Trying to live happily ever after, after an affair. But with a twist.
January 9, 2014 10:54 AM   Subscribe

I love my boyfriend dearly and we have had a very strong exclusive relationship for over a year now. However, we started as an affair while he was married. I am still struggling with the guilt I have over this. Are there any resources out there for helping people deal with the aftermath of the affair when the couple is now the husband and the mistress and not the husband and wife?

First, I know we did a terribly shitty thing. We are not shitty people, we were involved in shitty actions and a shitty situation. I do not want to go into too much detail, but here's the bare bones: I was friends with a couple, became involved with the husband. Their marriage was already shaky when we started the affair (hence, part of why it started). Since then, she found out, the divorce was quickly finalized (no kids involved), and we have been together publicly for a year now. We've lost a lot of mutual friends and obviously there are a lot of people angry at us. Our families have been very gracious and accepting, so that has been very positive. We have a good relationship with a lot of communication and we connect very deeply. We are planning our future together.

BUT--I still struggle with guilt and shame about what I did. I initiated the affair and I destroyed my friendship with the wife. I feel terrible about that and can't seem to shake it. It's starting to affect my sex life with my boyfriend as I feel like being physically intimate is wrong. We had a healthy and normal sex life up until about six months ago and I would like to get back to that place. Now I squirm away from physical contact and my sex drive is dead and buried. He's frustrated and I'm frustrated and I don't know what to do. I am starting cognitive-behavioral therapy with a new therapist and planning on attending relationship-oriented group therapy to work through this. In the meantime, I am searching for books or resources that could help me out, but all of the books about recovering from affairs are geared towards saving the marriage and not nurturing the new relationship. Is there anything out there for people in my situation?

Apologizing to my former friend and my boyfriend's ex is not an option. She has been extremely nasty and badmouthed us to everyone, spreading lies that make us look even worse (things like she caught us in bed together when she didn't, or that I sent her hurtful emails or texts--I have not communicated with her at all since she found out, despite her sending me nastygrams). Making contact with her would likely make things much worse and I don't think it's fair to anyone to go there. I don't expect her forgiveness and I am not going to salt the wound by asking for it. This is about me forgiving myself, not her forgiving me.

Please refrain from judgment over what we did and how wrong it was. I know. Believe me, I would not be asking this question if I didn't know that it was a terrible thing. But it's in the past and I'd like to move on. Just because we did something wrong doesn't mean we don't deserve a good relationship. Thanks.
posted by Argyle Sock Puppet to Human Relations (45 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: One thing that might help is to look for books/resources geared towards strengthening any romantic relationship, instead of those geared specifically towards relationships that started as affairs. I say that for two reasons. One, there are simply more books/resources of this kind out there, so you're casting a wider net. Two (and more importantly), I think you're more likely to heal and truly move on if you focus on your relationship for what it is (a new relationship!) and less on what it started as (an affair). I don't have specific recommendations at this time, but thought it might help you to reframe what you're looking for.

You sound very level-headed to me: admitting it wasn't a great move, but also wanting to move on in a healthy way. I think that's great! I think that lingering over how things started is likely to make it harder to build a strong relationship long-term, though, so that's why I suggest resources that could help anyone develop a really great relationship. You're already pursuing the two other things I was going to suggest (CBT and group therapy) so I think you're doing well already.

Good luck!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:07 AM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I did something similar once, a long time ago. I didn't really forgive myself, but I accepted that I'd done it and I tried to use that experience to foster more compassion in myself for others who make bad decisions -- decisions that maybe I wouldn't relate to as easily.

We are all frail and weak with hidden needs and fears and circuitry that sometimes make us do regrettable things. Those who have never done anything regrettable can ride their high horses and that's fine but most of us have, one time or another, done something regrettable and some of us have done some truly horrible shit. Or even just made asses out of ourselves.

So I'd say -- try use this as a lens through which you might view others with compassion. Watch for people when they need it, when they just need to know someone understands and doesn't think that their worth as a human being has been totally tossed out the window because of their crimes, which come in many forms.

And spend time talking with your boyfriend about this stuff.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:11 AM on January 9, 2014 [15 favorites]

Best answer: If it helps coming from a random internet stranger, yes you did a shitty thing, but I forgive you. I give you permission to forgive yourself.
posted by Silvertree at 11:11 AM on January 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Something that's helped me out in similar situations that feel "morally connected" despite there being no tangible connection (his former relationship has no bearing on your current one) is to acknowledge what the opposite of being in the moment and suiting up and showing up is. And that's superstition. Things that happen in the past do not dictate the present or the future. It's called change.

Relationships are just as much about connecting with yourself than it is connecting with another person. I think you are wise not to reconcile with his former partner. These things can take years to blow over and sometimes the best you can do is be polite and give people a ton of space.

If a part of you "got off" on doing something "inappropriate," (and even if a part of you didn't), it sounds like it's time to transition to having a healthy relationship with your soulmate. It's time to play by the rules, live by certain healthy principles (figure that out in therapy), reinsert yourself to society, make new friends, live a good life, live a peaceful life where you don't intentionally hurt people, express dedication to your loved one, etc. It's totally okay. I wish you the best.

And do not ask for forgiveness because it is not our place to judge you in the first place.
posted by phaedon at 11:17 AM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would believe that writing down for you and only you what happened, in as much detail as ever possible, and focusing on what specifically were the points that now make you feel bad, might help you re-work your emotions around the whole affair. Give your mind a chance to see all that stuff as opposed to merely know it's there.
posted by Namlit at 11:17 AM on January 9, 2014

So, I was in a similar situation when I was younger and I'll just tell you straight up that I never succeeded in feeling better about it. Every time someone would ask how we met was like a punch in the gut. Knowing that other people knew what had happened was a black cloud over mixed social engagements. It eventually got to a point where our relationship wasn't adding happiness to my life, it was only adding bad feelings, and we ended it. That felt like such a weight off my shoulders, I couldn't even believe how badly it had been hurting me. I've never regretted walking away.

The whole sex drive being dead and pushing away physical contact thing lingered for years after that relationship ended, even with other people.

I really wish I had never gotten involved as I did, just as you do. One of very few good things to come out of it for me is being much stronger in acting on my basic morals. That giving in in the moment has lost a lot of it's charm after you've discovered what happens long term! Another is I am much more forgiving of other people's foibles. We all face plant in the mud occasionally. Hopefully we're smart enough not to do it twice.

My main advice is that if the relationship goes on for an extended period of time where it is NOT a daily source of calm and happiness, you should consider ending it. Honestly, it shouldn't be that hard.
posted by Dynex at 11:18 AM on January 9, 2014 [48 favorites]

You're being haunted. There are some deeds in life that continue to torment us, years after they happen. No one should have to live such a life, but that is also a major motivation to avoid such situations.

I don't know if you are affiliated with any faith, but religion arguably has the best track record for providing peace after moral failure. Good luck.
posted by Kruger5 at 11:20 AM on January 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I agree wholeheartedly with A Terrible Llama and was thinking along the same lines: Use this as an opportunity to understand others. Understand your own humanness and the humanness of others. I am sure you understand the reasons behind your boyfriend's ex-wife behavior. If not, it may be helpful to be more compassionate towards her.

Maybe a book on guilt and shame would be helpful, I don't know. Brene Brown has some good books that might be helpful to you on a general level. Be careful on flogging yourself too much over this. It doesn't help you the people that were hurt in this process.

We are human beings who make human mistakes. I think the best thing you can do from this point on is to use this as an opportunity for growth. Learn from it and vow to make better choices in the future. If you plan on remaining with your boyfriend I think it would be best to focus your efforts on compassion, living your life, and enjoying your relationship. I am not sure therapy is even necessary. This might just be something you need to work out on your own.
posted by Fairchild at 11:25 AM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: FWIW, much as I hate to admit it, my dad and his new wife started in in the cliche affair/divorce remarried... and are at 15+ years. It did take hard work, though, from what I can tell.

Write that letter. DO NOT SEND IT. But write it. Get those thoughts down on paper. Then (DO NOT SEND IT!) burn it. Release the guilt with it, if you can. Keep forgiving.Maybe apologize to yourself too, as needed.
posted by Jacen at 11:26 AM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

That is a super tough situation. Yes, you did a shitty thing, but that doesn't make you a shitty person. You can't unring the bell, you can't go back in time and begin your relationship after he separated from his wife. Whats done is done. And like you say, apologizing to his ex-wife or making it better in that regard is not going to happen. I think all you can do really accept that it happened and that it cannot be undone. No amount of soul searching or feeling guilty will undo it. Try to focus on the fact that a good thing came of it (your relationship that sounds pretty good) but it started out in a pretty bad way. I'm a bit of a believer in trying to counter act some of the bad things by doing 10x the good things back in to the world. Karma and all that. You wronged someone, and you feel really guilty over that, so go out and make a point of investing time and energy in HELPING people. Volunteering would be a good way to do this.

Another option - what if you and your boyfriend took a break from each other. Break up for 6 months or something and limit contact with each other. Then after six months (or however long you decide upon) start your relationship totally over. The first time you became involved with each other it had the bad connection of the infidelity. Basically you'd be shaking your relationship Etch-A-Sketch. This would be a totally new start, totally unrelated to the first. It would no longer carry that footnote.

Unfortunately, this may not be something you're going to be able to move on from. Having a relationship start under the shadow of infidelity like this can be damaging. The relationship can become a reminder of the bad thing you did that you feel horrible for doing, and it sounds a bit like that is happening to you. It can work out, though. I know of a couple who became involved when BOTH parties were married to other people. I knew both of the cheaters and I knew they weren't bad people. They both were unhappy in their marriages and ended up falling in love. Both of those divorces were pretty awful and the whole town pretty much turned their backs on them, so I can only imagine how that could have coloured their relationship. However, ~15 years later I know that even though their relationship started with them cheating on their spouses they are still together and very happy so it can be done.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:38 AM on January 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Terrible Llama said it

I didn't really forgive myself, but I accepted that I'd done it

We've all miserably failed at our own moral standings at least once. Directly lied, stole, deceived.

Try to separate out your shame over your actions from your love/attraction for your bf. They really are two separate, unrelated things.

How is your bf dealing with his feelings? Talk to him about it.

I believe in atonement. It is spiritually necessary. Leave the poor ex-wife alone, but from here on in promise yourself that you will strengthen and encourage others to strengthen their relationships. When person X bitches about their partner Y, and even if you agree person X, ESPECIALLY if you agree with person X, step back and try to see partner Y's side and encourage X to do the same.

Each time you run into people from the past, when you feel that scarlet letter written on your face, just stay with it. Mentally say yes I did do that thing. That's all. That's acceptance.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:43 AM on January 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

I would do some thinking on whether this wasn't also colouring your feelings towards your boyfriend. You say you did a shitty thing and feel like shit for it. He did the same shitty thing... are you unconsciously tarring him with the same brush you're using on yourself?

Maybe in the process of your forgiving yourself you ALSO look to forgiving him.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:43 AM on January 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think it makes sense that it's you, and not your boyfriend, who is seriously struggling with this. Because he was in a bad relationship, and it sounds like he knew it, and so from his perspective you two didn't 'ruin' everything- you FIXED everything, by prompting his divorce, which he wanted. Yes, cheating is bad, and I'm sure he regrets that you guys did it, but now it's over. He's divorced, you're a real couple, it's done.

But you were outside of their relationship, weren't immersed in whatever problems they were having. To you, you swooped in and ruined a marriage, which is why you feel terrible. The ex wife probably sees it that way, too. But your boyfriend doesn't.

I think you made a mistake. A mistake that you deeply regret. Would I want to be in the ex's position? No, but I wouldn't want to have been in your boyfriend's position, either, in a failing relationship I felt powerless to escape. Each person in this situation has their own perception of what went down, and none of you are completely wrong, I don't think.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:44 AM on January 9, 2014 [22 favorites]

Best answer: I've made mistakes in the past and struggle to get over them, but a strategy I try to use is thinking that I am happy now, and my ex is happy now, and if I hadn't done that shitty thing, we might still be in an unhappy relationship.

If you and he hadn't got together, she would have been in a relationship with someone who didn't really want to be with her. Everyone is happier now, and it's a shame that it took an affair to make that happen but you're all adults, there's no kids involved, and I think so, so many modern relationships 'overlap' to some extent that people probably aren't judging you nearly as much as you think.

You're human, humans fuck up. But it will be ok.
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 11:49 AM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When I met my current husband, we were both married to other people and in miserable relationships. I'm not proud that we started as an affair, but I'm so happy to be in such a loving and healthy relationship now. I think therapy is a great place to start.

I spent the first year or so of my relationship feeling like an awful person. As time went on, I started actively trying to let my guilt go. I took full ownership for myself of the part I played, and that made it a lot easier for me to start living with and moving past it. Also, I know how lousy my marriage had been, and I know how unhappy we both were, and my mantra to myself became "it's okay to choose happiness."

You are right that you need to let yourself feel okay. We all make choices that affect other people and that people don't agree with. Sometimes, in hindsight, we realize how much they affected other people, and how much we would have changed them. Focus on your future.
posted by sock it to me at 11:49 AM on January 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: While I won't go into the details (and I had nothing to do with the affair whatsoever, but observed up close after the fact), I can speak from personal experience that affairs can be very destructive for partner being cheated on. It's a life-changing event where the rug gets pulled from under you.

So it's pretty natural that you are going to be struggling with the guilt. It's unavoidable. Depending on how you yourself look at it, you made a mistake (but maybe you think you didn't; it's up to you).

It's pretty important to have compassion for yourself, to forgive yourself, and move on. But I don't think you can do that unless you confront or really, actually take responsibility for the fact that you committed a wrong (if you indeed do think you committed a wrong).

While I am generally sceptical of suggestions of therapy, this is probably one of those times where it would be a really good idea to spend a few months with a counsellor, to talk things out.

Because if you think you committed a wrong or made a mistake (maybe you did, maybe you didn't, no matter what anyone says, it's up to you), it would be good to try to figure how to avoid making these same mistakes in the future. It would also be good to figure out what caused you to make this mistake in the first place.

We only have one life to live, and we really ought to focus on making ourselves happy, or, at the very least, not causing unhappiness to others who do not deserve unhappiness.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:50 AM on January 9, 2014

Best answer: Would you do what you did again? I think you need to figure out what part of them you actually regret: breaking up their marriage? breaking up your friendship? the way you broke up the marriage? It's one thing to say, "I threw somebody under the bus for my own gain." It's another thing to say "I helped people see that they could be a lot happier in a different situation and maybe I could have done it differently but I'd definitely do it again."
posted by ropeladder at 11:55 AM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My strategy for dealing with my own past screw-ups is largely: yes, but am I doing things right right now?

You can't go back in time and change what's been done, so leverage your guilt into something you can use for good. Whenever you feel that sinking feeling, check yourself: how about right now? Doing the best you can? Great, keep moving forwards -- or do a little self-check and correction, as appropriate. Some of the lowest points of my life have been key to motivating me into good places and good things.

I can't Google up the story, but some years back there was a news story here about a small-town elected official who had -- it had just been discovered -- had a past that included some pretty hardcore drug addiction and I don't remember what else. The response from the community was not 'run this junkie out of town then' but 'how terrific that he could get himself from that to where he is now -- STFU.' How you conduct yourself post-screw-up generally has a bigger impact than the screwing up...

Forgiving the ex for all 'nastygrams' &c could only help.
posted by kmennie at 12:27 PM on January 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

Do you believe that other people are either good or bad? X is a good person, Y isn't a good person, etc.? That belief is difficult to live with if you don't classify yourself in the "good" group.

That belief also makes it very difficult to do a lot of other important things, too, so letting go of it won't only benefit you; it can make you more helpful to other people, too.

Other people will hold on to that belief, though -- it's hard-wired into our brains and difficult to overcome. That doesn't make those people "bad", but they are less helpful to you. Perhaps thinking about them isn't helpful to you, either, and could make you less helpful to others.
posted by amtho at 12:47 PM on January 9, 2014

phaedon touches on something: If a part of you "got off" on doing something "inappropriate," (and even if a part of you didn't), it sounds like it's time to transition to having a healthy relationship with your soulmate.

If the taboo/danger was part of what attracted you or fed your relationship's energy in the early days, then it could be that your continued stress/guilt/drama over how it started is a way to keep it bad/wrong/sexy. Being up front & "out" with your relationship is boring.

This would be subconscious of course, I am not saying you want to feel crappy about your relationship. But it's worth considering privately whether you really are satisfied with an above-board conventional drama-free situation.
posted by headnsouth at 12:47 PM on January 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Forgiveness ideally means no grudges, no guilt, nothing to make up for, no reason to think about the past. It is hard to forgive things like this, but the people who do learn to let go of the past--this includes you--are generally better people for having learned how. And you're going to need to do that whether you remain in this relationship or not. If you can't forgive yourself, purely and simply because you acknowledge the error of doing things out of order (really, he just needed to leave his wife first), then try forgiving yourself through the next simplest form of atonement: striving to increase the overall happiness in the universe by making the relationship you have as good as any relationship can be.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:02 PM on January 9, 2014

I suspect it will be difficult to find resources that specifically approach your scenario, and you may have to settle for those that deal instead with parts of your feelings and actions, not the situation as a whole.

To use a really loose comparison as to why - it's something akin a thief saying he was sorry for stealing [something], but then expecting there to be resources to help him deal with the guilt and justify keeping it, because [insert reason here: he'd treat it better, he deserves it more, yadda, yadda, yadda].

And you can do all this work, make all this effort, vanquish all these reservations - and you're still left with what you already know:

It's not a healthy way to start a relationship - you've learned this the hard way. And on top of that, you have an added bonus feature - you already KNOW he's a cheater. And by the odds, that's the way your relationship is likely to end.
posted by stormyteal at 1:23 PM on January 9, 2014

Something no one has asked you about yet is: what happened six months ago, when you started pulling away from your partner? Was there a particular event that set you off? Did something between you change? Feelings, thoughts, actions - can you put your finger on anything in particular that triggered the shift?

After all, six months is when most relationships fizzle out, after the shine wears off. Given that your partner left his wife for you, there is a lot of pressure on the two of you to make this work and to make sure this is a narrative of a Grand Love Story instead of a sordid affair. I would imagine this is even more true for your partner than it is for you.

That seems like a real burden for your relationship to carry, and I wonder if there's possibly something slightly more complex than guilt at play. Like, do you sometimes doubt your relationship, and then feel guilty about that doubt, and terrified of the consequences of what will happen if this doesn't work out between you, and you are left knowing that you did this thing that went against your values and caused a lot of harm to someone for what turned out to be no reason at all? Maybe I'm reading too much into your question, but if I were writing the kind of advice book you mentioned, this would be its thesis: you have to really, truly accept both that what you did was wrong, and that it's in the past.

In other words, the cheating will not be retroactively justified if you guys stay together for the next fifty years and live happily ever after and have ten children, one of whom grows up to cure cancer. None of that matters. The affair was still wrong. It still caused unmitigated, inexcusable harm. You're not ever allowed to look back on it and decide it was all worth it because of how happy you are, any more than a thief can justify his theft because of how much he enjoys his money.

But at the same time, you will not be more guilty if the relationship falls apart and you did all of this for "nothing." You have to allow for the possibility for this relationship to fail. You have to be able to see clearly that it could end, the way lots of one-year relationships end, and that would be okay. Maybe it will end, maybe it won't. Maybe you should forgive yourself for what you've done, and maybe you haven't yet earned that. I can't say. But I do know that it's true that the status of your relationship in the present can't change what happened in the past. You have to believe that, really and truly, before you can move forward.

I really do wish you the best.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:24 PM on January 9, 2014 [32 favorites]

In other words, the cheating will not be retroactively justified if you guys stay together for the next fifty years and live happily ever after and have ten children, one of whom grows up to cure cancer. None of that matters. The affair was still wrong. It still caused unmitigated, inexcusable harm. You're not ever allowed to look back on it and decide it was all worth it because of how happy you are, any more than a thief can justify his theft because of how much he enjoys his money.

I don't think that's fair at all. She didn't 'steal' him from his ex, he's a human being with agency.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:31 PM on January 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: An Adult Child's Guide to What's Normal

The title is misleading. It doesn't even sound compassionate until you're reading the book.

This book is not specifically about how to recover from the shame and guilt of being involved in an affair or nurturing the resulting relationship. However, I think you will find the chapter on shame and blame helpful. Please see this book as an introduction on how to be gentle with your feelings. Also, the overall tone of this book is something like, we all have some things to work on and no one is alone in this.
posted by mild deer at 1:33 PM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sorry, I don't mean that she "stole" him. That was a possibly misleading analogy. I meant, she did something bad and she benefited from it, but the fact that she benefited doesn't retroactively prove that the action was right.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:33 PM on January 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I agree with pretentious illiterate. You're putting a lot of pressure on your present relationship if it's now got to justify a great moral wrong.
posted by spunweb at 2:15 PM on January 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

In reading my comment I realized it sounded like I wasn't being sympathetic... What I more was thinking about was the sunk cost fallacy, where like now you've done this big huge thing for your relationship and so it's gotta be awesome. It seems like a lot of pressure, and pressure's bad for feeling desire.
posted by spunweb at 2:25 PM on January 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: OP, to clarify one thing, I take you at your word that you both have a strong relationship and that you deserve one. You say you can't get forgiveness from the betrayed spouse and have trouble giving it to yourself. Forgiveness is a debt metaphor, and if there's no specific person who can forgive you, that leaves what anthropologists call "general economy," which is a realm where you can atone for anything with any sort of effort that just makes the world in front of you a better place. It seems like kind of a weak idea in some respects, but it's based on the empirical observation that for many people it justifies all sorts of small sacrifices, acts of altruism, and (according to one anthropologist) a common rationale for shopping. It doesn't change the past, but for many people, there's a psychological reality to it that offers atonement without religion. Volunteer, be kinder, give more to charity, make things in front of you better--whatever. It's what you have control over, and it's probably worth it even if you wind up still feeling guilty.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:34 PM on January 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am still struggling with the guilt I have over this.

I'm gong to suggest something very difficult, and perhaps unpopular. I'm sorry if sharing this is painful for you, but I feel the need to be honest. I'm simply not sure there is a silver lining for every moral state of affairs.

Sometimes there is false guilt that we need to resolve by reframing it, but there is also guilt because we are participating in something that continues to chafe morally, and perhaps legitimately, although we wish it were otherwise. True repentance for an indiscretion is generally not just of the heart, but also a change of behavior away from the thing that you are sorry about. I think that as long as you are in this relationship, you are going to feel as if you are having a change of heart without a change in the activity that created the problem in the first place. An activity, for that matter, that continues to cause other people pain when they see it.

So, you probably want to determine whether or not there actually is a course of action or a way of thinking that will resolve you continuing to stay in a relationship that, on its face, communicates something other than what is going on in your heart. There may be a path for that, but it may be that you feel guilty because there really isn't a sufficient path to resolve this tension, although you want there to be. The guilt could be a cognitive dissonance over what you want versus what is possible.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:43 PM on January 9, 2014 [15 favorites]

Best answer: You didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't you who were unfaithful. The man you love was not his wife's property. The wife is nasty, because you took what she thought was basically her property. There is no such thing as "homewrecker".

Consider this: You didn't have an affair your current partner. You are currently unhappy alone. He is unhappy in unhappy marriage. She is happy because she has property of her husband. One happy person, two unhappy persons.

You did have an affair. You are happy, he is happy, she is not happy. Two happy persons, one unhappy person.

Your guilt is cultural guilt -- not universal moral guilt. Many western cultures does not consider having an affair as something so shameful as you do -- President of Germany's lover (he didn't get a divorce) is basically Germany's first lady; first lady of France was married when she started her affair with Mr Hollande -- and he was at that time in relationship with Ms Royal. Both Germans and French didn't consider those facts as being problematic and elected them to a presidency. As a European I find it hard to understand what is your problem here and why is everyone so mean to you.
posted by przepla at 3:09 PM on January 9, 2014 [16 favorites]

Best answer: This might sound kind of trite after all the heavy, heavy (and really good!) advice above, but to help you move on and start easing some of that frustration the both of you are feeling, why not do a little role playing and "meet" all over again? You know, you go to a bar on your own, order a drink; he shows up soon after, just happens to sit next to you... and introduces himself.

Give yourselves a new "how we met" story, even if it's just an exercise, even if it's just for the two of you. Take turns being charming, like when you first meet someone. Flirt and laugh and see if you can learn new things about each other. Remind yourselves what you love about each other.
posted by feistycakes at 3:15 PM on January 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If you want to feel like a good person & like you're a good couple, it might not hurt to start faking it until you make it in a sense. If you become a power couple, no one is going to remember who did what to who, just that you two together are now unstoppable.

I'd leave the past in the past and work on your current image, which will in turn make you feel better about things. Start volunteering together. Start running together. Plan vacations. Hold dinner parties and game nights for new groups of friends.

In a nutshell: move on and the world will, too. If you keep presenting yourself as the apologetic, remorseful other woman, you're going to get that reflected back at you & it's going to continue to affect you.
posted by haplesschild at 3:36 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I was sexually abused as a child. During therapy, I read at least a couple of biographies of prostitutes (my favorite: Working) as well as the book "Mayflower Madame." I also read some research done on the way men interacted with prostitutes. I will suggest you seek out similar sources. It frames the female role differently than books about standard monogamous relationships. I found it very helpful to read such things.

Long-winded, "testimonial" type piece. Sorry for being scattered. I hope it helps you think it through:

I was unfaithful to my husband. I felt horrendously guilty about it. Because I had been sexually abused as a child, both my husband and I were all too happy to blame all marital sexual issues on me. I ended up doing a lot of reading on human sexuality generally and affairs specifically. I really, really wanted to be faithful and I hated myself for being unfaithful.

In a nutshell: After 15 years of marriage/17 years as sex partners, I finally called BS on him. Every time I asked for sex, I was turned down. And then told it was my fault for having bad timing, not knowing how to ask, etc. I finally told him extremely bluntly that "If you told me it was because your penis had fallen off earlier today, I would call that a convenient excuse" and made it clear that if he was genuinely willing to satisfy me, he could choose to do so even without a penis. Telling me over and over that he was willing to meet my needs, all I had to do was ask, and then turning me down...etc...was a long standing pattern of behavior on his part and not "all my fault."

So I am no longer willing to accept the idea that outcomes in bed are all one person's fault. If you are talking two consenting adults, it takes two to get that outcome. Somewhere along the way, I read research that affairs are often blamed for causing a marriage to end but the reality is that the affair was more like an excuse to end it.

I get the impression that you are being given the role of fall guy. Your man chose to sleep with you. Whether you initiated or not, he could have said "no.' He chose to do so because he wasn't happy. I suspect you are being given a lot of heavy messages about how it is all your fault. I think if you do therapy, couple's counseling is more in order, not individual therapy for just you.

When I first was facing divorce, I had this notion that I would find some "perfect" good guy who had been alone a long time and it would be a "clean" beginning...blah blah blah. Post divorce, I have had a lot of time to rethink my ideas about some perfect start to a perfect relationship. I have come to believe that it is about how a man treats me, not what circumstances we met under. My standards today revolve more around "I'm not your bitch, don't hang your shit on me" than on situational details. I have known men who were still married but were not happy in the marriage who were good to me and were very clear that if they divorced it was not somehow my doing. I have equally known men who were perpetually "desperate for a date losers" who made me feel really dreadful about being attracted. I am clear that I would rather have a relationship with the former than the latter.

I suspect that your husband is blaming you because he doesn't want to take responsibility and, unfortunately, since you really are guilty of doing "bad" things, it is impossible for you to get perspective and see that he is simply a blamey person. An awful lot of people are not comfortable with their sexuality and feel very guilty about it. This may be part of why so very many first-time sexual encounters involve alcohol. And even if you have been alone a long time, you have a back story, you have history that shapes you, etc. None of us ever gets some perfect, clean start to a relationship. But I will never again accept some man being angry or blaming towards me over his carnal desire. I think that is standard you need to look for here. You were both adults. You both made choices. If anything, he should make you feel valued for being willing to meet his needs in spite of social taboo when he couldn't get them met through "proper" channels. Some men know had to do that. Some men don't. It isn't about how you met.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 4:12 PM on January 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

I also agree with Michele, particularly since in reading over your post, I'm seeing that there's a lot of "I" but not a lot of "we."

This especially caught me: "I initiated the affair and I destroyed my friendship with the wife. ....He's frustrated and I'm frustrated and I don't know what to do. I am starting cognitive-behavioral therapy with a new therapist and planning on attending relationship-oriented group therapy to work through this."

It's like it's all your fault, twice over, even tho, GET THIS, you both destroyed your friendships with the wife, you both initiated the affair, and you're both dealing with the social and interpersonal fallout from this situation that you BOTH caused.

Maybe he needs group therapy too, since it's not like he's got the best track record at being a great partner, communicating his needs before they reach crisis, being fully honest with his partner, and (possibly) not letting one person take all the blame. Is that something you guys could do together?
posted by spunweb at 5:05 PM on January 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: People will debate the issue of whether what you and your partner did was that serious of an offence in the first place; however, you seem to believe it is, so I'll go from there.

When you have paid a lot for something, or others have paid a lot for what you've done, it is important to honour the price everyone paid. However, feeling guilty is a trap, and disrespectful to those who were affected, including you. What's done is done, and the most responsible thing you can do at this point is to put as much positivity into the world as possible - so love your partner wholeheartedly and be good to others.
posted by analog at 6:43 PM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: About 10 years ago, my husband had an affair. It was horrible and shameful and broke my heart. But it happened because there was something wrong in our relationship that neither one of us were willing to address. It didn't happen because he was "seduced". It happened because it was easier to look outside our marriage for comfort than admit that we weren't giving each other what the other needed. We both learned a very hard lesson about what it takes to make a relationship work. There was no outside party forcing my husband and me to *not* communicate with each other. It took a lot of talking it out with a counselor and my husband to place the blame where it belonged and for both of us to change our behaviors so this wouldn't happen again (whether we stayed together or not). Speaking as the wife of someone had an affair, I forgive you. You were never to blame in the first place. Please forgive yourself.
posted by Ms. Anthrope at 5:33 AM on January 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: They were a bad match.

He might've left earlier -- probably should have.

You guys are a better match. Timing aside -- you two are awesome together!* Theres no guarantee that, if he'd gone to her with his unhappiness sooner, that she would've been willing to hear it and work on it.

Now SHE is free to make an awesome match.

(*this only works if you guys are awesome together. Are you awesome together?)
posted by vitabellosi at 7:10 AM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey guys, thanks for your answers, each and every one of you. Simply reading this has helped me feel a lot better. Obviously, I'm not entirely where I'd like to be with this, but knowing that there is a group of internet strangers out there who don't see me as some kind of she-devil is really comforting. I appreciate it.

My boyfriend and I have a lot to talk and think about, and we are both in therapy and considering couples therapy as well. I rather liked przepla's perspective above about how originally there were two unhappy people (actually, three--the wife was quite depressed, which was a source of many of the issues in their marriage) and now there are two (possibly three--the wife has been seeing someone new for a while and I hope that is working out well for her). We are all better off than before, and the people who have demonized us in this situation quite possibly don't know the details that make that true.

I think we are due for some cognitive reframing and perhaps some of the indirect atonement that several people mentioned. We have been working on being a "regular" couple as hapless child has suggested above--every vacation we take, run we go on, or party we host, I feel as if we have been "born again" as a couple. We should work a little more on that instead of dwelling on what we've lost.

There is a lot to think about in this thread and I plan on sitting down with my boyfriend and having a quality discussion about these feelings and your responses. Thank you again for all your comments--I knew I could trust Metafilter to provide me with mature and solid answers that I have not been able to find elsewhere.
posted by Argyle Sock Puppet at 7:46 AM on January 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

The OP's question was: "Are there any resources out there for helping people deal with the aftermath of the affair when the couple is now the husband and the mistress and not the husband and wife?"

Yes. Read the great book @mild deer already suggested upthread. I also recommend the book Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser (it's very friendly to people who have been unfaithful in their marriages).

See the answer the OP has favorited? It was the answer that said most clearly that the OP and her boyfriend actually did the ex-wife a favor. Choosing to see it like that really is the best way for "helping people deal with the aftermath of the affair when the couple is now the husband and the mistress."
posted by hush at 7:57 AM on January 10, 2014

Just because we did something wrong doesn't mean we don't deserve a good relationship.

I don’t know that this is necessarily true. Or, to put it another way, this thing may, in fact, make it impossible for you two to have a good long term relationship. I know that’s not what you want to hear, and I’m not trying to be harsh about what you did, I’m just pointing out that relationships live or die for many and various reasons, and certainly something like starting in an affair will have an effect on how a relationship plays out. I don’t think you should feel shame about this, but I think guilt is pretty natural, and might derail your relationship. I think you’re doing the right thing by finding ways and places to talk about this, but I’ll echo the person above who pointed out that you have to at least admit to the possibility that your relationship won’t survive if you’re actually going to work through this successfully.

Incidentally, while everyone is adults and has agency, the notion that “the other person” bears little or no responsibility for an affair is morally odious and anti-communitarian. If the only people and relationships we were responsible for were those we’re actually in, the world would be a cold, shallow, solipsistic place, even if it might be marginally more sex-filled.
posted by OmieWise at 8:01 AM on January 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

You didn't do anything wrong. 

But, we wouldn't want her current or future partner to do such an innocuous thing - just in case you're not correct.
posted by Kruger5 at 9:27 AM on January 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

But, we wouldn't want her current or future partner to do such an innocuous thing - just in case you're not correct.

If the two of them had fallen in love, he had left his wife, and THEN they had had sex, people would be slinging much less mud at the poster, I suspect. People fall in and out of love, and marriage is not automatically a good thing that should never be broken up. But because they had sex before the divorce, everyone is much less charitable to the OP. Including the OP herself.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:47 AM on January 10, 2014

A book that might be good for thought for your boyfriend is Why Good People Have Affairs. It's compassionate and even handed, and tries to get at what's really driving the urge to stray. It also talks about relationship remediation if the person in question chooses their affair partner over their spouse. Could be good discussion for the both of you.
posted by Sublimity at 9:47 AM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Folks, more responding-to-the-question and less arguing-amongst-yourselves, please.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:11 AM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older handwritten medical records hard to read?   |   Intercontinental Travel. Difficulty Level: 1 Year... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.