As I’ve talked with and read about betrayers, I’ve yet to hear one person brag about their behavior.
Without exception, everyone I’ve talked with knows we are in the wrong. Without exception, everyone I’ve talked with doesn’t know how to make it right.
Regardless of how we justify our actions we know it is dishonest and reckless. Without exception we used secret-keeping, and an escalating series of lies to cover our behaviors.
It’s everyone else that tells us we don’t care. How the hell do you know what is happening inside of us? Instead you just assume.
I know a man, B, in AA that left his wife for his mistress. When B and I talk over coffee, he admits he didn’t want to abandon his family but his pride got in the way. He didn’t know how to ask for forgiveness from his wife, how to end the affair, or how to tell his mistress he didn’t mean for it to go this far.
He said, when his wife found out about the six-month affair she “threatened me and told me she’d ‘take me for everything.'” He adds, “I yelled, ‘If you weren’t such a bitch I wouldn’t have cheated.'”
I listened to him talk about how the reveal spiraled downward to include cops and neighbors.
As such, he left his wife and family and made a new home with his mistress. Not because it is what he wants, but because his pride and ego got in the way of humility and vulnerability.
That was eighteen months ago.
He just wants to go home to his ex-wife but doesn’t know how. Every time he tries to talk with her, she calls him a liar or worse. And then he sees her hurt and anger and he leaves thinking that is what is ex-wife wants.
His former mistress, now girlfriend, wants a baby. He’s feels trapped between the life he has and the life he wants.
I also know his wife, L, in Al-Anon. She loves him. She hates him. She wants him back. She admits her pride won’t let her take him back.
“Whenever we try to talk I get so angry, I say something horrible,” L adds. “I can see his hurt and he leaves.”
She cannot bring herself to apologize for attacking him. He thinks he’s doing what she wants and leaves.
“Too many of my friends say he’s a ‘fucker.’ My sister said if I take him back she will never speak to me again. My girlfriends tell me once a cheater always a cheater.”
“I should never have told them. I have no one to talk to about how I feel because they keep pushing their opinions instead of listening to me,” adds L.
Neither can figure out how to de-escalate and unring the bell. Both are afraid to be vulnerable. Both are afraid of what friends and family will think or say.
“Maybe it’s just best if I just stay away,” added B.
Recently, I had a conversation with a woman whose husband’s betrayal came to light three years ago. Since then she has been trudging through a painful divorce. He keeps stalling.
For four months one of the things she has repeatedly said is to me is he has no remorse for what he did.
A few days ago she wrote me and told me he finally came to her, out of the blue, and took responsibility, admitting his remorse, acknowledging her hurt, and asking for permission to sit with her and her family to apologize.
She didn’t think she had it in him.
In my opinion, he always had it in him, but his pride and shame wouldn’t let him admit it until now. It took three years. Humbling yourself is a brave act of humility and vulnerability. It is a risk.
Now that time has passed and there is the perspective I wonder if they will consider reconciliation?
“When I found out my husband cheated, I threw him out.”
“I only realized later,” T added, “what I really wanted was him to fight for us. I felt like I did all the work while he was banging a co-worker.” T wanted him to pay a price and put the same effort into “our relationship that he put into fucking another engineer.”
That isn’t what happened.
He took her at her word and left thinking that is what she really wanted. A month later he took a job in China. She hasn’t talked to him directly since but heard he told a friend he “cannot come back to the states because he is so ashamed of what he did to his family.”
Three years later they still aren’t divorced but also aren’t speaking.
She wants him to know she has forgiven him and is happy now. That he should come back to the states and it is okay. She’s avoiding extending the invitation because she’s afraid it will stir old feelings if he writes back.
Both of these people are trapped behind their pride and fears.
In the case of infidelity, who cares to admit complete defeat? Pride-filled bluster paints all parties into emotionally small corners. As a result, betrayers have to prove or justify what we’ve done is reasonable or else humble ourselves – or be humbled.
Plus in these situations, I cannot imagine the pressures on the betrayed to stay or leave.
For the betrayed, and the betrayers, it takes an incredible amount of courage to face the consequences. It is human nature to want to fit in and to belong and by breaking our vows and commitments, or to go against the prevailing opinions of friends and families, takes more courage than most people willingly can muster.
Admitting we have done wrong, asking for help, and accepting the consequences requires courage. Courage requires vulnerability. The vulnerability is a willingness to take a risk, face uncertainty, and be emotionally open.
Courage without vulnerability is just bluster. “This is why we get today all bluster and no courage,” says Brene Brown.
Sometimes it seems easier to hide behind the bravado and bluster of pride.
I should know.