How do I process – I never tried to hurt you but I’m sorry if it happened, it wasn’t my intent, it was yours, get out of my life forever?
August 2, 2009 6:59 PM   Subscribe

My question is about intent? If you hurt someone with what you perceive to be their and your best interests in mind, while simultaneously knowing that what you are doing will hurt that person, is it any different than actively trying to hurt the person. Does duration and occurrence play a role? If I don’t mean to hurt you, but know I am and will for 4 years is it less bad than a single act of active hurtfulness? Is it possible to want to hurt someone you love in an extreme moment but still love and care for that person? Is it possible to call that love?

I am recently out of a 4 year relationship that was plagued with lies from the beginning and ended very badly. The other person maintains that they didn’t actually try to hurt me, but were in a position where they had no choice. I believe that this in part may be true but there is also an aspect of extreme selfishness that put their desires ahead of my well being. This person maintains that many of their actions were to primarily protect me from the truth which they themselves were unhappy with. And that their actions were in part caused by having to make a very difficult decision which they were not strong enough to ultimately make. They had another SO throughout the duration, and at different times were in love with both of us. This person did everything they could to keep me or part of me in the game, both physically and emotionally. I have to admit, I am still partly in the game, at least in my heart as this person was the love of my life.

At the end, 4 years later, and 2 years after beginning to notice and question the oddities in my life, doing everything thing I could to understand these and try to gain a level of normality in my relationship and my life, putting all else aside to focus on repairing the damage that this caused throughout; I did something which may be perceived as revenge. I got in contact the other SO, to discuss what had happened to both of us, to understand what my life was, and in part to ensure that the other SO also knew what I knew about the behavior of our SO. At this point, and this point came at a moment of extreame pain directly caused by this person, I decided that everyone had the right to know everything, and that everyone should know everything, for the health of everyone, including the person I love.

My question is about intent? If you hurt someone with what you perceive to be their and your best interests in mind, while simultaneously knowing that what you are doing will hurt that person, is it any different than actively trying to hurt the person. Does duration and occurrence play a role? If I don’t mean to hurt you, but know I am and will for 4 years is it less bad than a single act of active hurtfulness? Is it possible to want to hurt someone you love in an extreme moment but still love and care for that person? Is it possible to call that love?
posted by sav to Human Relations (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Your ex-partner had their own best interest in mind, not yours. That was their real intent.
posted by heatherann at 7:07 PM on August 2, 2009 [7 favorites]

You always have a choice. It may be a difficult one, but it's a choice. To say you have no choice is an evasion of responsibility.

You did fine blowing the whole thing open. What the piggy in the middle did was lame and manipulative and history is full of stories just like yours. Contacting the other woman/man is a time-tested action which is just fine. Kick them to the curb, they don't get to have their cake and eat it too. Be strong, you're doing just fine.
posted by rhizome at 7:10 PM on August 2, 2009

It's unclear from reading htis question whether you are simply asking about your (sociopathic, in my opinion) ex or your own actions when you deliberately "outed" their double life or a combination of both. I'll do that list thing I do.

- you can call whatever you'd like to "love" I'd skip that part for now.
- hurting someone by accident is a little different than hurting them on purpose. BUT doing something that would be considered hurtful by damned near everyone (i.e. leading a double life of the sort you describe) and then doing the whole "who me?" thing when it's revealed for the hurtful damaging thing it is means (to me) that the person who did that is a liar or a sociopath or someone who can not understand human emotions
- there are relative levels of hurtfulness, sure, but again I don't think it's germane to try to figure out who hurt who more in this situation. One person was acting deceitfully and crazy for years and one person told the truth even though the truth was hurtful.

I can't tell from your description exactly who hurt whom and why other than the broad sweeping parts but know this: your ex treated you horribly and you should run not walk away from any further involvement from them and try to get good advice from a good advice giver (be it family member, religious leader or therapist) because that's a good long mindfuck and that's a hard thing to be grappling with on your own.
posted by jessamyn at 7:14 PM on August 2, 2009 [5 favorites]

You've obviously been through many painful experiences, and I'm very sorry. I hope life gets better for you.

That said, it's impossible to answer this (chatfilter?) question. My guess is that there will people people chiming in, saying, "No, that's not love" or "Yes, that is love." Anyone can define "love" any way he wants. If two people define "love" differently. They are both right; both wrong.

My definition of "love" is that it's a specific FEELING. It's hard to explain what that feeling is like, but most of us have experienced it. To me, if you have that feeling, then you have love.

Love has nothing to do with actions. There are certain actions that people TEND to take when they're in love, but other people act differently. Some people hurt the ones they love; some don't.

Are you asking if it's morally RIGHT to hurt people you love? In my view, no -- unless they will be hurt worse by something else if you don't hurt them first. (I would push my wife to the ground to save her from getting shot.) But again, this is open to opinion. Someone else might say, "Yes, it's okay." Another person might say, "No. Never."

If you hurt someone with what you perceive to be their and your best interests in mind, while simultaneously knowing that what you are doing will hurt that person, is it any different than actively trying to hurt the person.

Is hurting with intent to do good DIFFERENT from just plain hurting? Of course. The two acts are done for different reasons -- one "to do good," and the other for some nefarious aim or through carelessness. So what?

My guess is that, again, you're asking an ethical question: is it OKAY to hurt someone for their own good? Well, is it okay according to whom? The hurter? The person getting hurt? A rabbi? The "man on the street"?

To me, it's rare that it's okay for me to hurt someone for his own good -- unless that someone is a child. I would force a kid to get immunized for his own good. For me to do that to a grownup is presumptuous and condescending. (I MIGHT force a grownup to be immunized for MY good -- so I don't catch a disease from him. But I wouldn't tell myself I was doing it for his good.)

If I was in a relationship with someone who was in clear and present danger (e.g. suicidal), I would consider doing something "for his own good." But that's just me.
posted by grumblebee at 7:20 PM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I suggest you seek some therapy immediately.

The phrase "If you hurt someone with what you perceive to be their and your best interests in mind, while simultaneously knowing that what you are doing will hurt that person..." does not make sense.

I think you are in real danger and you need to take a deep breath and seek outside help. Your description of your situation is so tangential that it is hard for anyone to understand what you are talking about. I think there are some big things you want to talk about but you don't know how to because this person has hurt you but also means a lot to you. Please get help.
posted by phaedon at 7:22 PM on August 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

The other person maintains that they didn’t actually try to hurt me, but were in a position where they had no choice.

That's a cruel, selfish gutless, pathetic crock of shit.

With the questions of intent, in this case, dunno that there is an answer. I don't know that people can always know that their motivations are impeccably pure and good, that a desire for revenge has zero, zilch and nil to do with it.

I can see the other perspective, but even if your motivations were purely based on revenge, to me, the person had it coming (with an added bonus that someone else learns they're being betrayed).

As an aside, if I was that other person, I'd damn sure want to know that my lovely SO has for some time had another SO.

Here's hoping there's calm and better times ahead.
posted by ambient2 at 7:22 PM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

One person was acting deceitfully and crazy for years and one person told the truth even though the truth was hurtful.

OP, if you're looking for justification for having spilled the beans on the double life your SO was leading, this is it. You didn't do something wrong here; you helped right something and, IMHO, put yourself and the other woman/man in positions where you can move forward. Good luck with coping with the deceit of your partner.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 7:24 PM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you know that what you are doing will hurt someone, and you do it anyway, you are intentionally hurting that person. Even though hurting that person is not your goal, you know it will happen if you act, and you act anyway, so you intend the result. It isn't an accident, because it isn't a sudden surprise.

It's OK to be angry.

When someone tells you they lied to you to protect you, run don't walk from that person. People lie to children to protect them. People lie to adults to protect themselves.

I know you feel like the person who betrayed you is "the one," but there is more than one person out there for you to fall in love with. You will find love again, with someone who does not lie to you and betray you.
posted by prefpara at 7:29 PM on August 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you're asking a question about how to deal with your feelings about your personal life, I'd suggest therapy, perhaps writing about your feelings, and cutting out of your life people who make you feel bad.

If you're asking a question about the nature of right and wrong and about theories of intention in moral philosophy, you should read up on the Doctrine of Double Effect.

(I suspect that although your question is phrased more like the latter, you're actually seeking the former.)
posted by decathecting at 7:41 PM on August 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't mean to run you down with my car. But I will not blow the horn to alert you, nor will I put on the brakes, serve, or slow down. I won't tell you I am coming at you in my car, and if I hit you I won't mean to hurt you even though I will, but I want you in the road and I want to drive over the spot you are standing.
posted by Kerasia at 7:44 PM on August 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

It's not a matter of intent, it's a matter of responsibility. Your ex bears the responsibility for the harm that caused and the pain that was felt. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" is a truism for a reason. You can't escape responsibility simply by having a good intent - especially if your intent is absurdly at odds with the obvious rational outcomes of your actions.

"I had no choice" is a crummy excuse and a favorite of abusive people. Your ex had a choice that all kinds of people have all the time, and almost all of them do a simple thing: they pick one person and deal with the consequences.

Another trick of abusive people is to make you think they are responsible for keeping their secrets even if these secrets are actively harming you. Telling the other individual was the right thing to do: you both had the right to know the facts about what was going on.

Personally I think these facts are what really matters. Whether love was really there or not, love is not enough, and this person abused you and his other partner willfully for years. They are not worth the doubt you seem to be experiencing.
posted by nanojath at 7:47 PM on August 2, 2009

I can be totally off, but:

It sounds like you are asking if you 'outing' the deceit is worse than the actual 4 years of deceit. And I bet you are only asking it because your SO is trying to twist things around and blame you as the person doing a hurtful act, as he didn't 'willfully' (according to him) set out to hurt you, and what you 'did' was planned to be hurtful. (oh, and he will say he was trying to 'protect' you with his non-disclosure)

I hope I am wrong, because if I am not, he has already, abusively, brought your self esteem down and made you not trust yourself, making you believe that his view is 'the' view.

But to answer the question, he hurt you way more than you standing up for yourself hurt him. It just was a very inconvenient thing that you did. To him, his lies, his deception. Now he has to face up to it. But he won't. What usually happens is that he will put the onus on you. He will try to make you believe you were the one who 'didn't really love', did something bad, were intentionally hurtful.

You did nothing wrong. At all. Besides be strong.
posted by Vaike at 8:06 PM on August 2, 2009 [7 favorites]

I read your question twice, and I'm still a little confused. But then I looked at the title: How do I process – I never tried to hurt you but I’m sorry if it happened, it wasn’t my intent, it was yours, get out of my life forever?

(You've not included pronouns, so for ease of writing I'm assuming that your SO is a male and you and the other person are women. Apologies upfront if I've got that wrong, but writing gender-neutral about three people made my words more confusing than clear.)

From what I gather, your SO of 4 years was maintaining another relationship with another person the whole time. Both you and the other person did not know about each other. When you discovered the affair, you called the other person and told them. Then, your SO laid that line (in your title) on you, and now you feel all twisted up about what you did.

In my opinion, "I'm sorry if it happened" is a weasly way of giving a non-apology. It sounds like an apology, but it's not. Twisting the situation around so that the burden is on you instead of your SO with "it wasn't my intent, it was yours" is ridiculous. The only good thing said was, "get out of my life forever." Thank goodness! Do that! Obviously you are hurting and second-guessing yourself, but please stop that immediately. These mind games will destroy you, if you let it.

Look at it this way: What if telling the other person was an act of revenge? Does that negate 4 years of cheating? Were you and the other person just supposed to turn a blind eye to all this? Was that really the only way your SO would be happy -- if he managed to deceive and hurt two people forever?

Another way to look at this: Does your SO really expect you to believe that he had no agency? He is completely not in control of his own actions and the consequences of his actions? Uniformly hurting people is the only way he can be content?

Your SO treated you very shabbily, and is not even a good enough person to apologize and feel contrite. The very best outcome of this sad situation has happened: it is over. It's time for you to pick yourself and your dignity up, hold your head high, and move on. After 4 years, it will be hard, but thank goodness you are finally on the road to something better

As for the love question, I guess that depends on what you think is love. I'd counter your questions with one of my own: If being deceived and hurt for 4 years is love, is that the kind of love you want? I hope you are saying no.
posted by Houstonian at 9:06 PM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whenever relationships get metaphysical like this, its time to get out. Completely, as in never talk to this person again.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:27 PM on August 2, 2009 [4 favorites]

No, that's not love.
posted by clockzero at 9:36 PM on August 2, 2009

Two wrongs don't make a right.
posted by salvia at 10:26 PM on August 2, 2009

I'm realizing that my above comment ("two wrongs don't make a right") might be perceived as snark, and I don't want it to be deleted so I'm going to explain it.

What I mean is that the relation between people's actions makes comparisons like that meaningless. I'm not sure why you're comparing these actions, but I wouldn't bother. The two decisions were independent of one another, and each deserves its own separate, honest, and thorough examination. What were the thoughts, emotions, intentions, and ethical philosophies behind those two separate decisions?

You made the decision you made. If you're trying to justify your action to yourself, I would instead try to understand why you made that decision, and then look at that with compassion. This is particularly true if you'd make a different decision next time: to do that, you have to really understand what emotions caused the decision.

If you're making the comparison because your partner is saying "you hurt me, too, you're as bad as me, we're even," that's where "two wrongs don't make a right" is a valuable shield. You can still be angry and hurt about what happened.

What they have in common is that they both suggest this relationship is very painful. Your actions are caused by your choices. If you're both hurting one another, the best thing to do is to stay away from one another. I would shelter yourself from this painful situation. How would you feel if you knew you didn't ever have to see or talk to this person again?
posted by salvia at 10:58 PM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

So... it's your ex's position that you should have conspired to hide his or her lying and betrayal from the third person in the relationship, and that not doing so represents a worse sin against "love"? If you really, really loved them, you should have aided them in the continued deception of the other SO? That's sort of mad, don't you think?

Your ex wants to re-frame reality to suit him/herself, and you mustn't be tricked (again!) into viewing this as somehow reasonable. If there's only one thing you can trust about this person, it is that he or she will reliably act in their own self-interest, whatever the cost to anyone else - and that is what they are doing now: manipulating you to make you doubt your own mind and heart, because it suits them to try to escape responsibility and mitigate their own guilt, even if it's the worst possible thing for your mental and emotional health. This person is once again seeking what he or she wants at your expense, and they seem to feel that concepts like "truth," "love," "hurt" and"intent" are elastic enough to twist to this purpose. The semantics are a trap. Please do get out of his/her life forever, for the sake of your own sanity and general well being. I wish you the very best.
posted by taz at 1:40 AM on August 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

decathecting and Ironmouth FTW.

1) The principle of double effect is the philosophical tool for dealing with things which cause harm for the greater good. This, for example, is how surgery is distinguished from vivisection. But note that the Roman Catholic Church, which has described the principle most thoroughly, maintains that there are certain things, like the taking of human life, which can't be justified by the principle. I don't know what went down there, but I mention this to suggest that though it is possible to justify harmful actions with good intentions, there is a limit to how far this can go. But, as decathecting also indicates, therapy--or a couple-three drinking/bull sessions with close friends--sounds like it's going to be more help to you than any philosophical insight.

2) And as Ironmouth points out, if this really is a live question in a relationship... it's probably time to start thinking about find something else to do.
posted by valkyryn at 3:33 AM on August 3, 2009

Nthing that therapy is in order here. From personal experience, I can say that living with repeated, long-term betrayal has a tendency to wreck one's confidence in their own moral gyroscopes, and this can have a profound effect on one's life for years, even after the relationship is long-since over. It's next to impossible to right yourself when your guidance systems are severely out of whack. Get help.

Ultimately you'll probably be better off if you can find compassion for the person who hurt you, because their actions are the result of deep personal problems. And, you'll need to have compassion for yourself, to forgive yourself for ignoring the signs and living in a bad situation for so long. But it doesn't sound like you're contemplating forgiveness right now; it sounds as if you're asking whether the other person is really responsible for their actions, and whether you had any right to complain or to act on your own behalf. That's your own little bit of crazy talking. Again, get some help.
posted by jon1270 at 4:18 AM on August 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

the term for what you are doing is 'alleging intent'. you are attempting to rationalize the other person's behavior within your own mind, and are finding answers that seem to fit your logic.

in most cases, this is inaccurate and counter productive to any kind of commuication. you need to not speculate on the reasons of the behavior, because you cannot possibly discern any reason for this behavior without full communication and disclosure from the other party.

don't focus on the reason, focus on the behavior. you do not have the resources to determine a reason.

oh, and get on with your life.
posted by lester at 7:22 AM on August 3, 2009

There is stated intent and real intent. Someone can lie to you and TELL you that they were doing it for everyone's benefit. But deep down, they know they were doing it for some other reason. As lester says, trying to determine the real intent is a fools errand. The thing is the thing. If lying isn't cool with you, then any act of lying isn't cool, no matter what the reason.

Or, a reason isn't an excuse.
posted by gjc at 7:49 AM on August 3, 2009

Your ex's intent was betrayal.
posted by spaltavian at 8:31 AM on August 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Your ex's intent was betrayal.

Yes, that.

Your ex is a lying, cheating bastard.

Your only fault has been gullibility.

posted by General Tonic at 3:57 PM on August 3, 2009

General Tonic is completely right.

Anyone who wrote differently perhaps hasn't thought it through? Lot sof answers advocate being honorable... I can thinking of nothing more truthful and honorable than having the COURAGE to contact the SO and get everything out into the open.

Here's hoping this experience diffuses that guy's hold over you. Same for the other SO.

You two SO's both deserve someone better. (and obvs, someone you don't share with anyone else:)
posted by jbenben at 5:01 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some people know how to love well, some people don't.

The ones who don't do what you describe - they do whatever they want, because they don't know how to do anything else, and then tell you, But I didn't mean to hurt you...

The ones who do know how to love, will go out of their way to avoid hurting you, and feel really bad when they do it accidentally.

My theory so far is that people who don't know how to love themselves, won't have a clue as to how to love someone else - and the other way around.
posted by Locochona at 6:04 PM on August 5, 2009

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