There are some posts that I keep finding myself wanting to write, simply because I felt so damn lost and clueless after D-day and couldn't understand the advice people were trying to give me. I was offered advice such as, "Fix your own shit" and "Sit in it for a while", however these statements didn't make much sense to me at the time. How exactly does one "fix their own shit" and what does that even mean? Is there a "fix your shit" support group in my area? :) My hope is that WS's who are asking the same questions that I did can get some sense of what these things mean and how to start approaching them.
One of the first questions that enters every BS's head on D-day (and pretty much every day from there on out) is "Why?" and "How?".
"Why did you do this?"
"How could you have done this?"
A lot hinges on answering these questions, and getting down to the real, core issues behind them. A WS can't really begin to work on themselves (i.e. fix their own shit) until they understand themselves better, and know what truly led to them making the choices and decisions that they did. I would also suggest that reconciliation in the marriage can't really begin either until this process of discovery has at least begun and gotten some traction. In order for the WS to become a safer partner and a better, less dangerous person, they need to first understand how and why they got themselves into this mess in the first place, and that my friends, is going to take determination, courage, humility and a whole lot of effort.
The how/why question is a popular topic on SI and I'm sure it will pop up again, but I'd like to throw my hat into the ring and share with you my experiences and opinions on the subject.
A very common response to this question (from WS's) is "Because I wanted to". This is a popular response because it is hard to deny, seems reasonable, encompasses a sense of ownership and provides an end point to the topic that all roads seem to lead to. But in my personal opinion, it is none of those things. It is step one on a road of a thousand steps, and ultimately removes all responsibility from the WS to dig deeper and figure out what's broken. It is like reading the last page of the book and finding out the answer to the mystery, but leaving out the all important steps needed to figure out how we arrived at that answer, and how we are sure that's the correct answer to begin with. In other words, it's a little like suggesting that taking an aspirin is the correct step to take regardless of the ailment. It's not, and just because it helps make the pain go away temporarily in no way means the cause of the pain has been dealt with.
In order to get to our true "why's", there needs to be process of self-discovery that involves questioning and re-questioning our motives, particularly our coping skills for dealing with grief and stress, and our relationship values and methods. More importantly, an open and inquisitive mindset is needed in order to look beyond the obvious. Every affair starts with a justification, a reason we give ourselves that makes the affair "okay" to have. Initially, we tend to blame our spouses, our relationships, our families, our jobs, a lack of happiness, a lack of sex, whatever... there is always some excuse that precedes an affair. Here's the thing however... and new WS's, you probably aren't going to like this... even if your excuse is completely valid and real (and it usually isn't) it doesn't matter. At all. You could be in the most loveless, sexless, toxic and meaningless relationship ever. If so, that is a very valid and concerning problem that needs to be addressed, however it has NOTHING to do with your choice to have an affair. Period. The sooner you understand this, the sooner progress can be made.
A good example of this is a riot mentality. Take a look at any riot footage you can find on the internet or in publications. The riot always begins in response to some social or political injustice which leads to protest. You'll see a lot of people with signs full of statements and slogans, people shouting and trying to make their voices and opinions heard, people full of emotion, ready to fight for what they believe to be fair and right and true and good in this world. While messy, all of that is a perfectly rational, reasonable and even healthy way to deal with conflict and injustice. BUT... that's not all that is going on. There are also people in the fringes who choose to flip over cars, break into stores and steal merchandise, or beat people up in the streets. What does destroying or stealing property have to do with solving an injustice? The answer is... nothing. Absolutely nothing. The people that do these things allow themselves to go down a path that is completely illogical and self-serving. How does an injustice in any way necessitate stealing a TV? How does flipping a car solve any problem or debate? It doesn't. In that same way, how does having an affair, lying to your spouse and children or risking an STD meant to improve, resolve or repair the problems in your marriage? It doesn't. Yet, it is what you chose to do. The trick now is to figure out what line of thinking and feeling got you there.
An affair is always a symptom of a larger problem. Regardless of the length or type of affair, there is still a core defect in the WS that allowed them to justify and pursue a physical and/or emotional relationship that was wholly inappropriate. How did you get from, "I'm unhappy" to "The best thing for me to do is to lie to everyone and have a tawdry relationship with an outsider"? The answer to that question lies somewhere in the way that you view yourself, your own worth, your own needs, the way you cope with stress and grief and loss, and the ideals and values you carry. Affairs are always about YOU, the WS. They are not about your spouse, or your marriage or the AP's. An affair is a choice. It is an action. Short of someone putting a gun to your head and making you do it, there is no external justification that makes that choice okay. You need to own that.
Which brings us back to the "why". No one has an affair simply because they were bored and nothing was good on TV that day. We become vulnerable to an affair (or any bad decisions and behaviors) when we allow ourselves to compromise our own self worth and dignity. Every affair starts with a need that, for whatever reason, is unfulfilled. Whether is it an EA, a PA, a ONS or an LTA, we each begin with some need that we believe cannot be fulfilled on our own. Maybe we need love or attention? Maybe we need to feel attractive or special? Maybe we hate ourselves and need to self-punish? Maybe we feel entitled to more than we have? Maybe we are just that selfish and uncaring? No matter what the reason however, there is a deeper meaning to search for. That deeper reason is whatever path and circumstances that led you to this point.
The minute you hid your first text or email, the moment you decided to not tell your spouse about that flirty conversation you had, the second you lied about where you were and what you were doing... you knew what you were doing was wrong. Even if you had yourself convinced that your actions were totally justified, you still knew it was wrong. Having an affair isn't like picking up a gallon of milk at the market. It is not something everyone does. It is not okay. Despite the lies you told yourself in order to make yourself feel better about doing it, it still felt wrong, and with every step taken to conceal, hide, lie and betray to cover up your secrets, the "wrongness" compounded exponentially. Why did you allow this? What made you care so little about your own integrity and the welfare of the people in your life that you love, that you still decided to carry all those lies and betrayals?
In order to figure out how we got here and what drove us to this point, there needs to be a reckoning and an understanding of ourselves, our true authentic selves. Looking in the mirror is hard. Owning the fact that we did horrible things is even harder. No one wants to be the bad guy. No one wants to think of themselves as any less than a good and decent person. We tell ourselves that we love ourselves, our kids, our spouse, our neighbors. We tell ourselves that we are good people despite the affair, because we donate to charity, or coach little league, or go to church, or cook dinner for the family. We look for proof of our goodness by pointing out how wonderful we are, how our co-workers think we're great, how our priest says we're a pillar of the community, how our kids hug and kiss us goodnight. So how did such a great, stable, wonderful pillar of the community end up living a double life and doing things that no reasonable person would view as wonderful in any way?
Start by acknowledging the reason that first comes to mind. "Because I wanted to" is fine, but whatever reason you told yourself during the affair is best. Brene Brown (Rising Strong, get it, read it) calls this the SFD (Shitty First Draft). Now, once you have that reason in mind, ask yourself "Why?" you came to that conclusion. There may be more than one answer to that question, and if so, good! Write them all down if you need to. Once you have all your reasons to the original "why", ask "why" again for each of those reasons. Rinse and repeat.
In order to better explain this process, I'll give a simple example using a much more simple question.
Why did I eat a big breakfast this morning?
* I wanted to (why?)
* I was hungry (why?)
* I was bored
* I often confuse thirst with hunger
* I'm used to eating in the morning (why?)
* The people around me were eating - peer pressure - conforming to norms
* My family always ate breakfast in the morning, that's how I was raised (why?)
* I was taught it was important/required to eat in the morning for health and mental awareness
* I convinced myself that if I didn't eat breakfast then I couldn't function all day long
* I was made to feel badly if I didn't eat (e.g. kids are starving in Africa ya know)
* Guilt - my mom worked hard to cook that meal
* Guilt - my dad worked three jobs to make ends meet
* Respect - how does it make your mother feel when you don't eat what she worked hard on?
* I paid for the food and don't want to waste food/money
* I eat my feelings (why?)
* I wake up feeling down (why?) and eating makes me feel happier (why?)
* I feel down all day long (why?) and so I overeat every meal in order to soothe myself
* Why do I feel down all day?
* Does eating all day make me feel better or worse about myself? Why?
* My parents gave me a lot of guilt about food and money and I took that guilt on myself (why?)
* I ended up eating even when I wasn't hungry because of the guilt, and that made me fat
* Being fat made me feel inadequate (why?)
* Feeling inadequate made me feel down about myself
* Feeling down about myself made me eat more, which started a cycle of eating to feel better while making things worse
* I lost confidence in myself because I felt fat (why?)
* I started to feel inadequate in other parts of my life as I retreated into myself
* In order to deal with the feelings of inadequacy I blamed others for my problems (why?)
* Blaming others for my problems turned into a coping skill
* I learned to avoid stress in my life by avoiding guilt and shame and conflict
* Not dealing with my real feelings made me angry and resentful and I started to hate myself
* Hating myself made me want to self-punish (why?)
* A great way to self-punish myself is to keep up, or even increase my overeating, proving to myself and everyone else what a fat loser I am
* Now that I'm an adult and a parent, I see myself teaching my kids to overeat just like I do
(Bonus)(Holy shit, I'm passing down the same guilt and shame my parents laid on me to my own kids, along with my own insecurities and hang-ups. I've literally come full circle and I'm repeating the abuse that I struggled with all my life, on my family)
I think that's far enough for now. The point I'm trying to illustrate here is to KEEP DIGGING. If we were able to get this far just talking about why we ate breakfast (and I assure you that's hardly the end of the things to consider), then I assure you there is more to be had in the effort to figure out why you had an affair. When you were a kid, did you see yourself being married someday? If so, did you see yourself being a cheater, a liar, an abuser? How did that happen? What went wrong? DIG!
This process of self-discovery needs to become a daily habit, a constant pursuit. As you uncover secrets about yourself, look for reactions within yourself, both emotional and physical. Are there issues that immediately make you cry, or cause you physical pain? Strong reactions usually indicate that a pain point has been encountered. Pain points are part of the framework on which our egos are built, and represent the weak links in the chain. Don't run from them, instead, lean into them, for they hold the clues to who you are and how you cope with grief and stress. If you get to a point where you aren't sure about your reasons and motivations, ask for help! Our spouses, friends, family and community often know more about our true selves than we do. Part of the process that turned us into liars in the first place was lying to ourselves in order to make ourselves feel better. It can often be hard to see past those self-lies. That's where other people can help immensely. For example, you tell yourself that you still loved your spouse during your affair. An outsider may help however by pointing out that running off and having a relationship with your co-worker doesn't seem like the actions of someone who loves their spouse as much as they profess to. Make it a habit to consider, really consider, everything proposed to you by others, especially your spouse. Even if you are 100% sure they are wrong, the mere fact that they mentioned it should be a clue to you that you are missing something vital. Assume, even if just for the moment, that what they said is true. Then with that in mind, figure out what "whys" led to that.
I'd like to take a quick moment here to talk about defensiveness. At many points in this process, you may find yourself getting angry and upset, and when that happens, we often get defensive. Please please please pay attention to your own defensiveness! It often means that there is a barrier that you need to breakthrough. Often that barrier is a lie or a justification you told yourself and that hurts too much to acknowledge. Here's the thing to keep in mind... a wayward mindset is a self-centered mindset. In other words, even when we think we are being empathetic (e.g. I want my spouse to be happy again) it is still really about ourselves (e.g. I can't be happy until my spouse is happy, then I'll feel better). By comparison, a remorseful mindset might focus on the spouse alone and your ownership in their well-being (e.g. Whatever my spouse needs to heal from my abuse, I'll do, even if it leads to my own detriment). Defensiveness is always about ourselves, what we want, what we believe. Defensiveness means that we have a new "why" to uncover! If it is important enough to get defensive about, then it's important enough to dig deeper on.
Since this post is already just shy of "War and Peace" in terms of length, I'll stop here, and save the "how to fix it" part for another day. For now, keep working on your self-discovery. When you do find what you feel to be an important "why", talk about it. Share it with your spouse, or on SI, or in IC/MC. Honestly, most of the time, just knowing the "why" is most of the battle. Once you understand your true motives and coping skills, then intercepting and changing them is easier.
Good luck in your search!
[This message edited by DaddyDom at 2:27 PM, January 26th (Tuesday)]