We fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as beautiful, intelligent, and witty as we are ugly, stupid, and dull. But what if such a perfect being should one day turn around and decide they will love us back? We can only be somewhat shocked-how can they be as wonderful as we had hoped when they have the bad taste to approve of someone like us?
Before we go any further, I’m going to say this again:
- Nothing my ex-partner did justifies my betrayal, secret-keeping, and escalating series of lies. Nothing.
- Nothing K did justifies my simmering, gaslighting, or abuse. Nothing.
In both of these instances, my behavior was driven by unskilled coping behaviors. I wanted to avoid conflict, protect my pride, and control my anxiety.
And as long as I am dropping in disclaimers, there are a few more that need to be stated:
- I am more than the sum of my betrayal, secret-keeping, and escalating series of lies
- My Partnership with my xp is more than the sum of my betrayal
- My marriage to K is more than the sum of my betrayal
- Within the confines of my betrayal, et al nothing should be construed as noble or honorable.
And please remember as you read this:
- K is a wonderful person but unskilled.
- My xp is a wonderful person but unskilled.
- I am a wonderful person but unskilled.
Part of accepting things as they are requires removing the rose-colored glasses I filter things through. With, or without, my xp I want my next relationship to be better and more skillfully lived.
As such, I need to:
- Stop throwing myself on the sword over K and my xp’s pain and hurt
- Take a fearless and moral inventory about what was real and what was imagined within the confines of these relationships and in myself.
- Commit to vulnerability. Meaning I have to take a risk, face the uncertainty, and be emotionally transparent even when I know it might hurt or scare the other person.
Unfortunately, as I told my good doctor, “I have no confidence and my ability to trust my own intuition is shattered.” In other words, “I know what I know, but I don’t believe I know.”
In this case, I know vulnerability will require me taking my xp down off her pedestal and facing some difficult realities about myself, her, and our relationship.
I know I will not remember these things the same way she might. If my xp was here I could turn to her and ask her how she remembers things and we could reason it out together and find a new path forward.
But she’s not. She won’t. Therefore, I’m not going to waste time on the foolish wistfulness.
Here we are. Below is a synthesis of conversations with my doctor and others about my new life and how I am getting there.
Let’s start with the this:
- The end of the relationship with my xp was not about my betrayal, secret-keeping, or escalating series of lies.
- We’re over because my xp wanted it to be over
- I will never know what my xp thought was really wrong with the relationship and could spend an eternity guessing
- I’ve realized since her first post-discovery boyfriend wrote me in March, I am simply part of her pattern. She had already checked out by the time K called her.
- I will never know the real reasons as long as she is in Space Ghost mode.
Now a bit of that:
- Despite everything I know, think I know, feel I know, think about what I feel, and feel about what I think, I continue to love my xp.
- I hold out a quickly fading desire for a meaningful conversation that can act as an anchor point for healing and possibly further conversations.
- I am admitting I am grieving
- I’m angry
- I’m not the cause of every problem in our relationship.
- A year later I am still actively seeking to unlearn unskillful attitudes about myself, others, and relationships and replace them with more skillful approaches. It took me 50 years to get here. This is going to take a while and I had hoped to navigate the rest of my life with my xp exploring, learning, and relearning but I’ll go on ahead to see what happens next.
- I’m resilient.
- I have discovered deep and meaningful friendships and those that were simply fairweather are gone.
- The ending of the relationship with my xp is not a bad thing. It’s heartbreaking, but it isn’t bad.
Separating this from that, I am better able to identify the Pattern. In reality, if I want to become more skilled at finding and changing the Patterns I have to honest about them because these Patterns do not happen in a vacuum.
And in truth, my XP and I had a pattern:
- We both cheated emotionally and physically on our former spouses with each other
- We both had multiple emotional or physical affairs on our spouses prior to our relationship
- We both inserted ourselves into other people’s relationships
As I said, there is a clear shortage of adulting in my betrayal, secret-keeping, and escalating series of lies related to my betrayal et al.
However, I’ve adulted in other areas prior to discovery and I’ve adulted throughout this experience as evidenced by:
- Never blaming my xp or K for my behaviors
- Seeking help professionally and privately to better understand my unskillfulness and motivations
- Exploring new ideas and concepts resulting in a maturing understanding of self-forgiveness, self-reliance, sex, self-respect, power, impermanence, pain, sorrow, joy, healing, and love
- Not rebound fucking anyone
- Not raging, stalking, gossiping, or harassing my xp personally or professionally
- Managing my finances and work
- Asking, and accepting, help from friends
- Facing my anxiety, shame, fears, and conflicts
- I’ve tried to be real about my grieving and remained vulnerable to my xp, K, and others.
- I am taking responsibility.
Not perfectly but I have done these things over and over learning how to do it better each time. I have done this without actually knowing what it is that my xp actually thinks. All I have are third party ghost stories, a list of resentments, and a whole lot of silence.
The Doc goes on to add, “My guess is she is silent because to talk to you would be to reveal her own shameful behaviors and vulnerable heart.“
The Doc paused, thought for a moment and asked me to review the history. She asks, “What do you know to be true about her and your relationship?”
I hymned and hawed, but eventually, I started cobbling together a list:
- She loved me
- She struggles with expressing her feelings
- She wants to be a great mother
- She is an amazing artist
- Her three primary priorities are her children, painting, and appearances
- Safety is her emotional priority
- She doesn’t take the initiative in relationships
- She prefers to run than face conflict
- She relies on Heroes to avoid conflict
- She is a distancer
- A few weeks prior to discovery my ex-gf changed her sexual behavior
- She went out of her way to break a business deal we had with others by refusing to work because she got her feelings hurt over a piece of artwork she made.
- After she asked me to leave she expected me to continue sending her money
- She threw me under the bus repeatedly with the boys
- She was keeping secrets
- She didn’t stand up for our relationship with her sisters
- She encouraged flying monkeys and interlopers to carry her water at me
- She called my client trying to get my contracts canceled
- She took me to court and made dishonest and wildly inaccurate accusations
- She avoids her emotions and anything that makes her uncomfortable
- She ghosted creating chaos and confusion
- She contacted my friends, directly and indirectly, trying to get them to stop speaking to me
- She denies the length of our relationship
- She kept whatever she wants including the things I brought to the relationship and what I bought for myself during the relationship
- She spread rumors and lies
- She started spending time with old boyfriends
- She denied to the court we lived together
Doctor: Prior to the discovery can you tell me her last generous and vulnerable act? For example, did she give you gifts? Invite you to meet her friends? Plan a date night for you too? Ask you what you needed or wanted? Did she ever take you dancing? Did she ever take responsibility for planning a life together?
Me: I would say she danced for me at a Halloween party.
However, even with my rose-colored glasses, I cannot create a list. With the benefit of hindsight I can see since Our experience with Et Al she shut down and was less and less generous. I know she loved me but I don’t think she knew what to do with her resentments and grew steadily less generous and more closed off…I saw it and tried to double down on being more attentive and supportive. I thought if I did more she would feel safe enough to be vulnerable again.
Doctor: For three years you paid nearly 100% of the household bills, you bought her kids clothes, you paid utilities, you paid to fix the cars, you bought things for the house, you organized and paid for dozens of date nights, you shared your money with her boys, and you made every mortgage payment. You maintained a savings account specifically to pay for emergencies and create a down payment for the house when it was time to refinance it. You didn’t ask for reimbursement, hold it over her head, or use it as leverage. And even after she asked you to leave you continued to pay those things. During the relationship, when you asked her to contribute money from her business what was her reaction?
Me: I asked her only once in the years we were together to start putting 20% of show earnings into a savings account and she got pissy and resentful. She grudgingly contributed the bare minimum. So I stop asking. I avoided conflict because I thought as the man the burden was on me to do more.
Doctor: You spent hundreds of weekends across seven years helping her set-up and tear down her art shows, chauffeuring her kids and her for hockey, doctors, art shows, school, and events. You did this without complaint or expectations. Did she ever give you the same energies? For example, did she drop you off or pick you up from the airport? The doctors? How often did she go out of the way for you and your schedule?
Me: I hate this question. No. For example, I asked her to take me to the airport and she pouted, and I said, “Never mind, I know you are busy, I’ll take care of it.” She let me. This was not unusual. If I guessed it made her uncomfortable, I avoided it and looked for ways to manage it alone.
Doctor: You found and paid for the art studio in town where she could paint and work outside the home. You found and paid for a pop-up art gallery for the holidays, a holiday exhibit at the SW Art Guild, and a few pop-up and vintage shops. You delivered, set up and tore down shows alone in Anamosa, Spring Harbor, AMA, Croix Winery, and a few other places alone so she could pick up the boys or stay home and paint. When traveling you made stops, and introduced her to people and places she wouldn’t have gone alone. Did you personally benefit financially or professionally from these things?
Doctor: Then why did you do those things?
Me: It made her happy and watching her paint and create made me happy.
Doctor: Did she take actions to support your dreams, ambitions, and goals? Did she support you? Can you give me some concrete examples?
Doctor: Did she ever come to you and apologized for something she chose to do that hurt you or doing something she feels guilty or ashamed about?
Me: No. She told me she never feels shame or guilt because she doesn’t do anything she doesn’t feel good about. As such, she sees no reason to reflect on her own behaviors. Everything wrong will always be someone else’s fault.
Doctor: If that is true, and she doesn’t feel shame or guilt, what does that tell you about her attitude around keeping your things, taking money from you after she asked you to leave, kicking you out of the house with nowhere to go, spreading rumors, ghosting, and lying about you?
Me: She doesn’t feel she is doing anything wrong. She doesn’t feel regret or remorse. She is okay with hurting other people when she is angry but never admits she is angry or hurt. She will not take responsibility for her actions or choices and how it impacts others. This is the opposite of my approach. I feel burdened by other people’s pain because it hurts me when I see they hurt. I don’t know how to let them hurt. I want to fix it, make it better, or redirect them away from what bothers them, especially if I think it is my fault, so I am not uncomfortable. A need to caretake and be the Hero is the basis for my dishonesty and how I rationalize lying and avoiding the hard things.
I struggle with the line of feeling like I am letting it happen and to recover my dignity I need to take her to court and the idea they are just things and I should let them go.
Doctor: You lived, traveled, explored, and played together seven years. You lived together for three. You were part of her kid’s daily lives for over four. Since discovery has she shown you any compassion, respect, concern, understanding, grace, or patience?
Doctor: You talked months prior to discovery to your xp about the need for more adulting in the relationship. You stopped seeing K. You reached out to a counselor. You returned to more 12 step meetings. You sat C and the boys down and apologized for being mean and short tempered. You started openly talking about what needed to change financially and personally to move the relationship forward. Did your xp offer ideas, suggestions, or feedback? Did she take the initiative to contact a doctor to help? Did she agree or engage in conversations about what needed to change to move the relationship forward?
Me: No. Not once. I was responsible for that work.
Doctor: Tell me about a time where your xp took the initiative to let you know your needs and wants mattered. Did she take the lead sexually? Emotionally? Financially? Did she ever come to you ask you what you needed or wanted? Did she act interested in your emotional well being? Did she ever ask you how you were feeling? Did she come to you and talk to you about what you needed or wanted?
Doctor: Has the woman you are currently dating, or for that matter has K, ever done any of the things we’ve discusses for you? Would you describe them as generous?
Me: Yes, both the women I am dating, and K, are generous with their time, energy, and resources. That doesn’t mean they are perfect. K kept score and could be verbally cruel but in hindsight, I can appreciate how I reacted harshly and judgementally to her approach to her pain making it worse for both of us.
Doctor: Confronted by what you know now, how do these behaviors make you feel?
Me: Small. Unimportant. Taken for granted. Foolish. Naive. Used. Angry. Short-sighted. Reactionary. Impatient.
Doctor: Knowing all of this what does it tell you about your role and responsibility in the relationship?
Me: The things I chose to do are ways I showed her I loved her, cheered for her, and accepted her.
But now I realize there is a pattern: I am willing to accept far less than I offer in exchange for being loved, to be important to someone. I was willing to do the work – mine and hers – and avoided bringing my needs and wants of the Partnership. I acted as if I wasn’t as important as her.
I called her my Partner but Partners don’t just take. Partnerships are not one-sided. I see how the continuation of my relationship with C was designed to be conditional. It was destined to fail under the weight of expectations.
I am the supply and enabler. I lack boundaries. I have a high pain threshold, and as such, could function in a compartmentalized manner for long periods of time. I disassociated from my own pain, needs, wants, and feelings.
Again I vomit.
Doctor: You are digging into all of this in a way many people won’t. You aren’t here to learn who was wrong or right. You are here trying to learn how to do it better and see the unfiltered truth.
Here is the truth, all of this can be accurate and you can still love her.
What we are describing are the unskillful patterns, the unskillful behaviors, the unskillful practices brought to light through a relationship with others. Just as your betrayal is not wrong or makes you a bad person, none of her responses are wrong or makes her a bad person. It makes her response to stress and pain unskillful. Your betrayal et al is also an unskilled response to stress and pain. Lack of skills to address stress and pain manifest differently in different people. Sometimes the only coping skill we have is escapism.
She escaped into painting and emotional affairs and you escaped into work and sexual affairs. One only appears more skillful than the other because you judge it that way.
It is easy to read all of this and label her a user, narcissist, entitled, or bitch. It is easy to label yourself an enabler, supply, weak, or a loser. She isn’t. You aren’t. You are simply people learning to be human. See it. Acknowledge it. Thank it. Learn from it and move on. With the right person, every day is an opportunity to become more skilled.
You have seen she is repeating patterns with Heroes and escaping into new relationships. Her ghosting and venging is not new behaviors. You chose to turn a blind eye to it before. You are not blind any longer. This is who she is and will remain because her consequences were minimal. She has no incentive to examine her choices because you taught her you’d always take responsibility.
That is the role of the Hero.
You only tell yourself she isn’t grieving because it doesn’t look to you she is grieving. You are choosing to do it through counseling. She is doing it through new Heroes that, like you, are just as unskilled.
The solution is to focus on compassion, you’ve seen her at her best and worst. You know her better than anyone because you keep looking when others might have turned away out of bitterness and resentment. That made you vulnerable and courageous. You care enough to pay attention.
The truth is the actions you took for her were not bad or wrong. They are a reflection of your heart and your truth. You acted on your own values. That is called integrity.
You know what your values are and you acted accordingly. It is understandable you feel small, unimportant, taken for granted, foolish, naive but those are judgments. That is your wounded Pride and Shame talking. That doesn’t make any of it true.
Instead, change the angle of approach to the pain: When you were doing those things were they true to you? Did they reflect your heart as you understood it at the moment?
Doctor: Remember that is true for her too. Even now. Even in her silence. She is acting on what is true for her.
What you did was vulnerable. You did these things not knowing how it was going to turn out but you did them enthusiastically and consistently. Your move to YoYo Town was fully of risk, uncertainty, and emotional transparency. You gave up everything you knew, moved 14 hours away for a chance to love. Seven years is more than most people ever find. By any measure you acted courageously…unskillfully but you at least acted.
How others might see this is irrelevant. Their opinions are irrelevant.
Now, here is the question: knowing all of this about her, having her off the pedestal, being clear about the power dynamic in your relationship, how do you feel about her now? What would you do if she walked into the room?
Me: I love her. I’d leap from the couch, sweep her up into my arms and pledge to continue loving her intentionally, extravagantly, and unconditionally. I would tell her all things break and all things can be mended. Not with time but intention and my intention, like my life and love, belongs to her.
…and then I would look her in the eyes and tell her that for this to work she has to be willing to do the same. Not all the time but on the days that I cannot because there will always be days when things are not as we want them to be but together we can work through it. I would let her know that I will address the past but I will not live in it. I will commit to learning to be more skilled, not for her, but because I want something better for myself and for the people in my life.
I would let her know I will do this with or without her.
And I would remind her the choice to stay or leave is always hers but I’ve already made my choice to love her.
Then I would set out to become more skillful regardless of what she chooses.
Doctor: Knowing this can you make a list of the top five things you remember about her?
Me: The way my heart still feels when she smiles. Watching her face light up when her boys were on the ice playing hockey. How she responds to places and people when I took her someplace new like Red Oak II, Boots Motel, Bill’s Garage, or the Groovy Garage Sale. The way she laughs when she dances. Sitting in the sun, beneath the trees at Oconomowoc watching her flirt about in her art booth…I can go on and on.
I close my eyes and it feels like yesterday.
Doctor: Good. You need to hang into those too because in those warm moments in time you saw the real her too. We are all more than one thing in any one moment.
But know this, unless she changes she will never walk in that door. She will never allow you to be that close, not because of what you did or didn’t do, but because that is who she is. It will never be enough to love her.
As such, are you willing to love her like that even knowing you she will never see you again, she will never own any of this, you will always be labeled as the bad guy by her and those that picked Team C, that she needs a Hero because that is love for her? Are you willing to love her knowing your heart is broken and she made all speed to run, gunnysacked resentments, spreads rumors, has repeatedly tried to hurt you, and avoids the realities of your life together, and lacked, in her own ways, integrity?
Doctor: Good. Now you can move on.
Let’s talk about your ex-wife now because it is obvious you love her still and based on her emails to you are unskilled there too.