1 – It’s Not Your Fault
It had only been a couple weeks since I had discovered that my then-husband had been courting others. I sat in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, anticipating the results of the humiliating tests that you have to submit to after finding out that confidence you placed in monogamy was ill-advised. Adding insult to injury, the magazine at the top of the coffee table stack seemed to be taunting me with its headline – “Five Ways to Affair-Proof Your Marriage.” How was it that I was the one who felt shamed and stigmatized when he was the one who cheated?
I have since learned, through hundreds of exchanged with betrayed spouses, that this sense of blame and embarrassment is far from uncommon.
There are many reasons that the betrayed often blame themselves for their partner’s infidelity. First, it’s challenging not to interpret the straying as a personal rejection, especially because it comes from someone who claimed to both know and love you. As you struggle to find some sense of understanding about why this happened, it’s often easier to settle on your own perceived shortcomings than to accept that sometimes answers remain elusive.
It’s a misconception that affairs only occur in bad marriages. Many people who cheat claim that they love their spouse, love their marriage. Yet, either for the thrill, the opportunity or the search for something they’re missing, they elect to stray. And for the one who was betrayed, it’s important to realize that just because it happened toyou, it does not mean that it happened becauseof you. You didn’t make them cheat and, in most cases, you could not have prevented them from cheating. Regardless of their motivations, your spouse’s actions reveal more about them than about you.
In addition to your own sense of fault, you may face accusations from others. The cheating partner often utilizes projection and blame both in attempt to distract from their misdeeds and in order to reduce their own sense of guilt and shame. They may pepper you with statements along the lines of, “If only you would have…” and “I wouldn’t have needed to cheat if you…” These claims not only shift the responsibility of the affair to the betrayed partner, they also frequently minimize any deception that occurred, asserting that the spouse “must have known” what was occurring.
When these allegations bombard you, take a moment to remind yourself of the motivations behind these claims. Your ex is basically acting like the guilty child blaming the dog when the cookies go missing; they will likely point the finger anywhere rather than where it belongs. Rather than allowing their choices to challenge their self-perception of themselves as a “good person,” they will frequently paint their partner as “the bad guy.” Also, consider that you weren’t given the opportunity to respond from a place of full knowledge; you can’t be expected to meet your partner’s needs when they’re burying their desires behind their lies. In some cases, this manipulation began long before the affair(s) even started, using gaslighting to slowly undermine their partner’s sense of reality.
The external blame can also come from those outside the marriage. Assumptions will be made and accusations formulated about how you must have been a sub-par spouse in order for your partner to step out. These assertions, especially when they come from friends and family, are blows upon already bruised skin. These claims, much like the magazine headline that taunted me with my failure to “affair-proof” my marriage, are coming from a need for the world to be a fair and orderly place. People desperately want to believe that if they do good, good will be returned to them. They find it easier to accuse the betrayed spouse than to accept that infidelity could pay a visit to their marital bed.
When you’re trying to find your way after the discovery of infidelity, it’s okay to limit your exposure to those who do not support you. Surround yourself with people who refrain from assigning blame and who empower you to find your truth and rebuild your life.
2 – You Have Everything You Need
I remember a strange sense of relief coming over me when I discovered that my then-husband had been leading a secret life. Even as my world collapsed and everything I had was swept away, I felt a sort of serenity building beneath the storm. For years, I had been unknowingly living a lie, an unknowing participant in a made-for-television drama. At some level, I must have been aware of this tension, the constant incongruity between what I thought and what I was living.
And so once the horrific truth came to light, I suddenly felt a sense of power for the first time in years. Now that I knew the facts, I could make choices. Instead of being tossed around by the winds spun by his lies, I was finally able to stand alone and see my life clearly. I had been granted an opportunity to live authentically.
There is often a sense of powerlessness that comes with the discovery of infidelity. You couldn’t prevent them from cheating. You can’t stop them from seeing others. You can’t control how the affair partner responds to the revelation of the infidelity. You can’t pressure your ex to explain their motivations or to address their deep-seated issues. And you can’t force them to apologize or to try to make amends.
We all-too-easily focus on what we can’t control. We obsess over the details of the affair. We desperately search for explanations and meaning in the betrayal. We believe that maybe our ex will again become the person we once thought they were. We convince ourselves that we need an apology.
In fact, everything we need, we already have.
Now that you know the truth, you are able to see yourself as you are, not as you have been led to believe.
The lies have been washed away. Acceptance of those things you cannot change has been reached. And what you’re left with is your truth. You’ve been betrayed. And now you decide what will be revealed.