Friday, May 4, 2018

Once a cheater, maybe a cheater

I remember the day when I finally understood that his affair wasn't my failing, it was his. If I'd been a cartoon, there would have been lightbulb over my head. 
And it was at that moment that the grip of loathing I felt for my husband – but which was really at myself – loosened a bit. 
If it really wasn't my fault that my husband cheated, then maybe it wasn't my fault that my mother chose alcohol over me. Maybe it wasn't my fault that my father chose self-pity over me. 
Maybe the only person who ever had to truly choose me was me. 
It was a radical thought for someone who believed her value lay only in who she could be for other people. What if, my thought process went, I gave myself permission to be myself? Flawed. Not the greatest, or the worst. Somewhere in the middle.
It felt terrifying. 
But if I allowed myself that freedom, could I – dare I – allow my husband the same latitude to be neither the greatest nor the worst? In the middle.  A guy who'd made a colossal mistake but wasn't a monster.

I wrote that in 2015. I was reminded of it when I recently stumbled across yet another person espousing the "once a cheater, always a cheater" narrative. It's a seductive motto. There's appeal in such a black-and-white view. And like most catchy maxims, there's enough truth in it to keep it alive. Lots of guys, given a second chance, completely blow it. They reveal themselves to be unworthy of our loyalty. But beneath that pithy phrase is a worldview that gets in our way. Between that black and that white is where most of us – yes us, not just our unfaithful spouses – live our lives. 
Which is not to say that women can't toss out a cheater. I've been piled on enough for being an "affair apologist" to make me wary. We don't owe anybody anything other than our own honesty. If a guy has cheated on you and you want to wash your hands of him, get out the soap and scrub. 
But do it because of what he did, not out of some calculus about what he might do. It's the might part that ties us in knots. It's the might part that takes us out of the now and moves us into the arena of the unknown. And that arena is terrifying because pretty much anything can happen there. 
It's there, in the arena of the unknown, where we paralyze ourselves with hypotheticals. You know what I'm talking about right? We're going along, relatively okay for someone who's discovered a partner's betrayal, when the "might" intrudes. He might be with her right now. They might be planning to run away together. She might be pregnant. No matter that there's no evidence of any of this (unless there is, in which case it's not a "might", it's an "is"). Our stomach is in knots, our blood pressure has skyrocketed and we're pretty sure we're going to throw up. And all because we've been led into the arena of the unknown by an intrusive "might". 
This is what the "once a cheater" narrative promises to rescue us from. We don't need to trouble ourselves with the arena of the unknown if we've already dumped the guy, right? Far better, this thinking goes, to just get rid of the guy – after all, if he's cheated, he's going to cheat again so it's just a matter of time before our heart is, again, shattered – and move into some certain future where cheaters have been dealt with and summarily dismissed.
And again, that's exactly what we should do with some cheaters. But (ugh, I hate myself for saying this because I sound like a white man), not all cheaters. Not all cheaters will cheat again. There are legions of men (and women) who regret their actions and have used it to become better people. We don't owe them our forgiveness. But I, for one, am glad that I believe in second chances. Not only for him but for me too. There has been freedom in learning to forgive. What's more, it has taught me to forgive myself.
Life isn't certain. It never was, even when I was certain my husband would never cheat. You probably were certain too. And we both know how that turned out. Betrayal stripped me of the illusion of certainty. But once a cheater, always a cheater, is, frankly, bullshit. It's a cynical promise to vulnerable people. It offers certainty in a world where certainty is an illusion. It's a world view that defines all of us by the worst mistake we make. 
Each of us is accountable for his actions, including cheaters. And anyone who cheats but finds ways to blame-shift or minimize or gaslight is telling you that he has zero interest in your pain or in cleaning up his own side of the street. Toxic people should be excised from our lives.
But be wary of any catchphrase that purports that life is tidy and that pretends to have a crystal ball. 

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  1. "But once a cheater, always a cheater, is, frankly, bullshit. It's a cynical promise to vulnerable people. It offers certainty in a world where certainty is an illusion."-- this is exactly what I will say when I hear that bullshit again. Love this! That's why we struggle when we hear that phrase. It's as if someone is offering us the one thing we want, but now know is not possible: certainty. It leaves us thinking, "wait, there's a way? If I throw him out I'm guaranteed stability? How could I not see that? I'm so dumb!" --but we're not, and they have no idea what they're saying.

  2. I hate when you see that in articles and everyone is like " kick them to the curb." Half of these people don't know what the hell they would do in this situation. I kicked my husband out when I found out and the next day he was back home with more remorse then I ever imagined. But later that week I found out he had slept with her again. I still let him stay home but boy were there fireworks surrounding our house. Do I think he'll cheat again. Probably not. He's worked hard on himself and us to let that happen again. And because he tried to take his own life for the pain he caused me and his kids. But you never know life can change on a dime.

  3. In my husbands case....this is him to a T - once a cheater, always a cheater.
    I'm all for giving second chances, and even with him over the years he'd been given so many chances to step up to be a better person. But. He just doesn't have it in him and then with the affairs, I'd had enough.
    I did hope he would be truly remorseful and realise what he had with me and our kids was special, was ours, what we created, but for his own demented reasons, he's too hell bent on ensuring he lives his life his way with no remorse, accountability or empathy.
    He certainly is toxic and I'm so glad to be rid of him.
    Gabby xo

    1. Your lucky you got rid of him .

  4. I’m glad I was able to finally give my h the second chance he asked for but it sure wasn’t easy the first couple of years!

  5. Hi ladies
    I have been married for 24 years I have 2 boys . My husband is 57 he cheated on me with a 24 girl she lived in a country that is an hour a way by plane . For a whole year , he pretended to have business there but he was seeing her . I found out kicked him out but our kids brought us back together .He apologised . I forgave but not forgotten. We live together under one roof but as strangers . We do not sleep in the same bed , we have sex occasionally once every 2 weeks . I hate my life , i tried to change it but we keep coming back to the same problem .

  6. Hi Mona
    It just sucks doesn't it?
    Have you two been to MC to talk through why he cheated and if you want to stay together, how will this work, because being together now is not working if you are not happy and hating your life. Mona. Nothing will change if you don't start to take steps to make a change. As is often said here, little steps at a time, but I hate to see you not happy in your life. That worries me. We've all been down that path, but Mona. Don't let what he did destroy you. There will always be good days and bad days, but you need to start to make changes for you and your life.
    What is your story? Are you working, do you have outside interests, friends/family who can support you socially and emotionally?
    What are the positives in your life? Write them down, or put up pictures/photos around you of things that make YOU happy - anything, your kids, flowers, animals, holiday destinations.
    Thinking of you
    Gabby xo

  7. I totally agree with the premise of this article - That all cheaters cannot be grouped into one category. But unfortunately I am in the same boat as Gabby. Some men do fit this cliche. My H does for sure.

    "And anyone who cheats but finds ways to blame-shift or minimize or gaslight is telling you that he has zero interest in your pain or in cleaning up his own side of the street. Toxic people should be excised from our lives."

    I do need to forgive myself though, for not ending it a long time ago. Lately I have been thinking about why? Why did I put up with such shit for so long? Why didn't I just leave and take the kids when they were little? Why did I let myself be disrespected and emotionally abused for most of our marriage?

    My H will never get help. He will never change. I can see who he is so clearly now - just from researching and reading. Some men are just not good men.

  8. Yup you nailed it - the affair totally striped my life of certainty too. What an eye opener.


  9. And this is what brought me back to this blog 7 years after his first affair. He was out of control drinking which was a huge problem in itself. The ow was someone I thought was a very close friend and his coworker. (Neither has changed jobs but they don't see eachother at all). There were too many strange glances between them, mostly her, right in front of me. My gut said she liked him. But it wasn't until I caught him smiling while looking at his phone. So yes, mine was in fact "once a cheater always a cheater". I wanted him out of my life.

    Then he did the clean-up work that he should have done many years before. I realized that his cheating was NEVER MY FAULT. It took over 7 years to realize this- and his second affair confirmed it. So I guess that it was really his effort that lightened this burden on me.

    I am more confident in the person he has become and I look forward to the day that the mighty "might..." isn't in my thoughts anymore. You've totally nailed this one Elle. Thank you, thank you for validating the emotions in this hell we did not choose.

  10. I agree with this post. I think that each of us can decide if we feel our husband deserves a second chance. I am someone who believes in second chances. My husband has done so much work and really transformed who he is. I do not think he started out a cheater and will always be one however I do recognize and see tendencies that I think made it easier to go down the path he did. Let's just say I can see how different we are and how he was able to do what he did and I would never do that. He has confirmed that fact and said he knows that I never would and that I am the most honest and reliable person he knows.

    I am giving my husband a second chance with all of this. As we move past the affair/betrayal/lies part of all of this I am focusing on who he is and what allowed him to get to the point he was able to cheat. On a certain level I think that it is who he is. He cuts corners, is okay with pushing boundaries, ok with white lies, entitled, but then now I see all that is mixed with low self esteem. He basically covered up who he was for over 25+ years. He did not share this with anyone else. Now I see at least for my husband that he cheated since he thought so little of himself. It played into the narrative in his head that I was too good for him and he did not deserve me so he was okay with these low level women. There is so much wrapped up in this and he has to want to change if that is even possible. Now I see that it is who he is. He agrees with me on a lot of this. He has agreed that he would have never cheated if he did not drink and at that point in his life it was in excess on a weekly basis. Lots of room for more work just sitting back watching for a while. I feel like I am waiting for a shoe to drop though. Now I need to decide if/when/what ultimatums to give him.

    1. Hopeful 30, I also believe in second chances and as long as my husband does not stray from the boundaries we set, I suspect we will remain together. He broke my trust and now I have an updated template for how I live my life.

    2. I found out 5 weeks ago that my husband had been having a month long affair with someone he met at work. Two days later I had a second D-Day...found out there were 5 other women, 2 before we got married (3 years before we got engaged), three women on bachelor parties (one stripper). We have been married 1.5 years and the first post-marital affair happened 6 months into marriage. He had been abusing cocaine regularly, was depressed and lost who he was and his moral compass. We are in therapy and he honestly already feels like a completely different person, has remorse and is doing anything and everything he can to prove he has changed and is committed. I am taking comfort in knowing that I believe I am capable of forgiveness and I truly do think we *can* get through this - although it will take a lot of time. Each day is a different series of thoughts and emotions. Recently I am really struggling with the fact that I feel like our entire marriage has not been what I thought it was. 6 months into marriage he was cheating (that is supposed to be a happy time!)- granted drug fueled - but it still happened. Even if we work this out I am feeling like our marriage has to have a "restart". I am not feeling like I can ever look back on the beginning of our marriage the same. It feels like that was stolen that from me. I don't want a vow renewal but I just am not sure how I can believe in marriage the same way i did before. My view of it has changed and maybe that is ok, i dont know.

    3. Molly,
      Like you, I discovered that my husband's cheating pre-dated our marriage. And I found out ten years into my marriage. So there was a LOT of betrayal and whole lot of years that felt like they were totally sullied and fraudulent.
      So I know your pain and your confusion.
      But here's how I reconciled myself to it: I realized that my first marriage was dead. It had never been what I thought it was. My husband hadn't been who I thought he was. So, to some extent (and it took time and effort and therapy), I buried it. I decided that if I was going to stay with this guy (my husband was a sex addict -- but addiction is addiction), he was going to have to show me that he was a different person worthy of a second chance. And I was going to have to approach my marriage as a second marriage. There would be new rules, there would be clear boundaries. I had to own my part in it -- where I had allowed myself and my needs to be treated as less important. And he had to own his part in it, where he lied and cheated and essentially violated every vow he'd made.
      It took a lot of time and lot of commitment and lot of ups and downs.
      But here I am, another ten years later, still with him.
      If you've been with an addict, chances are you have some co-dependent behaviours and that's where your work comes in, whether you stay with him or not. I suspect you've overlooked your own discomfort a few times. I suspect you've minimized your pain plenty of times. I suspect you've swallowed your disappointment and crossed your fingers that things were going to be okay. And I suspect he's not the first addict or dysfunctional person in your life to teach you this dance.
      So your job now is to heal. To learn how to create clear boundaries that keep you emotionally safe. To make sure that he respects those boundaries. And to treat yourself like you matter. Because you do. You always have.
      Molly, you can get through this. But it's a tough road. Sounds like he's doing plenty right. But addicts have ups and downs and he's learning to be a different person with different coping strategies. You can't manage his recovery but you can manage your own.

    4. thank you so much - your response has been so helpful to hear. I hadn't been able to really articulate or figure out what it was i needed but i knew that my feelings on our marriage had changed. I am going to move forward viewing this as a second marriage - just thinking about that gives me relief and it feels like a fresh start. you are right - this is not the first time i have experienced this dance with someone (brother, other family members, friends). You hit the nail right on the head.

      Stories like yours, along with some of the change i'm seeing, gives me hope though that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

      thank you thank you thank you again for your wise words! I am feeling much better

    5. Molly,
      I'm glad you're feeling better. But it can be a long road. Stay focussed on you and your healing and you'll begin to really feed how incredibly strong you are.
      Your husband is lucky to have you. I hope for both of your sakes that he never forgets that.

  11. I struggle with this.

    I know for myself I would NEVER cheat again. I have taken great strides towards not putting myself in similar situations again. I cut off a 20+ year friendship. I ... I know how horrible it made me feel.

    But WH has been having affairs - first just online - then physical affair last year our entire marriage. I know it will happen again. And this time it will go straight to physical instead of dipping his toe in the water. I want to believe that he could change ... but I’m not sure he believes he has a lot of changes by to do. Or that he won’t fear repercussions because I’ve not been great about implementing oundaries and following through with the consequences.

  12. Whats really bugs me is I have this feeling he cheated before will never tell the truth about it. I ask this question of him in several different ways. There is no way I can ever find out. I open a FB in his name to troll to see who tried to contact him. No one ever did and I kept is open for 6 months. I never told him I did this and don't need to. Assurance. Assurance. Assurance but not really. I have a few examples of where he would have a good opportunity to do so while on duty assignments in a different states. I ask him to tell me one bad thing about one of his behaviors that I didn't know about. I assured him I wasn't going to leave him. It could be about anything. He never has done this. Because if he would come clean about anything, I'm still looking for example of honesty pre-affair. Maybe that is lie in itself. I told him about one time I shoplifted. I told him one time I came home and mom asked me why is the V in your sweater was on backwards. I did tell him about my boss who came on to me big time. Called my hotel room about 8 times. I never answered the phone. Stuff like that is what I mean. Just one time, one thing. I hate this shit in my head sometimes. I just think it but never tell anyone except you all.

  13. LLP
    I can feel your pain in so many ways! I often wondered if my h was getting his ‘needs’ met during many of his travels for work. But I dismissed those nagging thoughts because when he returned, he was so devoted to my ‘happiness’. Then dday and he couldn’t finish his affair fast enough and she wouldn’t let him so it dragged on for a year that just about destroyed us. Then thanks to the judge, we could begin to rebuild our new relationship. Now we find ourselves in full control of my mother’s care and he’s still struggling to finish his career and retire and we still have issues but we struggle together unlike we did during his affair years! Sending hugs!



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