By Sarah P.
“The truth will set you free, but not until it’s had its way with you.” –David Foster Wallace
This piece is about recovering alone from infidelity and why it is not just plausible – it is possible. This post also contains more of ‘my truth’ about my relationship with my ex as I continue to sort through the wreckage of what used to be a predisposition toward trusting those closest to me.
I have found that having continuing insight and realizing more ‘truths’ about the situation continues me on the path toward emotional freedom. I struggle daily with trust and this is not fair to my husband. It is something I am continually working on.
When you discover infidelity, your life is upended. Sometimes you don’t reconcile or sometimes even after reconciliation, something happens that causes the wayward spouse to throw in the towel. As a betrayed spouse, you are no longer sure that your marriage could ever recover since your spouse is not helping. I have been there with my ex.
The good news is, you can be the only one on the path to recovery – indeed the only one interested in recovering – and still affect change in your marriage. You can affect change in you and that is a powerful thing because that change in you has a ripple effect that touches everything and everyone around you. But, even if you don’t choose to stay in your marriage or if your spouse refuses to give you any answers, you can recover alone.
Changing you can affect everything.
Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask
After going through an affair, you have probably realized that there was not a whole lot you could have done to change the outcome if your spouse was set on cheating. Some of you may have spouses who don’t want to attend therapy, who don’t want to talk about it, or, heaven forbid, who may even want to walk away. This is a scenario where we must talk brass tacks and where you must save yourself and change your own behavior.
But, first I wanted to talk about an epiphany I had the other day. I was watching a video blog where the fellow giving the talk brought out something new about narcissists. He said that a true narcissist will selectively withhold valuable information to cause his or her victim to reach an erroneous conclusion. They do this in order be the puppet master in their relationships.
Often betrayed spouses remark that a wayward spouse either out right lies to them or selectively tells information that will intentionally lead a betrayed spouse to a false conclusion. Both wayward spouses and narcissists do this to control the situations around them.
Many readers have remarked before that a spouse in the affair fog appears to also be a narcissist. That is, he or she behaves in ways that are common to narcissists. Even after the affair fog has passed, sometimes a betrayed spouse will notice that the wayward spouse still fiercely guards information. When this occurs, I believe it is with the intention of continuing to control the situation. Unfortunately, this can also affect recovery because the betrayed spouse can sense that the wayward spouse continues to guard information that would be valuable to the betrayed spouse.
Indeed, the wayward spouse often knows that telling the whole truth as well as telling every detail will take away his or her power. The wayward spouse knows this might cause the betrayed spouse to leave permanently because of the acts that the wayward spouse divulges.
Some wayward spouses only regret that they got caught, but they don’t genuinely regret the harm they caused. This is especially true of a wayward spouse still in the affair fog. This is why they can become white-hot with anger toward the betrayed spouse. They are angry that they got caught and they are angry that they are now answerable to somebody for their actions. They are angry about what they perceived as fun coming to an end or at least being harder to hide. Most of all, they are angry that the proverbial cake and its platter was taken from them. Some can never be angry at themselves for hurting their family, but only angry at themselves for not being more careful in their deception. This is where narcissism and the affair fog overlap.
Why Your Change Can Affect Your Spouse
In the science community, there is a concept called homeostasis, which has been generally applied to biological mechanisms. Wikipedia defines it as “the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.” For example, the human body is able to maintain a temperature around 98.6 no matter what the external temperature of the surrounding environment. Of course, this does not include extreme circumstances such as when a person is locked outside in 30 degree below zero weather without a coat and boots. The body would not be able to maintain a temperature required for life for very long.
The therapy community also uses the concept of homeostasis. In traditional therapy, if an issue arises, the issue is pinned on the one family member who is problematic. In family systems therapy, whatever issue emerges is interpreted as a sign that a family system is out of balance.
Homeostasis is likened to being ‘neutral’ and the state where a family is behaving in a way where it is ‘business as usual.’ Now, business as usual for a family does not mean interactions are healthy. A family usually struggles when one person changes his or her behavior. Dan Smith notes:
“In recent years, the view of the family as a “system” has become an increasingly popular and important theoretical framework for counselors and family therapy professionals. By definition, a family system functions because it is a unit, and every family member plays a critical, if not unique, role in the system. As such, it is not possible that one member of the system can change without causing a ripple effect of change throughout the family system.
In stark contrast to the systems view, families have been traditionally seen as a group of more or less independent agents linked by their membership in the family, and any given member’s behavior was not necessarily related to the behavior of any other member. With such a restricted view of the family, it is entirely likely that a parent might state, “I have two children; my daughter is terrific, but my son is always in trouble. Since I raised them both the same way, there must be something dreadfully wrong with my son.”
Within the systems view, the above statement would be interpreted quite differently. Each member of the family plays a specific role; the son is literally assigned his negative role, and the daughter assumes her role with equal determination. Upon closer examination of this family, several factors could be operating that have created and sustain the system… A key feature of the systems view of families is the concept of “homeostasis,” which is defined as a kind of inertia, which actually works against change in the system.” (1)
Seen in this light, business as usual or homeostasis is not necessarily a positive thing. In family systems therapy, when one person is acting out it would indicate that there is a problem within the family and when one person steps out of his or her role in the family, it affects everyone. Some families choose to take a look at the family system and each person’s contributing behavior while others do not. Some choose divorce, thinking that their problems will not follow them if they enter a new family. But there is an issue with this, as Dan Smith points out:
“Many families under stress elect divorce as the means of distancing themselves from the problems caused by a dysfunctional system. While this is certainly a popular remedy for seemingly irreconcilable problems, unless the divorcing parties resolve their own contributions to the failed relationship, there is strong likelihood that old and destructive behaviors will re-emerge in subsequent relationships. It has long been said that you can divorce your spouse, but you can never divorce yourself; unresolved dysfunctional behavior patterns are easily transferred to new relationships. We tend to take our familiar role in one system and seek to repeat that role in other systems we enter.” (1)
How Does This Apply to Infidelity?
I felt it was important to provide a very brief background on the concept of homeostasis before I jump in to how this concept might apply to infidelity. The concept of homeostasis demonstrates how the change in one person can affect the entire family system and family dynamic. Without providing this context up front, I felt that it would be more difficult to connect the dots. The concept of homeostasis also applies to the idea that one person’s change can change a marriage. So is solo affair recovery possible? What is the likelihood of it working if only one person wants to be healthy? Rick Reynolds, LCSW, says this about solo change:
“In fact in most cases, it’s changes made by just one of the partners that brings about marital change. Marriages don’t change bilaterally they change unilaterally. It takes both husband and wife covertly colluding to continue the same relational patterns to keep the marriage the same. If only one person changes the relational dance the other partner has no choice but to adapt in response to that change. For example, if one partner withdraws and stops engaging their mate they effectively change the dance of the marriage. If one party chooses to adopt healthier response patterns or to eliminate destructive response patterns the marital dance has to change. The person going solo in recovery from infidelity isn’t powerless; rather they’re the only one willing to make a difference.
Going it alone isn’t about trying to control or manipulate one’s mate into change; rather it’s about taking responsibility for their own behavior and choosing to alter their own response patterns to ones, which promote health. Attempts at changing one’s mate have little if any effectiveness in improving marriage. However, the person going it alone can certainly explore how to grow into the person they want to be and how to alter their responses to promote health regardless of their mate’s behavior. It’s those positive changes made by the person who is working on their personal recovery that challenge their mate’s perspective and begin to create new hope that things could be different.” (2)
The principle is that all relationships have a kind of status quo that is kept and everyone does their conscious or unconscious part to keep the status quo. Once someone within the dynamic changes, it unsettles everyone and others either resist or also have to change. If you have a spouse who is open to changing, a change in you can help this process along. If your spouse is not open to change, a change in you will still force your spouse to take some kind of action, even if it is in the form of resistance.
In my case, my change did not bring my ex back, but that was not the goal for me. My goal was to recover from the trauma of infidelity. Because of the situation, I had to do it solo.
I wanted to back up a bit and talk about my own experience with an affair. Doug had mentioned in an email that I could feel free to add more details about it if I wished. I realized today that I should do it because of an awareness that clicked for me.
I came to the realization that though the other woman was the catalyst for him, he had issues in his own family of origin that pre-disposed him to straying. It came back to the issue with his mom.
I was reading a blog about covert incest between parents and children: father’s who use their daughters as emotional replacements and mothers who use their sons for emotional replacements. The blog described a list of specific behaviors that occur when this happens.
The blogger’s descriptions fit the narrative of my ex’s relationship with his mom, or at least what I knew from the times I met her or how she interacted with him via email or phone. I had not realized it before because his mom presented the image that she and her husband were happily married. But, the blog post triggered a ton of memories of things he told me as well as the way she interacted with him.
A Little More Background…
To give some more background: he was adopted and the adoption was done in such a way where there wasn’t paperwork. He was adopted after his parents were 50 years old and an only child. His mom was definitely a narcissist, in retrospect, and I remember him telling me she had multiple marriages before she met his college professor father. He said their marriage had been rocky due to what his father said were her ‘personality problems’ and his father had threatened with divorce several times.
His mom liked to project her issues on to whatever girlfriend he brought home of whom he brought home she always said, “You need to watch out for her, she is going to have multiple husbands!” I had never encountered narcissists or other personality disorders before, or if I did, I did not know it. I also never encountered mother/son enmeshment.
His mom was set on controlling his life. He had to call her several times a day from work and kind of talked to her in this babying tone and told her he loved her. (His male coworkers laughed behind his back.) She bought clothes for him, had him strip down to his boxers, and made him try them on in front of her. I was present on a couple of occasions when she did this. She bought furniture for our house as a present for him, not for us.
She never treated me badly, but always dealt with me in passive aggressive ways. She always talked about how important it was to have ‘social grace.’ One time I bought her a new, limited edition Junior League cookbook because he told me she would love it—and she pretended to love it. Apparently she didn’t because she gave me an antiquated Miss Manners book about note writing after that.
I tried to be the perfect guest when we visited them. I always brought gifts, helped with dinner and dishes, and said ‘please and thank you’ more than anything else. I never brought up controversial topics and kept ‘polite’ conversation. I was partially raised by a grandmother whose parents were from the Victorian era and I was taught very strict manners. My peers always thought my manners to be over the top, but apparently they were not good enough for my ex’s mom.
There was always something that kind of hung in the air between us. Tried as I did, she would not let me get close. But, his mom’s sister let me get close, as did my ex’s father, and as did the rest of his mom’s extended family. His mom’s sister and I were very similar and got on fantastically.
His mom was very much into social status and that is all she ever spoke about. My social status was not high enough. Like him, both of our fathers were college professors with PhD’s and successful academics. But, she would say to him, “Why not look for the daughter of a senator or the daughter of a corporate CEO?” Even though she herself was married to a college professor, the daughter of a college professor was “low class.” Did she grow up wealthy? No, her sister told me that during the great depression they would chew on old gum they found in the road. There was definitely a mommy issue and I genuinely did not see it at the time.
Our relationship began like something out of a romance novel, although we were great friends for an extended period of time before there was chemistry. He and I were by all accounts well suited for each other. Our mutual friends thought we were the perfect couple and literally “made for one another.” I thought so too and he brought out feelings in me that I had never felt in prior relationships. Not even close.
The Beginning of the End
I think the beginning of the end started 6 months before he broke up. I did not know this at the time, but this is what I have been able to piece together. Friends told me he met the OW at a networking event for those in our field. (Friends told me he had started sleeping with her almost immediately after they met and that was approximately 6 months before the end.)
Around that time (6 months before he broke up) we went to Europe together for a couple of weeks. He acted very uncharacteristically during that trip. It was supposed to be the height of romance because we were attending someone’s wedding. We were planning an extended trip to Corsica and other islands. He was planning on showing me all of his old haunts in Europe and I was planning on showing him mine. The most important part was that I was desperately in love. What could be better?
He started drinking a lot on the plane ride over and continued his drinking binge while we stayed at the family home of the couple who was soon to be married. Odd points of silence seemed to infect the whole trip. I kept asking him what was the matter and he said everything was fine. Normally, we could talk until all hours of the night and we had been great friends before our relationship had become romantic. He was acting distant even though we were supposed to be having a blast.
He instigated a fight on the plane ride back from Europe. But, we returned home and continued plans for our future. Sometimes he was moody, but mostly he wasn’t. He often played tennis with his friend Paul every Monday and Wednesday since I worked. I am pretty sure Paul covered for him and that he was with the OW.
I remember one time he came home and he smelled like a woman’s perfume. The thought that he was cheating did not even cross my mind since everything seemed fine. There were no outward signs of the affair and maybe since I was working so much, I did not notice them.
There was one event that tipped me off to the idea that something was amiss. I had been sent to software training in San Francisco with several other co-workers. On the night of September 10th, 2001, coworkers and I sat on the water looking at the SF Bay and had cocktails and tapas. I remember looking at the lights on the water and being flooded with this feeling that I was no longer safe. I looked out on the water and my thought was, “Something is coming.” I was woken up early the next morning, September 11th, 2001, by a call to my hotel room from my mom. She told me to turn on the TV because our country was under attack.
The training was cancelled. Flights home were cancelled. Trains were delayed. One male coworker found a Jeep Wrangler that was left at a rental car company. He asked if we wanted to make the 20-hour drive home—take it or leave it. Another female coworker and I loaded the car with our male coworker and decided to drive straight through. The rest wanted to wait on the trains.
I called my fiancé and let him know we were driving straight through. He got really angry at me and asked why I was coming home early. He thought I should stay in SF even though training was cancelled indefinitely. I arrived at 4am in the morning and found him in our bed pouting, but he would not talk about what was wrong. Still, he made a physical move on me and seemed back to normal after we were done.
Life Went on as Usual
He got me another custom ring for Christmas and had picked out the emeralds and diamonds. When I opened it, he said in a resentful tone, “I hope it makes you happy.” His mom turned as white as a ghost and left the room. I felt like I was living in the twilight zone.
A week later, I came home late and he was in tears. He said he had met his mom for dinner and she told him, “I will die an unhappy old woman if you marry her.” I wanted to talk to him about it but he wouldn’t say more. He just cried and said he would handle it. I felt awful and asked how I could make it up to her, but he wouldn’t discuss it further. At the time, I believed his mom said that, but in retrospect I believed he had probably been out to dinner with the OW and the OW had said that. His mom lived three hours away.
After that, everything was back to normal again for a little while. But, soon enough, my life was to change.
During a day in mid-January, I had gotten home early and prepared dinner. He walked in the door, poured himself a glass of wine, and stood by the fireplace. A nice fire was going, a steak and all of the trimmings were waiting on the dining room table, and without emotion he looked at me and said, “we are never getting married.”
At first I thought I had misunderstood and I was puzzled. Then he repeated it, “we are never getting married and you are moving out.”
I said, “I don’t understand, can we talk about this?”
“No, gather your things. You are moving out.”
“I don’t understand—so we are breaking up and you want me to move out?”
“Gather your things…”
“What did I do? Can you tell me why this happened?”
He grew angry, “I said you need to move out!”
“Can we talk about this?”
He threw something against the wall and said, “Don’t you get it? We will never be together and you need to leave!”
I don’t have any memory of what happened after that. I remember waking up panicking in the morning. He had already left for work. I talked to some female friends at work (and none of us had heard about the OW yet) and they were also blindsided by his actions. They could not understand what had happened since he had appeared happy and talked positively about me to everyone. They were certain that if any relationship would last, it was ours.
By the time he got home, I had understood that he was breaking up and even though I didn’t know why, I needed to keep a clear head.
My name was the first name on the title of the house. So, when he got home, I said the following: “I understand that you don’t want to stay together, but I don’t think it is fair that I should leave since you are the one breaking up.”
My statement was met with more raging on his part. He couldn’t see my point of view and would not give me even the smallest hint as to what went on.
I asked him to officially move into the guest room. I told him not to touch me because that would make it harder than it already was. This was his decision and so he needed to own it.
The next night, I calmly asked again why he was breaking up. His mantra was, “I guess I never loved you.” That was that, and he wouldn’t say anything else.
Each day, we went to work as usual and each night I packed some of my things while proposing that he move out and that I find a roommate. Each time I said that, he flew into a fit of rage. He would give me the smallest indication of what was happening or why. I also sometimes asked if there was another woman and he would say, “What? I am not that kind of guy! Why would you say that?!”
To put this in perspective, prior to this, he was not a heavy drinker, did not fly into rages, and did not throw things. To put it more into perspective, I will tell you a story about how he used to be.
Our company was giving training and he chose to take Dale Carnegie training in the evenings. He asked me to attend his graduation because he would be giving a speech. His speech, in front of 200 people, was about how much I meant to him and how the training made him realize what the most important thing was to him—that was a future with me and a relationship with me. He blushed like a happy schoolboy when he gave the speech and my heart melted. Afterwards, he told me he had wanted me to have a romantic surprise and he wanted me to hear him profess his love in front of all of those strangers.
The Final Decision
One night, I stopped asking for reasons but I asked if his decision was final. He said it was and that there was no discussing that either. Because of that I reiterated that there was to be no more physical contact ever again because I needed to start getting over the loss. I was beside myself with grief and I knew if he continued to hold me, kiss me, or touch me it would destroy me. I know the power of physical touch and how I cannot be involved with someone physically without also having overwhelming emotions. Therefore, he had to understand that the end was the end of everything.
I asked him if he wanted the rings back. He said no. I asked if he wanted the genuine, black Tahitian pearl necklace back. He said no. I asked if he wanted the 30 carat emerald necklace back that he had purchased for me as a romantic surprise when we traveled in South East Asia together. He said no. Then, I gave everything to him anyway. He gave them back the next day and said to sell them if I didn’t want them. I didn’t do that either.
My parents told me to give up, to pack all of my things, and to move home. Moving home meant giving up a 10 minute commute to work and trading for a 1.5 hour commute each way. Plus, I worked in an industry where 60-hour weeks were the norm.
I looked for apartments and roommates and short notice and wasn’t finding anything remotely close to work. The area we lived in was high-demand because it was close to a corporate complex that contained many large companies.
So, I continued to pack my things, but it was a process that was stretched out over a couple of weeks. After all, I was still working full time and putting in those 60-hour weeks.
During those last days, neither of us spoke and lived as if the other wasn’t there at all. I turned completely cold toward him since he wouldn’t talk it through or give me anything that I could understand. I no longer knew him and did not understand why I was living with a virtual stranger.
One day I came home and there was an article out on the coffee table. The sub-heading said something to the effect of it was easier for a woman to die in a plane crash than to get married and to have children after the age of 30. I was coming up on my 30th birthday and he knew my dream was to get married and to have a family. When he got home and saw me looking at the article he simply said: “That’s you. You will die in a plane crash before you have a chance at getting married and having kids.”
I started crying and asked again, “Would you please tell me what I did to deserve this? What did I do to you? Please tell me!”
He simply walked away.
The next day, I went out with friends to movies and dinner and stayed out late. He called demanding to know where I was and left angry voicemails. I did not answer his calls. I got home late and he was awake. He said: “Were you out with a guy?” I told him that I was out with friends but that it should no longer concern him. (And I was out with friends, no dating for me.)
After that, I tried to pretend like he didn’t exist because seeing him and not knowing why he was doing everything was too painful. Those last three days, we did not do anything together or even talk for that matter. I was living in a state of constant panic and grief and felt like it would be easier to be dead. I felt like any chance at a happy life had been taken from me.
The night before I was to move out, he flew into a rage because I had been ignoring him. He grabbed my hands and shoved me against the wall. He said, “You are not allowed to ignore me because I am not a stranger to you! You are not even acknowledging what we had!”
I told him to let me go and that this was his decision and that he needed to live with it. Then, I asked him one last time to tell me why he was breaking up and why he cared if I ignored him. He wouldn’t answer and continued to yell about how badly I was treating him. I told him he had no right to me, no claim on me, and that he needed to leave me alone.
I started crying and he held me against the wall, raging in my face, and saying all kinds of irrational things. I protested and tried to break free, but I was not able to break free. I was sad and frightened and I wanted him to go away and leave me be.
But, he just kept yelling over and over, “you are not allowed to treat me like I was nothing to you!”
He was about 7 inches taller than myself and muscular. He could dead lift quite a lot of weight. At the time, I had a BMI that hovered around 19 and was easily overpowered.
I truly hesitate to tell the rest of the story because of what happened next. There were only two of us and there were no witnesses. I hesitate to make accusations that cannot be backed up. What he did was so out of character for him. I felt like I had been engaged to the kind Dr. Jekyll, but now I was face-to-face with Mr. Hyde. And Mr. Hyde was furious, cruel, and violent. I no longer recognized this person to whom I had been engaged just about two weeks prior. So, I will allow you to fill in the details. If you come up with a truly horrid scenario, then you are probably right.
Afterwards, he immediately left the house and drove away while I was left crying on the floor. I ran to the bathtub and turned on the shower. I called my parents to come and get me immediately because I couldn’t cope with what had happened. My mom found me in the bathtub, bruised and crying my eyes out. I told her that, no, I did not want to call the police. I wanted to die. But, I couldn’t do that and so I just wanted to go home to my room at their house and crawl into bed. Friends went and collected my furniture and things the next day. I did not leave the bed for a week. I couldn’t eat or drink water because I would choke each time I tried.
During our relationship, this side of him had never come out.
There was Another Woman
About a week after I had moved out, mutual work friends sheepishly came forward and told me about the other woman.
They pieced together as much as they could for me. One woman told me she was there the first time he met the OW at a networking event. The OW saw him across the room and asked about the tall, lean, handsome stranger with a thick head of black hair and a broad smile. My work friend responded, “He is engaged to Sarah, they own a house together, and they are very much in love.” The OW told my work friend that this was meaningless to her except for the idea that she loved a challenge. She had set her sights on him and that was that.
Someone told me she lured him to dinner with the promise of talking about a job at a different company that would be a large promotion for him, both in status and in money. His mom was always on his case about achieving higher status than he already had. Obviously, that dinner went well for her because that was the beginning of the end for us, although I did not know it at the time. I can also imagine that his relationship with his mom was a contributor. She felt I was beneath him and kept making it known.
My work friends also told me that my ex and the other woman were showing up at events days after I moved out and the OW was referring to him as her fiancé. She had also moved in to our house. She was introducing him as if they were an old couple and was even taking on some of my mannerisms. In the world of narcissism blogs, the OW would be called a “skin suit” since she has assumed everything that used to be mine.
The biggest blow came when he emailed me and said I needed to pay for my half of the mortgage. My work friend said that since the OW had moved in, he assumed that they wanted me to pay for her. He always pretended as if he was single and couldn’t locate a roommate. He was acting out a new low and adding insult to injury.
They were not playing nice. I was still devastated, and so I hired an attorney. He was no longer allowed to contact me at work. I approached HR and made sure our projects did not overlap. I often heard from work friends about his relationship with the OW. About 5 months after our break up, the OW had gone psycho on him and he told people he regretted everything and he broke up with her for a short time. He tried to approach me, but I ignored him. He pretended like he did not do anything wrong and did not know other people were telling me the truth. He tried to pretend as if he just got “spooked” by commitment and that he was innocent. He pretended like he only wanted to be my friend again. I refused to deal with a liar.
The house was placed on the market and he insisted on listing it with a realtor whose husband could possibly get him a promotion. I tried to fight him on that but gave up. I wanted as little communication as possible. I was forcing myself to move on. I knew going back to him would be the end of me. Plus, in my mind there was nothing to go back to because of how he had handled the break-up.
He showed me that he was capable of violence when the going got tough and I have always been of the mind that if someone is able to physically rage at me during tough times, there was more where that comes from and so it was always a deal breaker for me. The way that the break-up was done was also a deal-breaker for me. Things were said and acts were committed that could not be taken back. It was simply too much for me to ever forgive. One of my friends said it was a good thing we weren’t married and remarked that it would be all the more terrible if we were 15 years and three kids in and then he decided to pull all of the crap that he did. I agreed. Going back was never an option.
I have so much more to say about this, but the rest is irrelevant to this article.
Recovering Alone from Infidelity
The point is, I had to recover on my own and I had to piece together his infidelity from second-hand information. He refused to ever acknowledge that he had been sleeping with the other woman for a good six months before we broke up. And he broke up because she gave an ultimatum and wanted to move in. She won and I lost.
My sources were trustworthy people and I did not doubt them. I could see how utterly disturbed they were when they told me about what they saw. They also reported that the other woman was a truly frightening person. She was very manipulative and cutthroat to everyone she met. She had taken other people down at work when they didn’t agree with her.
I am still in contact with a former female coworker who has seen them at various networking events. She said that the person I knew is gone and has been gone for some time. She said the once happy-go-lucky, charming, friendly, cheerful guy that I knew has been replaced by a morose, fearful, insecure man who has been fired from several jobs since we broke up. She said that anytime she sees him, his wife (the other woman) physically holds on to him wherever he goes and controls the conversation. My friend has reported that the whole relationship is very plainly emotionally abusive to him. But, that was the choice he made. I will never know why he made that choice since he will probably never tell me. That was the choice he made, that was whom he married, and that is his life.
I have been left with trust and abandonment issues that I continue to work through. It’s hard to describe in words how painful the experience was, but suffice to say that the experience changed me forever.
So, I am one of the cases where I had to recover from my ex’s affair completely alone. My ex was the kind of person who would do anything NOT to admit the affair to me because it would have shattered the image he had of himself. In his mind, he was perfect and everyone else had the problem. If he would have owned up to the affair and told me the truth, he knew that I would have called him on the fact and challenged him. After all, he was the man who “hated affairs and believed in marrying well once.”
What Did This Experience Mean to Me?
It meant that not only did I have to recover on my own, I also had to sift through what was real and what was not. I had to rely on some version of the truth from the people who knew about the affair. I had to rely on their perceptions and their stories. But, I still wanted to look at myself to figure out what on earth I did to deserve such treatment.
I will say unequivocally that was the darkest time in my life because I seemingly lost everything and the alleged love of my life pretended like I was the problem, not him. He wanted to play a mind game instead of owning up to what happened. Goodness knows why he wanted to hurt me with the comments he made. I was always supportive of him and his biggest cheerleader.
I will not lie to you and say that I got back to the place I was before this happened. The fact of the matter is that the experience changed me as a person and those changes will always remain with me.
However, while the trauma of my ex’s affair will always stay with me, I don’t want to stay stuck. It’s been good to arrive at a place where I remember and acknowledge it every so often, but it doesn’t consume my every thought and it stopped consuming my every thought years ago.
But yet, it is still here because it has shaped who I have become. There was no way to get back to who I was before because the experience itself changed everything I thought was true about relationships. I will never see love or relationships the same way I that did prior to the experience. I have lived events that blasted my prior views into the stratosphere, never to be seen again. I am a different person because of the affair.
But affairs are not the only events that can change people. They are merely one of many traumatic events that change people. For a while, I thought my goal was to get back to who I was before. But, then I saw going back to what I was would not solve the problem and it would be denying what I learned from my life experience with infidelity. There was no need to go backward, but instead to move forward.
The thing I fight against though is separating triggers and residual pain from events in the here and now. That is part of what recovery looks like. So, recovering from infidelity alone is possible if for whatever reason you lose your spouse for good. But it’s also totally plausible and achievable to recover from infidelity alone even if your spouse does not want to help. It involves you changing yourself and this change has to cause some kind of effect in your marriage.
No matter what, you will always remember the affair. Is that such a bad thing?
It’s not a failing on your part to realize you will never forget about the affair. Don’t allow someone to tell you that you are not making progress because you remember and think about the affair. It is impossible to forget something that was so traumatic that shaped you.
The only way to forget an affair would be if there were a system through which memories could be selectively wiped. This very topic was explored in the movie Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. In the movie, the characters whose relationship ended in tragedy went to get their memory of each other wiped. They did this so that they would not have to experience the pain of the break up. And you know what happened? After the memory wipe, the characters still found each other due to an employee of the memory wiping company releasing records.
There is also a separate story arc in the film that explores the idea that a female employee of the memory wiping company had her memory wiped as well. Her reason for this was because she had an affair with the company’s founder. After the founder’s wife found out, the other woman voluntarily had her memory wiped so that she could continue to work at the company with no memories of what had happened.
At the end of the movie, the original characters with the doomed relationship meet again. They decide to try again even though they are doomed to repeat their failures since they were never willing to learn from them. That’s when the movie ends. We can assume that in trying again, they fail again and have many more memory wipes. Maybe they somehow change as people after each memory wipe but it is doubtful. Since their personalities never grow and they choose to go backwards, the implication is that nothing will change.
This is why it is okay and even healthy not to forget. There is a paradox in the idea that even though you don’t forget, both forgiveness and building trust are still within reach. That is, if your wayward spouse wants to earn your trust again. That depends on your spouse and his or her actions.
The point is trauma helps us learn the lessons that shape us and make us better people, that is if we are willing to grow. Is trauma positive? No way. Trauma just is and we can either let it overcome us and ruin our lives or we can use it to make us better people. So, it would do no good to forget the very thing that helped us grow. Thus, the goal should never be to forget the affair, but rather to move past it and grow.
I will leave with you these parting words by author, Rayya Elias, who has a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer:
The truth has legs; it always stands. When everything else in the room has blown up or dissolved away, the only thing left standing will always be the truth. Since that’s where you’re gonna end up anyway, you might as well just start there.”
Smith, H. Dan. EdD, MFT. Understanding the Family ss a System. From http://smith.soehd.csufresno.edu/system.html
Reynolds, Rick. Healing from Infidelity: Going it alone. From https://www.affairrecovery.com/newsletter/founder/healing-infidelity-alone