Bad things. Bad choices. Bad people.

I am a researcher. It is part of my DNA. No matter the issue or situation or challenge or victory, I research. Often when I’m watching a “historical” film, I pull out my lap top and begin to research to see how authentic the presentation actually is.

So when I found out that infidelity was a theme in my marriage, research immediately became a big part of the process. I researched to see the impact of divorce on older kids. I researched statistics. I researched methods of revenge. I researched practices for healing. I researched who and why men cheat. Why women cheat. How cheaters get away with their lies. Whether the betrayeds know. (How I could be so stupid).

I researched other women, and dug deep into the hearts of the betrayed. I tried to find evidence that there could be healing for me. Eventually, I looked into healing for us.

There is a recurring theme of conversations that niggles in my soul. It is about bad. Here is this healing, madly-in-love-with-her-former-cheating-HUSBAND betrayed’s view on bad:

Bad things:

Affairs are bad things. Period. No matter the situation or the circumstances. No matter the ten-year sexless marriage, or the financial trap, or the abuse. Affairs are not the way to solve problems, and ultimately only lead to more problems. If you are desperately – or even pretty – unhappy in your relationship – get help. If you have tried and your partner won’t (cause you cannot do it alone), get out. If you think you are trapped, that is a lie.  But so is the lie that an affair will be an answer. It is heaping more problems on an already really shitty situation, no matter how good it feels in the moment.

cheatingsucks

Bad choices:

Affairs don’t just happen in an instant. There are always a series of small, infinitesimal choices along the way that get you to a place of vulnerability and risk. Choices like not addressing your spouse’s sadness at the dining room table. Agreeing to go separate ways more and more frequently, even in your free time. Not being brave or aware enough to see that the only thing you are talking about is finances, kids, or problems. HUSBAND and I both own these choices, and work hard now to press in to these places and not allow them to gather dust.

But then…there are choices like finding yourself talking about your spouse in less than positive ways. Sharing intimate details about your thoughts and hopes with someone other than your spouse. Forsaking real intimacy for porn. Hoping your feet don’t touch in bed. Every one of these moments is a choice. And then, taking her number, or texting back. HUSBAND shared that he sent a text to his last AP the morning after running in to her at his high school reunion, saying “Are you headed back to Atlanta?” (She had traveled to the event with her 16-year live-in-lover). She responded, “Not yet. Why…what do you have in mind?” His choice: text her. Her choice: respond provocatively. Choices. A series of bad choices.

The Town With Britain's Highest Youth Unemployment Rate.

Bad people:

No doubt, there are some really bad actors out there. Narcissists who are incapable of really deep compassion and affection for anyone but themselves. Serial cheaters who never own their painful behavior. Partners who continue to lie and deceive But aside from those scary people, the majority of people that end up in affairs and ripping the very soul out of their partner are men and women who can do and be positive and good in many ways. It’s one of the reasons I never suspected any betrayal…after all, HUSBAND was such a good guy. HUSBAND is the man who is the first neighbor to help in a crisis. He lends our equipment and stuff to friends, and shares our abundance with everyone. He loves to help people learn and takes time to teach the best methods of fishing and hunting to kids, to other dads, to anyone interested. He is dad-extraordinaire, creating fabulous science projects with each of our children and never missing a game or event throughout their lives. He was team-dad alongside me as team-mom, dragging coolers and water and meals and snacks and never getting cranky or frustrated (I did). He loves to engage and interact with anyone and has a real skill for making them feel good.

This goodness is real, but it was also a desperate and constant attempt to hide the dark side of himself, the reality that he was capable and culpable of lying and betraying and cheating the ones he loved most. His goodness convinced him for a very long time that ‘he wasn’t that guy’ and yet one day. One day he was gripped with the reality that he was that guy. That guy who cheated, who betrayed, who had taken the most precious ones of all and blighted them with lies and deception.

NotproudNowproud

As far as his cheating partners…one of them has evidence of goodness in her life too. She is married, and was married, when they had their year-long affair. To hear HUSBAND tell the story today, the work-place affair started years before with mild flirting and low-level sexual tension between them (see above: bad choices). They’d actually gone on one date many years prior to their affair, before either was married. It was around her ten-year and our seven-year mark that things shifted. All it took was that one choice – that one innuendo carried a little further with a “do we dare try it” kind of dangler and they were off to the races. Pure sex, nothing emotional on that one. If I’d known then, perhaps I’d be less able to see the evidence of goodness in her but…I see she reconciled with her husband. I see she loves her kids. I see she left the company after the affair ended. I see that she is caring for a dying family member. I see some good in this woman who stole from me without me having any idea at the time.

The other major AP…the one HUSBAND was going to leave me for…the one who showed up at his house before I was in the picture – when he was a young, single working man to tell him ‘she’d always wanted to jump his bones’ (after which they had their first roll in the hay). The one who came to our wedding and watched us pledge ourselves to each other. The one who, less than two years later, drove him to her house rather than home when he was too drunk to drive (where they rolled in the hay again) and then proceeded to engage in an affair – his first – while I unsuspectingly took care of his firstborn and was nurturing our second in my womb. The one who, 25 years later, asked the leading question after he made the (bad) choice to text and embarked on another affair with HUSBAND. The one who encouraged him to have the best rest of his life – with her – and to forsake me and his children and his faith and all that he deeply wanted to be. That one? I have a hard time seeing the good in her. Never married, works a corporate job, doesn’t spend much time helping others or making a difference in her community. Lies to her own long-term lover (and as it turns out, to HUSBAND as well). I do see evidence of her being good to her dog – guess that’s something.

And then I’m faced with the reality that she was someone’s little girl. She had hopes and dreams once. Now, she is at this stage in her life and can look at lots of things she has been able to accumulate, but little if any people and relationships in which she can find joy and hope and peace. When I can see her through those eyes, through the eyes of my Savior who gave His life for me – and for her – I feel sad. I don’t see her badness as much – I see her brokenness.

Bad people? There are some. Broken people? Seems like we all fit in that category. I’m grateful that there is a path from broken to healing, and that as rocky and dangerous as it is, I’ve found it. My plea for you is that whichever side of broken you may be…don’t stop fighting for whole.

rockypath

Still saving shards…

Susan

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Then, then again, and now

On Valentine’s Day 1989, I woke to the cries of my almost year-old first-born. His nursery was next to our bedroom, and my regular routine was to change him, then bring him back to bed where he would nurse, and we would cuddle and snuggle. HUSBAND was long gone…on regular days his work schedule started in the early morning hours and this particular day, Valentine’s Day 1989, he was in New Orleans.

cuddling-baby-in-bed

Sixteen months earlier, HUSBAND and I had been in New Orleans for a convention in his industry. At the time, I was pregnant so we had enjoyed the sites, eaten some fabulous meals and taken in the bigness of both the city and the convention – but I had stayed away from alcohol and partying. I was surprised when HUSBAND told me he wanted to go this time…his industry has two main conventions and he had never affiliated with the one scheduled in February. He told me this alternate convention was far more policy oriented, and he wanted to engage at the policy level – to bring young energy and ideas and solutions to the old problems. I was proud of him and excited for his vision and enthusiastically endorsed his attending. My memory tells me that we talked for a brief minute about the logistics of me attending with him, but our baby…and I was pregnant again…and so I sent him off with good wishes.

In the later morning the doorbell rang, and a beautiful bunch of roses was delivered to the door. Our little one was taken by the pretty flowers, and we had fun smelling the roses. When the phone rang a bit later (pre cell phones and texting and facetime), I answered it. HUSBAND was on the line. I told him thank you for the lovely flowers and he told me Happy Valentine’s Day. And that he loved me.

red-roses-bouquet

The scene was lovely and sweet and appealing…just what books are written about. Considerate spouse. Grateful spouse. Happy home.

Except this wasn’t the whole story. It was only the part that I could see. I wouldn’t know the whole story for 25 years. The rest of the story was that before he made that phone call to me on Valentine’s Day, he had just had sex with his affair partner. He had flown her from our home town, arriving on the 13th and they had taken in alcohol and partying. And sex. Sex the night before and sex that morning. And then he rolled over in the bed, reached for the phone and called me to tell me Happy Valentine’s Day – had I gotten the flowers – that he loved me.

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Apparently his affair partner didn’t like this too much. She didn’t let him know then, but when she left that little love nest, she had decided she was done. That was the last time they saw each other during that affair. And 3 months later, our second baby was born.

If you have read our story, you know that I never knew about this affair. Or the other affairs. Until the last affair that broke everything open. The last affair, 25 years later, was with this same affair partner. Once she got him engaged again, she reminded him of the Valentine’s Day in 1989 and told him how it made her feel. You know, like a whore or something. To make it up, he invited her to a neighboring town for two days of dining and romance and ocean the week before Valentine’s, when I was out of town. And then he arranged to send her an enormous bouquet of flowers and for me, the unsuspecting wife both then and now, nothing. Interestingly, he mentioned to her that he was sending something to her office – she now lived in Atlanta – and she told him she wouldn’t be there that day. She went on to tell him she hated flowers (really??). So he cancelled the order. He did everything he could to make up those hurt feelings from 25 years before. To make her Valentine’s special.

This year, on February 14th early in the morning, I woke up to the smell of coffee, and turned to see a cup on my nightstand with the perfect amount of foam. HUSBAND embraced me strongly, looked into my eyes and told me he loved me. A bit later, when I got in my car to head to the office I found a card on my dash board. A loving, emotional, passionate card. During the day, HUSBAND and I were interviewed on a local radio show about how our marriage had gone from devastating to incredible…and a couple hours later, we appeared on a local television show sharing the same story. When I arrived back at my office, I got a delivery…two more fabulous cards with great meaning and lovely additions in HUSBAND’s own hand. When he came home from the office, he brought bunches of flowers in beautiful colors (and I love flowers – really). He had made a reservation for the two of us at our favorite French restaurant where we shared an intimate meal, fabulous wine and connected conversation.

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It’s odd. I needed to know the sub-story of our lives and HUSBAND needed to tell the sub-story of our lives if we were ever going to have a chance. If we were ever to have the transparent and beautiful relationship we now share. But lurking around the edges of the joy and the intimacy of today is the burned edges of yesterday. I can still see it in my mind’s eye…still see the naïve trusting young wife overlaying the sex scene of a New Orleans hotel…then, then again, now.

And such is the story of betrayal.

 

Anatomy of Infidelity, Part 5

Just looking back through the life of my infidel…looking at gaps and patterns and moments and experiences and ways-of-living that could give us both clues into how. Into why. This isn’t a treatise for explaining cheating; rather a process of working through for both of us…so we never end up there again.

needlehaystack

Our wedding…was magnificent. Sort of.

At the time, it was everything I’d dreamed of. I wore a stunning dress and long-white gloves (it was a thing, honestly). My attendants looked gorgeous in their deep teal, ankle-length, satin dresses (that they could wear again – lol) and all the flowers were white, only white. The groomsmen looked distinguished in their black tuxedos, and the flowers…the setting…the band…the food…it was overwhelming. I remember looking at my dad and telling him I felt like a princess. Thank you.

I’m not sure why, but at the altar with my groom, I talked. I kept saying things like, “we are really doing this, getting married. Can you believe it?”

bridegroomkneeling

I think the reality is I couldn’t believe it. I think maybe, deep down in my gut, there was a little turmoil that I just could not allow to come to the surface.

That blind eye thing…even though I couldn’t see it, my gut may have had some insight that just disconnected before it hit my cognitive faculties. It’s hard to go back here, it’s hard to admit. But if I am ever to heal, ever to ensure that I’d never be in the same position again, I have to go here. Putting it on paper and owning my silence…I’m trying to be kind to this girl. I hope you will be too.

blind-eye

The first thing that I can now see that was really discordant but I just breezed right past at the time? HUSBAND and I had gone out of town together with friends for a couple days. When we got back to town, we went by his house where I had left my car. We walked inside and his roommate told us that he’d had an unexpected visitor the night before, actually, in the early morning hours. Seems HUSBAND’s former girlfriend that had once been his fiancé had been dropped off at the house expecting to slip into HUSBAND’s bed and resume their up/down relationship. Odd that she felt the freedom to show up. Show up and expect…but I justified it in my mind that they’d had such a pattern in the past…

Several weeks later, after HUSBAND had reportedly called former girl to tell her to never come by again…that it was permanently over, and he was moving on, he picked me up. We were headed to a ball game, and we always took his dog with us. When she wasn’t it the car, I asked where she was. To my great surprise, he told me former girl had her.

????Former girl, who doesn’t drive. Who he’d told there would be contact or ongoing anything????

He was surprised that I was uncomfortable with this. You see, they’d both loved the dog. The dog had been part of both their lives for the four years of off-again on-again relationship and he couldn’t really be expected to keep the dog from her, could he?

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After the ball game, he took me home and I didn’t say anything about the dog incident. I did, however, disappear for several days. This was pre cell phones, and I made sure my assistant answered my phone at work. I went to a friend’s to spend the night directly after work. On the third day I came home to my apartment, and he appeared within minutes. I explained that I was not interested in sharing him with another person. If he wanted an ongoing we-are-going-to-share-dog-time-or-any-other-time with her, then I was out. He pledged his heart and apologized and I thought she was gone for good.

And she was, until he told me a few days later that she thought she was pregnant. Ended up she wasn’t. And I just kept plugging along.

Another day we were relaxing in his home, talking about our upcoming wedding. HUSBAND then decided to let me know that he hadn’t paid his taxes for the last three years. BOOM. When I asked why, he boyishly explained he’d just not quite gotten ‘round to it. And what does any smart, confident, independent young woman do when she finds out such a thing? Surely, she insists that he get it straightened out immediately…that he cleans it up and files and deals with whatever penalties and interest and admonishments that may be due. Right?

That is unless she turns a blind eye…justifying that he isn’t as skilled in finances as she is…that he didn’t mean to do anything wrong. And then SHE promptly digs through the past years, gets all the information together on his behalf, gets it all cleaned up. I did ask him to pay the accountant, which he did, and to pay the required financial penalties…at least that is something. I worked hard to clean up the mess. He said thanks.

Then there was our wedding night. I’m not sure what I expected…I was certainly influenced by romantic movies and thoughts of long-drawn out intimate moments and awe of consummating the commitment we’d just publicly made and being a wife. His wife. I guess I thought there would be a beautiful suite, and flowers, and candles, and champagne, and tender touches and…

But what there was instead was a regular hotel room (my folks said why waste the money on a special suite?) and taking his own clothes off and getting into the bed (okay, so I guess I take mine off too) and a self-satisfying romp (for him) and then roll over and proceed to a snoring sleep. Yes…there had been a crazy full day of festivities and food and spirits, but I was stunned. And sad. And got out of my brand-new marriage bed and went to the bathroom and started the bathtub and got in it, alone, and cried.

weddingnighttub

Yes. A blind eye. I had it, but it is open now.

 

 

 

Anatomy of Infidelity, Part 3

Just looking back through the life of my infidel…looking at gaps and patterns and moments and experiences and ways-of-living that could give us both clues into how. Into why. This isn’t a treatise for explaining cheating; rather a process of working through for both of us…so we never end up there again.

diggingdeep

Prepping for college included the requisite compiling of necessary things (laundry detergent and personal hygiene items; clothes and underwear; school supplies). But for HUSBAND, that summer also included other prep. It included sex with a married employee a few years older than him who just wasn’t happy in her marriage…all fun and games until she indicated she was starting to have feelings for him…and then he ran far and fast. It included sex with another older woman that he knew from a local vendor…and lots of drinking and smoking pot and altercations with other drunk and stoned people.

alcoholpot

College. The young man, HUSBAND, was smart – having clepped several classes – entered university with one semester credit. He sees now that his dreams were not so much, rather, not-at-all, of achieving academic success or getting a degree, but pushing the limit of freedom and pushing his body beyond what it had known in the past.

He pulled a roommate with a similar goal and together they, and some of his childhood friends, found plenty of drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll. They partied from morning til night, got into drug/alcohol induced fights, interacted with campus police, interacted with girls in their dorm room, in overnights at the beach and anywhere else it happened and hit every concert that came to town. What he didn’t do was spend much time going to class, or studying. HUSBAND didn’t delve into relationships, just sex. Often sex numbed with drugs. The end of the first year brought the harsh reality that the university wasn’t excited about having him back. He was on disciplinary probation. He was on academic probation. The Dean told him he could not return to the school until he had obtained his associates degree elsewhere. And so he left.

If there was any recrimination from his parents, HUSBAND doesn’t remember. He doesn’t remember either of his parents being involved in his college decision, his college year, or his college failure. He doesn’t remember any consequence, or deep conversations or confrontations at the end of the year. He just kept going, and was shuttled to one of his branch offices 150 miles away where he moved in with a relative. A relative that was married, but only a few years older than HUSBAND. A relative who also enjoyed much of the wild life, and the college life basically continued on for him in his early professional life. Once a week, HUSBAND had to return to the home office for a specific job duty, and within six months, was called to return full time to headquarters.

HUSBAND and a couple of his friends found a rental house in a low-end area and moved in. The house quickly became party-central for his old friends and his new friends and friends-of-those-friends. People came and went, bringing their individual brand of fun and there was always something and someone to share an imbibed moment with. HUSBAND remembers one day sitting in his room, smoking a joint and listening to music while a few friends partied outside in the common areas. The door to his bathroom opened (it was also accessible through another bedroom) and a girl from his home room class walked in. She walked over to his bed where he was sitting and started talking about inane happenings. Then, she said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to jump your bones.” And so they had sex and she got dressed and left. She wasn’t the only one during that time period, and that wasn’t the only time with her, or with others. No interest in relationship, but lots of interest in sex. That characterized this period for him.

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Eventually HUSBAND desired a little nicer space, and less constant company and he found a better townhouse in a better area and moved in with two friends. There was still some serious partying, but less of a frenetic pace inundated with known and unknown partakers. More of the semblance of a home. All three roommates were hard working, although the pot smoking before work continued, and usually after work, too. But they saw themselves as moving up in their respective jobs, and beginning to look toward growing up.

About that time, HUSBAND had some tense moments with members of his family. In somewhat of a rebellion from what they envisioned for his personal life, he went out with friends, and mentioned he wanted to find himself a “rock ‘n roll girl.” He ran into the former girlfriend of someone he knew…a beautiful girl…an available girl…a wild and exciting girl…and they came back to his place where they explored every part of each other’s anatomy. It was sex on steroids for him, and he was hooked.

rocknrollgirl

The story continues…

 

Anatomy of Infidelity, Part 2

So the little boy and his three siblings and his mama and daddy moved from their cute little bungalow on a cute little street in a tight little neighborhood to the other side of the town…over the river…

The new house was fit for a family of six with a daddy growing a new empire alongside HIS dad. It had five bedrooms and nearly as many baths and a swimming pool and a big yard. The family settled in and soon another baby arrived on the scene. HUSBAND’s family of origin was now complete: he was the oldest followed by two sisters, a brother and a final baby girl.

He started a new school in this new neighborhood where he made some friends. Together with those friends he would roam the neighborhood, not getting into trouble but kind of getting into trouble. He was good at convincing everyone he was really a good boy when he walked a fence, and learned to put on different faces for different audiences. Truth is, he came by it naturally…

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The men in HUSBAND’s life all “married for life” and talked boldly of respect and loyalty and all the other things that make men men to their families in the south. But when HUSBAND was still a boy, he began to go off with the men for hunting and fishing and the men liked to talk about things that may not be quite so respectful. Things like the shape of the waitress’s chest or backside. Things like what they’d done with other women. Things like what they’d like to do with other women. There were jokes and magazines and sometimes even touches. But from the very earliest of times, this was how men acted and then they went home to their wives and families and professed loyalty and respect. They loudly disdained men who cheated, and told their wives how shocked they were when one of them got exposed as being “that kind of man.”

There was a neighbor boy who was several years older than HUSBAND. He grew very close with the family and spent time with all the kids. One summer in particular, HUSBAND spent a lot of time with him, learning about his boat, playing legos in his garage, and just being boys together. Several years later, this same neighbor took a job with the family company, and moved up to a junior management position. He had nice things, and would let HUSBAND be part of some of them…teaching him to drive in his muscle car and things like that. It was odd that eventually, this neighbor had somewhat of a breakdown at the company, and left. He no longer has any contact with the family, at all. Although eventually it really wasn’t that odd…

A few years went by and HUSBAND continued to be the best of boys and the worst of boys in his parents’ eyes. He learned to deceive to try to stay on the best side, and to minimize when he fell over to the worst. His dad went off on trips a lot, and HUSBAND was the “man of the house” when his dad was away. There was lots to take care of and lots of kids to help with. He was glad when he had time to go off with his friends. They had built a pretty elaborate tree house and liked to spend time there where they pretended they were men and not boys. One day, they found a magazine – you know, THAT kind of magazine – on the street (so his memory tells him) and they took it up to the tree house. They gathered around and turned the pages and looked at it closely. The magazine stayed in the tree house, and all the boys went home. HUSBAND thinks that was the first time he masturbated. Masturbated to the mental images of those girls on the pages of the magazine. He never told anyone…not his family or his friends, and none of them said they’d done it. As HUSBAND notes, for him it was the start of secrecy (shame?) around sex.

secret-shame

In 7th grade, HUSBAND was moved to Catholic school where he remembers gaining exposure to a whole host of new actions. He got close with a small group of boys and they had fun doing things that pushed the window of acceptability. By ninth grade, the group was sneaking out of their homes at night, deftly stealing a car or two from their parents’ driveways and riding around their side of town. According to HUSBAND, they would cruise, head to the school and do donuts and just be boys. During the summer prior to their sophomore year, the group had discovered pot, and that became a regular part of their free time. HUSBAND was in all honors classes that year, but frequently getting high before classes in the morning. He surrounded himself with like-minded friends, encouraging each other to beat the system and live the double life.

kids-and-weed

But there was this one girl…this straight, beautiful girl…who sat next to him in one of his classes. She listened as he shared the crazy antics of his life: the drugs and activities and chances he was taking. She seemed to have a vague intrigue, yet admonished him to stop. To be better. To reach for good. Things went on throughout the year until one night…one night when the group was divided into two cars and one of them got busted. The cops took the kids home from one car, and eventually those kids divulged the kids from the second car and HUSBAND remembers a group meeting of all the parents and kids involved.

So he turned a new leaf, just like that. Gave up the drugs and the car stealing (they were driving underage) and became that good guy. And that straight, beautiful girl from his class was so thrilled that by the end of sophomore year, they were a thing – a couple.

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They dated throughout junior year and HUSBAND was “good.” He didn’t smoke pot (okay…maybe once or twice but not really) and he didn’t steal cars (by that time he was a licensed driver). He worked (kinda) hard on his academics. But by late in his junior year and that pre-senior year summer, he really had the itch to let loose…he was a senior after all. It’s a bit hazy in his memory, but HUSBAND knows that he and the straight, beautiful girl broke up, and he returned to the partying and it escalated throughout the year.

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HUSBAND was caught with pot that time when the group was busted. His parents were involved and hurt and confronted him. “Just make good decisions,” he was told. Yet after that first time, there were numerous other times that he was caught, and nothing was done except shaking of the head, and grow up please. Despite finding the remains of a joint in the family car, or paraphernalia hidden under the bed, or a bag with remnants in his drawer, there were no consequences except disappointment. HUSBAND continued to drive the cars and boats and have wrecks involving both. He went on vacations and to summer camp in the Keys. He continued to work at the family business and stay out late and get high before school. And sometimes during school. And usually after school.

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He even went on his senior cruise where unleashed partying abounded. There was sex and drinking and pot and it was all good. He graduated from high school amongst lots of fanfare and lots of celebration and loads of pot and alcohol and sex. It lead to a summer of intense drinking and partying and working and playing, and preparation for launch to college.

And so it goes…the boy was growing into a young man.