He really likes his therapist and it is a safe place for him so I don't feel I can take it away right now. As far as the therapist knew, the affair was over. But my husband was going to start it up again and that was only possible because I didn't know. But I do now and we have the marriage therapist also now so I feel okay with his therapist, I think. So complicated! My husband also has a journal for creative writing that I'm hoping he will let me read from at some point.

    Liz

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    1. Liz,
      I think an individual counsellor's mandate is different than a couples' counsellor. His therapist is really there to help him work through his own issues, with no concern for you. But if your husband has determined that he wants to save his marriage, his therapist should be supporting that.
      Re. his journal: I suspect there are things in there that would do you no good to know. I've kept a journal since I was nine, and though I've never had an affair, there are things in there that I would not want my husband, my children, my parents, etc. to read. Usually just me venting...and not necessarily my long-term feelings. Let your husband have that. It can be an important tool for him to work out his feelings and get clear on what happened and why...a process you don't need to be privy to. You just want to the ultimate result, which is a dedicated, honest spouse.
      Hang in there. This is still really new for you so there's all sorts of emotional confusion. Hang in there...and keep asking questions.
      Elle

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  11. this has made so much sense to me. i hear the world telling me all the time...once a cheater always a cheater...

    and i wonder, am i a fool of a girl to stay with him? it's humiliating enough, to be cheated on but to actually stay and work it out appears from the outside to be so demoralizing.

    but that is the world speaking to me.

    My heart experiences something else. He is remorseful and struggling with his own heavy guilt and self-anger. He is making changes, lasting changes. It is all really pretty miraculous.

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    1. Scabs,
      "The world" doesn't have a clue what's going on inside your marriage. And "the world" won't be there when you look back on your life and examine the steps and missteps over the year. You will be, though. So you need to make decisions based on what's right for you, not "the world". It's hard. "The world" tends to have a lot of opinions about things, but especially about cheating. But those opinions are generally narrow and stifling and judgemental.
      Stay focussed on the "miraculous" changes...that will help guide you in the right direction. And try your best to shut out those voices (often coming from inside our own head) that say we're doormats, or humiliating ourselves. And listen to the truer voice that encourages us to do what's best for us.
      Elle

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  12. This resonates with me so much right now! My H is really remorseful and works really hard to try to make this work. As I think I've mentioned here before, both of us now 'get' why this happened - it took a lot of individual & couples therapy to get there. That is the head/thinking part, but my heart still hurts, and I feel humiliated. Like many of us here, I too always thought that if my H cheated on me I'd leave immediately. It was so theoretical way back when (I remember thinking that as a middle schooler), but *of course* that would never happen to me, and especially after I married an awesome man I never, ever expected this to happen. Middle school thoughts are hard to kick, as odd as that sounds. In my case, then, it's not so much "the world" but it's ME... ME feeling ashamed for staying with him, ME who feels like a doormat (even though nothing else in our relationship could be viewed that way), ME who worries whether I'll ever regain my self-esteem if I stay. I'm now 21 months out from DDay and this is my current struggle. I fantasize about getting a quickie divorce and then re-marrying. (Is a cheap, quickie divorce even possible with kids?) The divorce-then-marry-anew would actually make ME feel better, I suspect. But is that giving in to 'the seventh grade pseudo feminist' that's still alive in my 39 year old self? (There are great things about my 7th grade self. I still LOVE to dance, for example, but maybe not the 7th grader's stark view on infidelity.) Any thoughts?

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    1. Erica,
      It can be tough to get past those feelings. I had them for quite a while, even though my husband was doing everything he could.
      I think, in part, it comes down to a very human desire for punishment. We hate to think people can "get away" with something. There should be a penalty, we think. And we certainly believe that we're paying a price.
      And I think, as you noted, there's a societal call for blood when somebody cheats that can make us feel as if we're being taken advantage of. Our culture applauds women who kick the guy out, and feel let down by women who don't. And yet...who are we to determine what's right for another person? Remember Kathie Lee Gifford? Her husband was caught with a hooker (if memory serves) and she stuck with him, famously saying that "he might be a jerk but he's MY jerk". Now, of course, I admire her for sticking to what felt right to her, even though many believed she should toss him.
      And that's what you need to remind yourself of daily. Sticking it out is NOT the easy way out. It's hard work and it's, at least publicly, thankless work. But the value lies in rebuilding a marriage that has weathered an almost impossible storm. There should be pride in that. Stand tall, be proud. There is no shame is giving someone another chance to prove their worthy of it. And certainly no shame is allowing your children's father to be the man they need him to be.
      Elle

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    2. Thank you, Elle. I'm planning to re-read your reply whenever I'm feeling down. :-)

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    3. Came across this quote, Erica, and it seemed apropos to your situation:
      “I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.” ― Rita Mae Brown

      Elle

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  13. This is where I am right now... Trying to make that distinction. I see shame and guilt and true remorse in my husband. I also see the desire to change and get better. HOWEVER, he lies about everything, and he's a sex addict. His efforts to improve himself up to this point have had minor successes, but on the major problem (lying) he is still barely past ground zero. I just don't know how long I can or should hold on to my hope for our marriage.

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    1. I'm so glad you weighed in here. I love your blog!
      I think with lying and sex addiction, the two behaviours are so intertwined. Generally what created the addiction also fuels the lying -- shame and fear. The lying becomes as natural as breathing but has roots in a desire to stay out of trouble.
      I still find my husband lying, or suggesting I lie, about such incredibly benign things. I told him last week that I felt badly I'd forgotten a lunch date with a friend. He immediately responded with "tell her you're just so busy with the kids....". I said no, I'll tell her the truth. That I forgot to write it down in my planner. The truth often doesn't occur to him. In his head, he's forever trying to avoid conflict or guilt or shame...and lying is a whole lot easier than taking responsibility for behaviour. At least in the short term.
      Our marriage counsellor is working hard to get him to see that being honest often doesn't produce the maelstrom he anticipates. I'm NOT his mother. I'm not going to berate him or shame him or punish him. But it takes a long time to rewire the brain.
      I don't know what the answer is in your case. Are you seeing any progress at all? Is he able to see how the lying is at least as damaging (or more!) to your relationship than the acting out? I think, once these guys "get" that honesty will take them a lot further than lying, change can happen quickly. But it's getting past those old beliefs that can take a lot of time. He needs to learn to trust you in this case -- trust you to deal with his honesty maturely and without recrimination.

      Elle

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  14. This is where I am right now... Trying to make that distinction. I see shame and guilt and true remorse in my husband. I also see the desire to change and get better. HOWEVER, he lies about everything, and he's a sex addict. His efforts to improve himself up to this point have had minor successes, but on the major problem (lying) he is still barely past ground zero. I just don't know how long I can or should hold on to my hope for our marriage.

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  15. I am both the OW, and a cheated on spouse (the same man). I'm not looking for sympathy, I got what I deserved. I believe in karma so I know what goes around comes around. I also believe that there are some men (or women) who are cheaters through and through and will never change. I learned that the hard way. I had no business being the OW and I am deeply sorry for the hurt I caused. I'm not just saying this because of the hurt I suffered, but because it never felt right and I should have been strong enough to say no, and not get involved in the first place. I want to apologize to the woman I caused hurt to, but I think it would just look selfish on my part as it was almost 8 years ago.

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    1. Anonymous,
      Thank-you for posting and I'm very sorry for the pain you're going through. Whatever the circumstances of the beginning of your relationship, it's devastating to be betrayed by someone you love and trust.
      I have no idea whether his former wife would welcome your apology or not. Regardless, I admire your ability to recognize the pain you've caused and acknowledge that it never did feel "right" to you. As Maya Angelou reminds us, "When we know better, we do better."
      I try hard not to judge, as I know I've certainly made my share of mistakes in life.
      You're welcome here and I hope you'll find healing and help.
      Elle

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  16. Wife Of a sex addictDecember 9, 2012 at 8:54 PM

    I am happy to find this blog, My D- day was 3 months ago, and the pain is still there, some days i feel like i am numb, others i feel like going crazy, sometimes i just wish there was an easy choice to make, 4 years in marriage ! I thought i was the luckiest wife, just to find how betrayed i was, porn and acting out are just too much to take in, he shows remorse and is doing everything it takes, but still it is never going to be "fair", we have a son together as well, imaging him without a normal home breaks my heart, i just can't get the Y question out of my mind !! moreover i don't want to end up being a depressed wife for the rest of my life, am still young and attractive, i am focusing on my self more now hoping to get my old happy "me" back, because my child deserves a happy healthy mom.

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    1. Dear Wife,

      I'm so sorry for all that you're going through. Dealing with a sex addict is confusing and painful.
      However, the more you can learn about addiction in general and sex addiction in particular, the more you'll be able to accept that this really had nothing to do with you or your son. Whether you choose to stay with your husband or not, please educate yourself so that you can be healthier yourself and choose healthier relationships.
      Sex addiction is about using sex (in all forms, including porn, masturbation, etc) in order to numb feelings that are too uncomfortable or painful to experience. It's bizarrely not so much about sex as about intimacy. Or rather an incredible fear of intimacy. It's so much easier for these guys to engage with someone without any emotional connection because they can avoid intimacy.
      If you haven't already read Mending a Shattered Heart, for partners of sex addicts, please do. It's a wonderful book that can move you forward in healing: http://books.google.ca/books/about/Mending_a_Shattered_Heart.html?id=mQqjNk-TrLwC&redir_esc=y

      Hang in there, Wife. Focus on yourself and what you need to heal and insist that your husband get help for his addiction as necessary for you to continue in your marriage. This does get better...

      Elle

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    2. Thanks a lot Elle, I appreciate that you replied, well he has started going to therapy, i know that it is not my fault, but still i have a lot of anger and sadness, my tears are allways ready to fall, i dont know how to deal with it, especially because it's more then one woman, it feels like you don't know where to direct ur anger, but i am so grateful for finding this site where i can feel that i am understood and not alone, I will diffidently get this book, thanks a lot

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    3. Nope, definitely not alone. With my husband, it was also multiple women...and men. It was mind-boggling to me, who thought I'd married this "perfect" man (that should have been my first tip that something was wrong. ;) ).
      And this is still very new to you. It helped me to understand that such a trust violation was, in fact, trauma. It allowed me to be easier on myself, to not expect myself to "get over" it quickly. It gave me permission to recognize just how deeply wounded I was...and to tend to that wound before anything else.
      Six years later I can say that my husband's sex addiction is something that "was". He also sought help...most will say it needs to be with someone experienced in dealing with sex addiction. But I had to leave him to his own healing (as hard as that was for a control freak like I) and focus on my own.
      It's not easy...but most important things aren't.
      Hang in there. For now, just breathe and trust that you'll get through this.

      Elle

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    4. I'm just finding this blog for the first time and I'm so relieved to find others in the same position as me - finding out about multiple women all at once (well, actually - in dribs and drabs, just to make the trauma worse). Yes, it's definitely a trauma, Elle. In fact, I read an article on the wives of sex addicts suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
      My D-Day will be a month on Tuesday, so I am newly wounded. I'm really encouraged by the fact that your husband's sex addiction is now a thing of the past. Any comments you have or advice you can offer is gratefully received. Thanks.

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    5. I know the comfort of discovering you're not alone. Glad you found us here...but so sorry you needed to find us.
      If at all possible, arrange for an experienced counsellor to be with you for a total disclosure. You can then avoid the "dribs and drabs", which really does only exacerbate the trauma.
      You are still very newly wounded. Is your husband doing anything about his sex addiction? Most experts insist that he needs to see someone very experienced in dealing with sex addicts and that he also attend a 12-step group. My husband did both. When his sex addiction counsellor moved away and my husband began with another counsellor who didn't deal exclusively with sex addiction, I think his recovery slowed down and suffered.
      And, if you haven't already, find Stefanie Carnes' wonderful book Mending a Shattered Heart, written exclusively for partners of sex addicts.
      I'd also love to read the article on wives of sex addicts if you could post the link.
      Please feel free to continue to post here -- your questions and your thoughts. It's confusing and excruciating and can feel so lonely. Here, your among those who know your pain and can guide you through.

      Elle

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    6. Thank you. Yes, my husband is seeing a psychotherapist who deals with sex addiction and has also been attending a 12-step group. I got the details over the course of a week - before the last instalment, I begged him to make it the last day of shocks, if he had any shred of feeling for me. I'm fairly confident I know everything now. He's told me many things that I never would have found out about (eg, prostitutes from before we were married 15 years ago). He has owned up and taken responsibility for what he's done, and he's paying the price now as I insisted we separate while he sort himself out. He is really missing his family (we have a young baby). Once he told me the full story, it started to make a lot more sense. Before, I was searching for reasons why he'd embarked upon a sexual affair when we had a 5 month old baby.

      I am still in shock, although there are more bright moments in the day now and some days feel easier (some days still feel like a giant step backwards, though). I've given up the detective work, and I'm glad of that. I feel like I can cope on my own now, whereas the week I found out I couldn't function at all, let alone take care of my baby. I am going to counselling, although I need to find a counsellor that deals with this sort of thing. I am amazed at my own strength, that I'm able to deal with this sort of thing.

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I have downloaded it to my Kindle, and am already devouring it.

      Here's the article - hope you can open it.

      http://tinyurl.com/aa8say4

      Thanks again for your comments and help.

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    7. Anon,
      Sounds as if he's doing all the right things for his recovery. The key, of course, is sticking to them and having a plan when temptation strikes. In my husband's case, he was so sick of himself and feeling so much shame that he describes his recovery as a huge relief.
      Like you, it took learning about his sex addiction in order for me to "understand' the affair I first learned about.
      And I'm glad you're feeling as though you can cope on a day-to-day basis. Hang on to those moments of clarity and hope -- they'll see you through the darker days because you'll remember it's possible to feel hopeful.
      And I think you'll find that book really helpful. I can't seem to read the article you sent. Thanks though.

      Elle

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    8. Yes, he seems to be doing all the right things and I'm really hopeful that he can recover from this, although at the moment he has such deep shame he can barely look at me.
      You may not have been able to open the article because it's from a journal. If you know someone who can access journal articles (and you're happy for them to know what you're looking for!!), get them to search for "The Traumatic Nature of Disclosure for Wives of Sexual Addicts" (by Steffens and Rennie).
      I've read half the book and it is so helpful already. Thank you :)

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    9. I did a search and found the article and it opened fine. I'll give it a read. Thanks for that! And glad you're finding the book helpful. It's a lifeline, I think. Was for me anyway.

      Elle

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