At the end of the story there is no villain or Hero or victim. It’s all just people peopling in the ways people know how to people. It’s one giant practice.
This: GUILT SEEKS PUNISHMENT
In a nutshell: K is my former wife, C is my former Partner.
K once asked me why I wouldn’t commit to loving her the way I loved C. Why I wouldn’t give myself over to her the way I gave myself over to my former Partner. I don’t really know…I wish I did. When we were married she deserved better. We both did.
After I decided to end the marriage with K, I met C. After I met C I never wanted to be anywhere else. Ever.
There is an overlap.
But I had unresolved shame and guilt about my marriage collapsing and K’s feelings. After all, contrary to the convienent narratives of outsiders, I have a conscious about my choices.
As such, while living my life with C, I was also trying to grieve the loss, hide my shame and sense of responsbility for K’s feelings and pain. I never stopped loving my wife but I couldn’t remain married to her the way things were between us.
I felt guilt and thought if K was angry enough and saw what a horrible person I am she would feel justified in leaving. I lied to K about my intentions, feelings, while trying to live forward with C in the life I loved, with the woman I loved, and in the place I loved.
Mix in my family of origin experiences with abandonment, love, shame, manliness, and Patterns and it was a recipe for a season are of Shameless.
- I acted with a great deal of selfishness and unskillfulness causing a great deal of hurt to good people that made the mistake of loving me.
- I lied extensively setting up a pattern with K: I would say or do things with K trying to fix my last error only to create new shame and guilt.
- I created an emotionally abusive Pattern come-here-go-away with K. I’d make committments, break them, feel bad, make new commitments, break them. I’d be kind and thoughtful and then a dick.
- I don’t use this phrases lightly: I actively gaslit and abused K. Damage she is still sorting through.
- I lied to K about my intentions, feelings, while trying to live forward with C in the life I loved, with the woman I loved, and in the place I loved.
I was on the way to an art show with C. I told K I wasn’t with C. I wasn’t going to the show. Meanwhile C was sitting next to me while I drove to the art show I denied I was going too.
K kept asking me if I was lying. I said, no, I became defensive, and accused her of imagining things.
That is gaslighing.
As such, out of a desire to maintain her sanity, K drove three hours to Indy to recover her power. She drove there to prove to herself she knew reality. As expected, it created drama. C ran and hid and and left me to deal with K. K became angry. K does what she does and refused to leave because in Ks mind C will always be the other woman.
…and I, of course, handled it with all the skillfullness as a turtle trapped on it’s back: I tried being nice, pleaded with her to leave, gaslighting K more, walked K to her car, gave her a hug, and ran back to the show looking for C, and then lied to C about K’s motives.
Then as I tried to avoid conflcit and maintain peace I preceded to defend K as not being unstable or dangerous but simply confused and hurt. I told C it was all my fault (which it was). After all my secret-keeping and escalating series of lies created this trap or everyone. I never spoke badly about K to C.
C never mentioned it again…until she gave me her gunnysacked list of resentments sixty days after she asked me to leave.
More of this: The Good Doctor
The Good Doctor challenged me today about my guilt and shame. I was making excuses for C’s entitlement. “Hurt people hurt people,” I said. “I created this situation by betraying her, keeping, secrets, and telling her an escalating series of lies. I hurt her.”
Listening to this she asked me a series of questions:
- Does you pride and sense of honor allow you to experience your own pain and loss?
- At what point in time do you recognize that she had a role in the relationship and its trajectory?
- Seven months before discovery you went to her and asked her to go to counseling was she supportive or did she avoid the topic? What other topics did she avoid that were important to you and the relationship?
- You made every house payment and paid all the bills for over three years. How did she respond when you asked her to contribute more to household expenses?
- When you raised issues about the boys and how she was making you the heavy did she respond constructively? When one her boys blamed you for things that never happened how did she respond?
- Setting aside her ending the relationship do you see how she mirrors back to you your immaturity and unskillfulness in dealing with conflict? How you were at the same emotional levels? What would have been mature? Skillful?
- Give me one example where C took responsibility for hurting you?
I answered each one and then took a few minutes to contemplate the meaning for me. I am only responsible for my choices and actions and I realize I did do loving, excellent, and caring things in our relationship. It is her choice to assume everthing was a lie. That is her choice to make.
“Sean, all of these other issues are just as significant to the story of your relationship as your infidelity,” added the Good Doctor. “If everytime you tried to being these issues up before the end and she did nothing or pushed it back on you, that is her unskillfulness. If after the fact you tried to give her a list of hurts and she cried, ‘Yeah but you cheated’ that is deflection from her choices too.”
“You’ve never blamed her or K. You’ve consistently worked through your side of the story, but perhaps it is time to be honest about her side as demonstrated by her actions. There is more than one way to betray a relationship.”
Made me think of an old post about Esther Perel’s The State of Affairs when her client, Dawson turned to his wife, Amelia and stated, “My loyalty has never wavered. I was always there. I am so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. But when you measure my allegiance only by where I stick my dick, it’s as if the rest doesn’t count for a thing.”
My betrayal, secret-keeping, and escalating series of lies were wrong.
However, in talking to theGood Doctor I was reminded that C willingly encouraged, accepted, and benefited from my role as her personal Hero, soldier, manservant, sherpa, and provider. Safety trumped secure, intimate, and vulnerable attachment. She was equally responsible for the well being of our relationship. “You are only responsible for your choices, not her responses.”
However, the Good Doctor’s point is C’s experience doesn’t trump my pain and hurt. Her feelings and perspective is not more important than mine. Her pain doesn’t have more value.
Just as “…but I love you” isn’t a get out of jail free card following betrayal, “…but you cheated” isn’t either. In both cases it is a deflection from the things that matter. Unfortunately, to often we never get to the things that matter and the man or woman that was betrayed are too often willing to play the trump card instead of dealing with their own issues.
And contrary to the narrative peddled by entitled chumps, men and women that betray their lives hurt too. That isn’t asking for pity, empathy, or sympathy. That is an honest statement and emotional truth.
People want the truth except when they don’t. There you have it.
A Bit of THis: Contradiction
Over the last few months my writing and tone has changed. I have changed. What I am writing is going to change. Some of what I thought and felt a year ago is different today. Some of the people that were betrayed by loved ones are not going to like it.
So be it. There is only one truth of my experience and it is mine. Elle Grant’s motto on her website Betrayed Wives Club, is “My hertbreak. My rules.” I realzied reading something she wrote recently, it doesn’t matter how my heart was broken. Even a self inflicted wound is a wound that requires air and sunlight to heal. As I’ve dug into my life I realize I carry heartbreak too.
As such, my heartbreak, my rules.
“Do I contradict myself?” asks Walt Whitman. I imagine I will.
“Very well,” adds Whitman, “then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” As C said to be towards the end, “You are complex.” I too contain multitudes.
9 thoughts on “36: A Bit of This and That”
I am sitting here with my cuppaty reading this conversation and yes I do have a perspective:
Firstly let me say that since sharing my story (interesting there because it’s our story) I have come to realise that so often our stories are so very different and yet all the same.
I can only ever share our story & I have learnt why it is so important that people keep sharing because they will be able to take different things from different stories that resonate with them at that time, and use them to move forward.
So I can understand Sean’s perspective when I share with you how I knew how much Rich loved me, but I also knew that he was in awe of the fact that I was with him: and that touched my ego. I had experienced my mum dying in the year before I met Rich, and my dad having a series of strokes in the same year. But more than anything whilst I struggled as a single parent, without maintenance and with my parents only grandchild, they wrote me out of their will and gave everything to someone else. (it’s another story I have moved on from & learnt from). I felt betrayed & alone & then my mum died (a massive ally in my life) and I met Rich. I wanted Rich to make everything better. Add that to Rich’s ‘awe’ of having me & the pressure on him was immense. There were times when I would get down and send Rich to Coventry for days on end, wouldn’t talk to him in any way. I use this example because I have looked back & can see my actions. However the story I have told you may ‘explain them away’ (and they are but a few examples) But I have come to realise that they were contributing factors to what happened. If I had stayed or left if I had not reflected & seen this then I would have made the same mistakes again. No I did not make Rich have an affair, or gaslight me, but they are the burdens that Rich now carries, and they are his to deal with, but that does not stop me from understanding the bigger picture.
A counsellor once told me that because of past family history, I was the ‘rock that everybody clinged to’. Because I had learned to ‘fix’ things I would also (subconsciously) make things go wrong because I could fix them then: when we are happy and things are going right we have no control on those things until they go wrong.
But BA your story has the differences: someone being something that they hid. In the here & now they are trying (isn’t that all any of us can do?) But I can understand your perspective totally about how everything that went before was fake, and their actions are the things that make us feel that way. For me they are different sides to the complicated prism of infidelity and even life. Reading this thread it made me think how long it was before I could look back fondly on things that went ‘before’ and it was well over 5 years. If we had not recovered maybe it would have been never!
In Sean’s story I see a person who has, at the beginning, taken the full force of responsibility and only over time has he been able to see (with difficulty at times – forgive me Sean) that the breakdown of the relationship was not entirely due to infidelity: another prism.
I too have read some of the threads Sean mentions about abuse: in fact I was one of the ones along with Elle who said I was not abused.
Anyhow that’s my tuppence worth, I am just glad I have met you all.
I agree that betrayers hurt too. I agree that I don’t win every argument for the rest of my life with Handsome just because he cheated. I also agree that everyone – betrayed spouses included – has their issues.
What I disagree with though is (1) that a betrayed’s issues are any kind of a cause of cheating and (2) that there is parity between the issues a betrayed brings to or creates in a relationship and those they suffer from infidelity. (Maybe you don’t mean to suggest #1 or #2, but it kind of seems like maybe you do?)
By way of example, I may be a partner with mental health issues or money issues or just incredibly lazy or I smell bad. My partner has a myriad of choices to address those issues in an adult and humane way, none of which involve cheating. No matter what kind of crazy I’ve got going on, there are choices other than cheating to solve them, even if that other choice is leaving.
While I can think of some extreme cases where parity is arguable (extreme violence or abuse in a relationship for example by the partner on a betrayer), in many/ most cases the issues are not. That’s not to say that the issues don’t affect or can’t harm the relationship. They do, but infidelity is “next level” as my kids would say. I may not share well, or at all, or I spend money I shouldn’t or nag over spending too much, or I work too hard or not enough. Those impact our relationship for sure. But finding out that everything I thought was real hasn’t been real for a month or a year or a decade? That’s a special kind of existential hell. That is a shattering of my core self. It’s an occurrence severe enough to cause complex PTSD in even the strongest of humans.
There may indeed be multiple ways to betray a relationship, but they are far from equal.
I truly understand where you are coming from. What I hear you saying they are not equal in your mind because that isn’t your experience.
First, I’m never arguing that anyone is responsible for my cheating but me. I’m also not arguing that anyone can make someone cheat. I never said a person betrayed’s issues are cause of cheating. Not here or anywhere else. Ever.
I am saying, who am I to judge if one betrayal is more or less painful than another?
I am saying that how we phrase the problem is also how we will frame the solution.
For example, if a person only sees it as a morality issue than everything will be colored by that religious bias (although there is no therapy perspective that would support the idea of infidelity is a religious issue). An addict certainly couldn’t pray it away.
I am saying that if the relationship is to improve than both partners need to own their Ugly and make peace with it…and not only their Ugly, but the Ugly they brought to the party.
In my situation, both K and C have their Ugly and at times they both betrayed our relationships.
If I were to sit and have a quiet conversation with someone that betrayed their loves, lives, and selves they are not going to see it the same way as the one they betrayed. That isn’t blaming them, but simply a statement of fact and if I’m going to have better relationships moving forward I have to be better but so do they.
For me is the lifetime of struggles around conflict, intimacy, and vulnerablity. For C and K it was something different but it still exists (I just won’t document their issues in great depth because it isn’t my place to tell their stories)
…and if those relationships were going to survive they were equally responsible to own their shit instead of making me responsible for every pain and hurt they experienced. As the judge said to C, “Getting your feelings hurt is not harassment. It is not abuse.”
And over and over again I see that much of what we call trauma is hurt pride and entitlement and an echo chamber projecting it onto others. And because abuse and trauma has become a catch phrase for so many unskillful and human actions people never get to the actual trauma…instead they simply insist others change.
I watched it again today when someone posted “Cheating is abuse” and someone responded with, “My husband cheated but I don’t believe it was abusive” and the conversations devolved into a pile on. No room for nuance, differing perspective or experiences. And it is different one group’s spouses left for their new life or divorced and other spouses stayed to own their old one and a small third group is trudging paths inbetween. There is no one size fit all infidelity. There is no one size fit all solution.
It is entirely possible that for one person it was abusive, for another it “felt” abusive, and for a third not to see it as abusive but something else entirely. Just because we feel something doesn’t make it true.
It is simple of course to argue “I hurt worse than you do” but how do you know what hurts another or how much? There were things that happened in my marraige to K that devastated me in ways I didn’t even know were possible. They were unskillful and unnecessary. Some might have treated it as no big deal and others would have seen it as abusive.
But don’t think for a second that C’s betrayals before, during, and after mine didn’t hurt me as deeply, meaningfully, or in significant ways. I’m not a stone. I bleed too. Which is not an appeal for emapthy, sympathy, or pity. It is a statement of life and for some people, because they aren’t dealing with their own shit, they refuse to recognize the validity of someone else’s experience (I watching this now on another discussion thread).
And this is the Good Doctor’s point, what C needs and wants isn’t more important than what I need or want, her feelings and thoughts are not more important than mine, her pain is not more valuable, true, or honest than mine. It is simply different. I need to stop discounting mine with, “Yeah but I cheated.” I come back over and over, I am more than my betrayal. Our relationship was more than my betrayal. There was far more truth in my actions than deceptions. I was there over and over again as her Partner.
And if she doesn’t see it that way, that is her choice and just as she is in no way, shape, or form responsible for my choices I am not in anyway, shape, or form responsible for her choices. My betrayal doesn’t justify or excuse her behavior either.
I suppose that if I was in a crappy marriage or I disliked my spouse, an affair may not be traumatizing. There seems to be an entire body of peer-reviewed research though that suggests that it is just that for many partners. It’s the whole basis for the trauma model of therapeutic treatment for recovery from infidelity. Again, maybe you don’t intend this, but I read this as slipping down the “codependency” slope. I am not a bad driver just because I marry one. Similarly, I don’t have treatment-worthy issues just because I marry or partner with someone who does (especially if he/ she actively hid them). While it’s possible that I do, it’s not a foregone conclusion.
Part of understanding the trauma that infidelity causes is understanding that one moment, or day, or year of cheating really can severely traumatize someone and wipe out an entire relationship of good deeds. (Similarly, my spouse may be a gem for years and years, but if one day he beats me to the point of hospitalization, I’m unlikely to minimize the trauma of that event by thinking of all the bills he paid or the gifts he bought or all the loving things he did or said prior.) You are more than your betrayal (“We are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” – Bryan Stephenson), but it is also true that to C your betrayal may have truly overwritten the good of your relationship. Those two things can both be true at the same time. I feel as though you want “credit” from C for the good you feel she has ignored or discounted. My experience though is that those things are diminished if not destroyed and mostly immaterial after infidelity. If there are enough of them and they matter enough to us partners, we might be able to work to remember them and believe in them and to rely on them as valid experiences. That is painful and hard and not everyone cares to put themselves through it. I’ve chosen to stay, but I completely understand why someone would decide it’s in their best interest to cut bait and how that decision ties directly to their own betrayal experience.
Maybe Moisy or someone has a different take on this than I do…?
I do understand.
However, what C thinks or feels or needs or wants is none of my concern. She made her choices just as I made mine. I write that as a reminder to myself because I did do good, positive, loving and constructive things on my relationship.
I don’t need her validation to own what is true. And what is true, is I am more than the sum of my betrayal and so was the relationship. Whether she acknowledges that or not isn’t my concern any longer. If she cannot separate what is true from false because of trauma she should be in counseling working to heal and find perspective.
If she chooses to avoid it under the guise of “not my problem, it’s his” thats unfortunate but still her choice.
I’ve reached the point in this experience where I’m starting to recognize that my betrayal, secret, keeping and escalating series of lies don’t matter as much as what I am doing moving forward…and moving forward in a rigorously honest and direct way. I made a series of bad decisions but I also made good decisions. If she cannot recognize the difference that is on her.
Perhaps you have a history of being a great driver but she does not. C might argue that the didn’t have any problems until me, but that would be a flat our denial of reality.
People leave relationships for all kinds of reasons…and we don’t even need a reason to end a relationship. We don’t even owe an explanation. I’m owed nothing from C or K. I owe them nothing.
If C showed up and said, “I’ll try again but u have to do XYZ” I’m not sure I would say “Yes.”
Why would I?
The cultural assumption that all betrayed partners are great people abused by unfeeling selfish people is self-serving. It keeps people stuck in the role of victim. It is an inherently dishonest and self serving perspective.
I say that because as I’ve dug deeper into who I am I’m starting to see she her Ugly too.
I do feel a key difference is that your H is an addict. That does change the perspective and approach you need to take and I know there are differences to approaching that experience.
How two people approach the same situation (infidelity) is going to be defined by their own experience and background. What we choose to focus on defines how we respond.
If I choose to believe it is all a lie it will all be a lie. And one of the core components of my counselling and life is to recognize that I choose the prism by which I see the problems. It is to separate what is and isn’t true about my life, with or without C.
Last thing about C, we can only guess as to what she thinks or feels and I understand it is easier to define her reactions in relationship to your experience.
Please don’t project your experience onto mine.
I do want to clarify a few details I am currently struggling with: at what point in time do I stop defining my life through how it appears to C or my shame? When do I get to embrace who I am now as opposed to who I was then? At what point in time am I allowed to embrace the truth of the good, loving, supportive, and caring actions I took within my relationships? Am I perpetually chained to a dead albatross?
Here is what I’ve learned: it stops when I decide it stops. It might be different if she was here. She is not.
I cannot change what I did…but what I did wasn’t all bad. I am going to take the good things and move forward even if some people insist on living in the past and reminding me of my failings.
Good morning BA. I had a good sleep and thought a out this a bit more because I realize I’m defensive and when I’m defensive I find myself defending and explaining my life and choices. When it comes to my experience I am the only one that knows what is and isn’t true and I forget I don’t owe explanations. I reread what you wrote and realize I was answering questions you didn’t ask.
No need to apologize. Honestly. I didn’t take it personally or think you were out of line. The only point I take particular issue with is that, perhaps surprisingly, my betrayal experience isn’t worse or even much different from any other betrayed spouse in the wake of learning of my husband’s sex addiction than it was when I thought it was “just” one affair. Same pain. Similar path/ process to reconciliation. Just a longer back story.
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