Monday, July 22, 2013

How I Love a Cheater

Some people see the world in black-and-white. He-done-me-wrong-and-I'm-outta-here kinda thinking. Carrie Underwood "Next Time He Cheats" kinda thinking.
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?
I can't.
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.


19 comments:

  1. Loving a cheater....I'm able to do that with little effort these days, but for a year after Dday, it was a major struggle. What surprised me then was that I was walking a very jagged line between love and hate. I loved my cheater so much! I had not recognized that deep, passionate love for my FWH for a long time. At the same time, I hated him more than I knew I had the capacity to hate! There was a vast spectrum and these emotions occupied opposite ends of it and my pitiful, confused self ventured back and forth for so long! Stay...go...love...hate...anger...compassion...confusion...understanding. Jekyll...Hyde!!
    I stayed. I gathered my multiple personalities together and I think now I'm at the same place you are. I don't think my FWH will hurt me again. If I did, he'd be gone. I don't just love my cheater, I appreciate him. I need him. I want him and I feel such an emotional bond with him.
    Today we're pretty great. Damn shame it took infidelity to get us here but if I dwell on Then I can't fully embrace Now.

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    1. So beautifully articulated Shawn. Exactly!!!

      Elle

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    2. Amazing Elle.... Thank you for all the beacons of light you throw my way and use to guide people like me thru this darkness of betrayal. You and this blog and the members in it have given me so much more than just hope....its been the education you dont realize you must learn to understand to try and find a path to peace and love again.

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  2. Thanks for the ray of light, Elle.

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  3. My husband's affair helped me realize how much I really did love him. His addictions and behavior before the affair had driven an almost invisible wedge between us... A wedge that at some times did nothing, leaving us to enjoy each other and at other times bringing on terrible fights and the desire to be away from each other. We grew accustomed to this new "normal" of not always liking each other. In fact on really bad days I imagined how peaceful life could be without him. When the affair was found out I was shocked at how much it hurt, how much I cared that I could lose him. It's good I did, right?! It's good he finally hit bottom and realized the same thing. As he was racked with the painful guilt of what he did I felt sympathy for him. I know to some that sounds sick, but I too am cursed with seeing both sides. What I saw was a fallen man who had not only betrayed me but let himself down in ways he never imagined. I saw the pain that put him through and I, in all my kind humanity comforted him and together we take the steps to heal this.
    I don't think he'll do it again. In fact I'm pretty sure he won't. I do question his motives, whereabouts, privacy, etc often... But I'm still vulnerable and scared 6 months later.
    That being said, I've had my big emotional disasterous moments. I've lashed out with some "minor" violence. I stood for over half an hour in the face of the OW calling her names I wouldn't even say the some of the most horrible people in history. But we both keep moving forward. I keep moving forward. I must heal. -Kate

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    1. Kate,

      I think you hit on a really important point that is often lost: your understanding that he let himself down deeply. I too recognized that and it allowed me to feel compassion for him, even in the midst of my own deep, deep pain.

      Elle

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    2. Thank you SO much for putting this better than I've ever been able to.

      The deep anguish that my husband has continually expressed for the pain he caused me and for the many mistakes he made, is a large part of why I knew early on I wanted to make things work. He has had to work hard to not hate himself.

      I would have felt there was something missing in him if he hadn't been so upset with himself for doing this. I wouldn't have wanted to stay with him if he hadn't hated every action that led him deeper into an affair.

      I won't discount my pain - not by a long shot! But I can't help but see his pain, too. I think part of beginning to rebuild our marriage – TOGETHER - was recognizing that both of us were in pain.

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  4. And yet again, Elle, you seem to speak from my own heart.

    It boggles my mind just how similar our stories are -- our reasons for staying, our way back from the brink. I am a different woman today than I was two years ago. I no longer live in a beautifully constructed fantasy marriage that I worked damn hard to create. I now live the real thing -- a complicated, somewhat damaged, intense love with my best friend, husband and father of my children. It is real, it is honest, it is painful and it is joyful. It has been a long road to get to this point and there is still so much ground to cover before I know I can get to a point of feeling really OK.

    Your words are so blunt (How can I ever trust him again. I can't.) and when I read them I hear your compassion, your realism. Not an ounce of anger. But an acceptance. They resonate so deeply with me -- they bring me so much comfort even though they are so hard to read, they are exactly what I needed to hear tonight.

    It's been a mess and sometimes I don't know how we've made it. But we are both so committed to making our marriage work and the love between us is still so deep. Thank you for being here for me tonight. I needed to read this.

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    1. Anjali,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. They bring tears to my eyes because I know how damn hard so many of us work to rebuild a marriage from the rubble. It will never be easy...but it never was, even when I didn't realize it. There's something to be said for living life with eyes (and heart) wide open.

      Elle

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  5. This is such an awesome blog! Elle, you sound like a great and graceful woman, how you handle all this.
    I don't understand how you can live with a cheater though. I have never been married but I had a relationship once where the guy cheated on me. He confessed what he did himself but after considering staying with him because I loved him so much for a little while I ended up ending the relationship shortly after. It hurt like hell, but he showed his true colors to me and I knew deep down I couldn't allow such an unsafe Person so close to my heart in the long. Not anybody would cheat. I wouldn't! And I expect my partner to be the same. I think cheaters lack empathy and are very selfish, this is no basis for a shared life.
    On a different note: I have been reading up on affairs recently because I briefly had a crush on a married man and he had a crush on me. We met through work. For a very short period of time I thought I mind have found my soulmate. We spoke everyday, but except for one short kiss it didn't get physical.
    Why am I not the other woman now? I realized very quickly that he was not going to do the right thing and speak to his wife about it - it would have had to happen extremely quickly after we met. I realized he would have had a full-blown affair with me if I let him, WITHOUT moving out of his home and separating from his wife. I was the one constantly reminding him of his marriage and turning down his offers to meet up with him after work. I was the one saying we can't do this. He tried to make out with me with a picture of his wife on his desk. He got so ugly in my eyes. I know I could never trust him, so now I feel even repelled by him. He Claims to be in love with me. He sends me Messages all the time although I told him to stop. He watches my every move during work. I am done with him but he doesn't want to see it. I keep telling him though.
    Moral of the story: cheaters are a selfish lot and he is not the first married guy I or my female friends got approached by. They are no decent men. If all of us just stopped trying to make it work with cheaters, maybe they would one day have to face their issues for real, I don't know. But everyone in this blog let's them get away with it :(. Believe me one thing, no matter how much he throws the other woman under the bus, there was a special world between him and here where he threw you under the bus like it was nothing. This is his real self. I am sorry if I sound harsh but it makes me sad to see that so many great women on here are so delusional :(...

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  6. Great post. I am surviving...deciding...living a little. I stay for my kids and probably because I am trying to figure out how I contributed to this. I am trying to work through my anger- disappointment - this betrayal.

    His betrayal - co-worker. She has made poor choices, yes my opinion, but 3-children with 3-last names.....what was he thinking!!!!? Oh wait! He wasn't.

    I always thought WE would be the couple that made it through anything and I know now that it can happen to anyone. The good news is that you own your destiny and being above ground is a great day!

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    1. Juju,
      I think your attitude is going to take you far. Just make sure that you allow yourself the chance to work through the sadness and grief.

      Elle

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  7. As a child, I was ashamed of what i thought was wishy-washyness, but it was really an ability to see all sides of things. I count on that ability now, which is what is allowing me to see why he did what he did.
    Reading this helps me to see that we have what it takes to heal from the affair. I am not sure if we can heal other things in our marriage though. But the compassion is there, and it is so important.

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  8. I have been reading these blogs on and off for just over a year now. I wrote to Elle shortly after finding out that my husband had an affair ten years ago. The thing is I know he loves me ... he tells me all the time. He didn't leave me ten years ago even though the other woman tried her utmost to get him to. She knew me, had met me in social situations and didn't care. By the same token, at that time neither did he. He says he was going through a mid life crisis, his father had died and things were not going well at work. I was suffering depression. He got depressed sometimes and I always supported him but the one time when I needed support he went off and found someone else. He ended it and has tried hard to be a good husband since then. When I found out I was blindsided. How could this kind, wonderful man do something so shabby. The worst part is he can't remember when it was exactly. It lasted about two years but I don't know which years so two becomes 3 or 4 as I troll through trying to remember that time and how I missed all the clues. Now in retrospect some things were right in my face. I even asked him once if he had an affair and he said he didn't have time! Hah!!! I still love him and try to remember the good times but I am obsessed with trying to figure out when it was. When I first found the cards from her he told me it was another woman who had left town 10 years ago. I wrote to her and she said she never had anything with my husband. When I confronted him he admitted who it was and I found out that they remained friends for years afterwards. I have read the emails and I believe that they were just friends. I asked him why he stayed friends with her and he said she is not a bad person, I don't hate her. He said he was the bad person and he felt bad because he felt like he used her. He says he is ashamed of what he did and he doesn't want to talk about it any more. He wants to look forward and enjoy what time we have left together. He says looking back is destroying us. I have considered writing to her and asking her when the affair was exactly but I am afraid I will find out more ugly details and be back to square one in the grieving process. You always say not to contact the other woman so do you have any advice for me. I have really good days and then I feel myself sliding back into the dark hole and I think I am going crazy. I went to a therapist and he made me feel worse. Our insurance doesn't cover therapy and I really cant afford $100+ a week. I know I have so much to look forward to. We are expecting our first grandchild in August. How do I banish the dark thoughts and enjoy the now? I'm not even worried he'll go off with someone else. I truly believe he is a good person who lost his moral compass for two years and then got himself back on track and tried to make it up to me. So any advice all you wonderful ladies out there? I have to say that I have been having dark thoughts about all women and how we can be so mean to each other. But then I have to remember that I would never go out with a married man and reading this blog reminds me that there are good women out there who actually did move on from the high school mentality.

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    1. I'm sorry for the pain you're still in. I wouldn't advise contacting the other woman, though I know it's tempting.
      I have two conflicting thoughts about what you're going through. On the one hand, I do think it might be time to accept that there are some things you won't know (and don't really need to) and that the best thing for your own emotional health is to move forward and focus on the joy in your life right now.
      On the other, I know how important it is for us to go back and rewrite our history with our new knowledge in order to make sense of our lives. So that compulsion is real and, I think, important. Can you husband understand that this is important to you because it helps you make sense of your past the same way a victim of trauma needs to keep going over her story in order to process it? When there's a missing piece, we're almost prevented from moving past. Can he recall anything?? Movies that were popular at the time? A restaurant that may have since closed? Songs on the radio? If he absolutely refuses (which I think is lousy because I'm a firm believer that the betrayed spouse gets to the be the one to determine what she does and doesn't hear about ), then I think you may just have to let it go.
      Let me share my own experience: my husband gave me a LOT of details, which I asked for over and over again. I honestly forget 90% of them, including, the other day, the woman's last name. I just couldn't think of it. That might mean that I have early stage Alzheimer's. Or it might mean that, when it's all said and done, all that really matters is the relationship we've created since then. That's what's real. That's what's important.

      Elle

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  9. Elle, I know this is a very old post but what the hell. Just in case you see this, I wanted to thank you for that Savage quote. Because of that I ordered that book and devoured it in about 2 and a half days. Like you, I don't always agree with him either (probably on the same things for the same reasons) but he does have plenty of worthy insight. Just had to read the Tina fey auto bio just to distract myself til my next dan savage publication arrives in my mailbox because I felt so book-lonely when I finished it lol. I've been excited all day to hopefully see that the next one I ordered off Amazon will be there tonight when I get home. I'd recommend it to any fellow bleeding-heart liberal haha.

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    1. better half,
      Glad it helped. I haven't read the book -- but I often read his column. You've inspired me to get the book now too.

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  10. I was a little disappointed when I read his chapter on infidelity, but the further I got into it: I was able to entertain the idea that maybe he's not talking about us when he says cheating can be the best thing for a marriage. He endorses open marriages and pre-agreed upon terms more than anything. Also that in cases of adultery (the betrayal kind), the examples he uses are not ones where, like many of us, the women would be shocked and were lead to believe that everything was fine. I still don't agree that it's okay when it's deceitful, but my advice when you read that chapter would be to take on the perspective that it might not be your situation he's talking about.

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    1. Yes, I've read his thoughts on open marriages and it ain't how I want to live my life. Thanks for the heads up.

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