A two-part question about cheating
November 24, 2015 4:30 PM   Subscribe

For those who have been cheated on: how did you deal with the heartbreak? For those who have cheated: how did you deal with the guilt? Would like to hear from those who were in very long-term relationships (10+ years) and whose relationships did not survive.

After years of being in an unhappy (mostly arranged) marriage, I cheated on my husband of 16 years. It was not driven by lust or boredom; I fell deeply in love with a wonderful person who helped fill the holes in my heart that had been empty for so long. It's a beautiful relationship and we are still together over a year later. But:

My ex was a wonderful person, too. He was kind, caring and loving towards me our entire marriage. He wasn't right for me, but he didn't deserve the immense pain I caused him. I deeply regret that, and at the same time I feel that if I hadn't met my partner when I did, I never would have been able to save myself.

I have a lot of guilt over what transpired after I left my husband: he fell apart. And turned into an angry, hateful, revenge-obsessed person. He said horrible things to me over and over, he put our kids in the middle, he stalked me, spread word about the affair everywhere, involved my coworkers and extended family. It got very bad, and there is now a restraining order, pending criminal charges, and he lost his job. Throughout it all I felt awful for him and just kept hoping he would get help, and eventually, heal. I knew that his anger was mixed with great sorrow and heartache. Right now he is at rock bottom and I'm having a hard time with my feelings.

Having never been in his position, I can't judge how normal his reaction was. I mean, I KNOW it was extreme, but just how extreme? I felt very guilty at first, but then he became verbally and emotionally abusive and and I guess I'm trying to understand how much of that was "justified". Abuse is never justified, I know, but I need some context. How did YOU react when you found out you had been cheated on and how long did it take to heal?

And if you were the cheater: how and when did you forgive yourself? My ex-husband truly was (and is, I believe) a good person who didn't know how to handle a very difficult situation. I left him because I wanted to be happy, and I felt he deserved to be with someone who truly wanted him. I wanted better for both of us. But instead I feel like I ruined his life.

In the interest of full disclosure, my ex has anxiety (which was under control before the separation) and I know it must have been a factor in the way he reacted. I'm not sure how much though.
posted by puppet du sock to Human Relations (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have a lot of guilt over what transpired after I left my husband: he fell apart. And turned into an angry, hateful, revenge-obsessed person. He said horrible things to me over and over, he put our kids in the middle, he stalked me, spread word about the affair everywhere, involved my coworkers and extended family. It got very bad, and there is now a restraining order, pending criminal charges, and he lost his job.

You are only ever responsible for the choices you make. The choices he made are not your fault or responsibility.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:39 PM on November 24, 2015 [17 favorites]

Have you read the book or seen the movie Brick Lane? It's powerful and bittersweet, and I think you might find some solace in reading or watching it. I wish you the best of luck with your situation, and I'm sorry to hear how difficult and scary it's been.
posted by smorgasbord at 4:40 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

One more thing: are you currently seeing a counselor or therapist? I know it's a common thing to recommend here at MetaFilter but a good match could really help you sort this out and feel more at peace.
posted by smorgasbord at 4:42 PM on November 24, 2015

I've been cheated on. To paraphrase John Mulaney, being cheated on permanently changes your entire worldview and I now understand why a person would want to murder another person. That's the level of anger I feel.

That said, I have tried extremely hard to not be too much of an asshole to the terrible people who did this to me, even though I think they deserve the worst punishment imaginable. Your ex is being an asshole. It's unfortunate, and I completely understand and share his anger and pain. But the world is an irredeemably awful, awful, awful place and he has just has to try to cope with that newfound knowledge, as do I.
posted by a strong female character at 5:23 PM on November 24, 2015 [15 favorites]

I was married for over two decades. I was unfaithful. We eventually divorced.

I was unfaithful early in the marriage. I was wracked with guilt for a long time. But we stayed together long enough for me to figure out what went wrong. Some pieces of it: I had been molested as a child and both I and my ex were content to blame any and every sexual problem entirely on me; He spent years claiming he would meet my sexual needs, all I had to do was ask, then turning me down every single time I asked. To add insult to injury, this, too, was blamed on me. It was my fault because I didn't know how to ask or had bad timing or whatever.

After 17 years of being turned down and blamed for it, I called BS one night and let him know "17 years is called a pattern -- there is no circumstance under which you would say yes." That was a huge, life changing epiphany for me. It was so deeply healing of some of my childhood trauma, I felt it was worth the wait.

I didn't want to be unfaithful. I have concluded that my marriage essentially drove me to it. I no longer let men pull that kind of thing. I have run into, for example, married men lusting after me and trying to act like a) their lust is evidence that I am a seductress and b) I need to prove myself "worthy." In other words, men often have an incredibly skewed concept of sexual desire that absolves themselves and puts her in a catch 22 situation. I have even told such men to get lost, I don't want you, only to have that somehow get twisted into evidence of True Love. Some folks are seriously whacked.

I basically have concluded the world has a really terrible track record of making it hard for people to get their needs met and especially likes to dump on women and hold them to some ridiculous standard of "goodness" no matter what they are enduring.

I will suggest you start a journal and examine your former marriage more deeply. The way he went off the deep end implies some incredibly controlling, entitled ideas about relationships. I find it hard to believe that did not get expressed in an unhealthy way during the marriage.

If life, the universe and everything gives you no legal/legitimate/socially acceptable means to get your needs met, you either starve or eventually break the rules in desperation. This is one of the things minorities are protesting when they talk about things like systemic racism. The world needs better rules.

That doesn't make it okay to intentionally hurt others. But if meeting your own needs is basically forbidden and doing so will be criminalized, that speaks to a broken system. I concluded my unfaithfulness was the logical outgrowth of a broken system and set about trying to figure out a better path forward. I can't undo the past. I can try to learn from it and use the experience to try to create a better future.

I am no longer wracked with guilt. I made my peace.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 6:25 PM on November 24, 2015 [23 favorites]

I've looked at cheating from both sides.

My ex-husband was a dickwad, and my marriage was awful. It was too bad, too, because we had been good friends for many years. It took an "affair" (and antidepressants) to give me the sense that my future life could be more than a horrible drag. The "affair" lasted 2 years after the end of my marriage, but it was quite clearly a rebound, in the respect that he was the polar opposite of my ex husband, so it was doomed from the start, not that I knew it then. At the end of that relationship, my best friend said about him, "He was kind of an idiot, but I'll always be grateful to him for showing you a way out of your marriage."

The person I was involved with for almost ten years, ending in about 2006, cheated on me, but it's almost not even possible to characterize it as cheating, because it was full on second life. He was in at least 2 relationships at once, he was a pathological liar, and he never ever stopped lying, no matter what. But oh boy, if he had been one tenth the man he portrayed himself as, I would have walked through fire for him. For me, as he well knew, sex was not an issue. I didn't give a good goddamn who he slept with. But the lying was so pervasive and I never knew where I stood. I felt insane for a good part of that decade, which sucked. When I finally finally cut all contact, I became sane again. While I was still in contact or while I still thought of it as an option, I had some daydreams about revenge, but never acted on them. I would consider it beneath me, and if I were angry with him, the last thing I wanted to do was lower myself to his level.

So I have a weird perspective on cheating. I know it's weird. I told my current boyfriend, who travels for work, that I would completely understand it if he randomly had sex with some stranger while away and that honesty and safety are far more important to me than fidelity. He was very upset and thought I was being mean. So yeah, I'm an outlier.
posted by janey47 at 6:31 PM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

I am a pretty reasonable person, happily married for a decade and my response if I found out he cheated on me would be somewhere between inconsolable sorrow and the total destruction of my life or murderous rage. So honestly your husband's behavior is not acceptable by any standards but is in the realm of expected.
posted by saradarlin at 6:49 PM on November 24, 2015 [11 favorites]

My ex didn't exactly cheat on me, but he left me for someone else. A big part of my anger has to do with him being the one who behaved unethically but also the one who ended up getting everything he wanted... while I was left with a broken life and no clear path upward. If this is your ex's situation as well, looking at it that way may help understand the extent of his bad behavior.
posted by metasarah at 7:46 PM on November 24, 2015 [12 favorites]

My ex-husband cheated on me. He was such an abusive asshole that the cheating is pretty much the least objectionable thing he did to me, but it did bother me. After finding out, I cried a lot, I drank a lot, I made sure I got tested for STDs, I did some minor Google-stalking to figure out who she was, and that was pretty much it. I did tell my friends, some of whom were mutual friends, because why the hell should I be trying to protect his reputation among my friends?, but I did try to make sure the info didn't end up in his professional circles and I didn't do anything criminal or intentionally retaliatory/punitive/abusive. I think that whatever would be considered the usual range of responses to a break-up or divorce would be the same for a "normal" range of responses to finding out one's partner cheated. Stalking, abuse, and criminal behavior would not fall within a range of "usual" or "normal" to me.
posted by jaguar at 8:21 PM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

I cheat and I don't feel guilty, BECAUSE I think faithfulness is a very unnatural expectation. In the history of mankind, fidelity in monogamy is a very recent concept.

About your ex husband, let him deal with the anger because you cannot undo what you have done. He eventually has to find the strength to move on with his life but that is not your responsibility.
posted by Kwadeng at 2:47 AM on November 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your husband's reaction is unacceptable but completely normal. No explanation for the cheating really justifies it in these situations where you both promised to be faithful and both presumably agreed to certain parameters of the relationship. When one person cheats this means they lied, broke the trust of the other person, didn't take the relationship as seriously as the other person, disregarded the other person's feelings, controlled the information available to make reasoned decisions and so on and so on and so on. It is very difficult to come back from that when you imagine every conversation you had where the cheating partner, even in saying "I love you" or whatever it is was ultimately lying to you or deceiving you. And the cheated-on partner is also usually de facto being used.

And the poster saying he doesn't feel guilty about cheating because faithfulness and monogamy aren't realistic--that doesn't really apply here at all. It's irrelevant whether faithfulness and monogamy are realistic. If you don't think they are, you simply don't need to agree to them in your relationships. You're obviously not responsible for anyone's actions and such but your own, but when you make promises and expectations and have a relationship such as a marriage where the truth you are presenting to your partner is different than reality, once their world comes crashing down they are likely going to have an extremely difficult time coming to terms with that. Everyone is responsible for his or her own actions but these things don't happen in a vacuum, and cheating is one of those examples of severely influencing someone's reality.

The best lesson I've learned from cheating is to exercise extreme and complete honesty in relationships.
posted by Polychrome at 3:50 AM on November 25, 2015 [15 favorites]

Your husband is out of control please be careful. I was cheated on and yes it hurts badly but I did not damage our kids, lose my job, or do anything revengeful. We were eventually divorced and it hurt bad..it's been 18 years since and I haven't had a real boyfriend (not because I still love my ex) or date a lot. My self esteem sucks, my kids are okay though, I focused on raising them as he tuned out of their lives. I didn't bad mouth him- now, as adults, they make their own decisions about dad.
Please be careful your ex sounds like someone who might hurt you.
posted by irish01 at 4:38 AM on November 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

My ex husband of 15 years cheated on me and it broke me. It's been 4 years and I'm only just beginning to feel like I might be ok.

The day I found out, I became completely numb - almost like experiencing an emotional coma. It feels unreal that another person's actions could have affected me so badly. After all, I'd been cheated on before and while it sucked I moved on. But those were short-term relationships. This time every facet of my life was affected and all I was left with was grief. Because it wasn't just that my relationship was over, it was that he rejected our shared past and our future dreams. He rejected me by manipulating me with his lies of how he spent his evenings. His actions altered my worldview and my place within it. Every interaction and "I love you" now seemed different - how could someone who I trusted with my life lie so easily? How easily does the rest of world lie?

I'm sorry that your ex has done all these things to you. We all cope with grief and rage in different ways and sadly, not everyone knows how to do so without causing such harm to others. Absolutely do what you must to protect yourself. But consider that you had a choice to take a different path and deal with your pain in a different way instead of having an affair. Maybe think about how to be kinder in the future and to honour your own needs in a more straightforward way.
posted by A hidden well at 4:46 AM on November 25, 2015 [16 favorites]

And please don't take what I said above as any justification of your ex's actions. You in no way deserved what he did. I'm just struck by the fact that you feel you would have been lost if you hadn't met your current partner - maybe that's what you could unpack with a therapist (or examine by yourself if circumstances don't allow you to seek professional guidance). Are there any other areas where you might have neglected your own needs? Are there other areas of you wish could be filled with joy?
posted by A hidden well at 5:27 AM on November 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

It is not rare or unfair to be furious and hurt when you've been cheated on. But he crossed a line, and kept crossing it, over and over again. Stalking you, putting your kids in the middle, involving your co-workers and family, all of that is totally wrong. Being extremely upset when you've been cheated on, that's understandable. If you can never forgive the person who cheated, that's your choice. In that case, you cut them out of your life and move on. But he crossed over into cruel, frightening and inexcusable behavior a long time ago.

You can regret what you did and how you hurt him, but that doesn't mean you deserve the way he's tried to hurt you over and over again since then. So no, his behavior is not "normal" or justified.

You weren't trying to hurt him. He is trying to hurt you.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:34 AM on November 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

Yeah his feelings might have been normal but his actions are totally inexcusable.
posted by French Fry at 8:21 AM on November 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

Also, to add a different perspective to the people who are basically saying variations of "cheating isn't that bad" — cheating is never justified. NEVER. You had a choice to behave in a reprehensible way, or in an ethical way, and you chose to be reprehensible. A person cannot "drive" another person to cheat. If your marriage sucks, you do the right thing and get divorced first and look for a new relationship second. Look at this way: I was cheated on and I haven't murdered the assholes involved even though I think they deserve it. Because even though they hurt me, I still have a choice NOT to hurt them. The same goes for cheating while being in a shitty marriage; it is never justified. And the same goes for your ex husband who is being terrible to you; his behavior is not justified.

And if you believe that monogamy is an unrealistic expectation, you TELL your partner and you let THEM decide if they want to be in a non-monogamous relationship or not. You don't lie and make that decision for them. There is literally NEVER a justification to cheat in ANY scenario.
posted by a strong female character at 12:07 PM on November 25, 2015 [18 favorites]

yeah, cheating has nothing to do with your feelings on monogamy. it can occur in polyamorous relationships as well as monogamous ones. and fidelity can occur in polyamorous relationships as well as monogamous ones.

cheating (in relationships, taxes, sports) is when a person agrees to give something, gives something less and covers it up.
posted by kinoeye at 12:26 PM on November 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

How did YOU react when you found out you had been cheated on and how long did it take to heal?

I've been cheated on twice. The first time, I'd suspected things weren't right, and divorced my ex-husband for other reasons… then found out about a year later that I'd been right all along, and my ex had, in fact, been cheating on me with a friend. So it was a hugely delayed reaction, and took years to grapple with and work through. It was the lying that hurt me the most, and his willingness to let me shoulder all the blame in the marriage going wrong. That messed with my head for years afterward and required some serious therapy. I never did anything vengeful, but ooooh I sure fantasized about it. Probably took… six years to fully recover from, and we're no longer on speaking terms.

The second time I was cheated on, it was a thing where my ex had been wanting to break things off with me for a while, avoiding me, and started seeing another woman for a couple of weeks. I found out from a friend (on Valentine's Day) that he'd been seeing someone else; I confronted him, he fessed up, and I gave him two weeks to decide between us. He chose her. When he confessed, I cried a lot and was grief-stricken, but managed to keep my dignity together. It took about a year to really heal from that one, but we're still friends.

The difference between the two reactions for me was mainly honesty, and the overall relationships. My ex-husband was emotionally abusive and lied at length for years; whereas the ex-boyfriend was generally a good and honest person who was afraid of conflict. The way he ended things with me still wasn't ideal, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't the gut-wrenching horror of my divorce.
posted by culfinglin at 12:36 PM on November 25, 2015

When I found out my ex was cheating on me, it knocked the bottom out of my world. Everything I believed suddenly felt like a lie. I felt like I had been violated and tricked into a relationship that I would never have entered into if I had know the facts. I felt stupid and ugly and most of all terrified that my partner didn't love me (which I suppose he didn't). I did a lot of things I am totally ashamed of now, like snooping on him (by reading his messages and switching Google Latitude on on his phone, so I could see where he was), DEMANDING he cut contact with the women in question despite his protestations (why did I not leave?) and in the immediate aftermath of the discovery I tried to smash his phone up and stood in front of the door to ensure he "stayed and faced the music" rather than walking out (ie. listened to me shouting and calling him bad words for the next few hours.) I actually turned into a controlling, jealous crazy person that I do not recognise now. I understand why I acted like that and I feel no shame in having acted like that towards him but I feel like I have let myself and the world down by acting in such a horrendous way. I am scared that I have lost the ability to trust and that I might take it out on a new partner or friend who has done nothing wrong. (By the way, my ex ended up leaving me because of my behaviour and my biggest regret is that I didn't leave him first).

In summary I can sympathise with your ex, and I think his reaction is within the realms of "normal", but it doesn't make what he did right, and it doesn't mean you should put up with it, or that you deserve abuse, stalking or violence to be aimed at you. I think you have already done this but the best thing is to just stay out of his way, forever if needs be. Don't kid yourself that you have done him a favour, but don't think you have ruined his entire life either. He will get over it. I have! Mostly.
posted by intensitymultiply at 2:36 PM on November 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Lotta pile-on here.

If I'm understanding your question correctly, your husband is hurt and furious that you ended your marriage, right? That's... a bigger, and different, deal than having an affair. I mean one can lead to the other; but it's not the same thing as the "have one's cake and eat it too, gaslighting and denying and lying" typical scenario of cheating. I doubt that if you had come to your husband the day you met your new guy and said "hey, I don't want to cheat, so before hooking up with this new person I'll just tell you now that I'm leaving you for him, kthxbye," that he would be feeling any better about it. It would have been more honest, maybe, but no less hurtful to your husband. He's mad you left, primarily, it sounds like.

So how guilty should you feel about leaving? Some people think that marriage vows mean you should stay in a marriage even if it sucks. I think you get one life to live and while we should do our best to minimize pain to our loved ones, divorce is a better option than staying in an unhappy marriage.

That said, I think it's fair to say whatever one wants to say to a spouse that walks out on one and upends one's life. I think one's responsibility to be gentle with their feelings ends right about that time! But the part where he acts so self-destructively and inappropriately that he loses his job and faces criminal charges? Not normal, and not "justified."

I wish both you and your ex-husband peace.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:04 PM on November 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Your situation is similar to a friend of mine's. His (hopefully soon) ex wife has gone batshit crazy and sends random nasty crazy emails to his friends and professional contacts. She gets people to spy on him and take photos. She lies to their kids and says that he never loved them. We saw her once in a grocery store and she gave us the evil eye and did that finger across the throat gesture. That was creepy.

And she's an alcoholic. He split with her after years of trying to get her help, but she wouldn't.

A complicating factor is that he started dating someone a few months after their separation. That made the crazy even worse.

Your ex husband is totally out of bounds. Sure, he has the right to be angry, but he should have some dignity.

Also, some people like to play the victim. It gives them power in a situation where they feel they don't have any.

But the fact that you have a restraining order against him is proof that his acting are beyond normal.
posted by reddot at 6:29 AM on November 26, 2015

I have been on both sides of this particular coin. I dealt with my transgression, at first, by minimizing my part, and taking the stance that my friend ought not to be so upset, because.... (never mind what comes after the because, it was a bullshit smoke screen so I didn't have to feel so bad). After some years I was able to turn back to myself and see what a jerk I had been. Essentially, I was going through some bleak times, and I just wanted the comfort I thought I could get from getting together with his ex, and I never seriously considered how it might affect him. I rationalized my own needs, and found them to be more important than his.

Years passed, and the woman in question and I finally separated.

I met a woman, and we married. We had a child together, she had two children from a previous marriage. After a couple of years, she began to slip around behind my back with another man. I was stunned for a while. I went through a period that sounds like how your described your ex's feelings, but I didn't try to translate my pain into actions. I kept a more or less even keel by keeping in mind that somewhere down the road I was going to have to explain myself to her daughters and my son. So I wouldn't let myself turn my revenge fantasies into any sort of overt actions. I finally became resigned, and to make a shitty string of events brief, we separated. At one point my lawyer told me that because of the nature of the separation he could make a good case for child abandonment, and I probably could get primary custody of my son, and possibly her daughters. (Never mind this). I actually thought it over, but my son loved his sisters, and they all loved their mother. I couldn't face the prospect of demonizing her to them--I must say that at first my thoughts ran darker, and I had fantasies in which the children saw her for the faithless lover that she was and abandoned her. I am glad I worked my way out of that. I reconciled myself in the meantime with the situation: a faithless woman gets together with a man who thinks it's okay to screw another man's wife. As time passed their relationship went sour and they drifted apart. I was surprised by my reaction--I felt bad for her, that she was going through yet another failed relationship. I wanted to gloat, or feel smug, but it just didn't work that way. Now when I think back on those days I taste ashes, mostly on account of the way this disruption may have affected our children. I have been estranged from the girls for years, don't know why. My son and I stayed close. I have come to realize how I must have failed my ex-wife in certain ways, but I don't feel as though I caused her to cheat on me.

Back full circle to my own infidelity with my friend's wife. I never came to "forgive" myself for what I did. I don't believe self-forgiveness is anything more than a illusion or maybe delusion, so we can avoid the pain of knowing we did something to hurt a person we cared about. I am still ashamed. On the other hand, I recognize that I have improved a bit from what happened back in those days when I was so young and green, was so full of myself. Knowing this is a good thing. If you rationalize your bad behavior you have not moved on.

You don't need to forgive yourself for cheating on your husband. You don't need to feel responsible for his actions. You may replay these days for years, trying to figure out whether you might have done something to make this easier on the children. All this is merely the cost you pay to be a decent human being. If you don't try too hard to make everything fit, eventually you will gain perspective. Peace of mind comes more from perspective than simply ignoring your bad acts. I believe yours was an act of emotional desperation. I don't believe this makes you a bad person, and I truly don't think you need to do any more than acknowledge your moment of weakness.

However that works out for you, he still is the father of the children. I don't know if you can influence him toward getting treatment for his illness. That would be the best thing you could do, and it may not be within your power. Maybe you could inspire his family or friends to encourage him. Be prepared for them to take sides, though--there's not much you can actually do about that, either. Your children ought to see you trying to help him, but don't bother trying to defend yourself to them.
posted by mule98J at 11:26 AM on November 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have had some time to think about this. I don't think I really made myself clear in my first response.

My comment that I concluded my marriage drove me to it does not mean my husband drove me to it.

I got married at age 19 to another 19 year old. I had been sexually abused and my parents had a very old fashioned marriage. My husband had a neglectful childhood and honestly believed the lies his parents told him that they had a fantastic, wonderful marriage while his dad lived in another state with the girlfriend for the last few years of the marriage. They blamed their choice to live apart on the military. It was a plausible lie to the children, who didn't understand this was fundamentally different from the deployments that legimately separate military members from their families periodically. When they divorced, he was shocked. I was not and this got me the stink eye and it was years before he could admit I was right or even speak of it.

We were really young and we were operating on a lot of rigid ideas about what marriage meant that we had grown up with and had not yet really had a chance to question. We both made sexist pig decisions to support his career at the expense of mine. I had been one of the top three graduating students of my high school class. My grades and SAT scores were better than his. Everyone expected me to have a career. I gave up a scholarship and quit college. I was soon financially dependent upon him, unexpectedly pregnant and living in another state with no support network.

Then we were in Germany. I talked to a lawyer and was told I could not file for divorce. I could file for separation, return to the states with my baby and wait nearly three years for him to get back to the U.S. and then begin divorce proceedings.

I really don't want to get into all the details, nor is it justification. Neither I nor my husband wanted it that way. We made a lot of choices that we didn't understand the consequences of. Metaphorically, it is a bit like if you are 8.5 months pregnant when you learn that unprotected sex leads to babies and you aren't fat, you are about to be a mom. It is way too late for a condom or the morning after pill and there are no good answers.

I think if you are under the age of 30, a lot of dumbass, shitty choices you make can legitimately be blamed largely on your childhood, your parents, and social influences. That doesn't absolve you of responsibility for your life, but it can give you some breathing room and a path forward. It makes it possible to say "God, I was young and stupid and didn't know any better." That can help you focus on finding a better answer for the future instead of crying for the rest of your life over spilt milk.

It took me a long, long time to get there. I was wracked with guilt for a lot of years. Concluding that the ideas I grew up with were broken and don't work and resulted in really shitty outcomes empowered me to questions things we are often raised to believe are sacrosanct and not to be questioned.

In my case, I was able to make my peace in part because I, my sister and my brother all got married the same year. My marriage lasted the longest and the divorce was amicable. Their divorces involved attempts on their lives and all kinds of other drama. In comparison, my infidelity looks like small potatoes. It also helped convince me that, no, seriously, it isn't all on my shoulders. Me and my siblings all were raised with some incredibly broken, fucked up, untenable ideas that just do not result in happy marriages. My exes siblings also had worse outcomes than we had. His family was also all kinds of fucked up.

I don't think it is okay to blame your spouse and I really don't think it is okay to get into a pattern of cheating and lying and say it is somehow okay or not your fault or justified. Like others here, I concluded the big problem was the lying and lack of trust and that I would rather have a non monogamous but honest relationship than to ever live a lie again.

I am still trying to sort out how one does the happily monogamous thing. I never got that memo. I would prefer to live that way, if I can figure it out. In the meantime, I am clear that if I never figure it out, honesty matters more to me than monogamy. I would rather have an open relationship with someone whose word I can trust than to claim we are monogamous while shitty things go on behind our backs or be monogamous in a poisonously abusive relationship with no way out. I really believed in the until death do us part commitment until I realized staying would kill me. Then I decided there are worse things than getting divorced.

Best of luck in your search for peace.
posted by Michele in California at 11:43 AM on November 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I returned to this question after you, OP, linked it in the recent "should I marry him" question.

As I read through the answers here, about the pain of being cheated on and at the same time the sense that this man has really crossed the line badly in his grief, I want to suggest something to think about.

In your prior writings characterizing your marriage and your husband, you say you couldn't really articulate anything that was bad about it. There were parts that felt dull and lifeless and you had this sense of confusion about what exactly was wrong.

I know that feeling, precisely. Having recently left my own marriage I have started to look back on it with clearer eyes--without being invested in staying married, without being so aware at every instant exactly how much was riding on this decision, without my own excruciating heartbreak and its possible cure and redemption in the equation at all. And gosh, all those issues that felt so cloudy and confusing for so long are not confusing any more. And the intense internal bonding drive that meant I had to focus intently on my husband's good qualities if there were to be any chance of a good marriage has completely cooled.

And what I see now when I look back to that confusion--to that, "he's such a good man, but..."--is denial.

It's one thing to know, intellectually, that denial is something your brain does to soften the intolerable impacts of terrible pain. It's another thing to come to realize how you lived that, how you inhabited it, for years on end, and why. It's breathtaking to look back on the coldness and cruelty and just incredible selfishness that he exhibited, that I lived with, for many, many years. I am starting to understand that, as an act of self-preservation, my mind and heart couldn't let myself look at it squarely, directly, and understand it for what it really was, for a very long time. There were plenty of other things that functioned in our lives, that I could cling to and say, see, these things are good! And they were. But there was no way they could offset that rottenness at the core forever.

OP, I want to gently suggest to you that there could be a connection between the furious, slanderous, over the top behavior you're seeing now and what is behind the blankness you have felt in your marriage. It's very unlikely that fury and vengefulness and black, black bitterness is wholly new to to this man. Yes, the enormous pain of the end of your marriage has been a great shock to him and has blown it all wide open, and I feel pity for him in that pain. However, I gently want to suggest that further down the road you may realize that the contempt and disdain and spitefulness that he's showing now may have been more present in your marriage than you were willing to admit, back when you thought you needed to stay with him.

However awful this episode is, I think it has potential to be clarifying and healing in its own way.

In the meantime, though, it sounds terrible for everyone involved. I hope you all can move forward and find calm and peace, soon.
posted by Sublimity at 7:13 AM on November 29, 2015 [8 favorites]

OP, I want to gently suggest to you that there could be a connection between the furious, slanderous, over the top behavior you're seeing now and what is behind the blankness you have felt in your marriage. It's very unlikely that fury and vengefulness and black, black bitterness is wholly new to to this man. Yes, the enormous pain of the end of your marriage has been a great shock to him and has blown it all wide open, and I feel pity for him in that pain. However, I gently want to suggest that further down the road you may realize that the contempt and disdain and spitefulness that he's showing now may have been more present in your marriage than you were willing to admit, back when you thought you needed to stay with him.

I agree one hundred percent with this. It is beautifully put and very wise. Lots of people here said they were crushed when their partners cheated on them; not a single one engaged in anything like the kind of behavior you described. That means something. It really does.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:32 PM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

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