15: A Love Letter to the Betrayers – My Rights

Hi my friend,

Recently, after a conversation with my daughter about what my betrayal, secret-keeping, and escalating series of lying means to me now, and a series of two threads on Twitter I find myself reflecting on rights and responsibilities.

The first Tweet was from one of my favorite authors on the subject of infidelity, Helen Tower, author of Sailing Beyond Infidelity: It Is Possible.

Recently she posted this tweet:

I really appreciate Tower’s insight. It is not often I see a partner that was betrayed acknowledge the truth of their partner’s pain.

The convenient narrative people peddle about infidelity is a man or women that betrayed their Love(s), life, and self is incapable of empathy or compassion because if they could feel those things they wouldn’t cheat.

There is also the culturally self-serving nonsense that the only pain a man or woman that cheats can feel is the pain of getting caught or not being able to cheat now. There is also my personal favorite: when someone that cheated is expressing pain it is really self-pity.

I’ve been told that expressing my pain is just one more attempt at manipulation.

All of which is just other people’s Trumpian levels of emotional storytelling. These are stories they imagine to be true to explain their pain and justify their own ugly responses.

Learn to respond with clemency in response. You know they hurt. Don’t hurt them further with defensiveness.

You and I both know that our defensiveness and hiding, our bravado and anger, is just cover for pain. The more defensiveness the more pain. As Dr. Alexandra Solomon writes, “No pain, no defensiveness.⁣”

Of course, in this case Tower is correct, “the betrayer has the right to feel pain.” This is true even if those that were betrayed can’t, or won’t, acknowledge this truth because of contempt, indifference, or their own pain.

I wrote back:

This of course, opened the door for some thoughts on people’s rights.

Just a couple of quick thinks on rights.

  • I have a right to the pain over my losses
  • I have a right to happiness
  • I have a right to fail
  • I have a right to mistakes
  • I have a right to leave for any reason at any time
  • I have a right to change my mind and be inconsistent
  • I have a right to grieve however long I need to grieve
  • I have a right to excitement
  • I have a right to secrets
  • I have a right to my sexuality
  • I have a right to joyfulness
  • I have a right to choose when and where to be vulnerable
  • I have a right to laugh
  • I have a right to cry
  • I have a right to my thoughts
  • I have a right to lie
  • I have a right to self-compassion
  • I have a right to be angry with myself and with others
  • I have a right to feel betrayed by friends, family, my partner, and myself
  • I have a right to dream beyond this moment
  • I have a right to hope for a better future
  • I have a right to privacy about what happened and why
  • I have a right to try again and again and again
  • I have a right to friends that I choose and that choose me
  • I have a right to grieve my losses for as long as I feel they need to grieve
  • I have a right to tears
  • I have a right to joy
  • I have a right to family
  • I have a right to talk about my experience how I see fit to talk about it
  • I have a right to cheat
  • I have a right to get help
  • I have a right to protect myself from the ill-intentioned and the ill-informed
  • I have a right to privacy
  • I have a right to partnership
  • I gave a right to live where I want
  • I have a right…

These are just a few of my rights. The people I hurt have these same rights as well.

However, just because I have a right doesn’t mean I have a right to these things with the partner of my choice, without cost, or without consequences. It doesn’t mean I have a right to reconciliation, closure, conversations, or showing up uninvited.

I have the right to free speech but that doesn’t mean I have a right to a job when my employer sees me having a hanging party…even if it is just an effigy. Every right is defined by responsibilities, and consequences.

I have a right to these choices, these feelings, these thoughts, and these behaviors. When I choose to act on my right, the conscious person knows there will be consequences. The person making habitualized choices will inevitably be confused and want to focus on their rights and try to avoid consequences by minimizing, blame shifting, deflecting, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Incidentally, I’ve learned this is true for most people and not just people who have betrayed others.

In my situation, I acted on my right to sleep with someone else. I don’t blame anyone else. I’m the only person responsible for that decision. I did what I wanted for reasons that in the moment made perfect sense.

I also don’t blame anyone for the consequences. I didn’t know what the consequences would be, but I knew there would be consequences. My ex choosing to end the relationship is a perfectly reasonable choice.

A choice which was her right to make.

In her situation, I may have made the same choices. Although, I doubt it.

Of course, I could be wrong about that.

I recognize I have often been wrong in how I approach my rights. That approach is often coated with acts of entitlement. For example, although I have a right to my pain, my pain doesn’t trump another person’s pain. My pain and grief isn’t more important than someone else’s pain.

Frankly, on hundreds of occasions in my life I have been wrong to prioritize my rights over my relationships, family, and values. Every one of the rights I listed above, and all the ones I will add later, has a corresponding responsibility that I sometimes tried to avoid.

For this reason, when my ex asked me to leave, regardless of her intentions, my rights didn’t trump her right to end the relationship regardless of how it impacted me. My pain isn’t more right than hers.

For all my other shortcomings, I recognized her right to end the relationship on her terms from the very beginning. I may have pursued reconciliation with her but I never forced it on her. As I told her from the beginning of our relationship, she had the right to choose.

Keep in mind, not one of these rights include a right to abuse others. Abuse and punishment is not a consequence. Nothing you’ve done justifies being assaulted or abused.

There will be people that want you to be miserable because it is easier than dealing with their own issues. Misery loves company. They have a right to want bad things for you. It is their right to remain bitter and entitled. It is there right to play victim.

There will be people in your life that will want to hold you hostage to the past, to their pain, and their unwillingness to embrace their pain and grow. You have a right to move on without them. Their pain is not your obligation. If you choose to stay and do the work to reconcile it has to be by choice, not shame, obligation, or guilt.

It won’t work any other way. I would know. I made a lot of choices with my ex-wife out of shame and obligation. It is why I ended up so resentful.

In my relationships with my exes I often took on the burden of caring for other adults instead of caring about them. I really thought that was how you love someone: you protect them from your mistakes, you try to fix problems without burdening others, you bottle up feelings to avoid hurt.

I do this even while I was dying on the inside.

This experience has taught me I have a right live the life I choose. A life worth living will include mistakes. No one does it perfectly. Pain and “discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life,” writes Dr. Susan David.

Pain and discomfort is how we learn what is, and isn’t ours. Use your experience to build a meaningful life.

And don’t be confused: you have a right to a meaningful life. No matter what has happened you have a right to live forward. Be not the slave of your own past – or anyone else’s.

If you are serious about growth and making better choices focus on self-compassion. Self-flagellation just perpetuates pain and keeps people rooted in the past and shame. Shame seeks punishment.

Confront your shame with understanding and self-compassiom, not contempt and self-abuse.

You made a mistake. Own it and make a different choice next time.

It really is that simple.

Lastly, if no one has told you this today, you are worthy of love exactly the way you are today. You are worthy of love regardless of the past, the mistakes, the failures, and what the people you hurt, and that hurt you, may imagine.

Your existence matters.

You aren’t alone.

I love you.