Tuesday, December 20, 2016

BWC Flashback: Seven Lies We Believe After His Affair

This is the all-time most popular post on this site. It's from 2013 and it's worth revisiting because too often it's the lies we tell ourselves that hurt us the most. 

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.

8. 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.


  1. Elle
    This is perfect! I remember reading this and thinking that I just might be able to get through one more day! Anonymous 1998 posted in the separation and divorce thread but I think it's too full there! Thanks for this reminder!

  2. I love love love this post. I honestly think it brought about the first major turning point for me - starting to deal with the self blame.
    Thank You!

  3. I so appreciate your words and the words of your readers. This lonely path, this secret I carry, you all carry too. This post is powerful. Because it's very easy to think it was me. If I had been skinnier, younger, smarter, sexier, more successful, if my parents were nicer ...If I hadn't spent so much time and effort on the kids.....if I had not been so tired..if I had been somehow better than I am.
    ....somehow it was me right?
    When I come to your site and I read the posts and the comments it is more than just words. A part of me starts to believe it. Starts to see the light. That I am good enough. That it wasn't me. That no matter what I did, it wasn't me. And now I still am good enough. I'm better than good enough. A lot of the time I don't believe that, but there are more moments now where I do. Thank you. To all of you. To all of us who feel this way. Thank you. Thank you for helping me through this nightmare.

    1. I'm exactly a year past dday and, yes, unfortunately I know how you are feeling and the nightmare you are in. It is a very lonely journey; and I hate it. I still have to work on believing that I am good enough. I've been married 37 years and my nightmare did quite a number on my self esteem (which was low to begin with). I've always put others before myself, took care of everyone and not myself. I'm slowly learning that I am important too. And this site has been so very helpful to me.

      Anonymous, you are right, you are more than good enough!

    2. Anonymous,
      You said exactly all the things I feel right now too. I'm actually happy so much of the time lately that it surprises me. When I'm not, these are the thoughts that still plague me as well. This site, these words, and all of you pull me up in those moments. I do see a better existence in front of me now regardless of my husband's choices. My marriage feels strong now, but I am strong enough by myself if I ever decide it isn't. Such gratitude for the truths in this post sitting right beside my worst, secret fears.

    3. Anonymous, Oh my goodness, your words make me so happy. That you're having even slivers of time when you get it -- when you really recognize that you were good enough all along. You always have been. We all make mistakes. We all would do some things differently with the benefit of hindsight. But that doesn't matter. We do the best we can with what we have. And that is GOOD ENOUGH. You'll get there.So will you Feeling Lost and Ann. It's a long road. But hang on to those moments when you just KNOW the truth. It feels different in your body, doesn't it? It feels...right. You are safe with yourself.

    4. I think that's the hardest part.Is feeling safe again. Safe with myself,safe in my marriage....which I honestly don't know know if I'll ever feel again. I don't even feel comfortable telling my best friend. The only safe places I have found so far to be able to really share my pain and my sadness, my devestation and my overwhelming confusion and uncertainty has been in the therapists office and here on this site. Thank you for that. This site has been a good alternative for me....the internet makes it easy to torture myself by looking up the OW. Which of course I do to compare myself and then make myself feel horrible
      This place you have created is a safe space. Thank you doesn't seem like enough.

  4. This is a great post and for me this site has helped me in a lot of ways. Setting boundaries was a main one. But I think the most important realization is that I cannot control my husband and his decisions and behaviors. For a long time I felt if I had some control then everything would be okay and it is hard to realize that you have zero control over him. I was never bossy or told him what to do ever but I felt we were on the same page in every way. Well that was wrong. And I think it is easy to feel like everything is okay when you are in control. But then I blamed myself if I was in control. But realizing that was not the case has relieved me of that pressure. It is all new and different to navigate that we are in a marriage but have zero control over each other. Granted boundaries and other tools have helped a ton. I hope that all makes sense...

    1. Hopeful30, I was the QUEEN of controlling others as a way to manage my own anxiety/fear. I thought if I could keep a lid on everyone else's behaviour, I could keep myself safe.
      Uh....nope. Doesn't work that way. Never did. A total illusion.
      And totally exhausting.
      Once I could let go of that (I'm a work in progress...still struggle with my kids sometimes), life got easier. There was more air around me. More joy. Boundaries are key. Boundaries are about control...and realizing that you get to control you and your actions and others get to control themselves (or not) and their own actions.

    2. Hopeful 30, once again you nicely articulated my experience. Feeling Lost, I hit 38 years in January and I've always been the one who took care of everyone and everything. Now, I'm learning to take care of myself in wonderful ways. It is getting better. There have been times when I begin to feel low and I look at him sitting near me and think, "Wow, you have to look at ME too and know that you broke my heart and fucked up YOUR own life buddy. You do not get to steal mine from me." He still says he is grateful I did not leave him and that he is grateful every day for another chance to prove he is worthy of me. Hearing those words and trusting him and believing him, well I've got time to watch him grown. So far, he is a keeper. I cannot control him, his thoughts or his actions but I can certainly work to control mine. I'm a grown-up and plan to continue to act like one.

  5. Thank you, I am not the fool, but they tried to play me as the fool. She is gone, but having a hard time with the holidays. Found out most of the details in June 2016. He said he was going shopping for my present. My present to him is that he is still in the house. Why does this hurt so much? I used to be such a nice, happy person, but now a very hard, mean side is out. I don't like me. I want to be happy again. And yet, there is still that need for harsh revenge. Therapy and meds help, probably kept me out of jail.

    1. Becky, That hardness was there for me too. I HATED the OW with a rage I could scarcely have imagined before D-Day. What finally moved me from rage to pity (for her) was realizing just how sad and damaged she was. She had nothing I wanted. She was nothing special. And she had sacrificed her dignity for a guy who didn't value her in the least. See if you can begin to extend even the tiniest bit of empathy for her. It's the first step toward reclaiming the kind person you were and replacing that rage and bitterness with a sense of peace with yourself. You are a good person. You are giving your husband a second chance to be a better guy. You were a loyal wife. But you're dealing with damaged people. Hurt people hurt people.

    2. Becky, I completely understand how you feel. I think that some of what you are feeling is the last of what I am struggling with, although I am further down the road since discovery. Elle gave you great advice and it's a lot of what I try to apply when I go down the path of anger. There is generally some unresolved issue when a person engages in an affair whether the individual chooses to acknowledge it or not. I remind myself that the OW in my case appears to be the kind who has chosen not to acknowledge her issues or change. So I'm not sure of what I could do that would even affect her. My energy would most likely be wasted on her.
      As Elle said, hurt people hurt people. But on the other side of that are the kind souls I found here on this site. Women who despite their own pain/anger reach out to help others. It's pretty phenomenal and it's really restored my faith in other women.
      This process has been painful, but I feel like I'm coming around. I still have mean moments, but they are fewer and farther between.

    3. Thank you both for understanding my pain. I am calling my therapist to get more help. He is from Colombia, but a US citizen. He could not find his naturalization papers and when I helped him look for them, found a condom in a drawer that I pulled apart a while ago. He that he said was old. Wasnt there a month ago. Tried helping again today and in a stack of papers found a birthday card that said ...Thank you for giving me a home , love Slutzilla (my name for her) Also in the drawer with the condom from yesterday, found pictures of her brats. I honestly don't know what to do or believe. I asked him to leave and he says he is too happy here. I saw these on Christmas day and today. The rage, fear, came back. I am incredibly sad, tempted to mail the ripped up card and pictures of her brats to her, but she isn't worth the stamp. I just want him to acknowledge my pain, a reopened wound and that he loves only me. Am I delusional or crazy?

    4. Thank you both for understanding my pain. I am calling my therapist to get more help. He is from Colombia, but a US citizen. He could not find his naturalization papers and when I helped him look for them, found a condom in a drawer that I pulled apart a while ago. He that he said was old. Wasnt there a month ago. Tried helping again today and in a stack of papers found a birthday card that said ...Thank you for giving me a home , love Slutzilla (my name for her) Also in the drawer with the condom from yesterday, found pictures of her brats. I honestly don't know what to do or believe. I asked him to leave and he says he is too happy here. I saw these on Christmas day and today. The rage, fear, came back. I am incredibly sad, tempted to mail the ripped up card and pictures of her brats to her, but she isn't worth the stamp. I just want him to acknowledge my pain, a reopened wound and that he loves only me. Am I delusional or crazy?

    5. Becky Shaffer
      You are neither crazy nor are you delusional! I understand the feelings you have! My h cow crazy other woman, sent him a text picture of a glass of coffee sitting on my back porch rail way back when he was at our lake house with me and she was sitting there waiting on him to come back to her. She has that photo as her social media main photo and sent it to me before I blocked her. Given the fact that my h filed charges of harrasment sent her to jail and a year later because she broke the no contact order he sent her back to see the judge. You'd think that would make her want to destroy that photo because it was a fantasy world she was living in then and she apparently continues to live in because of her 'real love' for my h. Like Elle, I finally got to the place of pity for a person that lives in a place of lies and what must be the most broken world. I threw that glass away with the memories of what it meant to my h. His words to me about the photo was, I cringed and deleted it as I had all ready told her that the affair was over but she just wouldn't go away! I began at that moment to listen and hear what my h was saying and slowly I've been able to regain control of the rage that filled my heart every time I saw the picture. My advice to you is throw that card and torn pictures away and if you're ready to rebuild a new better marriage, it's time for your h to join you in therapy in order for him to understand your pain and help you deal with the emotions caused by his betrayal. My h has had to learn about PTSD. That's taken us two years to get us to just be on the same page when I trigger and anger is about to lead to a meltdown. I'm so sorry but I know how hard this is and I certainly understand the feelings of 'am I crazy'. I sure acted crazy when the rage took over! I'm just getting closer to a day when I can get through a reminder and not shed a tear or two. Patience is the only thing that has gotten me and my h to this point! Hugs!

  6. These words mean a lot to me. I was married for almost 20 years with no idea my husband would ever cheat and then just over two weeks ago he died whilst fooling around with another woman in a hotel room. So I can't even grieve and I will never get any of the answers which help. BUT - most of the time I do know it wasn't about me but about him and the things he refused to deal with.
    Love to all.

    1. Suzyc, I'm so sorry for all you're going through. This whole thing must feel like a nightmare.
      I hope you're able to give yourself the time and emotional space to just let this all digest. We all know that feeling of discovering we were married to a stranger. But most of us have the benefit of (trying to) get answers from our partners, though those answers aren't always illuminating.
      You might want to read the book Perfection, which is about a woman whose husband dies and she discovers that he'd been cheating on her. It might give you some answers and might, at least, make you feel less alone. Love back to you. I hope you'll stick around.

    2. Suzyc, I am also so sorry for this awful situation. I've read that this is not uncommon and like Steam said, "as if what we are individually are going through isn't bad enough", not being able to get answers or any resolution must be difficult. Please be kind to yourself. Find peace and solace where you can. Hang in there. Breathe. Virtual hugs to you.

  7. Oh suzyc, my heart goes out to you. Please stick around. Like my own nightmare isnt enough i have always thought that the ultimate nightmare would be exactly what you are going through. Being unable to confront him, show him the pain, let him know the anguish and letting him know I am smart enough to have find out. My God I cannot even imagine the rush of overwhelming emotions you must be going through. Please stick around, please get it all out right here. I am so deeply sorry for this place you are in.

  8. Thank you Elle, you got it on one - no answers although there are some out there and I am just trying to figure out whether they will help or make me feel worse. The book sounds perfect, will check it out x

    1. You are in my prayers, suzyc.



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