I know his morning I will need to take the gloves off if I want to break the Pattern that brought me here. I will have to embrace the role of Villain if I want to be free.
And that scares me.
The sorting we do to ourselves and to one another is, at best, unintentional and reflexive. At worst, it is stereotyping that dehumanizes. The paradox is we all love the ready-made filing system, so handy when we want to quickly characterize people, but we resent it when we’re the ones getting filed away.
Braving the Wilderness
Recently, one of my favorite writers, Dawn (Walking the Journey), told the story of how she managed the discovery of a friend’s husband having an affair. She decided to do what she believed was right and out the husband to the wife.
Considering how badly it could have gone, this went well.
The ending isn’t what she expected but as you read Dawn’s post you realize how many assumptions she made, and how one ten minute conversation with the Husband, at the time she saw him kissing another woman in the theater, would have saved a ton of time and energy. Sometimes, because of our own life experiences, we just assume the worse of others.
In Dawn’s post, she asked the question I’ve contemplated for years: if you knew someone’s Partner was cheating, would you tell the man or woman that is being betrayed?
There are nuances of course. How well do I know both Partners? Is it the Affair Partner I know? Do I know only one spouse? Do I only know the cheating Partner?
I’m not sure until I’m in the situation but I’m fairly certain I would not. As such, I’m sticking to my original answer: no I wouldn’t tell the man or woman that was betrayed.
The follow-up question of course is: What would you do?
Ideally, I would like to think I would go to the person that is cheating at a safe time and place and tell them what I saw. Depending on the answer I’d then tell them my story. I would share the story and the consequences. I would tell them who I betrayed and how. I would use my situation for something useful.
I would lead with vulnerability and try to avoid condemning them, judging them or lecturing them.
Regardless of the reasons, they already know what they are doing is unhealthy and often want someone to talk with about this situation – to hear the rationalization even if it is simply emotional and mental gymnastics. At the end of the day, betrayal is about wanting to be seen and heard.
However, if you have a conscious you already know you’ve fucked up. They don’t need me to chastise them. Besides, I have no high ground.
If they were still listening I would encourage them to read Esther Perel’s The State of Affairs and Dr. Caroline Madden’s book, “When a Good Man Cheats.” I would encourage them to read Dolly (The Queen is In), Elle Grant (Betrayed Wives Club and Encyclopedia for the Betrayed, Moisy (Make This Better), Spouse of a Sex Addict (A Couples Journey of Recovery from Sex Addiction), wife and husband team of TigerLily and Mindcraft (Reconcile4Life), SpaghettiSam (Are We Still Having Spaghetti For Dinner) and, of course, Dawn (Walking the Journey).
If they were still talking, I would tell them the three reasons Madden lays out for confessing to the affair, and the four or five reasons not to confess. I would tell them my experience with the reveal. I would then explain why I should have confessed to C first.
I would direct them to a good family counselor and stress that I am not judging them. I know sometimes we make decisions and out of fear and arrogance double down only to lose our way.
If they double down and became defensive (and who wouldn’t), I’d still be very hesitant to blow someone’s life up simply because I have an opinion. I don’t actually know the whole situation.
I might even approach the AP if I knew them. I would explain my story and the depth of my secrets and lies to C and K, my ex-wife. I would share a lot of the same information.
Approaching the betrayed Partner would be the absolutely last action. Absolute last…and even then it would require me witnessing a significant amount of reckless and dangerous behaviors.
If someone is an alcoholic you go them first and offer help. If someone is trapped in a car fire you don’t add gasoline. If someone is drowning you throw them a life preserver, not a brick.
In all cases, I would never take sides, fuel drama, create a triangle, or pick a team. Human beings cheat as a coping mechanism and social shunning only drives behaviors deeper underground. Everyone in this situation hurts. That is just the reality.
I’m not looking to simply do what is “right” based on my arbitrary and subjective experience. I genuinely want to do what is best.
And sometimes what is best is not as obvious as we would like to pretend it is.
Read Dawn’s original post by clicking below –>
I worked with Gail for years. We were good friends. I hung out at their house, I knew her husband. His name is John. They had a rough road trying to have children. She had several miscarriages, but they kept trying. They were very protective -obsessive- of each other. They always had each other in […]
The Thing © risked wasn’t her heart, that’s a cliche, it doesn’t mean anything. She was risking things she never shared with anyone before: her hopes, dreams, ambitions, humiliations, family, reputation, health, body, and passions. She risked the things that define what is most beautiful about her and that she hid from others.
As time wore on I realised what I had was something new, and that it was better than it had been before because this time it was honest. This meant realising that Rich was not a knight on a white horse in shiny armour, but a flawed man who made mistakes and got on my tits sometimes!
Over the last year, I have spent a great deal of time trying to expand my vocabulary to better articulate in a healthier way what I feel, think, need, and want.
At some things, I am doing an excellent job. At others? Well, it’s a work in progress…
I’ve come to appreciate vulnerability cannot happen if I don’t have the language to express emotionally, mentally, and spiritually what is happening on the inside.
And how do I learn to express vulnerability? How does anyone learn?
By practicing the skill they want to improve. Want to be a better writer? Write. Want to be a better painter? Paint. Want to be a better lover? Love.
This is scary stuff because all of these things require me being vulnerable and living with a willful disregard for the perceptions of others. I’m forced to sacrifice fitting in for belonging. “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen.” writes Brene Brown, “It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.”
Tara Brach, Brene Brown and Mark Nepo have taught me that vulnerability is a habit that can be learned. It can be refined. Improved. Enhanced. Nurtured. Matured. Anyone can do it. There are actually best practices for learning these skills – much to my surprise.
Of course, there is no merit badge. You just keep taking a few steps forward and occasional step back. The only way to fail is to do nothing. The only obstacle is a false Pride.
I’m thinking the process of learning to be vulnerable as an icebreaker.
Sometimes the ship appears to move effortlessly, finding the flow but in reality, there are complex physics at play between the bow of the ship, the ice, currents, and weather.
Often, the icebreaker has to back up, pause, build momentum and try again, throwing itself atop a cold and dangerous shelf of ice. Sometimes it has to take an entirely new tact, an entirely new angle of approach as the sea around it breaks only to refreeze a few moments later.
Therefore, as odd as this may sound, all of the lies and secrets attached to my infidelity was driven by the desire to fit in; to avoid the harsh and often unforgiving judgments of my “friends”, family, and those that loved me. It is an attempt to manipulate perceptions. Once I screwed up I was afraid to lose those things that mattered to me in the moment…so I chased safety.
As tears have washed away my Pride I see more clearly that so much of my deceptions were based on protecting myself – and C – from the perceptions of others and their sanctimonious and hypocritical judgments.
A vulnerability is found by taking the risk, facing the uncertainty, and walking through the fear required to leave the safety of one place to be exposed to the lessons of the new. Finding my places of vulnerability has been a process of exploration.
Sometimes the exploration is by choice. Sometimes it feels like a death march.
How we respond to the Ugly demonstrates what is beautiful. Only through adversity have I been able to discover what is Ugly and what is beautiful about me, and about my life. How we respond to our pain is the only true window into the soul.
Anyone can be perfect and loving on date and dancing night, but who we are is revealed when things are hardest: do we fight for what we want knowing we may be hurt again, as Swindell did, or do we hide behind bitterness and fear exacting revenge over and over blaming others for our pain because we are afraid of it?
My Ugly gave C the permission to do what she wanted: end our relationship. For months prior to discovery, she was dabbling with her own patterns. I know this now. I didn’t know this was her pattern then.
As a result, I learned that despite her Ugly, I’m capable of accepting and loving her unconditionally. I can be hated without hating back.
Those are powerful gifts and I will always be grateful to her love for the lessons as I struggle with applying them to my life moving forward.
Lacking courage I ran from the pain as long as I thought I had to fix it alone.
Only when the truth came out, and I had no place to run, did I turn into the teeth of the storm, and, stripped of my mangled coping tools, I turned to fight. I continue to fight. I continue to be grateful for this experience while sorrowful for the loss and pain other people may carry because of my selfishness.
In reality, I cannot have what I say I need and want if I’m not willing to give what I need and want. For example, I need and want © but I destroyed that because I wasn’t willing to take the risk, face the uncertainty, and provide emotional openness. I was practicing the opposite of vulnerability. I was working for safety.
When I discuss safety with my Doctor she reminds me constantly, safety is an illusion; living for safety is avoiding pain and fear, avoiding loss and confusion. Without those things how will I ever discover who I am and where I stand. By definition, I cannot be safe and vulnerable and I cannot grow into deeper, more meaningful relationships without risk and uncertainty. “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor,” said FDR.
In hindsight, I feel like I confused safety with vulnerability. I see now that comfort was the obstacle to vulnerability. I avoided the hard things to try and protect what I wanted: a life with C.
Nothing is perfect except for the imagination. What a horrible expectation I place on another person, making them responsible for my safety. When they fail, and across a lifetime they will fail, I punish them for my expectations.
Or I hear, “Well, I’ll be vulnerable when I feel safe.” The mantra is, “He isn’t safe so I cannot be vulnerable.”
At some point in time that becomes bullshit, and justification to avoid our own emotional work.
We blame others and expect them to make things just right so we can come out of the emotional bunker…but as long as I stay in the bunker I will never know what is safe and what is my imagination.
And of if I demand they respond in the “proper” way than I am setting others up to fail. Demanding the other person be something “else” or respond in only my preapproved and defined ways is manipulative. It is convenient and it risks nothing. It is a nonsustainable relationship.
And I would know.
If years later I am still bitter because of what someone else has done, the problem is me, not them. It is my choice if I’ve chosen to remain bitter. In that circumstance, I’ve chosen to avoid the hard work to dig into the truth of my bitterness. Bitterness is the weapon I wield to stave off vulnerability.
It is the armor against healing.
Opening myself up to C’s fury and rage isn’t safe. She has proven over and over she will respond with vengeance, pettiness, and anger. Early on as people piled on and I defensively lashed out at C for the behavior of Interlopers, Flying Monkeys, and the Splitter. I understand why she might confuse my anger with them for anger with her.
C didn’t do anything wrong. She did things that were hurtful, but that is different.
Today I try to patiently meet each lash with acceptance, kindness, and compassion. I try to respond with a soft heart, not more hardness. I try to avoid responding to her suffering with more suffering, to her hurt with more hurt.
I’ve done a good job.
…because although I wouldn’t go back, I love her more now than before. Sometimes you have to lose a relationship to realize how deep it went. For me, it went deep. I’m trying not to further dishonor that with entitlement and anger.
What I really needed was help but I wouldn’t ask because I didn’t know how to be vulnerable. I believed I had to fix it alone. My betrayal and supporting behaviors were driven by childish and entitled coping mechanisms not pathological, moral, or character issues.
Without exception, my behaviors were driven by an unwillingness to take the risk of being humiliated, facing the uncertainty of C’s reactions, and being emotionally open, humbly admitting I didn’t know what to do next. I denied C – and my ex-wife – the freedom to choose their lives.
This is where I find myself now: I am the kind of man that leans on vulnerability to demonstrate courage. I tried safety…and failed. Therefore, it’s time to do life differently…even as I rebuild this life brick by brick.