Be not the slave of your own past – plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so you shall come back with new self-respect, with new power, and with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.Ralph Waldo Emerson
Hello My Friend.
I’m seventeen months post-relationship destruction after a forty-eight month affair. Essentially, during a nearly seven year relationship with my Partner I made the decision to carry on an emotional and sexual affair with my former wife.
I am solely responsible for my choices. No one is to blame. Nothing anyone else did or said justifies my choices or actions.
Not only did I sleep with my former wife 6 to 8 times over two years but I kept secrets and told an escalating series of lies for two more years to both of them to maintain my relationship, reputation, and protect people I cared about from my Ugly.
As a result of my actions I betrayed my Loves, life, and self and lost everything I thought I wanted and needed.
This was not my first betrayal or the only kind. I have been on all three sides of infidelity.
That’s my qualifier.
Plenty of nuances, but I’ve learned the nuance is for me, my doctor, and the people that care and are self-aware enough to ask. I’m trying not to be defensive and explain, but I forget some people are intent on misunderstanding and others are filtering everything through the lens of their own pain. Although you and I know the truth of our intentions and the depth of our dishonesty others won’t care unless they take stock of their choices and responsibility for their healing.
However, if you want to know the nuance of my betrayal, well, I’ve written plenty: just pick a category, title, or date and you will find something. I’m not going to rehash all of my Ugly, but you can get the Clift Notes here. Perhaps you are just a gawker and are only interested in consequences. Everyone loves a train wreck. If so, read this for the recap.
Frankly, I’ve reached a point where I’m tired of talking about my Ugly. You are probably tired of reading about it. Although, if you’ve read anything I’ve written in the last five months you will notice I’ve largely abandoned the topic except in a tangential way.
If you look over the last seventeen months you will see I have written over 250 entries in my journal, another 80 in drafts, and twice as many pages in my personal journals. Writing has become my refuge. It is how I stepped into the vacuum created by the ghosting and silence I’ve faced in response to my choices. It is how I connected with others and learned I’m not alone. It is my opinion our actions create a large lonely place in our hearts…at least mine did.
It seems I’m compelled to writing directly to the men and women that betrayed their Loves, lives, and selves directly. I don’t need a mediator telling me what I think, feel, or intended. I certainly don’t need someone to speak for me.
My good doctor and friends are pushing me to write, not simply the story of my betrayal et al (because that is boring), but more importantly to tell the positive story of my growth from experience.
And there are positive stories to tell.
Given time and intention something amazingly wonderful will come out of this experience for you too. It just won’t be what you think it will be. The Law of Unintended Consequences ensures that good things will grow from this, but they are unintended.
And when Karma comes, don’t dis her.
And she will come.
Karma may be a bitch, but she is a bitch that loves you and wants you to grow. Don’t run. Call for her. Take her to dinner. Listen to what Karma is saying. Karma doesn’t bring suffering except our thinking makes it so. Karma brings opportunity.
As my Doctor and I discuss, there are plenty of books to those we betrayed written by those men and women that have been betrayed. Some mean well while others are just mean.
Those books sit in a different section of Barnes and Noble than those written by knowledgeable, experienced, and researched based professionals such as the Gottmans, Esther Perel, Brene Brown, Stan Tatkin, and Caroline Madden.
Although exceptions the two groups rarely agree on the meaning or lessons. Although exceptions most people never visit the other section of the book store.
Too often I think we stop looking for experiences that make us uncomfortable. Once we find something that tells us what we want to hear we avoid leaving the echo chamber…and the opinions about infidelity is one big echo chamber full of confirmation biases and voices of entitlement.
As a result, this skews people’s perceptions towards the men and women behind the labels they use about our motives and intentions. Therefore, moving forward I decided to take a slightly different tack and maybe we can have a conversation that doesn’t involve laypeople lecturing us on our motivations, morality, or character.
At some point I realized my betrayal, secret-keeping, and escalating series of lies was not actually the problem. I can’t do anything about what I did or what people think about what I did or imagine they know about what I did. People’s imaginations will outstrip reality.
All I can do is more forward. I cannot unring the bell. The issue is how unskillful I am at important areas of adulting. I can learn skills and do things more skillfully next time.
I choose to use the word “unskillful” because the language we use to frame the issue also frames the possible solutions. The more harsh and narrow the language, the harsher and narrow the problem and the more harsh and narrow the solutions.
My betrayal et al doesn’t matter to my former Partners. We are finished and there is no going back to the way it was. Fortunately, the more I intentionally move forward, the more I recognize it is for the best.
C did not get my best but even if she called me today and wanted to talk, and possibly reconnect, I’m not clear that is what I want. Relationships are mirrors and this time apart has helped me see her more clearly too, and why I chose a relationship filled with such unskillfulness.
Therefore, moving forward, I am clear, I’m not living that way again. I’m not doing this to myself or others again. The only approach is to dig into the Thing I did and stop being distracted by the Way of the Thing.
As such, I’ve adopted the principle that what matters most is what I choose to do today to learn the skills to be a more vulnerable and a real partner.
If you are going to get help, dig in with the same enthusiasm we used to betray our lives. If you had time and money to cheat, you have time and money to learn new skills. If you have time and money to spend on another person spend those resources on helping your kids, and if your partner stays, spend it on them too.
I’ve recognized my betrayal et al barely matters anymore to me either, except as a reminder of what I am capable of in my most unskilled moments. The Way of the Thing could just as easily have been alcoholism, gambling, exercise, sex addiction, hoarding, eating disorders, or self-mutilation.
Like you, I didn’t cheat because there was something wrong with the person I was with, although there may have been things unskillful in their behaviors, and less than useful aspects in the relationship. So there is no confusion, taking this approach allows me to recognize that my former Partner and my former Wife, are really excellent people with their own unskillful Ways.
As I’ve matured through this process I’ve come to see there were many unskillful patterns in our relationship besides my betrayal. If there was going to be a deeper and more intimate connection moving forward we both needed to engage in the solutions, after all it was our relationship.
I would do better with her but that is not an option.
Focusing solely on my betrayal et al is like going to a movie, and after it is over, all we talk about is the cinematography. My betrayal et al, is The Way of the Thing, it isn’t the Thing That Matters. It is simply the shiny scenery distracting me from the details of the Things that matter. The Things I need to own if I want to learn and grow.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, as long as we are stuck arguing over the cinematography we never get to the meaningful turns of the plot. We never get to the themes that matter. A process that happens over long periods. Relationships, like ships, have inertia and change takes intentional effort applied over time.
I’ve been watching individuals and couples for nearly two years, and I see now that some people rebel against doing work to get past the set design. They are committed to the role of victim or villains. They are perpetually trapped in conversations about the cinematography and overlook the rest of the story. This is as true for the men and women that cheated as the men and women that were cheated on.
Tragically it is easier to focus on how it looks, allowing us to avoid the really Ugly. Instead, we endlessly argue over the style of cinematography. We choose to avoid the work because even as we demand change, we resist it. No change, no change. Know change, know change.
In truth, if you dive in, the betrayal et al won’t matter after a while. As Esther Perel writes, the betrayal et al stops being the defining chapter of life but simply a chapter.
Although, if you are early in this experience it should matter because the pain is a driver to changes in how we respond to the world. Pain is not the enemy, it just feels like it, so people avoid it.
For example, many of my choices were defined on avoiding the uncomfortable, the conflict, and the difficult. And of course, because we are in pain, many people believe it must be someone’s fault so we look to them and still others to fix our hurt and so we end up hurting others. Hurt people hurt people. I’m no different.
I’m hoping as I grow through this experience I will be able to face hurt people with compassion instead of hurting them back or transmitting that hurt to still others. That’s my intentions.
I realize that is who we are when we are reacting to the world instead of living in it. Too often when we talk about personal responsibility, we apply that principle to others.
Through my relationship life I’ve responded to hurt in an unconscious game of hot potato passing it along to others and burning them. Now that I am conscious of it I really am making an effort to stop. I baked this potato, so it is mine to hang onto until it cools. Next time I’ll turn down the oven and be less likely to burn myself or others. That change requires a conscious decision to improve my competence.
I say this because I’m making peace with the reality that the bell cannot be unrung. The only constructive choice I have is to own what is true and move forward. Through the proper lens, this experience is a gift. I know what I did. I know who I am. Now. Most days I’m just a man in a convertible. I survived…but that isn’t enough anymore. I want to thrive, and I want others to thrive too.
In the long run what matters is what I am doing now. Here is where I began to reclaim my integrity: I am doing what needs to be done…even in moments, I don’t want to do it. For some of us that might mean reconciliation.
For others that may mean ending one relationship and going to our consort.
Or it might mean something entirely different for you. But make no mistake, if recovering your integrity matters, your old relationships as they were are now over.
For me that looks like going to counseling weekly, journaling, actively engaging in my life, taking care of my health, and sitting in my loneliness in an apartment along Pittsburgh’s Ohio River. It means spending an equal amount of time and resources on getting perspective that I spent living in this mess I created.
In practice that means today I’m consciously avoiding rebound relationships, meaningless sex, or disingenuous relationships. I’m sitting in my Pain and Grief trying to listen to what it tells me in a vulnerable, loving, and patient manner. I’m focused on digging into the unskillful, unhelpful, and unloving choices that brought me to this low place.
However, what truly matters, in the long run, is discovering what is behind the betrayal, secret-keeping, and lies. And if I confront these things with curiosity and vulnerability, I will reclaim the dignity, power, and self-respect I abandoned to stick my tongue, dick, and heart in places it didn’t need to go.
As such, I decided to share a few lessons I’ve learned with those that are either living with the secret and shame still or are just beginning the arduous journey to discovery. I hope it helps you to know you aren’t alone.
And to be clear, there is no one type of betrayal.
This means of course, that my experience is not your experience…and vise versa. I’m not going to lecture or judge you because I have no moral authority on the topic. I’m not going to tell you to stay or leave.
I have no idea what is right or best for you and your life. I’ve proven my compass is a few degrees off from the norm.
I know the Partner you betrayed, or the Partner you go to, are neither the solution or the problem. For me, I’ve come to realize that my solutions and problems are all internal. Therefore, I don’t believe there is a wrong decision, just unskillful ones. We all entered into the relationships for a reason making sense at the time. Maybe they still make sense, but owning the choices is where I think many of us fall down.
Never forget that your pain, hurt, and loss matter too. It is equally as important and valid as anyone else’s experience. Pretending we don’t hurt or have needs and wants is just one more deception. You matter.
I’ve got a few dozen letters written to you already. I’m just going to add a few at a time over the next few weeks. You are welcome to write back.
Because of the unskillful opinions spitted out by people that project their issues on others, comments will be heavily curated. I’m not entertaining opinions of people that are looking to pile on shame, hate, or hurt.
It’s going to take more than a few posts. Let’s start here.
After reading some things recently written by others I am very uncomfortable with the narratives being peddled by armchair psychologists and sanctimonious absolutists about betrayal at both the men and women that cheat and the men and women that are cheated on.
Therefore, I just want to take a moment to talk to the guy or gal living with remorse, shame, regret, fear, and constant anxiety. Which in my opinion is just about everyone that betrays their Loves, lives, and selves.
In reality, there will always be a small percentage of the unremorseful man or woman, and they get all the press because their stories are made for a Shameless season story arc…or two. However, contrary to the self-serving and bullshbit narcissism and pathological narratives painting much of the accusations over infidelity, in reality, they are a tiny number of unrepentant cheaters.
And to be clear being repentant doesn’t mean you stay with the person you cheated on. Some relationships are better dead.
However, as Esther Perel writes in The State of Affairs, “Surely millions of renegade lovers can’t all be pathological.” Except, that is precisely the story that sells clickbait articles, armchair psychology, and fills the courtrooms, so those are the stories that get the headlines.
It is statistically unlikely you are unremorseful and proud of your choices. If so, you wouldn’t have lied or kept them secret. Guilt seeks punishment, and I watch over and over as people living with guilt seek out self-destructive approaches to living. If there is to be any recovery of our self-respect, power, or integrity that will mean we have to be willing to hurt and to hurt others. Reclaiming our integrity means disappointing others because what is best for them is not best for us. As a result, we will hurt others, there will be conflict, there will be loss and pain.
That isn’t bad or wrong or abusive. That is life. You can care about people and the relationships but you cannot care for them if it means abandoning your truths.
Their may never be forgiveness, acceptance, or approval. It’s unfortunate but not every relationship is intended to survive the fires.
You are more than the sum of your betrayal. Your relationships are more than the sum of the secrets and lies. You have a life worth living. Own what you did. Embrace who you are. All of this pain, suffering, fear, and shame is temporary if we face it. Together we can grow and learn.