We do not know each other personally, but I am more affected than I should be by the relationship problems of others. I got an email this week from you, a woman I don’t know, sharing with me that you recently found out your husband has been unfaithful. As soon as I read it, I wished I hadn’t. You are clearly in pain over this betrayal. It’s awful.
Though I have no idea who you are, my stomach was in knots and my head began to throb with pain. It was supposed to be a family day, but my mind was too full with thoughts and questions and frustrations to engage with my husband and kids. I was elsewhere. Tony, my husband, kept trying to bring me back. He’d reach for my hand or tell me he loved me or ask me what I was thinking. He knows from experience that news like this wrecks me.
It was out of this kind of wreckage that we began #staymarried in the first place. I needed an outlet for the way I was aching for those around me. I wanted to be part of a solution, if that was even possible.
In the moments I was able to climb out of the trappings of my own thoughts, I would lock eyes with Tony and say, “Not us, right? You’re not cheating on me, are you?”
“Honey, I’m in love with you,” he said. “I am not cheating on you. I will NOT cheat on you.”
My poor husband. He knows when I am like this that our usual banter and sarcasm will not work. He knows he can’t get defensive. He just needs to say the words. I need to hear the words because, after reading your email, the confidence I usually have in our marriage is being shaken. It’s not fair to him, but he is not worried about what is fair. He takes the time to reassure me and not make me feel like I am being ridiculous – which I clearly am.
Villains and Victims
Something occurs to me whenever I read a message like the one you sent me. When someone has been unfaithful, it’s much too easy to identify them as the “villain,” and their spouse as the “victim.” Usually it’s the “victim” that reaches out to me. I get that. You are hurting and searching for relief from your pain, someone to confide in, someone who might be able to comfort. You are a real person; I am much too aware of that. What crushes me, however, is not that you have been the victim of the worst kind of betrayal, but that people in your situation often believe you are completely blameless. To me, both you and your husband are villains and victims. Sadly, though, you will likely receive compassion from your community and your husband will surely be shunned.
How could I place blame on you as you are experiencing such pain? How can I suggest that you try to take a look at your part in it? I can’t. But, in my heart I wonder how long you may have allowed yourself to be disconnected from your spouse before the affair took place. Did you marry a person who was trustworthy in the first place, or someone you hoped would somehow become trustworthy? 30% of divorced women say that they knew their marriage was doomed the day they walked down the aisle! Are we enabling this as a society? Have we glorified the wedding day so much that we aren’t giving men and women room to admit they’ve made a mistake in whom they chose before they actually commit the rest of their lives?
I wonder, too, if you will ever see that the signs were there long before the betrayal. Did you not reach out when your spouse began to pull away? When did you decide that friendship with the one you married was no longer worth the effort? At what point did it become okay to keep secrets from each other?
Before you cheat…
An affair does not happen by accident. I am not saying that your husband who strayed is not at fault. Clearly he is and his actions cause pain that is devastating to you and everyone around him. Cheating is not a solution to a troubled marriage. Not ever.
You’ve heard “the grass is greener on the other side” but the truth is, the grass is greener where you water it. It is vital that you nurture your marriage. Invest in the person you committed your life to in the first place.
There are at least two sides to every story. I’ve had the opportunity countless times to be a listening ear to the one who was betrayed. But, if YOU are the one thinking of cheating, if there is someone outside of your marriage that you’re flirting with and daydreaming about, STOP IT! I promise you, the thrill you may experience with someone new will quickly be replaced with stress and shame as you work to hide what you’re doing. Then, when you ultimately get found out – which you will – you’ll experience a brief relief from the stress of secret-keeping, but now your spouse will be sent into a tailspin of hurt. If you have kids, they will find out what you have done and will struggle for the rest of their lives not only to trust you, but to trust in love and relationships at all. The ripple effect of acting on a flirtation could be felt for generations, even if you and your spouse are able to recover and stay together.
Cheater’s often say, “I didn’t mean for this to happen.” Sadly, I believe you. I’m sure one thing led to another and there you were making the mistake of a lifetime. But, you don’t go from being happily married and loving your spouse to cheating on them all in the same day. Dr. John Gottman shows us in his book What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal that there’s a series of events that can often be identified before the cheating actually occurs. He calls it “The Cheater’s Cascade”…
You know what I see when I look at “The Cheater’s Cascade”? I see that at every step there is an opportunity to turn back. Every decision from secret keeping to confiding in someone outside of your marriage is a chance to see that you’re heading in the direction you really don’t want to go. Please, take the U-turn. Humble yourself and reach out to your spouse before it’s too late.
As a friend…
I’m still learning what it takes to be a good friend in these devastating situations. I’m certainly not a therapist. I’m not professionally equipped to handle this kind of thing. When someone is hurting all I want is for them to feel loved and comforted. When someone has made the mistake of straying from their marriage, I want them to know what it feels like to experience grace and forgiveness and not allow such a mistake to define the rest of their lives. When someone confesses to me that the person they’ve been seeing is actually married to someone else, I’m crushed and angry. Still, even then, I want them to know they are loved and that I understand how these terrible decisions can be so easily made.
I struggle with how much of my own heart to share with you. Will it come across as empathetic or harsh and judgemental? Is it better just to listen? Is there actually anything that can be said to bring any amount of healing? I don’t know. I struggle to remember that I was not the one betrayed because the pain feels so real to me. Case by case, I am learning. Still, I aim to surround myself with friends who value their own marriage and who will encourage me to value mine.
While this is not the typical “5 Ways…” post we usually strive for on #staymarried, a post to encourage you with a “how to have a healthier marriage,” I had to get it out. I implore you to read and re-read it. If you are not thinking of cheating, chances are pretty good that you know someone who is or someone who has been cheated on.
While I don’t know much, I do know infidelity doesn’t have to happen. If not for the sake of your own marriage, please, for the sake of mine, let’s continue to build a community of faithfulness and #staymarried.
You are reading An Open Letter to the Cheater and His Wife, a #staymarried blog. You may also want to read 5 Ways to Prevent Infidelity and Recovering from Infidelity. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. New to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and our first entry to get a little background.
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