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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

After the Affair: How Much Should You Talk About It?

The affair has been uncovered. The decision has been made to try to save the relationship. There’s a constant tension though – the one who has been betrayed feels the need to talk about it all of the time (“I want you to understand the pain you have put me through”) and the one who cheated wants to put it behind them and move on (“If you keep punishing me for the past, we’ll never make it”).

As with everything, there is no one-size-fits all answer here and both perspectives have some valid points.

 

If you cheated on your partner,

When they first discover the affair, expect the tears and the anger to be ever-present. Their entire world has just collapsed. They though that you were their rock, that they count count on you, and that foundation has just been abruptly pulled from beneath their feet. They will probably say some very harsh things. It won’t be rational because they have been thrown into full-on fight or flight. This is not the time to be defensive or to try to correct assumptions, even if they’re off-base. Your role right now is just to take it (as long as it doesn’t move into threatening territory).

And yes, it sucks to be attacked, to be villainized. But guess what? It sucks to be cheated on too. They didn’t ask for this. You made choices and those choices have consequences. It’s time for you to take responsibility, and some of that is being open and willing to listen to their pain.

Now obviously, if this emotional intensity continues and the affair is an ever-present topic of conversation, the relationship cannot heal. But you don’t get to control your spouse’s reactions or dictate the timeline of their healing. You’ve already taken away their agency by having the affair. You don’t get to tell them how to move on. There is a difference between you being uncomfortable because you cannot hide from your poor choices and your spouse deliberately using your past to hurt you.

You don’t have to stay in a position where you are feeling constantly punished for an extended period of time. Just like they have the right to say, “I just can’t get over what you have done and I think we should end things,” you have the right to set your boundaries around this too.

 

If you have been cheated on,

In the beginning, you need to talk. Your pain demands to be heard, you are desperately seeking understanding and you’re trying to process this enormous thing that has completely upended your life. Obviously – and understandably, some of this will be directed at your spouse. Yet make sure that they are not your only outlet. These feelings you’re carrying are big and are best distributed. Seek out a therapist or support group, a trusted friend or two and a journal. These become especially important as time passes and your healing is on a different schedule than the one the relationship is on.

It’s natural to want to know every detail about the affair as you try to regain some sense of control over your life. Yet this information has diminishing returns and focusing too much on the play-by-play keeps the energy in the past. It’s also understandable that you have the impulse to share every time you’re triggered. After all, they are the ones that planted that seed to begin with. It makes sense to share these when they first emerge so that you can talk through them together. Yet if it’s the tenth time that you’ve driven by a certain spot and your stomach plummets, it may not need mentioning. After all, they already know that this location bothers you and they can’t make that association disappear for you.

You didn’t have a say in the affair and you have every right to have a say in how the recovery plays out. It is not your role to alleviate their guilt or to stay quiet in an attempt to keep the peace. Your emotions are valid. That being said, be mindful of your motivation when you bring up the affair. Are you looking for reassurances that it won’t happen again? Are you wanting to make them feel badly? Are you coming from a place of self-righteousness? Are you wanting the person that hurt you to be the one to heal you? These are all the relationship equivalent of a dryer being stuck in the tumble cycle – it will beat you both up, but won’t make much of anything happen.

None of what happened is fair. And if you’re committed to staying, you have to decide what you want more – to punish them or heal the relationship. You can’t have both.

 

 

The 5 Types of Apologies Cheaters Use

They’re been caught cheating. Or, they decided to come clean about the affair. Some of the first words out of their mouth are,

I’m sorry.

You want desperately to believe those words, to believe that they feel true remorse for the pain they have caused you. Yet, past event shave also proven to you that they will lie.

As you suspect, there may be more to their apology than meets the eye.

Here are five types of apologies that cheaters may use:

 

1 – I’m sorry that I got caught.

They are not sorry they did it, they are simply sorry that they have been found out. Often this sort of apology presents with irritation and comes off as insincere. Instead of making changes to end the affair and reinvest in the marriage, they instead double down on their efforts to hide their indiscretions. They may blame you for snooping, their friends for being busybodies or the affair partner for not being careful.

 

2 – I’m saying sorry to try to smooth things over.

Nobody likes others to be upset with them or disappointed in them. This is even true for cheaters. So they apologize, not because they are truly sorry, but because they don’t like having this discord at home. They hope that they can placate with their verbal amends so that you will no longer respond with anger, rejection or sadness towards them. Pay attention to what surrounds the apology. Are they using gifts or physical touch in an attempt to calm or distract you? Also, a sign of this sort of apology is that it is only expressed when your emotions are running high.

 

3 – I’m sorry that you’re upset.

This one has some empathy to it. They see that you’re in pain and they don’t like to see you hurting. The problem here is that there is a disconnect between their actions and your feelings and they are failing to take responsibility for their part in causing you pain. This sort of apology usually presents with other selfish patterns of behavior. Even though they don’t like to see you hurt or inconvenienced, their own desires always take precedence.

 

4 – I’m saying sorry in an ongoing attempt to manipulate the situation.

When this type of apology is used, it comes with the expectation of a particular outcome. They are saying they are sorry with the caveat that you are no longer allowed to bring up their transgressions or that you will not threaten to leave. Look out for guilt trips and gaslighting as they try to turn this around to be about you.

 

5 – I am truly sorry for what I have done.

When people are truly sorry, their language will reflect that. Instead of speaking in third person or generalizations (“When the affair happened”), they use “I” statements to demonstrate ownership (“When I crossed the line into an affair”). They take responsibility for their actions and refrain from blaming you, the affair partner, or outside factors, even while accepting that other variables may have had an influence on their decisions. Another sign of a genuine apology is that they are taking the initiative and not expecting you to help them regulate their own emotional responses.

True remorse is expressed with no strings attached. They say it and then give you the space to do with it what you choose.

Finally, an authentic apology always comes with changed behavior. Because without that, it is simply another empty promise.

And if you didn’t get an apology, this post is for you.

Why I’m Not Anti-Divorce (Even Though I Hate It)

Divorce was the last thing I ever wanted in my first marriage.

Yet, in hindsight, I wish that my husband had asked for a divorce.

Because a divorce would have far easier – and more honest –  than what transpired.

 

If he had asked for a divorce, I would have been gutted. There is no easy way to accept the end of a relationship when it’s not what you want. It’s natural to beg, to cry, to rage in attempt to change the outcome, to somehow MAKE them want to stay.

But that one-sided attempt never really works.

If they want out, if their mind is made up and they are not willing or able to make an effort at repair, it’s often best to let them go.

 

From my perspective now, I would rather face divorce than have a partner who is only with me out of a sense of obligation or guilt. I want to be with somebody that chooses me every day (especially on the hard days when we don’t especially connect). Anything else only leads to resentment.

I would rather face divorce than have an unhappy partner that is using affairs to try to fill the void they feel. I would rather be left in plain sight than cheated on behind my back. The pain from betrayal is unparalleled.

I would rather face a divorce sooner than abandonment down the road when the pretense becomes too much for my partner to uphold. They both result in a feeling of rejection, but abandonment makes it much harder to learn how to trust again.

I would rather face divorce than be with someone who was married in name only, who refused to be emotionally present. I would rather be alone than feel miles apart from the person sleeping next to me every night.

I would rather face divorce than be married to someone who keeps up a facade at all times, pretending to be something and someone that they are not. I’d rather have an honest ending than a lie that lasts til death do us part.

 

 

Two things can be true at the same time –

Divorce is awful and can be extremely disruptive and even traumatic, especially for a partner who does not want it or for the children.

AND

Sometimes divorce is the best outcome in a given situation.

If you have to choose between a happy marriage and divorce, it’s obvious which selection is the preferred one. Yet that’s not the option that’s on the table. The decision is between keeping a malfunctioning relationship going either through life-support or a steady drip of denial and an end of that relationship, leaving space for something new.

 

Speaking from personal experience, if you’re facing an unwanted divorce, it’s extremely challenging to accept that your marriage was not as happy as you thought. This is especially true if your spouse actively hid their unhappiness (don’t you just love the, “I haven’t been happy for a long time” being the first indication of a problem???). But even if everything was smooth from your perspective, they may see ragged surfaces and unfilled spaces from their side, and the marriage is the sum of those views.

I wonder now if my own fear of divorce played a role in my ex-husband’s deceptions. If he was too scared of my reaction to bring up the possibility of divorce, so instead he tried to pretend that everything was okay at home while living an entirely different life outside those four walls. Perhaps things would have been easier if we were both more willing to look at things honestly.

 

I am not anti-divorce.

I AM anti-lying to yourself or your partner. A relationship that is not built on honesty will eventually – and painfully – collapse.

I AM anti-cheating. It is never okay to betray your partner’s trust.

I AM anti-abandonment. It is cowardly and immature to slink away without a conversation.

I AM anti-shaming someone for the decision they make. We all have to do what aligns with our goals and values.

Divorce is awful. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy (or even on my ex-husband!). Yet sometimes, for some people, in some situations, it’s the right decision.

 

7 Things You Owe Your Partner (and One Thing You Don’t)

 

Forcing the End: Cheating as an Exit Strategy

People cheat for a large variety of reasons. In many of those cases, the cheater wants the affair partner(s) and they still want the marriage, a sort of one-sided renegotiation of the wedding vows.

Yet in other cases, what the cheater really wants is out of the marriage and the affair is simply a way of forcing that outcome.

So, why do people use an affair as an exit strategy for a marriage?

 

They Want You to Be the One to End It

Maybe they promised themselves that they would never get divorced. Or, they would feel guilty about breaking up the family while the kids are still young. Sometimes they’re worried about the judgment they’ll face from others if their marriage fails.  But if you’re the one to initiate the divorce, then they can find comfort in their little fiction that this was all on you.

Of course, all of this completely ignores the fact that it was their behavior that led to divorce in the first place. That if it wasn’t for the affair, you never would have filed the papers. But those that cheat are quite skilled at compartmentalization; they can convince themselves that the both the affair and the divorce happened to them instead of because of them.

 

They Lack the Courage to Be Honest With You

These are the people that will drop the bombshell, “I haven’t been happy for a long time” once their hand is forced, yet will never come to you with, “I’ve been feeling disconnected from you recently and I’d like for us to work together on this.” In a perverse way, they are not upfront with you because they don’t want to see you hurt and they don’t want to bear witness to your disappointment.

So instead, they pull away and they turn elsewhere, towards someone that they don’t have to worry about feeling obligated towards. They are running away, from the marriage and also from their discomfort. They believe that if they just stuff their unhappiness deep enough, they can build on top of it.

 

They Are Afraid of Being Alone

They want out. They know they want out. And yet the thought of being alone and unmoored after divorce scares the hell out of them. So, they make sure that they have a safe place – or person – to land on. The affair is a way of avoiding that terrifying leap into the unknown of being single, instead replacing the cliff’s edge with a gentle ramp out of marriage.

 

They Are Not Self-Aware

This is so often the case with those who use cheating to force the end of a marriage. Many times, they are not even consciously aware that they want out, much less cognizant about how the choices they make fit into the bigger picture.

 

In all of these cases, the affair may have been the final straw (or your first indication that something was amiss), but there were problems beneath the surface long before they stepped out. If you’re entering into a new relationship after divorce, make sure to look for someone who has the courage to be honest with you – and themselves – about when they are unhappy. It’s not a guarantee that they will never cheat on you, but it certainly provides some insurance.

 

 

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