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Wayward Side :
Life beyond infidelity - Letting go of guilt

Topic is Sleeping.
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 DaddyDom (original poster member #56960) posted at 10:40 PM on Friday, June 2nd, 2023

My wife sent me an article the other day that had an impact on how I view myself and the relationship(s) I now have with my wife and kids. Like most (if not all) of you, I struggle greatly with the guilt of what I did and the damage I did to the people I love the most. Finding a way to love and respect yourself post-infidelity is one hell of a mountain to climb, and no matter how high you manage to climb, the truth is, it never seems high enough to distance yourself from the "you" that was such a mess and a terror. So what I ended up doing was trying to constantly be a better person. And in my own opinion, I think I did pretty well in terms of rebuilding my integrity and dignity. But I still feel like I'm the "booby prize" that my family got to take home. I know they love me... they show me that every single day. The very fact that I'm still here and accepted is something that is still very hard for me to accept, and so, I think I tend to push it away. Part of me fights to feel like I deserve love and respect. Part of me fights to make sure I never feel that good, because I'm so used to holding on to pain and hurt.

"In my past, I had grappled with mental illness and addiction and acted selfishly, yet my children had forgiven me in the blink of an eye." ..."My husband stood on the path, too. He supported and cared for me from the early days of our relationship, and over almost a decade, we had grown together. He’d never abandoned me, even when it might have been justified." ..."I knew it was time to start letting go of my guilt. They didn’t want to see anything else but a happy mom."

This is a quote from the article she sent. What really grabbed me was that this person, who had also hurt her family (she doesn't mention infidelity but clearly she struggled with similar issues of no self-worth) was able to move past that guilt and shame and see her own value through the eyes of her family. She was able to see that they made the CHOICE to stay, and to still love her, despite whatever it was she had done. They saw value in her when she saw none in herself. They... her victims, the one she hurt, were still there for her, loving her, supporting her, wanting her to be better and willing to walk down that path with her... they didn't want her to wallow and suffer in guilt and shame. Her guilt brings no healing or value to their lives, but having a spouse/parent they love does. While nothing can take away what was done, they realize that dwelling in that hurt helps no one. But what did bring value and healing to their lives was to see their spouse/parent do better, be better, and become part of the family again.

While the affair was all about the WS, the post-affair is all about the spouse and family. Their healing is theirs to define. Sadly, for many of us, the story ends when the infidelity takes place. However, for those of us whose families choose to stay, they are the ones who get to define how that looks and works and feels. They choose to see the infidelity as a rough chapter in a long story, a story that is far from over, and which still has a chance for a beautiful ending in its own right. It is a rebirth and a rebuilding of relationships, and as the WS, you can either lean into that and learn to love yourself as you are, as you are seen through the eyes of your family, or choose to lean away from them and in doing so, take away the sacrifices they made in order to stay together, and disregard the love and hope they still have for you. And that's a crime.

It's a paradigm twist to be sure, at least, it is for a WS and our fractured souls. Once you "get it" and feel the full impact of what you did.. it's a lot to overcome, a lot to live with. It just doesn't "feel right" to be loved after such a thing. It doesn't make sense that the people you hurt would want something better for you. And most of all, it's no so obvious at first how you feeling better will help them to feel better as well. Sounds counter-intuitive but it's not. Our families who stayed want the family back. Not in the same broken condition of course, but they want everyone to be healthy and happy and supportive, together, healing together, growing together, rebuilding together.

So if you are like me, then maybe it's time to get out of your own head and do the one last thing you need to do. Forgive yourself. You are not forgiving what you did, but rather, you simply forgive yourself for not being a perfect person, and in doing so, allowing yourself to let go of needing to feel "less than" and start to feel more complete instead. Doing so HELPS our families as much (if not more) than it helps ourselves. It's exhausting carrying around all that guilt and shame all the damn time. I can tell you when I let go of the shame, it felt like an anchor had been removed from my soul. I honestly felt lighter. My life started to have purpose again.

Now I need to do the same for the guilt. I still punish myself every minute of every day (and to be fair, I suffer from depression and C-PTSD so those things don't help) feeling like I need to make up for what I did. The truth is, I need to stop doing that, just let it go already (it's not rug sweeping if you've actually faced it, felt it, owned it and dealt with it) and go be the father and husband I signed up to be in the first place. That's what my family needs from me more than anything now. To come back from the dead and live again. They need my love as much as I need theirs, and none of us is complete when one of us is lost and lacking. It's time to get off the regret carousel and back on firm ground, moving forward, not looking back.

I hope some of this is helpful to someone else. There really can be life after infidelity. You have to let it take place.

Me: WS
BS: ISurvivedSoFar
D-Day Nov '16
Status: Reconciling
"I am floored by the amount of grace and love she has shown me in choosing to stay and fight for our marriage. I took everything from her, and yet she chose to forgive me."

posts: 1436   ·   registered: Jan. 18th, 2017
id 8793701
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straightup ( member #78778) posted at 11:52 PM on Friday, June 2nd, 2023

It’s nice to hear your voice again, DaddyDom.

If you go through it, rather than around it, you can accept the better things that are on the other side.

The child is the father of the man.

The wayward spouse is, or can be, the parent of the reformed spouse.

That’s not rug sweeping. Done right, it’s a hero’s journey.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
Mother Teresa

posts: 360   ·   registered: May. 11th, 2021   ·   location: Australia
id 8793704
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hikingout ( member #59504) posted at 6:14 AM on Tuesday, June 6th, 2023

Personally, I struggled with this too. I had to get consistent with my coping, so I could begin to trust myself to do the right thing for my mental health.

I generally think it doesn’t go away, but you learn to cope with it. My coping is to return to the present moment. I try and align myself with this moment knowing that’s is all there is. I remind myself those lessons have been learned and I do something self care wise that helps remind myself that I love myself warts and all. I might go for a walk or write some stories, maybe clean up the house, do a mediation or a gratitude exercise.

Redirect, and do it consistently. Sometimes I even say out loud "guilt serves no purpose moving forward."

I would never recommend this to a new ws. There is much to process and evaluated on your journey. But once you have pretty much reached your destination and are mostly participating in repetitive thoughts you no longer need then it’s just a thought pattern you need to work on. What you have done to get here was infinitely harder.

I also think you can’t force a vision on yourself "I don’t want to keep punishing myself with guilt" because that resistance tells your brain there is a problem and so it keeps scanning for what is happening with that proble and it perpetuates the thoughts.

Guilt only has a function to prompt you to change. You took the prompt and worked long and hard on it. You can accept it’s there but it’s just this flimsy thing that is no longer needed.

Maybe try asking the question “what do I get from my guilt?” In a journal exercise. My number one answer is it makes me feel like a better person to be able to acky the damage I caused. Then it kind of begged the question, how long until I believe I really am
A better person and no longer need this as a touchstone for repairing my own depavity?

And lastly if that doesn’t work think about the reparenting of your younger self. I pledged that I would be the guardian of that little girl inside that needed someone like me when she was growing up. I have to be an example for her, and protect her. I would never want that little girl to think she isn’t worthy of second chances.

[This message edited by hikingout at 2:17 AM, Thursday, June 8th]

7 years of hard work - WS and BS - Reconciled

posts: 7259   ·   registered: Jul. 5th, 2017   ·   location: Arizona
id 8794084
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Grieving ( member #79540) posted at 12:20 PM on Tuesday, June 6th, 2023

I apologize if BS’s aren’t supposed to comment, but I wanted to say that this was beautiful to read. I think my husband has also felt a lot of guilt and shame, and I hope that he’s also able to let that go.

There’s a song by an old favorite band of mine called "All my favorite people are broken,"
and I think about it sometimes when I read threads on SI. So many of us, WS and BS alike, are broken, but doing hard work to heal and become stronger and better people for ourselves and the people we love. That’s a beautiful thing, even though it involves a lot of grief and sadness.

Husband had six month affair with co-worker. Found out 7/2020. Married 20 years at that point; two teenaged kids. Reconciling.

posts: 630   ·   registered: Oct. 30th, 2021
id 8794112
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Owl6118 ( member #42806) posted at 3:43 PM on Tuesday, June 6th, 2023

This reminded me of something I wrote here a long ago. I think I needed and may always need the reminder. What I wrote was:


So, shame.

It's one of the biggies and it never really goes away. I have not read Brene Brown. I do know that many talk about moving beyond shame (a voice that says I am worthless and bad and can never be worth anything) to a different place.

That never entirely worked for me. It is always with me and I don't have the illusion that I have let go of it or released it. I guess instead I have tried to befriend it.

What sometimes helped me is to ask my shame, do you have something to teach me that I can act on today? Sometimes, it does. When I feel shame sometimes it is warning me that I am falling into old habits, like self pity or resentment. Sometimes it is teaching me compassion, making it easy to show love to someone else in shame and try to help them because I have been there.

So it can be a kind of friend. But it's a kind of stupid bumbling friend.

Sometimes I ask it, do you have something to teach me? and it just stands there with its hands in its pockets. I am not actually making old mistakes. I am not actually stuck in old patterns. It's trying to make me doubt myself and my worth when there actually isn't a cause now, today, in this moment. And them I have to learn not to listen to it in that moment.

So it is always with me to some extent. But now I try to listen to it when it is wise, and to clot it on the head and say "you're being a real d--k to me today you lunkhead" when it is off base and trying to knock me off base.

It took a long time. And some days it doesn't work and we can't be friends.

posts: 347   ·   registered: Mar. 17th, 2014
id 8794136
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SkipThumelue ( member #82934) posted at 12:45 PM on Wednesday, June 7th, 2023

Thank you for this. I've been struggling lately myself with guilt and tend to cling to it as a kind of crazy life-raft. Currently dealing with guilt over something that is completely unrelated to my infidelity and having trouble forgiving myself for it (and everything else; it just spirals into the same damn pattern and always ends up back to my infidelity).

In my case, I see it as continuing wayward behavior. The inner thoughts of being "unlovable", "unforgivable", etc. are some of the "justifications" I used to cheat.

Thank you for articulating it better than I ever could. To paraphrase what hikingout said, I'm going to start loving and protecting that little boy better.

WH

DD: 5/2019

Reconciling and extremely grateful.

I do not accept PMs.

"The truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself." - St. Augustine

posts: 129   ·   registered: Feb. 24th, 2023
id 8794243
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SkipThumelue ( member #82934) posted at 7:32 PM on Friday, June 9th, 2023

This guilt I'm still carrying bit me right in the ass this morning. Hard.

We're currently budgeting more religiously than usual. This morning, my wife asked if she could use the credit card. I asked why and she said "For a gift." I got her drift immediately and realized that she wanted to get me something for Father's Day. And I really put my foot in it. I told her if it was something for me, no, I already have everything that I want, but if it was for someone else we could probably swing it. The look of disappointment on her face just gutted me and I realized way too late that my big fat stupid mouth had run away from my brain.

The guilt still tells me "You don't deserve anything. You're a shit husband and father. You're lucky they even let you breathe the same air." Which is why I immediately dismissed her wanting to buy me something. Dismissed the fact that buying things are an important part of how she shows love. There I was, right back to being a wayward again and thinking only of myself.

I owned it immediately, apologized, and we talked about it. That's a big win in itself, because before I would've just held onto it and rode the spiral down into the abyss. The amount of love and forgiveness she shows me is truly humbling.

WH

DD: 5/2019

Reconciling and extremely grateful.

I do not accept PMs.

"The truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself." - St. Augustine

posts: 129   ·   registered: Feb. 24th, 2023
id 8794694
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Bigger ( Attaché #8354) posted at 11:21 AM on Wednesday, June 14th, 2023

Forgive yourself. You are not forgiving what you did, but rather, you simply forgive yourself for not being a perfect person, and in doing so, allowing yourself to let go of needing to feel "less than" and start to feel more complete instead.

Great post DaddyDom.

That "perfect person" we all want to be and maybe even think we are close to being is IMHO a key factor in personal growth. As is realizing it’s not attainable even though we should be going for it all life-long.
My user-name "Bigger" was chosen because for quite a few years I have been working at being a better person – a bigger person. Not because I was a bad person, but rather that I realized there were so many aspects in life where I could be better.
For example: I wasn’t that organized in my finances, and financial insecurity was impacting my marriage and family. I decided to change how I handled my money. I read some books, looked at some tools and started trying budgeting and money-handling methods. With the open mind of wanting to improve comes self-criticism, so with time I worked out the best methods that worked for me and my wife. Took some years, and it’s still ongoing 20 years later, but I think I improved, and can forgive myself for the late-payments and crappy credit-score from 25 years ago.

I accept that I am not perfect and that it’s totally unrealistic that I will ever be perfect to everyone. But I want to be as perfect as I can to ME. Not my wife, not my kids… to ME. Because I want to belief that the values I go by are good values, and if I am as-close-to-perfect as myself then the chances are that others will be happy with what and who I am.
I forgive myself for my past behaviors, but I still feel healthy shame about a lot of them. However, I deal with that shame by changing behaviors and I recognize as bad and I celebrate the change more than I remain in the shame.

--
SkipThumelue

I recognize what you are sharing about the budgeting.
Can I offer a suggestion?

Rather than store the shame inside you then make this a learning moment and a bonding moment.
Tell your wife that you are sorry for how you reacted. Ask her directly if the gift was intended for you and admit that your guilt makes you think you aren’t worth a gift and that’s why you responded that way. Tell her that this, along with your new joint emphasis on finances, made you react this way and you are willing to discuss if maybe you two need to change your budgeting methods.

You could tell her that for now – this season – this year – maybe you should both forfeit expensive gifts. Instead of a new fishing-rod for Fathers Day you are perfectly content with breakfast in bed and time together for a walk in the evening. Point out that frugality now might be the key to you all taking a family vacation debt-free in 2024.

I have been budgeting for over 20 years and I doubt a single month has gone by without some unexpected item. Bad thing about budgeting is that to be 99% correct you need to go into extreme detail, and maybe you forget that next month both the ketchup and mustard need replacement. Or the brake-disks on your car, or a tire, or an unexpected birthday-party…

I won’t hide it: I’m into Dave Ramsey and how he suggests you manage money. Not all the way. I don’t agree with him on some things. But I totally 100% agree that every dollar has a purpose once in your account. You two can decide to store a small amount – maybe 100-200 bucks – that either of you is allowed to use "no questions asked" until the next monthly budget-meeting. It’s in the budget and can even act as a buffer on your account. If you go online to look at your account and it’s down bellow that number… you have to wait.
This gives accountability, limits the "damage" and makes the spending fit within the budget.

The key however is openly talking to your wife.

"If, therefore, any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone." Epictetus

posts: 12456   ·   registered: Sep. 29th, 2005
id 8795186
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SkipThumelue ( member #82934) posted at 1:53 PM on Friday, June 16th, 2023

Bigger,

Thank you for the reply. We did talk that day, immediately after I owned what I did and how I was thinking. We even talked about it again last night after I mentioned your post to her in a general way and we came up with a much simpler solution to what we are currently doing.

I'm a Dave Ramsey guy too. Like you, I don't agree with everything he says but also believe that every dollar does count.

We both come from free-spending families. My dad was a bank executive who made great money in the '60s and '70s, which allowed my mom to stay home with us three kids. In 1981, he left his position to take a higher-paying job with an independent company that was also in the banking industry. Got a company car, huge bonuses, and everything else including the kitchen sink. During the summer, he would drag my sullen teenage self along with him on road trips and we bonded a great deal. Anyway, within two years the company collapsed as the economy was crashing (first-term Reagan years) and just like that, all the chickens came home to roost. The nadir came while I was in the Persian Gulf for Desert Shield/Storm. The bank foreclosed on my childhood home (that my parents built) and we lost everything and had to file for bankruptcy.

My in-laws had their own problems with money and my wife grew up in similar circumstances, though her folks never ended up losing a house. They would simply refinance while opening up new credit cards to add to the stack they already had. When their debt would reach a certain level or too many cards were maxed out, it was wash, rinse, repeat.

At various times over the years of our marriage, I have gone from Uncle Pennybags to Simon Legree at the drop of a hat. These financial fears have made for some great introspection in IC and have also opened up communication at home. But I still find my hackles going up at times, like my recent incident of wayward thinking and behavior, so continuing to work on this stuff is a priority.

I really appreciate the thoughtful response. Thank you again.

WH

DD: 5/2019

Reconciling and extremely grateful.

I do not accept PMs.

"The truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself." - St. Augustine

posts: 129   ·   registered: Feb. 24th, 2023
id 8795496
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 DaddyDom (original poster member #56960) posted at 5:48 AM on Saturday, June 24th, 2023

Thanks for the replies, and my apologies for not responding sooner. We've started to move into a new phase of life on this end of the internet. My wife has gone into semi-retirement. It's been pretty good for her so far. The years of corporate stress take their toll over time, and she's glad to wake up every day not beholden to anyone but herself. She also found a college program for folks in our age range. It's not a degreed program, but it's learning, and she's super excited about it. I wasn't sure how it would pan out at first, since I still work from home, and would require her to entertain herself for the better part of most days. But she does it, and she seems happier than she's been in years.

As for me, I'm struggling just a bit. Not marriage-related actually, just personally. My wife noted that I've been relying on crutches lately so to speak, and that maybe I need to go get some more therapy for my depression and cptsd and all that FOO crap that still plagues me. I think recovery from trauma, all trauma, infidelity included, is a lifelong journey, and one full of progressive steps. I don't know if that's true for everyone, but I know it is for me. There is no "all better now", but sometimes, if you put in the effort and time, you get some "better than before's".

I can't be the husband I want to be when I am in trauma. I've been calling doctors (it's hell to find a therapist lately, after Covid, they are swamped) and found one whose profile I really like. We're scheduled for an initial consultation on Monday, and I have high hopes.

I'm going to start loving and protecting that little boy better.


Funny you mentioned this SkipTheMule. Early on after D-day, one of the things my wife asked me to do was to talk to that hurting little boy inside, and just give him a hug. I... crumbled. I mean, I started to cry and shake non-stop, and could not even bring myself to think of such a thing. There was still too much pain, fear, trauma... I just couldn't do it.

Later on, after much therapy and EMDR, I finally got to a point where I perform that exercise without a complete melt-down in the process. But it really is an important thing. I don't know how else you fix the past, other than to fix it in your mind.

Me: WS
BS: ISurvivedSoFar
D-Day Nov '16
Status: Reconciling
"I am floored by the amount of grace and love she has shown me in choosing to stay and fight for our marriage. I took everything from her, and yet she chose to forgive me."

posts: 1436   ·   registered: Jan. 18th, 2017
id 8796729
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SkipThumelue ( member #82934) posted at 6:55 PM on Tuesday, June 27th, 2023

Funny you mentioned this SkipTheMule. Early on after D-day, one of the things my wife asked me to do was to talk to that hurting little boy inside, and just give him a hug. I... crumbled. I mean, I started to cry and shake non-stop, and could not even bring myself to think of such a thing. There was still too much pain, fear, trauma... I just couldn't do it.

Later on, after much therapy and EMDR, I finally got to a point where I perform that exercise without a complete melt-down in the process. But it really is an important thing. I don't know how else you fix the past, other than to fix it in your mind.

DaddyDom:

When my therapist first mentioned it to me, I lost it. No, that little boy didn't ask to be hurt and abused and that it was time I let him know he's loved. Time to treat him with compassion.

I still struggle with it at times. The memories and hurts come and I break down into a mess, but it truly is getting a little easier, one degree at a time. We just gotta keep climbing that mountain you wrote of.

WH

DD: 5/2019

Reconciling and extremely grateful.

I do not accept PMs.

"The truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself." - St. Augustine

posts: 129   ·   registered: Feb. 24th, 2023
id 8797120
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Bulcy ( member #74034) posted at 6:41 PM on Sunday, July 9th, 2023

Forgive yourself. You are not forgiving what you did, but rather, you simply forgive yourself for not being a perfect person, and in doing so, allowing yourself to let go of needing to feel "less than" and start to feel more complete instead.

This is a difficult one for me. To forgive myself yet NOT then shrug my shoulders and assume everything is great or to just rug sweep the rest of the work that's needed. I want to forgive but not forget, yet my past is all based around forgetting and rug sweeping. I struggle seeing past forgiveness and where I was previously

WH (50's)

Multiple sexual, emotional and online affairs. Financial infidelity and emotional abuse. Physical abuse and intimidation.

D-days 2003, 2017, multiple d-days and TT through 2018 to 2023. 28 years of destructive and health damaging choice

posts: 368   ·   registered: Mar. 12th, 2020   ·   location: UK
id 8798799
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Shehawk ( member #68741) posted at 3:32 AM on Tuesday, July 18th, 2023

I have a lot of respect for you DaddyDom and the other FW’s who are dealing with their stuff and working to heal their families.

Most of us on this planet have things we have done we would rather not have put on a billboard. Trauma complicated things: it makes nothing better in my opinion. It takes a lot of work and effort for me to live with my trauma and my regrets. Hopefully we work to heal and become better kinder humans who make better choices as time goes on. Those of us who acknowledge we need to grow that is.

You do a lot of good for people.

I hope you find the path to self forgiveness and I wish you peace and continued healing.

"It's a slow fade...when you give yourself away" so don't do it!

posts: 1663   ·   registered: Nov. 5th, 2018   ·   location: VA
id 8799809
Topic is Sleeping.
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