I know I tend to write "books" so I'll try to keep this intro short and get to the meat of things. I've spent the past several years "spinning", having all the right information but unable to process it in a way that would allow me to heal and move forward. This also had the added effect of continuing to harm my spouse and others in my life. I made some realizations along the way that I hope will help others, if even in some small way, so I am sharing these things here. Please take whatever works for you.
I had quite literally destroyed our marriage and our entire relationship along with it
I fought this concept like all hell. I could say the words, and in concept I knew it to be true, but in my heart, the old marriage still existed and I still wanted it back. I thought she really still loved me and that everything was going to be okay once some time had passed. I thought I could resurrect our marriage from the dead. I thought what I did was forgivable on some level. I was wrong on all counts. I had to accept that what I did was not only unforgivable, it was also permanent, and real. When I had the affair, the impact and consequence of that choice meant that I had left her. I spent the next several years under the illusion that she might leave me or choose to end the marriage. The truth was I had already beaten her to the punch. I had already done both things to her. I just couldn't allow myself to face that truth. Somehow I felt entitled to be forgiven. There was simply no reason for that to happen. I was sorry for her, yes, but I was more sorry for myself. And when you are busy feeling sorry for yourself, it is impossible to truly be sorry for anyone else. So even though I was there with her 24/7, she was utterly and totally alone, because the only person I was capable of seeing was myself and my own fear.
Takeaway: Your marriage is over. You are not the person your spouse once knew, and your spouse is now changed as well, from the trauma you have inflicted upon their entire paradigm of what truth, love, loyalty and honesty are. For the first time in your relationship, your spouse now sees you for who you truly are, and sadly, now they likely doubt who everyone in their world really is, including themselves. There is nothing you can do to make things better, period. Why? Again, your marriage is over. There is nothing to make better. The "you" you are now, the one who thought it was acceptable on some level to have an affair, is not someone worthy of, nor safe enough for, a relationship. If you are to have any relationship moving forward, with your spouse or otherwise, you will need to accept who you are, and just as importantly, learn to be someone better. You also have to accept that if your spouse chooses to move forward without waiting around for you to get your shit in order, then you should be feeling more sorry for them than for yourself. Because this wasn't their choice. Their choice (you) did this to them in the first place.
My choice had been made, so I needed to learn to be okay with it
On some level, whether I was willing or able to accept it or not, I had left my wife. I had betrayed her, I had betrayed myself, I had betrayed my family and most everyone I knew. And for reasons that were mine to figure out through hard work and determination, I had made that choice and acted on it. I did what I did on purpose, and absolutely knew what the consequences would be. When it came time to face those consequences however, I refused to accept them. At least, I tried to. I felt so damn sorry for myself that I did to myself exactly the same things that I did to my wife during the affair. I lied to myself, I gas-lighted myself, I tried to bargain with myself, anything, everything, to make myself feel better, because facing the reality of what I had done was simply too painful to feel. I had spent most of my life avoiding feeling pain, and I was an expert at going numb or going to pieces. I had no coping mechanisms that involved feeling the pain, dealing with the pain, or stepping up to the plate and being responsible for the pain or what caused it.
At the end of the day, I think the time had come for me to grow the fuck up. And perhaps that need is where the affair itself was born? Maybe my marriage was a skin that needed to be shed, because it was based on a lie, my lie, the one I told myself. It was the lie that I was someone other than who I really was, that I was someone who would never cheat, someone loyal, someone happy with themselves and capable of true love and joy. I was not. I was a sad, hurt little child who never got over his own demons, and chose to live life as a needy individual, rather than as someone who can love themselves and be strong for others. Instead of reaching out for help, I chose to repeat the abuse that was dealt to me. I needed to accept, as a fact, that I had chosen to be alone, and to be hated, because that's what I thought I deserved, what I felt I was worth. I don't think I was actually capable of understanding that at the time of the affair. It is, nonetheless, exactly what happened.
Takeaway: This was a choice you made. You wanted something other than your spouse, and now you have it, whether it is still what you want or not. You need to be prepared to move forward WITHOUT your spouse, and more importantly, you need to be OKAY with this. Not because it is what you want now, but because it was what you wanted when you had your affair. Unfortunately, since you already made your choice, you now have to live with the consequences, and part of that means learning to accept moving forward alone, as a possible outcome. I am not saying to give up on R! Rather, I am saying that part of being able to be someone that your spouse or anyone else can ever love or trust or depend on, you must first be someone who loves themselves, who can carry their own weight in this world, and is worthy of being loved back. Yes, we are all worthy of love, but the only way others can show us that love is by us loving ourselves first, otherwise, the love of others cannot get through to us, and the love we hold inside cannot get through to others.
My spouse had no part in this. This was my shit-show the entire time.
Part of "the lies I told myself" (a great book title, no?) was that my spouse had anything at all to do with the affair, the aftermath, or the recovery. No, my spouse was the victim, collateral damage, and she was simply doing her best to stay alive after being stabbed in the back and left in the gutter, by me. This was my show, from the get-go. There was nothing my wife needed to "get over" or "forgive" or do or say for my benefit. I spent years trying to manipulate her actions and decisions in order to achieve the outcome I wanted. The truth was, my behavior during R was in many ways the same as it was during the A. I was dictating what I wanted/needed from her and doing all I could to make it happen, she was just responding to my continued selfish behavior. Her actions were responses to my actions. I continued to be selfish, and so she continued to be hurt by that. As long as I continued to be selfish, she continued to be hurt, and pulled further away from me. I had no idea that I was still "driving the bus", and convinced myself that pulling away from me is what she wanted. All she really wanted was to stop hurting, and for me to stop being the one hurting her.
Takeaway: Your spouse doesn't need your love, your apologies, your excuses, your reasons. What your spouse needs is your honesty, your integrity, your remorse, and your empathy. More than anything, they need for your selfishness and "the fog" to go away. There is nothing that your spouse "needs to do" for your benefit. In fact, if there is to be any hope or reason to build a new relationship together, it must come from you to begin with. Your spouse feels as if they trapped in a meat grinder and are doing everything they can to stay away from the blades. You can help the most by simply turning off the grinder, which is you.
It all comes down to self-love and self-respect
We said above that the destruction of your spouse and your marriage are simply "collateral damage" from the affair. In that same way, the affair itself, is also collateral damage. Its root cause was you. The affair did not happen to you, it happened because of you. Everything that happens from here on out will continue to be because of you. Yes, your spouse will now need to make decisions for themselves based on what feels safest for them, however they can still only operate within the boundaries of the choices they are given. If you are still a selfish and harmful person, then building something new with you is no longer an option for them to choose, so they will be forced to choose an option that doesn't include you.
Shortly after D-Day, my wife told me that the real root cause of everything was that I simply "did not love myself". At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about, but in truth, this was the key, the sole reason, for everything. Not just the affair, but my entire life, how I built relationships, how I handled jobs, how I saw myself and others, my addictions, my loves, my hates, my politics, my beliefs, how I dealt with and processed things - everything. The damage done to me by my abusers left me feeling unworthy, so my life was a constant struggle to justify my own value through the eyes of others. As Brene Brown puts it, I was "hustling for my own worth". I was a funny, loving, supportive and intelligent person, and so I thought that meant that I was okay, that I was great in fact. But all those traits were "faulty coping skills" that I learned in order to make other people love me, because deep down, I could not value myself. My only value came from others, and when others didn't shower me with praise, I felt ugly and worthless inside. This would prompt me to only try harder to impress people, because their approval and love were like emotional oxygen to me, and I could not live without it. When it was taken away from me, I would get angry, because that is how the fear manifested itself, and because I was mad at them for not giving me what I needed, what I could not provide for myself. Here is a simple fact - you cannot love or respect others when you cannot love or respect yourself. In other words, you cannot give what you do not already possess. There was no way I could love my wife, not because she wasn't worthy of my love, not because I didn't care, but simply because love was something I was not capable of feeling, not really. Love, to me, was a reflection of myself. Every day I hustled for my worth. Every day, I wondered why anyone would have any reason to love me.
Takeaway: Every WS must do a "deep dive" into their "why's", and then do the hard work to make corrections to their broken perceptions. It is my personal theory that all WS's, for their own reasons, lack self-love. I believe this to be true, because I believe that it is impossible for someone capable of self-love to have an affair in the first place. A person who has self-love would have the boundaries, integrity and decency that would never allow them to disrespect themselves and their loved ones in such a way in the first place. They would never allow themselves to hurt and use others in such a way. In fact, the mere thought of betraying, lying to and hurting others in such a way would not even be considered an option, because they could never live with themselves or the thought of doing such a thing. It would feel like committing murder, something so far past the bounds of what is reasonable that it is not even a thought to begin with. Once the WS is able to discover the origins and reasons for their own lack of self-love, they can then take steps to correct this, and to develop healthy coping skills and personal integrity that will help guide them to a better life, and to better versions of themselves. It will make them a safer person, for themselves and others. Their decisions and actions will now be guided by a belief system, healthy boundaries and integrity. This is not an easy task. It will take courage. It will involve pain and growth. There will be loss. There will be enlightenment. More than anything, perhaps for the first time in your life, you will need to discover not only who you are, but why you are who you are. And most of all, you will have to do this alone. Of course there may be people along the way to encourage you, but like healing a broken bone, the only person that can do the actual healing is you. You will have to be your own cheerleader, your own coach, your own shoulder to cry on, because at the end of the day, the person you are today lacks these critical skills, and leaning on others (in their entirety, without any support from yourself) is what got you here in the first place. It is time to grow and change, or wither and rot. The choice, and the effort, is yours to make. Until this is done, nothing else can progress.
I had to be willing to lose the marriage in order to save it
Someone said this to me early on, and it made no sense to me at the time. How could I accept doing anything other than fighting for my marriage? Wasn't my willingness to let the marriage go the real problem in the first place?
The fact is that the marriage we had was lopsided and based on a foundation of quicksand. There was one person who was constantly emotionally needy, and another person was constantly picking up the slack and being made responsible for everyone's happiness and security, at the loss of their own. As long as I continued to cling to the already dead marriage, nothing new could grow. It was like keeping a dead plant in the flower pot and watering it anyway.
Marriage is not an entity. It is not something you deserve, nor is it something you own. Marriage is a decision, and it is one that you make every day, every moment of every day. Marriage, a real marriage, is made by two individual people, who have made a commitment, not to each other, but to themselves, that this is what they want, and what is right for them, and that it is what they are willing to fight for and believe in. We cannot commit to others if we can't commit to ourselves first. If you are not strong enough to make it on your own without the relationship, then you are not strong enough to be a partner in a relationship. A selfish person has no concept of self-sacrifice or empathy, and yet, these are things that a relationship is founded on.
Takeaway: In order to have a marriage, a real marriage, you must be willing to accept that you must be a healthy individual in order to be a healthy partner. If the relationship is more important to you than your partner or yourself, then there is no relationship, because you are deriving your self-worth (and your partners worth) based on your happiness (or lack thereof) with what you are getting from, rather than giving to, your marriage. Love and trust are earned through giving. Your needs are your own to meet, as are your partners. Helping your partner to meet their needs is where love grows, however requiring your partner to help you meet your needs is where love dies. Meeting your needs at the expense of your partner is how love is murdered.
If you and your spouse (or someone else, if it comes to that) are to have a relationship moving forward, it MUST be built from the ground up, as if you had never met before, as if nothing had ever existed, because in truth, that's what is needed. You must change and your spouse must change, because what you had before was a lie anyway. As I said before, you cannot get back what you never had to begin with. So move forward with that in mind. Be someone worthy of being loved, and be someone capable of loving back. Love may indeed be a "need", the only real question is, who is responsible for fulfilling it?
[This message edited by DaddyDom at 10:42 PM, December 16th (Monday)]