No More Mixed Messages: The Benefit of Hindsight (Part III)

Life is a tough teacher, it gives the tests first and the lessons later. – Unknown

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As I mentioned in my posts No More Mixed Messages about I Love You, Go Away and Breaking Patterns I’ve taken some actions to move forward more lovingly and honestly, without C.

It has been an imperfect process but there is no perfect process.

There is no perfect.

Neither C or I have any experience in this situation and I admit there are moments I didn’t react well. Reading post after post about what happens post-discovery no one acts well. Everything in this situation is ugly.

In all fairness, no one knows how they’d react either. We all just assume we’ll never be in that situation. Every day I’m learning my lessons on the fly and trying to change the next interaction into something more positive. Every day I fumbled about seeking a solution to the question of how to proceed?

This is a big elephant to digest and, like any traumatic event, dealing with the consequences and choices requires time and distance, collaboration with experienced teachers and the willingness to breaking the issues into manageable bites.

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There are three major phases over the course of this catastrophic failure:

  1. Secret Keeping – all the choices, behaviors I made in the 36 months prior to the discovery and their lessons and meanings
  2. Discovery Period – all of the choices and behaviors in the first 30 days of the discovery and their lessons and meanings
  3. Post-Discovery Phase – all the choices and behaviors following the Discovery period and their lessons and meanings

There are also bridges. Each phase has specific issues unique to those choices. None of these are hard and set but looking back there were clearly specific benchmarks that have moved me through my pain of letting go. More will be revealed I am sure.

For those keeping track, today is Day 87.

Much of what I’ve written in my private blog is about my behavior prior to discovery. I’m going to write here about the immediate aftermath of the discovery based on 87 days of hindsight. Essentially this will cover some of my biggest lessons in the first 30 days of my travails.

Only after my first conversation with the doctor did I understand how badly I managed the first few weeks. Here are just a few of the consequences of my misguided rush to own my behavior.

Feel free to measure me against your sins.

Don’t Panic

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I panicked.

One of the least helpful things I did in the first week was to email, text, and call a small number of friends and asked them to look after C. I thought she needed more help than me. In truth, I didn’t believe I deserved any consideration in the face of my betrayal of C.

Almost immediately I changed my relationship profile on Facebook, deleted Facebook friends I had for years, abandoned social media accounts, and deleted contacts. I was both hiding and doing for her what I thought she wanted.

I did it without asking her what she wanted. I just assumed it was what she would want and acted accordingly.

Almost immediately I received text messages from associates and friends telling me C said it was over and to never come back but not a word from C.

She sent me to Siberia, I mean North Dakota, to stay with a friend and her husband.

There was no arguing, fighting, drama, explanation, or instructions. Tears, a hug, a kiss on the forehead. No words. I packed a few things in the van and went. I’ve not seen her since and have only talked to her once, around Day 7, since Thanksgiving. Every correspondence since then has been either by text or email.

My heart breaks all over again even thinking about how it ended after seven wonderful years.

Only Fools Rush In…or Off

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I stepped in it and made a mess.

Within 24 hours I made our break-up public and gave C no time to collect her thoughts or breathing space. I imagine she almost immediately started getting calls and texts from people she barely knew and family looking to help and to be part of the story. It was a horrible situation to put her in and forced C into a decision-making corner. Esther Perel and others talk about how the discovery scrambles everyone’s eggs. Shock, doubt, panic, fear, anger, and resentments come flooding in.

I’m angry about the ghost stories but I created the vacuum and made room for the ghost stories. I may be responsible for creating the vacuum but I’m in no way responsible for the choices made by the fools that rushed in repeatedly adding unnecessary drama.

By leaving I essentially ceded any ground to people with their own opinions to fill the vacuum with armchair psychology and become part of the story. One day I was there and the next day I was gone. Regardless of C’s issues, it clearly laid the groundwork for rumors that I had abandoned C, or worse.

It’s a slippery slope though. In reality, I did abandon C the moment I started sleeping with K but that is a lesson with meaning from the Secret Keeping phase.

In this situation, I left because I was asked and was trying to respect C’s request. I was a fool to rush off. Several friends offered their couches, friends couches, and a room. I declined, slept in my van the first night and left for North Dakota the next morning. I haven’t seen C since.

From another perspective, I felt like I was running and should stay close-by.

Experienced individuals consistently say that time and distance is important but proximity matters so that people can ask questions, argue, fight, and then negotiate the mending or ending of the relationship.

However, by leaving C was forced to turn to others for support and grieving. Friends can only help to the extent they have dealt with their own life damage. Sometimes the support we are given is more about them than us.

Speaking of friends…

The 700 Pound Gorilla Sitting on My Phone

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The first week after discovery I drove from North Dakota to Omaha I didn’t call a soul except my friend in North Dakota and entirely too many phone calls, texts, and email attempts to C.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know who to call. I needed someone to call me because the shame, pain, and humiliation made it impossible to reach out. There was a 700-pound gorilla of shame sitting on my phone. It is the same gorilla of shame that kept me from telling C the truth or ending things with K. Everything was my fault and everything was my responsibility to fix. I was emotionally overwhelmed.

It’s the gorilla that told me I didn’t deserve someone as great as C and that it was just a matter of time before she kicked me to the street.

I sent out a snarky plea for help on social media and the only response I got back was snark from my best friend. I withdrew and hid again and kept driving. By the time I worked up courage and perspective to call him the narrative was set. I was persona non grata.

In hindsight, I should have called for help sooner. I was dying. If it wasn’t for three people that reached out to me repeatedly without judgment I’m not sure where I’d be. I just wanted to die.

Friendships matter. Friends call you out, they don’t kick you out.

Own What is Mine

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The conversation with the doctor also highlighted the reality that I am not responsible for C or her choices post-reveal.

I am 100% responsible for the secrets, lies, and betrayal and how I respond to things post-discovery.

I am in no way responsible for who or what C chose to do post-discovery of my betrayal, what counsel she seeks, or how she responds to her pain. I am not responsible for her financially, physically, or emotionally unless she decides to talk with me and we renegotiate our relationship.

Around Day 15 my doctor said to me to immediately stop paying any household bills or sharing any money with her. As she said, “Sean, she asked you to leave. She is telling other people it is over. You’re living in your van. You are not responsible for her.”

Other more experienced and smart friends that have been in similar situations told me to stop carrying her emotional and financial water.

They were right of course.

As such, I took the sage advice I was given by professionals and experienced friends and promptly ignored it. Instead, I took the advice of one mutual friend with their own battles with infidelity when she said I “owed C” and should keep sending her money because I am responsible. I allowed my guilt to be manipulated.

As a result, I sent nearly 100% of my earnings for two months to C even though I had no money for an apartment, groceries, or fuel for the van. If it wasn’t for the goodwill of a client I would have been living in my van…probably down by the river.

As someone said to me around Day 30, “Sean, you are doing more for her than most men would have done in the same situation. You need to stop allowing your guilt and hope of reconciliation to protect her from the consequences of her choices. She isn’t asking you to come back.”

And that is why it is called hindsight.

K

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As are others.

After K called C and told her about the infidelity I snapped back at K. Hard.

Within 24 hours I called her and verbally shredded her. I wrote a horrific email saying the worst things about her and cutting her as deeply as I could. I wanted her to hurt. I wanted her to hurt as badly as I did.

I did this while she was sitting next to her father in Florida. He had a fall the previous week and broke his back. It was pretty dire and because of his health and age, his prognosis was bleak. I know about her dad because I had called her to tell her I wanted to take C to counseling and tell her about the affair. Eventually, I wanted the three of us to sit and talk – they both deserved the truth.

However, I never said any of that.

I stalled out of a desire not to make K’s week harder. As such, I ended up making a completely different set of choices. I spent the week sending K pictures of flowers, her dogs, and her son in an attempt to help her feel positive and good as she sat watching her dad lying in agony in a hospital bed.

My choices directly led to her calling C.

In reality, she deserved better from me.

I wish I had given her more consideration. At that point, there was no further damage she could have done. All I did was hurt one more person as I immaturity lashed about in pain.

In truth, as angry as I was at the time, I recognize now K did all of us a favor. I was free of a secret that was killing me, C found the justification she needed for ending the relationship, and K was able to find closure.

It wasn’t perfect but it was necessary.

Promises

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She asked me to leave. I left. She expected me to stay away and I’ve stayed away.

For reasons I’ve already discussed I barely put up a fight. Right or wrong I didn’t stick her with bills and kept trying to reach out to her. The more I tried to emotionally move towards her the further away she emotionally moved away from me. At least that is how it seems from my vantage point.

I’m not a victim. I chose to lie and betray C. My choices have natural consequences too.

My behavior had nothing to do with her value or my feelings for her. It had everything to do with how I managed lifelong issues of pain abandonment, loss, and shame.

However, C’s post-discovery choices have consequences too.

Similarly, C’s choices have a direct consequence on me and on more than one occasion, in my pain, I snapped back at her.

I wish I hadn’t.

It has taken me a while to stop taking it personally. She has her reasons and perspective.

Her pain is real. Her loss is real. Her confusion is real. How she feels is real. How she responds is her choice.

To deal with her pain she makes choices based on what she knows how to do and what she wants. To deal with my pain my choice was to lie and cover up with secret keeping. I could have chosen better. I guess we all could. We both made choices based on what we know and others are left to decide for themselves how to respond.

In the first thirty days, I often didn’t respond with patience or love. I sent hundreds of mixed messages. There was a complete breakdown in communication and it made me angry and I sometimes responded with snark, sarcasm, and bitterness. Most of that had nothing to do with C asking me to leave but with other people inserting themselves into our relationship. I took it out on her.

Betrayals bring everything to the surface. Pain, jealousy, and anger will stir the emotional waters of life. Things that settled to the bottom will be whipped up to the surface forcing us to deal with long forgotten pain mixed in with the new traumas.

As I was reminded today, all pain muddies the waters. It soils the issues at hand and begrimes everything that came before.

And so here we are: I have my own pain; C has hers.

I’ll deal with mine. I’m no longer responsible for how she deals with hers.

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