Not to shame you (trust me, I know it sounds otherwise) but I'm hoping you and others can answer this honestly and fully: How did you live with yourself and him for that long keeping such secrets?
No offense taken, SaddestDad. The reason we're all on this forum is to understand behavior that baffles us, including (in the case of most WS) our own. I’ll do my best to answer “honestly and fully,” with the caveat that “fully” means “very, very long.”
I had my A when my then-BBF and I were in an LDR at different universities, and it took place entirely between two of his visits (about 4 months). BF and I had an understanding that I was dating OM casually, but I became much more romantically and sexually involved with him than the terms of our agreement allowed. I came clean with the worst parts it, the sex and the exchange of I love yous, the first time I saw BBF afterwards. This was during the height of the AIDS crisis, when HIV was a death sentence. OM had claimed to be a virgin, but of course, he was lying, which I discovered after we had unprotected sex. Because of that exposure, the fact that the PA had progressed to intercourse was something that I knew I had to disclose, but I was less sure how to handle the emotional involvement. Although BBF was always my primary relationship, OM claimed to have fallen desperately in love with me, and I felt guilty about making it so clear to him that he was just a side piece. In my screwed up brain, OM was the one who needed my sympathy and support, because he had "lost" and my BBF had "won." (Yes, I believed this despite his lies. I allowed myself to be totally gaslighted.) At the same time, in the two weeks between the end of the A and seeing BBF, my fog started to dissipate. I had been compartmentalizing all thought of the eventual consequences of my actions, and the closer I got to my impending D-Day, the more fear was starting to sink in.
Honestly, I had expected my BBF to be more furious than hurt when I told him about the sex. He had broken up with me once before, when I graduated from high school a year ahead of him, saying that college-bound LDRs never worked out. Two months later, he asked to get back together, but then a few months after that, he suggested that we be able to date other people. From this, I got the impression that he was already unsure about our relationship, so when I went to confess, I thought I might very well be back on the train the next morning, freshly dumped. I was completely off base. BBF was devastated, shaking and begging for reassurance that I still loved him. We had been first and onlies, and he was destroyed that this was no longer true. I was unprepared for his reaction and went into full lying coward mode. I gave him a minimized account of the sex -- one brief instance instead of a full-night, multi-position encounter -- and I glossed over how much physical and romantic interaction OM and I had both before and after that night. Once I had told the lies, I couldn't see how to retract them, especially since BBF seemed to be barely coping with what he already knew.
You would think that seeing BBF’s devastation would have straightened me out immediately, but in fact, I was a terrible candidate for R. I refused to go NC, “reassuring” BBF that the A was over and that OM and I could be just friends. I had no idea what an EA was and thought that everything was fine because I was no longer saying anything sexual/romantic to the OM or allowing him to do so. OM had graduated and moved thousands of miles away. This was years before cel phones, texting, or the internet, so that distance meant more than it does now, but there were still letters, email, and the occasional phone call back and forth. BBF was traumatized by the ongoing threat of OM, who was single and absolutely wanted to restart the relationship, even as an LDR. OM actually flew across the country to visit me for one night, and although I insisted and held to my promise that nothing would happen between us, it's indicative of my total self-centeredness and lack of empathy that I allowed him to see me at all.
Obviously, had SI existed back then, every BS on it (and probably every WS too) would have told BBF to stop playing the pick me dance and kick me to the curb. Instead, he coped by having an ONS with someone at his school, which he announced he was going to do beforehand. I was crushed, but I couldn't see how I had the right to ask him not to do it. At the same time, there were several complicating factors that made me resentful of being portrayed as the only villain in our relationship. After I disclosed my A, BBF admitted that he had spent a night kissing and groping his sister's best friend eighteen months earlier, just a few weeks after we had reconciled from our breakup. He had felt guilty ever since but now regarded the episode as completely trumped by what I had done. It was several months after that fling that he suggested we be able to date other people on a casual basis, which is how I eventually got involved with OM. The irony is that BBF thought that offering me freedom would give me perspective and keep me from feeling trapped in our LDR; I interpreted it as him wanting to play the field, even as I couldn’t understand why he kept bringing it up but never acted on it himself. After the disclosure, I felt like BBF had set me up in a situation that was tailor made for an A and then blamed me for having one, and I used the resentment to justify not going NC.
Any sane person, at this point, would have told us to break up. We had no marriage vows, no kids, no shared finances, and no trust. We were living hundreds of miles apart and had years of college left to go. But we also had years of history, having gotten together when we were only 16. Until the A, we had each other on pedestals. Both of us had experienced deep insecurities -- his that I would find someone smarter and more mature in college and dump him, and mine from mixed signals and a deep lack of self esteem. We didn’t explore and discuss these problems as we should have; we just knew that neither of us wanted to break up. After several months of miserably treading water, we decided that we should either commit to being together or let the relationship go. BBF proposed, on condition that I cut all contact of any kind with OM.
This is where the rugsweeping began. BBF let out a huge exhale; OM was gone from our lives, having accepted that a ring on my finger and my declaration of NC was the end of any ambiguity. I was happy that BBF was committing to me and was willing to put the past behind us. Neither of us thought that everything was completely ok, but both of us were glad to be done with the long, miserable phone calls, crying jags, and silent recrimination. Instead, we were planning a wedding and a future. Of course, this was way too early for R, and there were all kinds of things going on under the surface that neither of us would admit. BBF was having mind movies during sex and panic attacks in daily life, but he was hiding it from me for fear that I might decide R was too much work. I was still emotionally attached to OM, not in the sense that I wanted to resume the A, but worried that I had broken his heart. I maintained NC as promised, but the only way to stop the concern was to push him completely out of my head. This wasn't a healthy process of understanding my whys and coming to view the whole A with revulsion, it was simply blanking out OM's existence and anything associated with it. As a result, I got very good at not thinking about the A at all, including the sexual and romantic details I had never disclosed to BBF. And BBF wasn't asking about the A much any more, either, both because he didn't want to keep reminding me of OM and because he had no idea that he didn't have the full story.
In the early years of our marriage, we had occasional discussions about the A, but none of it was especially deep or helpful. BH never stopped having mind movies and insecurity, but I had no idea about his struggles. I gradually lost most of my memories of the OM, though I’m ashamed to say that I held on to a few moments as ego kibble of the days when two men were fighting over me. I remained NC and lost contact with anyone who would know anything about what OM was up to. BH and I built our lives together, sharing happiness and tragedy, buying our home, having and raising our children, and I honestly thought the A had become a painful episode in our history. Two decades passed without serious discussion of it, and several years went by without any mention of it at all.
Two years ago, as we were approaching our 25th wedding anniversary, BH started having symptoms of a midlife crisis. His business, which had been doing well for a decade, started to falter, and he was faced with giving up on the time and effort he had invested in it and moving on to a new career. As had been the case at a few points in our marriage, the stress and insecurity brought his memories of my A to the forefront. The mind movies intensified and started impacting our sex life. I knew something was wrong, but not what. Sex became more aggressive and less satisfying, which made me withdraw, which compounded the problem. The more BH thought about what I had told him about the affair, the less sense it made to him. Finally, he started testing the water by dropping hints about the parts he didn’t really believe. I was blindsided. Over the course of decades, I had successfully eradicated a lot of what I didn’t want to remember. For what remained, my mind was running on two opposing tracks: one, that I had told BH the most significant facts of the A, so everything else wasn’t really all that relevant, and two, that those details were totally devastating, and that if I admitted them to him at this late date, he would never forgive me. I honestly had few remaining memories of the sex, but what I remembered – the premeditation, the words of consent, the additional positions – how could I tell him all that now? It felt like there was a 19-year-old panicking inside my head, telling me not to be crazy, that there was no one who knew these details but me, and no evidence, so unless I said them aloud, they didn’t really exist. Especially if I didn’t really remember them, which in my panic, I immediately latched onto – what did I really remember for sure? If most of it was hazy, wasn’t all of it suspect? Why hang myself out to dry over something I wasn’t absolutely certain was true?
A big part of my work as a wayward has been the discovery of what a liar and a coward I am. It’s not just about the A. I have developed a pattern of lying, minimizing, and blameshifting to evade consequences throughout my life, both large and small. The answer to “how could you live with yourself and him while lying to him” is that for me, that was the status quo. Now that I see it, it’s astonishing, like walking along in the desert and suddenly seeing the Grand Canyon open up in front of you. “Shit, where did that massive hole come from?” And then I realize I’ve been living on the edge of it my whole life, just looking up at the sky and never glancing down.
I am so ashamed to say that not only did I lie for 29 years, but I put my BH through several weeks of trickle truth before I could get all the details out. I assured him more than once that “that’s everything,” because I had just told him something I never thought I would tell, and that only left a few minor, insignificant (major, highly significant) facts half-seen in the dark corners of my mind. A few days later, he would be saying, “You’re really sure that’s everything?” and I’d let out the next “insignificant” detail that had been swelling up like a malignant cyst, ready to burst. Finally, I realized that I really was on my last chance, that the TT was destroying him by a thousand cuts, that soon he would never believe a word I said about anything, and that nothing I told him now was as bad as it would be later. I took a deep breath and let go of the outcome.
For me, the key was writing. I wrote out my full account of the night of sex. Somehow, it was harder to type a lie than it was to say one, and there was the additional benefit of taking a few minutes to reflect. Several times during TT, I would say something that minimized the truth, and within 90 seconds I would regret it, but I had no idea how to take it back. Writing gave me the chance to read it over and say to myself: Is this really true? To say it to myself harshly, and kindly, and angrily, and sympathetically, and every way that I needed in order to finally admit it. Yes, this is what happened. This is true.
The last thing I’ll add is that it wasn’t until I admitted those truths that I was able to even consider the ways in which I stole my BH’s agency from him. I totally sold myself on the idea that telling him the full story would only hurt him and damage a relationship that he knew he still wanted, even acknowledging the A. The moment when I internalized that I had tricked him, that there was a chance he really could regret having married me, that I might have stolen his life, with no chance of undoing or fixing that monumental betrayal…
Trying to explain what that was like is where I finally run out of words.
[This message edited by BraveSirRobin at 9:27 AM, March 25th (Monday)]