It's hard to overstate how much being cheated on messes with our heads. Marriage experts refer to betrayal as a "trust violation" and note that it's one of the most psychologically damaging experiences. It shakes our sense of safety in the world. It triggers our fears of abandonment, threatens our primal need for security and love.
But though all that is true, we often do the most damage to ourselves. In the wake of betrayal, we tell ourselves all sorts of untruths, based on a deep fear and a conviction that, if we've been betrayed by someone we trusted, there must be something wrong with us.
Not all of us do this, of course. Though among us with healthy self-esteem often go straight to outrage. I remember reading something, post-betrayal, where a marriage counsellor said that he didn't worry about the women who got angry. He worried about the ones who didn't. They, he said, were the ones more likely to blame themselves.
Blaming ourselves can be strangely appealing. If it was somehow our fault, we reason (fallaciously), then if we fix ourselves, our spouse won't cheat again.
It doesn't help, of course, that our culture piles on. If a guy cheats, it's because his wife was frigid. If a guy cheats, it's because his wife is frumpy. If a guy cheats, it's because his affair partner was hot and performed like a porn star. His wife was a nag. He fell out of love with her. And on and on. On some level, a lot of us believe those lies, even when our husbands are swearing that's not it at all. Harder still, of course, is when our husbands join in, blaming us for their choice to cheat.
Before long, the chorus of lies reaches a crescendo, making the truth almost impossible to hear.
With that in mind, I've compiled a list of the lies…along with the truth.
Which, a wise soul has said, will set us free.
1. The lie: "I'm a fool"
I hear this one a lot. "I'm such a fool for believing he loved me." "I'm a total fool for thinking he'd never cheat." "He made a fool of me."
The truth: You're a loyal wife and friend who trusted someone who betrayed that trust.
2. The lie: "I'll never get past this."
The truth: Yes, you will. It will take time. Far longer than you would expect (experts generally say three to five years…I was closer to five). But within that time, you'll inch your way closer to a better marriage (if you choose to stay) or a better life (if you choose to go). You'll work through the pain and get to a place where you recognize that this wasn't about you. You were collateral damage. You'll get past it to a place where being betrayed is something that happened. A memory. If you've truly healed, it won't even feel like a particularly painful memory.
3. The lie: He cheated because she must be amazing in bed.
The truth: He cheated because he was seeking something outside himself that's missing inside himself. He cheated because he liked the reflection of himself he saw in her eyes. He cheated because it felt exciting and dangerous. He cheated because he was able to convince himself that it was somehow okay. That he deserved it. That nobody would get hurt. He cheated because he's capable of self-delusion. He cheated because he has addiction issues. Still think it's because of the sex? Read this.
4. The lie: "She must have had something I didn't."
The truth: What she had, you don't want. Being an other woman is rarely like in the movies. While there might be champagne and roses (at least at the start), there's also cancelled rendezvous, erectile dysfunction, arguments, lonely nights and holidays…and a future that's more about promises than plans. What's more, to participate as an OW, you need to convince yourself that you somehow have more claim on this guy than the person with whom he promised to love, honour and cherish. That life (or his wife) is complicating your future together, not him. That all that stuff he says to you is true, even though you know that, at some point, he said the same stuff to his wife. That lying about you and hiding you away is evidence of his love. You want that? Didn't think so.
5. The lie: "He cheated because I gained weight/got pregnant/got depressed/got sick…"
The truth: He cheated because he wasn't emotionally equipped to deal with his own issues. He cheated to escape. Any guy who cheats because his wife gains weight, gets pregnant, is dealing with a disabled child or an aging parent or whatever is a total dick who needs to shown the door anyway. Any guy who cheats is, frankly, someone incapable of having a healthy relationship, one that includes really tough conversations. Marriage has a steep learning curve. Sadly, few of us saw healthy marriages played out for us. So it's hard to know how to broach tough topics, like waning attraction due to weight gain or pregnancy, fear of fatherhood, feelings of abandonment. Many of us don't even really know what we're feeling…we just know we're feeling lonely and misunderstood. An affair can seem appealing. But the smart ones among us recognize that's a dangerous path to go down. That it will cause a whole lot more problems than it will solve. They're the ones who give their marriage a fighting chance before they blow it up. The others…well…we know what happens.
6. The lie: "My happiness depends on him."
The truth: Your happiness depends on you. It always did. Too many of us have bought into pop-song wisdom about finding our soul mates and living happily ever after. Happy comes, generally, with enough soul searching that we exorcise our own demons and discover a deep sense of worth in ourselves, no matter what the world says about us.
7. The lie: "My marriage will never the same (it will be worse)."
The truth: My marriage will never be the same (it can be better). I would have called total bullshit on that a few years ago. I would have scoffed, of course it can be better if he's not sleeping with other people. But really good? Nah.' But here I am, eating my words. It takes a lot of work. It takes a deep commitment on the part of your husband to recognize how badly he's hurt you and how he's damaged your relationship. And it takes a strong desire to want to be a better person. To deserve your love and trust. And you've got some work too. To take a good look at your marriage and take responsibility for your own shortcomings. (This is in no way to say you were to blame for his cheating. That's on him. But there isn't a marriage in the world in which just one partner is to blame for issues within it.) And then, slowly, you rebuild. A few years later, you just might be amazed at how strong that marriage feels. And how deep the love goes.
And that's the truth.