06: A Love Letter to the Betrayers – Suicide

Imperfection is not our personal problem – it is a natural part of existing.

Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

Dear Imperfect Human Being,

I’m sitting on the deck watching  the neighbor’s dog play fetch and the thought occurred to me, the family dog probably knows more about our betrayal than our partners. The dog knows every time. The dog can smell the act of betrayal on us.

I think that is the root of the humiliation. Too often, strangers, friends, family, coworkers, and the bartender know more than the people we betrayed. I know everytime I go home to Wisconsin I wonder who heard what rumors and when I think about it too much, my spirit cowers.

As I said, even the dog knows more, and when the truth comes out there is no covering up the shit we’ve done.

Pride

For example, I talked with the Police Chief recently and he told me about Matt, a guy outside of town whose mistress called his wife six months after he broke off the affair. His mistress called his wife under the guise of coming clean and wanting the wife to know what a snake her husband is.

His mistress didn’t know he was married when she started up with him.

To his credit he had been in treatment for nearly six months trying to address his alcoholism, shame, and old damage when his former mistress called his wife.

A week later he blew his head off. Apparently the suicide note included a letter from his wife telling him to kill himself.

First of all, don’t be that guy. You may think you will never recover your life.

You will, but it takes time and intention.

Secondly, hurt people hurt people and the people that we hurt will do and say things to hurt us. Don’t make them responsible for your pain and try to hurt them back. It creates an ugly dynamic that can last decades regardless of how it ends.

Lastly, pride is the root of so many lies we tell ourselves about our behaviors and it conspires with Shame to blind us to options, and bind us to pain. What we’ve done is horrible, selfish, and life altering…for some us it is also necessary.

Necessary because, as many professionals such as Esther Perel and others discuss, the path we have chosen is the only path out of the situation we created. Perhaps the affair was the path out of the relationship we want out of or an attempt to recover our identity, power, or sense of sovereignty over our lives.

Perhaps infidelity is necessary because it forces us to own the truth of who we are and our lives. It can be the catalyst to a deeper and more intimate relationship as we re-pair to repair with our Partner or an engine driving us towards the life we want.

The ideal, adulting solution?

Of course not, but everyone copes with emotional experiences with the tools they have to work with. It isn’t an excuse but the sooner I find compassion for myself and my choices, the sooner I can embrace better choices. Shame is not an engine for sustaining change.

If we had different experiences perhaps we would have chosen differently but once the bell is struck it cannot be unstruck.

Frankly, Matt’s suicide wasn’t necessary…but I understand feeling like suicide is a viable option to recover dignity and honor, avoid pain and shame. I also realize there is no way of knowing the weight of the other injuries Matt carried every day or for how long.

Perhaps this moment in his life was simply the last straw, and the pain broke his willingness to keep trying.

I hope you keep trying. The pain is temporary.

Pain isn't the enemy. Suicide isn't the answer.

Lies

A woman I knew texted me today and apologized for joining Team C, piling on, mobbing up, and being a judgemental, entitled bitch when she learned about my betrayal, secrets, and escalating series of lies.

She wasn’t even in my acquaintance circle.

Today she finds herself five months into an affair she doesn’t want to give up, but knows something needs to end. “I see now how your anxiety caused you to double down on secrets and lies,” she wrote. “How did you live like this?”

“Knowing something is not the same as knowing what to do about something,” I replied.

She is writing me because she cannot go to any of her friends or family because she saw how they self-righteously reacted to me. She was part of C’s social media circus. She knows they are unsafe, judgemental, and invested in drama.

“Duh,” I thought.

As I read what she wrote I thought of Brene Brown’s discussion of Common Enemy Intimacy. “Common Enemy Intimacy is counterfeit connection and the opposite of true belonging,” write Brene Brown, “If the bond we share with others is simply that we hate the same people, the intimacy we experience is often intense, immediately gratifying, and an easy way to discharge outrage and pain. It is not, however, fuel for real connection.”

She’s afraid of what people will think and what people will say. “If you decide to tell anyone,” I replied, “you will know very quickly what relationships are real and what are fairweather. It took a long time to see the benefit, but the loss of those relationships is a gift.”

She asked me what she should do.

“It’s your path, your pain, and your choices,” I said, “Go to counseling. Get an experienced, knowledgeable, and independent third party perspective that can help navigate the minefield you laid. Just remember, you are responsible for your choices, you did what you wanted.”

I reminded her that the sooner we own the truth, the sooner we can start getting to the Thing under the Way of the Thing.

I referred her to my Good Doctor, and the work of people like Dr. Caroline Madden, Dr. Esther Perel, Affair Recovery, the Gottmans, Dr. Brene Brown, Dr. Stan Tatkin, Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, Mark Nepo, and a few others and wished her well.

I made time to hear her out today, more than she ever made for me. I can empathize but I’m not spending emotional resources bonding over wounds. I have my own. There are plenty of professionals to help if she is willing to do the work.

Interestingly, she is the second person in twenty months to write me a similar message.

Secrets

In reality, like her, maybe your actions are still hidden and you are up to your neck in deception, covering behaviors, and lies. You’re keeping secrets from partners, children, family, friends, your boss, clients, and that one parent from your kid’s hockey team that saw you at the dive bar up the street.

Your keeping secrets from everyone but the dog.

Your self-loathing, anxiety, anger, fear, and attempts at controlling the situation is perhaps oozing out of every corner of your life. Perhaps it is more a hot geyser burning everyone it touches.

Perhaps your partner suspects, and you are paddling against the current, trying to keep from tipping and drowning…or being forcibly drowned.

Or perhaps like me, the damage is done and you are living in your van down by the river.

Regardless, your life has value and matters. The decision to betray our Loves, lives, and selves, and the supporting actions, doesn’t make you a worthless human being. Everyone has equal value.

Everyone.

Infidelity doesn’t make you an unfit parent. Betrayal doesn’t mean you need to give up a career, money, house, or relationships. Whether you have cheated once or fifty times, cheating doesn’t mean you will cheat again.

However, infidelity, like all betrayals, will demand change if you want something different in your life. Making the necessary changes may require us to redefine how we parent. Change may demand we give up a career, money, property, or relationships. Change may mean you separate, divorce, or sleep on your parent’s couch until you get back up, dust yourself off, and start again.

Change may mean leaving one relationship to go to another.

There is no wrong path to change, some paths are just less traveled than others.

Of course, we don’t get to make these decisions in a vacuum. Some of the decision may be made for us. I never wanted to leave C but she has sovereignty over who she lets into her heart and life. The only right we have with others is to leave.

We don’t even need a reason to end a relationship.

She chose to leave. I chose to wait while I dig through the Things that matter to me. Twenty one months later I have reached the point where I’m finally leaving too.

Regardless of how we move forward, where, and with which partner(s), change is coming. With change will come an opportunity to embrace the risk, uncertainty, and openness our betrayal, secret-keeping, and lies we’re attempting to avoid. Change that needed to happen for us to find the life we crave.

In reality, if you are online reading this, trying to figure out how not to hurt anyone you love and that loves you, how to save your partnership, avoid the humiliation to you and your family, and not destroy your life the tragic news is I don’t think you can. The bell cannot be unrung. The energy is already reverberating across your life, and the lives of people around you, it’s currently at a frequency just beyond their range of hearing.

This is why I encourage people to go to counseling.

Conventional wisdom is not always wisdom. Your partner’s understandable anger is intelligent, necessary, and healthy but their emotions belong to them. We cannot fix them. All we can do is sit, listen, and talk with them like they are someone we love. Even when they cannot love us or hear us.

Statistically it is highly unlikely you are a predator, abuser, narcissist, or pathological. You didn’t invent infidelity. You are unlikely to have invented a new way of cheating. You did not invent a better infidelity mousetrap. You weren’t the first person to cheat. You won’t be the last one either.

However, you can choose, with time and intention to do things to ensure this is your last betrayal of this type.

Dependency on clickbait psychology to determine what is “wrong” with cheaters is a first world problem. There is nothing “wrong” with you. We made Ugly decisions and acted selfishly based on our experiences, wounds, needs, and wants. None of us got up planning on making a bad situation worse even when we did.

Welcome to the human race. You can do better next time.

Statistically, we are one of the forty to sixty percent of people that admit to have engaged in inappropriate sexual or emotional relationships with another. That doesn’t make it okay but it certainly helps keep things in perspective. Our betrayal, secret-keeping, and escalating series of lies is simply the Way of the Thing and not the actual Thing.

A Thing many people struggle with.

In reality, for many of us changing our approach to living will feel like the end of the world. It isn’t.

You may think you have no options. You do.

It’s just our world and options aren’t what they were before. With the proper perspective, counseling, and adulting your choices may actually be better in the long run but that takes an investment in resources to get to that place. It doesn’t happen overnight. The best research says it takes seven months of sustained therapy to start seeing changes. Unfortunately, people often quit long before then thinking good enough is good enough. For some it will be.

Regardless, I encourage you to turn towards the pain. Give it a try. Embrace it. Listen to it. Make it your friend. Introduce to a professional that wants to help you decode the real story and not the ones the people we hurt imagine. Do not be a slave to your past or the fear of others.

Lastly, if you haven’t heard this today, you are loved. You matter. You simply failed in this place and in this moment. Learn. Grow. Change.

Your failure is feedback not a prophecy.

See you around,

Me.

12 thoughts on “06: A Love Letter to the Betrayers – Suicide

  1. I loved this post. You have really made me think. As you know R/D thought about suicide, he thought by doing that he would take my pain away, and make everything alright for everybody. I thought more deeply about what path he was trying to take, and can see that yes, he was trying to get control of his life back, because hus love for me, and some if my actions made him feel out if control. I may well blog about what this has brought up for me. Thank you. M/R ❤️

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  2. It’s sad to think the world is full of selfish people. People who don’t consider a commitment to someone else valuable. If they did, they would consciously end their relationship before moving on. It would be painful, but at lest it would be showing true consideration for their partner.

    Suicide doesn’t recover one’s dignity or honour. It’s just a terrible waste.

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    1. I cannot tell you how many hundreds of hours of Al-Anon meetings I sat through where the partner or child or parent of an alcoholic would lament with the statement, “if they really loved me they would stop doing XYZ. How can they be so selfish?!”

      The defining characteristic of every alcoholic I’ve ever known has been selfishness.

      I think the difficulty is people feel entitled to their own selfishness, except then we call it being empowered, and judge others selfishness as narcissism or some other nonsense. When we act selfishly we call it as a boundary but when someone else acts selfishly it’s malicious. It’s tough for my to see my own hypocrisy and contempt when I’m the one hurting.

      Selfishness is not unique to infidelity or betrayal, I don’t even think selfishness is necessarily a bad thing. For that matter most people who do cheat don’t even want their relationship to end. As knowledgeable experts such as Esther Perel and other MFT’s discuss, it’s about something much more than pure selfishness. Tragically, as long as the discussion around infidelity is still framed in language couched in martyrdom, blame, and entitlement we will never get to the meaningful issues that create meaningful understanding and change.

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      1. That’s interesting.
        Most sober people I know are the opposite of selfish. Perhaps they were selfish in their active illness, but once they enter recover they recognize this and choose differently. Or they struggle to stay sober.

        Infidelity must include blame. One person knowingly lies and deceived their partner to engage in sex with someone else. Sex bring something they had previously and knowingly committed to only practice within the relationship.

        I believe a cheater can feel remorse, take responsibility for their actions and take actions to ensure it never happens again. Most just choose not to do this.

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      2. I’m reminded of that old story from AA, “What do you get when you sober up a drunken horse thief? A sober horse thief.” It’s the same with an alcoholic. “What do you get when you sober up a drunk asshole? A sober asshole.”being physically sober is not the same as being emotionally sober. People pay treatment centers to get physically sober but people living in recover are emotionally sober.

        Of course, while drinking people behave selfishly. As I’ve said, every alcoholic I’ve ever knows is self-absorbed and selfish.

        This is of course, no different than when someone is cheating. It is all a selfish act.

        However, sobriety is also a selfish act. To maintain sobriety requires doing things that are true to self regardless of outcomes or outside opinions. “To thine own self be true” is built around the idea that I have to take care of myself first before I can help others.

        What I have found is that many people in recovery are generous but that doesn’t mean they aren’t selfish.

        For example, working with newcomers is a generous act offering time, experience, hope, understanding, and compassion but it is done because it keeps the sponsor sober, not them newcomer. The same is true with service work, making coffee, serving on committees, because it is paying it forward and demonstrating gratitude. We do it because it is good for us.

        And yes, when one partner cheats they are knowingly lying and decieving their another. This is true in any betrayal whether infidelity or alcoholism or divorce or shaming their partner in front of the kids or neighbors. These are all betrayals and they are all selfish acts.

        I have spent much of my life hearing people say the same thing about alcoholics that you say about men and women that have cheated. “Anyone can get sober but most never do.” As if being drunk or sober are the only defining qualities of people.

        It’s the tired refrain of the perpetually angry and entitled. We use the same absolutist labels for anyone that has hurt us. What matters, and hardly gets asked, is why does this hurt us. Which is why step work is so hard. It is so much easier to see what is wrong with others than ourselves.

        Infidelity must include taking responsibility, blame is irrelevant. And this is one of the differences in our worldview I think, and I could be wrong, you see the act and blame people for being weak and I see the people as falible and recognize the act as being human. Blame is irrelevant.

        From my perspective, your perspective shifts personal responsibility for feelings, choices, and actions onto others and justifies many cruel and abusive responses. This is the exact same as someone that cheats justifying their behaviors as “my wife is a bitch.” Maybe she is but that doesn’t justify cheating.

        How I hear your perspective, it reads to me, people don’t have to forgive, have compassions, or understanding because “they are to blame for the actions and feelings” and any response is justified, even when it isn’t. For example, divorce is a reasonable response to infidelity. Trying to shame in front of friends or family, getting them fired, or zeroing out the bank accounts is simply pettiness. It is why when someone kills themselves we assume it is an act of cowardice and avoid empathy by asking what kind of pain must a person have to be living with to want to end it all? The selfless can see things from multiple perspectives, the selfish can only see it from their own. “I think it would be cowardice for me to do that so it must be cowardice if they do it.”

        I see infidelity, like alcoholism and other self-defeating acts, as The Way of The Thing and not the actual Thing. My betrayal, secret keeping, and escalating series of lies was cover for what actually has meaning.

        Thanks for the conversation.

        Keep coming back.

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      3. It may be the way of the thing as a general concept, but for the person who is betrayed the thing is a breach of contract.

        They had expectations. Not unreasonable ones as fidelity was part of the marriage contract. Those were not met. Divorce seems reasonable. The contact has been broken.

        Whatever the grand world view is, the personal damage is high. No matter how much love or compassion I may have for my ex, his actions have shown he does not have compassion, concern or empathy for me. As such, we go our separate ways. I believe he is the loser here…he has lost the respect of his two kids and that must hurt. Is anything worth that?

        I don’t condone revenge. What’s the point? It’s best to sever ties and accept that the marriage contact is finished. Revenge only keeps the hurt alive.

        It’s shocking how many cheaters use revenge and manipulation to hurt their blindsided spouse. Financially, emotionally.

        Perhaps marriage itself is outdated. That’s a perfectly find view. The answer is you not get married if one doesn’t want to accept the conditions.

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      4. 1. “it’s shocking how many cheaters use revenge of manipulation to hurt their blindsided spouse. Financially, emotionally.”

        Are you not capable of acknowledging this behavior is also done by people that were betrayed? Or is your perspective that it doesn’t matter how someone who was cheated on responses because the “cheater” deserves it?

        I understand we’re not going to agree on this, I see clearly you see this from a moralistic and legalistic perspective. I don’t even care if you get a divorce or stay, because I don’t think there’s a wrong choice. You clearly do.

        All I can say is I’m sorry you hurt and I hope you’re going to counseling and getting help for your anger and injury.

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      5. I said clearly that I don’t condone revenge. I can’t see how any of that would help anyone.

        My comment was just that it isn’t only the betrayed who can look for payback. The betrayers do too.

        In my case we are actually quite amicable and have divorced collaboratively. I do see it mostly as a contact. Maybe I just don’t care enough to see otherwise…he’s not worth my time or energy anymore. plus, the kids don’t want him near them.

        It’s overall a very disappointing ending to 25 years. But I expect life has more adventures for me. It always does.

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      6. It is too bad.
        I did say this.

        I don’t condone revenge. What’s the point? It’s best to sever ties and accept that the marriage contact is finished. Revenge only keeps the hurt alive.
        It’s shocking how many cheaters use revenge and manipulation to hurt their blindsided spouse. Financially, emotionally.

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