Thursday, July 3, 2014

Guest Post: When He Cheats with Your "Best" Friend

A woman recently posted about how to deal with the pain of her husband's affair with her (former) best friend.
Iris, who many of  you have come to know on this site for her compassion, wisdom, and humour (in equal parts), offered up such a lovely reply that I asked to post it here for everyone. Iris graciously said yes.

Dear Doubly Betrayed Wife,

How would it be if people – even a couple of people who know both of you – did know what happened?

When this happened to a friend of mine involving a close family friend of long-standing my friend told mutual acquaintances why the two couples would no longer be socialising. She wondered what reasons they'd think up for a sudden split and she preferred to be honest. It did mean that she had a lot of support from those around her, rather as if there had been a bereavement. And many of us were able to support her and her husband when we saw how remorseful he was and how hard he worked to understand his behaviour and make amends. There will always be casualties as far as friendships go when betrayals like this happen, but asking for help is one way of finding out who your real friends are.

Make sure you're not isolated. Remember these were your husband's choices – they don't reflect poorly on you. I know it can feel as if they do. 

As for the best friend – there can hardly be a worse betrayal of trust. We expect so much more from the friends we share our lives with as mothers. I would hate her too. But hate is such a heavy burden for you to carry. It doesn't help that there's a commonly held idea that somehow only the cheating spouse is to blame, as if we shouldn't have anger toward someone who has violated our boundaries in the worst possible way. In your case she knows intimately the children who will suffer through her behaviour. We're supposed to be somehow 'dignified' about this.

One of the five precepts of mindfulness is helpful here (and mindfulness generally can be very helpful – as someone who breaks the other precepts by drinking alcohol, eating meat and killing clothes moths, so don't worry about MY spiritual superiority). This is by a lovely man, a Buddhist monk called Thich Nhat Hanh:

'Sexual expression should not take place without love and commitment. Be fully aware of the sufferings you may cause others as a result of your misconduct. To preserve the happiness of yourself and others, respect the rights and commitments of others. 

It is quite clear. This is not just Buddhist; it is universal. It is the right medicine for our illness. When we and our children take the precepts, it means we accept the medicine to protect us.'

'I will do everything in my power to prevent couples and families being broken by sexual misconduct'. 

We should all 'respect the rights and commitments of others' out of basic decency, and we should ask that others do so too. It needn't be a question of outdated morality suggesting property rights, but an understanding that we're all responsible for each other and especially for the well-being of children. I see it as a humanist stance. Be confident that there's nothing wrong with your continued suffering, it's understandable, and extend compassion to yourself for being placed in a position (like so many others) of feeling anger toward someone you trusted and liked. You didn't seek out this hatred.

She has caused you a great deal of pain but much more damage to herself. Even if no one points out to her how badly she's behaved (and personally I don't think that would be a bad thing) she will have to carry the consequences of her actions for the rest of her life. No karma required. You can let your anger wear itself out with time and you can be stronger trusting that for all the faults you do have, as we all do, you haven't abandoned integrity and kindness. She will have to work very hard to recover the integrity she's lost, whether she understands this now or has yet to realise. I wouldn't want to experience such remorse. 

I suppose the bottom line is that you can't make yourself forget (I think I would move house, but that's another issue). You have to learn to hold yourself through this ordeal, to breathe through it, to 'stay in your back' and not lose yourself. It could be the making of you. 


Iris

14 comments:

  1. This is awesome, Iris.
    Even though the AP in my case wasn't a close friend, she was part of an extended community of families who cared for each other's children and socialized together. Our children played together and we belonged to a family-centered community. Not only did she shit all over the rights, commitments, and boundaries of my family, she violated the trust that was implicit when one takes care of each another person's children.
    That you could violate the most sacred parts of a person's life, one that you actually know with some intimacy, takes a special kind of selfishness and immaturity.

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    1. Cheers, Anon!

      It happens all the time though and it sometimes seems there's a special dispensation given for selfish behaviour linked to matters of the heart: 'I couldn't help it, she fell in a state of dishabille into the passenger seat of my Volvo.' We could try the same tactic for shoplifting: 'What do you mean, Officer? This Louis Vuitton handbag? It called to me.. I need it to make me happy. I'm worth it. I realise now I've been unhappy with my previous designer handbag for .. oh.. weeks now'.

      Just because you're in a committed relationship doesn't mean you're not attracted to other people. We all are, and we know others are attracted to us, but some of us know not to take it further or even personally. APs are not super cool sex goddesses, although if in their sexed-up state they think they are they might like to note most goddesses would score highly in narcissistic personality traits. Truly affairs rarely have much to do with the object of desire, they're to do with opportunity and lack of good boundaries early enough in the game. Once in it can be difficult to get out, even if the ongoing experience doesn't live up to the initial dopamine high. Anon - whatever it was that could have prevented your acquaintance from getting involved with your husband needed to be in place before she made those specific decisions, and it was missing. I might call it empathy, she might call it 'Your moral code which you can't force me to share'. It can be hard to accept that some people just don't share mores we take for granted and really do not care, at least they don't care now.

      There's no way to prevent attraction (would it be desirable?) and we can't in a free country legislate against adultery. We can however say openly and clearly that we don't like it and why, and place the responsibility for it squarely with those involved. And we can be glad that at least on this occasion WE haven't acted like prize tossers (British cursing for you there, ladies).

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    2. Why is everything funnier when a British person says it?

      Elle

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    3. It's the polite desperation.

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  2. I am so thankful to have found this blog. My DDay was 6-6-14. The affair was with my best friend of 11 years. Just found this blog this morning and spent a good portion of the day reading. It has been very helpful. Thanks to everyone for sharing their stories. I'm a newbie to the club but am thankful I'm not alone.

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  3. Hey Anon - that's so recent. Were you told or did you find out? And how are you?

    No you're certainly not alone, not even in this horrible situation of double betrayal. I haven't met the ow in my case so I can only imagine how this must feel but others will understand all too well. I hope there's someone you can talk to who is happy to listen without judging what you do now. It's so, so hard. But please remember: none of this is your fault. There will be time later to review your marriage (and your former friendship). As with any shock it takes time to get your bearings, with infidelity it can feel as if we've lost our very selves and we're not sure we can trust anything - our memories, our perceptions, where to go to be safe. This is one time in your life to take very great care of yourself, to learn who's really there for you and who can bear the uncomfortable introspection or anger this may cause, to find your own strength and resilience.

    I'm sure you know you must protect yourself too, hard as that feels. At the time *they* were thinking only of themselves, maybe they still are. Here and now however it's about YOU and the behaviour you will accept. Your husband has f**ked up (as mine told me he had, it took him a few weeks to admit it though). Only he can address his own weakness. Have the courage to hold yourself and stand firm, he'll respect that, whatever happens.

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    1. I am doing as well as I think I could be at this point. My husband and I have decided to reconcile and we have found a wonderful counselor. There have been some really dark days...darker than I could have imagined and the nights are often long and sleepless. We are pushing through and I pray that we make it. This is a part of who we are now, no matter how much I don't like it. As my counselor said, "She (OW) has affected me all the can affect me." She can not hurt me anymore. Now it's up to me and how I choose to handle this. I refuse to let her consume me or claim more of my life than she already has. She isn't worth it.

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    2. No, she is not. It's incomprehensible how anything is worth causing a friend so much suffering. And yet so many people do this. I'm glad you found a good counsellor, I hope you can sleep better soon and find some rest and peace. I hope your husband does the work he needs to do - a few dark nights for him too of self-analysis, a sincere concern for you in the months ahead.

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  4. Mine wasn't a best friend or even a close one, thankfully... she was someone we were both introduced to at the same time by a mutual friend. I felt uneasy with her from the moment I saw her, before I had a clue she was focused on my husband. She wanted him from that day on, and immediately began focusing on building a fake friendship with me while aggressively pursuing him. (He didn't resist.) She likes to play with people's minds like a cat with a mouse... mind games are part of the thrill for her. Within a very short period of time, she began dropping clues for me to follow via social media and private communication, all the while feigning friendship. Her intent was to destroy our marriage, believing my husband to be a "dumb guy" who wouldn't realize what she was doing. He realized it eventually but was too much of a coward to do the only thing he could have done to free himself, which is to confess. Instead he tried appealing to her non-existent conscience which naturally only made her more controlling and desperate to win. By the end, she was sending barely-veiled threats and accosted him in a public place. While her clues did lead me to the truth, she didn't succeed in her plan. We are damaged, certainly... but not destroyed. We're a work in progress and probably always will be.

    Anonymous, this is all very fresh for you... it's a long road. I'm glad you found Elle's blog, and so early in your process... this kind of understanding and support is invaluable.

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  5. Kate - you may well get criticised for describing the predatory female, accused of girl-on-girl misogyny and excusing your husband's philandering. But immediately I think of 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses', believing either gender capable of manipulative behaviour serving some end incomprehensible to the rest of us. So yes, your husband was undoubtedly played. I hope he realises. On the other hand this is not a game anyone ever wins, least of all the predator.

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  6. You're right Iris- he was played. But so was I- by both of them, for months- and I can't think of an acceptable excuse in the world for what he did. The only thing in my mind that comes close to an excuse is that he has a mental illness that lends itself to this kind of behavior, and he had been off his medication for a long time because of worrisome side effects. Still, it doesn't make what he did excusable in my book... it just helps me to be a little more understanding. It's probably the only thing that keeps me from hating him- not only for cheating, but for allowing a person like her into my life in such a way. I'm afraid I'll never be totally free of her.

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    1. There's no acceptable excuse, no; perhaps at best a susceptibility to whatever was on offer. Sadly his poor decisions cost you dear. By now you know there are no easy answers.

      Meanwhile it's easy for others to say: 'She's not your problem,' but it's unrealistic. We can all sympathise. Of course you realise you WILL find a way to diminish her influence and free yourself but it's a matter of how much time and energy this costs you. I wish you fair winds and following seas.


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  7. Dear Kate , i know only too well how you feel . A year ago my husband came home early from work to tell me that he had slept with a friend of ours . She was the mother to my sons friend I was devastated by the double betrayal but soon came to realise that the ow was never a friend of mine but had only used me to spend time with my husband . The point I want to make is though that during counselling I asked my husband how he could stand by and watch this woman pretend to be my friend , watch me cook for her and her children , throw B'day parties for her etc. all the time leaving me and our three beautiful boys open to manipulation and evidentially her malicious bad temper ( she bullied my son at school / making up stories that he was being unkind to her son - tried to turn my friends against me and then threatened him at work. His answer to my question although painful was honest . He said he really thought they could go back to being friends as if it had never happen. He put the affair away in a box marked. 'Do not open ' and hoped I would never find out . He compartmentalised the whole thing and thought that she would too. I believe that he didn 't make the conscious decision to hurt me and our children by allowing this woman to stay in our lives . He just couldn't understand that by pretending the affair had never happened he left us all so vulnerable to her . He sees now how stupid and naive he was . We have worked so hard over the last year and I have struggled with thought that I allowed that woman to play with us . My boundaries are clear now and my marriage is much stronger than it ever has been . I wish you happiness and hope you will win your battle .

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  8. I realise now that my comment about my friend might seem a bit unlikely to people who fear or have received negative responses to talking about being cheated on, or staying with the person who wounded them so badly. I don't want to imply that it was easy for my friend - it was bloody. Her decision to talk about it reflects her situation, her personality (she's friendly and honest) and was pragmatic - it would have been harder for her to lie about what had happened. And she was dealing with a group of people who'd shared a common interest for many years, so there would have been questions and gossip. I wasn't part of that group and didn't know the other party, so I didn't witness the dynamics she had to cope with. I saw the aftermath and her husband's remorse. It wouldn't have occurred to me to judge her decisions, but I had no doubt that he was worth another chance. We had just witnessed another case of infidelity where this was manifestly not the case and it's always struck me how obvious the difference was. But of course, only the people involved have to live with their choices.

    I remember thinking I would do anything to help my friend cope with her pain, it was such an awful time for her - only when it happened to me did I understand how awful. Even so I didn't have to deal with a double betrayal, and I'm ashamed to say I had no idea how isolating infidelity is even when friends are supportive. And as you might expect it was almost impossible for my friend to help me in turn, at least until I was less traumatised. She simply couldn't bear it. She's great to talk to now though, and because we're experts in the subject you'd rather not have to study there's a lot we don't have to explain.

    Sadly seeing another's pain doesn't prevent people from cheating. Perhaps it even normalises this behaviour when someone we think is a kind and decent person makes such destructive choices, even if they're horrified and shamed by the result. And perhaps we lack imagination.

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