Feel guilty for hurting my abuser
October 5, 2011 10:23 AM Subscribe
How do I deal with guilt, anger, and complicated emotions surrounding cheating on my abusive spouse?
One year ago, I left my husband of 6 years. He was not a monster, but he came from an abusive, neglectful family, and he was an angry, emotionally abusive person.
He was very controlling and disapproving of me and of our daughters’ interests and behaviors. According to him, our interests were at best silly and at worst signs of real character flaws or mental illness. When I talked about politics or economics or the news (some of my interests) he criticized me for being negative and said my interests were signs of severe depression.
He rarely gave me the benefit of the doubt in our interactions and seldom took responsibility for his role in our conflicts. For instance, I would be telling him about what I ate for lunch and he would interrupt me to say “Your face looks really ugly when you say that.” I would get upset and (having learned not to be angry or have an outburst of any kind) would say something bland like “It really hurts when you say things like that to me.” He would become furious with me for being so sensitive and would shout at me, which would end with me in tears. Finally, he would suddenly decide to comfort me and would reach out to hug me. I would be really upset and freaked out and would put up my hands in a kind of “I need some space” gesture. He would go ballistic and stomp around the room and scream at me that I was “pushing him away” and hated him and was the cause of all our strife. It eventually got to where I stopped telling him anything. I walked on eggshells constantly, lost 40 pounds very rapidly, and could see that his previously incorrect statements about my mental health were actually starting to come true. I was getting sick. Losing it.
Finally, I told him I was leaving him. For two months I told him. He didn’t believe me. He thought I was just making noise. When landlords of apartments I was looking at started leaving messages, he finally took me seriously. He suggested we go to counseling. I was already seeing one, so we went to her. At the counseling sessions, he exhibited many of the behaviors I referenced above, leading the therapist to tell me in a private session that he was abusive and unlikely to change. This strengthened my resolve to leave.
Then, I did something terrible and stupid. Two months before I left, after he’d known I was leaving for two months (it took me a total of 4 months to find a place I could afford and could live in with 2 young kids), I began an emotional and physical relationship with a man I’ve been very close friends with for years. I’d never in any way been unfaithful to my husband until that last two months, and when the affair began I went to my counselor, my pastor, and my mother and told them about it and asked for help controlling myself. I was sort of, but not entirely, successful.
My husband found out about the affair and assumed that this was the reason I was leaving him. He called my friends, family, and church, and my daughters’ teachers and told them I was an amoral slut and a sociopath, and had cheated on him and was trying to justify it by claiming he was abusive. He acted (and still acts) like a 100% victim in this situation. He refuses to speak to me at all (even about our kids) and tells everyone that I am severely mentally ill and a narcissist, or suffering from BPD, or a sociopath (depending on what day it is). I have not gone around telling people in this small town about his abusive behavior and don’t plan to, but the upshot of this is that I have lost most of my friends. Going out in public is very difficult because I often see people I know and they shun me. I can’t really move, though, because I have two daughters I don’t want to uproot.
My decision to have an affair while still married – even to someone as problematic as my husband – has seriously shaken me. That is not at all like me; it runs counter to all of my values and the things I believe. I believe that him hurting and wronging me does not at all justify my decision to compromise my principles the way I did. I feel intensely guilty over this. I also am angry that I have surrendered the moral high ground to him in the eyes of him and everyone I know by having an affair. He treats me like poo for 6 years, but my mistake in the final months of our marriage somehow makes me the villain in the story. I have no leg to stand on. I did cheat on him, and nobody deserves that. He is also really hurt by this – the fact that I was sneaking around and being unfaithful. He doesn’t trust me and I know he wonders what else I was hiding during our marriage (nothing else but intense unhappiness). I’ve written him an email and apologized sincerely for the infidelity, but he believes I’m just saying that because that’s what you’re supposed to say.
So, finally, my question. How do I deal with guilt and shame over treating someone in a way that I feel is really shabby? And how do I get my head around the fact that I feel so guilty about my treatment of someone who was so mean to me? I’m in counseling for this but it is really debilitating me. I’d appreciate any thoughts.