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Monday, July 22, 2013
How I Love a Cheater
There have been plenty of posts on this site, and corresponding comments, revealing that many of us thought we'd respond that way. But when it actually happened to us, suddenly the future wasn't quite so crystal clear.
And, frankly, I think that black-and-white, if-this-happens-then-I'm-gone thinking doesn't always serve us well.
Syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage (he of the wonderful "It Gets Better" campaign) puts it bluntly in his book American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics where he writes, "Only someone obsessed with sexual fidelity to an unhealthy degree places a higher value on preserving the ideal of a monogamous marriage over preserving an actual marriage."
While I don't always agree with Savage, I do here. Absolutely there are cases where the only sane response to a spouse's cheating is to get the hell out of the relationship. Yet statistics indicate that 80% of people who divorce after betrayal regret that decision.
I suspect I would be one of those 80%. Which is why, when it happened to me, I waited.
I've often wondered if my ability to see both sides of a story is a blessing or a curse. I can't quite imagine doing what my husband did...but I can imagine how HE did it. I get how he deluded himself into believing it was harmless in the grand scheme of things. He never felt it threatened our marriage. He never believed it changed his love for me.
Clearly the guy had issues. BIG issues. A lifetime of unhealthy relationship issues.
But I had chosen him for clear-to-me and, no doubt, sub-conconscious reasons. And he was the father of my three children.
He needed my help.
He had made choices that had begun to disgust even himself, who was so adept at rationalizing his behaviour. Like most addicts eventually do, he was approaching bottom. He didn't want to be that person anymore. In hindsight, he had never wanted to be that person.
I offered my help.
At first that was all I could offer. I certainly couldn't promise that our marriage would survive. I had no idea if I could ever move past so much betrayal, so much lying, so much recklessness where my physical and emotional health – and that of my children – was concerned.
What I saw was someone incredibly sorry for the choices he'd made and desperate to find a better way. I saw my children's father. My best friend.
That was six years ago.
In that time, we've both fought our way back from hell.
He's had to face some truths about his family that he'd spent a lifetime denying.
I had to face that I still had serious issues around trust. That I really didn't know what a healthy relationship looked like as I'd never had one and never seen one up close.
And I've certainly thought at times that it would have been so much easier to just walk away and start over.
This was HARD work.
But I've come to realize it's work I would have had to do anyway if I'd hoped to have a healthy relationship in the future. And it struck me as prudent to try and create that healthy relationship with the father of my children. The guy who shares my bank account. The person who sleeps beside me.
But, some people cry, he's a cheater. He lied to you. How can you ever trust him again?
And the thing is, they're right.
Semantically speaking, he might not BE a cheater, but he WAS a cheater. He lied to me. How can I ever trust him again?
But I also understand that I can never totally trust anyone ever again. I never could. People behave in all sorts of strange ways under different circumstances. Frankly, we don't even really know what we're capable of until put in that situation.
That said, he put himself in those situations. He sought out those experiences.
So yes, I can never totally trust him again.
But I have learned that I can trust myself. Not to always behave in ways that I think I'll behave (this point became clear to me when I was jet-skiing with a friend in Thailand. I had always believed myself to be an altruistic type. And yet, when we both fell off the jet-ski into waters rumoured to be popular with sharks, I practically clawed over my friend to get back on the jet-ski. So much for altruism!). But to respond in ways that are the best for me.
And frankly, if I thought he would cheat on me again, my marriage would be over.
So while I don't know if he'll ever cheat again, I believe he won't.
I also believe our marriage is stronger. I believe we have a far deeper understanding of each other, which has given us a deeper appreciation for each other. Our marriage is something we've chosen to rebuild. To create something that will never be as shiny and promising as it once was, something that shows signs of struggle, but that still stands firm and likely will for decades more.
I've learned to respect my husband for the battles he's waged and lost, not just the victories.
I've learned to see the pain that drove the choices he's made.
I've learned, contrary to anything I could have ever imagined, to love a cheater.