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But what if the BS truly sucks?

It’s been interesting to read the comments on my article on Huffington Post recently.

It’s pretty easy to hate cheaters and I find I have good company in that point of view, judging by the HuffPo comments. But the ones that make me pause are the ones that lay out an argument on how — no REALLY, the betrayed spouse (BS) actually, truly sucked. If the argument is made well, the commentator does not say “They made me cheat,” instead they write something to the effect of, if I had not been with someone so emotionally abusive and sexually withholding, I would not have been the sort of person who stepped out on my marriage.

And that resonates with me. Because I do think being in a bad marriage (I’ve been in two), can bring out the worst in a person. I can sympathize. My first husband was emotionally and sexually withholding. I do not want to be smug. The last year of my marriage with him, as it was all falling apart, if the right person had seduced me, I might well have tipped over to the cheater side. I remember very well thinking about it and skirting dangerously close to that side. A stay at home dad of my acquaintance kept hitting on me. And I felt absolutely desperate for affection. I ran all the traps in my head about cheating. But by the grace of God, I didn’t do it.

When I got close to that edge, what bubbled up in my mind was “I don’t really want an affair. I want to date openly. I want OUT of this marriage.”

I realize, if I had cheated, it could’ve felt like a middle path. Okay, I don’t have to have the messy divorce and the humiliation and expense. I can find an “arrangement” so I can get the sex I so badly want. It was very scary to make the decision to leave. I was a young mother with a pre-schooler and I worked part-time. How much easier to just postpone the divorce decision and cheat.

I felt then, oh I really did, that he deserved it. He truly sucked. He still sucks.

But he didn’t deserve to be cheated on. No one deserves that, not even the most sucktacular of spouses. But that’s not what I thought then. My decision not to cheat on him, I would like to tell you was because of my moral compass and my good values. Perhaps. But it was also based in total self interest. Once I found myself going there in my head, I took it as a sign that I needed to get the HELL OUT. For me.

And I did. I saw a lawyer. Informed him, that all the counseling and marriage saving I had been doing solo for years, was ending. I was divorcing him.

Once I saw that lawyer, drew up papers, and had that It’s Over speech, I never went back. I told him his personal life was his life, and mine was mine. Then I took a trip to London, wrote my family letters informing them of the divorce, and I had a fling with an old friend. And it felt great. Sex aside, I had forgotten what it felt like to have someone hold my hand or be kind.

To this day, I’m grateful I got out first and have a clear conscience about ending that marriage. I deeply sympathize with anyone in an emotionally abusive and sexually withholding marriage. But cheating is NOT going to improve that. It’s a dreadful, hurtful, mutually abusive choice. I understand the impulse to strike back passive aggressively  — I’ll show you! Hah! Watch me screw this other person! but if you do that, you need to be honest with yourself — you’re doing it to destroy your spouse. To destroy your marriage, because you’re too gutless to end it. Allowing the resulting drama do the work for you.

If you want to destroy your spouse? You need to realize that you’ve been emotionally out of that marriage for a long time. And then you need to GET out of that marriage honestly. (Assuming you’ve tried the therapy, counseling, etc. already. I do believe in giving it the honest college try, if you have kids, and no one has cheated already.) You cannot cheat on someone you feel emotionally connected with. I don’t believe we “love” people and cheat on them. It’s abuse.
Your spouse might truly suck. Such people exist. But don’t cheat on them. It just drags you down and makes you an abuser too.

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  • Funny thing is that I beleive if you asked most of the betrayed spouses whether their cheating spouse sucked, even without the infidelity, you would find a high% beleve they did suck.
    The problem with cheating is response to a crappy partner is that it is so abusive, almost no crappiness warrants it. It’s like smashing someone with a baseball bat because they are withholding sex.
    I also bet the majority of cheaters feel that their betrayed spouse sucked. CL, I bet your ex feels you had major deficiencies as well. Who knows what he says about you. But, at least you did not cheat on him. So, you get the benefit of the doubt re who sucked worse, IMO.
    The reality is that it is just so easy and simple to divorce, it is hard for me to fathom why dissatisfied spouses do not just do it vs cheating.I am sorry, the cry that divorce is “complicated” or tough does not rign true. It is essentially just accounting and, unless there are custody issues, really quite straight forward.
    No offense to family lawyers, as I do personl injury which is also not rocket science, but this stuff is easy and uncomplicated.
    I think both sides come out of marriages feeling their Ex sucked, in many cases. I fail to understand how someone who cheats, when there is easy access to divorce, expects future parenting to go as smoothly when he or she injects so much resentment into the mix. How shortsighted .. There will be weddings, graduations etc to attend down the road, as well as mundane issues to discuss. Yet, now, having humiliated and hurrt their BSs unneccessarily, things become much more difficult.
    I think my ex feels I withheld affection and sex. I admit, I did not approach her after myriad rejections, being told “You are like a woman” and having her tell my “You have no penis”. Sort of killed my desire.

    • I wonder how this all applies to someone who cheated throughout marriage, children, moves, etc. which is my case. I would like to think he loved me at some point but then I realise he was cheating the whole time. Which then leads me to: why? Why get married? Why have the kids? Why drag me to kingdom come and back again? Why do all those nice things for me if he was going to systematically destroy the marriage without me even knowing?

      I used to ponder these questions. Now I just think pffft. He’s fucked up, that’s why.

        • Love this post.

          I think that what you’re describing is obviously the appropriate thing to do and surely the most respectful thing to do. I mean, presumably, even though a spouse may suck, at some point in the mists of time they didn’t suck because a marriage took place. Why hurt someone whom you once loved?

          The thing is, cheaters are frequently avoidants and emotionally unavailable and poor at communicating their needs. Who knows why on earth they are that way? Maybe there is a PD involved, maybe it is run of the mill unresolved FOO issues. It doesn’t matter and it is not worth my while to diagnose the reasons that someone cheats, even my xH, because of course his choice to cheat was nothing to do with me.

          What does matter is that they are the way they are, and that plays out in very sneaky, selfish, cowardly behavior.

          It takes guts to do what you did, CL, it also takes self-assuredness and an ability to realize that it is okay if you ended up on your own for a while, or even forever. And as far as I can tell, having done the research I have, cheaters really do not relish being alone. So it is easier to have an affair than deal with the fact that you no longer love your spouse who sucks.

          But that’s again why your blog is so valuable. Because the more that people realize that they are not going to crumble if they aren’t in a marriage, that they can move on and be okay, the better choices they will make and one of those choices may be simply to go rather than to cheat and then go. Or, worse, cheat and then beg to stay.

          • Kristina,

            That is where my CW is right now. She got caught cheating by me three years ago and since that day she’s begged to stay and prove to me that she can be faithful, honest, and committed to me again.

            Problem is, she spent most of that past three years trying to blame me, her lovers, her family, midlife crisis, emotions, hormones, etc. for what she did. It’s only now that she has really taken some responsibility for what she did. Sure, she’s apologized over and over, cried herself to sleep, gotten on her knees and begged for forgiveness, and when I told her I don’t forgive, she lashed out with anger and accused me of hijacking the reconciliation. Blamed me for giving up on the marriage.

            She’s one of those people that you described: poor communicator of needs, avoidance, emotionally unavailable. But her biggest flaw is expecting me to be able to read her thoughts. Nearly demanded clairvoyance from me. Would be livid because I should have known she was embarrassed at work because I never sent her flowers to her desk, while the other girls at work got flowers from their hubbies/lovers/boyfriends.

            That’s just swell.

            Then she would change her tone and promise that she can be that faithful wife again and that she belongs in the marriage. She finally admitted that she misplaced her resentment towards me leading up to her affairs. She was really feeling resentment towards how her family treated her throughout her life: dismissing her, putting her down, abandoning her. But she shifted that resentment towards me and had affairs as some way to punish me when she couldn’t have the guts to stand up to her family.

            I don’t know what the hell that sort of psycho babble is, but I suppose its as close to being honest as she can muster. She still to this day can’t admit to me that she cheated because she wanted to and that the sex was out of this world, as she had bragged to her lover’s friend before D-Day.

            So here she is to this day, still insisting that she can prove herself to me, that she won’t make those “mistakes” again, and that WE can get past this.

            You’re right, Kristina. I’d rather she just leave me alone.

          • Kristina,

            They DEFINITELY don’t relish being alone. Mine told the kids that the reason he’s hanging on to OW is that he can’t stand being alone, he’s not going to sit around his place waiting for them to show up a couple of times a week, he fucked everything up wiht me and she’s all he’s got.

            Nice lesson for the kids, eh?

          • I don’t say this to hurt you – or any betrayed spouses, promise – but…
            “because of course his choice to cheat was nothing to do with me”

            Very often, I think it does. Think of it – how many times have you heard, ‘oh if he/she cheats on me, I’m done.” And how many cheaters do you think *know* that cheating is a dealbreaker for their spouse?

            If they’re really the cowards we often tell ourselves they are, would they take the risks that they take? Probably not. Instead they go into it knowing the consequences, knowing what’s at risk – their marriage, their family. Part of the ‘high’ of affairs is the big FU they are sneakily giving to their spouses. I suppose, yes, that part of it is cowardly.

            Point is – as always – they know what marriage is and they demonstrate that they don’t want it. I don’t care how short-lived people think it is, it is part of who they are.

        • You are right, Bunk. In most cases the cheating , in the mind of the cheater, is very much about the betrayed spouse and the cheater’s way of punishing/hurting someone he or she peceived as deficient.
          But, that perception is, usually, based on some very messed up perceptions and a sense of entitlement.
          For the most part, Cheaters are selfish, undeveloped peole who have some weird expectation of clairvoyance(as another poster mentions) and who expect another person to “make them happy’.
          Problem is that they are bottomless pits of need.
          But, mosy affairs are retaliatory and vengeful, IMO.

        • Bunk, I’m going to respectfully disagree. I don’t think that it does have anything to do with me, though it doesn’t hurt my feelings that you want to feel otherwise. Promise.

          Cheating has to do with the cheater.

          Did it affect me? Sure. But how much it affected me is entirely up to me, but that’s another subject.

          Here’s the thing: as Arnold mentions, the cheating is often, in the “mind of the cheater”, about the betrayed spouse or the state of the marriage or whatever lame justification he or she takes to make it acceptable. But just because the cheater believes that, does it make it true?

          My xH could tell me anything he wanted to tell me about why it was my fault that he cheated, but I knew that I didn’t have to internalize his criticism or blameshifting or whatever, because I was confident enough in who I was that I did not take his words to heart. I simply did not accept his reality as any part of my own.

          I knew what the right way to deal with discord was, and it was not to cheat. To the point of CL’s posting: I may not have been a model wife, but cheating is not the answer. Unhappy married to me? Fine. Divorce me. But THAT move takes self awareness and courage and a willingness to be on one’s own for a while, and cheaters typically are too ego driven (and reliant on external validation) to be able to do that. Also, they tend to be controlling. They want to run the show and they do that in the marriage in lots of ways (emotional distancing, silent treatments, passive aggressive invalidation of their partners’ needs, isolating the partner from friends and family, making the spouse financially dependent) and then they do it by having an affair.

          In the end, we have a choice to pick up the ball they bring us, when we recognize that they have betrayed us, and play, which typically means allowing them to heap blame on us or us trying to step in with our tool belt full of self help books and marshaling an army of helpers in the form of IC and (god help me) MCs in order to fix them and us and our marriages while we wait for them to “get it” or “own their shit” or whatever else it is that reconcilers wait to have happen. Or we can choose to just not play that ball game. I chose to not play that ball game with him. Instead, after it was all said and done, I went about looking at my portion in what was wrong in that marriage and have worked on being better. For the next guy. That other guy — he doesn’t deserve my efforts to self-improve.

          The thing I have learned about infidelity is this (and it is a hard pill to swallow, actually, because who wants to realize that they have no authority): the betrayed partner is absolutely a non factor until the d-day happens; and then he or she is simply a victim of collateral damage, which is, admittedly, a crap position. The betrayed partner has a choice to embroil him or herself in the post-apocalypse by engaging in an attempt to reconcile, but so often I see BSs making the huge mistake of trying to understand where he or she fit into the picture. Truth is, I think, we never fit into that picture. It was a selfish act, both on the part of the cheater and his affair partner.

          And it had nothing to do with me.

          • Well said, Kristina. But, many time a Cluster B actually targets a person susceptible to accepting their blaming.
            My therapist told me “Arnold, you do have an issue, low sense of entitlement. Fortunately, that is fixable , whereas a personality disorder is intractable.”
            But, i think many of us would do well, and are doing well, to look within to try to figure out why we tolerated such crappy treatment so long.
            I asked my therapist if he thought that if I had been stronger, had protested more, had set boundaries, my relationship would have lasted. he said “No. It would have, merely, made her dump you sooner(which would have been a blessing)”.

            • I think you’re on to something Arnold with the “low sense of entitlement.” It has always seemed to me that Cluster Bees (I like to think of them now as stinging insects) choose super responsible sorts of people. People who will shoulder more of the load, will smooth the way, and create order from chaos for them.

              I think it’s up to us to realize — Not My Job.

  • Oh jeez, RJ, that’s grim. Have you been clear with her that there is no chance for reconciliation and that she should move on? It definitely sounds like she has a lot of baggage of her own to sort through. I hope that she does. Otherwise she’s going to consistently make really awful relational choices.

    You know, I’ve never quite heard that sort of explanation before regarding taking out her resentments towards her family on you by having affairs. What the what?? I’m sorry, but that is some twisty rationalization. Unless she sees you as a “safe” target where her family is not safe. That’s wild. But I mean, what is the point of that? Are you supposed to then just sit there and continue to be the punching bag for her misplaced aggression? Why doesn’t she work out her issues and then she won’t need a punching bag? It just seems to me that she wants to have a nice “explanation” for why she did what she did, that then excuses her from actually working on herself and making changes that mean something.

    Your wife is going to be repeating her karmic cycle until she actually does make changes rather than simply looking for excuses.

    Awful the way humans behave.

    • K-

      I believe that she’s sincere in changing herself and working on her issues and she has done a lot already to identify and correct things. I just think that she would rather forget that she ever did that stuff and get back our old relationship. Yes she is making some real mental gymnastics there to justify her actions. Her claim is that I started to become like her family and that she couldn’t handle that. So rather than stand up to her family and set them straight she found me an easier target and took out her frustrations on me.


      I’ve told her that she’s changed things forever and there’s no going back to the way it was but she refuses to accept that.

    • No Jeff, it wasn’t. In Virginia, you have to be separated for one year and one day before you can even FILE. I had settlement papers drawn up and was separated.

      Most importantly, to me anyway, is that I was very clear with him that it was over. Unequivocally, we are divorcing, I’ve submitted papers, it’s done. Never ate cake. Didn’t touch him with a barge pole. I was finished. It took me long enough to get there, but when I arrived, I was crystal clear about it. (And he had many years of chances and marriage counseling I initiated, etc.)

      I realize other people may disagree with me, and I’ve posted this before, but I do not believe that if you’ve filed divorce papers or drawn up settlement documents and you date, that you are cheating. Yes, legally you are still married. And yes, I realize that a lot of cheaters use the line that “oh, my spouse and I are separated.” And it’s a line that lets them eat cake.

      I have never regretted that fling. Frankly, it was exactly the sort of relationship I would wish for anyone going through a divorce. First, it was with someone I knew, who was an old friend (single, of course, but I should probably spell that out), who was someone I truly cared for and who cared for me too. Second, it was very long distance and low stakes. It was relationship with training wheels. I was a single mother of a small child. I didn’t have time to date or the emotional wherewithal to be much of a girlfriend to anyone then. But to meet up for a weekend somewhere far away and lift out of that existence on occasion was liberating. And healing.

      I don’t consider the fling an exit affair, Jeff, because I had already exited. To me, an affair is something you have while married, while duping another person into believing you are married to them and staying married to them. My ex-husband labored under no such illusions.

      And getting to the original point of this post — I guess that’s what I don’t understand about cheating. Cake eating. When I got to the point at which I could even think about wanting another man? I was GONE. I don’t understand cake eaters and serial cheaters. They may claim they have a dreadful marriage, and of course they trump up charges, but the fact is — they STAY. Why? IMO, because you are of use to them. They need a parent, a paycheck, the company, the appearances. If it were really that dreadful, they would go. But they don’t. So how bad is it really?

      • Exactly, CL, cheaters stay because their partners are of use to them, and non-cheaters have the integrity to end one relationship before beginning another. Furthermore, it really doesn’t matter whether people are married, engaged, dating or separated — if the implicit or explicit agreement is fidelity and that agreement is broken, then that’s cheating. It’s really that simple, “Jeff.”

      • Spot on CL. That was my serial cheater xWW. Always had a reason that she was having affairs on me, but would never leave. Because she needed many of those things that you listed. I finally got the balls to kick her out 2 and half years ago. Let’s just say her fairy tale didn’t like it does in the book. Best decision I’ve ever made, if not 10 years too late.

  • I hope the guy I had a little comment argument with on HUffPo reads this, but I doubt it. He actually said “cheating was a viable option.” (I’m expattam on HuffPo).

    I, too, had an emotionless first marriage. I met a man on a trip that I was more attracted to than I was comfortable with while being married, so I took a really good look at my marriage and realized that no matter how much I liked my husband (he’s a decent human being) I just needed more and was desperately lonely. So I made the heartbreaking decision to leave him. After I told him I was leaving, and actually got a separate apartment, I then pursued the man that made me take a second look at what I was doing in my life. Like you, I am always glad that I waited until I was clear with my husband that it was over BEFORE I pursued something else. My husband did not deserved to be cheated on. And neither did I, and neither did you… all of you.

  • Yes, saying no can be an acquired skill, CL. Just start saying no to requests that are unreasonable, and unnecessary. And, do not say yes to folks who do not ever reciprocate.
    Get comfortable with A-holes getting pissed off at you. It can be very uplifting and fun.

  • Cheating is often not about the BS at all. It is about the cheater massaging their ego and being unable to say “no” when an opportunity arises. It is about that feeling you get when you have a new relationship going or you’re sneaking around. They feel there is an excitement to it. Of course they no longer have that feeling with their spouse but that does not mean they don’t love their spouse and want to remain in their marriage. They have self esteem issues which makes it necessary for them to feel attractive to the opposite sex. They know their spouse is attracted to them, but they need more. My estranged spouse is one of those type of men. If the opportunity arises and the woman is passable, he takes the opportunity. His downfall was the way he went about it. He would create friendships with women and if it went further, he would go with it. He would lie about our marriage and their future. He was bound to get caught because he was hurting them as well as me. I never, at any time, withheld sex. In fact, we had a good sex life, by both of our accounts. But it just wasn’t enough for him. He had to feel like he was desired by OTHER women. My husband wants me to remain in the marriage and is heartbroken by my leaving it but, when I discovered his cheating, it was like a landslide of information and, although I love who I thought he was, I hate what he did. Now he claims he is bipolar and his cheating was a part of the illness. Sorry…that doesn’t excuse it. You knew you had a problem and kept on doing it.

  • This has been a really fun evening of reading these posts and comments. thanks for that.

    My experience was a little different. By the time I discovered the affair, we were already in full abuse territory, though I did not understand it at the time.

    People think ‘abuse’ and picture black eyes and busted lips. That’s not how it works. They don’t want to leave marks where people will see them. They leave marks under clothes, where only you and the abuser will know they are there.

    If you are lucky, the abuser does this when you know it is coming. If you are unlucky, the abuser will twist psychological abuse with sexual pleasure, or link painful sex with telling you things a loving spouse should want to tell you. They do this with every intention of keeping you off balance, of sucking you in just to throw you out.

    They enjoy toying with your life, with your sanity. The truth is, they get off on torturing you, and playing the part of the loving, devoted spouse and parent. They enjoy that when you try to reach out for help, people look at you like you’ve grown a second head, because every one else wants your (almost) picture-perfect life.

    By the time his affair came to light, it made sense that it was somehow *my* fault. Everything else was my fault. This must have been my fault as well. Somehow.

    The Cluster B’s are soo charasmatic, you cannot believe how easy it is to get sucked in by them. My “Andy” even had a married couple of devout Christians supporting his extra-marital affair. They are that charasmatic. Their word salad is dressed that deliciously.

    But they cannot maintain the cameo indefinitely. Eventually, you either blow your brains out, or you begin to realize just how much of a mind fuck they have done on you (sorry, Lord, but You know this deserves the language).

    I can honestly say I am so much happier. My income is nearly cut in half, but for the first time in my adult life I have financial security. Though my daughter is still struggling with all of this (18 months later, she spends one week with her father, and after two days at home starts having night terrors again), I believe both of us will get through this and be the better for it.

    I share all of this just to lead up to my gut instinct response to this post. I’m of the opinion, people who think their spouse “had it coming” are people who come up with any reason they can think of to justify their own infidelity. If the reason isn’t “she let herself get fat after kids”, the reason will be “she went on a ridiculous diet and got stick thin”. If the reason isn’t, “she never talks to me any more”, it will be, “she’s so clingy and needy”.

    A person who justifies lying, deceiving, foreswearing their oaths, will present whatever arguments they can come up with, regardless of how much truth there is to their claims.

  • I didn’t cheat when it would have been totally justified by all sorts of people, because that’s not the person I want to be, no matter who I’m with, how dishonest they are or how much they suck. I want to be someone trustworthy, who can look at herself in the mirror and into her kids eyes, and know she did the right thing under difficult circumstances.

    My not cheating has NOTHING to do w/my ex, our relationship, or what I might or might not owe to him. Just as his decision to cheat had nothing to do w/me.

    • Yes!

      Andy flipped out on me because I was “self-righteous”. I was holding on to the only pieces of fact that I knew to be true–my own actions–since he already had me questioning my own sanity.

      I told him, I have too much self-respect to dishonor my oaths by breaking them—he responded by threatening to rip my throat out with his teeth.

      It was telling moment in our relationship, though it took me a couple of months to fully unpack the significance.

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