As ISSF and I walk into year five of R together, looking back, I realize what a long and hard-fought, but also rewarding, process it has been for us both. Early on, we glommed on to the phrase, "Reconciliation isn't for wimps". Nothing could be more true. We cried. We argued. We fought. We were ready to throw the towel in many times. Mistakes were made. We took steps forward, then took some back, over and over again. We leaned heavily on IC and MC to help guide us, and of course, SI and the many good people here who offered advice and support throughout.
Both of us have been on a journey of self-discovery. While I would never argue that infidelity is desirable to any degree, it does have one benefit. It forces you to look long and hard and yourself, your life, and your relationships with everyone in your life. Nothing is done blindly anymore. Nothing is unconditional. Nothing is beyond reproach. Everything we do, both individually and together, is done with eyes wide open and with our motives, intentions and desires having been examined and justified.
It is an incredibly painful process to take such a critical look at yourself (into your heart, your mind, your feelings) without the protections of a rosy self-perception, and harder yet to have the strength and bravery needed to face your fears and to accept and own who you really are, and the trauma that you created, or that was foisted on you. You have to be prepared to jump into the fire with both feet. You have to accept that you can and will fail, make mistakes, misunderstand, grow, learn, hurt, heal... and there is simply no other way around it. More than anything, you have to be prepared to lose the relationship if it comes to that, and accept that what once was, is no more, and will never be again. Anything that exists moving forward is a product of your own hard work and willingness to not give up. Holding on to preconceptions will ultimately fail.
As a WS, one of the biggest hurdles I personally had to overcome was the pit of shame and guilt that I allowed myself to sink into. It took over my life and overwhelmed me completely, and I cannot begin to state how much damage it did to my wife and our efforts at R. It's impossible to reconcile with someone who cannot face themselves. It is also impossible to offer any kind of support to your betrayed spouse when you can't even move past your own pain and "see" them and understand their trauma. I lived in that pit for probably three years, and still struggle with it now and then. At the end of the day, I had to let go of my identity as a victim (of my FOO), and accept that I had become the abuser now instead (in my infidelity). I had to learn to love myself, which is a work in progress but a necessary step if you are to ever have the ability to truly love someone else. And I had to find a way to forgive myself, because living with my head in the sand was just doing more damage to everyone involved.
I owe everything to my wife as well. She has/had every right and every reason in the world to kick me to the curb, and I know that option isn't off the table... it never will be again. She put up with more shit and more pain from me than I can honestly comprehend, and yet... even though she was the victim, MY victim... she still loved me enough to fight for us, which often meant just getting through one more day without losing her mind. I owe her everything. I know some of you have told ISSF how amazing she is, how strong, how focused, how empathetic and how... decent, humane and giving she is as a person. All I can tell you is, you have no idea just how much she is all those things and more. Sorry if this part sounds a little kiss-assey, but honestly, she deserves recognition for all she's been through and all she's sacrificed, or had taken from her by me, throughout this shit show. I think a little ass-kissing on my part is well deserved, and I give it gladly.
For the other WS's who may be reading this and looking for advice or answers, my best advice to you is to simply keep working on yourself and never stop doing so. You can't heal your spouse nor do the work for them, and they cannot fix you either. Stop asking questions and instead, start providing answers. For example, don't ask, "Will I ever win an argument again? Will my BS ever love me again?" In time, you'll begin to realize that nearly every question you've asked since D-Day was likely to be selfish or at the very least, and attempt to control the outcomes. Instead, be the answer. Make the changes you need to make in your life and in yourself to be the person you want and need to be. Want to win an argument with your BS? Then first understand that "winning" isn't the goal, the goal is to understand each other and come to an agreement that honors everyone. Learn to listen. Learn to understand. Focus on what's really being discussed rather than what your mind/triggers are telling you. You "win" by understanding the problem, and showing the care, concern and willingness to sacrifice that you were unable to show them during your affair. If you want to be loved again, then become someone worthy of being loved. If you want to be trusted again, become someone worthy of trust. Be vulnerable. Be honest. It's funny... it can be so very terrifying to accept who we are and what we did and the damage it caused... but in time, when you learn to own it, you instead become shielded from the pain. Dignity and decency are powerful traits to have. Honesty and accountability too. Once you own your life, you then own your feelings, and your responses. So make your life what you need it to be. Or stay stuck in the shame pit. It's your choice, no one else's.
Last thing... forgive yourself. Stop the black and white thinking and allow yourself to see yourself as more than one thing at a time. Yes, you cheated and were a POS in general. That was a bad thing to do, but it does not define you as a "bad person" unless you let it. Instead, see it as "part of your story". You peed your pants once but you still have self-respect. You got into a fight once but you don't identify as violent. We grow, we learn, we change, we adapt. You are what you do!!! So BE someone worthy of love, or respect, of forgiveness... and that is who you will be. Then you can move forward with rebuilding what was destroyed.
We are all broken. We are all healing. We are all just doing our best to survive the trauma. If you are reading this, then you've already taken the first step, which is reaching out, making an effort, and learning how to change for the better. Keep it up. You've got this.