Six years into R
When can six years feel like a lifetime?
We all know that answer.
For me, my reality was obliterated when my wife finally told me about her infidelity years before. I’ve been asked a few times if my life would be better if she kept to her plan of taking her secret with her to the grave. My response is absolutely not.
I may hate that infidelity happened, but I much prefer knowing what my reality was and is, I always prefer as much truth as I can find.
The truth is, it still helps to stop by SI now and again to see if my experience and recovery helps anyone else on their path. It also helps once a year to take stock and figure out where I am now, compared to the mess I was when I first found this forum.
I tend to start off with the reminder that I’m not selling a result.
If you’re new here or a long time member, I don’t care whether you R, D, or move into a cave somewhere — I only care that we all recover from this trauma as well as possible.
My story is on my profile, and repeating details at this point, for me, is a waste of space. A long term A is as horrible as it gets, and getting a confession long after the fact doesn’t make it any easier.
All that said, some of the life changes and lessons are good.
Blind trust was never a good thing. Keeping secrets, also, not so good.
The silver linings are, that once I got my bearings, got on my feet, realized my full value — it allowed me to choose to reset my life how I wanted. I do that every single day I wake up, I choose my life, my path going forward.
I’m surprised as anyone at my choice to stay. The way I grew up, someone cheats, move the fuck on and be done with it.
If you’re cheated on, ever, however it happens, your spouse is NOT owed a last chance.
Read that line above again.
There is nothing romantic about deciding to stay. It’s brutally uphill hard work that takes the full 2-5 years SI members warned me about in advance.
Rebuilding a relationship is absolutely possible, but it takes two people with a relentless effort to get there.
It’s fairly obvious why R is so hard.
One person has been treated as if they didn’t exist and the other made dozens of purposeful, cruel and selfish decisions that destroyed the existing monogamous relationship.
In the first two years post discovery, I learned loving someone was never enough.
If I was going to stay, I needed a relationship worth staying for.
The old foundation of our marriage failed, so if I was going to rebuild from the ground up, I set the parameters of what any relationship I am in now should look like.
Those parameters started with no more filters - I say what’s on my mind. Good, bad or indifferent. I ask the questions I need to ask and no more of the games people play around the other — the saying what people want to hear, or bad trades, horrible compromises, the lies, big and small to go along and get along.
I get to be me.
It sounds obvious, but not always the case as I went through life.
That should have been the case all along. However, the way society talks about giving up parts of yourself in order to make things work in marriage — is wrong. Marriage shouldn’t be a series of sacrifices and asking permission to feel and say and do what we want.
Marriage is never the CAUSE of infidelity. Never.
Infidelity is a choice, a series of choices — that never help a relationship.
All relationships struggle, it’s how we decide to attack that struggle that makes the difference. Why doesn’t everyone cheat when unhappy? Because some of us don’t want to HURT our spouse, or we’re simply honoring the promises we made.
All that said, our marriage was a series of bad compromises, bad trades, sacrifices and walking on egg shells to get through a day. Loving each other wasn’t enough. None of that is an excuse for what my wife did. Our past simply illuminated some of the other changes we needed to make, once I chose to stay.
Once I offered the gift of R, the aim was to form a relationship worthy of both of us.
Some folks seem to define R as staying with their spouse, and that’s it. The work seems to be to tolerate the person who hurt us and hope they don’t make the same choices again.
That’s staying married, it ain’t reconciliation to me.
I understand that finding a way back to a level of trust and vulnerability is very difficult. Based on my reading hundreds of stories here, it seems very few R end up where I am.
I’m happy. My wife is happy.
It took 2.5 to 3 years just to be sure the relationship we wanted was even possible. So many conversations about the work. I had to get my swagger back and then take a second leap of faith I never thought I would make. My wife, is a little behind on getting her full swagger back (as in working on trying to forgive herself for her poor choices), but she definitely is all in on the leap of faith.
We have good days, bad days, great days and sad days, but we’re truly kind to the other. We are giving to the other, we here for the other and finding ways to build on the new connection every single day.
I would also add that I used to be of the mindset that the old M was dead, and this was a new deal, new M. Part of that is still true for me, we are working on the newer us, but I also find our days pre-A had some moments worth holding to as well that form a bit of a bridge from the old M to where we are now. Nothing is all bad or all good, and most humans are not all good or ALL bad, we’re a sum of both.
How do I know it will never happen again?
I absolutely don’t know.
What I do know is my wife, and the current connection we work on everyday, allows us to be more honest than ever before. My wife hates the pain she caused, the pain she can still see on my face from time to time. It helps that she cares about that pain and helps me heal the relationship.
I also 100 percent trust myself.
I know what the lies sound like, what the actions look like, and I learn pretty quick.
The biggest part is we spent nearly two years together everyday when the world was in varied degrees of shutdown. We learned a lot about who we were, who we are and how we want this relationship to be now.
Ultimately, I can’t change a damn thing about the past.
I only get to choose how I respond to adversity.
This particular adversity knocked me on my ass. It took a long time to gain the strength to properly respond to it, beyond the trauma and the pain and depression that comes with it.
All I can say about my experiences, is I feel great about the path I chose.
To get there, I had to feel great about myself, whether I stayed married or not. That was the work I had to do. To know that my wife’s lowest point and her shitty choices don’t reflect on me in any way. Easier said than understood, infidelity is as personal as it gets, and yet, it is NOT because of who we are or what we did.
Choose YOU first. Figure out what you want, and aim for it.
If you do choose R, it only works if your spouse wants it as much as you do.
30 comments posted: Sunday, June 5th, 2022
Considering Reconciliation: The odds and the path I chose.
Before deciding whether or not to ‘reconcile’ or rebuild or restore your marriage, some thoughts should be understood and considered before moving forward.
If you’re new to the forum, I’m sorry you’re here, just be sure to understand that none of your spouses choices are your fault.
Nothing we can do can make someone cheat. In order to cheat a person has to make dozens of calculated decisions, including choosing to lie in order to hide those decisions from you. But that’s the damage too. We can’t imagine our status changing overnight from loyal spouse to being completely invisible to the person we trusted most.
It’s trauma we’re being asked to recover from. It’s the emotional equivalent of a high speed vehicle collision. It takes several YEARS to recover from this.
— So now what?
We don’t owe our spouses a second chance. Read the previous sentence again.
If we stay, it should only EVER be because we’re aiming for something worthy of us and our valuable time.
Reconciliation is NOT staying for the kids. It’s NOT staying for financial stability. It’s NOT due to fear of the unknown. Staying for those reasons are leaning into a life of resentment and additional misery on top of the betrayal horror show.
People do stay for all those reasons and more, and I understand why they do. I’m just saying if you’re staying for anything other than a chance for a decent or better life — it’s not reconciliation.
— Don’t Settle!
A good R isn’t settling for less. It’s demanding more. It’s requiring more honestly, more changes, more consideration than at any other point in the relationship.
To me, settling would be allowing the bad behavior to continue, to allow a WS’ un-safe habits to continue, to stay the course.
If you feel like no matter what else you do, you would have to settle for less — then divorce may be your best path forward.
Your standards are intact. You didn’t cheat, you held up your end of the deal.
— What are the odds?
Personally, I love the line, "Never tell me the odds."
That said, the odds are not on the side of reconciliation. I’ve read 31 books on infidelity and relationships, recovery, blah, blah, etc. All of that and 5 bucks gets me a cup of coffee. I’m no expert, but some people need numbers or an idea how rare my experience is to reconcile a marriage.
Our MC was a bit of an expert. He’s been a counselor for 35-years now and at one point he informed us he was a betrayed spouse. His marriage ended in D. He doesn’t set out to ‘save’ marriages, merely to give people enough information to decide for themselves. That said, he agreed with the odds. It’s uphill.
Of all the statistics, or those who need a number, let me put it this way. I think at some point nine out of ten betrayed spouses choose to leave. Sometimes it takes years to get to that choice, but I think that’s the number. Of the people who choose R, if both spouses choose that path together, I’ve read that around 70 percent of those couples succeed.
In other words, if 100 couples go through infidelity, 90 divorce, 10 try R together as a team. Of those 10 couples, 7 make it. So, that’s about 7 couples per 100 dealing with infidelity that find a path to recovery.
Like I said, it’s uphill.
— It takes both people.
You can put all you have into saving the marriage, but you cannot do it alone. I think the biggest reason R fails is one partner or the other is unable to be vulnerable again with the other. In order to feel vulnerable we have to feel safe. Some folks NEVER make it back to safe. That gets back to those odds above.
It’s more than normal to not feel safe for a very long time after infidelity.
Some WS never get back to vulnerable either. They feel like they will never get balance back in the relationship, so they don’t try or they stop trying.
So the WS has to ditch the shame and not hope for ‘normal’ since infidelity obliterates whatever normal used to be.
— What about trust?
Great question and one that gets asked early and often around here.
How did blind trust work for all of us?
Blind trust isn’t a good idea and best left to fairy tales and amateur gamblers.
The first person you have to learn to trust after infidelity is YOU.
You doubt everything because you can’t believe you missed the signs. Welcome to this club. All of us MISSED every single sign. Because we trusted that if our spouse was unhappy enough to cheat, they would TELL us.
The upside is, when we get hurt bad, we learn fast. We know what the signs look like and feel like, we know what the lies sound like and the methods used to deceive us.
A WS is out to change all of those patterns, all of those things that made them want or need validation from strangers, or it’s not R. If they are holding to the same old stories, same routines, they’re not worth another minute of your time.
Trust yourself first, then allow your WS to earn SOME trust back with consistent, caring actions.
— Will they ever do it again?
None of us know the answer to that. But a WS who does no work, makes no changes, makes little to no effort or only temporarily alters bad behaviors patterns is 100 percent likely to make similar choices in the future.
In my case, my WS not only hated what she did, she hated that the validation and the risk was all for nothing. Being used for a temporary escape from reality wasn’t worth it to her. She still had to work at it to overcome the shame of her choices, that’s something some WS aren’t able to do. IF a WS is unable to ditch the shame, they keep their distance and avoid vulnerability as much as we do after dday.
A WS who owns all their choices, and takes responsibility to help heal the relationship is someone you can at least work with going forward.
— What’s the work?
For me, it was finding my value. I’m awesome, I’ve always been awesome. I’m kind, I hold the door for people, I always stepped in when I saw a bully pushing anyone around. My sons turned out great because I was good father. I served my country for six years as a badass United State Marine. I coached football for 25-years helping guys learn about getting the best out of themselves to help them and their team. All that I don’t need any human to validate me, agree with me or praise anything I’ve accomplished.
But I forgot all of that on discovery day.
It took me time to get back to my badass self.
I didn’t take any shortcuts. Counseling helped some. Music helped some. I worked out, I read about recovery here and in books. I focused on what I liked about me. I let go of the outcome.
The day it doesn’t matter to you whether you’re married or not is the day you can do anything.
That’s when I truly chose to give my wife one last chance.
Her work was similar, she just had farther to go find her value. People know when they make bad choices, and I’m not sure my wife will ever forgive herself, but she did have to let go of the shame. She had to not put up walls and be be defensive. She had to understand why she wanted that validation from someone outside of our relationship.
And she had to help me put this thing back together.
— Yeah, but how the ____ is it better?
Infidelity is as bad or worse than any tragedy in my life so far. I’m in my mid-50’s now, so I don’t challenge the Universe to throw more at me, but I do realize more difficulties are ahead me. That’s life.
I can’t ever control any person in my life or the bad things that happen to me.
I get to control one thing in this world - my response to adversity.
It ain’t a bumper sticker, it’s a choice I get to make. I get to decide how I tackle this and whether I’ll stay in the past or live for today.
I chose to not let whatever my wife did DEFINE me.
I went a step further and decided I would not let her worst choices her worst days define her either.
By doing that, it gave us a shot.
Before infidelity we communicated poorly. We were married young, and we kept all of our horrible habits from our youth, and would talk down to each other and let problems build up on us. We played the stupid games, the power struggles, we competed for attention from the other — it wasn’t all sunshine.
The best part of R for me is building a bullshit free environment.
No games, no leaving issues for later, if I have a problem, I vent it all, on the spot.
It’s liberating compared to how I lived before. That’s better.
My wife and I give to each other instead of take from each other. That’s way better.
We don’t have to fake it or pretend any feelings. If it’s a bad day, if there is a trigger for me, well, WE deal with it together. That’s better too.
I used to say the better M was in spite of infidelity, but the reality is — it’s because of infidelity. Infidelity blew up the marriage, broke the deal, ended the world as we knew it. We made GOOD changes because of the HORROR show she created.
I wouldn’t recommend infidelity to anyone, ever.
I will always hate that it happened. I will never be okay with her choices.
I also am glad we fought our way back.
— A recap for considering R:
1. Don’t Settle. Don’t compromise your standards.
2. Don’t rugsweep - pretending it didn’t happen or stuffing your pain down is like building an emotional time bomb that only gets more powerful the longer ill feelings fester and linger.
3. Confront the initial pain and anger head on — with or without counseling. Just don’t bury it.
4. Decide what YOU want. Ask for what you want.
5. Set the boundaries required for you to move forward and feel safe.
6. Let go of the outcome. The only person you can control in this life is you.
7. Blind trust is never a good idea. In all seriousness, 100 percent trust in any human is not a good idea. How did that innocent take on trust work out for any of us?
8. If you’re going to rebuild the relationship, you have to find a way back to vulnerable.
9. Accept the facts of what happened, however you can always be NOT okay with those facts.
27 comments posted: Wednesday, September 15th, 2021
Five Years Later
Well, actually a week or two ahead of the official day my wife revealed the secret she was originally going to take to the grave.
I'm a few days early, because I'll be much farther off the grid than normal. We will be on vacation and then we will be moving to a different state and living out of suitcases for a month or two looking for a new place to live.
The update is, we're good.
We're really, really good.
The first two years here I couldn't imagine being where we are now. The first 24-months were shock and awe, sleep deprivation and a substantial depression. We had that moment when we were not sure that love and kindness was going to be enough to revive --- us.
For newer members here, I'm not advocating for any particular choice or direction. Only you can figure out what you want and need.
That's kind of how our recovery, reconstruction, renewal and/or restoration finally started. As year three kicked off, I decided what I really wanted from life, what I would need for our marriage to continue and if we would both be able to get back to being all in (the state of vulnerability and enough trust and let love back in).
It wasn't a one day thing, it was a relentless build back with two or three thousand setbacks.
Eventually, I trusted the work she was doing. Eventually she trusted I could still see the good in her, despite those previous poor choices.
I know why SI has new members focus on themselves. Because you can't know what you want or need until you believe in YOU first. The first thing after infidelity that happens is we lose our faith in our judgment. We lose our swagger. We lose life as we understood it.
We got lucky with a great IC/MC, that helped. I got lucky with AMAZING people here at this site who reached out to me with their concerns and care.
I'd really like to offer up the idea that the flashbacks and thoughts vanish completely. They don't. I wish I could say a lot of things to make newer members feel better.
To borrow from Churchill, "The only way through Hell is to keep going."
So I did.
I made it the other side.
Our marriage is finally what we always wanted it to be. The word authentic gets tossed around too much, but when we live without games, manipulations, masks, it is quite liberating.
I stayed because I wanted to give her a chance.
I would like to think I wouldn't have stayed for kids or money, but in our case, the kids were grown and we've earned a solid living where money doesn't keep us up at night like it did in our younger years.
Anyway, short story long -- I'm extremely happy with my choice.
As I've said a few times, I will always hate what happened, I will never be happy to have suffered through infidelity. However, I am glad we hung in there despite what happened.
I spent way too much time going over what I could have done different. It wasn't me. It's not on me. I am not the sum of my wife's bad choices.
I spent way too much time wondering how my life could have been different. That turned out to be a huge waste of energy.
No one gets out of this thing without suffering or damage. It's part of the deal. Some people deal with other loses, or gambling or drugs, or alcohol issues. One of my tragedies is infidelity. I would NOT have voted for that one. I'm not sure I would pick any other tragedies out either.
We don't get to pick which traumas we get.
We do to choose how to respond.
Even the most mindful people are initially crushed by infidelity.
But somewhere along the way, I got to choose my response. I got to choose what I wanted.
My wife relentlessly loved me back to level. That was not easy. I was not easy.
Now, we are glad we didn't give up.
New life, new adventure awaits. There will always be embers in the air from the fire that burned the marriage to the ground, but they tend to drift away now, much faster than they used to.
30 comments posted: Monday, May 17th, 2021
Updates and the work of R
I tend to take a few months off at a time now, but I still get messages from folks here. I got two recent contacts from members with one wondering if things had gone off the rails for me and contributed to my time off-line.
I'd say even in pandemic world, life is going as well as possible. Although, I'm as burned out on zoom calls as everyone else is.
I also got asked about how I got back to happy in my marriage.
That is the billion dollar question for all of us after infidelity and somehow finding a way forward with the person who obliterated the relationship.
To review, it ain't easy.
We're at about five years out from discovery. It took me two full years to get out from under the pain, anger and trying to figure out if love and kindness would be enough for us to survive my wife's horrible choices.
I decided not to settle. I decided to ask for the relationship we should have built the first time through. I decided if she was willing to change and be vulnerable, I could change and be vulnerable.
I simply wanted to be able to tell myself and my sons that I did all I could to make the marriage work.
The thing about R is, there is no one recipe to rebuild the marriage. Take the path you need, you've earned all the choices you make in R.
I understand so many members focus on what happened in the past versus what can happen today. It makes sense. No relationship in the history of humanity is infidelity proof. The moment we think it can't happen seems to be when the trouble starts.
The truth is every relationship we have or used to have or will have is based on the strength of connection.
How many people are in our rear view mirror because the connection broke or did a slow fade? Out of the dozens of great Marine Corps pals I had, I'm only in contact with two of them these days. It's because we moved on from those crazy military days.
My wife made her horrible choices -- in part -- because she rationalized a loss of connection with me. The bigger problem for her was the external validation she got. All of that is on her, not us.
The re-connect after infidelity is brutal.
First you have to learn to trust yourself again. Then you have to recognize your value, to know you will be fine however the marriage turns out. Your WS has to ditch the shame and be all in -- which isn't always easy. Whenever people hurt people, on purpose, they feel bad and can't imagine themselves ever being close to us again. Some WS never get beyond the shame.
That work of R boils down to both people working back toward each other.
The only way I can ever suggest someone stays to R is if the relationship can be better and stronger than it was.
I couldn't do the "old life" versus the "new life" take.
My life is the whole big picture. It includes my work, my sons, my brothers, my friends and my wife. Like everyone else, it includes trauma.
I survived loss before. I survived infidelity too.
Infidelity is a part of my existence, a part that neither my wife or I ever imagined would be something we would have to deal with.
Overcoming great adversity and loving each other despite that trauma is a rare and beautiful thing.
When two people accept each other faults and all, when they finally understand that it's not a sacrifice to give to the other and be honest about everything, that's when a real connection forms.
We've never been closer.
Oh yeah, the innocence is lost. We mourned that. We moved forward.
It's not that we pretend the horror show didn't happen. We just understand the damage it caused and work hard to show each other kindness and care. There isn't any way to make up that lost time, but it can be fun trying to make up for it anyway.
In early recovery I often lamented about, is this how life is meant to be? And why me?
Every life takes bad turns. I don't know a single soul in my life who hasn't been inflicted with some kind of pain, be it a partner who had substance abuse issues, or financial infidelity or alcoholism or domestic abuse, or medical issues (cancer, etc) or the dreaded infidelity.
My choice for moving beyond this pain was giving my wife one more shot.
I honestly thought I was one person who couldn't ever get to a place of peace again with the person who hurt me. But I'm really, really glad I did.
13 comments posted: Monday, March 8th, 2021